As America’s 8th largest city, San Diego may be known for its extensive beaches, a spectacular coast, scenic communities, and laid-back residents, but this dynamic urban metropolis offers much more than lazy days on the sand.
From international food festivals to the world’s leading pop culture celebration, here are 20 reasons why you should visit San Diego in 2020.
LIST: 20 Top Things to Do in San Diego in 2020
- SING ALONG TO “EL MARIACHI LOCO” (MARCH 2020)
- ENDLESS ATTRACTION ACTION
- SWIM WITH SHARKS
- TALL TALES TO TELL (SPRING 2020)
- MORE THAN AVOCADO TOAST (APRIL 2020)
- CELEBRATE MEXICAN AND CHICANO HERITAGE (APRIL 2020)
- AWESOME, DUDE (MAY 2020)
- CRUISIN’ IN A LOWRIDER
- HANG 20, FIDO (AUGUST 2020)
- ANOTHER SINGAPORE SLING PLEASE (AUGUST 2020)
- DANCING IN THE STREETS (SEPT & OCT 2020)
- KAABOO (SEPTEMBER 2020)
- 50 YEARS OF COMIC-CON (JULY 2020)
- ATTEND A SHOW AT NEW PERFORMING ARTS VENUES
- JUST FOR FOODIES
- UNIQUE BEER CULTURE
- STAY IN A NEW HOTEL
- EVERYTHING ON THE WATER
- GO PARAHAWKING
- TAKE A ZENCATION
1. Sing along to “El Mariachi Loco” (march 2020)
The annual International Mariachi Festival is a San Diego celebration of the Mexican arts, culture and culinary delights that infuse San Diego’s lifestyle.
Held March 8, 2020, in Chula Vista’s Bayside Park, the community event brings together toe-tapping mariachi music, traditional ballet folkloric dancing, food booths, an adult beverage garden and a family area with a kids’ stage, face painting, large inflatable rock climbing wall and more.
2. Endless Attraction Action
LEGO Movie World at LEGOLAND California Resort (opening in 2020)
The new land fully immerses guests into the LEGO Movie universe and places them onto the streets of Bricksburg.
3. Swim with Sharks
Between July and September, the world’s largest annual aggregation of leopard sharks gathers just off the coast of La Jolla.
At first, the dramatic sight of these beautiful spotted creatures, which average four to five feet in length, swimming through the sandy shallows of La Jolla Shores can spark panic; however, leopard sharks are quite timid, docile and completely harmless.
There are several ways for visitors to enjoy leopard shark encounters including kayaking, snorkeling and just swimming or wading alongside them.
4. Tall Tales to Tell (Spring 2020)
Every spring, the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in San Diego’s rural East County attracts storytellers from around the globe to compete in the Peg Leg Smith Liar’s Contest.
The annual event honors Thomas L. Smith, better known as “Peg Leg” Smith (1801-1866), a mountain man, prospector and spinner of tall tales–particularly about his lost gold mine during the Southern California gold rush of the 1800s.
With separate adult and children divisions, contest judges award points for originality, props, costumes, presentation, and whether Peg Leg or lost gold is included in the tall tale.
5. More Than Avocado Toast (April 2020)
Since the 1960s, 10,000s of avocado lovers have converged in Fallbrook, located in San Diego’s inland North County, to sample avocados, check-out crazy cooking contest entries, buy funky avocado-themed gifts and enjoy bands, live entertainment, and friendly beer gardens during the Annual Fallbrook Avocado Festival.
Held on April 19, 2020, festival highlights include the amateur and professional Guacamole Contest and the crowning of Little Miss Avocado and Little Mister Avocado.
6. Celebrate Mexican and Chicano Heritage (April 2020)
Set in Barrio Logan’s colorful Chicano Park, home of the world’s largest collection of Chicano murals, Chicano Park Day celebrates the art and culture of San Diego’s Mexican and Chicano residents.
Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2020, the free annual event, held April 25, 2020, features traditional music and dance, including one of the largest groups of Aztec Indigenous dance, vendor booths, kids’ arts workshops, community speakers and a popular lowrider car show.
