Top Eight on a Budget: Kid-Friendly Fun in San Diego, CA


Sand Dollar at Coronado Beach

I have had the fortunate chance to know San Diego during some of my brokest years in life, right out of college selling just about everything I owned to make the move out west. It was a rough few years being carless, jobless, and friendless, but I eventually figured out how to adult and persisted through some rough times to get where I am today. Knowing how to have a good time on little to no money is a specialty of mine, now!

This transition has been a bit of a regression for us with the move, waiting on pays, childcare, etc… Plus, things in San Diego have skyrocketed financially. The costs of housing, food, and general day-to-day life seems almost double what it was over four years ago. Thankfully, we’ve found lots of things to do in the interim using very little to no money. The natural beauty is abundant and by simply admiring the vistas in the area, I’m lifted up to one of my happiest emotional states. The aesthetics here are immensely therapeutic!

I’ve been running around trying to do as much as I can with my kiddo before I go back to work. I’ve stumbled across some great things to do that tourists and locals can do over and over again using creativity to keep it from being redundant. The best part is that these aren’t limited to San Diego, you can do most of these pretty much anywhere!


  1. Liberty Station in Point Loma!  I may be a bit partial to this area of San Diego because I can walk and bike there from my house, but honestly, it’s so different than I remember four years ago and it is the perfect space for little ones. There is loads of green space to run and play, two large playgrounds with gobs of sand to get into, dozens of public picnic tables and grills, bike paths, running paths, and most importantly CAR-FREE paths, wildlife, flowers, tide pools, and it’s right next to the airport which means planes can be seen taking off every few minutes which still delights my son to pieces. Along with the outdoor perks, the area is also teeming with restaurants, shopping, museums, etc. Bonus perk: Alcohol can legally be consumed here!

2. Free Museum Tuesdays! The museums in Balboa Park take turns offering free entrance to residents and military members (retired, dependents, and active duty). The museums tend to get crowded, so arrive early. There are so many interesting things to learn about and see at the San Diego museums from fine art photography to war history. The Natural History Museum and Fleet Science Center have up close and personal exhibits that engage and educate children with hands-on and interactive experiences. These are all free and part of the walk-through exhibits. The list of museums is extensive to please any interest. Note that not everything inside the museums is free such as movies, some rides/interactive exhibits, etc. What’s included (and what’s not) changes from museum to museum, check here for the free dates and for detailed information.

At the Natural History Museum


Our first museum, PLANES AND ROCKETS! OH MY GOSH!!

3. Nature Scavenger Hunts! I have started creating these using local field guides and incorporating shapes, letters, and colors for an added educational boost. However, you could do them with just about anything you want to focus on with your kiddo. We create a small list of things to find and if we get them all, we reward ourselves with a treat from an ice cream shop, a trip to the arcade, a movie, or really whatever seems like a good idea to us at the time. I’ve learned a lot from these field guides, too!

4. Stone Searching with groups like Temecula Rox! We discovered our first one, today. I “liked” their page so we could be alerted when and where new stones have been hidden. We also collected some stones so we can paint our own to distribute throughout the county for others to find. This is a really cute concept and I’m glad we stumbled upon it!

5. Ride the Bus or the Trolley! San Diego’s public transportation in no way compares to the efficiency of Germany’s, however, they are fairly easy to navigate and the simple pleasure of riding on the local trains is enough to make my kid smile from ear to ear. For only $7 an all day pass can be purchased for use on any of the busses and trolley lines. We purchased one and spent the day going to Old Town, Seaport Village, and the Gaslamp Quarter squealing in delight every time we saw the Coaster or another Trolley passing us. Click here for the San Diego MTS page and to plan a trip.

6. Keep it simple – picnics! One of our favorite things to do is have a picnic with a wonderful view. Either at the beach, park, marina, mountains, desert, etc…there are lots of picnic tables and places in and around the city to throw out a blanket and enjoy naming all the things you can spot. Playgrounds and parks are free and plentiful, here. Thank goodness.

Picnic at the Ocean Beach pier, watching the surfers.

7. Beach Days! Search for critters in the tide pools, draw pictures in the sand, create art using shells and seaweed, splash, make castles, search for dolphins, count boats, go on a stroll (or race!), play ball, or just relax. San Diego has some of the most dramatic coastlines in the world. Whether you enjoy steep cliff faces, coves, palm trees, white sandy dunes for miles, or rocky tide pools, there’s a beach for you, here. Coronado and La Jolla Shores are clean, beautiful sandy beaches for children. The tide pools of Point Loma, La Jolla, and Ocean Beach are great to scamper around looking for sea creatures (beware of tides, you can check here), and Sunset Cliffs park and Torrey Pines have some amazing coves to discover and some vertigo inducing cliffs. Plus, there’s always something to discover…like this sunken ship, below!

People standing on a sunken ship that had been exposed due to the recent storms. This was an old prohibition era gambling ship! In Coronado you can wade out during low tide to explore (wear water shoes and use caution, obviously).

8. Check out the Local Library! The libraries in our neighborhood not only have oodles of books, but also host fun story times, music sessions, creative crafting, science projects, and each one seems to have it’s own special offerings. The San Diego Library system is fantastic and puts in a lot of work to push out great programs for the community.

I know there is a lot more to discover in this city and a wine tour is most definitely on the agenda. It’s been a while since I’ve toured the vineyards in Temecula and surrounding areas. As much as I loved the prices in Europe, the many flavors and varieties of California wines keep me craving and coming back for more. I’m on the hunt for an awesome, new adventure! Salud!

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