Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in El Cajon, CA

  • Published 2023/01/28

El Cajon is a touristy city in San Diego County, known as a valley area in California, as it’s surrounded by several mountains.

Because of its location in San Diego, El Cajon experiences a Mediterranean climate that makes it a popular destination for outdoor activities.

Several free attractions are available in both the city and its surrounding areas, giving you a lot of versatility in making a budget-friendly itinerary.

The free things to do in El Cajon, California, are abundant; check this list for your comprehensive guide to the city:

Trek the Boulevard Trail at Cowles Mountain

The view from Cowles Mountain

Hernando Sorzano /

El Cajon is not only known as a cultural hub but also home to outdoor attractions.

The Boulevard Trail at Cowles Mountain is one of the trailheads that you can easily access from the city proper, located along Lake Murray Boulevard.

Cowles Mountain is an easy hike, and the Boulevard Trail makes it even more convenient thanks to its paved roads.

Trail at Cowles Mountain

Hernando Sorzano /

There is a lot of vegetation around, along with some unpaved roads that add challenge to the hike.

One of the best family-friendly treks in El Cajon, this site offers a great experience as you’ll get great views of the city afterward.

People at Cowles Mountain

Hernando Sorzano /

Go on an Urban Adventure at Downtown El Cajon

Downtown El Cajon is one of the major sites you must visit during your trip to the city.

It’s brimming with culture and interesting buildings and attractions, making it one of the best places to enjoy sightseeing.

One of the things you can see here is the iconic El Cajon Street Sign, which symbolizes the city life of El Cajon.

There’s also a stretch here called the “Art Alley” that’s home to various galleries, including an awesome wall full of street art murals.

Besides this, Downtown El Cajon is home to many interesting shops and cafes if you’re looking for a place to sit down and relax.

You can begin your urban exploration at the city’s Main Street Corner Magnolia Avenue.

Attend a Free Concert at Prescott Promenade

The heart and soul of Downtown El Cajon is the Prescott Promenade, an open space fondly called the “Concert on the Green.”

The music culture among the locals of El Cajon is as vibrant as any city, so it’s no surprise the city government takes the initiative on providing free concerts year-round at Prescott Promenade.

The groups that perform here are mostly indie and local bands—perfect for music enthusiasts who are looking for underrated artists to listen to.

Overall, the event space is spacious and lively, making it a great place to have a good time whether you go during the day or at night.

The concerts you can watch here vary from time to time, so be on the lookout at Downtown El Cajon’s website for further announcements.

Visit the Olaf Wieghorst Museum & Western Heritage Center

The Olaf Wieghorst Museum & Western Heritage Center is another attraction in Downtown El Cajon.

It’s a free museum as it’s managed by a non-profit organization.

The museum is dedicated to renowned painter Olaf Wieghorst, best known as an inspiring American success story for he was just an ordinary immigrant from Denmark during the early 1900s.

You can find all sorts of works from the talented artist here, along with a log cabin replica during Wieghorst’s time.

Besides this, there’s also a scenic garden full of various cacti and other plant life, accentuated further by its gorgeous landscaping.

You can find Olaf Wieghorst Museum & Western Heritage Center along Rea Avenue.

Join the Annual Alley Cat Art Walk

El Cajon is a famous hotspot for both arts and culture in San Diego, and one of the best examples of this is its Annual Alley Cat Art Walk.

Hosted just a stone’s throw away from the Olaf Wieghorst Museum in the city’s “Art Alley,” the Annual Alley Cat Art Walk features amazing artworks of the local artists of California.

Many of the participating galleries here are the ones you’ll find in Downtown El Cajon, and you can enjoy this congregation of art studios for free.

There’s also live music and food businesses available to accentuate the festive experience.

The Annual Alley Cat Art Walk is typically held during September, so consider joining if you’re planning a visit during that time.

Play Sports at El Cajon City Park

Located along East Boulevard, El Cajon City Park is a great urban area if you want to play some sports during your visit.

It’s known for its baseball fields and basketball courts, complete with bleachers that make it a great place to watch games as well.

There are plenty of green areas here, and dogs are also allowed, making this a great all-rounder for families.

Shaded areas with benches are also available in case you’re just looking for a breather somewhere close to Downtown El Cajon.

A nice park where you can also meet plenty of locals, El Cajon City Park is a great addition to your itinerary.

Bring Your Pooch to Wells Park

While your dog can very much enjoy the outdoors at El Cajon City Park, nothing beats Wells Park if you want to let them loose.

Known for its off-leash dog park, Wells Park offers a cool agility course that will stimulate any energetic pooch.

There are plenty of open spaces for your dog to run loose, and there are also fences to keep them safe.

Shaded areas are also plentiful, making the park a great place to relax even during sunny days.

Wells Park also has a playground along with an outdoor gym.

You can find this awesome dog park along Madison Avenue, not too far from El Cajon City Park.

See the Knox House Museum

If you’re a history lover, visiting the Knox House Museum along Madison Avenue is a nice addition to your travel plans in El Cajon.

The Knox House Museum is the first commercial establishment in the city, dating back to 1876 when it was the Knox Hotel.

