San Diego is a real jewel in California’s crown and a must-visit city, with a stunning location, haps of amazing attractions, awesome food, and a vibrant and fun atmosphere. While overall San Diego is not a particularly expensive city to visit it is always a good idea to not spend more than you need to and make sure you get back from your trip with the credit card still intact.
Our guide to saving money in San Diego shows you everything you need to know about planning and executing the perfect San Diego stay without breaking the bank. We show you how to Visit San Diego on a budget yet still get the best out of the city. Budgeting shouldn’t mean cutting back and missing we show you how you can do more for less!
Where to Stay in San Diego on a Budget?
San Diego is filled with many very cheap and affordable places to stay. Chain Hotels all have a very large presence in the City and there are a huge number of hotel rooms available.
San Diego hosts many very large conferences and as such is required to have a very large capacity of hotel rooms. This means outside of the Conference season there is a lot of spare capacity and hotels compete for your customers with some really cheap offers.
Mission Valley is not the most glamorous place to stay but it is very central to everything. You will find a host of budget accommodations here often falling into the $100 a night bracket even as low as <$50. Do not expect luxury but you should get clean and comfortable. These are great if your plan is to spend most of your stay out and about!
Pacific Beach is a wonderful place to stay, right on the coast with a host of great restaurants and bars. The Area has a very young vibe but is still very laid back and relaxed. Only a short Uber ride to all of the City’s best attractions, PB is our top pick to stay in San Diego. It is also quite inexpensive. $100 a night will get you a clean comfortable room right on the sea-front. With a little more bagging an ocean view suite.
Even right in the City Centre, you can still find good hotels offering cheap room rates at off-peak times. And even the Pricier hotels are still really good value for what you get. There are some hostel options for really budget accommodation.
The SDMTS offers a cheap and comprehensive transport system that gets you around most places in San Diego. On Top of this Uber and Lyft operate extensively in the City and are much cheaper than taxies and even parking fees. We found Uber our go-to transport even though we have a hire car!
We have a full page on getting around San Diego here
For real money-savers, Personal Electic Hire Vehicles have become HUGE in San Diego probably more som than any other city we have visited. There are littery thousands of these flying about the place. What are they? Well, predominantly these are electric scooters. You unlock them using Smart Phone Technology and ride to your destination. Then leave it there. The “system” uses GPS to track the location of all it’s scooters. Look for Lime, Jump(Uber) and Bird branded Scooters, E-Bikes, and regular bikes, download the app to unlock.
The Parking Situation in San Diego is one of the better ones. Parking is abundant and not overly expensive especially compared to Los Angeles. Downtown and by the waterfront parking is more expensive. Your best bets are the larger parking lots that offer reasonable parking for longer periods. If you can avoid driving in though it is advisable.
Outside of these areas Parking can often be found for free. Balboa Park and all its museums and attractions including San Diego Zoo offer free parking which is awesome! Sea World does not! Parking is $25 so we tend to uber in!
Things to do for FREE
San Diego’s “Central Park”. This 1,200-acre wilderness in the middle of the city is a great place to get away from everything. While large parts of the park are devoted to the Zoo and other Paid attractions the majority is there for you to enjoy and explore free of charge. Even Parking is free!
Take the time to visit The Old Town district of the City for a taste of what life was like when San Deigo was young. The district has a feel of an old western border town, which is exactly what it was. Nowadays there are museums and specialty shops along with many restaurants, Cafes, and bars all themed with an old fashioned “western” flavor
San Diego has some really wonderful beaches for you to explore. The Wild Pacific coast pound large sections of the shoreline but a series of inlets and bays make for a very diverse and interesting coastline with Beaches of all kinds.
There is the 3.5 mile Pacific beach with wide sands and large breakers. Mission bay, is a sheltered shallow cove lined with beaches perfect for families or watersports. La Jolla has beautiful natural beaches protected from the worst of the Pacific swells and from man as it is a marine reserve! Point Loma has rugged cliffs pocked with small sandy coves and The Ocean Side of Coronado Island has another huge stretch of pristine golden sandy beach.
La Jolla is a stunning and protected coastal town a mile or two out of San Diego. The Marine Protection area means the coastal bluffs and beaches are a haven for wildlife. Expect Harbor Seals, California Sealions, and a myriad of birds. Underwater the Kelp Forrests harbor an abundance of life, which helps keep the whole Ecosystem in balance.
