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Cheap Things To Do In San Diego

Updated on January 19, 2012

Ways to see the city while not breaking the bank...

I moved to the campus of Point Loma Nazarene University soon after my 18th birthday, and as a freshman out "on the point" and low on cash, I quickly figured out that you didn't have to be rollin' in the dough to be thoroughly versed in the ways of San Diego.

Now, six years later, I still am grateful that for free or a few bucks, I can enjoy so much that this great city has to offer. Let's start at the coast and work out way in.



Having grown up in Orange County where you had to either pay for beach parking or walk incredible distances, San Diego is a wonderful place to drive up to the sand, park your car and grab your towel. There are over 70 miles of beaches in San Diego! Whether you gaze at the sun setting or go surfing along Sunset Cliffs Boulevard on Point Loma, play with a few dogs at Dog Beach (wear shoes) or walk the longest wooden pier at Ocean Beach, dive for a volleyball or ride the roller coaster at Mission Beach, surf kayak, snorkel, or watch the sea lions in La Jolla, all the way up the coast there are great beaches with free parking. There's also Coronado, where you'll find low waves and long stretches of sand to enjoy, and Imperial Beach which is often less crowded. Finally, while you may not exactly jump in the water, there are wonderful places to sit and eat a lunch while you watch the ships pass on Shelter Island. There's also a great playground for kids, a section of beach with fire pits, and a small pier you can fish off of.

Cabrillo Monument Bayside Trail

Mission Trails


Whether you enjoy a scenic stroll or a rigorous hike, San Diego's got a trail for you.

Cabrillo National Monument Bayside Trail is a nice paved hike at the tip of Point Loma. You have to pay $5 to enter the area, but that includes the Cabrillo National Monument & museum, the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, the whale watching station-but more on those later. Also the pass is good for a week (or its free if you have your National Parks Pass). Back to the hiking-you've got views of Downtown San Diego, Coronado Island, Mexico, and the open ocean all right there. On the Pacific side, you can drive or walk down to the tide pools, and explore the coastal life there.

Mission Trails Park is a place where you're suddenly surrounded by high hills and forget you're in the middle of a city. With a vast labyrinth of trails ranging from along the stream to summiting Mount Laguna, there's plenty for everyone to do here. Also, if you're into rock climbing, there's some great routes along Mission Gorge. Parking is free, but if you're going to be out later than 6pm park outside the gates, otherwise you'll be camping out!

Cowles Mountain is highest point in San Diego at 1,592 ft and is one of the most popular hiking locations in the city. Located in the San Carlos region, the trail is 1.5 miles long one way and gains 950 ft in elevation. This trail is actually also part of Mission Trails Park. Once you get to the top, enjoy your efforts with a 360° view of San Diego.

Torrey Pines is set atop the high cliffs near the famous golf course, and these winding and interlacing trails criss-cross through the trees the park is named after, and all the while you've got a pretty good view of the ocean. You can park for free along the beach at the base and walk up the road to the trails, or pay a fee and drive up (the walk's not that bad).

Iron Mountainis a hike that many use for training for larger peaks. At 2,700 feet, it's about 6 miles roundtrip hike from your car that's parked alongside Hwy 67. The views from the top are spectacular, and there is even a telescope at the peak.

Some other hikes definitely worth checking out are Cedar Creek Falls, Stonewall Peak, Batiquitos Lagoon, and Cuyamaca Peak Loop.

The view from Mission Gorge

Rock Climbing

Ok, while this one may not be as widely popular as hiking, its a very fun pastime. And if you're afraid of heights there's always bouldering--climbing on rocks not very far off the ground and usually with some kind of padding underneath.

Santee is a great place for bouldering, and there are a few top rope climbs as well.

Mission Gorge has a ton of great routes--and its quite a view!

Pump Wall is a retaining wall on Point Loma and is great for traversing--moving across instead of up. Plus being set in a secluded cove its a beautiful location!

Click here for more routes:

Other Activities

Besides water activities, hiking and climbing, there are plenty of other outside activities like bicycling, horseback riding, and camping. Even if you just head for a local park to toss around a baseball or to the Ocean Beach Farmers' Market to absorb some of the atmosphere, take time to get outside--especially in such a beautiful city as San Diego!


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    • sandiegoseoexpert profile image


      6 years ago

      I've never been to Cabrillo. the 3 sisters hike is really nice though.

    • profile image

      Melissa Howe 

      9 years ago

      Cabrillo National Monument is the most beautiful area. Well worth the $5 charge per carload.

    • Meg McNeal profile image

      Meg McNeal 

      9 years ago

      Looks like Rv'ing in San Diego would be a great place to stop and explore.

      PR: wait... I: wait... L: wait... LD: wait... I: wait...wait... C: wait... SD: wait...


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