When I first typed this, it was a sunny day during the first week of May in San Diego. While a truly beautiful day, as we head into summer, you can’t always count on the sun shining brightly throughout the entire month. May weather is fantastic but can be complicated, and you’ll soon see why.

Our miles of beaches are as stunning as always, though, and May’s slightly cooler climate definitely makes for a more comfortable visit to many of San Diego’s fun outdoor attractions.

Summer for many families starts in May when some schools let out, but there is a lot to know if you want to visit my city during this popular month. You’ll need to be aware of an annual weather pattern that may impact what you do and how you pack.

Through my affiliations, you can save on tickets, tours, and hotels. I may be compensated if you purchase through some links in this post—our editorial guidelines.


San Diego Weather in May

A Mai Tai cocktail sits on a ledge with the ocean and beach behind it.
A mai tai from the Beach and Taco Shack at Hotel del Coronado that I ordered in May.

Let’s address the elephant in the room that residents know well but many travelers may not be aware of. San Diego (and coastal Southern California) experiences a weather phenomenon called “May Gray.”

The non-technical explanation for this is as follows. On any given day, we might have coastal low cloud cover in the morning that can sometimes burn off in the afternoon.

In El Nino years, with warmer ocean temperatures, the morning cloud cover tends not to form.

Our Microclimates

We have four microclimates in San Diego: coastal, inland valleys, mountains, and desert. The thing about San Diego in May is that while it might be foggy on the coast, that’s not usually the case inland.

Our local television stations give weather forecasts by microclimates. However, if you just punch in “San Diego” on your weather app, it may not give you the data you’re looking for. It’s giving you data for the City of San Diego in the coastal region, not weather for the full county.

You’ll want to input the city within San Diego County that you’re headed to, like:

  • Coastal: Coronado, La Jolla, Del Mar, Solana Beach, Encinitas, Carlsbad, Oceanside, Downtown San Diego
  • Inland Valleys: Rancho Bernardo, Escondido (where San Diego Zoo Safari Park is located), Ramona
  • Mountains: Alpine, Julian
  • Desert: Borrego Springs (where Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is located)

Looking at the weather in each microclimate will help you decide what to pack (the answer is layers).

Here are your San Diego March weather statistics (coastal region):

  • Average temperature (high/low): 70°F/60°F
  • Rainfall: Less than 1 inch
  • Days of rain: 2
  • Days of sunshine: 59%
  • Daylight: 14 hours
  • Ocean temperature (high/low): 64.5°F/60.3°F

Can You Go to the Beach in May?

Kids love the sandcastle man in front of Hotel Del Coronado
A May morning on Coroando beach.

Yes! You will start to see more San Diegans enjoying beaches in San Diego in May (especially later in the month) because the ambient weather is warmer and the ocean temperatures are ever-so-slightly warmer.

The time has changed, and the days are longer. More people will be staying on the beaches to watch the sunset, maybe even scoring some fire pits where available for evening grilling.

What It’s Like to Swim in the Ocean

You’ll see people without wetsuits enjoying the ocean. Kids especially don’t seem to mind the chilly water. But, for water sports, you’ll want more warmth.

You can rent wetsuits, including kids’ sizes (call ahead for availability), at various surf shops and surfing schools around San Diego.


Advice for Booking Hotels in May

If you are thinking of visiting San Diego during the summer of 2024, please book your trip now. Many popular hotels are already full during some summer dates, and prices will only rise between now and September.

One question that I’m asked frequently is whether it’s still worth spending more for San Diego hotels on the beach during May Gray.

I say yes because we may not have May Gray at all. Plus, it usually burns off by the afternoon, when most people go to the beach anyway.

However, if you want to avoid coastal cloud cover, you could stay inland, but this isn’t a guarantee of perpetual sunshine. You can check into the lovely Rancho Bernardo Inn (a great option in any weather but located in our Inland Valley microclimate).

The spa pool at Rancho Bernardo Inn, one of the best luxury hotels in San Diego.
The spa pool at Rancho Bernardo Inn

You’ll be near San Diego Zoo Safari Park, have easy access to golf and spa on the resort, great pools, and they’ll take good care of you.

When it comes to price, the earlier you can come in May, the happier your wallet will be. As schools let out for the summer, the prices start to rise later in the month.

Book as soon as possible (I literally can’t say this enough because you never know what a difference waiting even a day makes — sometimes it’s $100/night or more trust me).


San Diego May Events

Many May events in San Diego this year are related to food and drink, but there are also other fun outings to be had. I’ll be adding more as we approach May 2024.

CINCO DE MAYO

Sure, a variety of our bars and restaurants offer special Cinco de Mayo promotions. However, one of the best places to go in San Diego on Cinco de Mayo is Old Town San Diego. Last year, they hosted a free-to-enter Fiesta Old Town Mercado – a Cinco de Mayo artisan mercado and dining event where many restaurants offered a variety of food and drink specials.

Why? The birthplace of California is one of the best places to experience the culture of Mexico without crossing the border.

Mother’s Day

This year, take mom to brunch at one of these fantastic restaurants offering Mother’s Day brunches.

SeaWorld Seven Seas Food Festival

Between now and April 28, head over to SeaWorld San Diego to taste your way around the world at their Seven Seas Food Festival.

You’ll enjoy over 100 food and beverage offerings featuring unique flavors from an abundance of international cuisines. This family-friendly event also includes live music on the Seven Seas Sound Stage. but note that it only takes place on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through the end of April.

The event is included in the park admission, and you can upgrade your experience with a paid Sampler ticket. I’ve written in detail about how to buy discount SeaWorld San Diego tickets.

Gator By The Bay-Zydeco, Blues & Crawfish Festival

The Louisiana Bayou comes to San Diego in spectacular style during this annual 4-day festival. Over 100 live music performances, free dance lessons, and mouthwatering Creole and Cajun food will all be on offer during this family-friendly cultural celebration.

