50 Fun and FREE Summer Activities in San Diego

San Diego consistently wins “Best Family Destination” for a reason. There’s literally something here for everyone, the weather is fabulous, and, look, there’s 50 things to do for FREE. It’s one of our family’s favorite road trip destinations because, let’s face it, it’s hot in Tucson in the summer and San Diego is close and cool. And, they have a beach!

Courtesy of the Convention and Visitors Bureau (www.sandiego.org), here’s the 50 Freebies:

Following is a list of 50 fun and free activities that guests can enjoy during San Diego’s summer months:

  1. Put on your bathing suit, grab your towel and head to one of San Diego’s 33 beaches, all open to the public, and perfect for body surfing, boogie boarding, building sandcastles, collecting seashells and basking in the sun.
  2. Bring a picnic and listen to Coronado’s Summer Concert Series in Spreckels Park on Sunday evenings throughout the summer.  On the first and third Sunday of the month, come early and browse the work of artists from San Diego County during the Coronado Art Association’s bi-monthly Art-In-The-Park event.
  3. Soak up the international flavor at the House of Pacific Relations in Balboa Park with the International Cottages’ Lawn Programs.  Held each Sunday throughout the summer, these free events feature ethnic food, song and dance.
  4. Head to the historic Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside for the Annual Inter-Tribal Pow Wow.  Hosted by the San Luis Rey Luiseno Mission Indians, this event draws tribal members from all over the United States for contest dancing, Native American arts and crafts, games and food.
  5. Catch a magnificent Pacific sunset and watch sea lions play along the shoreline at La Jolla Cove, one of the most spectacular natural settings in the world.
  6. Visit Seaport Village during the weekends for free entertainment and hours of leisurely strolling and window-shopping.  Guests can also walk along the bay-front or sit in the grass and gaze at passing yachts and ships along San Diego Bay.
  7. Listen to live bands lined along the 26.2-mile route of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon.
  8. Stroll through the 16½-block historic Gaslamp Quarter’s turn-of-the-century Victorian architecture in downtown San Diego.  Once the stomping grounds of the legendary Wyatt Earp, the Gaslamp Quarter is now home to unique stores, numerous restaurants, nightclubs and bars.
  9. On the second Sunday of each month, stop by The New Children’s Museum in downtown San Diego for free admission.  Families of all ages can enjoy innovative, hands-on art opportunities and first-rate exhibitions designed by emerging and established contemporary artists.
  10. Fly a kite along the grassy field in the Tecolote Shores of Mission Bay Park, a  4,600-acre aquatic playground for all ages.  Here, away from trees and overhead wires, families gather to launch colorful kites high into the clear-blue, breezy skies.
  11. Check out gnarly international and U.S. body surfers competing in the World Body Surfing Championships at the Oceanside Beach and Pier.
  12. Take free fly-fishing lessons from the San Diego Fly Fishers club on Sunday mornings from 9 a.m. to noon at Lake Murray, located in La Mesa.  If you don’t have your own gear, arrive early for a free equipment loan.
  13. Sample some of the more than 200 varieties of fresh produce grown in San Diego at one of the region’s many Farmer’s Markets, held daily at locations throughout the county.
  14. Enjoy free organ concerts during theAnnual International Summer Organ Festival at Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park.
  15. Bike or jog along Mission Bay Park’s many trails.  Joggers and walkers share more than 20 miles of scenic running paths winding through sunlight and shade near the shoreline with workout courses at planned stations along the route.
  16. Attend the Annual Ocean Beach Street Fair & Chili Cook-off, featuring more than 200 vendors, local artists, food, a children’s area and entertainment on five stages.
  17. Rollerblade, skateboard, bicycle or people-watch along the Mission Beach Boardwalk, a scenic three-mile boardwalk along lively Mission and Pacific Beaches.
  18. Stargaze outside the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center on the first Wednesday of every month during “Gazin’ with the Experts,” as members of the San Diego Astronomy Association set up huge telescopes and offer guests a great view of the moon, planets and brighter stars.
  19. Join the festivities at San Diego’s many Fourth of July celebrations, held in communities throughout the county.  Coronado’s popular Independence Day Celebration on July 4 features a two-hour parade followed by a family concert in Spreckels Park and spectacular fireworks over Glorietta Bay.
  20. Take a scenic drive to Mt. Laguna to hike, bike or picnic while enjoying the fresh mountain air whispering through the pines.
  21. Hike the trails of Torrey Pines State Reserve and see the rare and elegant Torrey pine trees, miles of unspoiled beaches and a number of animal species.
  22. Wiggle your toes in the sand at the Annual U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition at Imperial Beach Pier.  View hundreds of sand sculpting artists at work; the event also features a parade and children’s sandcastle contest.
  23. Visit Mission Trails Regional Park featuring a state-of-the-art Visitors Center where guests explore and learn about the wonders of nature and the native people who once lived on the land.  The park also offers over 40 miles of natural and developed hiking and biking trails.
  24. Go scuba diving or snorkeling off San Diego’s shores to see spectacular creatures of the sea.  La Jolla Shores and Cove offers some of the clearest waters on the California coast, as well as miles of protected underwater preserve to explore.
  25. Watch the Annual World Championship Over-the-Line Tournament, San Diego’s original boisterous beach softball event at Fiesta Island on Mission Bay.
