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Cheap Things to Do in San Diego

San Diego may levy an unofficial "sunshine tax," but it makes up for it with plenty of free stuff. Aside from the beaches, backcountry trails, and verdant city parks—all as free as the steadfast sun and endless blue skies—a little careful planning can land you cost-free (or very cheap) fun for the whole family.

Free in Balboa Park

Balboa Park hosts its one-hour Twilight in the Park concert series from June to August, Tuesday through Thursday at 6:15 pm. Sit under the stars and take in everything from Dixieland Jazz to Latin salsa. Also at the park, check out the Spreckels International Organ Festival concerts Monday at 7:30 pm, from June to August, as well as 2 pm Sunday matinee concerts throughout the year. Balboa Park's Screen on the Green, an outdoor movie screening, runs throughout summer. The Timken Museum of Art in Balboa Park is free but a donation is suggested.

Free concerts

The Del Mar Fairgrounds' summertime 4 O'Clock Fridays series features big-name local and national bands; it's technically free, though you still have to pay a few bucks for racetrack admission.

Also worth catching: Carlsbad's TGIF Jazz in the Parks, Friday at 6 pm; Coronado Summer Concerts-in-the-Park, Sunday at 6 pm, May-September; La Jolla Concerts by the Sea, Sunday at 2 pm, July and August; the Del Mar Twilight Concert Series, Tuesday at 7 pm, June-September; and Encinitas' Sunday Summer Concerts by the Sea, 3 pm, July and August.

The annual Adams Avenue Unplugged festival in spring and Adams Avenue Street Festival in September both hit pay dirt: blues, folk, country, jazz, indie, world, and more—all for free.

Tastings

Beer aficionados can take a 45-minute tour of the 55,000-square-foot Stone Brewing Company —groups fill up fast, maybe because of the free tastings at the end. At Alpine Beer Company, up to four tasters are just $1.50 each. Wine lovers might pack a lunch and head for Orfila Vineyards & Winery, where picnic tables dot the pastoral landscape—the wine's not free, but the views are. Or spend an entire afternoon in Temecula Wine Country. Tastings typically aren't free, but you can find twofer coupons and other discounts at www.temeculawines.org.

October freebies

October is Kids Free Month at the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Safari Park; all children under 11 get in free.

Free museums

Both locations of MCASD are always free for patrons under 25, and for everyone else the third Thursday of the month from 5 to 7 pm.

In February, you can pick up a free Museum Month Pass at Macy's that offers half-off admission to 40 museums for the entire month.

Many of San Diego's museums offer a once-a-month free Tuesday, on a rotating schedule (See www.balboapark.org for the schedule) to San Diego city and county residents, active military, and their families; special exhibitions often require separate admission.

Discounts and deals

Try Just My Ticket (www.justmyticket.com) for deals on last-minute theater, concert, and sporting event tickets, as well as restaurant coupons.

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