You might want to plan your trip around one of these annual events in the San Diego area. For an exhaustive list of events beyond those listed here, check http://events.frommers.com, where you'll find a searchable, up-to-the-minute roster of what's happening in cities all over the world.
San Diego Restaurant Week encourages diners to check out some of San Diego's best eateries. For 6 days, more than 160 restaurants offer special three-course prix-fixe meals. For details, go to www.sandiegorestaurantweek.com. Mid-January.
The Carlsbad Marathon & Half Marathon takes place along a scenic coastal route in San Diego's North County. For more information, call tel. 760/692-2900, or visit www.carlsbadmarathon.com. Late January.
Farmers Insurance Open, Torrey Pines Golf Course, La Jolla. This PGA Tour classic, formerly known as the Buick Invitational, draws more than 100,000 spectators each year and features 150 of the finest professional golfers. For information, call tel. 858/886-4653, or visit www.farmersinsuranceopen.com. Late January.
Wildflowers bloom in the desert between late February and the end of March, at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Timing varies from year to year, depending on the winter rainfall. For details, call tel. 760/767-4684, or go to www.theabf.org.
Mardi Gras in the Gaslamp Quarter is downtown's largest event. This "Fat Tuesday" party features a Mardi Gras parade, live bands and DJs, and plenty of special deals from participating clubs and restaurants. This is a ticketed event for ages 21 and older. For more information, call tel. 619/233-5227, or visit www.gaslamp.org. Feb. 21, 2012.
Kiwanis Ocean Beach Kite Festival. For more than 60 years the skies over the Ocean Beach Recreational Center have gotten a brilliant shot of color during this kite-flying contest. Festivities include a street fair and parade down to the beach. For more information, call tel. 619/531-1527, or visit www.oceanbeachkiwanis.org. First Saturday in March.
The San Diego Latino Film Festival, one of the largest and most successful Latino film events in the country, features more than 100 movies from throughout Latin America and the United States. Call tel. 619/230-1938, or surf to www.sdlatinofilm.com. Mid-March.
St. Patrick's Day Parade, Hillcrest. A tradition since 1980, the parade starts at Sixth Avenue and Juniper Street. An Irish Festival follows in Balboa Park. Call tel. 858/268-9111, or check www.stpatsparade.org. March 17, 2012.
Flower fields in bloom at Carlsbad Ranch. One of North County's most spectacular sights is the yearly blossoming of a sea of bright ranunculuses during March and April. Visitors are welcome to tour the fields off I-5 (at the Palomar Airport Rd. exit). For more information, call tel. 760/431-0352, or go to www.theflowerfields.com.
San Diego Crew Classic, Crown Point Shores, Mission Bay. Since its launch in 1973, this has grown into one of the great rowing events in the country, drawing collegiate teams and clubs from throughout the U.S. Call tel. 619/225-0300, or check out www.crewclassic.org. First weekend in April.
Gran Fondo San Diego is a festive, Euro-style biking event through the streets of San Diego. Italian for "big ride," the Gran Fondo starts, appropriately enough, in Little Italy and has courses that cover 100 miles (the Gran Fondo) and 53 miles (the Medio Fondo). There's also an expo, prizes, and post-race party. Check www.granfondosandiego.com for information. Early April.
Coronado Flower Show weekend, Spreckels Park. Organizers claim this is the largest tented flower show in the United States. The weekend-long event includes plant sales, food, and a lineup of entertainment. Go to www.coronadoflowershow.org for more details. Mid-April.
Roots Fest on Adams, Normal Heights. This blues, folk, Cajun, Celtic, bluegrass, and international music festival held on six stages along Adams Avenue, between 34th Street and Wilson Avenue, is free to the public and features food, beer gardens, and arts-and-crafts vendors. Call tel. 619/282-7329, or stop by www.adamsavenuebusiness.com. Late April.
ArtWalk, Little Italy, along Kettner Boulevard and India Street. This 2-day festival is now the largest art event in the San Diego/Tijuana region. For more information, call tel. 619/615-1090, or visit www.missionfederalartwalk.org. Late April.
Day at the Docks, Harbor Drive and Scott Street, Point Loma. This sportfishing tournament and festival features food, entertainment, fishing contests, seminars, and free boat tours and rides. Call tel. 619/234-8793, or visit www.sportfishing.org. Usually the last Sunday of April.
Del Mar National Horse Show. This is the first event in the Del Mar racing season and is held at the famous Del Mar Fairgrounds. The field at this show includes Olympic-caliber and national championship horse-and-rider teams. Call tel. 858/792-4252, or visit www.delmarnational.com. Mid-April to early May.
