Actually Cool Things to Do in San Diego This Fall

Even locals love this stuff.

Rooftop Cinema Club
Photo courtesy of Rooftop Cinema Club

It’s a given that our practically perfect weather, miles and miles of spectacular shoreline and world-class beaches, along with the best breweries, the best tacos, and the fact that we’re just an hour’s drive (and a passport) away from an amazing, friendly neighboring country makes San Diego truly America’s Finest City.

Here’s our guide to the coolest things you can eat, drink, see, and do in San Diego this fall:

Sunday, September 26-Sunday, October 3
$-$$$
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; with limited seating, tables are sure to fill up quickly.

Saturday, October 2
Free
Pacific Beach
As if going to the beach isn’t enough fun, there’s Pacific Beachfest. The day starts early with a 5K race at 8:30 am and volleyball tournament at 9 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 kid’s action zone, and vendor booths. The music festival is free to enter, but race registration, beer, and other costs vary.

Saturday, October 2–Sunday, October 3
Free
Little Italy
The Mission Federal Art Walk, now in its 37th year, is one of Little Italy’s most popular events, attracting more than 300 fine artists from all over the world as well as thousands of art lovers from San Diego County and beyond. Covering sixteen square blocks, artists in nearly every media type and style show and sell their works, from miniature sculptures and glass art to enormous, wall sized paintings. It’s a perfect opportunity to purchase affordable, one of a kind art while supporting local artists. After perusing the artworks, wander through Little Italy’s galleries and shops, or stop in one of the dozens of restaurants, bistros and tasting rooms for some noshes and libations.

Friday, September 24-Sunday, October 3
Liberty Station
The Liberty Public Market has an Oktoberfest so awesome that it can’t be contained to just one weekend—they’ve got a full ten days of celebration at Craftoberfest. Start at Bottlecraft LPM for a German beer tap takeover, then stroll the food stalls for bites from your favorite vendors. Grab a collectible LPM German stein with your favorite craft beer for $22 and get refills for just $11. Have a stein from a previous Craftoberfest? They’ll fill it for $11 too! There’s also live music, photo ops, lawn games, trivia and comedy nights, and an afternoon of fun contests like stein holding, pretzel tossing and yodeling.
Cost: Free to enter, other costs vary.

North Park Main Street

Saturday, October 9
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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 by October 8 (a limited number of tickets will be available for $65 at the door), then redeem your ticket for a wristband at St. Luke's Episcopal Church (3725 30th Street), and get busy tasting.

Saturday, October 9–Sunday, October 10
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 tenth 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.

San Diego International Film Festival

Thursday, October 14-Sunday, October 17
$$
Various locations
The 20th Annual San Diego International Film Festival offers world-premiere films, never-before-seen studio releases, new and unique independent filmmaking, as well as elegant parties and up-close and personal events with the filmmakers. Choose from single-day passes, four-day fest passes to all the films, or full VIP passes for access to all parties, screenings, panels, and events, VIP lounges, and more. Or, host your own screening party in the comfort and safety of your own home with the virtual pass, with 80+ features, docs, and shorts that will be available on demand in the Festival Virtual Village for ten days with pre-recorded Q&As.

Leave the trick-or-treating to the kids

Various dates and locations
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San Diegans of all ages love Halloween, and there’s no shortage of places to go and parties to attend. A quick online search will turn up dozens of events, including the return of the Haunted Trail at Balboa Park from September 24 through Halloween night; San Diego’s most famous haunted hotel, the Hotel del Coronado, has a full slate of spooky fun planned; and Estancia La Jolla Hotel and Spa hosts their inaugural Bridgerton Masquerade Halloween Soirée on Halloween night.

Thursday, November 11–Sunday, November 14
$$-$$$
Various locations
The San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival is back as the largest culinary and wine gathering on the West Coast. Events include The Grand Decant, a tasting with the country’s top sommeliers, wineries and winemakers representing more than 200 domestic and international wineries on Friday, a star-studded Grand Tasting at the Embarcadero Marina Park North on Saturday, where you’ll enjoy wine and spirit vendors, along with San Diego’s top chefs who will compete for bragging rights as well as cash and prizes and Sunday’s Taco TKO, the ultimate showdown where you taste and decide who has San Diego’s best taco. Check out their website for all the details, tickets, and packages.

$$
North Park, Oceanside
If your fourth Zoom meeting of the day has you ready to throw an axe at the wall, we’ve got the place for you. Let go of your frustrations at AxeVentures in North Park and Oceanside—just book a spot online or walk in, learn the ropes from one of the coaches, and spend the next hour or so perfecting your technique. Prefer to smash your stress away? Book the North Park Rage Room and use a crowbar or baseball bat to beat, crush, and demolish a bunch of stuff (provided, but you can bring your own objects to smash, subject to approval.) Get your glow on at Dark Light Nights on Thursdays after 6 pm at either location. Safety note: Closed toe shoes are required.

