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Free Activities for Kids and Adults in San Diego

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Having fun in San Diego doesn’t require a lot of money; in fact, many things to see and do here are absolutely free. With 70 miles of beautiful beaches, near-perfect weather year-round, and a variety of magnificent settings countywide, San Diego offers a fun and inexpensive getaway during all seasons of the year.

  1. Head to San Diego’s many beaches, all free to the public, to swim, body surf or hang-ten. Play in the sand, collect seashells or just bask in the sun.
  2. Visit La Jolla Cove and see the magnificent sunset on the ocean. La Jolla Cove is one of the most spectacular natural settings in the world.
  3. Visit downtown San Diego’s Seaport Village for hours of free entertainment, leisurely strolling and window shopping. Enjoy a laid-back day of hanging out in the grass and watching the many passing yachts and ships on picturesque San Diego Bay, or take in the sights from one of the many bay-view eateries.
  4. Stroll through the 16½-block historic Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego and view the renovated turn-of-the-century Victorian architecture, home to boutiques, art galleries, specialty shops and more.
  5. Fly a kite along the grassy field in the Tecolote Shores of Mission Bay Park, a 4,600-acre aquatic park. Here, away from trees and overhead wires, friends and family gather to launch colorful kites into the bay breezes.
  6. Enjoy free organ concerts at 2:00 pm on Sundays at the Spreckels Organ Pavillion in Balboa Park. The Organ Pavillion features one of world’s largest outdoor pipe organs, a San Diego landmark since 1914, where organists play traditional favorites, waltzes and show tunes on enormous 32-foot pipes.
  7. Visit Old Town and witness the living legacy of San Diego history. Guests are also invited to wander free through Old Town’s historic buildings, including the blacksmith shop, Seeley Stables, Stewart House, Estudillo House and the oldest schoolhouse in San Diego.
  8. Bike or jog along Mission Bay Park’s many trails. Joggers and walkers share more than 20 miles of scenic running paths that wind through sunlight and shade near the shoreline and feature workout courses at planned stations along the route.
  9. Visit the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista for a free tour of the 150-acre facility, including training fields and tracks, athlete dorms and the Otay Lake Reservoir. Tours are offered from the Copley Visitor Center at 11:00 am on Saturday. Self-guided tours are available daily between 9:00 am – 4:00 pm.
  10. Stargaze outside the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park on the first Wednesday of every month. The San Diego Astronomy Association sets up huge telescopes to offer guests a great view of all the stars in the night sky.
  11. Take a scenic, one-hour drive to Mt. Laguna. Once there, hop out for an invigorating hike and enjoy the fresh mountain air whispering through the pines.
  12. Step back in time with a stop in Julian, a century-old gold mining town in the Cuyamaca Mountains. Pick up a free map at the Chamber of Commerce for a self-guided walking tour of the area’s historic sites and later enjoy a slice of homemade apple pie – a Julian specialty!
  13. Grab your picnic basket and head to Torrey Pines State Beach where you can watch talented and daring hang gliders do tricks in the strong winds that sweep along the coastline cliffs.
  14. The 59-Mile Scenic Drive allows travelers to take in all of the must-see places in San Diego.
  15. Rollerblade, skateboard or bicycle along the Mission Beach Boardwalk, a scenic 3-mile boardwalk along picturesque Mission and Pacific Beaches.
  16. Visit Mission Trails Regional Park to explore the cultural, historical and recreational aspects of San Diego. Stop at the Visitor’s Center and learn about the wonders of nature and the people who once lived on the land. Or, roam through the park’s 40 miles of natural and developed hiking and biking trails.
  17. Go scuba diving or snorkeling off San Diego’s shores and see spectacular creatures of the sea. La Jolla Cove offers some of the clearest waters on the California coast, as well as miles of protected underwater preserves to explore.
  18. Go bird watching at the Torrey Pines State Reserve. Located high above Torrey Pines State Beach, the area is home of the rare and ancient Torrey Pine as well as a beautiful protected habitat for swifts, thrashers, woodpeckers and wrentits.
  19. Stroll through Balboa Park and marvel at its beautiful Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. While there, take advantage of the park’s variety of offerings, including 15 museums (select museums free on Tuesdays for San Diego residents), free daily park tours, public organ concerts (Sundays), and spectacular gardens (seven are free daily).
  20. Visit other museums around town that offer similar free days. Both the downtown and La Jolla locations of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego are free on the third Thursday of each month from 5:00 – 7:00 pm.
  21. Gather family, friends and firewood for a cozy beach bonfire at one of the beaches in San Diego County, including Coronado Beach, La Jolla Shores and Mission Beach.
  22. Explore the tidepools in Point Loma at low tide and get up close and personal with flowery anemones, scampering shore crabs, elusive octopus, spongy deadman’s fingers and many other magnificent sea creatures.
  23. Drive to the top of Mt. Soledad in La Jolla for breathtaking, 360-degree views of San Diego, including the gently curving La Jolla coastline and Mission Bay. Spectacular views of San Diego’s East County communities also await guests at the top of Mt. Helix.
  24. Visit the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and experience the natural beauty of the desert. The 600,000-acre park is one of the largest state parks in the United States and each spring, following winter rains, explodes into a rainbow of colorful wildflower blossoms.
  25. Take a scenic walk along The Big Bay, San Diego’s “largest attraction.” With 27 miles of waterfront featuring bayside parks, marinas, hundreds of shops and restaurants, and miles of promenades and bikeways, the Big Bay appeals to all ages and interests.
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San Diego Bay Parade of Lights

