Free 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 through August, Tuesday through Thursday at 6:30 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 September, as well as 2 pm Sunday matinee concerts throughout the year. Balboa Park’s Screen on the Green, an outdoor movie screening, runs throughout August. The Timken Museum of Art in Balboa Park is free but a donation is suggested.
The Del Mar Racetrack Summer Concert 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 Concerts in the Parks, Friday at 6 pm; Coronado Summer Concerts in the Park, Sunday at 6 pm, May through September; the Del Mar Twilight Concert Series, Tuesday at 7 pm, June through August; and Encinitas’ Sunday Summer Concerts by the Sea, 3 pm, July and August.
The annual Adams Avenue Unplugged festival in April and Adams Avenue Street Fair in September both hit pay dirt: blues, folk, country, jazz, indie, world, and more—all for free.
Free (or Inexpensive) Tastings
Beer aficionados can take an $8, 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, it’s not free, but it’s cheap: up to four tasters are just $2 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 is Kids Free Month for tots under 11 at the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld, Balboa Park Museums, and the San Diego Safari Park. Little ones can also snag meals on the house and more than 100 other perks throughout San Diego.
The MCASD is 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 San Diego libraries 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 and active military, and their families; special exhibitions often require separate admission.
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