Summer is in full swing in San Diego (and will be until Thanksgiving), and there’s no shortage of things to do in this sunny paradise city. We’re the city of craft beer, back-country wineries, Vegas-worthy nightclubs, rooftop pool parties, and endless adventures on our own giant swimming pool known as the Pacific Ocean.
I’ve lived here my entire life, and summer is always my favorite season. Here are 12 of my favorite things that you must do this summer (in no particular order), whether you’re a SD native or just visiting. You just might find me at one of these places, too – so say hi! 🙂
1. Go camping
I love camping, in case that’s not evident in my blog. In fact, I’ve been camping twice already this year in California, and I have two more trips planned (so far): one in Utah and one in California again. San Diego is chockablock with campgrounds, and since we have so many diverse terrains here, you can take your pick of scenery: pine-filled mountains? Sprawling desert? Beachy bluffs? Even if you are more of a “glamper,” San Diego’s got you covered. My favorite campground: William Heise County Park in Julian. Hike the mountain (low altitude) trails, gaze at the stars, or run into town for some apple pie and fresh iced cider.
2. Take an ocean kayak tour
I’ve done this every summer for the past several years, and sometimes more than once a season. The best place to kayak is La Jolla Cove, which is fringed by the open Pacific. Several companies run tours and rent out watercraft here, but my favorite is Everyday California (previously OEX La Jolla) – take one of their 2-hour tours out into the water, paddle over to the seven sea caves and have a quick look inside, try to spot the California state fish (garibaldi) and the harmless leopard sharks that shuffle along the sandy bottom of these shallow waters, then try your best to stick the landing on the beach before the waves topple you over. It’s crazy fun, and a must for anyone (even kids) – plus, Everyday California’s staff is super friendly and laid-back, so you’ll feel comfortable right away. (They also rent/run snorkel tours, which I want to try next!)
3. Have a beach bonfire
Another tradition of mine – my friends and I have thrown bonfire parties at Oceanside Pier for nearly a decade now. There’s nothing more perfectly summer about a warm evening with the stars, the ocean, a roaring bonfire, and a dozen or more of your closest friends. Oh, and s’mores – don’t forget the s’mores. There are only a few beaches left in San Diego that have fire pits on the sand, and Oceanside Pier is one of them. Get there early – there are only a handful of pits, and people will lay claim to them as early as 9am on a holiday or weekend.
4. Go wine-tasting
San Diego has a healthy wine scene, with tons of wineries and vineyards that flourish in our Mediterranean climate. The thing is, most visitors to San Diego stay in the downtown region – and you need to get out into the backcountry to find the vineyards. Escondido/San Pasqual is packed with them; Highland Valley Road is known as San Diego’s Wine Corridor. Not only will you find plenty of cute boutique tasting rooms, but the vineyards themselves seem to try to outdo one another with their breathtaking views of the valley and mountains in this region. My favorites: Bernardo Winery in Rancho Bernardo (which is essentially a wine village, complete with shops and live music), and Orfila and Cordiano Wineries in Escondido. (Pro tip: Check out Orfila Winery’s annual Grape Stomp, happening on Aug. 29th this year – it’s SUPER fun!)
5. Craft brewery-hop
If San Diego’s wine scene is good, just wait until you see its craft beer scene. It’s still, believe it or not, an emerging trend, but it’s emerged fast enough in recent years to earn San Diego the title of America’s Best Beer Town by Thrillist. We have over 100 craft breweries (with like, a dozen more popping up each year), and we don’t just drink beer. We DRINK beer. We infuse it with fruit and candy and hot peppers and spices and things you never thought to put in beer. We try to outdo one another with snazzy tasting rooms and off-the-wall themes. We host tap parties and throw launch extravaganzas for new releases that could rival a Hollywood mixer. We love beer. And we love hopping (pun intended) through the different breweries to get a taste of as many new flavors as possible. My favorite place to go: Vista in North County, because I swear that city has more breweries per square mile than people. Try Mother Earth, Aztec Brewing, Belching Beaver, and Booze Brothers – to name just a few.
6. Go for a hike
Perfect weather + hundreds of miles of nature = magic. At least a magical hike. Check out Double Peak Park in San Marcos/San Elijo, the difficult Mt. Woodson Trail (and the famed Potato Chip Rock) in Poway, Torrey Pines State Reserve in La Jolla/Del Mar, or venture further north to explore Palomar Mountain State Park (and stop at the telescope for a rest.)
7. Go ziplining
I’m sure there are other outfits that do this, but I LOVE Skull Canyon Ziplining in Corona. You’ll zip through 6 lines on the basic course, at up to 80 ft above ground and 40 mph, or opt for the 200 ft above ground on the extreme course. The guides are super friendly and helpful, and the whole operation is safe, fun, and enjoyable – plus, what better adrenaline rush than flying over desert canyons at the speed of a highway car?! Check them out, and tell ’em I say hi.
8. Join a pool party
Several San Diego hotels host MTV-worthy pool parties, but I prefer the more boutique ones with flair. Check out The Pearl Hotel‘s intimate pool party movie screenings (they show movies on a giant screen above the pool during the summer), or the Lafayette Hotel’s Swim Club & Bungalows epic “yesteryear”-themed shindigs, which usually include a DJ spinning oldies and nostalgic rock.
9. Partake in Taco Tuesdays
I’ve covered wine, beer, and the beach, but there’s another thing people associate with San Diego: fish tacos. And boy, do we love our fish tacos. So much that we’ve hailed Taco Tuesday as a city holiday (still working on making that a bank holiday), and local restaurants jump on it. My favorite: Miguel’s fish tacos, which are crammed full of crispy beer-battered cod, red cabbage, cheese, and a Ranch dressing sour cream sauce. On Tuesdays, they’re $3 and are best washed down with a $4 Pacifico.
10. Explore Coronado
This “island” is famous for basically one thing: the historic 19th century Hotel Del Coronado, whose adobe-colored peaks provide an iconic emblem for the city. Coronado is best explored by bike, where the whole family can pop into ice cream shops and boutiques dedicated to yesteryear, build sandcastles on the beach, dine at ritzy oceanfront seafood restaurants or grab fish and chips at the village shack. You can stay in one of the resorts on the island (which I’d recommend), or just make a day trip out of it from mainland San Diego: the ferry that shuttles passengers from Seaport Village downtown to Coronado’s wharf is also a great way to get an inexpensive tour of the San Diego Bay.
11. Browse a farmer’s market
There’s a reason San Diegans are tan, beautiful, and healthy: we love healthy food. (Don’t try to figure that out against the wine, beer, and fish tacos I just mentioned – it doesn’t make sense and you shouldn’t try.) San Diegans are almost annoyingly hipster in their preference for juice cleanses, organic produce, and raw food stores – and the city’s some 20-odd farmer’s markets helps illustrate that. My favorite market is the one in Little Italy, which takes place every Saturday morning until 2pm. Browse homemade snacks, local farms’ produce, vegan and gluten-free goods, and even treats for Fido. (Because we love our dogs, too.) Little Italy is hardly your only option, though: check out the other markets around the county, conveniently listed on the Farm Bureau’s site.
12. Watch the sunset
Okay, so this can be done anywhere. From any city in the world. (Except maybe Seattle, due to all that rain, but that’s beside the point.) But my favorite way to catch the sunset is from the aptly-named Sunset Cliffs right here in good ol’ San Diego. You’ll have a front row view, and you can enjoy it with your lover or the whole fam. And you don’t have to limit this activity to the summer, but it does provide the warmest evenings with heat-soaked horizons and therefore most stunningly golden sunsets. A.K.A., the perfect way to end a day in San Diego.