14 Best Things to Do in San Diego at Night with Kids

Roasting marshmallows on moonlit shores and gazing at the stars are just a few of the San Diego nighttime family activities featured in our guide for parents.
Todd Sarouhan
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Family-Friendly Things to Do in San Diego at Night

Main Outside Lobby Area at Dr Seuss How the Grinch Stole Christmas at the Old GlobeGetting Ready for the Nutcracker Ballet at the California Center for the Arts Escondido

When most people think of San Diego, they picture sun-warmed sands along the beach and the warm temperatures of mid-day. They might even think of visiting famous attractions with the family like the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld San Diego, and LEGOLAND California, especially if they’ve got a Go City San Diego pass in hand.

While there are plenty of ways to enjoy the city during the day time, including some of the Best Things to Do in San Diego with Kids, there’s lots to do at night as well.

Local Tips
Nighttime Zoo Adventure at San Diego Zoo
Explore the enchanting Nighttime Zoo at the San Diego Zoo from May 26 to September 4. See the zoo transform into a nocturnal wonderland, providing a unique chance to observe active nocturnal animals, enjoy live performances, and create lasting family memories.

See how popular attractions like the New Children’s Museum and San Diego Zoo transform at night at special after-hours events, or walk along the shore at sunset on one of San Diego’s beaches. Parents and kids can tour historic districts in Old Town San Diego, then hop over to the tide pools at La Jolla, or dine at one of the best family restaurants in Little Italy.

Do some shopping, visit an adventure park, and watch performances that celebrate San Diego’s artistic and cultural scene. Endless fun awaits in San Diego County both night and day.

Read on to check out our personal favorite picks for nighttime activities that the whole family will undoubtedly enjoy!

14 Night Time Activities Your Kids Will Love

The fun doesn’t have to stop when the sun goes down! If your kids are night owls, they’re sure to love these popular San Diego activities that are best experienced after dark.

All these activities are family-friendly, so plan to visit them after spending the afternoon at the beach or in one of San Diego’s many family-friendly interactive museums.

Nighttime Zoo at the San Diego Zoo
Nighttime Zoo at the San Diego Zoo

1) Nighttime Zoo at the San Diego Zoo (Seasonal)

Neighborhood: Balboa Park
San Diego Attractions: San Diego Zoo

Visiting the San Diego Zoo with the kids is tons of fun during the day, but the zoo completely transforms at night. From May 26 to September 4, the San Diego Zoo reopens after dark, inviting guests to see what the animals get up to in the evenings.

The San Diego Zoo is home to hundreds of species of animals, from Southern California native species like California condors and sea lions to exotic animals from habitats located around the world. See exhibits for animals native to Africa, Asia, Europe, Australia, South America, and all around North America. The nighttime zoo hours are a great opportunity to see nocturnal animals when they are most active.

The Nighttime Zoo also features performances from live bands and other artists throughout the year.

Kids not only get to have a fun day at the zoo, but they’re also learning and making memories that will last a lifetime, especially for animal lovers. That’s why visiting the San Diego Zoo at night isn’t just an incredible evening activity, but also one of our picks for the Best Things to Do with Kids in San Diego overall.

Buy Tickets to the San Diego Zoo
Getting Ready for the Nutcracker Ballet at the California Center for the Arts Escondido
Getting Ready for the Nutcracker Ballet at the California Center for the Arts Escondido

2) Watch a the Nutcracker Ballet with City Ballet of San Diego (Seasonal - Christmas)

Neighborhood: Escondido

Looking for a fun way to celebrate the holidays in San Diego with the kids? Every year around Christmas, the City Ballet of San Diego puts on its annual performance of The Nutcracker Ballet at the Spreckels Theatre in Escondido.

Watching a performance of this timeless classic is a favorite holiday tradition among generations of people around the globe. Create a new tradition for your own family with tickets to this stunning City Ballet performance, which has received the Tommy Award for San Diego’s best Nutcracker.

Tickets for The Nutcracker or any of City Ballet’s performances can be purchased from the official City Ballet website. It’s a good idea to buy tickets in advance, as seats for The Nutcracker often sell out fast.

Even if you’re not visiting around the holidays, you can still watch an incredible ballet performance. City Ballet puts on multiple shows each year, all of which feature timeless stories told through the medium of dance.

Buy Tickets to the Nutcracker

3) Open Air Rooftop Cinema Club

Neighborhood: Embarcadero San Diego

Kids and adults alike love the movies, but when you’re visiting San Diego, who wants to sit inside? What if you could watch a movie while still enjoying the beautiful weather? At Rooftop Cinema Club in Embarcadero, you can!

With open air seating on the roof of the building and a large projector screen, Rooftop Cinema Club offers guests a new way to watch movies. Screenings include both current movies and classics from the last few decades.

