With great weather almost year-round, locals and visitors alike can find many activities to do during the day. But what about finding things to do in San Diego at night? I’m glad you asked.
Sure we have speakeasies and festive nightlife, but that’s really not what we’re famous for. The best evening activities also involve seeing our famous sights from a different angle, be it a harbor dinner cruise or exploring San Diego Zoo at night.
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1. Start Your Night With a Beautiful Sunset
San Diego has plenty of places for watching the sunset over the Pacific Ocean, but one of the best is Sunset Cliffs. Pack a blanket and a picnic basket and get up there early as parking spaces disappear quickly.
Watching the firey colors here is a great way to end a hectic day and begin an evening of relaxation. Your wallet will be pleased as this is a free San Diego activity.
The hike up to the viewing area is spectacular, too, as you’ll see carved coastal bluffs, arches and sea caves, and San Diego’s overall natural beauty. In December or January, you may also see California gray whales migrating.
Two other popular places to watch a sunset include La Jolla Cove and Mount Soledad in La Jolla.
2. Book a San Diego Bay Dinner Cruise with Flagship
Flagship Cruises and Events offers nightly dinner cruises that sail around the San Diego Bay. Themes include Friday Hops on the Harbor (a nod to our craft beer roots) and the Sunday Prime Rib dinner.
Chefs use locally sourced ingredients, and guests can choose indoor or outdoor seating to view 25 miles of shoreline and city lights. You’ll board in downtown San Diego.
3. Spend an Evening in Balboa Park
San Diego’s popular daytime attraction, Balboa Park, is just as spectacular at night. You’ll want to keep an eye on the calendar for nighttime events, which during normal times happen sporadically throughout the year. The most famous is the annual December nights holiday celebration during the first weekend in December.
However, on any given day, you can browse the gardens along the main Casa del Prado before or after eating dinner at The Prado restaurant. The other dining outlets and museums tend to close before sundown.
The park is also known for its Food Truck Friday event, where not only are there multiple food trucks to nosh from but extended hours allow you to visit museums. (At the time of this writing, there aren’t any of these events on the calendar.)
4. Attend an Evening Performance from Theater to Ballet
Although technically in Balboa Park, the Old Globe Theatre is a destination unto itself, standing out as one of the city’s premier venues, featuring excellent renditions of Shakespeare plays and Tony award-winning plays of varying styles.
La Jolla Playhouse is another popular venue, with a history going back to the 1940s, hosting original productions that include “Dracula, the Musical” and “Bonnie and Clyde.”
You can also try the San Diego Civic Theatre, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and is home to the San Diego Opera.
Casa del Prado is home to the San Diego Youth Theater, the civic Youth Ballet, Civic Dance Arts, and the San Diego Youth Symphony, giving you a wide selection of performing arts outings throughout the year.
5. Visit the Nighttime San Diego Zoo
The San Diego Zoo has a different atmosphere at night, and there are select occasions to experience it throughout the year.
Extended Nighttime Zoo visiting hours allow you to get close to the sights and sounds of nocturnal animals between June and September. The annual HalGLOWeen Halloween event also extends after sundown.
Both events also offer a slate of special activities, including evening animal encounters, live music, and shows performed by zookeepers.
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6. Gaze at the Stars
As one of America’s largest cities, it doesn’t seem that San Diego would be a place to view the night sky. The San Diego Astronomy Association (SDAA) makes it happen with public star parties held throughout the year.
Whether you’re an astronomy buff or simply a curious amateur, the association welcomes all visitors to its events. Bring a blanket and a telescope, if you have one, to observing sessions at the SDAA’s 10-acres site at Mission Trails Regional Park, for example.
They also join up with Fleet Science Center on the first Wednesday of each month. After the monthly “Sky Tonight” planetarium show in the museum theater, SDAA members set up telescopes outside the museum for free public viewing.
The organization hosts events for schools and youth groups in addition to the general public. For those looking to learn more about the universe, join one of their astronomy or astrophotography seminars, mirror- and telescope-making classes.
Annual events include the Julia Starfest, Stars in the Park, and Oak Oasis Star Party. Don’t forget to look for shooting stars, and if you do, make a wish!
7. Roam Through the Historic Gaslamp Quarter in Downtown San Diego
Spend the evening with beautiful Victorian architecture in the Gaslamp Quarter. You’ll find so much to do in this part of downtown San Diego that you may have trouble choosing.
