10 FREE Places to Explore in San Diego

Visit Someplace New for FREE This Week!

By Courtney Daly-Pavone August 21, 2020

San Diego is filled with hidden places to explore. I've lived in San Diego for years, but I'm still discovering new spots. Of course we enjoy going to popular places like Old Town and Coronado, but this isn't a list of places for tourists, or even new comers. This is a list of places to visit if you think you've seen it all, and best of all these activities are all FREE!

*FREE Heritage Park Trail Behind The Christian House

I love this hidden hiking trail behind the Christian House in Old Town's Heritage Park. It's a short hike, perfect for families with young kids.


At the top of the trail there is a beautiful view of the park, and Mission Bay. A great place to take some time to enjoy the view, and take a break before heading back down again. 

At the bottom is a lovely grassy field perfect for picnics, or a game of sports.

*FREE Harper's Topiary Garden

I'm embarrassed to admit that we just discovered Harper's Topiary in Mission Hills, and I used to live in this neighborhood! Harper's Topiary Garden consists of 50 life-sized figurines all trimmed by hand. Fifteen years ago, a couple decided to turn the shrubs on their front lawn into a whimsical topiary garden. The garden is free, kid and pet friendly, and a great place to stop by on your way to another venue.

*FREE Find Inspiration Crossing The Vermont Street Pedestrian Bridge

The Vermont Street Bridge is a 420 ft. long steel and concrete pedestrian bridge that spans across a canyon connecting two neighborhoods- Hillcrest and University Heights. The Hillcrest entrance is behind Trader's Joe's and it leads you across  CA163 to University Heights. It's a picturesque walk. There are twenty-eight laser cut stainless steel and colored plexiglas railing panels with icons and quotations from noteworthy people like Dr. Seuss, Audrey Lourde, Irving Gill, Kate Sessions, Pythagoras, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. Once you cross the bridge to University Heights you'll find lovely craftsman and Spanish bungalow homes surrounded by lush vegetation perfect for a brisk walk or jog. Kids can ride their bikes and scooters. Location: 1090 University Ave Ste G100-107, San Diego, CA 92103

*FREE Spruce Street Bridge

Located in Banker's Hill, this hidden pedestrian suspension bridge is 375 feet long, with a beautiful vista of Kate Sessions Canyon 70 feet below. The suspension bridge was built in 1912, and sways as you cross it. This bridge is sentimental to me and my family we traversed it for years. I remember pushing my son's baby carriage across, then his push car, trike, holding his hand as he curiously looked below, and now we walk side by side. It has a tropical feel as you take in the towering trees, and sunlight. Location: W Spruce St, San Diego, CA 92103

*FREE Hike or Bike Mission Trails Regional Park

We had so much fun hiking Mission Trails recently. Bring plenty of water, and take lots of breaks. We headed out late in the afternoon and temperatures were in the low 90's. There are spots with shade take advantage of them. Location: One Father Junipero Serra Trail San Diego, CA 92119-1008

Hours Open:
Open Daily 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Closed: Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Years Day

*FREE Queen Califia's Magical Circle Escondido 

Queen Califia's Magical Circle is the only American sculpture garden and the last major international project created by artist Niki de Saint Phalle (born France, 1930-2002). Inspired by California's mythic, historic and cultural roots, the garden consists of nine large-scale sculptures, a circular "snake wall" and maze entryway, sculpturally integrated bench seating, and native shrubs and trees planted within the interior plaza and along the outer perimeter. The garden bears the brilliant, unique mosaic ornamentation that is an unmistakable part of Saint Phalle's later work. Check website for hours.
Kit Carson Park
3333 Bear Valley Parkway
Escondido, CA 92025

*FREE The Elfin Forest

Eleven miles of trails await you in this bucolic setting. Cross the Escondido Creek, or stay and splash in the water. The Reserve offers approximately 11 miles of hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian trails, as well as picnic areas and scenic mountain viewing points. In addition, the natural beauty of the Reserve includes native plants: oak riparian, oak woodland, coastal sage scrub, and chaparral. All wildlife and natural resources at the Reserve are fully protected.

Location 8833 Harmony Grove Road Escondido, CA 92029

*FREE The Jesse Shepard House Villa Montezuma

Built in 1887 (San Diego's boom years), this Queen Anne Victorian was once the home to Jesse Shepard an accomplished pianist, author and spiritualist. Now it's open on select dates for tours and viewing. Located in Sherman Heights, it's an incredible historical view into life in the past. Due to Covid-19, all San Diego museums are currently closed so you will have to check their opening date online, or by telephone.

Location: corner of 20th & K Streets Sherman Heights Historic District San Diego,  CA 92102

Tel. 619-233-8833.

To find out more information visit:

*FREE Arts Park @ Chollas Creek

The facilities yard offers over 10,000 square feet of paintable walls. Stop by to try your hand at creating your own murals or stroll the grounds to take in the murals done by locals and pros. The venue sells paint and other supplies. Admission is free. The operation began in early 2000 as an outreach program geared toward young artists with the goal of encouraging artistic exploration in a safe, gang-neutral environment. Renamed Arts Park @ Chollas Creek in summer 2018, the also offers classes in muralism, screen printing, urban art, and disc-jockey training. Location: 5010 Market Street, San Diego, CA 92102

*FREE To Visit Lake Hodges Reservoir

Picnic, BBQ, go mountain biking along many trails, or purchase a fishing license for $8 and catch supper! Hodges is known for great bass and crappie fishing. It's also a wonderful place to paddle board and kayak. Location: 20175 Lake Drive. Escondido, CA 92029

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