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Downtown San Diego Attractions You Can See for Free

Author 02-18-2016

Downtown San Diego boasts more attractions than you could fit in to a single visit. But there are a number of downtown San Diego attractions you can actually see for free! Easy on your wallet but still offering some of the most authentic San Diego moments, read on for ideas…

Downtown San Diego attractions

Downtown San Diego attractions

Big Bay Boom

San Diego’s biggest 4th of July Fireworks show happens when four different barges launch fireworks on the Big Bay. All you need are lawnchairs and friends, and a spot on one of the following downtown San Diego areas: Shelter Island, Harbor Island, North Embarcadero, Marina District, Seaport Village/South Embarcadero, Coronado Ferry Landing.

Pantoja Park

San Diego’s oldest park (built in 1850) has the feeling of a Spanish or Latin American plaza and is one of the beloved downtown San Diego attractions for locals and visitors alike. You’ll find workers from downtown playing soccer and Frisbee on lunch break. You can excercise along the broad path that surrounds the one-acre park. Or simply lounge in the sun or shade under four huge Moreton Bay fig trees.

Races at the Velodrome

The San Diego Velodrome is a cyclist’s mecca, whether you’re a pro or an amateur. This downtown San Diego attraction costs if you want to actually race on the track, but Tuesday Night Races and Friday Night Races are free for observers and fans. This is certainly one of San Diego’s most unique attractions!

California Surf Museum

On the first Tuesday of the month, you can gain free admission to the California Surf Museum. This awesome–or should we say, gnarly–downtown San Diego attraction features totally radical exhibits, including Going Big: A History of Riding Giants Around the World; A Brief History of Surfboards; and Courageous Inspiration: Bethany Hamilton.

Old Town

Just adjacent to downtown, Old Town features original and reconstructed buildings and furnishings of San Diego’s earliest residents. You can stroll around this beautiful neighborhood for free, but there’s plenty to enjoy while you’re there. Over 25 restaurants offer authentic and cultural cuisine.

Old Town San Diego State Historic Park is the most visited park in the state system and all of its museums are free to the public. The Casa de Estudillo is one of the finest adobe haciendas in the state; you can see a rare original stagecoach at the Wells Fargo Museum; check out the reconstructed Robinson Crusoe House; and more.

There are many more historic museums at the center of Old Town, including the Whaley House Museum, believed by many to be the most haunted house in America. Old Town State Park Tours are led by park aids from the Robinson Rose building on the plaza.

Grunion Run

The best beaches for grunion runs are Del Mar, La Jolla, Mission Beach and the Coronado Strand. Viewing the grunion runs on these beaches might very well make them the most memorable downtown San Diego attractions.

Grunion are the object of a unique recreational fishery. These fish are famous for their remarkable spawning behavior, which evokes an “I don’t believe it!” response from people seeing or hearing about it for the first time. We recently wrote about grunion runs on our Most Memorable Places in San Diego blog post.

USS Midway

The USS Midway Museum is an unforgettable adventure for the entire family. The ship’s 60 exhibits, including 29 restored aircraft and two flight simulators, are free for active and reserve military members with ID, and free for kids under 5.

San Diego Central Library

The 366,673 square-foot, nine-story, downtown Central Library is free to the public. This extraordinary library features an outdoor garden courtyard/café; a 320-seat auditorium; athree-story domed reading room; a 333-seat, west-facing multi-purpose room; and over a million books.

The children’s library and teen center are particularly intriguing for younger guests.

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego sits right in the heart of downtown San Diego.The Jacobs Building, which houses the downtown location, is the former Santa Fe Depot baggage building.

The Museum is free on the third Thursday of every month from 5-7 PM.

Annual Irish Parade & Festival

Downtown’s Balboa Park will host the 36th Annual Irish Parade & Festival. This event features live entertainment, food and craft vendors, and of course the free parade.

Enjoy the sounds of Ireland and partake of the good-natured fellowship, sing along, clap your hands, stomp your feet and quench your thirst with a pint or two while savoring all that is uniquely Irish. The Main Stages are located on the West side of Sixth Avenue and North side of Laurel/Prado.

Mission Federal ArtWalk

For 32 years, Mission Federal ArtWalk has celebrated art in San Diego. On April 30 & May 1, 2016, Mission Federal ArtWalk will fill 15 blocks in San Diego’s Little Italy neighborhood. Thousands of attendees come to view and purchase artwork, enjoy the music and dance and participate in interactive art experiences.

In fact, Little Italy hosts a number of downtown San Diego attractions and festivals throughout the year. You can read more about Little Italy’s events on the neighborhood’s website.


To make your stay in San Diego great, consider some our rental properties near the downtown area. We have a large portfolio of vacation rentals, ranging from short-term rentals to five-bedroom rentals. Check our website for availability. And don’t forget to check out our free area vacation guide to help you plan!