Farmer's Table
Farmer's Table

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La Mesa, Little Italy, Bay Park
In the ever-escalating competition to stuff as many embellishments into your glass as humanly possible, The Farmers Table reigns supreme with their outrageous Barn Yard Bloody Mary. It’s made for four or more and contains a full pitcher of spicy, boozy goodness plus skewers of bacon-wrapped shrimp, Mexican-style street corn, mozzarella stuffed mushroom, bacon-wrapped hot dogs, short rib, andouille sausage, various grilled and pickled vegetables, bleu cheese stuffed olives, bbq sauced bacon and, just for good measure, a whole roasted chicken. For the less ravenous, there are normal sized bloodies too, including the popular Tijuana Maria with a bacon-wrapped hot dog, Mexican-style street corn, and pickled veggies.

$
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.

$$
Downtown
For the ultimate outdoor film experience, head to the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego’s fourth floor rooftop theatre, where their Rooftop Cinema Club gives you a luxe movie experience with panoramic views of downtown San Diego, state-of-the-art wireless headphones, and comfy deck chairs. Craft brews, movie-themed cocktails, and upscale noshes are available with contactless order and pick-up. Cult favorites, themed nights, and family-friendly screenings are shown twice daily Sunday-Wednesday, with three different screenings Thursday-Saturday.

Coronado Island ferry landing
Lowe Llaguno/Shutterstock

Take the ferry to Coronado...

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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 $5 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.

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.

Swim with sharks

Free-$
La Jolla
Scores of leopard sharks swarm to the shallow waters of La Jolla Shores Beach, especially as the water gets warmer, drawing snorkelers from all over the world to swim with them. Typically hanging out in under ten feet of water near The Marine Room Restaurant and the La Jolla Tennis Club, groups of sharks can range in number from a few to hundreds. Although leopard sharks can reach five feet in length, there’s no need to be intimidated—they have tiny mouths and don’t attack humans. If you don’t have snorkeling equipment of your own, there are several shops within easy walking distance where you can rent them.

La Jolla beach
frank mckenna/Unsplash

Surf at Black’s Beach

La Jolla
Free
San Diego beaches are open, and if you live near La Jolla Shores, you have access to one of the best surf breaks in the city, beginning with its thrilling hike from the gliderport down to the beach. Of course, the other thing Black’s Beach is famous for is being a nude beach, and if you’re so inclined, feel free to bare it all.

...or hit up one of San Diego’s other great beaches

Free
Various locations
Whether you’re surfing, swimming, or simply enjoying the view, San Diego has plenty of waterfront stretches to satisfy your inner sun worshipper. Windansea Beach’s rocks and cliffs, Coronado Beach and the historic hotel that dominates its landscape for miles and miles, or other oceanside escapes are there to entice you for a walk or a paddleboard out into the waves. We’ve got the best of them right here for you, just don’t forget to check their specific regulations. Did we mention they can differ from beach to beach?

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.

Mitch's Seafood
Mitch's Seafood

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Fleetridge
Fish tacos are a rite of passage in San Diego, and Mitch’s Seafood is the place to have two or six, what with its extensive menu and water’s edge location. Call ahead to order for takeout or walk in—you can sit inside, at the outdoor dining area on the dock, or walk along the harbor and enjoy the view while you savor your meal.

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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 7pm Friday, ready for curbside pickup on Saturday from 10:30 am–1:30 pm at the end of the Tuna Harbor parking lot. The open air dockside market is still open from 8am–3pm Saturdays as well, with additional seafood not necessarily available in the online store.

Gelati & Pecati
Photo courtesy of Gelati & Pecati

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Various locations
After a year of sheltering in place, now’s the time to hit up some of the best eateries in town. San Diego favorite Richard Blais offers playful takes on old favorites at his new steakhouse, Ember & Rye; traditional tastes of Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Thailand abound at Hoxton Manor, a brand new addition to the North Park food scene; and The Waverly’s all-day cocktail menu has options like boozy cold brews to kick start your morning. Check out other dine-in, pickup, takeout, and delivery choices ranging from brunch to global eats.

dirty flat top burger
The Friendly

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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, two thin patties, smashed and caramelized on the grill, 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. The University Heights location still has very limited indoor or outdoor seating, so your best bet there is takeout, but the patio at North Park recently reopened.

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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.