Local Wally's San Diego... On a Budget
Planning a Budget Trip to San Diego
Cheap eats, cheap hotels that are not rat traps, cheap or free things to do, it's all right here. Look, just because you're broke doesn't mean you don't deserve a great vacation. While it's true that San Diego isn't the cheapest place to live that doesn't mean you can't have a great time visiting on a tight budget.
In fact, believe it or not, you get the same sunshine and the same sand and waves whether you spend a ton or a little on a San Diego vacation. You think the locals here are all rich? No way, but we're all happy to hang out at the beach chowing down on an epic burrito that costs less than bus fare.
San Diego also has a lots of great free or cheap stuff to do, lots of hole in the wall restaurants with really good food, and plenty of discount options so you'll never pay full price. Let's go to San Diego.... on a budget!
Cheap Places To Stay That are Not Rat Trap Motels
Would I stay here? Would I tell my Mom to stay here? That's my criteria for Best cheap places to stay in San Diego. All of these offer more than a basic Motel 6 but at rates that will fit most everyone's travel budget. Check my rates and book through me if you can for unlimited good vacation karma.
Views of the bay on a budget
Best Western Island Palms is on Shelter Island, a prime spot for views of the marina on one side and the bay on the other. Island Palms has two sides, a tropical side and a Mediterranean side but both offer more frills and location than you thought possible on a budget.
Stay Right on the Beach
Beach motels are historically sand traps for college kids but that's not the Blue Sea Lodge, especially after a remodel that remakes this budget hotel into a sunshine day. Location is literally right on the beach and you'll forget this is budget the moment you check in.
Great location in Mission Valley, Newly Refurbished
Sometimes all it takes is a little sprucing up to make a hotel shine again and that's exactly what happened at the Town and Country Resort, one of San Diego's most affordable full featured hotels. Newly renovated rooms, spa service, great restaurants on site, and a vacation perfect pool makes this one of the stand outs if you're looking for a centrally located resort that doesn't break the bank.
Close to all of the main San Diego attractions, Old Town is minutes away as is Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo, the beaches, shopping, golf, and even downtown is super accessible due to a trolley station right outside the resort. So great location, newly updated rooms, tropical grounds, isn't this the San Diego vacation you've been dreaming of?
Best Cheap Eats in San Diego
Of course you can dine at Happy Hours and get great bargains but that's too restricting for me, especially when I'm on vacation. Dine at any of these local favorites and get a great meal for a bargain price. Heck, San Diego's would love these places even if they weren't inexpensive.
Sketchy location, Great Tacos
The new trend is gourmet tacos in fancy pants settings where people look like they've just come from a cocktail party. This isn't it. Las Cuatro Milpas is in a sketchy part of town and the restaurant is even sketchier. But the long lines of locals from every socioeconomic class is due to their incredible, and authentic , tacos, tamales, rice and beans. Yes, their menu is limited and yes, there's always a line (lunch only) but it's so dang delicious you must go.
Best Overall Cheap Mexican Food
A San Diego institution, El Indio has been around so long that every kid raised here remembers coming with Mom and Dad to get a plate of rolled tacos and a tamale smothered in chili beans. Food is authentic and priced to sell and while there's a good indoor dining area the outdoor sidewalk patio, lodged between two streets, is the place to be. Fish tacos, giant burritos, and a salsa bar with plenty of options. These guys invented the taquito and still make the best in town.
Best Pizza and Traditional Italian Food
Forget about trendy gourmet pizza at Filippi's, an Italian restaurant that's so authentic you have to walk through the little market in front past the dried cod to get to the restaurant in the rear. Big gooey pizzas with a thick layer of cheese, just like the old days. Plastic red checkered table cloths, chianti bottles hanging from the ceiling, it looks like a theme restaurant but it's not - it's the real deal. Come hungry as the servings are huge and the prices so cheap they look like misprints.
THE BRIGANTINE BAR
Just order their fish taco
You can't leave San Diego without having our fish tacos and the best classic fried taco is found at the bar at the numerous Brigantine restaurants. Plump, crispy, piping hot, splash some line and hot sauce on it and experience San Diego's most famous food. Del Mar location near beach has the best ambiance.
Beautiful views and fast food prices
It's like stepping into a time machine when you go to Toby's at the Balboa Golf Course. It feels like it's 1950 inside with food prices to match. Burgers, chicken fried steak, breakfast, it's unpretentious diner food. Views of the golf course with the city behind it are as good as it gets. Closes around sunset.
CARNITAS SNACK SHACK
Pork and Foodie Focused
This is what happens when an accomplished chef breaks out on his own to open a fast food restaurant focused on top ingredients and lots of pork. Order from the sidewalk but walk to the back dining area where it gets modern. Beer and wine, locals love this award winning restaurant for both ambiance and food.
San Diego has a lot of taco shops and if you pay attention you might notice that a lot of them end in "...berto's". I mean, there's Abierto's, Alberto's, Filberto's, Filiberto's, Jilberto's, Ramberto's, there might even be a Wallyberto's somewhere. The original was Roberto's, a local chain that did massive expansion in the 80's and then backed down just as fast, selling off locations which spawned the *berto's name craze - change a few letters in the name and no one knows the difference!
Today there are two Roberto chains, confusing even for locals, but nearly every taco shop that ends in "berto's" means there will be good cheap eats ahead. Get a carne asada burrito or better yet, a California burrito which is carne asada with french fries and cheese, and find out why San Diegan's love our Roberto's taco shop and all of it's similar sounding named cousins.
Best Free or CHeap Things to Do in San Diego
There is so much to do in San Diego and not all of it has to cost a fortune. Check out a Farmers Market, stroll through Old Town or Seaport Village, or do some of my favorite activities below, all for cheap or free in San Diego.
Visit them all!
The beach doesn't care if you're short on cash. You could spend your entire vacation week visiting the beaches of San Diego, from youthful Mission Beach to beautiful La Jolla and up into the North County where surfers rule the waves and tourists are fewer.
Bring a picnic
Balboa Park is more than museums. Spend the day riding bike through the park, stop in at the gift shops or free exhibits. Stunning architecture, street performers, Sundays there's a free concert at the Organ Pavilion and cheap ethnic eats at the International cottages.
Go Take a Hike
Short hikes along the coast through striking natural scenery of scrub brush and pine trees and ending up with views of the ocean. Torrey Pines State Park's many trails will keep you busy all day and the original lodge along the old highway is a blast from the past museum.
A SeaWorld alternative
If seeing our aquatic life is on your agenda but paying for SeaWorld not your budget, go to Scripps Aquarium instead where you'll see everything from jellyfish to sharks. Incredible view from the patio where there's an interactive tidepool exhibit.
Beautiful drive to the point
The scenic drive is reason enough to visit Cabrillo Monument at the tip of Point Loma. But once there you'll find an old lighthouse you can tour, exhibits, and hiking trails down to beach where there are tidepools to explore. Watch for whales!
See seals in their natural habitat
Ignore the nutty people protesting the seals on the beach. I like them there and you will too. During winter to spring there are baby seals and while the swimmers usually scare them off in summer you'll still find plenty of seals looking for a place to lay in the sand.
Cheap bicycle rentals
All around downtown, Balboa Park and surrounding areas are Decobike stations where you can rent a bike by the hour or the day. Pedal around downtown, visit a brewery, hop on a ferry to Coronado, then drop off the bike whey you're done at any of their stations.
Locations all over San Diego
San Diego has 100's of breweries, some huge with restaurants and some so tiny that the brewmaster is your server. Make sure you stop in at Stone Farm in Escondido, an actual farm where you can taste under an oak tree while listening to live acoustic music.