San Diego for Free Guide

Cool Engagement Photo Locations in San Diego #sdawesome #ucsd #publicart

What’s better than free? Nothing! There are many free attractions throughout San Diego County so take advantage of them because it’s awesome to have fun and explore for free.

Balboa Park

Balboa Park is one of the best places in San Diego. Balboa Park is fun to explore and, of course, it’s easy to do it for free. Freebies all the time: Botanic Building, International Cottages, Spanish Village Art Center and Timken Museum. For locals and military, the Free Tuesday Program in Balboa Park is a great resource.

Learn more here.

Barona Cultural Center and Museum

Have you ever seen anything 10,000 years-old? At the Barona Cultural Center and Museum, you’ll learn about the history of Native Americans in the San Diego area and the West, including artifacts stretching all the way back to 8000 BCE. As San Diego’s only Indian heritage museum on an Indian reservation, the Barona Cultural Center and Museum has something for everyone: exhibits showcasing the daily life of Kumeyaay/Diegueño Indians, traditional tribal art and even listening alcoves so you can hear what generations of indigenous Californians have heard before you.

Address: 1095 Barona Road, Lakeside CA 92040
Learn more here.

Bonita Museum and Cultural Center

The Bonita Museum and Cultural Center is a wonderful place to visit. It was established in 1987 as part of the Bonita’s Bonitafest event. The people of Bonita (and the Bonita Historical Society) didn’t want the temporary Center closed. It acts as a museum for exhibits on Bonita’s past, complete with artifacts, photos and more. The Museum has been located next to the Bonita Community Library since 2006.

Address: 4355 Bonita Road, Bonita CA 91902
Learn more here.

Campo Stone Store

The Campo Stone Store is a California State Historic Landmark. The Gaskill brothers owned a store in the late 1800s. This Stone Store was built to help protect the area from border bandits (they raided the original store in 1875 and the brothers decided they, and East County, needed more protection!). The Store acted as a bank, post office and social center for the community and those north and south of the border during its heyday. It’s been a military outpost and housed horse cavalry as well.

Address: 31130 State Highway 94, Camp CA 92006
Learn more here.

Centro Cultural de la Raza

The Centro Cultural de la Raza was started in 1970 as a Chicano Community Cultural Center. It resides in an old water storage tank used during World War II in Balboa Park and is the largest Chicano cultural art building in the Southwest. Its mission is to support Chicano, Mexicano, Latino and Indigenous art and culture and does so through exhibits, events and programs.

Address: 2004 Park Blvd. San Diego CA 92101
Learn more here.

Chula Vista Heritage Museum

The Chula Vista Heritage Museum is part of the Chula Vista Public Library System and focuses on exhibits featuring Chula Vista’s past, such as the settlement of Chula Vista, historic spots, featured individuals and aircraft industry. The Museum was started in 1993 and is housed in a building built in 1946.

Address: 360 Third Avenue, Chula Vista CA 91910
Learn more here.

Craftsmanship Museum

The Craftsmanship Museum (or Miniature Engineering Craftsmanship Museum) in Carlsbad is a specialized museum featuring over 300 miniature metalworking projects. It contains some of the best small machine tools and has a working machine shop where visitors can watch how the miniature metalworking projects are done. The Museum’s website is extensive for information on the best craftsmen in the world and their projects.

Address: 3190 Lionshead Avenue, Carlsbad CA 92010
Learn more here.

Creation and Earth History Museum

The Creation and Earth History Museum was started in 1992 and is dedicated to showing the biblical account of science and history. The large facility takes visitors on a literal 6-day creation of Earth. It includes exhibits such as a human anatomy exhibit, an age of the earth cave exhibit, a Noah’s Ark exhibit, an ancient civilizations room, a dinosaur garden and more. The Museum has a new Tabernacle Theatre with presentations daily.

Address: 10946 N Woodside Avenue, Santee CA 92071
Learn more here.


