Best Outdoor Activities in San Diego

10 Best Outdoor Activities to Enjoy Year-Round in San Diego

The weather in San Diego is a major reason why the city is one of the nation's most popular vacation destinations. Ask a San Diegan where his or her umbrella is and odds are that they don't have a clue... if they even have an umbrella to begin with.

With so many outdoor activities to choose from, it's important to mention how this list was narrowed. You won't find shopping listed since the majority of shopping malls and districts are outdoors to begin with. Just know that if the weather is great--or even it if isn't--retail therapy al fresco is always a possibility.

With 70 miles of beaches each offering different amenities and experiences, it could have been easy to make this an entire list dedicated to sand and surf. In fact, some residents might argue that's the right thing to do. However, La Jolla Shores Beach is a perfect place to learn how to surf, launch a kayak or let the kids run around while Coronado Municipal Beach is another popular choice for calm water and expansive sand. The remainder of the activities listed provide fantastic photo, picnic and educational opportunities for all ages.

The weather averages 70 degrees year-round though it's important to mention that "May grey" and "June gloom", really does mean that the sun hides behind a marine layer often during these months, though shorts are still prevalent.


The orange and green trolleys have been touring San Diego for over 20 years. Trolleys depart every 30 minutes from 11 stops (covering over 100 points of interest), so guests can hop on and off at their leisure. The eco-friendly trolleys also run on propane. You can start and end your trolley tour at any of their stops. It was also voted the best way to see the city by the online version of San Diego's major newspaper. The trolley map is on their website, should you want to plan your day in advance. During the fall, there's even a ghost tour focusing on haunted ships and cemeteries.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: While the trolley is covered (though an open-air experience), it stops at a number of fabulous outdoor attractions like Mt. Soledad.

Katie's expert tip: The trolley is great because it allows you to sightsee without worrying about driving or parking. They do stop in Old Town where you'll surely want a fish bowl margarita, right?

Read more about Old Town Trolley Tours →

The Children's Pool is a beach in La Jolla that is famous for seal sightings on sand and in the water. Its name is derived from the original intent. In 1931, local philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps had a seawall built to protect the area and allow kids to swim freely. Sand has since prevented it from becoming a recreational area, however, the seals love it. Some residents believe the seals should go and that the area should revert to its original purpose. In the meantime, the controversial seals remain and draw in visitors year-round. Go to the Children's Pool for a scenic view, then enjoy a meal at one of La Jolla's best restaurants.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Kids love the seals plus there's tons to explore nearby from grassy areas to shopping.

Katie's expert tip: The odds of you seeing a beach full of seals is high but prep the kids, just in case they happen to be in the water or elsewhere. They're a little stinky, too.

Read more about Children's Pool →

Cabrillo National Monument
Photo courtesy of Joanne DiBona

Don't leave San Diego without visiting the Cabrillo National Monument, perched high on the cliffs at the end of the Pt. Loma peninsula. You'll be awed by the spectacular view onto San Diego Bay, downtown San Diego, and the mountains looming beyond the skyline. Pose for a photo in front of the massive statue of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the Portuguese explorer who sailed into port under the Spanish flag in 1542. A museum, run by the National Park Service, tells the story of San Diego's discovery through films and displays. Wander through the Old Pt. Loma Lighthouse, built in 1854, to see how life was then for the lighthouse keeper and his family.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: This National Park is a fabulous mix of education and entertainment with stunning view to boot.

Katie's expert tip: Follow signs to the Tide Pools leading down from the monument for a view of fascinating sea life nestled between the craggy cliffs jutting out into the Pacific Ocean.

Read more about Cabrillo National Monument →

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve and Beach

Along the bluffs overlooking the sea there are eight miles of trails through the unique landscape and due to conservation efforts the state park is one of the wildest, most undeveloped spots in the state. The twisted Torrey pine tree is found in only two places on earth: in this park and on an island almost 200 miles to the north. The park is day use only and open daily from 7:15am until roughly sunset. Three hundred feet below at the base of the bluffs is a family-friendly, sandy beach. The northern portion is popular for families, with lifeguards and bathrooms.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: It's easy to explore the park and then hit the beach afterward. Views are stunning.

Katie's expert tip: A morning walk or jog through Torrey Pines State Reserve is a great way to start the day.

Read more about Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve and Beach →

Ranked the #1 paragliding school in America since 2000, Torrey Pines Gliderport is a city-owned private-use glider airport. You can't really beat the view from the sky, but it's pretty spectacular from the ground, too. You can take lessons, fly tandem or just enjoy the view from a cliff above the famous Black's Beach. There's the Cliffhanger Cafe for those who would like a family-friendly casual place to enjoy a gourmet sandwich, soup or snacks while checking out dolphins in the water or the colorful gliders in the sky. Bring a picnic, if you like, and don't forget your camera.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: This is one of the most amazing places in San Diego to watch the sunset. Bring your camera.

