The seasons change in San Diego without a lot of fanfare. We have year-round sunny and mild weather, so most of the trees don’t shed their leaves in the fall and you won’t actually need to put on your favorite flannel-checked scarf. We make up for what we lack in autumn weather, however, with a lot of seasonal activities, festivals, and fall fun.
There are plenty of fall activities in San Diego, so if you’ll be visiting and looking for seasonal activities in September, October or November, grab a pumpkin spice latte and check out this list.
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1. Take Advantage of Kids Free San Diego (TOP PICK)
Kids Free San Diego is one of the best annual events in San Diego. For the whole month of October, kids get free admission (with a paying adult) to 50+ museums, plus San Diego theme parks, tours, and attractions — including our major theme parks.
There are also restaurant discounts and hotel discounts, making October the ideal time to visit San Diego with kids.
Residents should also take advantage of these Kids Free San Diego deals as well. When it comes to our attractions, some will require a qualifying ticket, which you can get (at a discount, too) over at aRes Travel. Learn more about San Diego in October.
2. Peep Fall Foliage at the Japanese Friendship Garden
Visiting the Japanese Friendship Garden is one of my favorite things to do in Balboa Park. It’s especially beautiful in autumn, and it’s one of the best places to see some fall colors near downtown San Diego.
The Japanese maple trees turn brilliant shades of red at this time of year, and you’ll see other trees and shrubs turning bright orange and yellow. Kids love the koi fish, too.
3. Celebrate Halloween at LEGOLAND Brick-Or-Treat
This includes LEGOLAND®’s Brick or Treat Party Nights. Most of the theme parks decorate and weave in some seasonal fun.
4. Or, at SeaWorld San Diego Spooktacular
SeaWorld San Diego hosts their annual Halloween fun-fest SeaWorld Spooktacular on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through October 29. The fun, family-friendly event is included with your park admission ticket and is well worth a visit.
Children can get in the Halloween spirit by participating in a costume party or joining the Halloween Dance Party. They can also enjoy safe trick-or-treating along the park’s Candy Trail, wander through the Hay Maze, go on a Pumpkin Hunt, or check out the new O.P. Otter’s Spooktacular Surprise show at the park’s Mission Bay Theater.
In addition, guests will encounter SeaWorld’s many outdoor and indoor animal exhibits, marine life animal presentations, and crowd-favorite shows, including Dolphin Adventures, Sea Lion & Otter Spotlight, and the Orca Encounter.
There’s also the scarier evening Howl-O-Scream event that’s for the older teens and adults. A separate ticket is required.
Speaking of tickets, you can read my guide for buying discount SeaWorld San Diego tickets. Annual Pass and Fun Card holders receive free entry. But you can choose a Dine + Drink option that includes meals all day long as well as other upgrades.
5. Visit Bates Nut Farm
One of San Diego’s favorite family-owned farms, Bates Nut Farm, hosts its annual Pumpkin Patch and fall activities through October 31. Go shopping for delicious nuts and candy, but also pick out your Halloween pumpkin among the fall foliage, all in one fun place.
Guests can enjoy hay rides, face painting, bounce and slides, rock climbing, balloon art, pony rides, and the farm’s popular petting zoo. There’s even a mechanical bull for those brave enough! Activity tickets are sold in $2 increments and can be used towards each attraction’s requirement.
The farm’s Fall Friday Festival takes place on October 13, 20, and 27 this year and includes all the activities above, plus live music from 3:30–6:30 p.m.
In addition, guests can also enjoy live entertainment every Saturday and Sunday throughout October at the farm, plus select dates in November. You can check their event calendar for details, and you’ll also find the event’s opening hours here.
Other fall special events include the 32nd Annual Scarecrow Contest on October 7. Design and build a scarecrow to exhibit at the farm throughout October, and you’ll get a jack-o-lantern pumpkin for your efforts, plus there are cash and gift card prizes for the winning entries. But be warned, Bates Nut Farm owns all scarecrows once entered to add to their famous collection! Get the entry details.
There’s also a Howl-o-Ween Doggie Costume Contest & Parade on October 21 and the Annual Costume Contest & Parade for the whole family on October 22. All the details are included in the farm’s event calendar.