Encinitas Historical Society Schoolhouse

The Encinitas Historical Society Schoolhouse is where the Encinitas Historical Society resides. They bring the past of Encinitas to life with exhibits, docents and research papers. The Old Schoolhouse was built in 1883 and was the town’s only schoolhouse. It served eight kids that year! It’s the oldest building in Encinitas.

Address: 390 West F Street, Encinitas CA 92024
Learn more here.

Escondido History Center

The Escondido History Center is the stop for Escondido City history. Started in 1956, the Center offers exhibits featuring their collection of Escondido history artifacts, walking tours, history presentations and a museum store. When touring the Center’s buildings, visitors will see the 1888 Santa Fe Depot and exhibits on railroad and city development. There’s a great model train replica of the landscape a passenger from the late 1800s would have seen on a train ride from Oceanside to Escondido in the Center’s complex. Visitors will also see blacksmiths, barns, antique clothing, and the city’s first library.

Address: Within Grape Day Park: 321 N. Broadway, Escondido CA 92025
Learn more here.

Fallbrook Gem and Mineral Society

Founded in 1957, the Fallbrook Gem and Mineral Society Museum gives visitors insight into the history of gems and mining in Southern California. Through staff, donors and volunteers, the Museum has a network of people interested and knowledgeable in gems, minerals, jewelry, geology, paleontology and earth science, and they all love to help their visitors learn more about their passion. It has a wide assortment of gems and minerals from San Diego and around the world.

Address: 123 W. Alvarado Street Suite B, Fallbrook CA 92028
Learn more here.

Fallbrook Historical Society

The Fallbrook Historical Society is dedicated to preserving the history of Fallbrook.  It has a main museum and farmhouse as part of its complex with exhibits on the following topics: Native American Artifacts, Early Fallbrook Settlers, Agriculture, Education, Community Organizations, Fire Department and Military.  The Society  has some pretty interesting parts to its collection including a miniature replica of the city of Fallbrook, a model train, 3 antique Ford cars from the 1920s and 1930s, minerals and vintage agricultural tools.

Address: 260 Rocky Crest Road, Fallbrook CA 92028
Learn more here.

Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum

Funded by the Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation, the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum at MCAS Miramar is the only museum purposed to preserve Marine Corp aviation and the people who support it. There are over 30 aircrafts within their collection. The outdoor Museum is free to the public and holds open cockpit days every other weekend from May thru September.

Address: MCAS Miramar, San Diego CA 92145 (across from 8604 Miramar Road)
Learn more here.

H. Lee House/Lemon Grove Historical Society 

Run by the Lemon Grove Historical Society, the H. Lee House is an old Tudor Revival style house built in 1928. It was designed by a British architect and includes a great gazebo courtyard. The exterior of the house has been fully restored since 2002 and is a great sight to see. Today, it acts as a cultural center for Lemon Grove’s community events, such as weddings, lectures and concerts.

Address: 3205 Olive Street, Lemon Grove, CA 91945
Learn more here.

House of Pacific Relations International Cottages

Built in 1935, the International Cottages were created for the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition. Sixteen cottages were created to promote multicultural understanding and goodwill. Today, the cottages total twenty with representation from thirty-two different countries. The area is a great place to explore, especially on Sundays when specific countries host an afternoon of dancing, costume and food. The gift shop is amazing!

Address: 2125 Park Blvd, San Diego CA 92134
Learn more here.

Imperial Valley College Desert Museum

The Imperial Valley College Desert Museum was established in 1972 and specializes in the deserts of Southern California. The Museum even lets visitors and volunteers have a hand in how the Museum’s collection is handled: there are Volunteer Days every Friday and Saturday from 10am to 3pm where volunteers can curate their collections. Visit this engaging Museum to see great Native American and historic artifacts from the desert area.

Address: 11 W. Frontage Road, Ocotillo CA 92259
Learn more here.

John DeWitt Museum and Library

Alpine has a long history and the Alpine Historical Society is the place to learn about it. The first reported Europeans to enter the Alpine area were in the late 1700s but it wasn’t until the late 1880s when Alpine became the town of Alpine. The Beaty house is one of the main buildings in the Museum complex. Captain Adam Beaty came to Alpine in 1969 and was a beekeeper and school board trustee among other things. The Nichols house (Dr. Sophronia Nichols was Alpine’s first doctor in 1888) is another of the main buildings under the Historical Society.