Rooftop Cinema Club has locations in cities all around the country. San Diego’s warm weather and minimal rain make it the ideal place to watch an outdoor movie no matter the season. Kick back in an Adirondack chair, grab a popcorn and soda at the concession stand, and enjoy the movie.

Rooftop Cinema Club screens dozens of movies, both new and old, throughout the year. To find out what’s playing during your trip to San Diego, check the calendar on their website.

Note that while many screenings at Rooftop Cinema Club are all-ages, some movies are 18+ only, so check the screening schedule to see which films are suitable for family-friendly fun.

Buy Rooftop Cinema Tickets

4) Watch the Grunion Run in San Diego

Beach: Mission Beach

Ever heard of the grunion run? If you’re not familiar with Pacific coast fishing, there’s a good chance you haven’t.

Grunion are small, silvery fish similar to sardines. They’re native to the waters just off the coast of Southern California and Northern Baja, Mexico - in fact, this is the only place in the world where these little fish can be found.

Luckily, during the grunion run, you don’t have to go fishing to see the grunion. At night, from March through September, grunion come ashore on various beaches across San Diego during their spawning season. Locals participate in a grunion run where they catch bucketfuls of the fish by hand.

Even if you’re not interested in catching any fish yourself, it’s still fun to take the kids to see the unique spawning habits of grunion.

If you do participate, be sure to follow all local laws, including having a fishing license for anyone 16 and older. There is a limit of 30 fish per day, and all fish must be caught by hand. Digging holes with shovels to catch the grunion is prohibited, and using a flashlight is discouraged because it can scare the fish away.

Main Outside Lobby Area at Dr Seuss How the Grinch Stole Christmas at the Old Globe
Main Outside Lobby Area at Dr Seuss How the Grinch Stole Christmas at the Old Globe

5) Enjoy a Play at the Old Globe Theater - How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Seasonal)

San Diego Theaters & Venues: Old Globe Theatre San Diego

San Diego’s Old Globe Theater in Balboa Park is a historic landmark that dates all the way back to 1924. Just stepping inside this theater and walking through its halls is a fun and educational experience, but it’s even more special to see a show.

The Old Globe Theater puts on various shows throughout the year, hosting music acts, comedians, and other live acts. One special performance that’s become an annual tradition at the theater is their showing of the stage adaptation of the classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas movie each December.

This play is among the best ways to celebrate Christmas in San Diego and an absolute must-see for parents and kids visiting at the end of the year. Watch the beloved children’s film come to life on the stage.

While you’re waiting for the play to start, why not check out other kid-friendly attractions in Balboa Park, including over a dozen museums? With a Go City San Diego pass, families can get reduced admission prices to family museums like San Diego Natural History Museum and The Fleet Science Center. Use our discount code, GVSD5OFF, for even greater savings!

Buy Tickets to How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Roast Marshmallows on an Open Fire at Vacation Isle Park on Mission Bay
Roast Marshmallows on an Open Fire at Vacation Isle Park on Mission Bay

6) Roast Marshmallows at a Beachside Fire

Beach: Vacation Isle Park

Most people head to the beach in the mornings and early afternoons, but it can also be fun to explore San Diego’s Beaches at night. In particular, stop by Mission Bay in the evening to watch the sunset over the Pacific Ocean and roast marshmallows over a fire.

This activity is a highlight of our picks for the absolute Best Things to Do with Kids in San Diego, in part because it’s practically free. All of the beaches in San Diego have free admission, including our favorite pick for beachside fires, Vacation Isle Park. All you’ll need to pay for is the bag of marshmallows and you’re on your way to a fun night on San Diego’s shores!

Vacation Isle is one of the best spots because there are firepits right on the bay, so you don’t have to do much work. There are also convenient trash cans and restrooms along the beach.

Other beaches that are perfect for sitting around a campfire include Crown Point Beach, Mariner's Point Park, and Mission Point Park, all of which have ample space and family-friendly atmospheres. Beaches in Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach, and La Jolla like La Jolla Cove are also fun to visit at night for a change of scenery.

7) Go Crazy at the Speed Circuit Family Fun Center

Neighborhood: Chula Vista

Experience non-stop thrills and all-ages fun at the Speed Circuit Family Fun Center in Chula Vista. This indoor playplex is a massive complex that’s all about kid’s entertainment.

Put the “speed” in Speed Circuit Family Fun Center on an indoor go-kart track, where kids can hop in their vehicles and race to the finish line. Then head to the arcade, which is filled with fun games and activities. Compete to see who can rack up the most points at Skee-Ball, then trade in your tickets for fun prizes.

