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La Jolla Mom

Best Time of Year to Visit San Diego

The answer is really any time but here's how to pick the best month for you

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The best time to visit San Diego, America’s Finest City situated next to the Pacific Ocean, is any time you get a chance. Our city is known for its warm dry summers and mild winters.

It only rains about 42 days a year and almost all those days will have some moments of sunshine. The average annual daily temperature is 70° Fahrenheit which means that you’ll want to wear sun protection and can pack shorts in any season.

We’ll tell you about the weather by month, which months typically see lower hotel rates, events to attend (or avoid), and offer practical advice combined with data on San Diego ocean temperature to help you envision what your beach vacations will be like. We’re at the beach year-round (my husband regularly swims in the ocean in all seasons) so we know when people are sunbathing or wearing wetsuits.

A Note About San Diego Ocean Temperature

Surfers enjoying late afternoon waves in January

It’s important to note that everyone’s version of cold is relative. The Pacific Ocean at San Diego is generally known for being cold when compared to Hawaii, for example. The hottest ocean temperatures occur in August with the official records recording the water temperature of 68° F. Conversely, expect the ocean to be at its coldest in February when the temperature dips to 57° F.

Of course, these are averages. In August 2019, the ocean temperature hit 79.5°, the highest ever recorded, topping the previous high of 78.6° recorded in July 2018. The only previous temperature that came close to that was in 1931 when it was recorded at 78.4°.

It’s important to remember that you can swim, surf, stand-up paddleboard, kayak, snorkel, and dive in the San Diego ocean year-round. During cooler months though, you’ll want to wear a full wetsuit which you can rent at a variety of surf shops around town, even for kids.

Keep in mind that if it’s 80° F on a sunny day in March, the ocean does not warm up in tandem. It just means that your tolerance for colder water is higher because you can dry off in the sun.

January

January is the coldest month of the year where you’ll see San Diegans bundle up with parkas and boots when the temperature dips to its lowest of 49°, but in that same month, the high reaches 65°. Visitors from the East Coast and colder winter climates tend to understandably think it’s warm.

  • Temperature ranges from a low of 49° to a high of 65°.
  • Approximately 7 days of rain and 216 hours of sunshine.
  • Average ocean temperature is 58° (wear a full wetsuit).

Ring in the New Year by running in the Carlsbad Marathon and Half-Marathon. The race starts at the Shoppes in Carlsbad, continues through Carlsbad Village and out along the oceanfront Pacific Coast Highway.

Restaurant Week happens usually during the third week of January where restaurants across the county offer set menus that are excellent value. It’s also prime whale-watching season as gray whales migrate to and from warm Mexico waters to give birth.

February

February, if you can avoid Presidents Day weekend and the few days surrounding it, is another value month when it comes to hotel rates and activities around town. You’ll still want to pack more sweaters than short sleeves.

  • Temperature ranges from a low of 51° to a high of 65°.
  • Approximately 7 days of rain and 212 hours of sunshine.
  • Average ocean temperature is 57° (wear a full wetsuit).

February is San Diego Museum Month when more than 40 museums offer half-price admission. Museums cater to all interest groups. For example, we love the San Diego Natural History Museum, Maritime Museum of San Diego, Fleet Science Center, and everything in between. You can find your half-off coupon at any public library or Hilton Hotel in San Diego.

March

Hotel rates start to rise during the second week of March in anticipation of spring break, which varies depending on the school. If you’re looking for a family room (double queen, specialty suite) during spring break season from mid-March to mid-April, book early. Still, you’ll find your San Diego March weather means more sunshine and beachgoing thanks longer days as a result of daylight savings.

You will start to see more people in swimwear the beaches than in prior months, especially tourists in the water without wetsuits, completely enjoying the ocean.

  • Temperature ranges from a low of 53° to a high of 66°.
  • Approximately 7 days of rain and 262 hours of sunlight.
  • Ocean temperature is 58° (locals will wear a full wetsuit).

A big March event is the family-friendly Kia Classic LPGA Golf Tournament in Carlsbad.

Baseball lovers can experience the first game of the season by attending a Padres game at Petco Park in downtown San Diego. The seasonal Butterfly Jungle exhibit at San Diego Zoo Safari Park opens for a few short weeks and the Carlsbad Flower Fields open to the public.

April

San Diego April weather starts to turn sunnier and after Easter passes this is another good shoulder season for hotel rates before the summer rush.

  • Temperature ranges from a low of 56° to a high of 67°.
  •  Approximately 5 days of rain and 242 hours of sunlight.
  • Ocean temperature is 56° to 57° (you’ll see people in spring and full wetsuits).