La Jolla is a wonderful place to visit and will not cast a dime, with free parking and coastal walks along with a huge beach to swim and snorkel in. However, if you do want to spend, Kyack Rentals, Padal Boarding, Scuba Diving and a host of other water sports are available and there are some great restaurants overlooking the cliffs.
The main selling point of La Jolla is its Natural beauty, and that is free!
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
Further on from La Jolla the Natural Beauty theme continues with the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. This is potentially not a Free activity as the majority of people drive in and parking is $12-$25 depending on season and demand. But technically it is free as if you can get here without a car it is free to enter.
Either way we had to included it as it is such a beautiful part of the City Area. The Huge windswept beach is backed by stunning coastal bluffs and dunes that are crisscrossed by a network of paths for you to explore. Perfect for a good hike with a beach visit thrown in.
Waterfront/Embarcado/Sea Port Village
The Waterfront area of Downtown is a great place to explore and just hang out. Here you can experience the beauty of the City along with many of the main sights of the city. The USS Midway is moored up here and while there is a cost to board you can walk around the colossal Aircraft carrier from the shoreline. While across the bay you may see the newer and active Nimitz class Carriers that are based at San Diego Naval Base n North Island.
The City Skyline is the backdrop and you can head into the City from the seafront or enjoy the parks and bayfront walks. Explore the FishMarket, get a selfie by the Unconditional Surrender Statue or check out some of the vintage Boats at the maritime museum. The Waterfront is the focal point of Downtown San Diego and a must-visit.
There is a lot to Do in San Diego for free, but some of the paid attractions are really world-class and often the very reason people visit the City. There is the World renowned San Diego Zoo, Sea World which is undergoing something of a renaissance, The Museums of Balboa Park, Whale Watching or Bay Cruises, Lego Land, and a whole lot more. Check out our guide to all the incredible things on offer in San Diego
Naturally with so many great things to see and do the expense can mount up. We take a look at the ways you can help cut the costs
Go San Diego Pass
The Go San Diego Pass is a really good way to help reduce your costs. Most of San Diego’s best attractions are included in the pass along with a good few you probably haven’t thought of. Such as Paddleboarding or a Speedboat adventure.
We recently hit the city with a 3-Day pass and had a fantastic time. You can easily save 30% over gate prices and even more if you make a real effort to pack a few more attractions in. Take a look at our last trip or check out our in-depth review here. We also regularly have discount codes available to make the pass even cheaper.
Be Sure to check Group-On for deals and savings on certain attractions and tours. Group-On often has some pretty unusual things to do in most cities and you might bag a real bargain.
Undercover Tourist Are our favorite Ticket Resellers. Offering fantastic prices and top-notch customer service. If you know exactly which attractions you want to visit and just want a few of the top attractions in town Undercover Tourists are pretty much the cheapest you will find.
Be sure to check their Prices against the Go San Diego Pass as you may get the same package for less. The Build Your Own Pass allows you to pick and choose exactly which attractions you want and usually works out even cheaper than Undercover Tourist!
Cheap Eats and Happy Hours
San Diego is home to Cali-Baji cuisine. This blend of Mexican and Californian cuisine is fresh, basic, and cheap by nature. The Mexican style it is based on is a cheap street-food style and this translates over to the Cali-Baji. Everywhere you go you will find tacos, Burritos, and other Mexican dishes with a Cali twist.
Eating cheap is really easy in San Diego. There are many upscale restaurants and if you want to spend big on your dining you can, However, there are endless small start-up restaurants offering really great food at bargain prices.
Happy Hours are a great way to bag great food really cheap. They often have smaller portions of meals, a bit like Tapas, So you can split a few dishes and get a real taste of the Cuisine.
Also, Check out Group-On for the food and drink offers as you can find some real bargains there.
San Diego has all the cheap and cheerful Chain restaurants you expect from an American city so you are never really far from a cheap meal if you just want to fall back to what you know.
One of the best ways to get tipsy for very little is to do a wine tasting. These really fun visits to the wineries and urban wineries let you sample the area’s best wines all for very little. A great half-day experience for not much money!
Bottom Line, San Diego is the City of a billion Taco’s, and Prices are really cheap. If you can live off Taco’s you will certainly have no trouble eating cheaply in San Diego!
Have Your Say
Got any tips on saving money in San Diego? We would love to hear them? Maybe you know a great bar or restaurant that is great value or an activity to do that costs nothing, or next to nothing? Maybe you want to share your business with us so we can spread the word? Whatever you have to say about saving money in San Diego just fire away in the comments.