The Ultimate Guide to December Holiday Events in San Diego

Things to do in San Diego during the 2015 December holidays include a number of parades, light displays, opportunities to see Santa and much more. Here are over 30 events that have crossed my radar.

Holidays at Hotel Del Coronado

There is always lots to do during the holiday season at the Hotel Del Coronado.  Happenings include a merry mix of activities  such as skating by the sea, an elegant Victorian Tea, the new DELights light show, family s’mores roasts on the beach and Elf Tuck-ins. Call to book dining reservations.

See also: Things to Do at the Hotel Del Coronado During the Holidays

Omni La Costa Resort and Spa

This year, Omni La Costa Resort and Spa will host a 2nd Annual Gingerbread Festival and Tree Lighting on December 5 at 3:00 p.m that is full of food, caroling and fun. Join your favorite TV personalities as they judge submissions of gingerbread creations by local bakers.

Resort restaurants will feature special holiday menus. There will also be a La Costa Holiday Market with holiday treats and treasures from over 20 local artists, farm fresh producers and La Costa favorites on Saturday, December 12. from 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.

2nd Annual Olde Fashioned Christmas

The 2nd Annual Olde Fashioned Christmas at the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe will feature ice skating under the stars, the lighting of a stately 20-foot Christmas tree, the R. Roger Rowe Rancho Santa Fe School Carolers and pictures with Santa Claus. Date: Friday, December 4 from 5:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Teddy Bear Tea at Park Hyatt Aviara

The Teddy Bear Tea experience is for the whole family complete with entertainment and storytelling by the “Peppermint Princess.” Each child is asked to bring a teddy bear to be donated to the Ronald McDonald House.Price per adult is $42 and $49 for the Royal Tea, which includes a glass of port, sherry or sparkling wine; Children are $20. Dates and times: Every Friday – Sunday from December 4 – December 20 from 11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. 

Breakfast with Santa at Neiman Marcus

Enjoy a nice breakfast at the Zodiac restaurant inside Neiman Marcus San Diego while carolers and Santa roam the room. After the breakfast, everyone has the opportunity to have gorgeous pictures taken with Santa with the store’s holiday decor as a backdrop. A professional photographer will be on site and pictures will print while you wait. (Read more about our experience with Breakfast with Santa.)Dates and time: Saturdays, December 5 and 12 at 8:30am. Cost $45 for kids and $55 for adults. Includes breakfast and pictures.

Helen Woodward Animal Center’s Frosty Farm

Frosty Farm attendees get to take pictures with Santa and his “polar dog” and each child will receive a special toy from Santa himself. Guests can participate in cookie decorating, face painting, faux snow, crafts, a hot chocolate station, animal encounters including alpacas, chinchillas, doves, sheep, chickens and Blitzen, the Miniature Horse “Reindeer”.  There will also be a caricature artist and live music. Register to attend online. Guests will also need to reserve a time to see Santa. Dates and times: Weekends, December 5-6, December 12-13 and December 18-19 from 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Cost is $23 for adults and $12 for children.

Jungle Bells at the San Diego Zoo

There will be holiday decor, photos with Santa, snow flurries and more as the San Diego Zoo celebrates the holidays. Ride the Twinkle Lights Trolley to tour an array of animal light sculptures, enjoy jingly, jazzy carols, acrobatic trampoline elves, and more. Cost to enter is included with admission. Dates and time: From December 12 – January 3 from 9:00am-8:00pm.

SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration

This year features Shamu® Christmas Miracles, a whale of a holiday show with SeaWorld’s family of killer whales as the stars, and Dolphin Island Christmas, a holiday party celebrated dolphin-style with a tropical twist. In addition to the special holiday-themed animal shows, the park will be brimming with yuletide cheer, as Christmas characters meet and mingle with guests, and Mrs. Claus brings a little holiday magic to everyone. All the festivities can be enjoyed amongst more than one million low-energy holiday lights throughout the park. Cost is include with admission. Dates: November 21 – January 3 during park opening hours.

Balboa Park December Nights

The December Nights holiday celebration at San Diego's Balboa Park.

A two-day holiday celebration of food, entertainment and fun where the numerous museums and cultural institutions in Balboa Park, the nation’s largest urban cultural park, open their doors free of charge. December Nights festivities in the park include carolers, live music, holiday light displays, theater and dance performances and delicious foods from around the world. Date and time: December 4 and 5 from 3:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m. on Friday and 12:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m. on Saturday. Admission is free.

Garden of Lights

The San Diego Botanic Garden lights up for the holidays after dusk complete with horse-drawn wagon rides, holiday crafts, visits with Santa, snow for sledding (on selected evenings) and so much more. Dates and times: December 5 – 23 and 26 – 30 from 5:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Holiday Wonderland at PETCO Park

PETCO Park lights up for the holidays on 12 days in December during its Holiday Wonderland celebration. In addition to magical lights and a 40′ tree, kids will have the opportunity to take photos with Santa. Dress for snow as kids can sled down a snow hill. Dates: December 4 – 6, 11 – 13, 18 – 23 from 4:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.

