The Ultimate Guide to San Diego Holiday Events (2018)

From parades to outdoor ice skating rinks, here's a list of local holiday events.

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Things to do in San Diego during the 2018 December holidays include a number of parades, light displays, opportunities to see Santa, and much more. Here are over 30 fun events to choose from at hotels, theme parks, neighborhoods and other venues around town.

Dr. Seuss’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas! 

Come to The Old Globe for the beloved annual performance of Dr. Seuss’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The whimsical musical is back for its 21st season, featuring favorite songs like “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and more. Buy tickets in advance. November 3 — December 29.

Little Italy Tree Lighting & Christmas Village

The Little Italy Association will close down India Street from W. Cedar to Hawthorn for Christmas celebration featuring horse and carriage rides, two Christmas trees, a holiday pop-up market, live music, kids’ arts and crafts, and visits with Santa. At 6:30 p.m. they will light the new 20-foot live tree at the new Piazza della Famiglia on W. Date and India Streets. And, Little Italy’s traditional 25-foot tower of over 1,000 poinsettias will be lit up for the whole evening in the center of Piazza Basilone. Saturday, December 1, from 4 — 8 p.m.

The Nutcracker Ballet at Balboa Park

The San Diego Civic Youth Ballet take guests on an extraordinary journey to the magical Land of the Sweets with Clara and her Nutcracker Prince. Performances take place at the Casa del Prado Theater in Balboa Park. Select dates and times between December 14 — 23.

San Diego Symphony Noel Noel (Family) Concert

The San Diego Symphony will perform their annual Noel Noel family concert at Copley Symphony Hall on Sunday, December 16 at 2 p.m.

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 (starting November 22), an elegant Victorian Tea, Holiday Ornament and Artwork, Sunday Brunch with Santa, or gather your friends and family for the new beachside Jingle Roast of s’mores with Santa hats.

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

Holidays by the Bay

The waterfront holiday adventure park is located in front of the Hilton San Diego Bayfront. Holidays by the Bay includes a 100-foot-long Reindeer Run Ice Slide, Iceberg Bumpers, cookie decorating, an hourly light show and more. Buy tickets online in advance. Open select nights from November 21 — January 25, from 5 — 11 p.m.

Tree Lighting At La Valencia in La Jolla

Starting November 27, the 7th annual Sea of Lights illuminates the La Valencia from top to bottom with millions of lights. On November 27 from 5:00—7 p.m., a tree lighting ceremony will be held in their La Sala Lounge with warm holiday beverages, homemade cookies, and crafts. The La Jolla Country Day School Madrigal Singers will perform at 5 p.m., and the countdown to the tree lighting will begin at 6 p.m., with live entertainment to follow. The actual tree lighting will be at 6 p.m. November 27 from 5 — 7 p.m.

Omni La Costa Resort and Spa

In addition to holiday activities for guests in residence, Omni La Costa Resort and Spa will host their annual Tree Lighting. The family-friendly event is full of food, caroling, and fun. Saturday, December 1 from 4 — 7 p.m.

5th Annual Olde Fashioned Christmas — Rancho Santa Fe

The 5th 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, a soup tasting, and pictures with Santa Claus. It’s a free event that is open to the public, with food and beverages available for purchase. Friday, November 30, from 5 — 10 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 décor 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.)

Cost is $35 for kids 3 and up and $45 for adults and includes breakfast and professional pictures. Saturdays, December 8 and 15 from 8:30 — 10 a.m.

Jungle Bells at the San Diego Zoo

The San Diego Zoo’s annual Jungle Bells celebration includes an opportunity to visit with Santa, colorful light displays, 4-D holiday experiences including a Polar Express train ride, and more in the evenings. November 21 — January 5.

See also: How to Buy Discounted Tickets to the San Diego Zoo

SeaWorld San Diego’s Christmas Celebration

This year SeaWorld San Diego’s Christmas Celebration features an all-new Live Nativity Musical, “O Wondrous Night” nightly, from November 17-January 6. Visit Santa’s Christmas Village filled with Christmas décor, bright lights, and meet Santa himself, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

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 in Santa’s Christmas Village. You can also have Breakfast with Killer Whales and Santa. All the festivities can be enjoyed among more than one million low-energy holiday lights throughout the park. Cost is included with admission. Saturday, November 17 — Friday, January 6 during park opening hours.

See also: How to Buy Discounted Tickets to SeaWorld San Diego

Holidays at LEGOLAND California

The world’s largest LEGO Christmas tree stands 30-feet tall and is constructed out of more than 245,000 forest green DUPLO® bricks. The entire resort will be decked out in holiday décor and more during Holidays at Legoland California. Events will include new shows and live entertainment, and meet-and-greets with LEGO characters in addition to special holiday treats and a Holiday Market on selected dates. November 17 — December 31, 2018

Tip: You can buy discounted, straight-to-the-gate LEGOLAND tickets through aRes

Balboa Park December Nights

Christmas Events in San Diego

Balboa Park December Nights is in its 41st consecutive year. It’s 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. Friday, December 7 and Saturday, December 8. Admission is free.

Birch Aquarium Holiday SEAson Seas ‘n’ Greetings

From December 1 to 31, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the Birch Aquarium celebrates Seas ‘n’ Greetings and is transformed into a winter wonderland, including appearances by scuba Santa, as well as crafts, music and more.

