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 live in San Diego and am happy to answer this question.
Sure, we have speakeasies and festive nightlife, but that’s not what we’re the most famous for. The best evening activities also involve seeing our famous sights from a different angle, whether exploring San Diego Bay via a dinner cruise or San Diego Zoo after-dark special events.
We’ve created these top picks below with all ages and budgets in mind.
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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 arrive 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.
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. The theater is a replica of Shakespeare’s famed Old Globe in London, and it first opened in 1937. It’s a wonderful place to soak up some history while seeing a thoroughly entertaining show.
La Jolla Playhouse is another popular venue with a history going back to the 1940s. It was founded by three prominent Hollywood actors at the time, including the legendary Gregory Peck, who grew up in La Jolla. On their calendar, you’ll find Tony Award-winning plays and musicals alongside local and innovative shows.
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. This beautiful theater hosts most world-famous shows and musicals when they reach San Diego on tour.
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. Tickets are extremely well-priced compared to other theaters in the city, and it’s a great place to take the kids to get inspired.
5. Discover San Diego’s Live Music Scene
Most of the world’s biggest bands and famous performers include a San Diego stop on their global tours. Petco Park and Snapdragon Stadium are the regular venues for such acts, and you can check Ticketmaster for upcoming concerts.
But there are plenty of ways to catch great live music around San Diego that don’t require such advance booking and are definitely cheaper. The world-famous House of Blues San Diego in the city has a packed roster of well-known acts, and it’s also a great option for dinner.
If country music is your vibe, Moonshine Flats is also located downtown. This huge venue features some of country’s biggest names, and they even have line dancing lessons on their calendar.
Another great option is San Diego’s famed live music venue, the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach. This iconic independent theater opened in 1974 and has hosted gigs by BB King, No Doubt, Black Eyed Peas, The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Tom Jones, and many more. The Rolling Stones even performed a private event there back in 2015. They also have top-quality cover acts, including Fleetmac Wood (any guesses?!).
6. 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 May 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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7. 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-acre 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 Julian 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!
8. Catch a Comedy Show
San Diego has become awash with live comedy shows and venues in recent years. Whether you prefer established stand-up acts or the brave up-and-coming comics trying their hand at Open Mic night, the San Diego comedy scene has something for you.
Just note that many comedy clubs often have a two drink purchase minimum per guest (which helps pay the comedian’s fee), and most venues have a 21 or older age requirement.
Other comedy venues worth checking out include:
- Mad House Comedy Club (Gaslamp Quarter)
- National Comedy Theater (for great improv shows, and with no drink or age requirement)
- The Grand Comedy Club (Escondido)
- American Comedy Co. (Downtown)
9. Wrap up for a Rooftop Cinema Visit
A unique experience that works as either a date night, family occasion, or just a night out with friends, is a trip to the Rooftop Cinema Club Embarcadero overlooking the San Diego Marina.
Thanks to doors opening early every night, you can enjoy the sunset and spectacular San Diego skyline views before the show, and there’s a great food and drink menu. The movies begin after the sun goes down, and seating is on deckchairs, which you can book as a single for one person or a ‘love seat’ for two for a romantic date night.
And don’t worry about noisy neighbors. Each guest gets a pair of wireless headphones to listen to the movie through.
The film schedule includes all kinds of classic, iconic, and even new release movies. Check out the Club’s event calendar for singalongs, premieres, and talent Q&As. And don’t forget a warm sweater or blanket for the cool night air.
10. Roam Through the Historic Gaslamp Quarter in Downtown San Diego
Spend the evening among 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 many 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.
Check out a nightclub like the Parq Restaurant and Nightclub for something more on the wild side as night descends. You can always catch a show at one of the many theaters putting on plays, live music, or comedy acts.
11. Head Back in Time at Old Town San Diego
The city’s cultural center is Old Town San Diego, and is considered the birthplace of California. With roots dating to 1769, San Diego’s Old Town retains its Mexican influence through the area’s restaurants, shops, and entertainment venues.
Old Town has a charm 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 during the day.
12. Plan Dinner in Little Italy
San Diego’s Little Italy claims to be the largest ‘Little Italy’ in the United States and spans nearly 50 square blocks. Once a humble fishing village, the neighborhood has become a bustling hotspot.