San Diego’s Outdoor Ice Skating Rinks

Hotel Del Coronad0’s Skating by the Sea

Go ice skating just steps from the sand at the Hotel Del Coronado. Skating by the Sea partially benefits the Wish Kids served by Make-A-Wish San Diego.

Date: November 26 – January 7
Times: Check the website as they vary by the day.
Cost: $25 per person with free skate rentals

Viejas Ice Rink

The Viejas Outlets’ enormous outdoor rink is the largest in Southern California. It’s even bigger than the one at Rockefeller Center in New York City! You will even be able to ice skate as movies like Frozen play in the background on certain Saturdays.

Date: October 31 – January 10
Times: 5:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Cost: $13 – $15 ($2 discount for bringing your own skates)

Fantasy on Ice

Fantasy on Ice has a new location at Liberty Station. All proceeds from this event benefit the Peckham Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Rady Children’s

Dates: November 9 – January 3
Times: 10:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Cost: $10 – $14

Inn at Rancho Santa Fe

The synthetic ice skating rink will make its season debut at the 2nd Annual Olde Fashioned Christmas (mentioned above). In the spirit of Children for Children, The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe will donate 40 percent of the proceeds from the ice skating rink to Father Joe’s Villages, a nonprofit organization that is San Diego’s largest homeless services provider.

Dates: December 4 – January 4 and January 9 – 11
Times: Hours vary
Cost: $15 – $18 including skate rentals

Coronado Christmas Parade and Open House

At the Coronado Christmas Parade and Open House, children can play in real snow on Snow Mountain (2:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.) at the Coronado Ferry Landing and greet Santa Claus as he arrives to Coronado by ferryboat (3:20 pm). Watch the Holiday Parade (6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.) and stroll Orange Avenue (closed to cars from 5:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.) to shop the Merchants Open House. Both are followed by the traditional lighting of a 50-foot Christmas tree (7:00 p.m.) and free community concert in Rotary Park. Date and time: Friday, December 4 from 2:00pm-9:00pm. Admission is free.

Del Mar Tree Lighting

This annual Del Mar Village Association event delights families with a dazzling tree lighting ceremony, pictures with Santa, carolers and local vendors selling their wares. Executive Chef Nathan Lingle will be serving Mulled Cider with Holiday Cake Pops and Squash Soup Shooters. Complimentary admission. Date and time: Sunday, December 6 from 3:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.; tree lighting happens at 5:00 p.m.

San Diego Bay Parade of Lights

The San Diego Bay Parade of Lights features more than 100 private boats decorated with holiday lights and sailing along the waters of San Diego Bay. This year’s theme is Christmas Around the World.  The parade is followed by a dazzling fireworks show over the water. The Coronado Island Marriott Resort and Coronado Ferry Landing, a charming collection of gift shops, art galleries and restaurants, offer great viewing from the shore. Date and time: Sundays, December 13 and 20 from 5:30pm-9:00pm. Fireworks follow the parade.

Oceanside Parade of Lights

Fishing boats, sail boats, yachts, kayaks and dingys will dress up for the holidays and circle the Oceanside Harbor at the Oceanside Parade of Lights.  The best viewing point is along the side of the Oceanside Harbor near the fishing dock and police station. Date and time: Saturday, December 12 from 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Mission Bay Christmas Boat Parade of Lights

Over 100 brightly illuminated powerboats and sailboats parade along Mission Bay. The Mission Bay Christmas Boat Parade of Lights ends with a fantastic fireworks show at 9:00 pm above SeaWorld San Diego. Date and time: Saturday, December 12 at 6:00pm with fireworks at 9:00pm.

Ocean Beach Holiday Parade

The theme of this year’s Ocean Beach Holiday Parade is ‘Joy to the Sea – 36 Years Celebrating OB.’ Attendees will see marching bands, motorcycles, gorgeous floats, the VW Beetle club, classic Woodies and more cruise down Newport Avenue.  Date and time: Saturday, December 5 at 5:05 p.m.

La Jolla Christmas Parade

The La Jolla Christmas Parade marches down Girard Avenue to Prospect Street and ends at the La Jolla Recreation Center for a giant festival including pony rides, live entertainment, photos with Santa, tree lighting and much more. Parking information is on the website. Date: Sunday, December 6 at 1:30 p.m.

Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade

Owners and their dressed-up pets march down the decorated streets of the neighborhood in the pet parade and end at a Pet Expo featuring an awards ceremony for best-dressed pups and more. Date and time: Sunday, December 13 at 3:00pm.

La Mesa’s Christmas in the Village

The delightful downtown of La Mesa is transformed into a Victorian wonderland during its old-fashioned Christmas in the Village. The family-friendly event features horse-drawn carriages, strolling minstrels, carolers and street entertainers along La Mesa Boulevard. Carnival rides, ponies, puppet shows, live music stages and an outdoor market round out the traditional holiday fun. Date and time: Friday, December 11 and Saturday, December 12 from 5:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Alpine Village Christmas Parade of Lights & Festival

The village of Alpine celebrates the season with this fun event featuring a popular parade, a visit from Santa and his helpers, Christmas caroling and a snow mountain for sledding at the Alpine Community Center. Date and time: Friday, December 4 from 6:30pm-9:00pm.

