How to enjoy San Diego when you’re on a budget

I am delighted to introduce a guest blogger on we are going on a bear hunt. Heather Hopkins is a San Diego, California-based artist and travel writer. You can follow her adventures, get travel tips and destination inspiration and more on her site at

Instagram: @arttraveleatrepeat

Twitter: @ArtTravelEat


San Diego, California is one of the top travel destinations in the United States. The weather is fantastic, the beaches are beautiful, and there are plenty of things to see and do. That being said, a trip to San Diego can get expensive pretty quickly if you’re paying admission fees for theme parks and buying expensive tours every day. Not to worry! There are plenty of options for budget travelers to have a fantastic time here, too! As a San Diego local, I have a few tricks up my sleeve which I would like to share with you so you can have an amazing time visiting America’s Finest City without breaking the bank.

Things to do.

You’re probably well aware of all the awesome expensive things we have to do here. The Zoo, the Safari Park, LEGOLAND, the USS Midway Museum, the Maritime Museum, La Jolla Sea Caves tour, shopping and dining in Old Town, etc. Those things are all awesome and if they fit into your budget, by all means do those things! However, if you’re looking at a serious case of sticker shock by purchasing all those things, I’ve got a few alternative suggestions that are a little easier on the budget.

Go to the beach!


It’s a little obvious, but the beach is beautiful and always free. All you really need is a swimsuit and a towel and you’re good to go. There are awesome beaches all over the county, but in my opinion the best ones can be found in North County.

Stroll around Balboa Park.


Balboa Park is incredibly beautiful and I often stroll around aimlessly on a weekend. There are a lot of museums there that will charge a hefty entrance fee, but there are free things to see and do there as well. I suggest exploring the park on foot, checking out the street performers, the walking trails, the desert gardens, botanical garden and koi ponds, and the Timken Museum of Art, all of which are free. If you’re there on a Sunday in March through October, you can also catch a free concert at the Spreckles Organ Pavilion and tour the International Houses, which feature the culture, history, and food of countries from around the world.

Snorkeling on the cheap.


Everybody knows La Jolla cove is the place to go if you want to snorkel. Those snorkel tours can get expensive, though! Why not just go to the cove on your own with some snorkel gear you purchased? The snorkel gear will likely cost less than the tour or at a similar price, and you get to keep it when you’re done, so you can go out again another day or take the gear home with you and use it to save money on your next trip, too.

Check out the Hotel Del Coronado


The Hotel Del Coronado is a San Diego icon. It’s also an incredibly expensive hotel with incredibly expensive restaurants. You can get the full experience, however, by heading over to the Sun Deck Bar and Grill and ordering one drink or an appetizer to share. Then just enjoy it slowly while you relax at a beach-front table and enjoy the fact that you didn’t spend $100 to hang out at the Del like all the other people around you.

Take a hike!


We San Diegans love being outdoors. Do as the locals do and go hiking! If you’re looking for a few trail suggestions, try the Mount Woodson Trail (locally known as “Potato Chip Rock”). You would be missing out on one of the great views in the area if you skipped Torrey Pines, and another personal favorite of mine is the newly re-opened Annie’s Canyon Trail, which is a short but awesome hike through an incredibly narrow canyon. Happy Hiking!

Ok, now let’s talk about dining.


Eating out can get expensive really fast and San Diego has a lot of great restaurants. If you’re looking to celebrate a special occasion or want one really nice meal out while you’re here, by all means go ahead. You’ll have a plethora of incredible restaurants to choose from (*cough**cough* Bali Hai). However, if you’re looking into saving money, why not try out some of the budget options the city has to offer? Instead of going to a sit-down Mexican restaurant where they serve up giant margaritas and all the waiters wear traditional Mexican attire, why not do as the locals do and hit up a taco shop instead? San Diego is so close to Mexico that you can see it from parts of the city, and as such we have amazing taco shops all over the city and all over the county at large. Whatever neighborhood you’re in, just ask a local to point you in the direction of the nearest good taco shop, and you won’t be disappointed. You can read about why I love San Diego’s taco shops in my post about them.

If you’re not local to the U.S. West, then you should also take a chance to visit the famous In-N-Out Burger. An entire meal will cost you around $6 and you haven’t really gotten the full California experience until you’ve tried it.

A couple more tips…


If you liked this article, you can read more of my San Diego tips on my site. I have a special section dedicated to the city. Lastly, I would like to welcome you to my home. Enjoy your time in America’s Finest City!

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