San Diego on a Shoestring
Article and Photo by Ann Nelson



San Diego is blessed with natural beauty, near-perfect climate and a limitless amount of outdoor activities. If you are on a budget, finding a reasonable and classy place to stay can be a challenge. That is why I decided to do a little homework and develop a list of fun and reasonable places to stay. All the places I chose are small hotels or B&B’s, and priced under $130.00.

The Balboa Park Inn, built in 1915, was originally a guesthouse for visiting dignitaries who were opening the first World’s Fair in Balboa Park. The inn is a two-minute walk to the zoo and Balboa Park. Several of the 26 suites have fireplaces, kitchens and Jacuzzis. A continental breakfast is served. Call: (800) 938-8181 or visit Prices start at $109.00.

The Keating House is a graceful turn-of-the-century home located in Banker’s Hill. Established in the late 1800’s, Banker’s Hill has several magnificently restored Victorian homes located in an elevated area with downtown views. The Keating House, consisting of 9 guest rooms is within walking distance to several restaurants, pubs, and coffeehouses. A full breakfast is served. Call: (800) 995-8644 or visit Prices start at $115.00.

Park Manor Suites, consisting of 75 suites, is ideally situated on the west edge of Balboa Park and offers sweeping views of San Diego Bay and downtown. Built in 1926, Park Manor was a popular stopping off point for the “Hollywood Set”, commuting from Rosarito Beach and Del Mar. A midweek getaway package features champagne waiting in your room and dinner for two for $149.00. Call (800) 874-2649 or visit

The Hillcrest Bed & Breakfast at Kasa Korbett offers four guest rooms, each with private baths. Built in the early 1930’s, Kasa Korbett is a short walk to Hillcrest, with its neighboring restaurants and coffeehouses. Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo is only a mile away. A continental breakfast is offered. Call: (800) 757-5272 or  visit Prices start at $99.00.

Crones Cobblestone Cottage, a 1913 Craftsman bungalow, is located in the vintage neighborhood of Mission Hills. Surrounded by flowers, ferns and trees, the bungalow offers peaceful ambiance to its guests. Call: (619) 295-4765 or visit Prices start at $125.00.

Carole’s B&B, built in 1904 for Frank Frary, the mayor of San Diego, this charming turn-of-the-century North Park home has been lovingly restored by the present owners. Centrally located, the property consists of 5 guest rooms, 2 garden studios and an apartment. A big family-style table occupies the center of the room where Carole serves a generous and tasty continental breakfast. Call: (800) 975-5521 or  visit Prices start at $129.00.

The history of B&B’s is actually quite interesting. B&B’s have been around since the civil war. When soldiers returned from the war, they would stay at homes along the way and were always offered a warm bed and breakfast.

The next question on your mind may be — what should we do while we are in San Diego? I will give you eighteen ideas, and guess what, they’re all FREE!

1. Head to San Diego’s many beaches, all free to the public, to swim, body surf or just relax. 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 Seaport Village during the weekends for free entertainment and hours of leisurely strolling and window-shopping. Or just sit in the grass and gaze at passing yachts and ships on picturesque San Diego Bay.

4. Stroll through the 16½-block historic Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego and view the renovated turn-of-the-century Victorian architecture.

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 in the bay breezes.

6. Enjoy free organ concerts at 2 p.m. on Sundays at the Spreckels Organ Pavillion in Balboa Park. The Organ Pavillion features one of the world’s largest outdoor pipe organs, 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 ship, 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 daily from the Copley Visitor Center between 10 a.m.-3 p.m. on Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on Sunday.

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 telescopes to offer guests a great view of all the stars in the night sky.

11. Rollerblade, skateboard or bicycle along the Mission Beach Boardwalk, a scenic 3-mile boardwalk along picturesque Mission and Pacific Beaches.

12. 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. Roam through the park’s 40 miles of natural and developed hiking and biking trails.

13. Go scuba diving or snorkeling off San Diego’s shores and see spectacular creatures of the sea. La Jolla Cove offers some the clearest waters on the California coast, as well as miles of protected underwater preserves to explore.

14. Go Bird Watching at the Torrey Pines State Reserve. Located high above Torrey Pines State Beach, this is home to the rare and ancient Torrey Pine as well as a beautiful protected habitat for swifts, thrashers, woodpeckers and wrentits.

15. 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), free daily park tours, public organ concerts (Sundays), and many spectacular gardens (seven are free daily).

16. Explore the tide pools in Point Loma at low tide and get up close and personal with flowery anemones, scampering shore crabs, elusive octopus, spongy dead man’s fingers and many other magnificent sea creatures.

17. 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 await guests at the top of Mt. Helix.

18. 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 everyone.

Ann Nelson is a freelance writer presently residing in San Diego, California.

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