17 Fun Things to Do in San Diego This Fall

Mark the end of summer with balmy movie nights, beer, wine, music, and art fests, and more.

It happens without notice: day after day of blissful, glorious summer rolls by, and then one afternoon you notice the sunlight has taken on a soft, golden slant, and the scent of pumpkin spice is wafting out of coffee shops and bakeries. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing in San Diego, though. Quite the contrary, we say bring on the beer fests, the Oktoberfests, the music and wine fests, and San Diego Restaurant Week (not to mention Halloween)! From Oceanside to Julian and everywhere in between, this guide is the perfect cheat sheet to keep you from missing any of the biggest events of the season:

San Diego Reader Burgers and Beer festival
San Diego Reader

Saturday, September 10
$-$$
Golden Hill Park
More than twenty of San Diego’s best restaurants will throw down their best burgers for bragging rights at the San Diego Reader Burgers and Beer festival. Vote for your favorite while washing it all down with craft beers from more than 40 local breweries. Your ticket includes unlimited burger and beer tastings, live music, art demos, and more; VIP tickets get you in an hour early. This event is always a sell out, so grab tickets while you can. 21+, no pets.

Saturday, August 20–Sunday, August 21
Free
Oceanside Pier
Head to the Oceanside Pier to cheer on 350-400 world-class bodysurfers from all over the globe, competing in their age groups for trophies and prizes at the Annual World Bodysurfing Championships. The battle starts at 6:30 am each morning, and will feature the quarter, semi, and finals for all age brackets. The Men and Women's Grand Championship Final will follow the last age group final.

Surf Dog Surf-a-thon
Nathan Rupert/Shutterstock

Sunday, September 18
Free, donations encouraged
Del Mar Dog Beach
More than 70 surfing dogs will compete for barking rights and the coveted Top Surf Dog crown at the 17th Annual Surf Dog Surf-a-thon to benefit the Helen Woodward Animal Center. There’s also a freestyle event where creativity and charisma earns you extra points, interactive vendor booths, a canine costume contest, a dog agility course, live music, and free kid's activities.

Sunday, September 25–Sunday, October 2
$-$$$
Various locations
For eight glorious days, more than 180 eateries all over the county will be participating in the bi-annual San Diego Restaurant Week. There are delicious options for every budget—restaurant offerings will include two-course prix-fixe lunch menus and three-course prix-fixe dinner offerings for $10-60. Use the interactive website to plan your food odyssey, and be sure to make reservations at your favorite participating places early; tables are sure to fill up quickly.

CRSSD festival
CRSSD festival

Saturday, September 24–Sunday, September 25
$$$-$$$$
Waterfront Park
San Diego’s favorite electronic music festival returns when CRSSD Festival takes over Waterfront Park for two days from noon to midnight, with three stages of world-renowned DJs guaranteed to get you dancing. This year’s lineup includes Fatboy Slim, Joseph Capriati, L’Impératrice, Sven Väth, and nearly 40 other performers. The 21+ event will also feature food trucks, craft brews and cocktails, and, of course, breathtaking sunsets.

Saturday, September 3
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Julian
Kick off your shoes and stomp to your heart’s content at the 25th annual Julian Grape Stomp Festa! Enjoy tastings from ten different wineries, live music, and a bocce ball court. Lucy look-alikes are encouraged, and a little spontaneous dancing has been known to break out. Upgrade your ticket to VIP status for convenient reserved parking, and comfortable seating in the shaded VIP tent. Pro tip: Bring along some cash in small bills—internet connections can be spotty in the area and it’ll save you a lot of time. 21+ for tastings.

Adams Avenue Business Association
Adams Avenue Business Association

Saturday, September 24–Sunday, September 25
Free
Normal Heights
Explore the Craftsman neighborhoods of University Heights, Antique Row, Kensington, and Normal Heights at the 40th annual Adams Avenue Street Fair. Featuring more than fifty musical acts on five different stages, the fair covers seven blocks along the avenue. Headliners this year include Starcrawler, Gaslamp Killer Experience feat. Drumetrics, The Beat Farmers, The Delta Bombers, Kid Ramos & The 44's, Sure Fire Soul Ensemble, Mrs. Henry, Wild Wild Wets, and many more. The Street Fair Craft Beer Taste, open from noon till 4 pm on Saturday only, will offer unlimited tastes of more than 20 craft breweries for only $20. Three other beer gardens will be open during the two-day run, offering full pours of San Diego’s best beer selections. Also included are giant carnival rides, festival food vendors, and over 300 arts and crafts booths.

Pacific Beachfest
Pacific Beachfest

Saturday, October 1
Free
Pacific Beach
As if going to the beach isn’t enough fun, there’s Pacific Beachfest. The day starts early with a half-marathon race at 6:30 am, a volleyball tournament at 9 am, and a 5K race at 10 am. From 11 am to sunset, the festivities will include live music on three different stages, a Best of the Beach Fish Taco Contest, the Big Josh Beer Garden with local craft beers, a shape-up social, a kid’s action zone, and vendor booths. The music festival is free to enter, but race registration, beer, and other costs vary.

