I lived in San Diego for four years while attending college, and I’ve returned hundreds of times over the years. I really love this town! The ocean is always nearby, the vibe is relaxed, and the weather is nearly perfect year round. There are dozens of sandy beaches, famous parks filled with history, and so many good restaurants it will take a lifetime to try them all.
But as good as San Diego is during the day, it’s equally as much fun at night. This town knows how to party and it’s perfect for couples looking for a little romance. So I’m going to share with you eight great things to do in San Diego at night.
See A Concert At The Rady Shell
As I’m writing this we’ve just returned from our first concert at The Rady Shell, summer home of the San Diego Symphony. Opened August 6, 2021, this state-of-the art outdoor venue, located adjacent to San Diego Bay, is the perfect summer concert destination. What could be better than listening to live music, sipping a glass of wine, and feeling the gentle ocean breezes? I can’t recommend this new venue enough.
In 2021 the symphony had a line-up of forty concerts in the summer and fall including Mariachi Los Camperos, 1812 Tchaikovsky Spectacular, Sergio Mendes, and Jason Mraz. Other performances included Gary Clark Jr., Brian Wilson, and Bobby McFerrin. Movie lovers enjoyed viewings of three popular films--Rocketman, Goonies, and Star Wars: Return Of the Jedi--with the symphony playing the musical score. I'm excited to share that the symphony just announced their summer 2022 line-up which can be viewed here. A few of the highligths include Beethoven by the Bay, the Beach Boys, and Jennifer Hudson.
We were fortunate to sit in the Marina section--the best seats in the house. Configured as tables of four, guests can pre-order dinner through Blais by the Bay. Jason and I enjoyed a delicious flat iron steak and Faroe Island salmon accompanied by a bottle of William Hill chardonnay.
Explore Old Town San Diego
Many cities in the U.S. have their Old Towns--old, charming streets lined with boutique shops and popular restaurants. Old Town San Diego is different--it’s the birthplace of California. In 1769 Father Junipero Serra, along with a group of Spanish soldiers, established the first permanent European settlements in California. Father Serra built the first of the 21 California Missions here in San Diego. So while you will find plenty of fun shops and good restaurants, this is also a special, historical destination in San Diego. In Old Town State Park you’ll find a dozen historical buildings including Mason Street School (California’s first public school), San Diego Union Building (the town’s first newspaper), and Black Hawk Livery & Blacksmith (built in the 1860’s).
Our family has been visiting Old Town for decades. And while it has changed, what remains constant is the availability of good Mexican food and large margaritas in a lively and colorful setting. Come in the evening and you will probably enjoy live music as well, making this one of the most romantic things to do in San Diego. One of our favorite dining spots here is Casa de Reyes serving classic Mexican fare along with margaritas by the pitcher on a patio surrounded by plants, trees, and Fiesta banners. serving classic Mexican fare along with margaritas by the pitcher on a patio surrounded by plants, trees, and Fiesta banners.
Stroll The Streets Of The Gaslamp Quarter
If you’re looking for a place to party then head to The Gaslamp Quarter. While also a historic part of the city, what these streets are now known for are numerous bars, good restaurants, and a nightlife that won’t quit. Located in downtown San Diego, the Gaslamp Quarter is adjacent to Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres, the San Diego Convention Center, and The Embarcadero. When I was in college this part of the city was dead, today it’s very lively and always worth a visit.
When Jason and I visit this part of town we come with no agenda other than eat and drink. So typically we don’t even have reservations. Instead we stroll the streets until we see a bar or restaurant that interests us. But if you’re looking for a few recommendations then I suggest Cafe Sevilla and Osetra Seafood & Steaks. For something kitschy, head to the Trailer Park After Dark. If you get tired of walking, hop in one of the pedicabs--it’s a nice way to relax and still enjoy to sights and sounds of the Gaslamp Quarter.
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Catch A Game At Petco Park
If you’re a baseball fan, then you’ll definitely want to take in a game at Petco Park, home to Major League Baseball’s San Diego Padres. Opened in 2004, this baseball stadium offers great views of the city and a fun location adjacent to The Gaslamp Quarter. There’s the usual assortment of dining in the park, but you’ll have an even greater selection of restaurants outside the stadium, many within walking distance. There are also plenty of bars around for some after game celebratory drinks. Since I love rooftop bars, I recommend checking out Fairweather, the closest bar to the park offering excellent craft cocktails and a view of the stadium.