The Mission Federal ArtWalk is where more than 300 artists show and sell their work on the streets of Little Italy where you will find art galleries and quaint restaurants. The Carlsbad Flower Fields full of blooming ranunculus will still be open as will Butterfly Jungle.

May 

Many schools finish for the year in May but we have a seasonal condition here called “May Gray” where we receive overcast skies that sometimes burn off into hazy sunshine along the coast.

Don’t fret. Tourism escalates and it’s never really cold nor does it rain much in May so outdoor sightseeing is still quite pleasant. How many days of May Gray we receive changes every year (it is usually sunny during Memorial Day weekend, however, that was not the case in 2019).

  • Temperature ranges from a low of 59° to a high of 67°.
  • Approximately 2 days and 261 hours of sunlight.
  • Ocean temperature is 61° to 63° (people are swimming without wetsuits but the ocean is still a bit chilly).

Enjoy four days of live music on seven stages when you visit Gator by the Bay at the Spanish Landing across from the airport. Pounds and pounds of crawfish are brought in from Louisiana in keeping with the southern cuisine theme. You’ll also see some smaller festivals pop up around town like Fiesta Del Sol in Solana Beach.

June

May Gray turns to June Gloom as the overcast conditions continue. The skies usually, but not always, clear to sunnier skies later in the afternoon. Some days won’t be gloomy at all while others will have all-day gray skies.

When it’s sunny outside you will see lots of people at the beach and in the ocean.

  • Temperature ranges from a low of 62° to a high of 71°.
  • Approximately 1 day of rain and 253 hours of sunlight.
  • Ocean temperature is 64° to 65° (by now, most people swimming recreationally are not wearing wetsuits until September).

The San Diego County Fair held at the Del Mar Fairgrounds kicks off in the beginning of June and runs through July 4th weekend. From serenely strolling through the flower show to soaring and spinning through the sky on a carnival ride, there is something for everyone. Entertainment, decadent fair food, exhibits, petting zoos, you name it.

Additionally, people come from all over to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon and to attend the San Diego International Beer Festival.

July

Things to do in Pacific Beach San Diego
Surf camp in full force during July

June gloom is usually gone and San Diego July weather equals mostly really sunny days. It’s a fantastic time to visit.

  • Temperature ranges from a low of 65° to a high of 75°.
  • Approximately 0 days of rain and 293 hours of sunlight.
  • Ocean temperature is 66° to 67°.

This is the month for Comic-Con, an entertainment and comic book convention, held in downtown San Diego. If you are lucky enough to secure tickets (which often sell out on release day), escape from reality and immerse yourself in the world of comic book characters and Hollywood blockbuster movies. Downtown San Diego hotels sell out and rates skyrocket in neighboring towns like Coronado and La Jolla due to attendee overflow during and in the days surrounding the convention.

August

For peak sunshine and ocean temperatures, visit during August. Some kids go back to school in the second and third weeks of August which means that beaches, attractions, and hotels are less crowded during the final week of the month (with the exception of Labor Day weekend).

  • Temperature ranges from a low of 67° to a high of 76°.
  • Approximately 0 days of rain and 277 hours of sunlight.
  • Average ocean temperature is 68°.

You’ll see a lot of small one-day festivals around town but what most people are doing is enjoying the beach and outdoor attractions. One of our favorite things to do (which actually starts in June) is attend the family-friendly San Diego Symphony Bayside Summer Nights outdoor concerts. There were 17 nights of bayside concerts in August 2019 and more than that are expected to take place in August 2020 as the Symphony debuts playing in its new location.

September (Top Pick)

Once Labor Day weekend passes, September becomes one of the best months to visit San Diego. Hotel rates begin to decline as kids head back to school but the days are long and the weather is fantastic with crisp, clear, blue-skied sunny days. Attractions like the San Diego Zoo become less crowded, too, and you typically don’t need a wetsuit unless you’re out surfing early in the morning. We residents are still going to the beach as we do in the summer.

  • Temperature ranges from a low of 67° to a high of 76°.
  • Approximately 1 day of rain and 255 hours of sunlight.
  • Average ocean temperature is 66°.

September also brings a myriad of events to San Diego. There is the San Diego Bayfair with the world’s fastest boats roaring around Mission Bay, the Miramar Air Show, the Kaboo Music Festival, Padres baseball games at Petco Park, and more.

October (Best for Families)

What 9 a.m. on a late October sunny day looks like — this beach was packed an hour later.

Thanks to daylight savings, days toward the end of October become shorter but there is a lot to enjoy throughout the month. It’s still warm outside, especially earlier in the month. If there’s a Santa Ana blowing through, it can be classified as hot on some days.

