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Balboa Park California Tower

7 free things to do in San Diego

Already explored LA’s Disneyland Park and Hollywood Boulevard? Take a two-hour drive south to explore San Diego, which is full of beaches, parks and free family fun.

1. 33 and me

With over 25 kilometres of pristine coastline, San Diego’s 33 beaches and adjacent boardwalk are renowned for being stroll-ready in both summer and winter. Most noteworthy is Mission Bay Park. Here, build a sandcastle, play volleyball, relax and soak up the sun or splash around in the gentle waves before stopping off for a sweet treat – we’re sure the little ones will think that ice-cream is sufficient enough.

2. Park life

If you’re looking for a one-stop shop of family fun, check out historic Balboa Park. Playgrounds, fountains, gardens and statues are all free to enjoy, but many of the dozens of attractions inside – including the San Diego Zoo, 17 museums and cultural institutions and rides – have entry fees.

3. Cheap as chips

Take a hike along the Mount Woodson Trail which is recommended by locals. Don’t leave without stopping at Potato Chip Rock. Located at the peak of Mount Woodson, this is a unique, thin rock that is one of the most photographed landmarks in San Diego.

4. Blast from the past

Old Town San Diego is the site of the first permanent Spanish settlement in California. Visit the town and wander among the original and reconstructed buildings before grabbing a bite of Mexican food and stopping for a show at Cygnet Theatre.

5. Sunsets at the landing place

The San Diego Embarcadero, meaning “landing place” in Spanish, is home to the USS Midway and stretches for several kilometres. A walk along the Embarcadero path will take you past many dining establishments and stores at Seaport Village.

6. Splashing around in La Jolla

Famous for its seal sightings on sand and in water, the Children’s Pool in La Jolla was made popular in 1931 when local philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps built a seawall to allow kids to swim freely. While humans can no longer swim in it, the seals love it.

7. Late night museum-ing

Full of modern and colourful works, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego opens its doors to all free of charge on the third Thursday of each month, from 5pm to 8pm. Keep an eye out for Family Artlab sessions – these coveted classes sell out in minutes!

This article appeared in volume 54 of Holidays with Kids magazine. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.

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