Budget Friendly San Diego
Updated: May 23, 2023
AAA Travel Editor Frank Swanson
With its mild, sunny climate and breathtaking oceanfront scenery, San Diego is a dream destination at the top of many travelers' bucket lists. You'll be happy to know your Southern California dream can come true even if money is tight. These five fun places to go are among San Diego's most popular attractions, but you won't have to bust your budget on hefty admission prices. Some don't even charge admission.
1549 El Prado
Probably the best deal in San Diego, AAA GEM® Balboa Park usually offers free admission and parking to the public unless there’s a special event. What’s more, some of the park’s cultural institutions are free and those that aren’t are either low-cost or participate in the Explorer Multi-Day Pass, which allows visitors to pay one price for more than a dozen museums and is good for 7 days. You could spend hours here wandering among ornate, Spanish Colonial Revival buildings, sculptures, fountains and gardens without paying a cent.Read More
Cabrillo National Monument
1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr.
You can’t beat the views from Cabrillo National Monument, a AAA GEM attraction on Point Loma. From atop a rocky headland that soars more than 400 feet above the Pacific, you’re treated to a sweeping panorama that includes San Diego Bay and the city’s skyline on one side and an expansive seascape on the other. Take a selfie with the 14-foot sandstone statue of explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, who visited the area in 1543, or hike along trails up to the Old Point Loma Lighthouse or down to bayside tide pools. Though not free, Cabrillo National Monument is one of San Diego’s outstanding things to see and a relative bargain.Read More
La Jolla Cove
While the boutiques and high-end restaurants in fashionable La Jolla are anything but cheap, a stroll along the waterfront is yours for free, and it’s definitely one of San Diego’s fun places to go. The lovely, cliff-bordered crescent of sand known as La Jolla Cove is the star of countless vacation photos, but don’t stop there. Chances are good you will find sea lions lounging on the rocks all up and down the nearby shoreline, and just a short walk from the cove is La Jolla Cave and the Coast Walk Trail, which offer even more fantastic picture spots.
Old Town San Diego State Historic Park
4002 Wallace St.
Leave the modern world behind with a trip to AAA GEM Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, an experience that is anything but a dry history lesson. Not only is it one of the city’s great budget-friendly things to do, but the park also features interesting shops and festive restaurants housed inside historic buildings, both reconstructed and restored originals. Mexican souvenirs and handicrafts are a specialty here, as well as south-of-the-border cuisine, but you’ll also get a sense of what San Diego was like as a frontier town in the American West.Read More
Ladera St. & Sunset Cliffs Blvd.
The Golden State dramatically lives up to its name at San Diego’s Sunset Cliffs, especially when the day’s waning light gilds the weathered, tawny bluffs—it’s definitely one of the city’s top things to see. There’s no admission charged to savor the scenery, so follow the path hugging the clifftops and enjoy the phenomenal ocean views. Step carefully, though, and note the signs warning you to stay back from the edge; Mother Nature continues to carve the beautiful California Coast here.Read More
AAA Travel Editor Frank Swanson
Frank Swanson is a AAA Travel Expert.