Lakeside Rodeo. You won't forget your way out West at this down-home rodeo held in East County. From barrel racing to bull riding, this is the real deal. For information, call tel. 619/561-4331, or go to www.lakesiderodeo.com. Late April.
Fiesta Cinco de Mayo, Old Town. Uniformed troops march and guns blast to mark the 1862 triumph of Mexican soldiers over the French at the battle of Puebla. The festivities include a battle reenactment. (Hint: Take the trolley and make dining reservations well in advance.) Admission is free. Call tel. 619/291-4903, or visit www.fiestacincodemayo.com. Weekend closest to May 5.
Gator by the Bay, Harbor Island. Let the good times roll at this annual zydeco and blues music festival. In addition to the music, the festival features Cajun food and cooking demonstrations, dances, and a variety of exhibitors and vendors. Call tel. 619/234-8612, or go to www.sandiegofestival.com for more details. Early May.
Carlsbad Spring Village Faire, Grand Avenue, from Carlsbad Boulevard to Jefferson Street. This event is billed as the biggest and best arts-and-crafts fair in Southern California. Call tel. 760/931-8400 for more details, or go to www.carlsbad.org. Early May (a fall festival is also held in Nov.).
Annual American Indian Art Market and Film Festival, Museum of Man, Balboa Park. Native Americans from dozens of tribes across the United States gather to demonstrate tribal dances and sell arts, crafts, and edibles. The American Indian Film Institute curates a roster of film screenings. Call tel. 619/239-2001, or check www.museumofman.org. Mid-May.
Mainly Mozart Festival, Gaslamp Quarter. Presenting the work of Mozart and his contemporaries, this acclaimed classical music festival features an all-star orchestra consisting of players drawn from around the world. For information, call tel. 619/239-0100, or go online at www.mainlymozart.org. Performances throughout the month.
The Rock 'n' Roll Marathon and 1/2 Marathon not only offers runners a unique course through Balboa Park, downtown, and around Mission Bay, but it also pumps them (and spectators) up with live bands on 26 stages along the course. There is a pre-race fitness expo and post-race concert, featuring big-name talent. Call tel. 800/311-1255, or go online at www.san-diego.competitor.com. Early June.
San Diego County Fair. Referred to by locals as the Del Mar Fair, this is the other major happening -- besides horse racing -- at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. In addition to livestock competitions, thrill rides, flower-and-garden shows, and more, there are also concerts by name performers (some require a separate admission). The fair lasts more than 3 weeks. Call tel. 858/793-5555, or visit www.sdfair.com. Mid-June to early July.
Summer Organ Festival, Balboa Park. These free concerts at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion take place on Monday evenings (year-round there are free concerts on Sun at 2pm). Call tel. 619/702-8138 or go to www.sosorgan.com. Mid-June to late August.
Old Globe Summer Shakespeare Festival, Balboa Park. The Bard takes center stage with several different works staged at the Tony Award-winning Old Globe's open-air theater. Produced in true repertory style, shows alternate each night, performed by the same company of actors. Call tel. 619/234-5623, or visit www.theoldglobe.org. Mid-June through September.
San Diego Symphony Summer Pops, downtown. The symphony's summer pops series features lighter classical, jazz, opera, Broadway, and show tunes, all performed under the stars and capped by fireworks. Held most summer weekends at the Embarcadero downtown. For details, call tel. 619/235-0804, or visit www.sandiegosymphony.com. Early July to early September.
World Championship Over-the-Line Tournament, Mission Bay. This popular event is a San Diego original -- a beach softball tournament dating from 1953. It's renowned for boisterous, beer-soaked, anything-goes behavior, with a total of 1,200 three-person teams competing and 50,000 fans in attendance. It takes place on 2 consecutive weekends on Fiesta Island in Mission Bay, and admission is free. For more details, call tel. 619/688-0817, or visit www.ombac.org. Mid-July.
Thoroughbred Racing Season. The "turf meets the surf" in Del Mar during the thoroughbred racing season at the Del Mar Race Track. Post time is 2pm most days; the track is dark on Monday and Tuesdays. For this year's schedule of events, call tel. 858/755-1141, or visit www.dmtc.com. Mid-July to early September.