There are 7 entertainment stages, huge dance floors, and the French Quarter Food Court to keep festivalgoers happy. Kids 17 and under enter free with a paid adult.

Gator By The Bay runs from May 9–12, 2024. Hours vary by the day so check their website.

La Jolla Half Marathon & Shores 5K

If half marathons are your jam, this race is a fantastic one to sign up for. The route starts at the Del Mar Fairgrounds and continues along the coast before ascending to the summit at Torrey Pines State Park. Next, you’ll head through La Jolla Shores until you reach the finish line at picturesque La Jolla Cove.

You don’t need to be a diehard jogger to enjoy some of San Diego’s most beautiful scenery, though. There’s also a 5K option with a mostly downhill route through the last 3 miles of the main course. 

The races take place on Saturday, May 18, and kick off at 6:30 a.m. You can find out more information and register on the race website.

Valley Center Stampede Rodeo & Memorial Festival

For something totally different on Memorial Day Weekend, head north to this festival in rural and mountainous Valley Center. There will be some serious rodeo and stampede action and fun for the whole family.

Staffed by a group of passionate rodeo-loving volunteers, the event is one of only a few non-profit rodeos in America. This year marks the festival’s 20th year.

The Valley Center Stampede Rodeo & Memorial Festival will be held on May 24 and 25 this year at Star Valley Park, 29902 Valley Center Road.

catch a Padres ballgame at Petco Park

You can head to downtown’s legendary stadium to see the San Diego Padres battle it out against the LA Dodgers, with three games spread over the weekend.

The epic showdown will, of course, also feature plenty of family-friendly fun, including live music in Gallagher Square, a KidsFest, and Kids Run The Bases action after the game for the under 15s.

Join the fun from Friday, May 10 through Sunday, May 12. Check the Padres website for tickets.


Things to Do in San Diego in May

Visit the Carlsbad Flower Fields

Rows of ranunculus with the Pacific Ocean in the background.
You can see the ocean, too, from this part of coastal Carlsbad, California.

Mother’s Day is the final day to fill your Instagram feed with photos from the Carlsbad Flower Fields. Rows of Giant Tecolote Ranunculus flowers cover a hillside near the coast in Carlsbad.

You can learn from Master Gardeners, let kids enjoy the playgrounds, shop for plants and flowers, and much more. They have a packed events calendar with all kinds of fun options.

Pay Tribute to Our Military Service Personnel

Memorial Day is also in May, and as a city full of U.S. Armed Forces members, there are plenty of fun and educational ways to honor and learn more about our armed forces. Here are a few:

  • Mount Soledad Veteran’s Memorial: It’s free to visit Mount Soledad to enjoy the views and read the stories of the people who served our country on the thousands of plaques that line the walls of the memorial.
  • USS Midway Museum: Our famous aircraft carrier turned museum hosts a weeklong virtual and onsite commemoration of Memorial Day called Legacy Week.
  • The Veterans Museum in Balboa Park: This museum also documents individual stories of U.S. Armed Forces members to preserve legacies and educate the public.

Go Grunion Running

Check the calendar of expected runs and head down to any of our wide sandy beaches at night to observe grunion spawning on the sand. During May, you are only allowed to observe them (no fishing).

ENJOY OUR THEME PARKS

SeaWorld San Diego Manta roller coaster

San Diego has two of the world’s most popular theme parks, SeaWorld and LEGOLAND California.

May is a great time to visit either of these parks. It’s outside of school holidays, so crowds are smaller and lines are shorter. The cooler weather is a big plus, too, because who likes sweltering while waiting in line with hundreds of other people?!

I have all the info on how to get discount LEGOLAND California tickets and you can also buy discount tickets to SeaWorld San Diego.

San Diego Zoo & San Diego Zoo Safari Park

May is also a fantastic time to visit San Diego Zoo in the middle of the city, and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park further north in Escondido, for the same reasons as above.

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Grab a Hotel Pool Day Pass

You can opt for a luxe daycation at many of San Diego’s most beautiful hotels without paying for an overnight stay with ResortPass. May is a great month to secure a great spot, as hotel pool decks are less crowded.

Whether you are an in-house guest or a day guest, our hotels book their pool cabanas, chairs, and other activities through ResortPass. Pool decks you can take advantage of include:

Browse all San Diego ResortPass hotels and resorts.


What to Wear in San Diego in May

Your San Diego packing list for May includes layers. You’ll need shorts and t-shirts for when the May Gray disappears but you will likely want to bundle up in the mornings. A jacket or sweater is still necessary at night, especially at the beginning of the month.

Here’s what to put in your suitcase:

  • Lightweight jacket for the afternoons and evenings
  • Athleisure (a San Diego wardrobe staple for both men and women — like Athleta or Lululemon)
  • Hiking shoes for trails
  • Bathing suit and cover-up
  • Rashguard or UV shirt for sun protection and warmth
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat for sun protection
  • Flip flops
  • Shorts
  • T-Shirts
  • Pants or jeans
  • Sweaters or sweatshirts
  • Comfortable walking shoes for sightseeing
  • Casual cotton dress or collared shirt, sweater, and nice jeans (if you plan to dine in one of our nicer restaurants )
  • Sweaters and sweatshirts for after sunset at the beach

Lifestyle: What Residents Are Up To

May is a fantastic time to be a tourist at home before the peak summer season. Our restaurants and museums are less crowded, trail walks are more comfortable, and our beaches are as beautiful as ever. Next up is San Diego in June.

Weather and temperature sources: seatemperature.org, currentresults.com, NOAA

Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide, like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai, that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both).

Explore More Things to Do in San Diego

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