7. Awesome, Dude (May 2020)
Every May, the annual San Diego Surf Film Festival catches a wave with film screenings and events occurring at various locations around San Diego.
Highlights of the hometown festival include 15 of the finest international surf films, a meet-the-filmmakers and artists luncheon, surfing “expression sessions” and an opening night event featuring live art, music and local beers.
8. Cruisin’ in a Lowrider
La Vuelta Car Cruise (April – August 2020)
San Diego’s colorful cruising culture is on display during the annual La Vuelta Car Cruise, held every other Wednesday beginning April 29 through August 5, 2020 along Logan Avenue in historic Barrio Logan.
Hundreds of classic cars line the iconic street framed by two outdoor stages with live music and many local Mexican and Chicano art exhibitors, food booths and merchandise vendors.
La Vuelta Summer Festival (August 2020)
Held August 22, 2020 along Logan Avenue, the La Vuelta Summer Festival is a free community event featuring a classic car show, numerous local vendors and exhibits, food courts and trucks, craft beer gardens and live music.
Guests are guaranteed to feel the sense of pride and love for Mexican and Chicano culture, unity, art and cruising.
9. Hang 20, Fido (august 2020)
Every August, dozens of fearless surFUR dogs jump on their boards and take to the waves during the annual Imperial Beach Surf Dog Competition.
Visitors can also take in the fun as more than 60 dogs compete in three heats: Weight (small, medium, large and extra-large dogs), Shredder (dogs of all weights competing) and Tandem (dog/dog surfing and dog/human surfing). Proceeds benefit the San Diego Humane Society.
10. Another Singapore Sling Please (august 2020)
Lovers of the island lifestyle convene every August at Tiki Oasis, the largest and longest-running tiki gathering in the world.
Guests enjoy live music, DJs, dance, vendors, a fashion show, car show, kids’ activities, art exhibit and top experts giving educational presentations on everything from cocktails, art, architecture and food to tiki carving.
Highlights of the five-day event are the Hanalei Luau and Miss Tiki Oasis pageant.
11. Dancing in the Streets (SEpt & oct 2020)
Featuring an international team of choreographers and dancers, Trolley Dances is the most popular dance event in San Diego. Dates for the 2020 Trolley Dances are Sept. 26-27 and Oct. 3-4.
Presented by the San Diego Dance Theater and San Diego Metropolitan Transit System, audiences hop on and off MTS Trolleys to view world premiere, site-specific dances performed at designated trolley stops by some of the city’s most talented dancers.
12. KAABOO (SEptember 2020)
From world-class music and standup comedy to eclectic cuisine, craft libations and moving contemporary art, Kaaboo Del Mar Festival is sure to wow in 2020.
This three-day arts and culture festival will be held September 18 – 20 at Petco Park and is touted as an “adult escape, uniquely curated to appeal to all five of your senses.”
13. 50 years of Comic-Con (july 2020)
Touted as the largest pop culture event in the United States, Comic-Con International attracts thousands of artists, celebrities and fans of comic books and movie memorabilia July 23 – 26 to the San Diego Convention Center.
Events include film screenings, autograph areas, comic-book dealers and other merchants, gaming displays, a costume contest, awards ceremonies and Artists’ Alley, where comic artists gather to greet fans.
14. Attend a show at new performing arts venues
The renowned San Diego Symphony will open its highly anticipated permanent bayside concert venue located along San Diego Bay at Embarcadero Marina Park South, with its first concerts scheduled for summer 2020.
Away from the coast, the new Magnolia performing arts center already has performances by Art Garfunkel and Colin Hay scheduled for 2020.
15. Just for Foodies
The influence of living and working along the border can be found in San Diego’s Cali-Baja cuisine, and this cross-border spirit permeates local food festivals.
San Diego Restaurant Week (January 2020)
The 16th Annual San Diego Restaurant Week returns in 2020 from January 19 – 26. Eateries, cafes, bistros and coastal seafood hangouts offer up lunch and dinner prix-fixe menu options spanning across the county from the South Bay to East County and to the borders of Oceanside and Fallbrook to the north.
