This article was written by Carli Leavitt, editor of SanDiego.com. As a San Diego native, Carli has an extensive knowledge of local San Diego beaches, attractions, hotels and activities.
San Diego is a gem among California cities. As the 8th largest city in the US, San Diego is home to some of the world’s best attractions, stunning hotels and beautiful beaches. It’s no wonder the population has grown to over 1 million residents and the tourism industry is thriving.
Having grown up in San Diego, I’ve been able to experience the best this city has to offer and being a young adult, I’ve learned to do so while on a budget. From the best ways to spend a day with a quarter in my pocket to cheap eats at local restaurants, this is my guide to America’s Finest City on a budget.
Cheap Attractions worth Seeing:
- Balboa Park: This famous San Diego attraction is a must-see any time of year. The 1,200 acre park is home to popular museums like the San Diego Museum of Man and Reuben H. Fleet Science Center as well as a beautiful botanical garden and peaceful Koi pond. Balboa Park is great if you want to visit museums or catch a performance at the Old Globe Theatre, but it’s also nice for a day relaxing in the San Diego sunshine. Expansive grass areas and stunning intricate architecture make Balboa Park a great place to spend a day when traveling to San Diego on a budget. There is no admission fee to the park itself and some of the museums are free of charge on certain days so make sure to take a stroll through Balboa Park on your next San Diego vacation.
- Birch Aquarium: It’s actually less expensive to visit this awesome San Diego aquarium than it is to go to a movie! Adult tickets are $14 and children are $9.50. This includes admission to the aquarium with over 3,000 fish in over 60 different habitats. Visitors can get hands-on with some exhibits and even watch scheduled shark feedings. Exhibits include seahorses, sharks, a kelp forest, coral displays and living tide pools where guests can learn about the wonders of the ocean. Birch Aquarium is located on a bluff above the beaches of La Jolla and looks over the beautiful ocean and Scripps Pier. The views alone are worth admission.
Cheap Hotels worth the Stay:
- Holiday Inn Express Encinitas: Located in the beautiful coastal community of Cardiff-by-the-Sea in north county San Diego, Holiday Inn Express Encinitas is a great budget friendly option for a fun beach vacation. Just minutes from beautiful beaches and hot surf spots like Cardiff Reef and Swami’s, this hotel saves visitors money while putting them in a great location.
- Howard Johnson SeaWorld: This popular budget friendly hotel puts visitors in the middle of all the action with a great central location. Just minutes from SeaWorld San Diego and ten minutes from beautiful beaches and the San Diego International Airport, Howard Johnson SeaWorld makes it easy to get around town, see the sights and save a little cash while enjoying San Diego. It also includes amenities like an outdoor pool and free wireless Internet.
Cheap Eats in San Diego
- El Callejon Encinitas: This popular Mexican eatery has great happy hour deals on margaritas and menu items like calamari, tacos al pastor, and Baja fish tacos. Located on Highway 101, El Callejon is a hot hangout for locals and visitors looking to save a few bucks on delicious Mexican food and margaritas. The vibrant decor and friendly staff adds to the appeal of this north county San Diego restaurant.
- CUCINA Urbana: Although this isn’t one of the cheapest restaurants in San Diego, it is one of the best values. Meals average about $20 per person at CUCINA Urbana, but you get a bustling, eclectic and interesting dining experience in a beautiful part of town. Located in Banker’s Hill just a few miles north of downtown, CUCINA Urbana has nightly specials, daily happy hour and a large wine selection at great low prices.
San Diego may be America’s Finest City but that doesn’t mean visitors have to spend a fortune to enjoy it. With natural beauty, stunning beaches and great parks, San Diego is an easy destination for a budget friendly vacation in southern California.