Speed Circuit also features the Thrill Park, a large obstacle course and play area with various features that encourage kids to get active. Bounce on the Wipeout Trampoline, ride the Zip-Line, and scale the 3-Level Warped Wall. Then hop in a human-sized hamster ball and roll around, or dive into the foam pit. There’s even a toddler circuit designed for younger kids.

The fun doesn’t stop there. The family funplex’s Ropes Course features 13 elements ranging from cargo nets and rope bridges to a spinning log set piece. It’s as challenging as it is exciting!

The hours of operation are:

  • Mon-Thu: 2:00 PM - 9:00 PM
  • Fri: 1:00 PM - 11:00 PM
  • Sat: 10:00 AM - 11:00 PM
  • Sun: 10:00 AM - 9:00 PM

Beach Treats at Belmont Park
Beach Treats at Belmont Park

8) Spend the Evening at Belmont Park, a Kid’s Paradise

San Diego Attractions: Belmont Park

Many of San Diego’s water parks and amusement parks are only open during the day, but Belmont Park in Mission Beach is unique in that it remains open well into the evening. Its hours are as follows:

  • Sun - Thurs: 11:00 AM - 8:00 PM
  • Fri & Sat: 11:00 AM - 10:00 PM

Families don’t have to leave the park grounds for meals, as there are food and drink stands as well as sit-down dining. This means kids can play, eat, and play some more until closing time.

There’s no shortage of ways to keep occupied in Belmont Park either. Belmont Park has over a dozen rides. Some of these rides are suitable for young children, like the Carousel and Wave Jumper, while others like Zero Gravity and the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster are thrill rides that adventurous older kids will enjoy.

If your kids love rides, spring for the Belmont Park Ride and Play Pass discount offered through the Go City San Diego pass.

Get a Belmont Park Discount Pass

9) Watch the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights (Seasonal - Christmas)

Neighborhood: San Diego Bay

Christmas light displays are a time-honored tradition as the end of the year approaches. If you’re celebrating Christmas in San Diego, go one step above driving down residential roads to see well-decorated homes and stop by the bay!

Each year the Parade of Lights is held at the San Diego Bay in Point Loma. San Diego’s local boating community rings in the holiday by decking out their boats in Christmas lights and sailing them through the bay. This is a family-friendly parade that’s sure to excite kids and put them in the holiday mood, and it’s completely free to attend.

The procession begins just after dark at 5:30 pm and takes about 2 hours to wind its way around the bay, starting at Shelter Island and ending at Ferry Landing on Coronado. Other places from which you can see the boats pass by include the Embarcadero, Harbor Island, Seaport Village, and The Pier at Cesar Chavez Park.

The Parade of Lights takes place in December every year to celebrate the holiday season, with a new theme every year. In 2023, the parade will be held on December 10th and December 17th. The theme for the year is Christmas Traditions Around the World.

10) Go Roller Skating at SkateWorld

Looking for a fun indoor activity to keep the family occupied for the night? Head to SkateWorld, a roller rink with a family-friendly vibe and a cheerfully decorated rink that calls to mind skating centers of the 1970s.

SkateWorld is a family run business that has been operating in San Diego since 1975. The roller rink has its own snack bar and skate shop. While the rink does hold adult-only skating hours on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays after 8 pm, all ages are invited to skate during all other hours of operation.

Public skate sessions are open to all ages, with skate rentals available for an additional fee. A ticket allows visitors to skate for up to 3 hours.

Have the kids never skated before? No worries! SkateWorld also offers Skate School, which includes a 30-minute lesson and a 30-minute free skate period. Youth lessons are held on Saturdays from 11am-12pm.

11) See a Show from the San Diego Symphony Orchestra

Neighborhood: Core-Columbia

For artistic and musically-gifted kids, seeing a performance by the San Diego Symphony Orchestra is an unforgettable event. The San Diego Symphony Orchestra has been recognized as a Tier 1 Orchestra by the League of American Orchestras, so you can be sure you’re going to see the best of the best.

In addition to classical music performances, the orchestra also hosts a variety of musical events throughout the year. These range from celebrations of composers to performances of famous orchestral scores from movies like Star Wars. Check the official website’s calendar to see what’s playing.

Located in Core-Columbia in Downtown San Diego, the orchestra has been performing in the Copley Symphony Hall since 1984. However, the San Diego Symphony Orchestra has been playing music and capturing the attention of audiences for far longer, with their first concert dating back to 1910. Watching a show can feel like stepping back in time, especially while listening to classical tunes that have awed listeners of all ages for over 100 years.

12) Go Stargazing at Mount Soledad

Neighborhood: La Jolla

If your kid has been to the Fleet Science Center and found themselves entranced by the displays of deep space, there’s no better way to encourage their interest than providing them with an opportunity to see the stars for themselves. Stargazing is an excellent nighttime activity that can be shared by parents and kids alike.