Whether you’re seeking culture, gastronomic pursuits, or live entertainment, you’ll find it here with the Gaslamp Quarter’s unique mix of innovative eateries, lively bars, and chic theaters.
Start your evening window shopping at the unique boutiques. Pick up a unique souvenir and then head over to one of the fine dining options serving a variety of cuisines that include Japanese, Russian and Mexican, among others.
Find a nightclub like the Parq Restaurant and Nightclub or House of Blues San Diego as night descends. Catch a show at one of the many theaters putting on plays, live music, or comedy acts.
8. Head Back in Time at Old Town San Diego
The city’s cultural center is Old Town San Diego, considered the birthplace of California. With roots dating to 1769, Old Town San Diego retains its Mexican influence through the area’s restaurants, shops, and entertainment venues.
Old Town has a charm that you won’t find in any other neighborhood. Visit Fiesta de Reyes for live music, traditional dance, and authentic Mexican food. Or, visit the Bazaar Del Mundo to find handmade crafts, clothing, and household items. It’s just as fun to enjoy San Diego at night here as it is during the day.
9. Plan Dinner in Little Italy
San Diego’s Little Italy is the largest Italian-American enclave in the United States, spanning nearly 50 square blocks. Once a humble fishing village, the neighborhood has transformed into a bustling hotspot.
Kettner Boulevard is home to restaurants with celebrity chefs that tickle patrons’ taste buds with innovative cuisine. In this popular date night spot, you’ll also find tantalizing Argentinian cuisine here with succulent steaks, rich Malbec wine, and Latin entertainment. Favorites include:
- Kettner Exchange
- Juniper & Ivy
- The Crack Shack
- Herb & Wood
For a simple evening, walk down India Street, visit Amici Park and grab a slice of pizza at Mona Lisa Foods. On India Street, you’ll find other Italian restaurants like Barbusa, Filippi’s Pizza, and Buon Appetito.
10. Sample Craft Beer on a Brewery Tour
San Diego’s microbreweries are world-famous, so if you love the combination of hops, malt, and water, why not spend time and discover what the best have to offer? Let someone else do the designated driving for the night so you can enjoy the libations.
Several companies offer brewery tours to fit your style from casual to luxurious, visiting some of the San Diego area’s most famous breweries.
If you prefer, you can also do some of this on your own, as some of the microbreweries have taproom hours and brewery tours that are free or available for a nominal charge. Be sure to visit Ballast Point (Little Italy or Miramar), which has some of the city’s finest brews. Stone Brewing is another widely-known favorite, but there are 100+ others.
11. Go on a Ghost Tour
A nighttime ghost tour may be just the thing for those who like spirits of a different type. Learn about the history of San Diego, CA, while you wander through darkened streets, look for shadows and hear some great folktales that you won’t forget.
Several companies offer spooky nights out, including Ghosts and Gravestones by Old Town Trolley Tours, Haunted San Diego, and Old Town’s Most Haunted.
12. Take a Sunset Cruise on Mission Bay
You won’t find many better ways to say goodbye to daytime during the summer months than by taking a sunset cruise around Southern California’s coastal waters. Cruises don’t have to be a romantic occasion, either. Go with friends or your kids. You’ll find plenty of options, including harbor cruises on classic yachts to dinner and cocktail cruises around Mission Bay.
Sunset cruises are a great way to kick up your feet, relax and have a wonderful time as the sun disappears into the Pacific Ocean. You’ll find many things to gaze at and enjoy, including dogs running around Fiesta Island Park, stunning views of the San Diego coastline, fishers returning with their daily catch, and more sights that affirm the goodness of life.
You can go it on your own with boat or watersports rentals from the various Action Sports Rentals outlets around the bay. Or take a Cruise San Diego Sunset Booze Cruise or hop onboard the Bahia Belle (runs seasonally).
13. Watch the Sunset and City Lights from Mount Soledad
Seeing San Diego’s city sights on a cruise is one option, but if you want to stay on land, head up to Mount Soledad in La Jolla, the best high spot in the area to see the city lights in the darkness.
You’ll get a bird’s eye view of San Diego that on a clear night can span up to Del Mar and as far south as Mexico. Take a camera and tripod to shoot sunset timelapse photos if you’re a photographer.
Mount Soledad is also a fantastic location to stay the night and say “good morning” to the day as the city awakes. People also come here to watch the sunrise.
14. Enjoy Dinner & S’mores at Hotel Del Coronado
You don’t have to stay at this iconic property on Coronado Island to enjoy it. This historic hotel offers jaw-dropping views, gorgeous architecture, fine dining, and luxury shopping.