Thursday, October 6–Monday, October 31
$$
Del Mar Fairgrounds
The biggest, goriest, creepiest haunted experience in San Diego happens in The Scream Zone at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, with three horrifying attractions. First, there’s a hallucinatory, zombie-filled Haunted Hayride with nightmarish nuns, horror icons, cave dwelling misanthropes, and diabolical dolls. Hell-Billy Hootenanny immerses you in the backwood caverns of the Ozarks where drooling “Hell-Billys'' are ready to go medieval on you and your unsuspecting friends. Finally, The Passage, the most confusing maze you’ve ever set foot in, twists and turns through the dark corridors, where creepy characters and scream-worthy scenes will make your worst nightmares come true. Scaredy cats are welcome, too, as there’s no charge to wait outside the haunts where you’ll find plenty of other activities, great food vendors, photo opportunities, and the Spirit Lounge bar.

Saturday, October 8
$$
North Park
If you’ve ever wanted to sample every restaurant in North Park, here’s your chance. Three different ticket options are available for beer tasting only, food tasting only, or both beer and food, so you can browse the neighborhood shops and wander the streets savoring bites and brews from places such as Tribute Pizza, City Tacos, and Mike Hess Brewing from 11 am to 3 pm. Be sure to leave room for dessert at Nomad Donuts or Yog-art. Buy tickets online, then pick up your Tasting Ticket at the North Park Mini Park on the day of the event starting at 10 am, and get busy tasting.

Coronado Island ferry landing
Lowe Llaguno/Shutterstock

Take the ferry to Coronado...

$
Board the Coronado Ferry at either the Broadway Pier or the Convention Center for a quick, 15-minute ride across San Diego Bay to Coronado Ferry Landing, where shopping, dining, and activities ranging from biking to stand-up paddleboarding can be found within walking distance. Fares are a mere $7 one-way, and you can bring your bicycle for free. Masks are required to board the ferry, and tickets can be bought at the ticket booth or online for a contact-free purchase.

Saturday, October 8–Sunday, October 9
Free
La Jolla
Wander down beautiful Girard Avenue in La Jolla from 10 am–6 pm both Saturday and Sunday to enjoy art and vino while supporting a good cause at the 11th annual La Jolla Art and Wine Festival. The free event will host 150 artists and craftsmen from San Diego and beyond. There will also be a silent auction, live entertainment, pet adoptions, a gourmet marketplace, and a wine and beer garden. All proceeds will go to support the arts programs at local elementary and middle schools. Purchase your tickets for the wine and beer garden (21+ only) online—depending on advance sales, they may not be available at the door.

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Marina
Tuna Harbor Dockside Market has added an online store to their website, which allows you to pre-order fresh-spot prawn, ahi tuna, sea urchin, rock crab, and more every week from 5 pm Thursday until 7 pm Friday, ready for curbside pickup on Saturday from 10 am to noon at the end of the Tuna Harbor parking lot. The open-air dockside market is still open from 8am–2pm Saturdays as well, with additional seafood not necessarily available in the online store.

Silver Strand Bikeway
Dancestrokes/Shutterstock

Bike the Silver Strand

Free-$$
Coronado
Beginning at Coronado Ferry Landing, the Silver Strand Bikeway is an 18-mile flat, paved loop that takes you along the sandy tombolo all the way to Imperial Beach. Perfect for riders of all levels, you’ll be treated to views of the Pacific Ocean on one side and the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge on the other. Don’t miss a stop at Silver Strand Beach for a quick swim or a walk along the sand. Bike rentals are available at the ferry landing if you haven’t brought your own.

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Nestor
Fully digital and presenting the brightest picture quality available on three 100-foot screens, you can see a current double-feature every day, year round at South Bay Drive-in Theatre. A bargain at $10 for adults and just $1 for kids five to nine years of age—they even have email coupons for food discounts at the snack bar (just be sure to have masks on and socially distance when you aren’t inside your car). Credit and debit cards are accepted for tickets, but the snack bar is cash only.

dirty flat top burger
The Friendly

Free-$$
Various locations
Most of San Diego’s farmers markets have fully reopened, selling flowers and produce picked just hours before, the freshest eggs, honey, seafood and baked goods, or any number of prepared and packaged dishes. A number of local farmers are selling direct-to-consumer from their farms as well—pick up meat, poultry, produce, eggs, honey, CSA boxes, and more. The how-tos vary from market to market, so check with your local market manager for details, such as pre-ordering and cashless options.

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University Heights, North Park
It may not be pretty, but it’s damn near the best burger you’ll ever have. The Friendly’s Dirty Flat Top burger starts with a plain, prefab white bun, buttered and toasted golden brown, adds two thin patties, smashed and caramelized on the grill, and is topped with a melted slice of American cheese, garlic aioli, and softly sauteed onions. You can get gussied up versions at the North Park location or a side slice of pizza at University Heights, but whatever you do, don’t ask for ketchup. Check Instagram for popular and random specials.

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Mary Beth Abate is a San Diego-based freelance writer by way of Chicago and Los Angeles. Her hobbies include yoga, pickling and fermenting stuff, reading cookbooks and drinking fabulous gin. Keep up with her experiments @MaryBeth_Abate.