San Diego bursts with world-famous attractions for the entire family, from sand-dusted beaches and kid-friendly hiking trails to its famous zoo and the museums of Balboa Park. But for many, the year-round good weather is what seals the deal. As northern parts of the country dig out the coats for fall and winter, surf swells build and warm temperatures linger in San Diego, with mostly dry days right through to November.
The weather isn't the only thing that draws travelers to this happy West Coast hub. San Diego calls itself "America’s Finest City" for a reason. Its breezy confidence and sunny countenance filter down to the folks you encounter every day on the street. San Diego's neighborhoods feel like a collection of villages, each with their own unique and varied personalities, but this is the nation’s eighth-largest city. For its size, there's probably nowhere more laid-back on earth.
Whenever you choose to come, we promise you'll be pleasantly surprised. Here are the best times to visit San Diego.
Shoulder Season: September to October, March to May
Best time for hikers and budget travelers
San Diego has hiking trails snaking out into the countryside all around the city, and the shoulder season is the prime time to enjoy them as temperatures are warm rather than sizzling, and the skies remain crystal clear. Fall brings strong swells and offshore Santa Ana winds for the surfers, while the spring sees more frequent onshore winds, making the surfing a bit more sporadic. Fall and spring are friendly on the pocket too, as hotel rates fall from summer peaks.
High Season: June to August
Best for experiencing the city's freewheeling spirit
Whoosh! Here comes a skateboarder. Splash! There goes a wet-suited surfer, board under arm. Overlooking the shore, there's a Chanel-clad diner lifting a dainty porcelain cup off its saucer. The city of San Diego and its coastal neighborhoods exude the kind of freewheeling spirit that brings out the best in people, and summer is the season to surrender to its siren song.
The hot, dry months from June to August are peak season in San Diego; temperatures and hotel rates soar, and it can get busy on the city's 60-plus beaches. Amidst the blue-sky weather, June often sees the cloudy skies referred to by Californians as "June Gloom."
Low Season: November to February
Best for whale watching
Although it's far from cold, San Diego is slightly chillier in the winter months and there's a higher chance of rain. On the other hand, it's whale-watching season, so there are perks for the small inconvenience of bringing a warm layer.
Gray whales pass San Diego from mid-December to late February on their way south to Baja California, and again in mid-March on their way back up to Alaskan waters. Their 12,000-mile round-trip journey is the longest migration of any mammal on earth, and you can spot them easily along the San Diego coast.
Here's a month-by-month guide to San Diego.
While it is the wettest month in Southern California, San Diego doesn't see too much rain. It's a slow time for coastal travel, making room rates their lowest.
Key Events: San Diego Restaurant Week, Farmer's Insurance Open
Wildflowers start blooming in the low desert outside the city. It's the second of the region's wettest months. The last of the whales make their way up the coast. Valentine's Day is booked solid at restaurants and resorts.
Key Events: San Diego Museum Month
The rain eases so travelers head back to the coast, especially during spring break which varies depending on school schedules and the Easter holiday. March is the peak month for wildflower viewing in the hills.
Shoulder season means lower prices except during spring break. The weather is consistently lovely and the crowds at a minimum.
It's the last month before vacationing school kids swarm attractions. Travel peaks over the Memorial Day holiday weekend – in fact, it's one of the year's busiest travel times.
Key Events: Cinco de Mayo, Rock'n'Roll Marathon
Nearly everywhere gets busier in San Diego when school lets out for summer. Beaches, theme parks and resorts are booming. The fog is lingering.
Key Events: San Diego County Fair
Beach season is in full swing as the waters have finally warmed up and wetsuits are less necessary. Theme parks are mobbed by vacationers. The Fourth of July holiday is summer's peak travel weekend.
Key Events: Comic-Con International, Big Bay Boom 4th of July, Del Mar Racing Season begins
Warm weather and water temperatures keep beaches busy. School summer vacations come to an end, but everywhere stays packed. Travel slows slightly before Labor Day weekend.
Summer's last hurrah is Labor Day weekend, which is extremely busy almost everywhere. After the kids go back to school, the city quiets down a bit.
Key Events: Miramar Air Show, KAABOO San Diego, San Diego Restaurant Week
It's shoulder season and things get much, much quieter even though the weather remains balmy. Travel deals abound all over the city.
Key Events: Kids Free October, Fleet Week
Temperatures start to drop ever so slightly. The beaches and theme parks are less busy, except around the Thanksgiving holiday.
Key Events: San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival, Día de los Muertos, Beer Week, Wonderfront Music & Arts Festival
Christmas and New Year's Eve are extremely crowded travel times, but worth it for palm-tree light displays and holiday cheer.
Key Events: San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl, Christmas Boat Parade, New Year's Eve
This article was originally published March 2021. It was updated September 2021