Insider’s Guide to San Diego on a Budget

Bobby Dyer

For the constant traveler needing to minimize budget and maximize experience, here is our low down on how to San Diego on the skinny:
San Diego Hostel BBQ

Where to Eat


From fish tacos to Pho, San Diego is a food mecca. And you can more than enjoy your fair share of delish on a tight budget.


In-N-Out Burger
Although a chain, this is one of the best burgers around. And since this little gem hasn’t ventured into too many other States, it’s quite a treat. Make sure to explore their not so secret menu options before stopping by.


Bahn Thai
4646 Park Boulevard, University Heights
Your total hole in the wall joint, this little place serves top notch Thai. And as a budget diner, we don’t mind the plastic silverware. Try out their Drunken Noodles or Eggplant Basil. Caution – when they say spicy, they mean it.


OB Noodle House
2218 Cable St
Gaining incredible attention after it’s debut on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” this joint isn’t a secret anymore. But with the awesome ambience, great beer selection and cheap dishes, it’s worth the crowds. In the end, it all adds to the experience.


Farmer’s Markets
More than just fresh produce, all of San Diego’s markets have expanded to offer great food selections. The most renowned market is the Little Italy Market on Saturdays, but you can find one almost any day throughout the city. Not only can you get cheap eats from many of the vendors, but they have free samples as well!


El Zarape Mexican
3201 Adams Ave – and – 4642 Park Boulevard
You can’t be this close to the border without some good quality Mexican food. And you can count on quality here. You can’t go wrong with pretty much anything on the menu. Best part of Mexican food? Margaritas.


*San Diego’s bar scene is fantastic. And they have daily specials and happy hours where you can find steals on food and drinks. Get the low down on the beer scene.


San Diego Hostel Cliff Jumping


What to Do


With constant sunshine, you can just about do anything year round here. In case you are short on ideas, start with one of these:


Rent a Sailboat
Mission Bay Sportscenter – 14 foot- $24 an hour
Never sailed before? Not a problem. These little sailboats are perfect for beginners. Most rentals will teach a few basics at the start of the rental, but you can also inquire about a 30-minute lesson. Depending on the size you rent, you can fit 2-6 per boat. So cruise around the bay for a great afternoon activity.


Paddle Board
Mission Bay Sportscenter – $15 an hour
This easy to learn activity is a great way to take advantage of that San Diego sunshine. For beginners, stick to the bay for a great workout and fun scenery. For those who dare, advanced only, you can tackle the Pacific.


Mission Bay Sportscenter – Tandem Kayak $18 an hour
If you are looking to tackle the bay another way, stay dry with a kayak. There are a lot of great different kayak locations in San Diego, and plenty of territory to explore.

*Make sure to also check out different La Jolla Cave tours. Tandem tours are always a little cheaper.


Champion the Boardwalk
Whether you are looking to feel the wind in your hair by biking or if you packed your jogging shoes, this is a classic San Diego activity. The entire stretch of beach from Mission Beach to Pacific Beach has a great boardwalk, as well as Mission Bay. If you are looking for a bike, Pacific Beach has tons of options. Stay Classy Bikes will deliver bikes right to your door for those looking for alternative transportation.


Padres Game
Cheap seats were made for a reason – and you might as well enjoy them. It’s all about the experience anyway. So occupy that nose bleed section and cheer, “Play ball!”



What to See


The Beaches
You can’t visit San Diego without hitting the beach! In fact, your biggest decision will be which beach. With La Jolla, Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach, Blacks Beach (only for the courageous) and a whole shoreline of others, there are plenty of places to get your tan on.


Balboa Park
With great architecture, free concerts and plenty of sites, you could spend an entire day here. If you have a little extra spending money, the Museum Passport is well worth the investment. And if not, the parks are fun to explore.


Gaslamp Quarter
It’s an iconic sign, designed for tourists. Since you are one, you might as well enjoy! The heart of downtown has a great vibe, with fun shops and a variety of restaurants. Make sure to check out the Embarcadero area, home to the famous USS Midway.


Point Loma
A small $5 fee gets a carload into the Cabrillo Monument. Here you can explore the museum, climb to the lighthouse, or if the time is right, hike around the tide pools. The views around the tide pools are the best part; so make sure to find out when low tide is before you go.


*The Ultimate Budget Saver Tip: Where to Stay


For the ultimate cost saver tip, skip the guide all together and stay with the International Traveler’s Hostel. We provide free breakfast daily, so you can skip splurging on cafes. And with free daily activities, you can be sure that you will experience the real San Diego. All for less.


Wondering what to do in the evenings? We cover that too. Because staying at ITH is an experience. We want it to be the best one you’ve ever had.

Cofounder of ITH Hostels. I love traveling, hosting, gardening, golfing, fishing, and sailing.