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If you're looking for something inexpensive and a little more casual, try University of California San Diego (UCSD) shows or San Diego State University (SDSU) shows. They will be, as a rule, about a quarter of the price that you will pay at a professional theater. If you're on a family trip, be sure to check that the play will be kid-appropriate. If you're thinking about heading to the La Jolla Playhouse anyway, ask about UCSD Theatre Department shows since the Playhouse is quite literally on UCSD grounds. UCSD's graduate theater program was recently rated third in the nation behind NYU and Yale, so expect quality theater. Also, if you show up an hour before a Playhouse show, you can usually get discount tickets for unfilled seats, but call first to make sure it isn't sold out.
Last-minute tix — Want to feed your inner culture vulture at a deep discount? Head to the half-price ARTS TIX booth downtown in Horton Plaza Park, where day-of-show tickets are available on a cash-only basis (full-price advance tickets are also sold there). Events include theater, concert and dance throughout the city. It's open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; tickets for Sunday and Monday performances are sold Saturday. Call 619-497-5000 for a listing of current offerings or go to http://www.sdartstix.com.
During the summer months, the San Diego Symphony holds a Summer Pops series downtown on the Embarcadero Marine Park. The gorgeous outdoor setting is casual with tickets ranging from the $12 lawn seats (bring your own picnic, blankets and chairs) to the pricey Champagne section with tableclothes, waitstaff and free drinks. Programs range from classical to Broadway hits to patriotic. Several programs end with a fireworks display just a few yards away in the bay. Bring a jacket since the breeze at night can get cold. A truly San Diego experience.
Also during the summer months, the Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park offers free Monday night concerts. The most popular by far is the silent movie night hosted by Dennis James. A silent movie is shown on a large screen while Mr. James plays the original movie score on the historic Spreckels organ which boasts over 4,500 pipes. Come early to snag your spot since this is a huge event attended by thousands of people.