You’ll have to get out of the city if you want to stargaze, as the light pollution makes the stars practically invisible. Still, you don’t have to go far.

On a clear night, head up to Mount Soledad in La Jolla and point your telescope toward the sky. The brief hike up to the mountain’s best vantage point is manageable for kids and well worth the effort. Be sure to bring along resources on stargazing so you can point out constellations and far-off planets to the kids.

Mount Soledad isn’t the only place to see the stars in San Diego. Other mountains that provide spectacular views of the sky include Palomar Mountain, Anza-Borrego State Park, and Tierra del Sol. The San Diego Astronomy Association holds family outreach and education events at various points throughout the year as well which are worth checking out.

Little Girl Climbing in the Play Area at the New Childrens Museum
Little Girl Climbing in the Play Area at the New Childrens Museum

13) Family Night Out at New Children's Museum

San Diego Area Museums: The New Children’s Museum

Visiting The New Children’s Museum is fun for any kid during the day, but exploring the museum at night is an all-new way to play. The New Children’s Museum is a kid-centric art museum with multiple interactive exhibits that encourage kids to climb, explore, experiment, and learn. Art installations bring imagination to life and invite kids to flex their own creative muscles.

During the museum’s Family Night Out events, kids are invited to come in their pajamas. In addition to touring the museum’s exhibits, there are special activities planned where kids can dance, create their own art, take pictures, and play together. Family Night Out also includes a catered meal and drinks for all ticket holders.

The New Children’s Museum holds their Family Night Out events various times a year from 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm. These events double as fundraisers for the museum, improving the experience for all San Diegans and vacationing families.

Harbor Cruise Going by the Embarcadero in Downtown San Diego
Harbor Cruise Going by the Embarcadero in Downtown San Diego

14) Embark on a Harbor Cruise to Admire San Diego

San Diego Activities: Harbor Cruise in San Diego Bay

Touring the harbor around San Diego Bay by boat is a magical experience, especially once the sun goes down. Many of the best harbor cruises and boat tours in San Diego are family-friendly, and we recommend the harbor sightseeing cruise that embarks at 5:30 pm, just before sunset.

See the sun reflected on the waves of the bay and take some pictures of the family during golden hour. During a harbor cruise, you’ll learn about the landmarks that can be spotted from the bay, and you’ll also get to see the city from a new perspective. Sail past Coronado Island and points of interest like the USS Midway Museum, home of the famous USS Midway ship, plus the nearby Maritime Museum.

Combine a harbor cruise with the City Lights Night Tour to see how places like Coronado’s Ferry Landing and Balboa Park transform at night. This 1.5-hour tour includes information about each place of interest and ends in Seaport Village, which is filled with quaint shops. Pick up a few goodies with the kids or continue on to Waterfront Park for more amazing views of the bay.

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Maritime Museum of San Diego
Maritime Museum of San Diego
The Maritime Museum of San Diego is famous for restoring, operating and maintaining historic boats from all around the world. Use your Go Pass and enjoy public tours of their collection of ships. These ships are National Historic Landmarks.
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Local Tips
What is the cheapest way to buy a Go City San Diego pass?

The cheapest way to purchase a Go City San Diego pass is to combine Go Visit San Diego’s exclusive 5% discount with the Go San Diego passes already great deals!

Simply follow our link & use code GVSD5OFF to purchase your pass and begin saving!

Tips for Exploring San Diego at Night With Kids

Does San Diego Have a Nightlife Scene?

While lots of San Diego remains family-friendly after dark, there are some areas that are better suited for adults. The Gaslamp Quarter has a bustling nightlife scene, as does Downtown San Diego. If you’re with the family, it’s best to visit these neighborhoods during the day if you’re hoping to avoid the revelers.

Can You Go to the Beach at Night?

Most of the beaches do not close after dusk, only the beaches within a State Park close at night. Locations like Moonlight State Beach and Pacific Beach are named after how beautiful they are at night, and don’t forget about the fire pits at Mission Bay beaches!

Where Can You Take the Kids for Free in San Diego?

San Diego is filled with family-friendly activities, many of which are completely free. Check out our picks for kid-friendly hikes and Kids Free in October, or see our list of the Best Free Things to Do in San Diego with Kids overall.

Popular Activities

The World Famous San Diego Zoo
The World Famous San Diego Zoo
Discounts Available
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Visit the San Diego Zoo Safari Park
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LEGOLAND Hopper Ticket
LEGOLAND Hopper Ticket
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LEGOLAND California Hotel
Legoland California Hotel
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Tours & Adventures
The World Famous San Diego Zoo
The World Famous San Diego Zoo
Discounts Available
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Visit the San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Visit the San Diego Zoo Safari Park
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