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Free Things To Do In San Diego County - San Diego City Center

Updated on June 8, 2012

Heading south on Interstate 5 into the city, right around where the 5 meets the 8, stop to take a self-guided walk through Presido Park, the site of the first mission and fort in what is now the state of California. Drop down the hill for a stroll through the Heritage Park Victorian Village to explore some of San Diego's architectural history. Although most of the houses here are currently closed for renovation, the Temple Beth Israel is open daily from 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m., and the McConaughy House Gift Shop is open Thursday - Tuesday from 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Just down the hill, still within walking distance, is San Diego's Old Town State Historic Park. If you are visiting in May, you can catch the Fiesta Old Town Cinco de Mayo. However on any given day, you can visit a large number of free historical buildings here, including The Mormon Battalion Memorial Visitor's Center, open daily from 9:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m., The Black Hawk Smithy and Stable, which offers free blacksmithing demonstrations on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m., The First San Diego Courthouse, The Mason Street School (San Diego's first schoolhouse), The Sheriff's Museum, The San Diego Union Museum, The Wells Fargo History Museum, The Old Adobe Chapel (appointment necessary) and several additional historic adobe homes, most of which are open daily from 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 or 5:00 p.m.

Further south, and to the west of the 5, you can explore Little Italy by taking the "one-mile walk," beginning at the corner of Union and West Ash Streets, and ending at the Piazza Basilone Memorial, a tribute to all of the soldiers who lost their lives at war during the 20th century, at the corner of India and West Fir Streets. Take in the Farmer's Market in this neighborhood on Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. - 1:30 p.m., or Kettner Art Nights, a free art and antique walk on the second Friday of every other month from 6:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. If you are in town in April, one of the city's busiest festivals also happens to be hosted in Little Italy, The Mission Federal Artwalk.

Heading south out of Little Italy on Kettner, The Museum of Contemporary Art is free on the third Tuesday of every month from 11:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m. Only a few blocks to the west is the Embarcadero, or the "landing place" for cruise and navy ships, as well as home to various historic vessels that are displayed for viewing, although entry is not free. Moving south from here along the waterfront, you will shortly reach Seaport Village, where you can stroll through the shops or people-watch while listening to free musical entertainment, which often occurs on weekends or during special events. In December, you can watch the Annual San Diego Bay Parade of Lights, a parade of boats decorated to celebrate the Christmas holidays. Heading inland, in the same general vicinity, is the New Children's Museum on West Island Avenue, which is free on the second Sunday of every month from 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. Continuing to the northeast for a couple of blocks, you will encounter San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter, which provides a vibrant nightlife with plenty of restaurants and retail.

To the east of the 5 is San Diego's Balboa Park, which may be one of the most well-known attractions in the region. This expansive urban park houses a multitude of museums, gardens, performing arts venues and eateries, as well as the San Diego Zoo. Not all of the attractions are free, however a few that are include the Botanical Building and other garden areas, the Spanish Village Art Center, and the Timken Museum of Art, open Tuesday - Saturday from 10:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. and Sunday 1:30 - 4:30. Other museums within the park are free on Tuesdays on a rotating basis. Check the website for current details (http://www.balboapark.org/visit/tuesdays). Free organ concerts are given at Spreckels Organ Pavilion on Sundays from 2:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m., and the San Diego Astronomy Association sets up free public sky viewing at dusk on the first Wednesday of each month at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center.

Downtown, in December, you may catch the Port of San Diego Big Bay Balloon Parade, with marching bands, floats, drill teams, and a procession of enormous balloons that you can watch for free from the roadside, followed by the Amtrak Big Bay Family Festival on the Broadway Pier.

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