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    16 Free Things to Do in San Diego

    Whether you’re looking for fun outings to entertain the kids, creating your very own duty station bucket list before you PCS, or planning a family vacation, you'll never be bored while you're living in the San Diego area!

    We've done the research for you and put together a list to get you started exploring the area! Events, attractions, beaches--they're all here. Check out these...

    16 Free Things to Do in San Diego


    16 Free Things to Do in San Diego

    San Diego Attractions

    If hitting all the major attractions is your ideal way to explore the area, but you’re working with a tight budget--don’t worry. While there are plenty of expensive theme parks and attractions to spend your money on, there are a handful of free ones for military families, too!

    1. SeaWorld

    SeaWorld San DiegPhoto Antoine Taveneaux, Wikimedia Commons

    Take the kids somewhere you know they’ll love, and join in the oceanic fun at SeaWorld. It’s not free all the time, but SeaWorld allows service members and three of their direct dependents one free day a year.

    2. San Diego Zoo & Safari Park

    San Diego ZooPhoto I Cburnett, Wikimedia Commons

    The San Diego Zoo offers active duty military a free one-day pass to the zoo and/or Safari Park. Spouses and other dependents aren’t granted free admission, however, they're eligible for a discounted rate.

    3. Del Mar Racetrack

    Del Mar RacetrackPhoto Dirk Hansen, Wikimedia Commons

    Head out for some fun at the Del Mar Racetrack and enjoy free admission to the Stretch Run for the whole family Wednesday through Sunday.

    4. San Diego Air and Space Museum

    San Diego Air and Space MuseumPhoto Tomas Del Coro, Wikimedia Commons

    Explore the San Diego Air and Space Museum to learn more about the history of space technology. To make things more interesting, hop in a max flight simulator and see what it’s like to fly an aircraft yourself. Kids are free only on specific days, and admission is always free for active duty military.

    5. USS Midway Museum

    USS Midway MuseumPhoto Luciof, Wikimedia Commons

    Get up close and personal with the Navy’s longest serving aircraft carrier, the USS Midway, and over 30 restored naval aircraft. Grab a cup of coffee at the cafe and explore this incredible piece of history. Admission is free for service members and discounted for dependents.

    Although they aren’t free, it's worth mentioning a handful of attractions that offer a military discount in the San Diego area:

    • Legoland
    • Disneyland
    • Birch Aquarium

    San Diego Outdoor Adventures

    Southern California is an incredibly beautiful area and has a number of fun hikes and scenic views that you have to see while you’re here.

    6. Potato Chip Rock

    Potato Chip RockPhoto Emily Strickland Photography

    They say that you can’t get too many pictures of Potato Chip Rock—"they’re" probably right! Hike up Mt. Woodson to see this incredibly shaped rock. This scenic spot is free, but you might have to wait a while for your turn behind a camera.  

    7. Balboa Park

    Balboa Park San DiegoPhoto Bernard Gagnon, Wikimedia Commons

    This historic San Diego park is home to a handful of museums, restaurants, and local shops. But it’s also home to a number of beautiful gardens and hiking trails that are an absolute must for your outdoor loving family.

    8. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

    Torrey Pines State Natural ReservePhoto FeldBum, Wikimedia Commons

    Escape the city bustle and explore the San Diego terrain as it was before the land was developed in the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. Hike the trails, have a picnic lunch, then head down to the beach for a relaxing finish to your fun day.

    9. Botanic Garden

    San Diego Botanic GardenPhoto San Diego Botanic Garden Media

    Admission is free for active duty service members and their families, so check out the San Diego Botanic Garden and enjoy the gorgeous themed gardens all year round. 

    10. Old Town San Diego

    Old Town San DiegoPhoto Racemanryan, Wikimedia Commons

    Discover the birthplace of California and join in the festive culture through authentic food, shops, and costumes.

    San Diego Events

    There are few better ways to feel a part of the local community than by coming together for local events. Whether you’re participating in them yourself or you just want to enjoy the show, become part of the San Diego fun and take advantage of some free events.

    11. Big Bay Boom

    Big Bay BoomPhoto Jon Sullivan, Wikimedia Commons

    If you’re in the San Diego area during the 4th of July, don’t miss the Big Bay Boom celebration. Watch the fireworks from:

    • Shelter Island
    • Harbor Island
    • North Embarcadero
    • Marina District
    • Coronado Ferry Landing

    12. Supergirl Surf Pro

    Supergirl Surf ProPhoto Supergirl Surf Pro

    Usually held in July, visit Oceanside Beach for the Supergirl Surf Pro to watch the world’s top professional female surfers compete.

    13. 42nd Annual World Bodysurfing Championships in Oceanside

    Body Surfing OceansidePhoto D Ramey Logan

    Come see 350-400 bodysurfers from around the world compete in Oceanside in the Annual World Bodysurfing Championships. This year's event will be held from August 17-19.  

    For more events in San Diego, check out the city’s official event calendar.

    San Diego Beaches

    A visit to the beach is probably what you’re most looking forward to if you’re in the San Diego area. And lucky for you, the stretches of sand along the water are free to all!

    14. La Jolla Shores Beach

    La Jolla ShoresPhoto Flickr user Matt Koontz

    La Jolla Shores Beach is a mile-long stretch of sandy beach located in La Jolla, “the jewel” of San Diego. What makes it even better is that it parallels with Kellogg Park, a beautiful grassy area with a playground for kids to run and play.

    15. Mission Bay

    Mission Bay San DiegoPhoto Flickr user Thomas Galvez

    Consisting of over 4,600 acres of land and water, Mission Bay Park is the largest park of its kind, with over 19 miles of sandy beaches perfect for you and the family.

    Mission Bay is great for many activities you’d find at the lake in the summer. Families come here to water ski, sail, row, kayak, and swim, because the water is much calmer than the open ocean.

    16. Hotel Del Coronado

    Hotel Del CoronadoPhoto Clay Gilliland, Wikimedia Commons

    Though it’s actually quite pricey to stay at the Del, it’s free to walk around Coronado Beach. On this gorgeous beach, you'll witness some of the most elaborate sand castles you’ve ever seen. The kids are sure to love it!

    Check out 10 Best Military Family-Friendly Beaches Near San Diego for a more complete list of beaches.

    Excited to enjoy some free family-fun? Start crossing off your San Diego bucket list, and be sure to click below to download your free guide to the San Diego area!

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    Danielle Keech


    Danielle Keech

    Danielle Keech is a writer and content creator for MilitaryByOwner Advertising. She writes on military life topics, highlights clients’ open houses on social media, and manages the Military PCS Facebook group. She especially enjoys covering financial topics and helping military families exercise financial responsibility and plan for the future. Danielle has been a Marine Corps spouse for ten years (and counting!) and is a momma to four littles and one fur baby. She and her pilot spouse have lived in Virginia, Florida, Texas, California, Hawaii, and, most recently, Okinawa, Japan. And yes, you guessed it, Hawaii is her favorite duty station to date! Find MilitaryByOwner's Millitary PCS group here.

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