If you have decided to go to San Diego on a budget, don't worry. You can have an amazing time in San Diego, even if you need to count your nickels and dimes. There are so many things that you can enjoy in this beautiful city that don't cost a penny. Don't cheat yourself out of a really memorable vacation just because you are worried about the cost of a trip to San Diego.
To make the most of a limited travel budget when visiting San Diego, a little planning is all that's needed. From affordable hotels and hostels to inexpensive dining and cheap things to do, you can do it all here and maybe even have a little money left over.
Before you head out to visit San Diego and follow the tips in this guide, be sure that your bags are safe and secure. Bounce offers excellent San Diego luggage storage services that won't break the bank. Having the peace of mind that you need to enjoy San Diego can make a big impact on every day that you spend in this lovely city.
Cheap places to stay in San Diego
One of the best ways to save money when traveling to San Diego on a budget is to stay at the right kind of hotel. You might want to give our guide to the best neighborhoods in San Diego a look before you book your hotel. Choosing between downtown San Diego versus other parts of the city can make a big difference in the way that you spend your time while you are in California. Here are a few of our favorite budget hotels:
Samesun Ocean Beach - San Diego
This lovely hotel categorizes itself as colorful lodging, and they aren't lying. This adorable little hotel offers you access to a bright and cheery atmosphere with boldly colored walls and cute rooms. This is a hostel, and rooms start at $90 a night, but you can get private rooms for an added fee. Enjoy an included breakfast and the fact that you are within walking distance from most of the best parts of the city in this part of San Diego. It's easy to walk to the fun of the Gaslamp district from here or wander to the Ocean Beach area for a day of fun in the sun.
HI San Diego Downtown
Another hostel, this charming spot offers rooms that start at just $75 a night. The wi-fi is free here, and there is a shared kitchen to use while you stay. You can get to public transportation with ease from here, and you are close to many of the things that make visiting San Diego special. The East Village District and the Gaslamp Quarter are very close to this lovely little hostel, and you can also make your way to Balboa Park from this unfussy and cozy spot.
Wyndham Garden San Diego near SeaWorld
Considering that this hotel is close to Seaworld San Diego, this is one of the most affordable options that you can find in the city. You will pay about $100 a night for a standard room here, but you will be so close to many of the best parts of the city. Enjoy free wi-fi, a heated pool, and a restaurant at this well-known chain hotel. You know what you're getting here, and it's easy to get around from the Wyndham Garden. Getting to and from the San Diego International Airport is also a snap.
Cheap things to do in San Diego
The San Diego Zoo
The San Diego Zoo might seem expensive at first, especially when you see that costs can range from $60 to $100 for entry, depending on the season. However, there are so many cool things to do in this San Diego attraction that it is well worth the money. You can keep kids busy here for hours, and you will be able to spend an entire day here for the price of a single ticket. There are also free and discounted ticket prices that can be offered for the San Diego Zoo if you do a little shopping around.
La Jolla Cove
La Jolla Cove and the La Jolla beaches are some of the best of what San Diego has to offer. Plus, they are free, and you can simply head down to the beach with a towel and a book and spend a pleasant day by the ocean. Even renting chairs and an umbrella won't break the bank here. The beach is one of the most famous things in San Diego, and you shouldn't miss out on this part of the beauty of Southern California.
San Diego Bay
This region of the San Diego area is ideal for those who want to stroll through the historic Hotel del Coronado or maybe rent a bike and enjoy pedaling around this part of the city. The San Diego Bay area also has lots of great restaurants and shopping to offer, as well as being a place to take surfing lessons or to wander along the pier or the boardwalk. You can spend a whole day around San Diego Bay, and kids will love this day of your trip.
One of the most iconic beach areas in the city, Mission Beach is a great place to head for morning yoga in the sand, some shopping, or an affordable lunch or dinner. You can walk along the boardwalk area or simply sit outside and enjoy a glass of wine in the sun. There are so many lovely things to do in this part of the city that you should consider spending at least part of a day in this area of town.
If you love a little peace and quiet, it's free to get into Scripps Park. There is also the Scripps Aquarium here, which is quite affordable, and the San Diego botanical gardens are close by as well. You could choose to sit on the grass and enjoy the sun, or you might want to spend your time in this part of the city seeing the sights while saving money.