  • Temperature ranges from a low of 65° to a high of 73°.
  • Approximately 3 days of rain and 234 hours of sunlight.
  • Average ocean temperature is 63° to 65° (wear a spring or full wetsuit toward the end of the month for prolonged swimming or surfing).

Every year, Kids Free San Diego is on for the entire month of October. Kids (usually ages 12 and under with a paying adult) stay, play, and eat for free at over 100 attractions, hotels, and restaurants throughout the county. This includes San Diego Zoo, LEGOLAND California, SeaWorld San Diego, and many attractions with otherwise high ticket prices. If you can come as a family in October, you will save on sightseeing and enjoy great San Diego October weather.

November

Many travelers choose Thanksgiving break as a time to visit San Diego. However, if you can come earlier in the month, you’ll typically be blessed with some of the lowest hotel rates of the year.

  • Temperature ranges from a low of 54° to a high of 69°.
  • Approximately 4 days of rain and 236 hours of sunlight.
  • Ocean temperature is 61° (wear a full wetsuit).

November is a fantastic time for foodies as the roughly 10-day-long San Diego Beer Week events happen all around town and the San Diego Bay Food and Wine Festival is also a popular event. Thanksgiving week begins holiday events at major hotels like Skating by the Sea at Hotel Del Coronado.

December

Many travelers flee the cold and head to San Diego in December for its mix of good weather and festive events. Where else can you ice skate in shorts by the beach?

Two of the most festive hotels with long rosters of holiday activities include Fairmont Grand Del Mar’s Winter Wonderland and again Hotel Del Coronado’s Skating by the Sea and other holiday events. Plan to book San Diego hotels during winter break as early as possible.

  • Temperature ranges from a low of 48° to a high of 65°.
  • Approximately 6 days of rain and 217 hours of sunlight.
  • Ocean temperature is 59° (wear a full wetsuit).

San Diegans delight in celebrating the December holiday season. You can experience:

  • The Holiday Bowl Parade which, along with marching bands and elaborately decorated floats, is the largest balloon parade in the country.
  • December Nights at Balboa Park which has festive light displays, choirs, dancers, bands, food, and other entertainment.
  • Watch from the harbor as more than 80 lavishly decorated boats pass by during the annual San Diego Parade of Lights.
  • Visit the Cygnet Theater in Old Town for a unique presentation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas! at the Old Globe Theater in Balboa Park.
  • The California Ballet annually presents The Nutcracker at the Civic Theatre.

As you can see, the best month to visit San Diego is whichever month has the weather, ocean temperature, and activities that you and your family are hoping to enjoy.

Frequently Asked Questions / FAQs About When to Visit San Diego

What is the best month to visit San Diego?

The best month to visit is September, after Labor Day crowds have left and kids are back in school. Hotel rates tend to fall, San Diego beaches are less crowded, and the weather is still fantastic.

Can you swim in San Diego in the winter?

Yes, you can swim in San Diego in the winter though it’s advisable to wear a full wetsuit unless you’re taking a quick dip in the ocean. If it’s a hotel pool that you seek, rest assured that most are heated.

Is March a good time to go to San Diego?

Yes, March is a fantastic time to visit San Diego. It can rain and the ocean is still chilly (by San Diego resident standards) but it is mostly shorts weather. It’s the month I’m asked about most likely because kids tend to be out of school for spring break. See our list of San Diego family hotels and things to do in San Diego with kids.

When is the rainy season in San Diego?

San Diego’s rainy season is from November to March but there are many days of sunshine sprinkled in between.

What to do in San Diego when it’s cold?

It’s never cold enough skip our top attractions (though you may want to give sunbathing a skip on some days). If it’s raining, however, Balboa Park museums are a fantastic indoor activity.

How should I dress in San Diego?

No matter when you decide to visit San Diego, pack layers. Even on the hottest dog days of summer, when the sun slips beneath the horizon, it cools down and you’ll be grateful for a light sweater or wrap. See our full list of what to pack for San Diego.

What are the hottest months in San Diego?

August is the warmest month in San Diego but we also can have stretches of Santa Ana wind conditions that cause temperatures to spike for several days in a row in September and October.

Where can I rent a wetsuit?

Wetsuit and other beach rentals can be found all over San Diego even for kids. If you arrive and decide that the ocean is a bit too chilly, it’s no problem to pick up a wetsuit.

Can you enjoy San Diego beaches during the winter?

Yes! Keep in mind that during the winter or when the ocean is cold (many local kids including mine run straight in, year-round), we still go to the beach though a bit differently. We do more walking, shelling, tide pooling, and sunset watching than in summer. There will be sunny days. It’s an asset year-round that is meant to be enjoyed.

Sources:
U.S. Climate Data
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