Looking for things to do in San Diego at night? There are plenty of activities and attractions during normal hours. But what are the best places to visit at night to make the most of your time in San Diego? This may also depend on whether you’re with family, kids, friends or just honeymooning as a romantic couple. Many travellers experience the same dilemma so we’ve gathered the best options to ensure you don’t get bored at night.
1. Balboa Park
Balboa Park, a 1200 acre site, is home to the most attractions at night. This includes 17 museums, gardens, theatres, a miniature railway, the Spanish Art Centre, Balboa Stadium, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo, to name a few. With so much going on, it is hardly surprising that the park grounds are open 24 hours a day. You can even take a barbecue and enjoy a pleasant night cooking your own food. Check the website for their regulations beforehand though. Here are some of the highlights at Balboa Park worth checking out at night.
This historic structure is the prettiest way to enter the park grounds. It’s open 24-7 and looks beautiful lit up at night.
San Diego Zoo
Occupying 100 acres of the park, this fabulous zoo is truly one of the best of its kind. The zoo is setup to create natural environments for the animals living here. If you decide to visit here, you’ll see more than 3,700 species of different animals. There’s a bus tour available to explore the grounds in comfort.
- Spring/summer: Daily 9am-9pm
- Autumn/winter: Daily 9am-5pm
- Winter Jungle Bells: 9am-8pm
Many of the gardens are open late so you can witness some of the natural plants lit up at night. While all the gardens are lovely, the Alcazar Garden and Casa del Rey Moro are the most popular. If you have a date, this is the perfect place to take a relaxing stroll and admire the natural scenery in San Diego.
While the museums do close at 4:30 or 5 pm most of the year, during the summer months there is late night opening for Friday nights; ‘Balboa after Dark.’
The following museums are open until 8pm on Fridays:-
- The Fleet Science Center
- Japanese Friendship Garden
- Mingei International Museum
- San Diego Museum of Man
- San Diego Natural History Museum
- The San Diego Museum of Art
- the Spanish Village
- San Diego Art Institute
The Museum of Photographic Arts has late night opening but on Thursdays instead.
It goes without saying that theatres have performances at night, but it is worth checking out what’s on before heading out. There are several performance spaces each with their own character, though not all available at night. Those with evening shows are The Old Globe, modeled on Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. This space not only looks reminiscent of ‘merry olde England,’ but it is host to 15 productions a year of varying styles from Shakespeare plays to musicals. And Casa del Prado, home to the San Diego Youth Theatre, the Civic Youth Ballet, Civic Dance Arts, and the San Diego Youth Symphony. Aside from the programs to train and encourage the next generation of performers, the companies offer outstanding performances throughout the year.
We mentioned the youth programs for performing arts above, but there are also classes for visitors available at several locations around the park. We’re not just talking the standard kids jazz or tap class either. On offer is a whirlwind of cultural experiences with styles from around the world. Options include line dancing, folk, swing, samba, and many more. So take your dancing shoes and enjoy a class or two. Class schedules will vary so it is worth checking before you go. And finally for those who have worked up an appetite with all the other activities, don’t miss out on Food Truck Fridays. Head to Plaza de Panama/El Prado walkway from 4-8:30pm on a Friday evening where you can experience fabulous street food and lively evening entertainment.
2. Late night shopping
If you get a buzz from hovering around the shops, then there are several great places to hang out in San Diego at night.
Clairemont Town Square
Clairemont Town Square is a busy precinct close to the University and is open til 2am. Though the shops close at 8pm, the eateries and entertainment center will keep you occupied.
Most of the stores close by 9pm. But the wide variety of dining options will replenish your tired legs after an evening out around the Hazard Centre.
3. Entertainment at Liberty Station and the Gas Lamp Quarter
Formerly a Naval training centre, Liberty Station is fast becoming the central hub of bohemian San Diego. There are two districts; The Arts and The Quarter. Don’t let the names deceive though, there are plenty of arts, dining, shopping, and entertainment in both localities. This is certainly a good choice for a complete all-round evening. A little bit of everything means something for everyone. The shopping ranges from flowers to flamenco, the restaurants from ice-cream cafe to fine dining. There is a gym, yoga, hair and nail salons, a medical treatment center, not to mention arts and crafts, a ballet school and numerous art galleries.
Aside from the architectural splendor of this old neighborhood, this area has a reputation as the place to be at night. Vibrant with bars, restaurants, shops and theatres the Gaslamp Quarter is not to be missed. It’s 19th-century architecture has elegance by day and beauty by night. If you decide to go to the Gaslamp Quarter, there’ll be plenty of dining options. While you’re in the area, enjoy 82 outlets ranging from fashion, music, and books and shop to your heart’s content. And if that still isn’t enough, you’re bound to come across live music, stand-up comedy, or a cocktail at one of the many lively bars and clubs. A night out here is a must for any trip to San Diego.
