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.
If you’ll be visiting San Diego in September, October, or November, grab a pumpkin spice latte and check out this list of some of my favorite fall things to do in San Diego.
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.
Celebrate Halloween, San Diego Style
The Monster Bash in the Gaslamp Quarter is one of southern California’s biggest and most festive Halloween block parties.
There are also plenty of spots where you can see the spookier side of San Diego. You can take guided ghost tours in Old Town, visit a haunted hotel, or wander the mile-long Haunted Trail in Balboa Park.
Families looking for fall things to do in San Diego should check out SeaWorld®’s Spooktacular and LEGOLAND®’s Brick or Treat parties, which have a ton of Halloween spirit without being too scary for little ones.
Pick Out a Pumpkin Pumpkin Station
Starting in late September, you can pick out the perfect pumpkin at these pop-up autumn hot spots for families.
There are rides, giant slides, carnival games, bounce houses, and a small petting zoo, plus hundreds of pumpkins of all shapes and sizes (check the location nearest you for details).
Pumpkin Station open dates are September 27–October 31. You can head up to Pumpkin Station farms in Bonita and Rancho Bernardo for activities like tractor rides and corn mazes. The farms are open from October 1–31.
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.
Catch a Ballgame at PETCO Park®
One of the classic fall things to do in San Diego is go to a Padres home game. Even the cheap seats are good because this stadium has some of the best sightlines in baseball along with sweeping views of the city.
Try a New Brew at San Diego Beer Week
San Diego is home to a huge number of microbreweries. Starting November 1, San Diego Beer Week kicks off a 10-day celebration of the 130+ independent craft breweries in San Diego. It’s a destination event for craft beer enthusiasts and locals who want to tap into new favorites\.
There are more than 250 events in total, from Guild Fest at the Embarcadero Marina Park North in downtown San Diego (featuring more than 60 independent breweries) to the grand finale Beer Garden at The Lodge at Torrey Pines.
Hit OB Oktoberfest
Originally celebrated in Munich more than 150 years ago, the original Oktoberfest — a beer festival and fair — is still a big deal in Germany. It’s also a big deal in San Diego, where you’ll find Oktoberfest celebrations around the city throughout October.
Early in the month, Oktoberfest comes to Ocean Beach. One of the best fall things to do in San Diego is head to the OB, grab a Bratwurst and a stein of lager, listen to live music on the beachside stage, and compete in events like the sausage eating contest, the stein holding contest, and the balloon blow.
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, 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.
Check Out Balboa Park’s Fall Happenings
There’s a lot going on in Balboa Park in autumn. In early October, make time to check out Maker Faire San Diego, where scientists, artists, inventors, and designers show off their best creations.
In late October, the park hosts its annual Halloween Family Day — the biggest free Halloween carnival in San Diego. The museums and other attractions have free craft projects for kids (and free admission), there are costume parades, and you’ll find other haunted happenings as you explore the rest of the park.
Celebrate Dia de Los Muertos in Old Town
Old Town San Diego, aka the birthplace of California, 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. While you’re here, check out the original adobes, the historical shops and schoolhouse, and some of San Diego’s best Mexican restaurants.
Take Advantage of Kids Free San Diego
Kids Free San Diego is one of the best annual events in San Diego. For the whole month of October (though LEGOLAND California and SeaWorld San Diego Kids Free tickets are available NOW), kids get free admission (with a paying adult) to 100+ museums, theme parks, tours, and attractions — including San Diego Zoo®.
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 are available starting now, but most are live starting October 1.
Head Over to Pacific BeachFest
This is a popular day of fun in the sun, so parking can be a challenge. Your options are to arrive early to get a spot or take an Uber. Either way, you’ll want to plan ahead.
Stroll Around the La Jolla Art & Wine Festival
This is one of my personal favorite fall things to do in San Diego. For two days in October (this year it’s October 12-13, 2019), La Jolla hosts more than 150 artists from around the world who work with paint, sculpture, jewelry, glass, ceramics, and wood.
There’s live music, 3D chalk art, gourmet food, and a wine, beer, and spirits garden showcasing local brews and spirits plus wines from around the world. The La Jolla Art & Wine Festival supports local schools so rest assured that your day out is for a good cause.
Go Hiking with theNAT
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.
Trail choices are diverse from Tijuana Estuary to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (some desert hikes will be scheduled on consecutive days to allow for overnight camping). Monthly mid-week hikes will allow participants to enjoy limited-access trails that are normally crowded on weekends. Check the list of available hikes.
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.
San Diego Bay Wine + Food Festival
The San Diego Bay Wine + Food Festival includes over 60 nationally-recognized chefs, winemakers, mixologists, award-winning authors, Master Sommeliers, brewmasters, artisans and tastemakers.
This year, join the fun between November 10-17, 2019 which also includes an opportunity to cross the border to go wine tasting in Valle de Guadelupe.
The Bottom Line
Whether you love celebrating Halloween or Día de los Muertos, or you want to join us locals for fairs, food, and festivals. You’ll easily stay busy.
Just make sure you check the hours for attractions and activities. Given that there are fewer tourists in the city in the fall, some places will have shorter hours or later opening times. And, do buy festival tickets in advance to avoid disappointment.
What are your favorite fall things to do in San Diego?
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