San Diego County Fair (June & July 2020)
The San Diego County Fair is perfect for travelers who enjoy mingling with locals. Taking place June 5 – July, the fair is one of the most anticipated events of the summer, attracting more than a million people to the coastal city of Del Mar. The fair features food vendors, interactive exhibits and attractions, contests and concerts by international performers.
¡Latin Food Fest! (August 2020)
Foodies seeking gastronomic excitement can sample San Diego’s diverse Latin culinary scene at the ¡Latin Food Fest! from August 14 & 15.
The annual event features a festival kick-off party, cooking demos, celebrity chef appearances, Best of Fest Chef Awards, Latin product showcases and a grand tasting with a comprehensive selection of Latin food and spirits stations.
Lane Field Park Markets (every Sunday)
Every Sunday from 10 am – 4 pm, Lane Field Park Markets is an outdoor food market where visitors can try a variety of food from local vendors, play lawn games, purchase locally made items and enjoy live music.
The market is fully accessible and family-friendly and features pop-up installations periodically to showcase local restaurant talent.
16. UNIQUE BEER CULTURE
Did you know that San Diego is the Craft Beer Capital of America? From the most discerning aficionados to craft beer newbies, San Diego is home to 150+ breweries, countless beer bars, innovative tasting rooms and a unique beer culture. Check out how to have a beercation in San Diego here.
17. Stay in a new hotel
Opened in 2019, The Guild is a boutique hotel located in a historic YMCA building. Guest rooms include cozy, European-inspired accommodations and the property also offers a two-bedroom penthouse suite with private rooftop deck.
Headed by Executive Chef Justin Vaiciunas, Luca restaurant highlights the city’s indoor/outdoor lifestyle with a main room centered around a vibrant outdoor courtyard that serves as an urban oasis in the heart of downtown. Luca’s menu features light Mediterranean-inspired fare.
Opened in September 2019, Carté Hotel, a Curio Collection by Hilton™ luxury property is located in San Diego’s vibrant Little Italy neighborhood. Carté Hotel offers 246 distinctive, modern guest rooms that feature luxury accommodations, combined with the latest technologies for curious travelers.
The hotel’s restaurant, Watercolors, serves quality sea-to-table cuisine in an intimate environment. The Fonte di Vino tasting room showcases a sampling of wines from Southern California and Northern Mexico, while Above Ash Social offers stunning sunset views over San Diego Bay, along with hand-crafted cocktails and a heated saltwater pool.
18. Everything on the Water
From the Super Girl Surf Pro in July and the World Bodysurfing Championships in August to the San Diego Bayfair, featuring high-speed action from hydroplane boats in September, the competition to be the best on the water will be fierce in San Diego.
Of course, visitors can still surf, paddleboard, kayak, jet ski, and more without the pressure of competition at any time of the year.
19. GO Parahawking
La Jolla’s coastal cliffs are a popular paragliding spot for thrill-seekers who dare to jump off the bluffs and soar high above Pacific waters, but what makes this experience unique in San Diego is doing so alongside a falcon.
Parahawking is a once-in-a-lifetime experience offered at the Torrey Pines Glideport by Fly With a Bird, where a trained raptor freely leads the way alongside a tandem glider, whenever both the weather and bird agree the time is right.
20. Take a zencation
In celebration of the United Nations International Day of Yoga, the Festival of Yoga & Healthy Living, held June 23, 2019, offers a chance to unwind with guided meditations and yoga classes along downtown San Diego’s relaxing Waterfront Park.
With more than 2,500 yogis in attendance, this free, all-ages event is one of the largest yoga festivals in San Diego. Additional activities include music and sound experiences, lectures, a marketplace with holistic food vendors and tents specializing in Asana, sound immersion, and healthy living.
More recommended activities in San Diego
Old Town Trolley Tour
With more than 70 miles of beautiful beaches and year-round mild temperatures, what better way to explore San Diego than aboard an Old Town Trolley La Jolla & San Diego Beaches Day Tripper Tour?
Hop on-board the colorful Beach Cruiser trolley and be transported to the top of Mount Soledad for panoramic views of San Diego and the Pacific Ocean.
