How to See San Diego on $200

San Diego it a cool city. You would expect it to be quite pricey, but in reality, its no more expensive than other large cities like New York, Boston, or L.A. You'll certainly be able to have an enjoyable, activity and food-filled weekend in San Diego on a budget.

San Diego on a Budget


Affordable travel means staying in hostels. Period. This time in particular, it really paid off. I stayed at Hostelling International San Diego Downtown, where breakfast was included and there was a free community meal 2 nights in a row. I was also able to participate in a handful of the free walking tours, during which I was able to pick the brain of a local about what to see and where to eat. Ant to top it all off: they have a great kitchen that guests can use.

If you're trying to see San Diego on a budget, this will be a fantastic accommodation option for you (and HI has two hostels in San Diego!).

For 2 nights, I spent: $67.25
(Includes 10.25% tax)


San Diego is does not have a great public transit system. No matter how you slice it, you'll likely have to add a little walking to any transit trip you take. That being said, the airport buses are decent and the main tourist areas are pretty close to each other, so taking an Uber is reasonable. The one-way fare on the bus is $2.25 per ride, but if you're taking the trolley, you'll need to get a transit card ($2) and then its $5 flat rate for an all-day pass. Come in from the airport with cash, and then snag a day pass once you're ready to start exploring

Trip from airport: $2.25
Day-Pass (x2): $12.00 (card + 2 days' fare)
Uber: $8.60 (between Point Loma and Downtown)

Transit TOTAL: $22.85

FREE Ideas: Walk. With a little smart planning, you can map out days to minimize your need for public transit.


I got super lucky on this trip. The hostel offered free breakfast and had a couple of free community dinners. Eating in San Diego was just a hair cheaper than Boston, so depending on where you're coming from- you may be pleasantly or unpleasantly surprised by the cost of dining out. Also, I planned ahead and brought some snacks with me to munch on between meals. Don't know what to bring? No worries, I wrote a post on the most portable and my personal favorite snacks!

When I arrived Friday night, I ran out for a quick slice at Berkeley Pizza in the Gaslamp District. The slices were really tasty and the service was fast - a good match for a hungry, yet tired traveler.

Saturday morning, I got out nice and early after breakfast to take a walk and wandered into Copa Vida. My morning stroll was quite long and I was pretty calorie deficient, so I popped into Juice Saves; my only requirement was it had to have green in it-- so I opted for the Kale-ifornia. The afternoon was spent walking through the Little Italy Mercato and munching on samples; I grabbed a snack at the Masala Cottage stand. Lolita's famous cartinas fries had been recommended to me by one of the people working at the hostel, so I decided to check it out with a fellow hosteller. If you know me, you'll know that I always have either two dinners or two lunches; dinner two today was free and in the hostel: spaghetti!

Sunday morning,  I took a bus up to Nomad Donuts in North Park (a coworker said if I didn't stop in, that she would never talk to me again- I now understand why). I mean, maybe I bought 4 donuts. After a long morning of walking, I stopped into Lucky's Lunch Counter to grab something to eat.

More reading:  Accommodation Hacks

(All amounts include 20% tip)

Berkeley Pizza: $13.10 (1 delicious slice, 1 beer)
Copa Vida: $5.70 (small latte)
Juice Saves: $7.00 (Kale-ifornia, 14oz)
Masala Cottage: $6.00 (chicken tikka masala samosa)
Lolita's: $9.15 (1/2 shared carnitas fries and a fish taco)
Nomad Donuts: $21.50 (12oz Cubano coffee & donuts: ube taro coconut, vegan dirty chai, pineapple peach masaladas, and green tea black sesame crueller)
Lucky's Lunch Counter: $14.15 (Reuben w/ coleslaw)

Food/Drink TOTAL: $76.60

FREE Things: Samples at the farmers markets - there are farmers markets every day! I had breakfasts and 2 dinners at the hostel



FREE: Walked along the waterfront
Walked from the hostel along the waterfront. Got a great look at the USS Midway and the Coronado Bridge. Walked all the way along the waterfront to the far end of the convention center.

FREE: Waling tour of the Little Italy Farmers Market
Provided by the hostel, we hopped on the trolley and spent a good chunk of tie exploring the market and the surrounding area.

FREE: Sunset Cliffs
If you're coming from downtown, you'll need to pay for either a bus or an Uber; but the cliffs themselves are free. From the bus stop to the end of the cliffs, its roughly 1.5 miles of beautiful coastline views-- free of charge.

FREE: Ocean Beach/Dog Beach
The beach is free! Hang there for a bit and don't miss the dog beach! There is a semi-private portion of the beach where dogs are allowed off leash. Its an adorable spectacle.

$20: USS Midway Museum
Great value for a great museum. The best thing about the Midway Museum is that you can split it up into 2 days (which is what I did) by having your ticket validated on the way out.

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FREE: Walking tour of Balboa Park
Provided by the hostel, we walked to Balboa Park and our guide showed us some of the cooler parts of the park. We also got a bit of history on the park, as well.

$15.00: Petco Park tour
Guided tour of Petco Park: home of the San Diego Padres. Its a nice park, and if you're looking to kill a few hours, this tour is an interesting way to spend that time.

[Sunday afternoon, I returned to the Midway Museum, as I was unable to finish it the day before. Remember to validate your ticket!]

Paid activities TOTAL: $35

TRIP TOTAL: $201.70

So do you see now? You can totally do San Diego on a budget!

  • What is a SD "must eat"?
  • Do you have any favorite San Diego spots?
  • What is the best "hidden gem" neighborhood in San Diego?
Posted in Budget Travel, City Guides, Travel, USA and tagged , , , , .


    • Yeah, lots of people are surprised that hostels exist in the US- they totally do! And I’m not- SD was a quick trip 🙁 I’m trying to get to 10 major US cities this year to do similar write-ups!

  1. This is awesome! I’m making a trip there this weekend and would love to check out the USS Midway Museum. The hostel you stayed at sounds pretty sweet with the free meals 🙂

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