It’s no secret that San Diego is a major vacationer’s spot – or tourist attraction, however you want to phrase it.
As a local, I realized this summer that many people who plan to visit our little slice of paradise may not truly know what our summers are like here in San Diego and North County.
There are some things that could be a big surprise, and I’ll let you in on those secrets.
Not in an effort to convince you not to vacation in San Diego, but simply a warning that the summer isn’t perfect here.
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Things to know about summer in San Diego
- It is crazy crowded on the beaches here from late May until mid-August.
- Our beaches in San Diego can be full of rocks and may offer a lot less sand to sit on than you’re used to.
- The Pacific Ocean is quite chilly. Bring a light wetsuit if you’re sensitive to cold water.
- Wave strength/height and undercurrents are at times very dangerous here. Pay close attention to the lifeguard warnings and signs.
- The biggest frustration I see (for us locals also) is the May gray, June gloom, and sometimes July shy phenomena. Be prepared for many gray/foggy days at the beach.
- Parking – oh the parking at the beaches. It’s crazy. There’s not enough of it in our small beach towns or at the beach itself.
- Traffic moves fast and can be crazy in summer.
- The Del Mar fair and horse racing season in summer contribute to traffic and crowded beaches as well.
I’ll explain these in detail one by one so you can have a clear idea for what it’s like here in San Diego in the summer.
San Diego’s crowded beaches
Unfortunately for everyone, when you live in and visit a very popular vacation spot, the beaches are wall-to-wall people in the summer. On a good note, there’s a beach for every purpose here.
Not only are tourists here in full mass, but local young people are out of school and surfers who live here regularly use the beaches as well. This makes parking a nightmare.
It can also impact how enjoyable it is to actually be at the beach for the day. With spots on the sand at a premium, you might be up close and personal with multiple dozens of other families who have the same idea.
When I walk at the beach in summer, there are so many people throwing balls and frisbees near the water it’s necessary to walk in a crazy zig-zag the whole time to avoid getting hit.
This part makes me laugh sometimes. Not to be mean, but because when I first moved here, it was a shock to me too – and I always wondered what would possess a town to dump massive amounts of rocks on the beaches.
Every summer I overhear multiple vacationers wondering why so many rocks were put on the beach. They make it hard to sit down and get to the water at times.
The answer is that no one put them there at all. The ocean brings them in with the strong tides. And then when it decides to, it will take them back out again.
The thing is, there’s no predicting when they’ll show up or when they’ll go away again. So anytime you visit San Diego in the summer – or anytime – you may find massive amounts of rocks keeping you from finding much sand to sit on.
San Diego beaches are actually very rocky in general. Some towns here invest millions to dredge sand from the ocean and lagoons to place more sand on the beaches to fight erosion and make tourists happy.
My favorite thing about having rocks on our beaches is the amazing treasures we find. It’s the absolute best time to find amazing sea glass and fantastic shells.
Pacific Ocean challenges
Let’s talk about the water here. A few things – it can be very cold depending if it’s warmed up a bit (by end of summer). And “warm” is a relative term. It could mean that it won’t take your breath away without a wetsuit.
Another thing or two to note is that the water here is very powerful, the surf can be huge, and the undercurrents can be very dangerous.
If you’re NOT an experienced surfer or swimmer, always pay attention to flag warnings on the beach and lifeguard announcements. It’s vital for your safety, and your kids’.
May gray and June gloom in San Diego
Our foggy gray beach weather is real. It’s very hard on locals also – especially after our record-breaking rainy season here this year (2023). We had 3 months of mostly gray and rainy weather before summer even started.
Then we had to contend with the normal May gray and June gloom.
What causes the gloomy weather in San Diego at the start of summer?
The sun begins to warm the inland areas way before the Pacific Ocean cooperates. Water is very deep and hard to heat and land is fairly easy to warm up after many sunny days.
The coastal fog and gray gets stuck over the water for weeks as the water temps struggle to catch up with land temperatures. That’s the simple version.
This weather pattern can make it downright cold at the beach. Yes, a sweatshirt can be totally necessary in May and June.
When this gray decides to burn off is a different story each summer, but most of the time, end of June is a good benchmark.
We’re often very glad to see July in San Diego. It’s more often than not predictably sunny and a great time to be at the beach … finally.
Summertime parking and traffic nightmares
I guess most vacation destinations can claim the same frustrations with parking and traffic.