Address: 2116 Tavern Road, Alpine CA 91903
Learn more here.

Knox House Museum

Built in 1876, the Knox House Museum was the first commercial building in El Cajon. It was built as a hotel to serve the many travelers who went between San Diego and Julian (where gold was discovered in 1870). The Museum shows old photographs, antique furniture and other artifacts in the historic house.

Address: 280 North Magnolia Avenue, El Cajon CA 92020
Learn more here.

Lakeside Museum

Lakeside history began around 1887 with the building of the Lakeside Inn. It was built by the El Cajon Land Company and managed by Captain Joseph Smith for its early years. Lakeside was advertised as a place to fish, boat, hunt and relax.

The Lakeside Historical Society was started in 1972 and loves to preserve Lakeside’s great history. In 2004, the Society opened the Lakeside Museum to teach about Lakeside’s past with photos, artifacts and more.

Address: 12418 Parkside Street, Lakeside CA 92040
Learn more here.

Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park

Designated as a Historic National Landmark, the Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park is an amazing 27-acre park with a formerly working ranchero, trails, adobe buildings, antique windmills, great gardens, wildlife, a reflection pool and limitless possibilities. It was once owned by the famous actor, Leo Carrillo, who appeared in more than 90 films over his career. It was opened to the public in 2003 and even has an entry gate created through the city’s public art program. The very first issue of Western Ranch Houses featured a photo of the Carrillo stable complex in 1958. It’s a great outdoor area to enjoy.

Address: 6200 Flying Leo Carrillo Lane, Carlsbad CA 92009
Learn more here.

McKinney House and Museum

Home of the La Mesa Historical Society, the McKinney House and Museum is a great historical find in San Diego County. The house belonged to Reverend Henry A. McKinney and his wife, who both moved to the area in 1899. The Reverend was one of the first ministers of the La Mesa Methodist Episcopal Church and wore many other hats as well, including businessman, lemon rancher, librarian and school trustee…talk about a Renaissance Man! The Palermo building is another holding of the La Mesa Historical Society and is a great complement to the McKinney House with its 1,500 photos showing early La Mesa.

Address: 8369 University Avenue, La Mesa CA 91941
Learn more here.

MCRD San Diego Command Museum

The MCRD San Diego Command Museum has been in existence since 1987 on the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. Through exhibits and galleries, its focus is on the history of the Marine Corps since the early 1900s and its presence in Southern California. The Base as a whole opened in 1923 and is the main place to train recruits for anyone west of the Mississippi River.

Address: Building 26, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, 1600 Hochmuth Avenue, San Diego CA 92140
Learn more here.

Mission San Diego de Alcala

The Mission San Diego was the very first mission of the twenty-one missions in California. Also known as the Mother of the Missions, it was founded on July 16, 1769 by Junipero Serra. It was California’s first church and is considered the birthplace of Christianity in the far West. It even serves as an active Catholic Parish today so it’s not uncommon to see weddings or other festivities of the church taking place.

Address: 10818 San Diego Mission Road, San Diego CA 92108
Learn more here.

Mission Trails Regional Park

Mission Trails Regional Park is a great place to hike and enjoy the great outdoors.  It includes nearly 5,800 acres and was once a home to Native Americans in San Diego.  It even has areas where the military had practice exercises and because of this, an intensive sweep was required in the 1990s to get rid of lots and lots of unexploded materials that hikers would find on the trails!

The Visitor Center of Mission Trails is a great stop within the Park.  It includes exhibits on the history of the Park, plant life in the Park and animal life within the Park.

Address: One Father Junipero Serra Trail, San Diego CA 92119
Learn more here.

Motor Transport Museum

The Motor Transport Museum is all about trucks. The Museum wants to promote awareness and appreciation for old trucks and does so with its display of antique trucks, photos, literature and other historical artifacts. It opened in 1986 and now has more than 200 motor transport vehicles in its ownership!

