12 Things to Do at Night in San Diego

by Paul Joseph  |  Published May 15, 2023

Come nightfall, the Californian coastal city of San Diego continues to pulsate with energy, with tons of great things to see and do after dark.

A sign welcomes visitors to San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter (Photo: Leandro Neumann Ciuffo via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

From evening entertainment hot spots to cultural venues that stay open till late, the famously raucous fun and adventure offered to visitors across San Diego endures well into the night. Whatever your nocturnal predilections, you’re guaranteed to find something to suit your after-hours desires here. And if that hasn’t convinced you, we’ve created a comprehensive list of 12 great activities and attractions for you to enjoy in San Diego at night.

Hit the Gaslamp Quarter

No visit to San Diego is complete without visiting its famous Gaslamp Quarter. The beating heart of the city’s nightlife and entertainment scene, the bustling district – which was named for its forward-looking use of dozens of gas lamps to light the streets – is jammed full of international restaurants, nightclubs, sidewalk bars, live music and comedy venues, theatres, specialty shops. and boutiques staying open till late, helping make it a fun-packed place to spend an evening that, inevitably, turns into a night.

Enjoy a sundowner on the beach

Home to over 70 miles of idyllic coastline and perfect year-round weather, it’s little surprise that San Diego’s myriad of glistening beaches attract pleasure-seekers at night as well as during the day. And one of the most popular evening beachside activities is to order an enticing drink from one of the many beach bars that line the city’s vast stretch of golden sand, pull up a deckchair or sun lounger, and listen to the waves gently lap the shore as you sip on your beverage of choice.

Beachgoers relax on a San Diego sandy shore at sunset (Photo: Martha Jimenez via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Catch a theatre show

Among the many opportunities to take in some evening culture in San Diego’s, a trip to the theatre tops many visitors lists. The city boasts two venerable old theatre houses – The Old Globe, which dates back to 1935, and The Civic Theatre, which opened in 1965 – with both putting on a regular programme of performances. The Civic in particular is a popular night-time venue, with many theatre-goers taking the chance to dress up for an evening watching such distinguished troupes as Broadway San Diego and San Diego Opera, as well as piano concerts, orchestras, and interactive shows.

Sip a cocktail while exploring a museum

One of the city’s most prestigious cultural venues, on the  third Friday of every month the San Diego Natural History Museum stays open until 10pm, allowing visitors the unique opportunity chance to explore its exhibition rooms after hours. As well as all of the venue’s usual exhibit spaces, there’s also an atmospheric rooftop deck  where you can buy a wide variety of alcoholic and kids’ drinks while soaking up the superb views of Balboa Park. For an extra frisson of fun, you can even venture back indoors to take in the museum artefacts with an exotic cocktail in hand.

1788 El Prado, Balboa Park

The entrance to San Diego Natural History Museum illuminated at night (Photo:San Diego Natural History Museum)

Go on a magical cave diving adventure

Situated 12 miles north of downtown San Diego, the famous sea caves of La Jolla Underwater Park and Ecological Reserve makes for a popular excursion from the city. Carved out of sandstone cliffs, the seven caves are truly unique attractions, with six of them only accessible by water, and one of the most enthralling ways to explore the caves is by diving into their inky waters after sunset. But the journey is equally as good as the destination, and s you paddle your way by kayak to the eye-catching formations, you’re likely to see such exotic creatures as seals, California sea lions, harbour porpoises, sea otters, sea birds, leopard sharks, and more.

Join an after-dark guided city tour

San Diego is a sight to behold at all times of day, but never more so than after dark, when its famous sites are illuminated against the night sky. This 1.5-hour guided night tour with a professional guide invites visitors to hop aboard a trolley bus and enjoy the views as you cruise past some of the city’s most notable landmarks. Highlights include Balboa Park, where buildings, fountains, and statues glow bright at night; Coronado’s Ferry Landing to take in the city skyline; and Embarcadero’s waterfront, where you’ll see the USS Midway Museum and Navy aircraft carriers from across the bay. Along the route, a mix of music and on-board narration will add to the experience.

Book at GetYourGuide

The USS Midway in downtown San Diego (Photo: Historic Tours of America / Courtesy GetYourGuide)

Spend the evening at a world-renowned zoo

Another popular daytime attraction that can also be visited at night is the world-famous San Diego Zoo. From June through to September, the acclaimed wildlife park and botanical garden opens its doors until 9pm for the chance to see the venue’s array of wildlife – including over 12,000 rare and endangered animals – as well as listen to  live music from the zoo’s in-house rock and pop band, join in interactive dance contests, witness captivating acrobats, and plenty more entertainment for all the family.  While some are moved off habitat, many of the zoo’s nocturnal creatures stick around and are more active during these extended hours.

 2920 Zoo Drive 

Enjoy a gourmet dinner cruise

Gentle bay breezes, sparkling waves, and peerless natural beauty make San Diego ideal for cruising. This delectable dinner cruise combines all of the above with a slap-up three-course menu and live onboard entertainment. Over the course of three hours, you’ll get to enjoy views of the city skyline from the deck, spot local wildlife in the waters,  and watch the sun set. Later, you’ll sit down to a freshly-prepared dinner to be enjoyed against a backdrop of ambient DJ music, which then continues into the evening.

Book at GetYourGuide

Guests enjoying their meal during an evening dinner cruise (Photo: City Cruises by Hornblower / Courtesy GetYourGuide)

Get spooked on a city ghost tour

While San Diego may be best known for beaches and sunshine, the city does have a darker side. This 1.15-hour Ghosts and Gravestones tour invites intrepid visitors to hear tales of gamblers, gunslingers, and other shady characters whose spirits are said to live beyond the grave, and be on the lookout for paranormal activity as you visit graveyards, historic buildings, and other landmarks that one could quite easily imagine are haunted. Part of the experience is a walking tour and part takes place aboard a trolley bus.

Book at Viator

Attend a fun-filled foodie festival

Each November, local, national and international culinary figures gather at San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival for a celebration of all that is good about wine, food and craft beer. Held at a different venue every year, the week-long festival takes place against an unbeatable backdrop of the San Diego skyline and bay. In addition to the gourmet treats on offer, there are also, celebrity chefs, guest mixologists, award–winning authors, cookery demonstrations, wine-tasting classes and auctions, as well as and several late-night events and parties with live music and DJs.

November each year

A pitmaster cooks up a meaty treaty at San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival (Photo: San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival)

Watch an outdoor summer concert

Listening to the distinctive orchestral sounds of the San Diego Symphony makes for a great night out at any time of year, but catching one of their summer concerts at the Rady Shell open-air music venue in Jacob’s Park is a particular treat. Situated on the pier in Embarcadero, just minutes from downtown, be sure t to arrive early to secure a prime spot for listening to these world-class performers among packed crowds of fellow music lovers. Concerts usually begin at 7.30pm and last up to 10pm.

Get a close-up look at the star-lit sky

Astronomy enthusiasts visiting San Diego might be in for a treat as once a month the Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park plays host to a dazzling star-gazing event. If the starts align (get it?) and you happen to be in town on the first Wednesday of any given month, then head to the prestigious science museum and planetarium to take part in a memorable Star Party. Hosted by the San Diego Astronomy Association (SDAA), huge telescopes are set up within the grounds outside the museum, with guests given the opportunity to admire the millions of twinkling starts sprinkled across the night sky.

Fleet Science Center, 1875 El Prado