Katie's expert tip: Watching paragliders do their thing is much more entertaining than you might anticipate. The views are spectacular.

Read more about Torrey Pines Gliderport →


There is so much to do here, it's hard to begin. Two hotels, the La Jolla Shores Hotel and the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club, offer guests amazing access and beach amenities. It's one of the best beaches to learn surfing, scuba and stand-up-paddle boarding because of the sandy bottom and ease of getting into the ocean. A nice playground, Kellogg Park, offers tots a break from the beach while boot camp, yoga and running enthusiasts have space on the big grassy area to burn calories. Just a few minutes walk away are the shops and restaurants of Avenida de la Playa.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: It's one of San Diego's nicest beaches, has a playground for young kids and allows dogs in the evening and early mornings.

Katie's expert tip: This is an excellent place to learn how to surf or kayak the La Jolla Caves.

Read more about La Jolla Shores Beach →

Widely considered one of the top ten beaches in the US, the seaward side of Coronado Island is exceptionally clean, with wide stretches of sand. The northern end, "North Beach," is dog-friendly and popular for surfing in the summer. The main part, "Central Beach," runs along Ocean Boulevard south to the famous Hotel Del Coronado. Because it's the easiest to get to, it's also the most crowded. Convenience of downtown Coronado is walkable from here and there's a public parking lot next to the Del. This is a very family-friendly beach with calm waters due to some protection from a nearby point.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: With flat sand that seems to go on for ages, amenities within walking distance and relatively calm water, this beach is a favorite.

Katie's expert tip: The part of the beach in front of the Hotel Del Coronado can get a bit crowded, however, you can rinse off and take advantage of the hotel's casual, outdoor dining when you get hungry. Kid will love the ice cream at Moo Time Creamery.

Read more about Coronado Municipal Beach →

Old Town San Diego State Historic Park
Photo courtesy of Joanne DiBona

Find out what life was like in Mexico and early America back in the 1800s. This spot is where the city of San Diego was born, and it contains historic treasures unearthed by archeologists over the years. The historic park includes several original adobes as well as a schoolhouse, blacksmith shop, carriage collection and a museum filled with artifacts. Surrounding the park are some of San Diego's best Mexican restaurants, famous for homemade tortillas and fish bowl-sized margaritas. A perfect family day here would include exploring the park and its museums before a meal. Then digest by browsing the nearby shops.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Strolling the park, drinking a margarita al fresco and browsing kitsch makes for a fun day out.

Katie's expert tip: If you plan to indulge in a margarita or two, remember the trolley can take you Downtown and to a few other nearby spots. Also, it can be crowded on the weekends here so call ahead for reservations or get there early to find a parking place.

Read more about Old Town San Diego State Historic Park →

Balboa Park

With over 85 cultural and recreational facilities, Balboa Park is a must-see. It's probably best to start at the Visitor's Center to pick up a map and events calendar, and to purchase a Balboa Park Passport, which provides entrance to most of park's attractions. The zoo is a big attraction, but there are also 15 museums, cultural centers, lawn bowling, a carousel, and a miniature railroad ride. Wander through multiple gardens or the botanical building (with over 2000 plant species), take in an outdoor organ concert, or enjoy a presentation at one of several theaters. Getting around the massive complex is easy, thanks to the free tram. Entrance to the park is free; attractions within the park are priced individually.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: It's the nation's largest urban cultural park, free to enter and a must-visit San Diego attraction.

Katie's expert tip: Download the Balboa Park mobile app for maps, hours and events happening during your visit.

Read more about Balboa Park →

San Diego Zoo
Photo courtesy of Joanne DiBona

A trip to San Diego isn't complete without a visit to the world-famous San Diego Zoo. Located in Balboa Park on 100 acres, the Zoo is home to more than 4,000 animals and 800 species, many of them rare or endangered. Wander through the lush landscaping of over 700,000 exotic plants. Combined, the backdrop makes the Zoo a perfect place for a morning walk. Most of the exhibits are designed around particular habitats. Malaysian tiger families can be seen roaming their grassy canyons in Tiger River, playful polar bears live in Polar Bear Plunge while giant pandas sleep (and occasionally move around) in the Panda Trek exhibit. All ages will appreciate a trip to the zoo and feel good about the conservation programs supported by doing so.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: The most popular attraction in San Diego is also an outdoor one.

Katie's expert tip: The best time to visit the Zoo is in the morning. The gorgeous vegetation shades many of the walking paths and the animals are typically active and sometimes enjoying breakfast.

Read more about San Diego Zoo →


Meet Katie Dillon

Katie Dillon originally moved to the seaside community of La Jolla to attend UC San Diego. When the opportunity presented itself, she and her husband set off for a 7 year stint overseas as...  More About Katie