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 — usually.
Many of the annual San Diego fall events have been canceled in 2020, but you’ll still find some fun fall things to do in San Diego. If you’ll be visiting San Diego or looking for seasonal activities in September, October or November grab a pumpkin spice latte and check out this list. If you make purchases through some links below, I may be compensated.
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 85+ museums, 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. Many of these tickets and more details will be live in the coming days.
Peep the 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. And, it’s open. Kids love the koi, too.
Celebrate Halloween, San Diego Style
As the end of October draws nearer, usually, some San Diego neighborhoods go all out with fantastic Halloween parties, events, pub crawls, cruises, and more. Most of these fall things to do in San Diego have been canceled for 2020. This includes SeaWorld®’s Spooktacular and LEGOLAND®’s Brick or Treat parties. The open parks will likely still decorate and weave in some seasonal fun.
However, I’m keeping this section as a placeholder because events and activities change constantly in today’s world. So, you never know what might be on tap.
SeaWorld San Diego Zoo Days: Bayside BBQ & Brews Experience
SeaWorld San Diego reopens for weekends only (Friday–Sunday) during the Zoo Days: Bayside BBQ & Brews Experience. Park guests will outdoor animal exhibits, some indoor exhibits, and marine life animal presentations with physical distancing measures in place. SeaWorld’s Dolphin, Sea Lion, and Orca Encounter live educational presentations will be on offer with physically distant seating.
Guests will receive a tasting lanyard for six food or beverage options with a ticket. You can purchase additional lanyards at the park. Items to look forward to include specialty beer-infused BBQ Brisket Sliders, Shrimp Tacos, Grilled Fish, Impossible Burgers, German Bratwurst, and more tasty eats. Fun Card and Annual Pass holders can purchase Zoo Days tickets at a discount. Buy your Zoo Days tickets before they sell out on your preferred dates.
Visit Bates Nut Farm
San Diego’s favorite family-owned nut farm, pumpkin patch, and fall activity center plans to be open for 2020. You can check their event calendar for opening times and extra special days like the October 10 Scarecrow Contest and Annual Costume Contest on October 25.
Go shopping for delicious nuts and candy but also to pick out your Halloween pumpkin in a fun place.
Go Camping at San Diego Zoo Safari Park®
During the event, families get to enjoy a special animal encounter and a ride on the African Tram. Tent options range from basic (bring your own sleeping bags) to luxurious (wood floors, outlets, 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.
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Work or School from a Hotel
Several hotels around San Diego are offering workcation, schoolcation, or staycation packages that cater to our new online lives. A couple of examples include the below.
The Lodge at Torrey Pines: You can reserve a guest room/office for the day and enjoy all the stunning views, and luxury amenities (including room service and poolside cabanas) the AAA Five Diamond resort has to offer. You can upgrade this to include a priority tee time at Torrey Pines Golf Course for a well-deserved break.
San Diego Mission Bay Resort: Book the Recess at the Pool package that includes complimentary Wi-Fi, two bike rentals and a $25 resort credit for break time, and a s’mores kit. Use promo code RECESS on their website (rates start at $215/night).
Catch a Ballgame at PETCO Park®
One of the classic fall things to do in San Diego is go to a Padres home game. Did you know that you can see PETCO Park from Ballpark Suites at Hotel Indigo San Diego-Gaslamp Quarter or Altitude Bar at Marriott Gaslamp Quarter? Right now, that’s the only way to catch a live game.
See the New Baby Hippos at the Zoo
While the San Diego Zoo was closed, a baby hippo (Amahle) and a baby pygmy hippo (Akobi) were born. Their enclosures are among my favorites in the park.
Very few of the Zoo exhibits are indoors so you can enjoy a full fall day seeing your favorite animals (in more temperate fall weather).
EXCLUSIVE ZOO DISCOUNTUse promo code lajollamom for $6 off 1-Day San Diego Zoo tickets!
Take a Sightseeing Tour
Visitors to San Diego normally look into our fun sightseeing tours like Old Town Trolley, San Diego SEAL tours, and our variety of San Diego harbor cruises. These tours are up and running with proper health and safety measures in place.
If you’re a resident and the kids or you are on a flexible school or work schedule. I would highly recommend some at-home sightseeing if you’re comfortable with it. We have many good, hardworking tour operators who were deeply affected by closures that could certainly use support.
Some ideas include snorkeling tours, kayaking tours, bay tours, whale watching tours and there are even some winery tours up and running. You can also support your favorite tour operator by purchasing a gift card. Some of these tour operators participate in Kids Free San Diego.
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.
Go Street Dining in La Jolla Shores, Gaslamp Quarter, and Little Italy
While we’re on the subject of supporting local businesses, many have collectively opened for street dining. Three popular areas where restaurants have expanded outdoor dining into streets and parking lots include La Jolla Shores, the Gaslamp Quarter, and Little Italy.
And, you know what? People who are comfortable with this experience are really enjoying the energy in addition to the food so it could be a longer-lasting tradition.
It’s also adding value to hotel stays. To give you an idea, locals and visitors are checking into Pendry San Diego on weekends now because they want to dine and drink outside in the Gaslamp Quarter.
Go Apple-Picking 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 2020, 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.
Celebrate Dia de los Muertos in Old Town
Old Town San Diego, aka the birthplace of California, normally celebrates Dia de los Muertos in a big way. Traditional and contemporary altars of remembrance are set up all over the neighborhood, and there are beautiful museum altars dedicated to the people who lived in Old Town in the 1800s.
If there’s someone you want to remember, there is even a public altar where you can leave your own mementos. What exactly they are planning, if anything, in 2020 is TBD — I’ll keep checking on it.
While you’re here, check out the original adobes, the historical shops and schoolhouse, and some of San Diego’s best Mexican restaurants. The restaurants are open for outdoor dining.
Go Hiking with Help From theNAT
Normally, the San Diego Natural History Museum Canyoneers usually offer free guided hikes on various trails throughout San Diego County from September through June, mostly on weekends. These hikes have sadly been postponed but it doesn’t mean that you can’t go on your own. 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 retails or on Amazon.
I want you also to remember that theNAT has this program. How awesome to go hiking with experts through Tijuana Estuary or even Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (some desert hikes are scheduled on consecutive days to allow for overnight camping). Monthly midweek hikes allow participants to enjoy limited-access trails that are normally crowded on weekends. Remember this for next year.
Keep Supporting San Diego from Home
Do not forget that there are many ways to explore San Diego from the comfort of home be it through virtual learning experiences hosted by our attractions, live cams, or interesting TV programming. You can check my list of online San Diego tours and experiences.
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, even in today’s challenging times you can still find things to do. Be sure to check the hours for attractions and activities before you go because are living in a fast-changing world.
What are your favorite fall things to do in San Diego?
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