When we’re out and about in San Diego we notice that not all tourists are hanging at the Hotel Del or lining up to spend $100 a plate for dinner. In fact, we’re always on the hunt for free family fun. Maybe that’s just because we’re a typical family living in a tourist town? Or maybe its the fact that we’ve been on too many family vacations where each trip out of the hotel cost us more than $100. (cough, South Florida, cough, cough)

With that in mind, we put our heads together to come up with this list of our Top Five Free Excursions.

  1. Balboa Park - There’s tons to do at Balboa Park that doesn’t cost money. (Parking and shuttles are free, too!) Our favorite thing to do, beyond the zoo, is to walk around the promenade, let the kids run in the massive fountain, and enjoy a picnic at the massive Pepper Grove playground. If its a Sunday, our kids adore exploring the cottages representing the various nations. On top of that there are tons of hiking trails to explore.
  2. Beach day – There are tons of beaches along our coast, most of them are 100% free. Our favorite free beaches are Coronado, Pacific Beach, and La Jolla Shores. In Winter, we still go to the beach pretty regularly! Our favorite for long walks on cool days is Pacific Beach. There are plenty of shops and things to explore that won’t cost you a dime!
  3. Torrey Pines Gliderport – While it will set you back some cash to actually going hang-gliding, watching them take off and fly around is nearly as cool and completely free. The cliffs also provide an amazing place to take pictures. Fair warning: This isn’t designed for tourists. So don’t expect to see a lot of services or even seating. But did we mention the panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean? (And a healthy amount of trying to see down to Blacks Beach below. (Nude beach)
  4. Mission Trails – Hike, mountain bike, and explore to your hearts content. Located just 15 minutes from downtown San Diego, Mission Trails regional park is 5800 acres of mostly undeveloped wilderness. And its all free and open to the public.
  5. Old Town - We love both the state historic park and the little neighborhood to the south. Wander around the park to learn San Diego’s rich history and experience the joy of tons of little shops, restaurants, and galleries that make Old Town unique. And, of course, you can have a great time without spending any money at all.

Postscript: While it isn’t free, one of our favorite ways to save money while exploring San Diego is to take the trolley. An all-day pass is just $5. And on weekends, two children under 12 years old are free with a paying adult. Our kids still get a kick out of riding the trolley downtown!


The Great Food Race on Food Network is drawing attention to the gourmet food truck phenomenon. And there are several making a name for themselves here in San Diego.

One of our favorites is a bright orange roving coffee truck known as Joes On The Nose. Head to the biggest farmers market in San Diego on any given day and look for the lines of people by the giant orange truck. That’s Joes on the Nose.

Daily Specials

We had the pleasure of visiting Joes On the Nose at our favorite farmers market, the Little Italy Mercato. The first thing that you will notice is that Joes on the Nose is not a crappy lunch wagon. It is very clean, has a coffee menu that rivals Krakatoa in depth and creativity. No doubt this roving coffee wonderland would do just fine if they landed on any block in my neighborhood. They just happen to take their show on the road!

The team that runs the truck is equal in quality to the trucks outward appearance. They wear matching gear, huge smiles, and are full of personality. When theyasked my 7 year old sons name for his drink order the guy at the counter proceeded to engage my son in conversation about the meaning of his name. You won’t get that at your average Starbucks.

Now, onto the main course– the drinks. All together we ordered 5 drinks. All of them were excellent. I had the horchata latte and it was amazing from the first sip to the last. My son ordered a mango smoothie. While the small was too large for him to drink, he was gave up and said, “It is really good but my stomach is just too full.” (Daddy obliged by finishing the drink. For the review, of course.) My wife ordered a horchata flavored frappe called, The Jorge.  (Caffeine free since she is pregnant) My daughter ordered something with coconut in it. And our friend got the Green Flash… some sort of green tea slushy drink, which she loved. For those keeping track at home that is five 5-star drinks in one trip! This track record leads me to believe that everything on their menu is of equal quality.

If this place had tables and free wifi it just might have become my new mobile office.

Next time you are out at a farmers market or a local festival, keep an eye out for the orange truck. If you are on Twitter, make sure to follow @joesonthenose to find their daily location.

Joes On The Nose
Roaming, San Diego
Under $10 per person


The view south from Sunset Cliffs Park

Let’s say you are visiting San Diego and entertaining the thought, “What would it be like to live here?“ This is what our family does every time we go away for vacation. And we wonder what would our family do on a typical Friday night?

Here’s one of our families favorite cheap date nights. And if you are in town visiting you’ll get a glimpse of life as a San Diego resident.

First, go through the drive-thru at In-N-Out Burger on Sports Arena Boulevard. Sure, there are better burgers in San Diego, but nothing says Southern California family fun night quite like these classic burgers. Get a cheeseburger meal for everyone in the car and make sure not to steal a fry on the way to the ocean. If the kids have been extra good substitute their soft drinks for a shake! (About $6 each without the shake, $8 with the shake)

Next, drive over to Sunset Cliffs Park in Point Loma. As you wind your way through busy Ocean Beach on Sunset Cliffs Boulevard the hot food will burn your lap. Soon enough traffic will thin out and you’ll start heading up the hill and transform from busy Ocean Beach to sleepy Point Loma. Enjoy the jaw dropping views of the ocean on the right and dream of living in a big house on the left. Avoid the temptation to stop here munch on your burgers… there is something better to come.

Follow Sunset Cliffs Boulevard until it ends. (You won’t mind the drive!) From there, head up the hill a couple hundred yards on Ladera Street until you find the Sunset Cliffs Park lot. Park there and walk down to the park and eat by the cliffs while sitting on the ground or use the hood of your car as a table to enjoy your dinner.

While it is incredibly beautiful there, and you’ll be tempted to just eat and watch the surfers from the cliff… resist a bit more temptation for the ultimate payoff.

Sunset from the old softball field at Point Loma Nazarene University

Follow the trails south from the parking lot and find a bigger dirt path a hundred yards to the east of the ocean. Keep going south and you’ll technically leave the park and enter onto the property of Point Loma Nazarene University. The dirt path will head up a little hill and bring you to a road. (Lomaland Drive) Continue south on that another hundred yards and to your right you’ll see an abandoned softball diamond. (Locals use this as a dog park) Find your way down to the softball field and you’ll be at one of the most quiet and beautiful places to watch a sunset in all of San Diego County. Our family has been there several times and there has never been more than a handful of people nearby. It’s a fantastic place to take sunset pictures, family pictures, or just let the kids run in the big open field while you and your loved one steal a moment to cuddle near the electric current of the sunset and crashing waves.

Fair warning: Since this is private property, we can’t guarantee you will have access every day of the year. While we’ve never had anyone from the school say anything to us it is conceivable that they may be using their property.

In-N-Out Burger, San Diego
3102 Sports Arena Boulevard
San Diego
Under $10
Sunset Cliffs Park
San Diego