10 Places to Play in San Diego for $10 or Less

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While it’s always fun to get out of the house for entertainment, it can also tough when money isn’t growing on trees. But as most parents know, kiddos who want to play don’t care about tight purse strings. Luckily San Diego is filled with exciting and interesting places to play that offer a ton of fun on a tiny budget. We’ve picked ten great spots that you and your family can enjoy for under $10.

Photo Credit: Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation’s Facebook page

1. Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum & Historical Foundation
Ton Gun wannabes will love visiting this museum, that’s made possible completely by Marine Corps aviators. Families can check out more than 48 aircraft, the oldest dating back to the 1940s. Also on display are several indoor exhibits including the current restoration of an SBD Bomber plane retrieved from Lake Michigan, which will be completed in early 2016. Cost: Donation of your choice

MCAS Miramar Marine Corps Base
T-4203 Anderson Ave.
San Diego, Ca 92145-0316
(877) FLY-USMC
Online: flyingleathernecks.org

Hours: Tues.-Sun. 9 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. (closed federal holidays)

Photo credit: Scarlette Dr. via Yelp 

2. La Jolla Cove
What kiddo won’t be entertained by a bunch of sea lions talking incessantly? These sea creatures languish under the San Diego sun at the La Jolla Cove. Complete with tide pools for exploring, a walkway overlooking the cove for viewing and a nice grassy park for getting wiggles out, this site has so much to offer. Come with a thermos of hot cocoa about an hour before sunset to explore and then sip away as the sun goes down. Cost: Free

1100 Coast Blvd.
La Jolla, Ca 92037
Online: sandiego.gov/lifeguards/beaches/cove


Photo Credit: San Diego Natural History Museum Facebook Page

3. Free Museum Tuesdays in Balboa Park
Craving a little culture? Try of one of the 15 museums in Balboa Park for free! Each Tuesday, San Diego residents can see anything from science experiments  to baseball memorabilia. Free entry rotates each week, so be sure to plan which museum you want to explore on which date and make sure that one is offering the benefit that day. Or be spontaneous and see what’s open on any given Tuesday. Don’t forget your San Diego resident ID! Cost: Free

1549 El Prado
San Diego, Ca 92101
(619) 239-0512
Online: balboapark.org/in-the-park

Photo Credit: Pinky S. on Foursquare 

4. Kite Flying on Tecolote Shores
You’ll soon be singing “Let’s Go Fly a Kite!” as you grab a kite and head to this spot in East Mission Bay. With a grassy knoll, a playground and a beach complete with grills, this spot has something for everyone in the family. The bay has friendly winds conducive to kite-flying, a nice alternative to the often-mellow San Diego weather. Cost: Free (Don’t forget your kite!)

1296 East Mission Bay Dr.
San Diego, Ca 92109
(619) 235-1169
Online: sandiego.gov/park-and-recreation/parks/regional/missionbay/tecoloteshores.shtml

Hours: 4 a.m. – 2 a.m.

Photo Credit: Balboa Park Facebook Page

5. Organ Concerts at Spreckels Organ Pavilion
Every Sunday at 2 p.m., a trained organist sits down to light up Balboa Park with sound at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.  With 4,530 pipes ranging in length from the size of a pencil to 32 feet, it’s truly a spectacle for both eyes and ears. The instrument itself is one of the largest outdoor organs in the world and the music that comes from it is just as big. Cost: Free

1549 El Prado
San Diego, Ca 92101
(619) 239-0512
Online: balboapark.org/in-the-park/spreckels-organ-pavilion

Hours: Sundays at 2 p.m.

Photo Credit: San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy Facebook Page

6. Nature Walk at San Elijo
San Diego is a bounty of natural reserves, but this is one of the last coastal conservancies in San Diego County. Located just between Cardiff and Solana Beach, the San Elijo Nature Center‘s 3.44 acre lagoon and wildlife preserve is chock full of nature viewing opportunities. Pick up one of the trail maps at the visitor’s center and lead your kiddos on a self-guided scavenger hunt along the lagoon to find things like yellow birds, various flowers, fishes, and reptiles. Afterward, head inside for storytime. If you’re lucky, you may even get a glimpse of Franklin the tortoise! Cost: Donation

2710 Manchester Ave.
Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Ca 92007
(760) 634-3026
Online: www.sanelijo.org

Hours: Daily 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Kid’s Story Time: 3rd Tues. & Thurs. 11 a.m.

Photo Credit: Alfa S. via Yelp

7. Whale Watching at Cabrillo National Monument
Winter months bring whales seeking San Diego’s warm waters and there is no more spectacular place to spy them than from the Whale Overlook, near the lighthouse. As an added bonus, download the Cabrillo National Monument Flower App and check out the 300 plants and almost 2,500 photos as you stroll along Bayside Trail to the Whale Overlook. Cost: $5 Parking or $3 Walk-In Fee

1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr.
San Diego, Ca
(619) 557-5450
Online: nps.gov/cabr

Photo Credit: Tami D. via Yelp

8. Old Town
Hop on the trolley or the Coaster  (you can also drive) and 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. Cost: Free

2415 San Diego Ave.
San Diego, Ca 92110
(619) 291-4903
Online: oldtownsandiego.org

Hours: Daily, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Photo Credit: Seaport Village’s Facebook Page

9. Seaport Village Carousel
Ride the carousel, grab an ice cream cone and wander through this quaint little shopping and entertainment village on the sea. There’s always something to do in Seaport Village, including concerts, kite flying and lots more. Cost: Carousel ride $3

849 West Harbor Dr.
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 235-4014
Online: seaportvillage.com

Hours: Daily, 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Photo Credit: Nick P. via Yelp

10. Hike to the Waterfall in Los Penasquitos Canyon
With only about 3 miles from the base of the trail to the waterfall, this hike is great for kids over 5 or babies in carriers. There are so many fun twists and turns from the plank bridges to the fields of grass and wildflowers (even more profuse in springtime), your family will be entertained every step of the way. Even if you only make it halfway, the scenery and wildlife will delight. Cost: Free

12115 Black Mountain Rd.
San Diego, Ca 92129
(858) 538-8066
Online: sandiego.gov/park-and-recreation/parks/osp/lospenasquitos/

Where do you go in San Diego and not spend a bundle? Tell us in the comments below!

— Allison Stabile

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