Clear blue skies, sultry Santa Ana breezes and relatively low hotel rates make fall one of the best times to visit San Diego. Days remain warm and sunny well into October and, with kids back in school, beaches and major attractions become far less crowded. This is also the season for major events such as the Ocean beach Oktoberfest and La Jolla Art & Wine Festival. Not to mention those spook-tacular San Diego Halloween celebrations. Here’s what you can expect on a trip to San Diego in October.
Things to do in San Diego in October
October temperatures in San Diego have been known to hit highs of around 75°F, meaning that perfect SoCal tan you’ve been dreaming of is still well within reach. You’ll still find plenty of sunseekers lounging on golden sands from Ocean Beach to La Jolla at this time of year. And, with the summer throngs gone, even the notoriously crowded Pacific Beach suddenly becomes way more appealing, with its picturesque long wooden pier and reassuring lifeguard presence to complete the Baywatch vibe.
It’s a great time to explore the many attractions of the three-mile oceanfront boardwalk that stretches from Pacific to Mission Beach and beyond. Strap on some rollerblades and join locals as they whiz to and fro clutching takeaway iced lattes. Ride Belmont Park’s hair-raising Giant Dipper, a charming century-old wooden rollercoaster that’s much safer than it sounds. Weather taken a surprise turn for the worse? Retreat to the trendy taprooms around palm-lined Garnet and Grand avenues to sample some of San Diego’s famous craft ales. Or make for the huge indoor pool at Plunge San Diego; this water-based fun-fest has a floating obstacle course and retractable roof.
While San Diego’s waters remain just about balmy enough for a quick dip in October, you’ll probably want to don a wetsuit to stop your teeth chattering if you plan to spend any significant time in the big briny. Intrepid divers and snorkelers will find much to enjoy in the huge underwater kelp forests off La Jolla Cove and Point Loma, where a smorgasbord of sea critters awaits. Expect to see California spiny lobsters, moray eels, blue sharks and inquisitive native harbor seals.
October also promises some of San Diego’s best surfing conditions, with swells and barrels off the La Jolla coast and beneath Sunset Cliffs luring surfers to town in their droves. Novices can rent boards and practice their moves at Tourmaline Surfing Park, a sheltered cove beneath La Jolla’s bluffs that’s accessed down a palm-lined track through the canyon. As well as novice surfers, the slow-rolling waves also attract keen windsurfers and kiteboarders when the wind’s up.
Kids Go Free
October in San Diego is when kids go free at major attractions, as well as eating for free at some restaurants, in this month-long citywide extravaganza. The roster of attractions is impressive and includes many of the biggest hitters in (and out of) town, such as San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld, LEGOLAND and several Balboa Park museums.
SeaWorld San Diego in Mission Bay is a thrill-a-minute with high-octane theme park rides and awesome wildlife shows. Kids love to scare themselves silly on the utterly terrifying Electric Eel, the city’s highest and fastest rollercoaster, while toddlers are catered for by the rather more sedate experiences in the Sesame Street Bay of Play, where soft play, spinning teacups and storytime with beloved characters including Big Bird and Elmo are the order of the day. And then there’s the main event: 19 aquariums teeming with sealife from reef sharks to hawksbill turtles. The touch pools at Explorer's Reef are a kid-friendly highlight with (harmless) bamboo sharks and rays, plus shoals of tiny cleaner fish eager to nibble your fingers.
As the days start to cool in the second half of October, so the Autumn Festival at San Diego Zoo Safari Park kicks off. Seasonal weekend activities at this vast wildlife reserve in the San Pasqual Valley include live bluegrass music, a haystack maze and a floating lantern ceremony in the lagoon. There’s even pumpkin-flavored beer for grown-ups!
Events in San Diego in October
Revelers are in for the absolute time of their lives in October, as San Diego’s party season gets into full swing. Head to the historic Gaslamp Quarter to take advantage of bar patios and rooftop cocktails while evenings are still warm enough for sitting outside (but bring a jumper or light jacket, just in case). And don your dirndls and lederhosen for the Ocean Beach Oktoberfest where, for a couple of glorious days, you can gorge yourself on German beers, San Diego craft brews and some of the best wurst in town.
The somewhat more refined La Jolla Art & Wine Festival also hits town in October, bringing fine art, even finer wines, music, entertainment and fab family fun to the colorful streets of this pretty seaside village. You don’t have to be a connoisseur to enjoy this one: the mix variety of paintings, sculptures, jewelry, ceramics, woodwork and more means there’s something for everyone. Those who favor grain over grape won’t go thirsty either, with plenty of alternative tipples available from local craft breweries and distilleries.
Last but by no means least, San Diego’s Halloween celebrations rate right up there with the spookiest in California. Kiddie rides, corn mazes, pumpkin carving and perfectly Instagrammable pumpkin patches are the order of the day at ranches across the county, while attractions including Whaley House (America’s most haunted, no less) and Balboa Park offer bone-chilling ghost tours for fright-loving grown-ups. Even the Birch Aquarium at Scripps gets involved, with a kelp maze, slimy sea creatures and opportunities for kids to dress up.
Throw on a plain white sheet with inexpertly cut eyeholes or go the whole nine yards and showcase your extravagant Exorcist-themed costume, complete with rotating head, on a bar crawl of North Park’s many taprooms, which will be festooned with cobwebs and scary decorations on the big day. And if that isn’t enough, there’s even a Great Pumpkin Beer Festival in the Gaslamp Quarter, where those with a taste for the gourd stuff will surely be in clover.