10 Free Activities in Downtown San Diego

Fun doesn’t need to cost money when you’re in downtown San Diego. Save your earnings and opt for free activities instead. Whether you’re visiting or you own real estate in downtown San Diego, here are 10 free things to do in the area.

1. Attend Organ Concerts at Balboa Park

The Spreckels Organ Pavilion presents free concerts throughout the year. On Sundays at 2pm, you’ll be enthralled by the civic organist or guest artists playing the keyboards. You’ll be serenaded by the world’s largest outdoor pipe organ while relaxing on bench seating. At night, exquisite illumination makes the pavilion glow. For all concerts, you’re welcome to picnic and bring pets.

During the summer, enjoy enchantment under the stars at the International Summer Organ Festival. For 2017, the program runs from June 26th through August 28th, Monday nights at 7:30pm. Also during the summer, Twilight in the Park concerts are held on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 6:15pm. Music spans a variety of genres, including jazz, swing, and Latin.

2. Visit the Spanish Village Art Center

At this outdoor facility in the heart of Balboa Park, you’ll see 37 artist studios where local craftspeople demonstrate their talents. Various media are represented, including sculpture, metal, clay, prints, fiber, glass, enamel, gourds, and paint. The patio itself is a work of art with a colorful tile floor.

Studios are open daily from 11am to 4pm, except on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. The Art Center also holds special events year-round.

3. Explore the Gaslamp Quarter

Adjacent to the marina and across from Petco Park, amble through this charming downtown district. You’ll be awed by the architecture of the historic buildings, which are resplendent in rich colors, ornate carvings, and stained glass. Browse the shops, boutiques, and galleries that comprise the neighborhood’s 16 blocks.

4. Enjoy Residents Free Tuesdays in Balboa Park

If you’re a resident or active service member, you’ll be admitted free to several museums on designated Tuesdays each month. Here’s the current schedule:

  • First Tuesdays – Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, Centro Cultural de la Raza, San Diego Model Railroad Museum, San Diego Natural History Museum
  • Second Tuesdays – Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego History Center, San Diego Hall of Champions Sports Museum, Veterans Museum and Memorial Center
  • Third Tuesdays – Mingei International Folk Art Museum, San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego Museum of Man, Japanese Friendship Garden
  • Fourth Tuesdays – San Diego Automotive Museum, San Diego Air and Space Museum, San Diego Art Institute, Select House of Pacific Relations International Cottages

5. Check Out the San Diego Central Library

An East Village landmark, this breathtaking building soars nine stories high. The library hosts free community events, including concerts, films, dance performances, lectures, and seminars.

The top floor is known as the “public penthouse.” Beneath a vaulted ceiling three stories tall, the floor houses a reading room. At night, lamplight casts a cozy ambiance for curling up with a book.

Through the glass windows, you’ll enjoy sweeping views of the Coronado Bridge and San Diego Bay. Savor the open air from the rooftop terrace. On the ninth floor, you’ll find an outdoor sculpture court and an art gallery containing the works of local artists.

6. Bask in Nature’s Beauty at Balboa Park’s Botanical Building

pon entering, breathe in the rich, earthy scent. Feast your eyes on spectacular orchids, cycads, ferns, palms, seasonal flowers, and other tropical plants.

Also, treat your senses to the Touch and Smell Garden, which features aromatic plants. Plants are labeled with their scientific names, so you can note your favorites.

The conservatory is one of the largest wood lath buildings in the world. Constructed without glass, the slats create cool shadows inside, even during summer. You’ll be amazed by the stately dome, mirrored in the Lily Pond, which is home to vivid koi fish.

7. Walk Through Seaport Village

In the Marina district, this waterfront center presents concerts of all types, including Greek, Cajun, Blues, and Zydeco. In the food court, relish live musical entertainment, provided daily from 12pm to 4pm. At the East Plaza Gazebo, classic rock is the featured genre for the 1pm Sunday Concert Series.

Once monthly in May and June, join Salsa Under the Stars, where you can dance to orchestral music in The Headquarters’ outdoor courtyard. No partner or experience is necessary. Dates this year are May 19th and June 16th, from 6pm to 9pm.

Browse the 50+ boutiques, walk the promenade, and enjoy the harbor view, with its impressive ships and yachts, or follow the cobblestone paths alongside ponds, lakes, and fountains. A visit to Seaport Village will leave you feeling refreshed.

8. Expand Your Mind at the Museum of Contemporary Art

At this Columbia district gallery, thought-provoking art will give you a new perspective on social issues. The museum is small, so you won’t be overwhelmed by numerous collections. Artwork is showcased in all types of media, from 1950 through the present.

Admission is free on the third Thursday of every month, from 5pm to 8pm. If you’re 25 or younger or serving in the military, admission is always free with an ID. Exhibition tours are also complimentary.

9. Stroll, Bike, Hike, or Jog Through Balboa Park

Balboa Park has five “gateways” through its grounds. Each is subdivided into trails. Routes are color-coded, numbered, and graded by level of difficulty. Here’s an overview of each gateway:

  • Sixth and Upas – This route has five trails, including easy, medium, and difficult grades. Choose this gateway to see the gardens, museums, and less frequented park areas.
  • Park Blvd. – This spur encompasses four trails of easy, medium, and difficult grades. Take it to access the park’s most popular sites, including the historic 1915 Panama-California Exposition section. If you like a challenge, one trail is hilly with unpaved surfaces.
  • Morley Field – The three trails of this gateway are relatively short and over easy and medium grades. One course is used for high school cross-country competitions. Another traverses secluded park areas.
  • Marston Point – The four trails of this route include easy and medium grades. One courses through canyons, and others skip past gardens. The fourth explores the 1915 Panama-California Exposition section.
  • Golden Hill – For a short half-mile stint, take this gateway. Two other long trails are rated medium and difficult. One invites you into native canyon habitats. The second includes canyon, garden, and museum sections.

10. Bring the Family to Waterfront Park

Just west of Little Italy, this park on Pacific Highway is an ideal summer destination for children. Fountain jets spray arcs of water that collect in a shallow pool, creating a splashing area. Kids can also have a blast at the expansive playground. Enjoy a picnic on grassy park sections and a soothing view of the bay. Stroll through the native plants garden and ponder the public art.

Throughout the year, the park hosts special events, including farmers markets, festivals, and dance performances. You can also reserve park space for private events.

Waterfront Park is open daily from 6am to 10pm, and the fountain jets run from 11am to 7pm. Parking is available at the underground garage off Ash Street.

The many free activities available in downtown San Diego aren’t the only reason people choose to live here. If you’re interested in the urban downtown lifestyle, there are many condos, penthouses, and lofts in downtown San Diego available for purchase. Call the real estate experts at 92101 Urban Living at 619-649-0368 to begin your search.

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San Diego, CA 92101.
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