Address: 31949 Highway 94, Campo CA 91906
Learn more here.

Oceanside Historical Museum

The City of Oceanside has a rich history. Started in the late 1800s, the City hasn’t looked back. The Oceanside Historical Society aims to preserve Oceanside’s history and educate the public on its background. The Oceanside Historical Society runs the Oceanside Historical Museum. It consistently has exhibits on Oceanside history with artifacts, photographs, memorabilia and archives. One of the homes on Pacific Street was used in the movie Top Gun!

Address: 305 N Nevada Street, Oceanside CA 92054
Learn more here.

Old Town State Park

If you want to know the history of early San Diego, Old Town is THE place to go. The Park consists of houses, chapels, courthouses and mansions belonging to the early residents of San Diego, from 1821 to 1872 in particular. There are early American settlement elements in the culture around Old Town and Mexican flavor from the occupants before them.

Address: 4002 Wallace Street, San Diego CA 92110
Learn more here.

Parsonage Museum

Built in 1897, the Parsonage Museum is located in Lemon Grove. It was created to be the city’s first church and has a Folk Victorian style. The Lemon Grove Historical Society maintains the home and we are very thankful they do!

Address: 3185 Olive Street, Lemon Grove CA 91945
Learn more here.

San Diego Archaeological Center

The San Diego Archaeological Center has a passion for telling the history of San Diego County going back some 10,000 years ago. Through artifact viewing, games, graphic displays and a research station, the Center gives visitors access and understanding of San Diego’s past. The Center, located in Escondido, hosts permanent exhibitions on all subjects archaeology.

Address: 16666 San Pasqual Valley Road, Escondido CA 92027
Learn more here.

Santa Ysabel Asistencia

Connected to the Mission San Diego de Acala, the Santa Ysabel Asistencia was dedicated on September 20, 1818. It was established to help assist people who couldn’t travel to the San Diego Mission. At its high point, the property included a chapel, granary, houses and a cemetery. Today, one building stands–a chapel built in 1924 once the site was given back to the Roman Catholic church. It’s a California Registered Historical Landmark (Number 369). 

Address: 23013 California 79, Santa Ysabel CA 92070
Learn more here.

Santa Ysabel General Store and Backcountry Visitor Center

The General Store dates back to 1884 when it was built by John Curlee. The Store provided for the ranches and Native Americans during its time. The Visitor Center within the Store is a great starting place for exploring the area. The Store was reopened by Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO) in 2012 and gives visitors the chance to shop local artisan goods, nature gifts, home goods, guides and more. The San Diego River and San Dieguito River start near Santa Ysabel and the Backcountry Visitor Center gives great advice on how to hike, bike and enjoy them all!

Address: 30275 Highway 78, Santa Ysabel CA 92070
Learn more here.

Spanish Village Art Center

The Spanish Village Art Center in Balboa Park holds 37 different studios/galleries that host over 200 different artists. Built in 1935, the Village area was designed for the California Pacific International Exposition and made to look like a cute old village in Spain. Just as many places within Balboa Park were repurposed for World War II efforts, the Village was used as a temporary barracks for the US Army. In 1947, artists took over the area again and have stayed ever since. Find artists of all different medias including, pottery, oil, collage, jewelry, photography, watercolor and more. Many of San Diego’s artist guilds have studio space here, including the San Diego Potters’ Guild, the Art Glass Guild of San Diego and the Southwestern Artist Association. It’s Gallery 21 holds public art exhibitions and is a great place to check out within the Village.

Address: 1770 Village Place, San Diego CA 92101
Learn more here.

Stein Family Farm

The Stein Family Farm is a unique location within National City. It’s a living history museum giving visitors insight into National City’s rural past while touring the home of the Stein family and visiting cute animals. The farm land was bought and owned by the Stein family in 1900 until 1992 when it was slated for apartment buildings. When the public became aware of this plan, a campaign was started to “Save the Farm.” The campaign prevailed and the City of National City became the proud owners (and preservers) of the Stein Family Farm. The Farm’s focus is on the rural early 1900s with different farm practices highlighted for visitors.