And San Diego is no joke when it comes to these two issues, simply because we’re so populous anyway. Parking can be a challenge on nice weekends in the off-season, and it’s certainly hard in the summer.
A few towns have restructured their parking spaces to make them diagonal to the road rather than parallel parking, and it’s helped some.
But unless you’re going to a beach with a parking lot (which can be quite pricey and needs to be added to your budget), most have limited parallel parking.
You’ll have to get to the beach early to have a chance. Or play the parking game which involves being VERY patient and waiting for someone to leave.
Traffic in San Diego in summer is even more challenging than most days. And that’s saying a lot! I’ve even written about what it’s like to drive here.
If you’ve never driven our roads and freeways, the sheer number of cars, the redlight running that regularly occurs, and the speed can be shocking.
The scariest part is the speed on the freeways. Oh, and locals will cut you off to make a turn or exit across three lanes at the last minute. It’s absurd, so drive defensively and be watchful.
The Del Mar fair and horse racing season
As if summer vacation season at the beach weren’t crazy and crowded enough, someone decided that the famous Del Mar fair and racing season should happen in the heart of summer also.
The amazing fair runs from early June to around July 4th, and racing season starts right on its heels from mid-July through mid-September. This brings horse racing enthusiasts from all over the world and adds to the excitement on the roads around here.
San Diego summer FAQs
What is the best month to go to San Diego?
There’s really no best month to visit here. It all depends on what you’re looking for. Winters can be chilly, but sometimes we’ve been on the beach on New Years Day in 70 degree weather.
Fall and spring are great when vacationers aren’t in full swing, but again, weather may not be the 70 degrees you’re hoping for.
If you like it hot and sunny, the best bet is August or end of July.
Can you swim in the ocean in San Diego?
You definitely can swim in the ocean here anytime of year. But the comfort level will vary from season to season.
The Pacific Ocean is the warmest in September & October since it’s had the whole summer to warm up. This is also when more juvenile white sharks can be seen in some places. They like the warmer water.
Wetsuits will be necessary in anything other than late summer months. The water is cold.
And if you decide to take a dip or go bodyboarding, pay close attention to warning signs and lifeguard instructions on the beach. In fact, if you’re not experienced with our ocean, you’re safest swimming at beaches with year-round lifeguards.
Is San Diego humid in summer?
If you’re originally from a very humid place such as the south or midwest, it won’t feel humid to you at all. It’s normally more of a dry heat here in San Diego.
But there are times when our humidity levels are above normal when we have storms pass through, or occasionally on a warm summer day.
I would definitely not consider San Diego a humid place.
What is the hottest month in San Diego?
August and September are the warmest months here in San Diego. But you can pretty much have a freak day of 70-80 degrees during any month here. We’ve had lots of Christmases where you could wear shorts at the beach.
Does it get really hot in San Diego?
Sadly, with climate change and weather patterns shifting wildly all over the planet, San Diego can get really hot. This summer in 2023 we have not had the heat wave we endured last summer.
Increasingly, the coastal towns here that once wouldn’t have dreamed of needing air conditioning are wishing they had it or installing it after decades of not needing any.
The summer in 2022 brought many days over 90 degrees in August and September and weeks of over 80 degree weather. That’s hot for San Diego!
Don’t commit these sins as a San Diego vacationer
Since I have your attention as a potential or returning vacationer, this is what San Diego needs from you.
They are non-negotiable acts of decency.
- Do NOT litter our beaches and fragile ocean and marine habitat.
- Last summer my husband and I picked up two huge garbage bags overflowing with crap vacationers left all over Oceanside beach in just ONE DAY. It made me so sick to my stomach I couldn’t go back there for several months. You are killing marine life when you trash the beach.
- Pick up your shit and teach your kids to do the same. Plastic shovels, buckets, broken toys, flip flops and hundreds of other things get abandoned on beaches here every single day of the summer. It ALL goes into the ocean when the high tide sucks it in.
- Flush the toilets at public restrooms. Check to see if your kids did.
- Be very aware of people walking everywhere … crossing streets in front of you and at the wrong times at stop lights.
- We also have pedestrian crossings in many beach towns where you press a button and yellow lights begin to flash so cars will stop and you can cross safely.
- Vacationers with rental cars: you must ALWAYS stop when you see flashing yellow lights in a beach town. It means families are trying to cross the road safely!
San Diego can be glorious in the summer if you don’t mind crowds. It’s a tourist trap for sure, but for the most part, we’re glad to have you. Please be respectful and we’ll wish you a really happy visit.