San Diego. The city with miles and miles of sandy white beaches that bring surfers flocking. San Diego. The city with idyllic weather always just hovering around a mild and comfortable 70 degrees. San Diego. Where you can play like a child, with your child, at the massive San Diego Zoo and Legoland. San Diego. The city that is so close to our Southern neighbors so the Mexican food culture here is just delicious.
San Diego is oh so lovely. But a day trip there can be oh so expensive.
San Diego is about an hour and a half drive from Orange County, depending on traffic. You can take an easy straight shot along the coast on highway 5 with beautiful views of the ocean along the drive. Or you can skip the drive and take Amtrak’s metro link all the way down. However you arrive in San Diego, it certainly is a great day trip or weekend getaway destination for Orange County residents.
But what about the price? Well, a trip to San Diego does not have to break the bank. Here are some of my favorite things to do in San Diego on the cheap.
Balboa Park is a San Diego historical inspiration. Self described as a ‘labor of love’ the park first was conceived in 1868 with a 1,400-acre plot of land. The original name was City Park but was renamed after Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa, in honor of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. From its conception many museums, gardens, zoos and theatres have been built and celebrated. Even a park tram to provide free transportation around Balboa Park was started to help visitors access the numerous museums and attractions.
Although not all the experiences are free, here are some free and some on the cheap. Better yet, if you plan to visit frequently consider an Explorer Pass. The family pass covers two adults and four children for an entire year of entry. At a price tag of $229 it is really a great value to entice you to keep returning.
- San Diego Air & Space Museum: The San Diego Aerospace Museum first opened its doors in 1963 with reproduction of the Navy’s first seaplane, the Curtiss A-1; a 1929 Fleet Model 7; the original rocket engine from the Bell X-1; and an extensive collection of artifacts relating to John J. Montgomery. Now the museum has grown so much an annex was built in 2006 to showcase all the exhibits. Favorites include the Low Speed Wind Tunnel and the American Women of Flight Exhibit. Tickets start at $22 for adults and $12 for kids.
- House of Pacific Relations International Cottages: Built as part of the 1935 Exposition, these cottages give a glimpse into cultures and countries all over the world. Open only on the weekends, Sundays at 2pm is when the popular Lawn Programs occur. Watch various performances, see different costumes and enjoy ethnic foods hosted by a member culture. Cottages are open between 11:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday, showcasing the national traditions from many lands.
- Balboa Park Garden Loop: This easy and stroller friendly walk loops you all around the beautiful gardens and attractions at Balboa. Stop by the Zoro Garden to see stonework from the 1915s. Enjoy the Prada Fountain and it’s flowing waters where it’s free to play in! Swing by the miniature railroad. Take in the turtles at the Lily Pond and Botanical Gardens. This short 3-mile hike is packed full of sights to see.
I know. I know. You can not possibly go to San Diego with its movie worthy, world famous beaches and not go to a beach! Here’s a roundup of just a few of the free beaches to enjoy.
- Children’s Pool Beach: Be warned! You may see more seals than children at this Children’s Pool Beach. This beach is great for new swimmers with its sea wall and smooth waves. At low tides you can even explore tide pools! Location: 850 Coast Boulevard, at the end of Jenner Street.
- La Jolla Shores Beach: This classic beach spot is long with wide sandy beach areas to enjoy. Kayakers launch from the south end to see the La Jolla Cave and beach strollers will enjoy the Scripps Pier. Lifeguards are also on duty to keep your family safe. Be warned though, the Black’s Beach area is clothing optional. Location: Camino Del Oro and Calle Frescota, La Jolla, CA 92037
- Coronado Municipal Beach: Home of the famous Hotel Del Coronado, the Coronado Municipal Beach is truly a picturesque San Diego gem. Consisting of four beaches, here you can kite fly, skim board, or play a game of volleyball at the various nets. One of the most epic parts of this beach is the glittery sand due to the presence of mica. Make sure you stop by the Hotel Del to take in this Historical Landmark. Location: Strand Way. Coronado, CA 92118
When you are spending the day exploring one of California’s most delightful SoCal cities you are definitely going to work up an appetite. The foodie scene here in San Diego is alive and well with beautiful diversity in cuisines. From authentic Mexican fare to flavorful Asian fusion, here are some tasty spots to check out that will not check out your credit card.
- Homestyle Hawaiian: With more than 15 years in the food world, this family feeling restaurant has expanded to 6 locations in the Southern California area plus catering! The goal is to bring fresh and affordable island fare to the coast of California. Some favorites are the classic Musubi, the Garlic Ahi Sandwich, and the Da Beast daily special with enough food for any hungry braddahs. Original location: 7524 Mesa College Drive. San Diego, CA 92111-5000
- Natural Style Chicken: This Korean restaurant has been a San Diego staple now for over 37 years. Here you can dine on their most popular menu item – Teriyaki Chicken – or expand your taste buds with their Kimchi Fried Rice. The thing about Natural Style Chicken is it’s all about chicken and boasts classic American chicken fare such as Wood Fired Rotisserie with sides of coleslaw and potato salad. Address: 3944 W Point Loma Blvd, San Diego, CA
- Lourdes Mexican Food: This family owned restaurant is quite the popular spot. Now with multiple locations around the greater San Diego area you can try their famous generations old family recipe called sopa de pollo, or chicken soup. This place is a laid back spot restaurant you must try. Original location: 650 S Escondido Blvd. Escondido, CA 92025
- The Original Sab-E-Le: This Thai curry restaurant is a cult favorite to locals and not so locals. The menu has a selection of Thai curries, noodle soups and the very popular papaya salad. Before going make sure you stop by the ATM; this gem only takes cash. Location: 6925 Linda Vista Rd B. San Diego, CA 92111
There you have it! Parks! Museums! Beaches! And delicious munchies. Everything you need to have a wonderful San Diego trip on the cheap.
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Kaitlin is a former ballerina who now travels around the country in an 18-foot converted school bus. Her and her husband have welcomed 34 sweet children into their home the past eleven years. Although they would not be a forever home for all of them, they adopted their daughter buckets and are legal guardians to their son monkey. Follow their crazy adventures on Instagram @runawaymusbus