Your Summer Guide to San Diego, California

San Diego Summer Activities

There's just no denying that San Diego is the ultimate city for a summer vacation.

Southern California weather is unbeatable, no humidity, no extreme heat, no summer thunderstorm or hurricanes. Simply perfect days practically year round! 

Whether you're looking for a weekend getaway or a longer vacation, there is something for everyone in San Diego. The city is a jack-of-all-trades if you will, and offers ample activities for every type of traveler; great for families, bachelor and bachelorette parties, friends trip, couple trips. From North County to the Gaslamp, San Diego doesn't disappoint.

Plus it's much more laid back than it's neighbor to the north, Los Angeles, and less traffic makes it easier to get around!

They don't call it America's Finest City for nothing!

Here is a guide to our favorite summer activities in San Diego.

 

Del Mar Race Track

Del Mar Race Track in San Diego | San Diego Summer Activities

Del Mar: Where the Turf Meets the Surf. 

The Del Mar Race Track is an integral part of San Diego summer.

Horse racing at Del Mar Race Track runs from mid July to September and kicks off with one the biggest parties of the year, Opening Day. Opening Day at the track is an event we look forward to every year as attendees dress to impress, adorned in massive hats channeling style from The Kentucky Derby.

After opening day, the track is a perfect activity for everyone, friends and family alike. On Fridays, the first race starts later and the races are followed by the Friday night concert series that is FREE when you purchase admission to the track. Artists (past and present) include the likes of Violent Femmes, Slightly Stupid, The Revivalists, Steve Aoki, The Psychedelic Furs, Aloe Blacc, Ziggy Marley, and Ice Cube!

On the weekends, the infield has fun activities for families where kids can enjoy large inflatable slides, obstacle courses, pony rides and face painting while you enjoy a bit of gambling, ice cold beers and sunshine yourself!

 

Balboa Park

Balboa Park is a perfect way to spend a day (or five!) in San Diego.

At 1,200 acres, Balboa Park is the second largest city park in the United States after New York's Central Park! And only the Smithsonian complex in Washington, D.C., has a larger collection of museums in one geographic location. Pretty impressive! You could say as San Diego residents, we're pretty proud. 

It has so much more to offer, including the world famous San Diego Zoo as well as 17 museums and cultural institutions. Carly's personal favorite is the Fleet Science Center where science comes to life with 100 interactive exhibits! While Stephanie's favorite is the Museum of Man - she was an Anthropology minor after all!

When you're done exploring the museums, take in a free concert at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion or pack a picnic and set up by the Botanical Garden.

In it's third year now (as of 2018), Food Truck Friday from 4pm - 8:30 pm food truck lines El Prado walkway, the main street of the park. There's live music entertainment and the food trucks rotate from week to week. One of our personal favorites is New York on Rye, how can you say no to Corned Beef Hash Burrito?

Our favorite spot in Balboa Park is Panama 66. An old museum turned into a restaurant and bar. You can get food and sit at an out door table or order a drink to enjoy while relaxing in the sculpture garden. Panama 66 is kid and dog friendly!

 

Wonderspaces

Back for it's second year, this cultural phenomenon is in San Diego again for the summer of 2018! Wonderspaces is a pop-up art gallery, a collection of interactive art installations. 

Note: After Summer 2018, Wonderspaces will be moving to other cities in the U.S.

JUST UPDATED: Wonderspaces is now closed (as of August 24) in San Diego, but will be returning soon. Stay tuned. 

 

Beaches

San Diego beaches | Summer Activities in San Diego

With 70 miles of coast line, San Diego has plenty of pristine beaches to choose from.

Pacific Beach - If you're looking for a party beach, Pacific Beach is the place for you.

North Pacific Beach - Offers Tourmaline Surf Park with good waves for surfing and kite surfing with a more relaxed vibe than popular Pacific Beach.

Mission Beach - Home to the famous Belmont Park (see Belmont Park below for more)

Mission Bay - The spot for water activities. You can sail, wakeboard, ride jet skis, water jet pack, stand up paddle board, and more. You can even rent boats with a hot tub in them!