The surrounding area is the hotel, but the preserved site you’ll see is the nearby home of the Knox family, who owned the hotel.

You can take photos of the Knox House Museum from the outside and check the information posted on its walls.

However, if you time your visit right, you can see the inside of the house as well, as El Cajon Historical Society offers free tours during certain times of the month.

Take the Kids to Renette Park

Renette Park is another city park that’s geared toward children, as it boasts a sizable playground, located along Emerald Avenue.

The playground has many in store for the young, featuring various obstacles and contraptions.

If you’re bringing toddlers, there’s a section in the playground that’s fenced, too.

There are both shaded and non-shaded areas, sprawling with green spaces that are also great for picnics.

You can also find a nice basketball court at Renette Park if you’re looking to play a game or two with friends, family, or even with the locals.

Take a Stroll at Jingle Bell Hill

Jingle Bell Hill is one of the amazing attractions in El Cajon if you’re visiting during the Christmas season.

Located in the residential neighborhoods of El Cajon along Solomon Avenue, Jingle Bell Hill is renowned for its Christmas lights display.

It’s spearheaded by no other than the homeowners themselves, each doing unique renditions of their home to fit the Christmas motif.

During the Christmas season, this entire stretch of the neighborhood is illuminated with all sorts of decor.

It’s a great family destination with interactive displays for the kids, so be sure to visit if you have time.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Hike to the Old Mission Dam

Cascades of the Old Mission Dam

Craig Chaddock /

The Old Mission Dam is a historic attraction along the San Diego River in the Father Junipero Serra Trail that’s only 20 minutes away from El Cajon.

Part of the Mission Trails Regional Park, the Old Mission Dam is an ideal outdoor hiking spot.

It’s also a fantastic way to enjoy the San Diego River, as the spot is famous for boating activities.

The waters of the Old Mission Dam

Wildnerdpix /

The surrounding area of the Old Mission Dam is brimming with various rock formations and plant life, making it a scenic spot as well.

If you’re looking for a great outdoor excursion during your trip to San Diego, visit Old Mission Dam.

Enjoy Sweeping Views of San Diego at Mt. Helix Park

The view from Mt. Helix Park

Sherry V Smith /

Only around 10 to 15 minutes from El Cajon, La Mesa City is home to one of the most popular attractions in San Diego County—Mt. Helix Park.

A free-to-hike mountain in the middle of the city, Mt. Helix Park is one of the best places to see sweeping views of San Diego.

It’s a beautiful place to watch the sunset as well, an intimate activity for couples and families.

Steps trail at Mt. Helix Park

Sherry V Smith /

During a clear day, you can even see the Pacific Ocean at Mt. Helix Park.

There’s also an amphitheater here that occasionally holds events.

Enjoy the Views at Rattlesnake Mountain Preserve

Rattlesnake Mountain Preserve is another highland near El Cajon, located in its neighboring city of Santee, that’s only eight to 10 minutes away by car.

While Mt. Helix Park is a renowned attraction, Rattlesnake Mountain Preserve flies under the radar.

It’s not as high as Mt. Felix, but you’ll see beautiful views here as well on top of the rich flora present throughout the main trail.

The surrounding area is a quiet neighborhood, making it an intimate spot to spend some alone time or with a few people you’re close to.

If you have some downtime, Rattlesnake Mountain Preserve is a great respite during your trip to San Diego.

Bike along the Shores of Lake Murray

The waters of Lake Murray

Sherry V Smith /

Another outdoor activity you can do for free is visiting Lake Murray, a 15-minute drive from El Cajon.

Also called the Murray Reservoir, Lake Murray is one of the most popular sites for renting boats.

But if you want a free experience, biking along Lake Murray’s expansive trails is a serene experience in itself.

Picnic table at Lake Murray's shore

Sherry V Smith /

Spanning roughly around 16 miles, the loop around Lake Murray can easily take up a whole morning—a great day trip activity for the family.

Lake Murray is a must-see if you’re into the outdoors, so be sure to allot some time for it during your visit.

Aerial view of Lake Murray's bike path

NayaDadara /

Play Disc Golf at Mast Park

Trail at Mast Park

Devindad, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re into disc golf, Mast Park is another Santee attraction that’s just five to eight minutes from El Cajon.

Mask Park is home to a 9-hole disc golf course that you can play for free.

On top of this, there’s more in store for you, such as a basketball court and sprawling walking trails.

There’s also a playground and a dog park within Mast Park.

The San Diego River flows through this city park as well, giving it a unique touch that’s perfect for picnics and relaxation.

Final Thoughts

El Cajon is a fun place that’s brimming with culture, history, arts, and music.

Downtown El Cajon is an attraction you can’t miss, full of interesting spots like art galleries, museums, and various specialty shops.

Best of all, El Cajon is conveniently connected to many other cities that have various outdoor attractions, most notably Mt. Helix Park and Lake Murray.

The best part?

Most of the best things to do in El Cajon are free.

So if you’re on a budget and planning a trip to San Diego, include these free things to do in El Cajon, California, in your itinerary!

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