6 unique and free activities in San Diego

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Jen Lyons

Views of San Diego at Sunset
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With year-round warm weather, an average of 266 days of sunshine each year, and an enviable oceanfront location, San Diego is simply bursting with great activities for visitors and locals with all kinds of interests. Best of all, many of the must-see attractions in this SoCal city are completely free! Here are six of our favorite free ways to spend a day in “America’s Finest City.” 

1. Beach, beach and more beach 

Of course, San Diego is known for its beautiful beaches. The city has an incredible 70 miles of coastline, with everything from flat stretches of golden sand to rocky cliffs to big-wave breaks for surfers. A great first stop is the 4,200-acre Mission Bay Park, which offers beach and bay access, children’s play areas, biking and jogging paths, volleyball courts and more. Other great beaches include the Fido-friendly Ocean Beach Dog Beach, picturesque Coronado Beach and secluded Solana Beach, which sits in front of dramatic bluffs.  

2. Spot the seals and sea lions in La Jolla 

Just 13 miles north of downtown San Diego, the tony neighborhood of La Jolla is the best place to spot the area’s famous seals and sea lions. Start at the rocky beach of La Jolla Cove, either enjoying the view from the boardwalk above the cove or walking down to the sand. The cove is also a popular starting point for snorkelers. Still want more? Head to La Jolla’s Children’s Pool, a beach that earned its name because it was originally designed to be a protected beach for young San Diegans. Today, it’s best known as the place to see harbor seals. Note that the Children’s Pool closes annually from December 15 to May 15, as it’s a popular nesting ground for seals birthing pups. 

3. See the murals at Chicano Park 

Logan Heights (also known as Barrio Logan) is San Diego’s oldest Mexican-American neighborhood. In the heart of the neighborhood, you’ll find Chicano Park, which boasts the world’s largest collection of murals by Chicano artists. On a sunny afternoon, wander through the park to see more than 80 paintings across seven acres. The park, which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2017, also features sculptures, gardens and playgrounds. If you’re lucky, you just might come across one of the many music and dance festivals held in the neighborhood each year. 

4. Hike the bluffs of Torrey Pines 

Located north of San Diego, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is a gorgeous slice of rugged natural beauty just off of Highway 101. There’s a great beach right along the parking lot, but the best views can be found from high above. Explore the 1,750-acre reserve filled with coastal pine forest, sandstone canyons and multiple hiking options, from family-friendly paths to more strenuous trails. No matter which you choose, you’ll be rewarded with stunning ocean views that are truly a must-see. Keep an eye out for paragliders, too. 

5. Explore colorful Old Town

As the name implies, Old Town is San Diego’s oldest neighborhood. Considered the birthplace of California, the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park gives a glimpse into life in the area in the 1800s. See five original adobe homes, a schoolhouse, blacksmith shop, carriage collection and a museum filled with artifacts discovered in the area. Entrance to the park is free, but fair warning: You might work up an appetite, and Old Town is well known for its Mexican cuisine. Time for some tacos and a margarita? 

6. Wander Balboa Park 

Perhaps one of San Diego’s best-known attractions is Balboa Park, the country’s largest urban cultural park. It’s home to the famous San Diego Zoo and 85+ other attractions, but not everything requires an entrance fee! The Timken Museum of Art is always free, as are the Botanical Building and the many beautiful gardens. The park’s tram is complimentary too. 

Call San Diego your (second) home

In sunny San Diego, every day has a way of feeling like a vacation. So why not put down some roots? When you buy a Pacaso in San Diego, all the details are taken care of, so you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy San Diego’s myriad attractions. 

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