Address: 1808 F Avenue, National City CA 91950
Learn more here.

The Water Conservation Garden

The Garden was started in the early 1990s. The water districts around the area wanted to create a conservation garden that showed people how to save water outdoors (the early 1990s brought a multiple year drought in the area). Even though the land was put aside, it wasn’t until 1999 that the Garden opened to the public.

Slowly over the years, the Garden has grown to include many different exhibits and types of gardens. Gardens and exhibits include a meadow area, a turf comparison area, a succulent garden, a container garden, a white plants garden, a vegetable garden, a butterfly garden, a compost exhibit, a sensory garden, irrigation area, a children’s discovery trail and more. 

Address: Cuyamaca College’s Campus, 12122 Cuyamaca College Drive West, El Cajon CA 92019
Learn more here.

Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve

One of only 28 Reserves in the US, the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve protects, studies and educates about the Tijuana River Estuary. Border Field State Park was established as a state park in 1971 as part of President Richard Nixon’s Legacy of Parks program. The Tijuana National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1980 preserving the northern part of the estuary. Voters wanted the area to be given to developers to create an upscale marina throughout the early 1980s. Despite this opposition, the area officially became a National Estuarine Research Reserve by the Department of Commerce in 1982. The area is of such interest, it was named by the United Nations as a Wetland of International Importance which means this Reserve is only one of 2,127 picked in the world!

Address: Visitor Center, 301 Caspian Way, Imperial Beach CA 91932
Learn more here.

Timken Museum

The Timken Museum is a great treasure of San Diego and one of the best small museums in the world. It was started in 1965 with the Putnam sisters donating a lot of the Museum’s pieces from their Putnam Foundation. The Museum’s building is considered one of the best examples of mid-century Southern California modernism and is a gem within Balboa Park.

The Museum’s permanent collection includes amazing European Old Master paintings, sculptures and tapestries. It also has great pieces of American paintings and Russian icons in its collection. It is the only museum in San Diego with a Rembrandt in its permanent collection.

Address: 1500 El Prado, San Diego CA 92101
Learn more here.


Art around the University of California: San Diego may not always be apparent to bystanders. That’s because many of the 18 different artists of the Stuart Collection (UCSD’s collection) make it a point to weave elements of the environment around their installations. The Stuart Collection is one of the largest outdoor permanent art galleries in the US. It spans the entire La Jolla campus of UCSD and encompasses approximately 1200 acres. All of the art is commissioned on a site-specific basis and all the short and long term plans of the campus are taken into account, with some art even being integrated into the buildings.

Address: UCSD’s Campus: 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla CA 92093
Learn more here.

Valley Center History Museum

See such artifacts as a taxidermy of a California Grizzly Bear, Indian baskets and the world’s smallest Post Office (that actually served the community at one time). See exhibits telling the history of the gold rush, aviation, famous horses (Seabiscuit and Secretariat were once here) and the movies that were filmed at least partially in Valley Center (like “Mad, Mad World” and “Invaders from Mars“). Pretend you’re in a 500-year-old Indian village with the Museum’s re-creation of an Indian settlement and step inside an 1862 model home. Visitors also get to indulge in photos of different celebrities and their homes…Fred Astaire, John Wayne and the first Betty Crocker are among the best known.

Address: 29200 Cole Grade Road, Valley Center CA 92082
Learn more here.

WorldBeat Center

The World Beat Center’s main goal is to promote unity through diversity and the Center does this through many events, programs and an inviting location. The Center is housed in an old water tower within Balboa Park and decorated with amazing murals showcasing various cultures. It has a specific emphasis on African and Indigenous cultures of the world. The Cafe has a tasty selection of vegan and vegetarian meals and the Center has a great garden to explore and relax.

Address: 2100 Park Blvd, San Diego CA 92101
Learn more here.

And speaking of free, did you see our Free Yoga in San Diego post?


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