San Diego LGBT Pride Parade, Rally, and Festival. This event is one of San Diego's biggest draws, celebrating the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. It begins Friday night with a rally at the Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park, and reconvenes at 11am on Saturday for the parade through Hillcrest, followed by a massive festival -- held at the park's Marston Point -- that continues Sunday. For more information, call tel. 619/297-7683, or visit www.sdpride.org. Third or fourth weekend in July.
Comic-Con International, downtown. Upward of 125,000 people attend America's largest comic-book convention each year when it lands at the San Diego Convention Center for a long weekend of auctions, dealers, celebrities, film screenings, and seminars focusing on graphic novels, fantasy, and sci-fi. Note: You must pre-register online to attend; there are no on-site sales. Single-day tickets do sell out. Call tel. 619/491-2475, or check www.comic-con.org. Late July.
U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition, Imperial Beach Pier. Here's the quintessential beach event: A street festival and children's sand-castle contest occur on Saturday, followed by the main competition Sunday. Note: The castles are usually plundered by 4pm, before the tide washes them away. For details, call tel. 619/424-6663, or visit www.usopensandcastle.com. Late July.
La Jolla SummerFest is perhaps San Diego's most prestigious annual music event. It features a wide spectrum of classical and contemporary music. SummerFest also offers master classes, open rehearsals, and workshops. It's presented by the La Jolla Music Society; call tel. 858/459-3728, or visit www.ljms.org for more information. Early to mid-August.
Surfing Competitions. Oceanside's pier-side surfing spot attracts several competitions, including the World Bodysurfing Championships and the Longboard Surf Club Competition. Call the Oceanside Visitors Bureau at tel. 800/350-7873 or 760/721-1101, or visit www.worldbodysurfing.org and www.oceansidelongboardsurfingclub.org. Mid- or late August.
Celebrate Dance Festival, Balboa Park. More than 50 dance groups gather to perform free shows on indoor and outdoor stages. The 3-day event features everything from Butoh to flamenco and is organized by Eveoke Dance Theatre. Call tel. 619/238-1153 or visit www.eveoke.org. Late August.
Festival of Sail, Embarcadero. Tall ships from around the world converge on San Diego for this celebration of the golden age of sailing. There are ship tours, mock sea battles, entertainment, and arts and crafts vendors. The festivities are hosted by the Maritime Museum, tel. 619/234-9153 or www.sdmaritime.org, over the Labor Day holiday (Aug. 30-Sept. 3, 2012).
La Jolla Rough Water Swim, La Jolla Cove. The country's largest rough-water swimming competition began in 1916 and features masters, men's and women's, junior, and amateur heats. Spectators don't need tickets. For information, call tel. 858/456-2100. Downloadable entry forms are available at www.ljrws.com. Sunday after Labor Day.
Ocean Beach Music & Art Festival. This daylong outdoor concert features seven seaside stages of jazz and funk, along with local beer, plenty of food, and exhibiting artists. Check out www.obmusicfest.org. Mid-September.
Julian Fall Apple Harvest. The popular apple harvest season runs for 2 months in early fall; there are plenty of special events to go along with the fresh apple pies. For more information, contact the chamber of commerce at tel. 760/765-1857; www.julianca.com. Mid-September to mid-November.
Fleet Week is a bit of a misnomer -- it actually lasts a couple of weeks. The nation's largest military appreciation event, it features Navy ship tours, a golf tournament, an auto race of classic speedsters, an air show, and more. Call tel. 619/858-1545 or check out www.fleetweeksandiego.org for more information. Mid-September to early October.
Festival of Beer, downtown. San Diego's local breweries (along with guest brewers from around California and beyond) strut their stuff at this outdoor festival. Some 70 different breweries are on tap, along with live music and food at this 21-and-up-only event. For more information go to www.sdbeerfest.org. Mid-September.
San Diego Bayfair. You'll need a good pair of earplugs for this world series of powerboat racing on Mission Bay (they don't call them thunderboats for nothing). This family-friendly event also features a beach festival. For information, call tel. 619/434-8260, or go to www.sandiegobayfair.org. Mid-September.
San Diego Film Festival, downtown. Dozens of features, documentaries, shorts, and music videos from around the world are screened over 5 days. There are also educational panels and nightly soirees. Call tel. 619/582-2368 for more information, or log onto www.sdff.org. Late September.
California Surf Festival, Oceanside. Surf culture in all its glory is explored via art, music, film, and more at this 5-day event. The film fest features a category of shorts shot by "groms" (kid surfers); proceeds benefit the California Surf Museum. Call tel. 760/721-6876 or check out www.californiasurffestival.com. Early October.