Watch The Sunset In La Jolla
I’ve been visiting La Jolla for decades and only recently learned that it’s not a city, but a neighborhood of San Diego. Jason and I’ve been visiting this upscale part of town since before we were married, so it will always have a special place in our hearts.
To me, there’s no doubt that the most romantic thing to do in San Diego is to watch a sunset in La Jolla. And the best place to do that is at the Torrey Pines Gliderport and the surrounding trails. As you stand on rocky cliffs, listening to the waves crash below on the sand, all while the sun dips into the Pacific Ocean, I think you’ll agree that this is romance. We did this earlier this year and loved every minute of it. Maybe next time we will pack a picnic dinner.
Drink Great Beer (And Eat) At Liberty Station
Formerly a Naval training base, Liberty Station was transformed into a shopping, dining, and cultural complex that opened in 2016. My favorite part of this large complex is the Liberty Public Market. Once used as the Mess Hall for sailors during their training, today it’s a food hall and assortment of restaurants and breweries. For a fun date night head to the market, grab a beer and an assortment of food. If the weather is nice (and it usually is in San Diego) sit outside. There are several large outdoor seating areas.
We’ve eaten at many of the market’s food stalls, but my go to for every trip is Parana Empanadas Argentinas. Order a few different kinds of empanadas and try dipping them in the provided sauces. Be sure to wash them down with one of twenty-four draft beers from Bottlecraft. If the beer on tap isn’t to your liking, then purchase bottles or cans of beer from the refrigerated section. There is a beer for everyone here!
If you’d prefer a sit down meal try Officine Buona Forchetta, serving Neapolitan pizzas and Northern Italian entrees. We’ve only eaten here once, but the meal was memorable and I’d happily return.
Dine With An Ocean View In Pacific Beach
If you want a peaceful beach experience, head to La Jolla. But if you’d prefer a party scene along with an ocean view then Pacific Beach is the place. Also a neighborhood of San Diego, this tiny section of town packs in plenty of restaurants and bars. I should know, I lived here my senior year of college. And while it looks a bit more upscale thirty years later, it’s still a great place to party.
The best view can be had at Waterbar. Their second story restaurant with oversized windows gives diners a view over all the people below so you can enjoy watching the waves roll on the sand. Depending on the time of day you might also watch surfers bobbing up and down in the water waiting to catch the perfect wave. Order their clam chowder, ceviche, or crab roll--all are delicious. After dinner take a walk on the sand.
Picnic In Balboa Park
With 1200 acres, 19 gardens, and 17 museums, you’re going to need a very long time to fully explore Balboa Park. But if you just have one evening, why not pack a picnic, head to the center of the park, and enjoy the views of lush gardens amidst Spanish Renaissance buildings. I recommend finding space on the East or West lawns near the Botanical Building and it’s lilly pond. And if you’d like to sip wine or other adult beverages with your food, that is allowed in the park between 12 and 8 p.m.--just don’t bring glass bottles or containers.
On a recent trip to Balboa Park Jason and I hopped on Bird scooters and rode around the park for an hour. Just download the app, select an available scooter, and get going. It’s a fun way to see more of the park than most people cover on foot.
Relax On The Bahia Belle
Head to the Cataraman Resort in Mission Bay and then board the Bahia Belle, a sternwheeler that cruises the bay in the evenings. This slow moving boat is a great way to relax with a drink and just watch the world go by. An on board bar serves coffee, hot chocolate, and adult beverages. Currently, every Thursday–Sunday night, this turn of the century boat glides through the water for a 1-hour cruise (double check the schedule before you travel to San Diego). Combine the ride with dinner at Catamaran which is a lovely resort positioned perfectly on the bay.
Where To Stay In San Diego
After you've done all the things in San Diego at night, why night spend the night? We’re often asked for recommendations on where to stay in San Diego, so here are a few of our favorite places;
Hilton Torrey Pines, La Jolla (we always stay here when visiting La Jolla)
Hilton Bayfront (great option when going to a game at Petco Park or a concert at The Rady Shell)
Kimpton Hotel Palomar (nice hotel in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter)
Ocean Park Inn, Pacific Beach (located right on the boardwalk)