Cheap places to eat in San Diego
Eating on the cheap is possible when you visit San Diego on a budget. One of the best ways to score cheap eats that are really delicious is to work your way through the San Diego street food scene. Eating out can actually be affordable, and depending on where you're staying, remember that you might be able to cook in your shared kitchen at your hostel or the kitchenette in your hotel room for a few of your meals during your trip.
Hawaiian food is always delightful, and this is a great place for a delicious meal that won't break the bank. Head here for rice and teriyaki or more traditional Hawaiian food like poke. You will be able to eat a big meal for under $15 here, and kids will find food that they enjoy as well. Even better, take your food to go and head out to a place like Pacific Beach to eat in the sun and listen to the waves.
The Kebab Shop
This tasty Mediterranean restaurant offers affordable dining for lunch and dinner, great service, and really authentic food. You will get a large portion no matter what you choose to eat from this location, and everyone can eat a whole meal for about $10 a plate. If kebabs are not your thing, there are lots of other kinds of food on the menu as well.
El Carrito Restaurant
Some of the best food in Southern California is made at taco shops and small Mexican food restaurants. There is nothing quite like a taco that is made by the beach in San Diego, and you can get a ton of street tacos here for a really good price. Street tacos and other small a la carte items will be about $1 to $2 here, meaning that you can get a lot of food for a very good price.
Cheap bars in San Diego
Heading out for a night on the town doesn't have to break if you head to one of these bars:
The Hole In The Wall
This location is one of the city's most open and inviting gay bars, but everyone is welcome. Come here for great cocktails and beer, and be sure to stay for any of the shows that are on the schedule at night. The service is friendly, and the drinks are about $5 or less each. There are usually good drink specials on offer as well, making this a good place to head with friends and family to save some more money.
If you like playing pool and sipping on a beer or a rum and coke, this is the place for you. The pours are heavy, and the location is fun, making this a great choice for a night out on the cheap. You can bring a whole gang of people here and belly up to the bar for a night of chatting with the bartenders and having a great time. There are few places so fun and casual in San Diego, and you will not regret spending time at this cozy little location.
Another fun dive bar, this little hole-in-the-wall offers pool tables and cheap beer as well as inexpensive food. You can hang out all night here easily, and the big and inviting bar welcomes you right in. This is a place where drink specials bring the price down to about $2 or $3 a drink, and pool tables rent for reasonable rates as well.
Bonus budget tips for San Diego
Always remember that most of the beaches around San Diego's downtown area are free to access. You can also head to green spaces like Balboa Park to enjoy the shade or a walk around the greenspace that is peaceful and doesn't cost a dime.
Go San Diego card
The Go San Diego card is a great option for those who want to see the bigger attractions but need to save money. If you get the Go San Diego card ahead of your stay, many of San Diego's most expensive attractions will be discounted or free. You can head to places like LEGOLAND for free with this card in hand, and sometimes you will have access to free concert opportunities as well. This is one of the best ways to save money while you are in the San Diego area, and the Go San Diego card can be a lifesaver if you have kids with you on your trip.
One of the other benefits of using the Go San Diego card is that you will save enough money to travel out to some of the farther-flung areas around the city. Making the jaunt to San Diego's Seaport Village is a great idea, and you will be able to dine out more often in the San Diego air during your trip if you save money in other ways.
In addition to all the great activities we've listed here, there are even more exciting free things to do in San Diego to make sure your travel dollars stretch as far as possible. Heading to San Diego on a budget is easier than you might think, and you can find many cool places to visit that will not cost you anything to enjoy. From Balboa Park to picking the right days to check out places like Seaworld San Diego, you can visit San Diego without breaking the bank.
No matter which part of the downtown San Diego area you want to visit, our hotel suggestions will make it easy for you to get around without a rental car. Be sure that you consider the beaches as a must-do item during your trip, and also make sure that you sample some of the street food vendors all along the beach and in the downtown area.
It is easier than you probably think to save money in San Diego, and with a little planning, you will be able to go on a trip that you will never forget.