Little Italy Festa. One of the largest celebrations of Italian culture in the West, the Festa draws more than 100,000 people to the streets of Little Italy for a day of traditional food, music, and entertainment. Highlights include stickball and chalk-art street painting competitions. For information, call tel. 619/233-3898, or visit www.littleitalysd.com. Mid-October.
Carlsbad Fall Village Faire. Billed as the largest 1-day street fair in the United States, this festival features more than 900 vendors on 24 city blocks. The epicenter is the intersection of Grand Avenue and Jefferson Street. Call tel. 760/931-8400, or visit www.carlsbad.org. First Sunday in November (a spring festival is held in May, as well).
San Diego Beer Week. Brewers, restaurants, and bars throughout the county become even more beer-obsessed than normal for this 10-day celebration of San Diego's thriving craft-brewing culture. The closing-day event, bringing together top chefs and beermeisters, is a highlight. Check www.sdbw.org for information. Early to mid-November.
San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival. Held at various venues over 5 days, this is Southern California's largest wine and culinary event. More than 200 wineries and restaurants participate. For details, call tel. 858/578-9463, or log onto www.worldofwineevents.com. Mid-November.
Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, Balboa Park. San Diego was the adopted hometown of Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, and since 1998 the Old Globe Theatre has been transformed into Whoville each holiday season. This musical has become a family tradition, with discounted seats for kids. For more information, call tel. 619/234-5623, or check www.theoldglobe.org. Mid-November through December.
Mother Goose Parade, El Cajon. Since 1947, this East County city has celebrated childhood with the largest parade in San Diego. It's classic Americana. Call tel. 619/444-8712 for info, or go to www.mothergooseparade.org. Late November (the Sunday before Thanksgiving).
San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland Jazz Festival. More than 20 bands perform at this annual festival, held over Thanksgiving weekend. Call tel. 619/297-5277, or visit www.dixielandjazzfestival.org. Late November.
Encinitas Fall Festival, Encinitas. This street fair takes over quaint downtown Encinitas along Coast Highway and features 450 vendors and live music on three stages. Call tel. 760/943-1950 or visit www.encinitas101.com. Late November.
Ocean Beach Holiday Parade. This parade is a family affair (Santa Claus is on hand, of course), but with entries such as the Off-Key Choir and the Geriatric Surf Team, it's definitely quirky. Call tel. 619/224-4906, or visit www.oceanbeachsandiego.com. First Saturday in December.
Balboa Park December Nights. San Diego's wonderful urban park is decked out in holiday splendor for this 2-night event. The event is free and lasts from 5 to 9pm both days; the park's museums are free during those hours, and special events and ethnic foods add to the good cheer. For more information, call tel. 619/239-0512, or visit www.balboapark.org. First Friday and Saturday in December.
Whale-watching season takes place during the winter months along the San Diego County coast. More than 20,000 Pacific gray whales make the annual trek from chilly Alaskan seas to the warm-water breeding lagoons of Baja California, and then back again with their calves in tow. Cabrillo National Monument, on the panoramic Point Loma peninsula, offers a glassed-in observatory from which to spot the whales, examine whale exhibits, and listen to taped narration describing these amazing animals. Various companies offer whale-watching tours throughout the season, as well. For more information, call tel. 619/557-5450 or 619/236-1212, or visit www.sandiego.org. Mid-December to mid-March.
Mission Bay Boat Parade of Lights, from Quivira Basin in Mission Bay. Held on a Saturday, the best viewing is around Crown Point, on the east side of Vacation Island, or the west side of Fiesta Island; it concludes with the lighting of a 320-foot tower of holiday lights at SeaWorld. Call tel. 858/488-0501. For more vessels dressed up like Christmas trees, the San Diego Boat Parade of Lights is held in San Diego Bay on two Sundays, with a route starting at Shelter Island and running past Seaport Village and the Coronado Ferry Landing Marketplace. Visit www.sdparadeoflights.org for more information. Mid-December.
College bowl games. San Diego is home to two college football bowl games: the Holiday Bowl and the Poinsettia Bowl, both held in late December. The Holiday Bowl pits top teams from the Pac 10 and Big 12 conferences, and the Poinsettia Bowl pairs a team from the Mountain West Conference against an at-large opponent. The Poinsettia Bowl (tel. 619/285-5061; www.poinsettiabowl.net) was inaugurated in 2005; the Holiday Bowl (tel. 619/283-5808; www.holidaybowl.com) has been around since 1978, and features several special events, including the nation's biggest balloon parade of giant inflatable characters. Late December.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.