Visit San Diego on a budget

Ultimate “Perfect Day” in San Diego without Breaking the Bank



The view of downtown San Diego from Coronado Island


San Diego California is one of the most famous vacation spots in the U.S. if not the world. Famous for it’s almost perfect weather all year long, this destination has something for everyone, no matter what time of year, and how many pesos you have in your purse or wallet. But lets just say you want to enjoy the sunshine for free, and enjoy some of its famous sites within your budget. You will need to start your quest with a great place to stay in town that fits your budget, then you’re off on an exciting adventure.

That’s what we’re talking about! Let’s see how and where we can do just that.

Let’s start with the photo above, that to some says it all. Relax. Certainly you can find excitement and action in greater San Diego, but many vacationers really need and enjoy some “down time”. San Diego has plenty of sights and sounds that you can enjoy from a chair or on a towel. The example above is from the island of Coronado across the bay from San Diego, and a great place to enjoy a laid back day. You can drive over the Coronado Bridge to get there, or take the preferred method, a water taxi.


Once you get to Coronado, you can walk around downtown, grab a deli sandwich, and find a chair to enjoy the sights, like large and small vessels coming in and out. Both day and night, you should keep an eye out for the U.S. Navy Seal’s practicing in the waters. You can see them dropping off rubber boats into the water, or at night you will hear the boats, and suddenly there are little lights bobbing in the dark. They will be attached to the Seals.


Hot Tip: The best way to see the sights on Coronado is to rent bicycles.



The San Diego Boardwalk


There’s so much to see and enjoy in downtown San Diego, and you can really do it on foot. With a massive boardwalk stretching forever, you can enjoy the famous marina and dream of owning some of the multi million yachts docked there. You also have access to Seaport Village, a group of small specialty shops, restaurants overlooking the water, coffee shops and of course, kite shops.


Also on the waterfront docked and now a museum, where visitors can spend a whole day and still not see it all is the U.S.S. Midway. This is a real aircraft carrier and just a whole bunch of fun for everyone, especially families. You will learn and experience how 4,500 sailors lived aboard this massive vessel for months at a time. Explore all four flight decks, the galley, sleeping quarters, officers quarters and more.



No it’s not a city street! It’s actually the flight deck on the U.S.S. Midway.

Choosing to stay right in downtown San Diego is your best bet, especially keeping with the “Not Breaking the Bank” theme. Just the money you can save by using public transportation and not renting a vehicle will leave you smiling. However, San Diego can be a very expensive place to stay so choosing the right hotel for the best rate is key.


You can spend a whole day on the Midway, especially when you have small children in tow. Included in the price of admission are headsets and a self guided audio tour that takes you to over sixty different locations and explains what you are looking at and where you are. You will also hear recorded messages from times when the ship was on active duty, as well as recorded messages from sailors who sailed on the Midway. And they even have a special children’s audio tour specifically for those 7-12 years old where they get to climb into cockpits of jets and helicopters.


All in all this is a fascinating experience for all ages, and a peak at history.

Money Saving Tip:

Eat a big breakfast before arriving because you’ll need the energy. When it’s time for lunch, check out the “Fantail Diner”, where you can sit and view the city of San Diego while you enjoy a hotdog or sandwich. The prices a really great and aren’t what you would expect for a major attraction, and you are supporting the museum at the same time.



Examples of all planes and helicopters used are on display.

Downtown San Diego is chock full of things to do that won’t break the bank. In keeping with the general theme, you can take public transportation to Balboa Park where you can enjoy the fourteen museums there. The Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, Museum of Photographic Art, San Diego Natural History Museum and more. If here on a weekend, there’s a free outdoor concert every Sunday at the Speckles Organ Pavilion.

At night the place to be in San Diego is the downtown Gaslamp Quarter where there are more restaurants and bars than you could ever imagine. You can stroll the shops and historic neighborhood as you check out the menus posted outside restaurants, usually with outdoor seating. You actually could be walking in the footsteps of a very famous person, Wyatt Earp, the famous lawman/outlaw who roamed these streets.

Like we said, restaurant choices are to the moon, but that’s not to say the prices have to be. Some of the favorite downtown in the Quarter are Anthony’s Fish Grotto averaging around $25 per person, to Phil’s Barbecue with excellent ribs, Colossal Onion Rings, and sandwiches, where prices are fair.

For adults, if you are looking for a fun place with great food, served on a white piece of paper off a roll, where you get insulted, it’s Dicks Last Resort. Seriously, Dicks is known for its surly, outrageous and quite energetic waiters and waitresses. But it’s fun, excellent ribs, burgers, barbequed chicken, and beer or cocktails. Like they say, “From High Class to No-Class, Dick’s is fun for all”.


You can travel up the coast for some of the best beaches and beach towns on the west coast. Pacific Beach, Mission Beaches and of course LaJolla and Torrey Pines. In Old Town San Diego or Mission Beach Boardwalk, which is 3 miles long, rent rollerblades or bikes for all day, just $20.




Money Saving Tip:

You can purchase a day pass on the MTS for local San Diego travel for $5, and a all day pass for rural route up to Mission Beach and LaJolla, Carlsbad and North County for $10.




About storiesbygary

I am a Freelance Writer / Photographer, writing travel related articles for international magazines, blogs and websites and my own published books.
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