The kids will soon be on winter vacation for the holidays, so we’ve put together plenty of free things to do with kids in San Diego. You can keep the kiddos entertained all over town––for free (or super cheap). From where to view the best Christmas light displays to where to hike a giant eagle-shaped rock formation, read on to see why some of the best things in life really are free in kid-friendly San Diego.

photo: Hilton Head Park

1. Head to one of the best playgrounds in San Diego where kids can slide through a giant bunch of grapes or commandeer a pirate ship!

2. Go ooh and aah over the very best Christmas light displays in the city, in a neighborhood near you!

3. Visit Myrtle Creek Botanical Gardens & Nursery. You’ll think you just stepped into the pages of a fairytale. Feed the goats (for a small fee), frolic among singing birds and fluttering butterflies and enjoy a picnic in nature.

4. Hike to a giant rock formation that’s shaped like an eagle!

5. Score a sweet deal by visiting an awesome museum for free. Click here to learn about what days our fave family-friendly museums offer free admission.

6. Fly kites, window shop, wander along the bay and watch the ships going by at Seaport Village. You can listen to live music in the food court or pack a picnic. Don’t forget to ride the antique carousel and grab an ice cream cone. Carousel rides cost $3.

photo: Beth Shea/Myrtle Creek

7. Take a Family Discovery Hike at beautiful Mission Trails every fourth Sunday at 3 p.m. Learn about the birds, plants and animals found throughout the park. For more hiking inspo for the whole family, check out the best hiking trails for kids in San Diego.

8. Check out not one, but two, historic San Diego ranch houses. The Los Peñasquitos Ranch House is the second oldest standing residence and was built in 1823 by the recipients of the first Mexican land grant in San Diego County. Take a hike around the area, then check out the goats, chickens, veggies, and have some fun in the large open spaces for playtime. Then head to “Carlsbad’s Sleeping Beauty” to see the Leo Carillo Ranch House and prance with the peacocks and play on authentic ranch and farming equipment. Don’t forget to pack a picnic!

9. Be dazzled by the spectacular San Diego Bay Parade of Lights. Click here for our guide on the best places to view the twinkling boats gliding by.

photo: Balboa Park

10. Visit Balboa Park to gain access to an abundance of museums participating in the Kids Free in October promotion we mentioned in #1 on this list. Along the Prado, you’ll also find buskers in the park showcasing their musical talents. It’s a fun way to explore new music for free. Near the Air and Space Museum, find the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theatre. For only $5 per person (kids under age 2 are free), your family can experience a live show that’s short and sweet. Afterwards, sit with a picnic on a grassy knoll and watch the many planes that fly by on their way to the airport.

11. Head to Old Town to see the birthplace of California. Settled in 1769, many of the buildings in Old Town were built in the early 1800s, which is pretty amazing in itself. See the mission, run around on the green or walk through the village, taking in the sights and scents of old San Diego.

photo: Friends of Balboa Park

12. Head to North Park for a community art class at Art Produce. Held each Saturday from 2- 4 p.m. this drop-in program is perfect for creative kids to try a variety of techniques. Classes are led by professionals who help young artists experiment with an ever-changing array of materials such as paint, pencils, clay, found objects and more. While there, explore the beautiful urban garden and art gallery. Pay what you can/a $5 donation is suggested to cover the cost of supplies.

13. Just under the Coronado Bridge lies Chicano Park in Barrio Logan. Vivid, lively murals depict aspects of San Diego’s Mexican-American heritage including mythology and immigration. Kids especially love the Children’s Mural, which represents drawings and paintings from kids that attended two local elementary schools. Chicano Park is a great place to give kids an art lesson. Visit the park’s interactive website to explore the murals’ history and artists before your visit.

14. Spend a weekend afternoon at Old Poway Park. Located in the heart of Poway, Old Poway Park has everything for a perfect weekend: trains, good food and a place to run around. The Hamburger Factory Restaurant features Old West decor and down-home delicious pancakes, biscuits and hamburgers. After breakfast or lunch, you can hop aboard the train that runs on weekends alongside the park. The train staff is even dressed in vintage clothing. Check the train schedule online for times. Note that the train doesn’t run on the second Sunday of each month. There’s plenty of green grass for kids to play and spaces for you to picnic too. Make a day of it and explore the replica historic schoolhouse and blacksmith. Train rides cost $1-$3.50/person.

photo: dailymatador via Flickr

15. Go sleuth for Dr. Seuss in San Diego! Theodor Seuss Geisel called La Jolla home and our guide will point you to all the places you’ll go to spy Seussian delights all over the city––from the original Lorax tree to historical first editions of the good Dr.’s books!

16. Check out the Sanford Children’s Library at the Central Library. The library’s Dr. Seuss murals and thousands of books make it a fun, inviting space for kids. Park in the underground lot and get validation to park free for the first two hours.

17. Strike a pose and capture a super hip photo op at one of these Instagrammable murals.

photo: Beth Shea

18. Hit the beach. From stretches of shimmery sand at Coronado’s Silver Strand to boogie boarding near the cliffs of Torrey Pines and making waves in Del Mar, nothing is more iconic than a beach day here in San Diego. Want to explore a new beach this summer? Check out our guides to the best local beaches for the kids and your pooch.

19. Go stargazing! Here are the 7 best spots around San Diego to put a twinkle in your eye.

20. Let your kids put the pocket money they’ve earned doing chores to use with a thrilling ride on the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster in Belmont Park. Kids 50″ and taller can pony up $6 to climb aboard the historic coaster built in 1925. Buckle up for the dips and high speed turns!

photo: USS Midway

21. See San Diego through a new lens by touring the quirkiest sites in the city: a house perched off the edge of a building, a towering kissing sculpture, a deep sea cave and more unbelievable sights will wow and delight your brood.

22. Take a family bike ride along one of our favorite kid-friendly bike trails in San Diego!

––Cherie Gough, Leah R. Singer, Allison Stabile & Beth Shea


featured photo: Jenny Z. via Yelp


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