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With more than 80,000 spectators expected, the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights takes place on December 9, 2012. It features boats decorated for the holiday season. This year’s event celebrates “The Sounds of Christmas” with boats of all kinds judged for creative lighting, decorations and crowd-engaging fun. More than 100 vessels will take to the water for the parade.

Led by the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter, the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights begins at the east end of Shelter Island and runs eastward, past Harbor Island to North Embarcadero.  From there, the lit boat concession turns south along the Embarcadero near to the 10th Street Terminal. Then the parade turns toward Coronado, crossing the bay to the Marriott Coronado Hotel and west to Ferry’s Landing, finishing at bouy22a.

For boaters wishing to view the boat light parade, a good viewing area is where the parade route turns for Coronado, near the 10th Street Terminal. For landlubbers, good viewing areas are Harbor Island, the Embarcadero, Seaport Village, and Embarcadero Marina Park North or South near Seaport Village.

The boat concession takes about one hour to one and a half hours to pass any given point along the parade route. For additional information, visit sdparadeoflights.org

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2012 Del Mar Holiday of Lights

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What makes the Holiday season even better? The Holiday of Lights display in Del Mar, located in the fairgrounds. Starting on November 22 and running until January 1, 2013 the Holiday of Lights display will be a great site for all to see, and is the largest animated drive through light show on the west coast. The Holiday show has over 400 brilliant holiday light displays that are themed especially for the holiday season. Many of the holiday favorites are on display including Toyland, Twelve Days of Christmas, Elves at Play, Candy Cane Lane, San Diego County Fair, Treasures by the Lake, and the Del Mar Racetrack. The one and a half mile route enables visitors to see the lights through the comfort of their own car while enjoying the festive music. For an extra boost of holiday cheer, treat the family to a joyous adventure on the Holiday Hayride. Holiday of Lights runs through Sunday, January 1, except for a few blackout dates. It is an activity that can be enjoyed by all ages and will be a delight for the whole family. For additional information, visit holidayoflights.com

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9th Annual San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival

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The San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival, Southern California’s most anticipated luxury wine and epicurean classic, returns November 14-18, 2012 for a five-day feast of the senses. With over 30 events throughout the week, the 9th Annual San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival is a unique opportunity to share in the love of all things culinary with Southern California’s collection of foodies and wine connoisseurs. As one of the largest wine and food festivals in the nation, the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival has helped shine the light on San Diego’s thriving food scene. We’ve got our eyes and ears peeled for the city’s most drool-worthy restaurants and newest food trends to hit the streets, bringing you an epicurean experience unlike any other. The magnitude of culinary talent in San Diego combined with an international showcase of the world’s premiere wines and spirits, and the nation’s trendsetting culinary masters, makes attendance at the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival a mouthwatering feast and precursor to the Thanksgiving holiday.