Evening roasts are very popular at Hotel del Coronado, where they set up private bonfires with s’mores (reservations are required).
Get lost in the historic location’s great atmosphere. Have a few drinks, listen to live music in the Babcock and Story Bar, or indulge in a spa treatment. It’s also an excellent locale to take a sunset walk along the Coronado beach.
15. Listen to Free Summer Concerts (Seasonal)
Besides the great weather and outdoors, one thing that San Diegans love is music. You’ll find a wide choice of concert series on many summer nights like Point Loma Summer Concerts and Coronado Promenade Concerts.
You’ll find local and regional musicians playing their hearts out for you from urban parks to open-air theatres. Try Balboa Park’s “Twilight in the Park Summer Concerts” from June to August, featuring Latin, jazz, and other energetic types of music.
Take the family to Del Mar’s Summer Twilight Concerts, where you can bring a picnic and enjoy ocean views. Other areas to try include Mission Hills, Carlsbad, El Cajon, Liberty Station, and Encinitas for hearing music in America’s Finest City.
Many places also feature art vendors, food trucks, and other types of entertainment.
16. Go Grunion Running (Seasonal)
At certain times of the year, you’ll be able to see grunion swim up to the sands of San Diego beaches late at night. It’s a fun sight if you can stay awake. Just be sure to bring a headlamp or flashlight so you can see them.
Whether you can fish for them depends on the season (prohibited during specific dates), and you’ll need a valid fishing license.
17. Spend the Night at One of Our Attractions
On select dates, you can enjoy the ultimate sleepover at several of our famous attractions. The most popular and most frequently scheduled is Road and Snore Safari at San Diego Zoo Safari Park. You’ll be able to choose a tent type, and dates are often themed.
Two other San Diego attractions that offer unique opportunities to spend the night include the USS Midway Museum and the Maritime Museum of San Diego.
18. Enjoy Rides, Food, and Fun at Belmont Park
Things to do in San Diego at night include Belmont Park, no matter your age. Kids, teens, and adults love coming to the seaside amusement park on Mission Beach to eat in one of the many restaurants, take advantage of carnival games and rides, and maybe even sip a famous craft beer at Draft.
The arcade, bumper cars, mini-bowling, mini-golf, and rides have seasonal hours, though they tend to stay open a bit later on the weekends. It’s completely free to enter Belmont Park, but you can buy wristbands or a la carte rides and games.
19. Pull Up to a Drive In Movie
A couple of drive-in movie theaters open in San Diego at night. Try South Bay Drive-In located in Imperial Beach, a three-screen theater that opened in 1958, where you can watch movies in your car seven days a week. Listen over FM radio while munching on snacks from the snack bar.
Santee Drive-In is another excellent choice that has been around since 1958. Movies from the two screens are broadcast over high-definition FM radio. They also have a snack bar and restrooms.
Occasionally, we’ll also have pop-up drive-in movies at shopping malls and other larger venues across San Diego County during the summer to keep an eye out for.
20. From Padres to Horseracing: Check Out a Sporting Event
When the San Diego Padres are in town, check the schedule and head to Petco Park for a night game. Come hungry, too, as some of San Diego’s best restaurants and breweries have outlets in the stadium for fans to enjoy.
During fall and summer horseracing season, check out what’s available at the Del Mar racetrack. In addition to races, you’ll also find concerts and other events on tap in the evenings.
FAQs About San Diego at Night
What About SeaWorld San Diego Fireworks?
You’ll see mentions on other lists about SeaWorld San Diego fireworks. I can see and hear them from my house so am telling you this from first-hand experience. This used to be a nightly event, but they only offer fireworks on select dates that include some holidays and summer weekends. You will need to check the park calendar to see if they are on offer during your visit to San Diego.
Does San Diego Have Nightlife?
Yes, San Diego has nightlife. If you are visiting to enjoy our best dance clubs, bars, and speakeasies, you’ll want to choose a downtown San Diego hotel. Most of these spots are found in the Gaslamp Quarter and you’ll want to check dress codes before going.
For more casual nightlife involving beach bars and a younger crowd, try Pacific Beach, where there are oceanfront bars and others along Garnet Avenue.
What Can You Do For Free at Night in San Diego?
As mentioned above, we do have free summer concerts across the county. Going grunion running, which is also seasonal, is free as is watching sunsets and stargazing along the beach.
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).
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