Garden of Lights — San Diego Botanic Garden

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), marshmallow roasting, mulled wine, and so much more. The nonmember cost is $18 for adults and $5 for children 3—12. December 1—23 and 26—30 from 5 — 8:30 p.m. 

Liberty Station’s Salute To The Season

Liberty Station’s annual Salute To The Season features several events throughout the month of December (and beyond).

November 30: Tree Lighting & Holiday Festivities from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tree lighting at 6:15 p.m.

November 17: Opening day of the Rady Children’s Ice Rink (more details below).

December 3: Hanukkah & Menorah Lighting, located next to the Rady Children’s Ice Rink.

December 7: The Friday Night Liberty Holiday Extravaganza from 5 p.m. — 9 p.m. features dance, theater and musical performances.

December 16: The Nutcracker Tea Party With Santa is from 3:30 — 5:30 p.m. and will feature an interactive performance of the Nutcracker and an afternoon tea.

December 26: A Free Day of Dance 

Polar Express Family Day at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum

The San Diego Model Railroad Museum in Balboa Park will be hosting a Polar Express Family Day on Saturday, December 15 from 11 a.m. — 3 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 Make-A-Wish San Diego.

Date: November 22, 2018 — January 1, 2019
Times: Check the website as they vary by the day.
Cost: $30 per person with free skate rentals

Viejas Ice Rink

The Viejas Outlets’ enormous outdoor rink is the largest outdoor rink in California. It’s even bigger than the one at Rockefeller Center in New York City.

Date: Through January 27
Times: Dates and times vary. Please check calendars at the link above.
Cost: $14 —$16

Rady Children’s Ice Rink

The Rady Children’s Ice Rink is located at Liberty Station. All proceeds from this event benefit the Peckham Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Rady Children’s

Dates: Saturday, November 17 — Sunday, January 6 (closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day)
Times: 10 a.m. — 10 p.m.
Cost: $13 —$15

Coronado Holiday Parade and Tree Lighting

At the 43rd annual Coronado Holiday Parade and Tree Lighting, watch the Holiday Parade (6 p.m.) and stroll Orange Avenue. Then watch the traditional lighting of a Christmas tree in Rotary Park. Friday, December 7, 2018, 6 p.m. Admission is free.

Santa By The Sea — Del Mar Village And Tree Lighting

This annual Del Mar Village Association event, Santa By The Sea, delights families with a dazzling tree lighting ceremony, pictures with Santa, carolers and arts and crafts. Complimentary admission. Sunday, December 2 from 3 — 5 p.m.; tree lighting happens at 5 p.m.

San Diego Bay Parade of Lights

The 46th annual San Diego Bay Parade of Lights features more than 80 private boats decorated with holiday lights and sailing along the waters of San Diego Bay. This year’s theme is Tropical Islands Christmas. 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. December 9 and 16 from 5 — 9 p.m. Fireworks follow the parade.

Oceanside Parade of Lights

Fishing boats, sailboats, 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. December 8 from 7 — 9 p.m.

Ocean Beach Holiday Parade

Attendees at the 39th annual Ocean Beach Holiday Parade will see marching bands, motorcycles, gorgeous floats, the VW Beetle club, classic Woodies and more cruise down Newport Avenue. December 1 at 5:05 — 7 p.m.

La Jolla Christmas Parade & Holiday Festival

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. Sunday, December 2 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 starting under the famous Gaslamp quarter Archway. You can still register to enter. The participation fee is $15 per pet if paid in advance, and $20 on the day of the parade. December 16,2018 at 12 p.m. — 5 p.m.

North Park Toyland Parade

The North Park Toyland Parade features melodious marching bands, upbeat dance groups, cool vintage cars, beauty queens, city officials and more. Santa will also make an appearance on a red fire engine. All-day parking available at the North Park garage for 41. Saturday, December 1 from 11 a.m. — 1 p.m.

La Mesa’s Holiday in the Village

The delightful downtown of La Mesa is transformed into a Victorian wonderland during its old-fashioned Holiday 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. December 7 and December 8, 2018.

Alpine Village Christmas Parade and Snow Festival

The village of Alpine celebrates the season with their 23rd annual Christmas Parade of Lights and Snow Festival, featuring a popular parade, a visit from Santa and his helpers, Christmas caroling and a snow mountain for sledding. The parade starts at 6:30 p.m. sharp with Santa riding down Alpine Blvd. Friday, December 7 from 6:30 p.m.

Old Town State Historic Park Celebrations

Watch the 68th annual Las Posadas, a centuries-old tradition in which actors re-enact the biblical journey of Mary and Joseph through the town of Bethlehem. Saturday, December 15, at 5 p.m.

Port of San Diego Holiday Bowl 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. Grandstand tickets are $22. December 31 at 10 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, theater performances, food, treats, crafts and more. A free shuttle is also available to and from the event, from two locations: the Poway City Hall parking lot, and the Poway Adult School parking lot. Saturday, December 8 from 3:30 p.m. — 8:30 p.m. Admission is free.

Take Pictures with Santa

If headed to one of San Diego’s 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: Ellingham Street and 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:

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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8 Comments

  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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