With mild daytime weather and nights cooled by ocean breezes, the summer is a great time to plan a trip to San Diego, especially if you're looking for things to do after the sun goes down. Fortunately, the city also hosts a variety of free and cheap events this time of year, so you won't have to break the bank to have a good time in the city each summer. From finding a lovely San Diego beach to watch the sunset to attending a nighttime outdoor concert, there are plenty of ways to celebrate summer nights in San Diego.
Watch Movies Outdoors
San Diego gets very little rain during the summer months, a trait that lends itself well to outdoor movie screenings. This city in the southwestern corner of the U.S. offers old-fashioned drive-ins, film showings on lawns, and even a poolside movie night at the famous Pearl Hotel. No matter what your preference, there are plenty of opportunities to watch movies outdoors in San Diego this summer.
- South Bay Drive-In: This old-fashioned drive-in movie theatre features three screens that show new releases nightly starting at 8 p.m.
- Cinema Under the Stars: Located in Mission Hills, this outdoor cinema shows classic films under the stars and features recliners with blankets for seating.
- Dive-In Theater at the Pearl Hotel: The Pearl is not only one of San Diego's most fun budget hotels, but it also screens movies next to the swimming pool on Wednesday nights featuring menu selections from the on-site restaurant.
- Liberty Station Outdoor Movies: Held at Liberty Station, this curated series is a partnership between Arts District Liberty Station and Pacific Arts Movement. Grab dinner or purchase some picnic items at the Liberty Public Market and catch a free movie on the lawn next door on the second Saturday of each month during the summer.
Attend Outdoor Concerts
Thanks to its warm, dry weather, San Diego is home to a number of outdoor concert venues, many of which host evening concerts throughout the summer (and all year long, in some cases). Known for its rich music scene, San Diego hosts a variety of special musical events in the summer including the famous Humphreys by the Bay Concerts and the San Diego Symphony Bayside Nights. Whether you're a fan of classic music or the latest pop sensation, you're sure to find an outdoor concert to your liking in the summer.
- Humphreys by the Bay Concerts: A great list of headliners and a beautiful location near the marina makes Humphreys a summer favorite for big-name and independent music acts.
- San Diego Symphony Bayside Nights: On select nights from the end of June through the first of September, the San Diego Symphony hosts concert and dinner events at the Embarcadero Marina Park South's outdoor concert hall.
- "Green Flash" Concerts: Combining live music with panoramic views of the ocean, this concert series gets its name from the flash of green light that is sometimes seen just as the sun goes down. The concerts (for ages 21 and up) are held at the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla from 6 to 9 p.m. on Wednesdays.
See a Theater Production Outside
Summertime is a great time to witness live theater in San Diego—especially after dark. While it may not be as well known as New York or Los Angeles for its theater scene, San Diego is home to a number of great venues that put on performances each summer. Head to the Old Globe Theatre to catch a Shakespearean play or enjoy a musical at the Moonlight Stage; no matter what type of theater you enjoy, you're sure to find a great production happening in the city in the summer.
- Old Globe Theatre: Featuring both free and ticketed events, this outdoor theater is designed after the famed English theatre of the same name. While it doesn't only present Shakespearean plays, they are certainly the biggest draw to this theater in the summer.
- Intrepid Theatre Company: Although entirely indoors, this highly-acclaimed theater presents a variety of performances throughout the year, including both musicals and plays in the summer.
- Moonlight Stage: Located in Vista, San Diego, this theater typically hosts four musical theatre performances of touring Broadway productions throughout the summer at the outdoor Moonlight Amphitheatre.
The Del Mar Fairgrounds hosts the San Diego County Fair each year from the end of May through the Fourth of July. While the attraction is open during the daytime, stick around at night for over 25 unique concerts during the Toyota Summer Concert Series or to attend one of the comedy shows of the annual Laugh Out Loud Comedy Nights event. Additionally, the fairground rides and the Kids' Zone are open throughout the summer until 11 p.m. or midnight, depending on when you visit.
Each summer from mid-June through early September, the San Diego Zoo stays open late to welcome guests for evenings of live music, interactive fun, and nocturnal animal encounters in the park. Open until 9 p.m. throughout the season, this annual event features costumed trampoline acrobatics, world music concerts, and a procession of pageantry puppets each night. Admission to the Nighttime Zoo is included with entry to the zoo.
Each year from late August through Labor Day, SeaWorld San Diego hosts a special event celebrating the end of summer. The annual celebration, known as SeaWorld Summer Nights, features hundreds of light installations and dozens of events park guests can enjoy after the sun goes down. While the theme for Summer Nights changes year to year, you can typically expect to see a wide variety of entertainment and special demonstrations, including aerial performances over the waters of Mission Bay on fly boards, jet skis, and water jets. Additionally, SeaWorld usually converts a portion of the park to a nightclub, where guests can dance long into the night among the fish.
"America's Finest City" is home to the Padres, a Major League Baseball team. Their schedule features both day and night games at Petco Park in downtown and runs from April–October. In addition, the team holds promotional events at the stadium throughout the year. Check out the Padres' schedule and snag some tickets ahead of your visit.
The California Grunion is a unique type of fish that comes ashore to spawn during the full and new moons each month of the summer. During the open season from June through September, you're allowed to catch these tasty fish with your bare hands to take home and cook. Note that a California fishing license is required if you're 16 or older, and regulations stipulate that you should only take the fish you'll use. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife publishes a calendar of probable two-hour intervals when the fish will be on the beaches of San Diego each year.
During the day, red tides of microorganisms floating in the San Diego bays can be an unpleasant and foul-smelling thing to witness, but at night the red tides become a magical natural phenomenon. Tiny organisms glow with an electric-blue color when they are moved, and when a wave crashes at night, so many of them glow that a brilliant flash of light lines the wave's crest. Stop by any shore along the southern California coast in August and September to witness this uniquely colorful display.
A fun summer tradition that dates back to the cities foundation, beach bonfires are a popular activity year-round. While there are a limited number of fire circles and pits on the city's beaches, budget cutbacks removed many of the fire pits on Mission and Pacific beaches in 2010. Fortunately, a number of local companies have taken the charge to provide fire pit rentals for beachgoers, and some will even build the fire for you. If you want to have all the fun of a beach bonfire without any of the hassles, check out the Beach Fire Guy, which provides services for Mission Beach, Mission Bay, Pacific Beach, Bay Park, and La Jolla.