Parking is free at the farm from Monday–Friday but costs $10 per vehicle on weekends in October.
6. Go Camping at San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Various safari options can be enjoyed by children and their families, and even an adults-only option. All sleepovers include guided after-hours wildlife walks, camp activities, s’mores around the fire, dinner, and breakfast.
Guests can upgrade to the Supreme Roar & Snore Safari package, where you’ll soar through the park on a zipline ride, grab binoculars for a Night Vision Safari through the Africa and Asia wildlife sections, enjoy a VIP viewing of wildlife encounters over breakfast, and experience an up-close Wildlife Safari into the park’s savanna habitats in an open-air safari truck.
Tent options range from basic (bring your own sleeping bags) to luxurious (wood floors, outlets, a fan and heater, a queen bed with linens, and two cots).
Whether you prefer to rough it or “glamp” in style, this is a memorable way to spend a night in San Diego with your family. Prices per person start from $155 up. The Supreme Roar & Snore Safari package starts at $315 per person.
Roar and Snore runs through December 31, 2023, and includes this year’s special themed sleepover options, Creepy Camp and Holly Jolly Jungle.
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Check for unpublished deeper savings on tickets through my partnership with aRes Travel, an authorized San Diego Zoo Safari Park ticket seller.
7. Explore Carlsbad Village and Beach
Fall is a great time to visit this beautiful coastal town in North County San Diego. The summer crush is gone, and you can enjoy the miles of sandy beaches with many more parking opportunities. Look out for dolphins, too, as they are often spotted in the ocean there.
Carlsbad Village is right next to the beach, albeit up a long flight of stairs from the beach. The village is a great place to spend a day with the family. There’s lots of parking right in the center by the town square complex, and you can walk everywhere from there.
The fountain in the town square is the perfect spot to relax with the little ones, who can roam around and do cartwheels on the artificial turf surrounding the fountain. There are lots of gift shops to peruse, plenty of cafes for lunch, a gelateria, and even a gourmet popcorn shop.
The streets surrounding the main square are dotted with cute but well-priced boutiques, more shops, cafes, and restaurants. Family favorites include Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream on State Street and a short walk along the same road will lead you to The Goods, where the huge gourmet donuts are to die for!
You can also get the Coaster train to Carlsbad Station from the city or other stops along the coast. And you can rent E-bikes at Pedego Electric Bikes.
8. Celebrate Dia de los Muertos in Old Town
San Diego’s atmospheric and beautiful Old Town district is full of fun things to do in the fall, and the weeks leading up to Dia de los Muertos are a great time to visit.
This Mexican tradition celebrates loved ones who have passed, and the streets of Old Town are decorated with ofrendas (altars) and many traditional Dia de los Muertos arts and crafts, including painted sugar skulls.
This year, the annual Dia de los Muertos candlelit procession takes place on November 2, starting at the Immaculate Conception Church at 6:15 p.m.
There will also be a free outdoor screening of Disney Pixar’s Coco in the Plaza de Armas on October 28 at 7 p.m.
Various festivities will take place in the State Historic Park all weekend, where you can honor your own lost loved one at the Community Altar, also located in the Plaza de Armas.
And don’t forget to take in one of the fantastic Mexican restaurants that line the streets of Old Town, or visit the famed haunted Whaley House Museum, if you dare!
You can check the complete calendar of events.
9. Attend the Autumn Festival at San Diego Zoo Safari Park
For those keen to mingle with animals of all sizes at the Safari Park but just for the day, head to the park’s Autumn Festival, which is held every Saturday and Sunday throughout October.
Fun family activities include a maze, a Jamboree dance, and live country and bluegrass tunes by The Barn Owls trio.
Friendly scarecrows are on hand to guide you through the park. And be sure to stay till darkness falls for the Reflections show in the Nairobi Village. The enchanting 7-minute musical journey of floating, flickering lanterns dancing in a choreographed musical journey around the world is sure to be the perfect end to your visit.