Like all great cities, there is a great sport to be found in San Diego. If it’s an all-American experience you’re after, then check what sporting season your in and book ahead. You may witness a classic game! Here are some of the popular sports in the city.
Regular season runs from early April to the start of October, with play offs to follow and the World Series at the end of October when the winners from each league play for the championship. San Diego Padre’s play in the National League west coast division and play at Petco Park. Seats in the bleachers are not usually expensive and great for all the family. Take money for hot dogs and don’t forget the seventh-inning stretch.
Regular season runs from late September to December with the Superbowl played in early February. The LA Chargers (previously San Diego Chargers) now play in the greater Los Angeles area.
Regular season is November to March. San Diego has two great college teams, and don’t think for a minute that watching college games will be any less skilled or entertaining than a pro game. College sport is massive in the US and collage basketball is highly respected. Check out the San Diego State Aztecs at Viejas Arena – San Diego State University, or San Diego Toreros at Jenny Craig Pavillion – The University of San Diego.
NHL Regular season starts in October and culminates with the Stanley Cup in June. The San Diego Gulls are an AHL team affiliated to their more famous counterpart the Anaheim Ducks. With their home at Valley View Casino Centre they play professional hockey as part of the feeder league for the NHL. Fast-paced and family fun – even when there are fisticuffs. Catch a game if you’re there for the season.
5. Bars and Dining
There are more eateries here than I care to count, but what should you choose? Whether you are after a cheap cheerful bite at the end of a long day or something special for a fabulous evening out, San Diego has it all. For the budget-conscious try:
- Phil’s BBQ on Sports Area Boulevard – Open from 11am – 10pm. This eatery does what it says on the tin – BBQ. Great on the pocket, if not the waistline.
- Hodad’s on Newport Avenue – this burger joint is one of the most popular in town.
- Native Foods Café – Located in Genesee Plaza, a fabulous option for vegetarians out there.
And for that special night head to:
- Eddie V Prime Seafood – Located in The Headquarters at Seaport. They have a great reputation for fine dining seafood and steak dishes. Not to mention the live Jazz sessions.
- Jyoti-Bihanga on Adams Avenue – a high-end dining option for the discerning vegetarian or vegan, offering a fabulous choice and a great atmosphere.
- The Nolen Roof Top Lounge – in the Gaslamp quarter boasts one of the best locations in the city, with lovely views to enjoy along with your cocktails.
6. Ghost Tours
What better way to understand the history and the people of a town than be regaled with folk stories and grim ghostly tales? Wander through the darkened streets and dingy alleys. Look for shadows and peer through the windows of a haunted house. As with many historic towns, there are several companies that offer ghost tours in San Diego. If you fancy a spooky night out then check out one of these:
7. Brewery Tour and Tasting
Perhaps you prefer your spirits in a glass? Then why not have an evening out on one of San Diego’s fabulously fun brewery tours. There are several companies that will be your designated driver for the night. You can choose from lounging in the back of a luxurious limo or chugging around town in a Jeep, safari style. Most of the breweries also have tap-room hours and run their own tasting tours as well. So take your pick and enjoy a night brewery ‘hoping’. Just remember the drinking age in the US is 21, so if you’re not, then sadly this option is not for you. They will check your legal id!
8. Theatre and Arts
There is an incredible variety of theatre education in San Diego. Nurturing local talent is a remarkable art form in its own right. You can take a trip to Balboa Park to see one of the many youth companies or stay in the city and settle down in one of the many excellent bars or cafés that offer live music. There are several theatres in the Gaslamp and Down Town districts where you can find traditional and modern theatre. Some options to look into include Spreckels, Balboa and Civic Theatres, and Liberty Station.
9. Harbour Cruises
What could be more romantic than watching a dazzling sunset over the Pacific Ocean? Watching the sunset on a cruise tour around the beautiful coast of southern California’s most cultural city of course! Not that it has to be a romantic occasion – take your friends and your kids too. A harbor cruise on a classic yacht is a great way to put your feet up and relax at the end of a busy day. Or why not go a step further and combine a lovely dinner with your harbour cruise.
Where to Stay
Once you’ve planned your activities, you may want to find the ideal hotel for your vacation. Check out these guides:
- Best San Diego Hotels with Fun Waterslides & Pools
- Best Gaslamp Quarter Hotels in Downtown San Diego
- Best Mission Bay Hotels in San Diego
- Best Luxury La Jolla Hotels in San Diego
- Best Hotel Circle Hotels in Mission Valley, San Diego
- Best Beachfront Hotels in Pacific Beach, San Diego
- Best Little Italy Hotels in Downtown San Diego
Whatever your pleasure and whatever your age, there are plenty of options for activities and attractions in San Diego at night. If you’re still not sure, have a look at other things to do in San Diego.