  26. Walk along the downtown Embarcadero and view impressive public art sculptures, tributes and memorials set along San Diego Bay.  The artworks celebrate San Diego’s international ties, cultural diversity, military significance and unique oceanfront environment.
  27. On warm summer nights when the tide is high and the moon is full, join San Diegans in a local natural phenomenon, the grunion run.  Witness thousands of small grunion fish swimming ashore to mate and bury their eggs in the sand before riding the waves back out to sea.
  28. Watch tail-waggin’, Frisbee-catchin’ and stick-fetchin’ dogs splash in the surf at Ocean Beach’s Dog Beach.  Man’s best friend is permitted to roam there leash-free at all hours of the day.
  29. Join the festivities at the Annual San Diego Pride Celebration, one of the most popular events of its kind in the country.  Free festivities include a mile-long parade through Hillcrest.
  30. Go bird watching at one of San Diego’s many coastal nature preserves, including the Tijuana Estuary, Tidelands Park in Coronado, J Street Tidal Flats in Chula Vista, Northern Wildlife Preserve/Kendall Frost Marsh on Mission Bay and Batiquitos Lagoon in Carlsbad.
  31. Enjoy gallery hopping and light fare on the second Saturday of each month when North Park’s Ray Street galleries welcome guests to Ray at Night, where art work by local painters, photographers and sculptors are on display.  Also, visit North Park Nights, an extension of Ray at Night, on the third Saturday of every month, when local artists present colorful, artistic displays and live entertainment.
  32. Cheer on youth soccer players during the Annual San Diego Surf Cup Soccer Tournament at the San Diego Polo Club in Del Mar.  This nationally-recognized amateur tournament draws the country’s best players, ages 10 – 19.
  33. Check out the California Surf Museum on Highway 101 in Oceanside, which houses a permanent collection of historic boards, photographs and videos.  Explore its colorful and educational display on the sport of surfing and the legends who braved the waters over generations.
  34. Take a walk through Balboa Park, the largest urban cultural park in the United States, and discover its beautiful Spanish Colonial-Revival architecture and glorious gardens.  Also take advantage of the Park’s variety of other free offerings, including free admission to select museums on Tuesdays and ranger-led walking tours.
  35. Dance along Fifth Avenue during the annual Hillcrest Cityfest Street Fair featuring crafts, food booths, three entertainment stages and two beer gardens.
  36. Gather friends, family and firewood for a cozy beach bonfire at one of the County’s bonfire-friendly beaches in Coronado, Ocean Beach, Oceanside, Mission Beach and Pacific Beach.
  37. Go on a self-guided walking tour of The Stuart Collection, a display of contemporary sculptures scattered throughout the University of California, San Diego campus in La Jolla.  Tour maps are available at the Gilman Drive campus entrance.  stuartcollection.ucsd.edu
  38. Run over to the America’s Finest City Half Marathon on August 16 to cheer on runners as they race along San Diego Bay from Cabrillo National Monument through downtown San Diego to the race’s finish in Balboa Park.  The race begins at 6:45 a.m.
  39. Explore the clear shallow tidepools of La Jolla Cove and Point Loma when the tide is low and the pools are teeming with aquatic life.
  40. Visit Julian in San Diego’s East County and enjoy this quaint, historic mining town that grew into the County’s second largest urban center during the Southern California gold rush of 1869.
  41. Take a drive to the top of Mt. Soledad in La Jolla, home of the Mt. Soledad Veterans War Memorial, for breathtaking, 360-degree views of San Diego.  Spectacular views also await at the top of Mt. Helix, offering visitors a birds-eye glimpse of San Diego’s East County communities.
  42. Experience the history of the local Hispanic community’s struggle with a visit to the Chicano Park Murals, established by activists in 1970.  This cultural park has received international recognition as a major public art site for its commanding mural paintings; some of the murals narrate the history of Barrio Logan where the park is located.
  43. Take in the action as fun loving canines brave the waves during the Annual Loews Coronado Bay Resort Surf Dog Competition in Imperial Beach.
  44. Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art, located in both the downtown San Diego and or La Jolla, for free daily admission for guests 25 years and younger.
  45. Witness the living legacy of California’s birthplace at Old Town State Historic Park, San Diego’s first “downtown.” The six-block park features 12 acres of Mexican lore and historical sites presented in shops, restaurants, museums and several carefully preserved or restored adobe and wooden buildings.
  46. Visit the U.S. Olympic Training Center, the nation’s first warm weather, year-round Olympic training facility, located in Chula Vista.  Free tours of the 150-acre lakefront facility are offered at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; tours begin at the Copley Visitor Center.
  47. Take advantage of San Diego’s warm summer days and explore a number of free summer concerts located throughout the county.
  48. Explore the mediation gardens at the Self-Realization Fellowship Ashram Center in Encinitas. It is here that Paramahansa Yogananda, one of the preeminent spiritual figures of our time, wrote his Autobiography of a Yogi.  The meditation gardens are open to the public 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Sundays.
  49. Walk 1,942 feet out onto the Oceanside Municipal Pier, the longest wooden pier on the U.S. West Coast; the pier is a perfect setting for fishing, walking and wave watching.
  50. Browse through the Ocean Beach Antique District, located along Newport Avenue in Ocean Beach, offering the largest concentration of antique and collectible dealers in San Diego County.  Here, guests find one-of-a-kind antiques, mid-century modern furniture, fine estate sale items, vintage jewelry and specialty memorabilia.