For additional details, visit sandiegowineclassic.com

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Mount Woodson Castle

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An immense stone building at the base of Mount Woodson, on the outskirts of Ramona, is a landmark known locally as the Amy Strong Castle, although it hasn’t been Strong’s home for more than 70 years. The castle is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Amy Strong was a noted modiste at the turn of the 19th century. She was a dressmaker for San Diego’s elite society, often making trips to Europe to purchase fancy silks and specialty materials to make their dresses.

While she was touring Europe, Strong noticed the unique architecture of the castles, and she set her heart on having one of her own.

There have been several owners since Strong moved away from the area in 1940 but, overall, the castle remains the same as it was on the day she moved in.

Strong purchased 40 acres near Mount Woodson and worked with architects Emmor B. Weaver and John Vawter to design her dream house. Strong was actively involved in its construction and in choosing the landscape that surrounds the building.

Construction began in 1916 but was interrupted by World War I. The castle was finally finished in 1921 at a cost of $50,000.

Strong and her architects incorporated the Craftsman style along with European influences in the design. A Dutch windmill provided water for the 27-room, 12,000- square-foot, multilevel castle.

Native Americans from Mesa Grande made the adobe bricks on the site. Strong used lumber from the oak, eucalyptus and redwood trees on her property. She selected the rocks, large and small, that were used in the building.

Today, the castle is privately owned and is used for weddings and private events. For additional details, visit mtwoodsoncastle.com

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San Diego Beer Week 2012

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Building off the success of the past two San Diego Beer Weeks, the San Diego Brewers Guild is preparing for San Diego Beer Week 2012 (SDBW), November 2-11. San Diego Beer Week is a ten-day celebration inspiring people to drink local, craft beer and promoting San Diego’s thriving brewing culture with multiple events happening across the county.

San Diego is home to more 50 breweries and has gained an international reputation for brewing award-winning beers. The city’s breweries recently brought home more medals at the 2010 World Beer Cup than the traditional beer countries of England, Germany, and Belgium combined and won 20 medals at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival. With the popularity of craft beer on the rise, San Diego is poised to be the capital of craft beer tourism in the United States.

For additional information, visit sdbw.org

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HauntFest on Main

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Don’t miss the first annual HauntFest on Main in Downtown El Cajon today from 5 pm to 10 pm. It will be a night of art, culture, food and Halloween festivities. HauntFest on Main is the combination of two separate events, the Promenade District’s Trunk or Treat and St. Madeline’s Alley Cat Art Walk with additions that make it a signature draw for the downtown district. The event combines our popular kids Halloween show with wine, art, music and to support a great local charity. HauntFest is highly-anticipated and will attract residents and visitors to Downtown El Cajon, which, in turn, will help support local businesses. This new and exciting occasion will celebrate the arts and culture of Downtown El Cajon.

HauntFest on Main will feature a classic car show (Trunk or Treat for the kids), shopping, restaurant offerings, food trucks, wine and beer tastings, and bands including “80z All Stars,” Eve Selis and several other local bands in various locations throughout Downtown El Cajon. This family-and kid-friendly event will have a haunted house, laser tag, a costume contest and other activities. In addition to the myriad of activities taking place during HauntFest, guests will be able to view local artists’ original works at the Bountiful Art: A Juried Exhibition. The event is free to attend with tickets for wine, beer and food tasting in Arts Alley available for $20 in advance or $25 at the door. For additional information, visit hauntfestonmain.com

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Seaworld’s Halloween Spooktacular

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Where can kids meet some spooky and not-so-spooky animals, pose for pictures with mesmerizing mermaids and trick-or-treat in a sea-inspired atmosphere? It’s all part of SeaWorld’s Halloween Spooktacular, where Halloween meets the sea! Don’t miss the last weekend of this exciting event taking place on October 27 & 28, 2012.