Kettner Boulevard and India St. are the main streets for great restaurants, where celebrity chefs tickle patrons’ taste buds with innovative cuisine. In this popular date night spot, you’ll also find tantalizing Argentinian/Italian fusion cuisine at Puerto la Boca, with succulent steaks, rich Malbec wine, and Latin entertainment. Other favorites include:
- Kettner Exchange
- Born & Raised (for a great rooftop bar)
- Juniper & Ivy
- The Crack Shack (great for families)
- Herb & Wood
- Davanti Enoteca (which has a great outdoor patio at the back)
For a simple evening, walk down India Street, visit Amici Park, and grab a slice of pizza at Mona Lisa Foods. You’ll find other Italian restaurants on India Street, like Barbusa, Filippi’s Pizza, and Buon Appetito.
13. Try Your Luck at an Escape Room
Escape Rooms have become all the rage in San Diego in recent years, and you can find them in various locations up and down the county. It’s a fun evening activity for groups, families, or even for a date night because the themes of each Escape ‘experience’ vary widely.
The general format is that all guests get locked in a themed room for around an hour and then have a set amount of time to work out how to escape via a series of hidden clues. There are so many location options around San Diego that it’s best to do a Google search. You can often get good Escape Room deals on Groupon.
14. 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 while 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, but there are 100+ others.
Stone Brewing is another widely-known favorite, with an attractive and expansive outdoor dining location at Liberty Station. Stone also has a large location north in Escondido, emphasizing the outdoors with their beautiful tree-filled grounds.
15. Kick Back at an Urban Winery
While a trip to Temecula wine country is a fantastic day out, believe it or not, you can just as easily find excellent local wineries near the beach. Yes, really! The urban winery craze has recently seen a major boom in San Diego. This practice of harvesting grapes in the countryside and then transporting them to an urban facility to produce the wine, thanks to technological advancements, has spawned many great urban wineries around the county.
Carruth Cellars has four unique tasting rooms in San Diego: Oceanside (which also serves as the main wine production site), Carlsbad, Solana Beach, and Liberty Station. No reservations are needed (you don’t hear that often), and if you get hungry, Oceanside has a pizzeria onsite, while the other three locations sell pre-packaged charcuterie.
Solterra Winery & Kitchen in Encinitas is another great night out, with its chic coastal-style restaurant and tasting room in one building and working winery right next door. The owners love to educate customers on the process and how they produce all their wines onsite in their demonstration vineyard.
16. 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.
17. Take a Sunset Cruise on Mission Bay
You won’t find many better ways to say goodbye to daytime during the summer 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).
18. 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 at night that can span up to Del Mar and as far south as Mexico, especially on a clear night. If you’re a photographer, take a camera and tripod to shoot sunset timelapse photos.
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.
19. Enjoy Dinner and S’mores at Hotel Del Coronado
You don’t have to stay at this iconic property on Coronado Island to enjoy its beauty and magic. This historic hotel offers jaw-dropping views, gorgeous architecture, fine dining, and luxury shopping. It’s a top pick for things to do on Coronado Island.
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.
20. 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, making this one of the family-friendly things to do in San Diego at night that locals love.
21. 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. I like this as a things to do in San Diego at night for kids but I’m not going to lie; it can be hard sometimes to stay up as late as you need to in order to see the fish!
22. 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 the Roar and Snore Safari at San Diego Zoo Safari Park. You’ll be able to choose a tent type, and dates are often themed.
Another unique overnight opportunity at a famous San Diego attraction is to join the Snooze Crewz aboard the USS Midway Museum. You’ll need to take your own sleeping bag and pillow, but you get to sleep in Navy bunks that sailors slept in while on active duty. It’s a great experience for families and the package includes a hot breakfast from the Midway’s original cookbook.
Or, you can opt for an overnight stay aboard the Star of India, HMS Surprise, or Californian (the ship is dependent on availability) through the Maritime Museum of San Diego. Their Sleepover package also includes dinner and breakfast and is open to all ages.
23. 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.
24. 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 near 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.
25. 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.
Check out what’s available at the Del Mar racetrack during the fall and summer horseracing season. In addition to races, you’ll also find concerts and other events on tap in the evenings.
FAQs About Things to Do in 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 now. 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 casual nightlife involving beach bars and a younger crowd, try Pacific Beach, where oceanfront bars and others are along Garnet Avenue.
Is there anything to do at Balboa Park at night?
It’s usually pretty quiet in Balboa Park after dark, but it’s a pretty walk with the buildings and water features lit up at night. Some museums, like Fleet Science Center and San Diego Natural History Museum, offer evening programming. And, of course, there might be shows happening at The Old Globe and people dining at The Prado. So you will see some activity until maybe 10 p.m. or when everything shuts down.
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, one of the free things to do in San Diego at night as is watching sunsets and stargazing along the beach.