Coronado - The prefect spot for families with it's relaxed vibe and large, quiet beaches.

Ocean Beach - Free spirits flock to Ocean Beach.

La Jolla - Lovely beaches with upscale restaurants and shopping.

Del Mar - Lounge with your dog on the beach in Del Mar.

Encinitas - A surfers paradise.

 

Hikes

 Torrey Pines Hike, San Diego

Torrey Pines Hike, San Diego

There are plenty of hiking opportunities in San Diego. Keep in mind that San Diego is a desert, so you'll find more cactus than trees here! That also means San Diego lacks shade, so time your hikes to the early morning or late afternoon to avoid peak heat. And bring lots of water! It can get very hot, especially away from the coast with temperatures reaching even 100 degrees around August!

Our favorite hike is Torrey Pines!

The Torrey Pines hike is located on the beach in La Jolla, named for the area's Natural Reserve, but you might know the name from the famous golf course. There are many different paths you can take here, some leading down to the beach. Note that no dogs are allowed here as it's a State Natural Reserve & Park. 

Other hikes include:

  • Cowels Mountain - located in East County San Diego in the neighborhood of San Carlos, at 1,593 feet Cowel Mountain is the highest summit in San Diego and on a clear day offers views of Downtown and the ocean. It's roughly 3 miles round-trip and climbs just over 900 feet. Dogs are allowed on leash.
  • Mount Woodson - aka Potato Chip Rock is known for it's notable rock shaped like a potato chip. Located in East County San Diego in Poway, this hike is roughly 7.5 miles round-trip, starts around a lovely lake and climbs more than 2,300 feet. Prepare to wait in line to take photos on this rock, especially on weekends! Dogs are allowed on leash.
  • Three Sisters Waterfall Hike - located in East County near Descanso, California that features a waterfall but only after rainfall in California. The last several years because of the drought, the waterfall is more of a trickle or completely dry. 2017 has been a good year for this hike though. This hike is roughly 3.5 miles round-trip, climbs over 1,000 feet and is recommended for experienced hikers only and is very challenging!

 

Breweries

San Diego breweries

San Diego is a mecca for craft beer and craft cocktails. From North County to the border the options are plentiful no matter what your vice is. San Diego is home to famous Stone Brewery and Ballast Point and has upwards of 120 breweries to choose from.

Some of our favorite breweries include:

  • Stone Brewery World Gardens in Escondido (other locations in Liberty Station and Petco Park)
  • Ballast Point Little Italy for it's proximity and outdoor patio (other San Diego locations include Scripps Ranch, Miramar and Temecula)
  • Modern Times Lomaland Fermentorium (brewery in Point Loma) or the Flavordome (tasting room in North Park) - both are excellent options!
  • Belching Beaver has a tasting room in North Park or Ocean Beach. Try the Peanut Butter Milk Stout!
  • Fall Brewing has tasting room in North Park. Try the Apocalypse Pony Imperial Stout!

TRAVELER'S TIP: If beer isn't your thing, head to East Village and check out You and Your's, San Diego's first distillery.  It's woman-owned and the space is too perfect for words. They are serving up Gin and Vodka cocktails in East Village with their own brand of booze.

 

Baseball

Petco Park San Diego baseball

Take in a Padres baseball game at Petco Park. After all, what says summer more than America's favorite past time baseball?

The stadium is gorgeous, situated in the heart of downtown. Even if you are not the biggest baseball fan, the stadium has a ton of great San Diego staple food and drink options like Ballast Point Beer, Hodads burgers and Phil's BBQ.

Before the game head to Stone Brewery or Fairweather for a pre-game drink and snack. Both are located on the back side of the park and are accessible from the street.

 

Brunch

San Diego Brunch

Like most sunny and warm cities, San Diego takes brunch seriously.

Brunch can certainly become the highlight of any weekend. What ever your brunching styling, San Diego has an answer. Brunch's with breathtaking views, bottomless mimosas, brunch buffets, you get the idea.