10. Take a Sightseeing Tour
Visitors to San Diego normally look into our fun sightseeing tours like Old Town Trolley (they have a haunted tour which is fun during Halloween time), San Diego SEAL tours, and our variety of San Diego harbor cruises. Some of these tour operators participate in Kids Free San Diego.
Some other tour ideas include snorkeling tours, kayaking tours, bay tours, whale watching tours, or a guided tour around the USS Midway, the historic naval aircraft carrier and museum.
LIMITED TIME OFFERSave $5 per person on a 1-hour harbor cruise AND $7 per person on a 2-hour harbor cruise with Flagship Cruises & Events. Get your tickets.
11. Go Horseback Riding
Fall is a great time for the whole family to saddle up and enjoy one of San Diego’s many beautiful trails, or even the beach, on horseback. The hot sun has cooled, but still, grab a hat and sunscreen for this fun outing.
Picturesque-guided horseback trail rides are available through Surfside Ranch, which is located 15 miles south of downtown. You can choose from beach or trail rides, pony rides for the little ones, or get up close to other furry friends at the ranch’s Petting Zoo. There are llamas, goats, pigs, and even chickens.
Surfside Ranch is currently open seven days a week from 9 a.m– 5 p.m., but check their website before you go in case hours change. 1-hour trail rides start from $80 per person.
Another option is San Diego Horse Connection in Valley Center, which offers a lesson in their arena before you head out on the trails. A one and half hour session with two people max, costs $140 per person.
12. Take a Winery Tour
There are some great winery options around San Diego County. For a unique experience, you can hop aboard the Winery Train Tour of San Diego, where you’ll cruise up and down the coast. Guests disembark at selected stops for guided historic walks and some sample sipping at local wineries and tasting rooms.
San Diego Beer, Wine & Spirits Tours runs this 5-hour adventure. Tickets cost $128 and include tastings at four wineries, a wine-pairing light lunch, and other goodies. Guests may be 18+, but you must be aged 21+ to drink alcohol.
Other options for wine lovers include heading north to the famed Temecula wine country, where award-winning wineries abound. You can also take in a hot air balloon ride over the stunning vineyards while there. Prices for a shared balloon ride cost from $170 per person.
13, Go Street Dining in La Jolla Shores, Gaslamp Quarter, and Little Italy
Dining along the streets on a balmy fall evening is a popular choice for locals and tourists alike, thanks to San Diego’s year-round sunshine and the energy felt by being in the middle of the action.
A popular choice for both locals and visitors is the Pendry San Diego, where you can dine and drink outside in the Gaslamp Quarter.
14. Pick Apples in Julian
Break out your fall scarves and boots for a day trip to this historic gold mining town that’s famous for its fall foliage and apple picking. There are a few U-pick farms to choose from in 2023, and after you’ve got a good haul you can head into downtown Julian to browse the cute little gift shops.
You could bring your bushel home and make your own apple pie, but there are some wonderful local pie shops here that make near-perfect apple and pumpkin pies. Learn more about what to do on a day trip to Julian.
15. Hike with Help From theNAT (San Diego Natural History Museum)
The San Diego Natural History Museum Canyoneers offer free guided hikes on various trails throughout San Diego County from September through June, mostly on weekends. Fun options this October include the Torrey Pines Loop through Gonzales Canyon and the picturesque Sunset Trail through Cleveland National Forest.
The Canyoneers put together a list of their favorite trails and tips in the Coast to Cactus: The Canyoneer Trail Guide to San Diego Outdoors book that you can find at local retailers or on Amazon.
How awesome to go hiking with experts through the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. This hike is offered in both November and December this year, and you can check the schedule, which includes many more guided hiking options, here. In addition, monthly midweek hikes allow participants to enjoy limited-access trails that are normally crowded on weekends.
The Bottom Line
Fall is a great time to visit San Diego. Most kids are back in school, so popular attractions tend to be less busy, there are more rooms available at San Diego hotels, and the weather is almost always fabulous, with clear skies and comfortable temperatures.
Whether you love celebrating Halloween or Dia de los Muertos, there are plenty of options. Just be sure to check the hours for attractions and activities before you go.
What are your favorite fall things to do in San Diego?
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