Throughout the tour, you’ll see rocky cliffs, reefs and tide pools, seals, surfers, and sandy beaches.
Each year, thousands of gray whales make their way along the San Diego coastline from the chilly Alaskan seas to the warm water lagoons of Baja California, Mexico, to birth and rear their young.
Several local companies offer a variety of seasonal whale watching outings, ranging from large boat excursions to intimate kayak adventures that depart daily from San Diego Bay, Mission Bay and local beaches.
There’s no greater adrenaline rush than jumping out of a plane at 13,000 feet. Whether skydiving inland or along the coast, San Diego offers a variety of scenery for those who want to take the plunge and see San Diego from a bird’s-eye view.
For a less extreme but still exhilarating experience, iFLY San Diego offers indoor skydiving in the heart of Mission Valley in a safe and fun environment where certified flight instructors teach guests how to maneuver the air currents of their powerful wind tunnel.
Root, root for the home team
Sports aficionados can catch a Padres game in East Village’s Petco Park, considered one of the best ballparks in America, featuring breathtaking views of San Diego.
Located downtown on San Diego Bay and adjacent to Gaslamp Quarter, baseball fans will find a ton of local eateries and craft brews at the park for a one-of-a-kind experience.
Things that go bump in the night
Explore the darker side of Southern California as you hop aboard Old Town Trolley’s Ghosts & Gravestones Tour to learn about the gunslingers, gamblers and ladies of the night who lived and died in San Diego.
Journey through Old Town and walk the winding path through El Campo Santo Cemetery on to the Whaley House, which Travel Channel called “the most haunted house in the United States.” This frightfully fun, 90-minute trolley tour runs most nights. Tickets are around $30.
Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my!
Easily one of the most famous zoological parks in the world, San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park houses over 3,500 animals, more than 650 species and subspecies and a botanical collection with more than 700,000 exotic plants.
Founded in 1916 by Harry M. Wegeforth, M.D., San Diego Zoo Global boasts a membership representing more than a half-million people who are passionate about the zoo’s residents including Arctic Foxes, Polar Bears, Amur Leopards, King Cobras and Tasmanian Devils.
Tickets start at $48 for children ages 3 to 11 and $58 for adults ages 12 and up for a one-day pass.
A Park Honoring Heritage
Home to more than 17 museums, multiple performing arts venues, lush gardens, trails and more, Balboa Park is a main cultural hub for San Diego. The park was renamed after Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa in honor of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition and later declared a National Historic Landmark and National Historic Landmark District in 1977. Balboa Park encompasses everything from the San Diego Automotive Museum and San Diego Art Institute to Moreton Bay Fig Tree and Sefton Plaza. Tickets to the park’s various attractions vary.
Floating City at Sea
Experience life at sea without leaving port at the USS Midway Museum as you take in more than 60 exhibits and a collection of 29 restored aircrafts.
The USS Midway has a 50-year history as the longest-serving Navy aircraft carrier of the 20th century. See how 225,000 sailors lived and served our country while touring the crew’s sleeping quarters, engine room, ship’s jail, post office and bridge high in the island over the flight deck. Tickets are $22 for adults and $9 for youth.
Entertainment & Nightlife
Explore 16 blocks dotted with Victorian-style buildings in San Diego’s historic Gaslamp Quarter, a lively downtown neighborhood known for its entertainment and nightlife. With a history dating back to the 1850s, Gaslamp Quarter is now home to world-class boutiques, art galleries and an eclectic array of restaurants such as Parq Restaurant, modeled after Central Park in New York City, and Sevilla Restaurant & Tapas Bar.
MEET EDWARD AT THE SAN DIEGO ZOO SAFARI PARK
The newest attraction at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, however, comes on four legs – Edward, the first Southern white rhino calf to be born at the Safari Park following hormone-induced ovulation and artificial insemination.
Edward can be seen on a special behind-the-scenes tour or may be seen on any given day from the Africa Tram, as keepers rotate his rhino crash from the back area to the front Rhino Rescue Center exhibit yard.
Travelgressing 2020 Travel Guides
Check out more 2020 travel guides that I have put together: