You all deserve that senior year vacation celebration, before or after graduation, to commemorate your hard work. California is on everyone's bucket list for its endless warm climate, sunny skies, and an ocean that just won't quit. While San Diego isn't California's most affordable city to live in, it can definitely fit into any budget with affordable hotels with great views, amazing free or cheap attractions, and restaurants that let you eat on the cheap.
Affordable Hotels: You might shy away from 2-star budget hotels for fear that they have bed bugs and are rat traps but you don't have to worry about that in San Diego. The city is surprisingly affordable when it comes to (temporary) lodging for travelers. Many even have views of the bay or ocean, which you usually can't get without paying exorbitant costs. So, what's the point of paying a few hundred a night? There is none, is the correct answer.
- King's Inn - TripAdvisor highest rated in Hotel Circle. A retro renovated motel with extremely low rates, lovely and clean rooms, and the Waffle Spot breakfast restaurant on site. Avg. price per night: $75-100
- Best Western hotels - Best Western Plus Oceanside Palms and Best Western Island Palms are both great economy hotels with excellent views and great service. Avg. price per night: around $100-115
- The Pearl - Boutique hotel in a renovated old retro motel with '50s charm. The hotel has a fully functional all-day restaurant and hosts a "dive-in" theatre where you can simultaneously lounge in the pool and watch a movie. Avg. price per night: around $99 for Gem rooms
Cheap Eats: What Southern California seems to do best, as Los Angeles is the same, is cheap eats. Mexican cuisine tops the charts for affordable eats as you can often get a good taco or burrito cheaper than the trolley fare but you can also find great Italian, cheesy pizza, scrumptious burgers, and a myriad of other options.
- El Indio Mexican Restaurant
- Roberto's Taco Shop
- Carnitas Snack Shack
- Toby's 19th Hole
- Filippi's Pizza Grotto
- San Diego Chicken Pie Shop
- Soda & Swine
Free Attractions: There are a few attractions that you don't want to miss and that you'll have to pay a hefty ticket price for but if you can cut back on admission attractions to one a day and fill your itinerary with free attractions, it all evens out. It's more than possible to fill your days in San Diego without paying for more than the price of lunch.
- 33 Beaches - San Diego's gorgeous and most iconic attractions are located at the many beaches and they're all free!
- Balboa Park - This giant public space is home to over two dozen museums (which sadly aren't free) as well as several performing arts venues and the famous San Diego Zoo. It's a beautiful tour if you're inclined or you can bring a picnic.
- Coronado Municipal Beach - Coronado stands as one of the few remaining American Victorian red-and-white resorts and is free for non-guests to tour, explore the grounds, and even relax on their gorgeous beach.
- La Jolla Shores, La Jolla Cove, and Children's Pool - La Jolla Shores is one of the most popular beaches to spend a day for glorious water sporting options, relaxing and yet sophisticated amenities and a stunning abundance of wildlife. The Children's Pool, originally intended to comply with its name, is a popular resting spot for harbor seals and you are almost guaranteed to see some on the beach. Also, the Cove is a spectacular spot for scenery and relaxation. It's simply gorgeous and the views cannot be beaten, especially at sunset.
- Old Town San Diego State Historic Park - This protected park memorializes the early days of San Diego with historic buildings dating back to 1820-1870, museums, landmarks, and plenty of shopping options. Free window shopping!
- U.S. Olympic Training Center - Located minutes from downtown San Diego in Chula Vista, the U.S. Olympic Training Center is open for free tours and includes museum exhibits on past Olympians who trained in the center.
- Julian - This hundred-year-old gold mining town is located just outside of San Diego in the self-named town of Julian. Here you can tour the park on your own for a free, pan for gold at the various stations, and many other educational programs for all ages.
- Point Loma - On the peninsula that separates the Bay from the Pacific Ocean, Point Loma is home to an abundance of wildlife-filled tide pools ripe for touring. The Point Loma village is historic as well and great for touring.
- San Diego Embarcadero - Located in the San Diego harbor is the docking place for a number of historic ships including the USS Midway, the Star of India, and the San Diego Maritime Museum.
- Gaslamp Quarter - A registered historic district, the Gaslamp Quarter is made up of, mostly, Victorian buildings - 94 of them - as well as a number of nightlife and entertainment venues. Tour on foot and spend what you wish at the many shops.
Admission Attractions that are Worth the Price: There are a few attractions that simply define San Diego and which everyone enjoys. These may be a little more expensive, but there are tourism cards to help save on big-ticket attractions as well as discount ticket sellers across the city and coupons online to help out.
- San Diego Zoo - Few zoos can beat the San Diego Zoo in any area. The attraction is massive and will easily keep you busy all day long wandering through the many exhibits, seeing rare and endangered species, or even taking behind the scenes tours and becoming a trainer for a day, feeding the baby animals. It's well worth the price of admission.
- USS Midway Museum - One of the longest-serving aircraft carriers in military history, the USS Midway is now in the San Diego Embarcadero serving only as a museum. The ship is massive, larger than the Titanic, and once home to over 4,500 men and women who served the country. It's easily one of the city's top attractions.
- LEGOLAND - This could be for younger kids but older ages seem to enjoy the theme park too. Be a kid again and enjoy yourselves in a place that's pure fun.