Festivities are geared for kids 12 years and under, who are invited to come in costume and enjoy animal meet and greets, special Halloween shows and colorful costumed characters.  Here’s a detailed look at some of the Spooktacular fun:

  • Trick-or-Treat Sweets
    Kids are encouraged to come in costume and use their Spooktacular maps to trick or treat at sea-themed stations. An assortment of candy and healthy treats will be provided.
  • Connect With Animals
    Meet a variety of spooky and not-so-spooky animals at Animal Connections near Seaport Marketplace. Trainers will be on hand to dispel myths about animals and why they are misunderstood.
  • Sea Lion and Otter Show
    “Clyde & Seamore’s Spooky Adventure,” at Sea Lion and Otter Stadium, is a new specially-themed show with a blast to the past. If you remembered the show back in the 1980s, then you’ll want to revisit sea lions Clyde and Seamore and their buddy O.P. Otter for all the kooky fun as they are mysteriously transported back to Uncle Smedley’s Castle.
  • Sesame-themed show
    “Countdown to Halloween,” at Sesame Street’s Bay of Play musical stage, features Count Von Count, Elmo and friends. Kids can also capture photos of their favorite Sesame character and enjoy interactive games.
  • Main Gate Entertainment
    Guests will be treated to an Octopus Candy Garden with brightly colored tentacles and candy treats; photo ops with their favorite Sesame Street characters; and SeaWorld costume characters also will be on hand to get everyone into the Halloween spirit.
  • 4-D movie
    “Pirates 4-D,” a wacky film adventure about a pirate captain and his bumbling crew, plays at the park’s Mission Bay Theater.

For additional details, please visit seaworldparks.com/seaworld-sandiego

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6th Annual Rady’s Children’s Hospital Shamu & You Family Walk at Sea World

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The 6th Annual Shamu & You Family Walk supports the life-saving efforts at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego is happening Saturday, October 6th. You and the kids can walk the 1-mile course through SeaWorld then stop and enjoy some post-walk fun, or continue on to do the 4-mile course pushing young ones in a stroller along beautiful Mission Bay. Look for fun surprises along the route to keep you going. You don’t need to decide which distance you’re walking now, you can decide that morning – it’s up to you!  Either way, you’ll cross the finish line back at the boat ramp to enjoy games, entertainment, food and fun at a special celebration.  The Shamu & You Family Walk begins promptly at 7:30 a.m. at the South Shores boat ramp.  Registration opens at 6:30 am.  Visit www.shamuandyouwalk.org/ for additional information.

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5th Annual StarFest

Starting today, 8/16/12 through 8/19/12, the 59-198x300annual StarFest offers telescopes for day and night viewing, camping, speakers, and vendors at Menghini Winery. This is the 5th annual event, and expected to be the best one yet! Adding an extra day this year, there is so much to do. Perfect for your budding astronomist, or just a fun way to learn something new! If you don’t make it out today, don’t worry, it is mainly just vendor set up, and camper registration. Friday the food service opens up and two of the guest speakers will start that evening. Then the fun really kicks off on Saturday, with a swap meet, huge pancake breakfast to start. Don’t forget to buy your raffle tickets! The prize list just keeps growing! More guest speakers all day, and then finishing off the day with the Star Party!
“Anyone can enjoy the Julian StarFest by participating in the free public star party on Saturday, August 18, 2012. Arrive in Julian between 7:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. and you can enter the StarFest grounds (1150 Julian Orchards Ln, Julian, CA 92036) for free. Take a star tour of the heavens using the many telescopes set up in the viewing area. Experts will be on hand to answer questions about what you’re looking at and about the telescopes. Parking is available nearby and we suggest you bring a red light flashlight to guide yourself to the observing area. If you don’t have a red light flashlight, red film will be provided to cover a white light flashlight. Please, no white lights in the observing area.”
If you are going to be in the area, this is an event you will not want to miss!
More information and schedule of events: julianstarfest.com

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