By Stephanie Antin of Almost Free Family Travel

There are so many fun things to do in San Diego, where I live with my family! There’s the world-famous San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld, the USS Midway, Balboa Park, LEGOLAND and the list goes on…

But the next time you visit I encourage you to go off the beaten path and spend more time doing the things the locals do.

5 Local-Favorite San Diego Activities

Here are my family’s top 5 ideas of what to do next time you’re in town.

1. Do Yoga on the Beach 

In San Diego, you can do yoga in so many beautiful places: on the beach, overlooking the beach, on a paddleboard, in the park and more!

There are dozens of donation-based yoga classes in San Diego, but my personal favorite is led by Namaste Steve at Law Street Beach in Pacific Beach (check out more amazing San Diego beaches). You’ll find his classes every Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m., as well as Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9 a.m. The class is appropriate for all levels and based on donations.

If you can’t make it to Steve’s class, you can always follow along on his YouTube Channel. And after yoga, drop by the iconic PB (what locals call “Pacific Beach”) favorite Mr. Frostie’s for ice cream.

If yoga isn’t your thing, try renting a kayak or paddleboard at La Jolla Shores or at the Mission Bay Sports Center. Groupon is a great way to find a deal. Lyn’s family has kayaked around La Jolla and its sea caves with Everyday California and highly recommends them. 

2. Take a Free Tour of the Gaslamp Quarter

The free Women of the Gaslamp walking tour is hosted by the Women’s Museum of California. The actual museum is located in Liberty Station, which used to be a Navy base and is now a collection of art galleries, a public market with food stalls, restaurants, movie theatre, ice skating rink in the winter and parks. Liberty Station is worth a visit on its own while you are in San Diego!

The walking tour, however, meets in the Gaslamp Quarter downtown and covers about four square blocks. The lovely docent talks about women in history, architecture and tells stories about the development of San Diego. It’s a FREE tour, and you can pair it with lunch afterward in the Gaslamp Quarter, which has many restaurant options.

Be sure to reserve a space on the tour in advance online HERE

3. Go for a Hike in a Canyon

Stephanie hiking the trail

Located in San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve in Solana Beach (north of the city), the 2.2-mile Annie’s Canyon Trail hike (once known as Mushroom Cave) is easy and goes through picturesque sandstone walls where you can view both the Pacific Ocean and the lagoon.

Right now, you need to use the official trailhead entrance, because the other entrance is closed due to construction. You can bring dogs if they’re on a leash. 

4. Visit Border Field State Park

This state park is located right alongside the US-Mexico border and inside the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve. In fact, from the park, you can walk south to the border fence and watch the fence disappear into the Pacific Ocean. You can also peer through the fence to see Tijuana beach resorts on the other side.

The park is open every day until sunset for horseback riding, hiking and photography and includes an interpretive display. There are also barbecues and picnic benches inside.

If you drive into the park, it will cost you $7 per vehicle. However, you can park just outside the gate and walk in for FREE. It’s about a 1-mile round trip easy walk.  

On Saturdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Friendship Circle, which is the area between the fences at the border, is open and I highly recommend visiting if you can. As long as you have a driver’s license, you can enter the area. 


5. See Murals at Chicano Park

Located just south of downtown San Diego, this neighborhood is the heart of the Mexican-American community.

Spend some time looking at the murals in Chicano Park, which is located just under the ramp of the bridge that goes to Coronado Island. Local residents launched a beautification campaign in the 1970s with large colorful murals, representing history and culture. You can access a map and description of the murals on the park website.  

There are quite a few design galleries in the neighborhood, as well. And you should definitely stop at the well known Las Cuatro Milpas for lunch. Expect a line, but it moves fast!


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  • Lyn Mettler

    Lyn Mettler is a longtime travel writer for US News & World Report, USA Today 10Best and The TODAY Show who created Families Fly Free, a program which teaches families her simple system to use travel rewards to fly for free.

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