San Diego is one of the premiere vacation spots in the U.S., and it’s no wonder why. San Diego has it all — sun, surf and seals! This is one of my family’s favorite spots to visit, and every time we do, we discover something new. On the downside, San Diego can be a very pricey vacation spot, so I am always looking for inexpensive, fun activities. If you’re planning a trip to San Diego here are some of the best (and cheapest) attractions:

 

1. Watch the sea lions at La Jolla Cove

If you or your little ones love animals, La Jolla Cove should definitely be on your list! The Cove is always filled with sea lions, seals and numerous other types of sea life. Last time I visited this area, we spent hours on the beach just watching the seals play in the water! We also saw crabs, fish and even whales spouting in the distance. The best part of La Jolla Cove? It’s free! Street parking can be difficult in the area, so expect to circle around for a bit looking for a spot, but be patient because it is definitely worth it!

2. Check out the US Olympic Training Center

Located just outside of San Diego in Chula Vista, the US Olympic Training Center is a very cool place to spend an afternoon. In fact, depending on when you go, you may even get to see some athletes in action! Visitors can grab a map at the visitors center and explore the grounds, which include the largest archery range in North America, BMX tracks, and Athlete Village. If you have a sports fan in the family, getting to see where our athletes train can be a pretty exciting day trip, and if you’re lucky enough to visit while Olympic Games are in progress you’ll get the extra cool perk of seeing the torch lit. The Center is free of charge and is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for self-guided tours, and guided tours are given every Saturday at 11 a.m.

3. Spend a day at Balboa Park

Balboa Park is an awesome place to spend a day, especially if you have kids. Not only does the park house over 15 museums, but it also has a carousel, miniature railroad, numerous trails, and an amazing array of gardens. Some of the museums include the San Diego Air and Space Museum, the Timken Museum of Art, and for sports fans, the Hall of Champions. Many of the museums and gardens do charge admission, so you can pick and choose which areas you want to see, or you can purchase a Passport to Balboa Park, which allows one visit to all 14 of the park’s participating museums! The Passport to Balboa Park is good for seven consecutive days and offers a savings of over 50 percent.

4. Take a stroll along Seaport Village

Seaport Village is a 14 acre waterfront area that is filled with shops, restaurants, and outdoor entertainment. The area is definitely geared towards tourists, but don’t let that deter you — it is a really fun place to spend an afternoon! There is often live music playing as you walk along the waterfront, and there are several restaurants with bay views. Another fun aspect of Seaport Village is that it’s a great spot to pick up a few cheesy souvenirs and postcards from the kitschy shops! Before you head out on your trip, make sure to sign up on the Seaport Village website to receive coupons to the shops and restaurants in the Village.

5. Visit the California Surf Museum

One of the first things that comes to mind when most people think of California is surfing, so when in Rome, why not learn a little about the history of the sport. The California Surf Museum is located about 30 minutes outside of San Diego in Oceanside and houses exhibits such as the History of Surfboards and Need for Speed, which features innovations in skateboarding. Admission to the the California Surf Museum is $5 for adults and free for kids under 12, but the museum offers free admission every Tuesday.

6. Visit The Cabrillo National Monument

The Cabrillo National Monument is much more than just a monument! This national park is home to the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, one of the eight original lighthouses on the West Coast. The lighthouse has been restored to reflect life in the 1800’s and is not only really interesting, but a great place for a family photo-op. Just south of the lighthouse is the whale overlook, where visitors often see whales between the months of December and February. You can also check out the tide pools in the park or enjoy a picnic overlooking the Pacific Ocean. What I love about this national park is that from one angle you get an amazing view of the ocean and from another you get a great city view. Another thing that I love about this park? The price! At $5 per car, this is definitely a budget-friendly place to spend a day.

7. Take the ferry to Coronado Island

Taking the 15-minute ferry ride to the picturesque beach town of Coronado is probably my favorite part of visiting San Diego. The ferry ride itself is always enjoyable, especially for the kids. Once you arrive on Coronado, you can rent bikes, including surrey bikes and spend an hour or two biking along the bay. Another great stop on Coronado is the famous Hotel del Coronado, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. This historic landmark has been visited by 11 presidents and numerous celebs, so you never know who you might spot there! While you’re there, grab a cone at the Moo Time Creamery (located at the hotel) and sit back and enjoy the views. Ferry rides to Coronado are $4.25 each way for adults and free for children under three.

8. Spend a day at the San Diego Zoo

A trip to San Diego wouldn’t be complete without an afternoon at the San Diego Zoo! Located in Balboa Park, the world-famous San Diego Zoo is home to over 4,000 animals comprised of more than 800 species! One of the most loved exhibits is the giant panda, which you can actually view on the zoo's live web cam. The zoo offers a 35-minute guided bus tour, which I love because it gives a quick overview of the entire zoo, and from there you can decide which areas interest you the most and go back and spend time there. Although the zoo is not exactly cheap ($44 for adults and $34 for children), you can purchase 2-day passes, which will save you a few bucks if you plan on spending more than one day here. Another option is to purchase the San Diego 3-for-1 pass, which offers unlimited entry for 7 days into The San Diego Zoo, Safari Park and SeaWorld.

8 Money-Savvy San Diego Attractions