The Coast News Group
Those who sign up with Oceanside Adventures’ whale watching cruises get up close and personal with fin whales, which are populating the waters off of North County. Photo by Mark Newman
ColumnsHit the Road

Summer fun in our own backyard

Think about it: Visitors to our area spend thousands of dollars to travel here and stay, so check out why they are coming to Southern California and what they are seeing in our own backyard:

What happens after-hours at the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla? It’s Oceans at Night, a monthly, adults-only events that feature interactive experiences that represent the biofluorescent and bioacoustic activity that takes place in the ocean at night.

Guests enjoy live music, a glow-lounge with larger-than-life-sized games, food and drink from The French Gourmet, and colorful coastal sunsets from the aquarium’s expansive deck.

“Oceans at Night… creates a very different type of aquarium experience than during the day,” says Executive Director Harry Helling.

Birch Aquarium in La Jolla offers a host of extra activities this summer, including Oceans at Night, an adults-only event that includes views of Pacific sunsets from the aquarium’s expansive cliffside deck. Courtesy photo

Because of its popularity, Oceans at Night has expanded onto Blue Beach — a 4,500-square-foot floor mural depicting the bathymetry (or map of the depth) of the underwater canyons off La Jolla Shores.

For all ages: small-group tours that take you up close and personal and behind the scenes with seahorses and octopuses. Learn about breeding programs and caretaking of sea life.

And don’t miss the Beyster Family Little Blue Penguins exhibit, a collection of cuter-than-ever, 12-inch-high birds, each with its own name and personality.

A San Diego institution, Belmont Park on Mission Beach, is gearing up for its centennial celebration in 2025 with lots of changes and updates. Visitors will see new and improved rides, new murals by local artists, an expanded arcade and a new escape-room adventure.

“For 98 years Belmont Park has been a place travelers come to visit and locals come to gather,” says General Manager Steve Thomas. “We want to continue to be that place.”

Belmont Park on San Diego’s Mission Beach is gearing up for its 100th anniversary with new games and rides. The iconic roller coaster, the Giant Dipper, is still a visitor favorite. Courtesy photo

There was a time when whale-watching season ran from December to March, when enthusiasts followed the gray whale migration from Alaskan waters to the warm lagoons off the Baja Coast. Changes in climate, water temperature and food supplies have brought new varieties of whales to the San Diego and Orange county coasts.

“We have seen blue whales (weighing up to 200 tons),” says Donna Kalez of Oceanside Adventures, which offers multiple cruises each week. “But the biggest story now is the huge amount of fin whales (second in size only to blue whales) that we are seeing.”

There often are dozens to hundreds of dolphins cruising and jumping alongside the whale-watching boats.

From now until Oct. 29, you won’t find a giant, interactive, people-sized Venus flytrap anywhere but the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas. Enter if you dare. The exhibit, Savage Gardens, takes visitors to the “bizarre and captivating world of carnivorous plants,” staged in the 8,000-square-foot, glass-enclosed Dickinson Family Education Conservatory.

The snow is mostly gone in Southern California’s mountains, but tubing down the slopes still thrives at Big Bear Summer Tubing at Big Bear Lake. The Magic Carpet Lift takes tubers back to the top of the slide. Courtesy photo

Winter snows may be gone from the mountains around Big Bear Lake, but the sport of tubing lives on. Participants can slide down a 300-foot-long chute made of a slippery, synthetic surface that requires no water.

And if that’s not your cup of tea, there are plenty of other activities in and around Big Bear Lake: Segway tours, zipline, mineshaft coaster, alpine zoo, horseback riding, pony rides, off-roading, golfing, ropes course and boat tours on the lake.

Take a break from the sun and explore the Oceanside Museum of Art, featuring three exhibits through the summer: Art for the People: WPA-Era Paintings from the Dijkstra Collection,” in which Depression-era artists have chronicled life in this country from the stock market crash of 1929 to World War II; Janet Taylor Pickett: Light, Color, and Desire,” whose paintings and sculptures explore “Blackness, identity and history”; and Connie Jenkins: Intertidal,” which showcases the work of Jenkins, who made multiple visits to the Channel Islands over 13 years and documented what she saw with her camera. She took some of her tidepool photos and translated them into exquisite paintings that look like photographs.

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