The great outdoors is in! And there is no better place to take it all in than San Diego. From open-air movie and music venues to an array of al fresco dining options to a plethora of recreational offerings, there is no shortage of ways to revel in the sunshine while safely enjoying all that San Diego has to offer.
Al Fresco All Around
While San Diego has always had great outdoor eating options, the pandemic has amped up the appreciation for al fresco dining with restaurants throughout the city taking it to the streets by erecting parklet-like eating areas with a decidedly urban vibe.
- Streetside standouts include Little Italy’s Nolita Hall restaurant and bar with its eclectic boho style and downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter, which closes its Fifth Avenue to traffic Wednesday through Sunday, providing a lively scene filled with a variety of outdoors eateries and overhead market lights adding to the ambiance.
- There are plenty of waterfront outdoor dining options, too, like George’s Ocean Terrace in La Jolla, which serves modern California cuisine along with panoramic rooftop views of the Pacific Ocean. At the Portside Pier on the San Diego Bay, the Brigantine Seafood and Oyster Bar is known for its surf and turf entrees while the Ketch Grill & Taps offers more casual pub food.
- For those looking to pare the culinary with a dash of culture, Panama 66 in Balboa Park offers farm-to-fork fare with the park’s Spanish Colonial Revival architecture and the San Diego Museum of Art’s May S. Marcy Sculpture Garden serving as a scenic backdrop.
Starlight-studded Movie Nights
For visitors who want to take in a movie but aren’t ready to go to a traditional in-door theater, San Diego has outdoor options galore.
- Rooftop Cinema Club at the Manchester Grand Hyatt features comfy lounge chairs, personal high-tech headphones and a range of food and drink options, including adult beverages and views of downtown and the San Diego Bay.
- Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills screens an array of film classics and has a weatherproof retractable dome and infrared heating to provide the feel of the outdoors with all the comforts of an indoor theater.
- For those looking for a more intimate and yet expansive experience, Seaside Cinema sets up “private” screenings at various beach locations, all with Instagram-worthy décor and furnishings.
Music (Outside of the) Box
There is no replacement for live performances, but for visitors who are not ready to head to a jam-packed comedy club or indoor concert hall, San Diego has outdoor options that sound as good as they look.
- The newest and most impressive addition is The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, the only permanent waterfront performance space on the West Coast. As the home to the San Diego Symphony, the 10,000-capacity venue delivers state-of-the-art sound and great views from every seat and has hosted a wide-range of performers since it opened this August.
- Quartyard, a fan favorite gathering spot in downtown’s hip East Village, is also a festive outdoor space to see live music or even comedy shows with a well-curated and eclectic schedule of performances including bluegrass, soul, techno and more. There is a variety of seating options, including picnic benches, plus a great selection of craft beers.
- Enjoy the booming sounds of the world’s largest outdoor instrument at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park. Built for the 1915 Panama–California Exposition, the organ has 5,098 pipes and serves as centerpiece for the park. Raul Prieto Ramirez, an internationally acclaimed musician who serves as San Diego’s civic organist, holds weekly free concerts on Sunday at 2 p.m.
Art Out There
Viewing world-class artwork in San Diego isn’t limited to indoor museums and art galleries. Some of the city’s most striking murals and sculptures can be found along city streets and in neighborhood parks and gardens.
- The first stop for any mural enthusiast should be Chicano Park in Barrio Logan. Established in the early 1970s, the park is home to more than 80 murals painted on pillars of the San Diego-Coronado Bridge overpass and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2017.
- Visitors can also marvel at the Murals of La Jolla where more than a dozen artists have transformed the quaint coastal village into an outdoor contemporary art gallery with massive painted and photographic on the sides of buildings.
- For those seeking sculpture, Queen Califia’s Magical Circle in Escondido is the only American sculpture garden by French-born artist Niki de Saint Phalle. Inspired by California’s mythical, historical and cultural roots, the garden features nine large sculptures, a “snake wall” and a maze compose this unique site.
For those who want to stay fit, San Diego serves as one of the world’s most beautiful outdoor gyms, with a variety of heart-pumping activities.
- Ditch the treadmill, take a hike and bask in the sunlight at any number of the region’s parks or reserves. Serious hikers and casual walkers can enjoy the scenic trails of the 5,800-acre Mission Trails Regional Park, located within minutes of downtown. Tranquil and protected, Cabrillo National Monument on the tip of Point Loma peninsula is among the rarest habitats in the world and offers scenic trails ranging from easy to moderate with beautiful coastal views.
- There’s no need for a spin class when you can take it on the road with a bike tour of San Diego’s diverse neighborhoods and popular locations. Skilled bikers can cycle along the historic Highway 101 stretching up the scenic North County coastline. There is also the Bayshore Bikeway, a 25-mile ride along San Diego Bay that includes the Silver Strand bike path, an easy 10-mile ride between Coronado and Imperial Beach.
- Get your om on outdoors and strike a warrior pose in some of San Diego’s most scenic spots, from the picturesque Sunset Cliffs that overlooks the ocean to the always-tranquil and transcendent Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park.