Old Town State Historic Park’s Holiday in the Park

Old Town State Historic Park is decked out for the holidays during Holiday in the Park. From dusk until 9:00 pm you may take a break or end your evening with songs and a special holiday treat around the crackling fire on the plaza sponsored by Fiesta de Reyes. The stores will offer extended shopping hours.

December 12 will feature the annual open house with treats and shopping. On December 13, watch the 65th Annual Las Posadas, a centuries-old tradition in which actors reenact the biblical journey of Mary and Joseph through the town of Bethlehem. Date and time: December 5 – 26. Times for events vary.

Big Bay Balloon Parade

It’s the country’s largest balloon parade. Floats, balloons and marching bands are just some of the offerings in this colorful holiday parade that takes place along San Diego Bay in downtown San Diego.  Date and time:  Wednesday, December 30 at 10:00 a.m.

Poway’s Christmas in the Park

Poway’s Christmas in the Park features a tree lighting ceremony, visit from Santa, train rides, live music, theatre performances, food, treats, crafts and more. Date and time:  Saturday, December 8 from 3:30pm-8:30pm. Admission is free.

Take Pictures with Santa

If headed to one of San Diego’s many shopping malls, Santa will be there until December 24 during mall hours.

Neighborhood Christmas Lights

Take a drive through these neighborhoods to see houses decked out in lights beyond belief. This is a short list of many.

Candy Cane Lane (Poway)

Each house here is estimated to have over 50,000 lights. It’s a cul-de-sac themed like the North Pole. Location: Hickory Court, Hickory Street, off Twin Peaks Road and Silverset St. Also Includes Butterwood Ct. and Rockrose Ct.

Christmas Card Lane (Rancho Penasquitos)

This neighborhood display is known for larger-than-life illuminated Christmas cards and other lights adorning the homes. Location: Oviedo Street, just off Black Mountain Road

Belardo Lights (Tierrasanta)

It’s just one house but it’s well worth seeing. The idea started in 2006 as a way for the Schmika family to provide a light show for their two autistic sons. If it is raining, check the website to see if the lights will be off. Location: 5306 North Belardo Drive

Garrison Street (Point Loma)

These high-end homes are dense with brightly-colored Christmas lights. Drive through or walk around… it’s your choice. Location: Garrison Street near Chatsworth

See also: Top Things to Do in San Diego with Kids

What is your favorite thing to do in San Diego during the holidays? Please leave a comment with anything missing from this list!

Photo credits: Top, Flickr/Port of San Diego; December Nights, Balboa Park

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  1. Daniel
    December 15, 2015 at 6:10 pm — Reply

    You forget the Toyland parade in north park.

  2. December 8, 2015 at 9:05 pm — Reply

    I am SO SO SO glad you stopped by my blog so I can see yours! My hubby and I are likely moving to SD soon and I LOVE seeing all the wonderful things we can do and see! I’ll certainly be back!

    • December 9, 2015 at 7:50 am — Reply

      Oh! Congrats on the move. I really love it here. Feel free to ping me with questions!

  3. December 2, 2015 at 10:32 pm — Reply

    Traditions of Christmas has grown to be the biggest Christmas show in San Diego drawing over 250,000 patrons since it began. It is a musical journey through all the greatest Christmas songs and celebrations from around the world. Santa’s Workshop comes alive with dancing elves, Raggedy Ann dolls, toy soldiers, and magical toys. The Rockette-style tap dancing kickline will have you cheering in the aisles. You’ll even get to sing along to your holiday favorites like White Christmas and Santa Claus is Coming to Town! The celebration culminates with our most treasured tradition of all – a Living Nativity complete with animals. This show is truly the perfect collection of all the best sights and sounds of Christmas!

    Show Dates are December 18th-December 23rd at The Don Powell Theater at San Diego State University.

  4. December 2, 2015 at 10:30 pm — Reply

    Traditions of Christmas has grown to be the biggest Christmas show in San Diego drawing over 250,000 patrons since it began. It is a musical journey through all the greatest Christmas songs and celebrations from around the world. Santa’s Workshop comes alive with dancing elves, Raggedy Ann dolls, toy soldiers, and magical toys. The Rockette-style tap dancing kickline will have you cheering in the aisles. You’ll even get to sing along to your holiday favorites like White Christmas and Santa Claus is Coming to Town! The celebration culminates with our most treasured tradition of all – a Living Nativity complete with animals. This show is truly the perfect collection of all the best sights and sounds of Christmas!

    Shows opens December 18-December 23rd at the Don Powell Theatre at San Diego Stage University

  5. Leslir
    December 2, 2015 at 6:40 am — Reply

    The Starlight Parade in Chula Vista this Saturday at 6pm.

  6. June 15, 2015 at 4:36 am — Reply

    You can always visit some of 21 California Missions as well. These historic places are great to visit these days.

  7. December 29, 2014 at 7:34 am — Reply

    You can add Special Behind-the-Scenes Tour for 4th Graders & Their Family on Saturday Jan. 17th too. At old Mission at Oceanside, CA.

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