Our favorite brunch spots include:

  • Banker Hill Bar & Restaurant- They only do brunch on Sunday but its worth the weekly wait. Their menus is always evolving and highlights seasonal food.
  • Great Maple- Known for it's bloody mary's and maple bacon donuts. Reservations recommended on the weekends
  • Cafe 21-  In such high demand that they have two locations. One in University Heights and one in the Gaslamp. They have massive cast iron omelets and mimosas towers.

 

Farmer's Markets

One of our favorite activities is to check out the local's farmers market. There is one every day in a different neighborhood!

Monday - Escondido
Tuesday - Pacific Beach
*Wednesday - Ocean Beach
Thursday - North Park
Friday - Imperial
*Saturday - Little Italy
*Sunday - Hillcrest

The three largest, most impressive and fun are Ocean Beach, Little Italy and Hillcrest.

You'll find a massive assortment of fruit, vegetables, flowers, cheeses, honey, fish & seafood, hummus, San Diego's famous Bitchin' Sauce, coffee, pasta, olive oils, tea, soaps, and so much more! All locally grown and/or handmade, you could spend hours sampling the deliciousness!

Although some vendors do take card, be sure to bring cash to support these local artisans! 

 

The Cado Museum

If you don't know yet, Californians are obsessed with avocados. Obsessed! It goes on everything, we have memes about it, we do avocado toast 100 different ways. To pay tribute this summer (2018), take a stroll through the Cado Pop-Up Avocado Museum. Yes, Cado is short for avo(cado).

 

Dive In Theater @ Pearl Hotel

The Pearl Hotel offers a unique movie, swimming and dining combination during the summer (from March to October) at their Dive In Theater. Try the brussels sprouts, served with roasted jalepenos, bacon, cotija cheese and cilantro lime vigaigrette - yum! Reservations recommended! 

TRAVELER'S TIP: It can get noisy, so it's best if you have already seen the movie! But with classics like Space Balls, The Sandlot and Anchorman playing, that won't be hard to do!

 

Summer Concert Series

The Birch Aquarium is perched on the top of a hill in La Jolla with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. A great attraction anytime of year but summers at the aquarium are even more special.

One Wednesday every month from May to September, Birch Aquarium hosts the Green Flash concert series. Taking place in the outdoor Tide-Pool Plaza, the event combines live music with unparalleled views. A ticket gets you parking and admission to the aquariums exhibits. All tickets are general admission and standing room only. Concerts are 21 and up.

Another option is the Del Mar Summer Twilight Concerts happens once a month on Tuesdays. 

 

Coronado

 Sapphire & Elm Travel co-founder, Stephanie's Puppy Nephew Roman in front of the hotel del coronado

Sapphire & Elm Travel co-founder, Stephanie's Puppy Nephew Roman in front of the hotel del coronado

Coronado Island is located across the San Diego Bay from Downtown. Coronado is quaint, idyllic town with some of the nicest beaches in the county. It is also home to a US Navy base.

Coronado is technically not even an island as it is connect to the mainland by a tiny strip of land called the Silver Strand. The Silver Strand connects Coronado to Imperial Beach. You can also access Coronado by bridge or ferry. 

While on Coronado, you can golf, bike, shop, and relax. Check out the famous Hotel Del Coronado. It's right on the beach and a must see even is your aren't staying at the hotel.

 

Kaaboo Music Festival

Labor day may be the unofficial end of summer for most of the country, but San Diego keeps Summer alive at Kaaboo Music Festival in Del Mar.

TRAVELER'S TIP: August to October are San Diego's best summer months. In San Diego we have what we call May Gray and June Gloom because most days in those months are overcast.

In its fourth year, Kaboo Music Festival celebrate music, art, comedy and culinary indulgences. This festival is ultra luxe, no gross porta-potties and car camping here. But the music is super diverse to include today's current stars to some of the all-time greatest!

The 2018 Kaboo Music Lineup includes Foo Fighters, Imagine Dragons, Katy Perry, Jewel, and Earth, Wind & Fire. 

Past years have included The Killers, Gwen Stefani, Zac Brown Band, Jimmy Buffet, Jack Johnson, Hall & Oats, Aerosmith, Counting Crows, Sheryl Crow, Red Hot Chili Peppers, P!nk, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Muse, Weezer, Alanis Morissette, David Guetta and so much more!

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