The Ultimate Guide to San Diego Christmas Events (2017)

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 2017 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.

Table of Contents

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 23), 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. Also, not-to-be-missed is the hotel’s upside-down Christmas tree in the lobby. Call to book dining reservations.

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

“Miracle on Prospect Street” at La Valencia in La Jolla

Starting November 25, the 6th annual Sea of Lights illuminates the La Valencia from top to bottom with millions of lights. On Tuesday, November 28 from 5:00–7:00 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 5:00 p.m., and the countdown to the tree lighting will begin at 6:00 p.m., with live entertainment to follow. Tuesday, November 28 from 5:00–7:00 p.m.

Little Italy Tree Lighting & Christmas Village

The Little Italy Association will close down India Street from W. Cedar to Hawthorn for a 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 2, from 4:00–8:00 p.m.

Global Winter Wonderland

Global Winter Wonderland will make its first appearance in San Diego. It features the largest display of traditional Chinese lanterns outside of China, along with Cirque du Soleil-style Chinese acrobatics, over 35 carnival rides, games, international food and shopping. The event is held at SDCCU Stadium in Mission Valley (formerly Qualcomm Stadium). General admission is $22 for adults and $19 for children, with rides and other attractions extra. Some special ticket packages are also available at their website. November 19–January 7, daily from 4:30 p.m–10:00 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 6–17.

Winter Wonderland at the Maritime Museum of San Diego

The Maritime Museum of San Diego will host Winter Wonderland, featuring an synthetic ice rink, a Pirate Ship Bounce House & Slide and Photos with Santa. Skating on the synthetic ice rink is $12 for Adults, and $10 for children age 3-12. The Bounce House is $3 for children age 3-12. A photo with Santa is $12. Saturdays, December 10 and 17 from 4:00 p.m.–8:00 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 2 from 4:00—7:00 p.m.

4th Annual Olde Fashioned Christmas – Rancho Santa Fe

The 4th 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, December 1 from 5:00 p.m.—9:00 p.m.

Teddy Bear Tea (and More) at Park Hyatt Aviara

Teddy Bear Tea at Lobby Lounge

Go to Park Hyatt Aviara for an exceptional family tea experience with storytelling by the Peppermint Princess. Each child is asked to bring a teddy bear to be donated to the Ronald McDonald House at Rady Children’s Hospital. Price per adult is $50 and $35 for children 6–12 (taxes and gratuity not included). Saturdays and Sundays in December (starting December 3) from 11:00 a.m.–12:30 p.m.

Festival of Trees

In the true spirit of giving this holiday season, Park Hyatt Aviara’s annual Festival of Trees and Silent Auction will light up the elegant hotel lobby with dozens of trees lining the hallways. Guests and locals alike can bid on their favorite beautifully themed and professionally decorated tree where the proceeds will benefit The Semper Fi Fund, assisting local military and their families. The auction will be open for bids from November 24—December 27 in the lobby.

Roasted Chestnuts

From December 19–24, guests can enjoy a true Christmas experience with complimentary roasted chestnuts fresh from a cast iron pan. Available on the Front Drive from 5:00 p.m. until 8:00pm p.m.

Gingerbread Class

Adults and children are welcome to join in the spirit of the holidays with the expert pastry team, as they cheerfully guide guests in a festive gingerbread decorating class. ($60 per person.) Classes require reservations in advance. December 17–20 from 1:30 p.m.–3:30 p.m. daily

Cape Rey Carlsbad Tree Lighting

Head over to Cape Rey Carlsbad for their Annual Tree Lighting and Holiday Open House where there will be live music, photos with Santa, cookie decorating and crafts, a hot cocoa bar and festive bites and a local vendor market. Thursday, November 30 from 5:30 p.m.–8:00 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.) Cost is $35 for kids 3 and up and $50 for adults and includes breakfast and professional pictures. Saturdays, December 9 and 16 from 8:30am–10:00am.

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 crafts, face painting, hot cocoa station, cookie decorating, elf obstacle course, story with Santa and a number of animal encounters.  Register to attend online. Guests will also need to reserve a time to see Santa. Walk-ups welcome! Cost is $19.99 for adults and $9.99 for children. Weekends, December 2–3 and December 9–10 from 9:00 a.m.–2:30 p.m. 

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 zoo admission (see how to save on San Diego Zoo tickets). Thursday, December 8–Monday, January 1.

Tip: You can buy discounted, straight-to-the-gate San Diego Zoo tickets on aRes.

SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration

This year SeaWorld – San Diego’s Christmas Celebration features an all-new Live Nativity Musical, “O Wondrous Night.”  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 Orcas and Santa. All the festivities can be enjoyed amongst more than one million low-energy holiday lights throughout the park. Cost is include with admission. Saturday, November 18–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 decor and more during Holidays at Legoland California. Children can practice their belly laugh as the family poses for a photo with life-size LEGO Santa and his reindeer, then head over to the Fun Town stage to dance and sing along with The Yule Tides, Santa’s musical elves who deck all the halls with carols old and new. All new this year is a Winter Holiday Market during extended Park hours on Saturdays, December 9 and 16. Here, guests can enjoy authentic “German Christmas Market” inspired treats like traditional holiday breads, grilled sausages, giant Bavarian pretzels and more.

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 40th 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 1 from 3:00 p.m.–11:00 p.m. and Saturday, December 2, from 12:00 p.m.–11:00 p.m. Admission is free.

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 non-member cost is $15 for adults and $5 for children 3–12. December 2–23 and 26–30 from 5:00 p.m.–9:00 p.m. 

Ales N’ Rails and Polar Express Family Day at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum

The San Diego Model Railroad Museum in Balboa Park will be hosting an Ales N’ Rails Beer Tasting and Ugly Sweater party. Tickets are $25 in advance or $30 at the door. Friday, December 15 from 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

They will also host a Polar Express Family Day on featuring a special screening of the film. Saturday, December 9 from 11:00 a.m.–3:00 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 23 – January 1
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 28
Times: 5:00 p.m.—10:00 p.m.
Cost: $14—$16 ($2 discount for bringing your own skates)

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: November 25—January 7 (closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day)
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 4th Annual Olde Fashioned Christmas (mentioned above) on December 1.

Dates: December 1–January 1
Times: Monday–Friday from 3:30 p.m.–9:00 p.m.; Saturday–Sunday from noon–9:00 p.m.
Cost: Wristbands are purchased on-site

Coronado Holiday Parade and Open House

At the Coronado Holiday Parade and Open House, children can play in real snow on Snow Mountain (2:00 p.m.–7:00 p.m.) at the Coronado Ferry Landing and greet Santa Claus as he arrives to Coronado by ferryboat (3:20 p.m.). Watch the Holiday Parade (6:00 p.m.–7:00 p.m.) and stroll Orange Avenue. Then watch the traditional lighting of a 50-foot Christmas tree (7:00 p.m.) and free community concert in Rotary Park. Friday, December 1 from 2:00 p.m.–9:00 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 3 from 3:00 p.m.–5:00 p.m.; tree lighting happens at 5:00 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 Arrrgh!  A Pirate’s Christmas. 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. Sundays, December 10 and 17 from 5:00pm—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. Sunday, December 10 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 p.m. above SeaWorld San Diego. Saturday, December 9 at 6:00 p.m. with fireworks at 9:00 p.m.

Ocean Beach Holiday Parade

Attendees at the 38th annual Ocean Beach Holiday Parade will see marching bands, motorcycles, gorgeous floats, the VW Beetle club, classic Woodies and more cruise down Newport Avenue. Saturday, December 2 at 5:05 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 3 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. You can still register to enter. Participation fee is $15 per pet, if paid in advance, and $20 on the day of the parade. The best vantage points for the Pet Parade are along 4th & 5th Avenues between E and K Street from 3:00–3:45 p.m., apparently. Sunday, December 10 at 3:00 p.m.

North Park Toyland Parade & Festival

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 2 from 11:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m.

The Holiday Stroll on Cañon St. – Point Loma Village

A family-friendly block party will be held on the corner of Cañon Street and Rosecrans Street in Point Loma. Attendees who arrive early may catch Santa Claus arriving from the North Pole and entering the Wee Gather store there. Tickets for photos with Santa will be available for purchase. In addition to Santa, the block party offers: discounts at local sponsoring merchants, face painting, pop-up shops, and homemade peppermint coffee. Saturday, December 9 from 1:00 p.m.–4:00 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 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. Saturday, December 9 from 10:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m., and Sunday, December 10 from 10:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m.

Alpine Village Christmas Parade and Snow Festival

The village of Alpine celebrates the season with their 22nd 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 6:00 p.m. sharp with Santa riding down Alpine Blvd. Friday, December 1 from 6:00 p.m.–9:00 p.m.

Old Town State Historic Park Celebrations

 

Watch the 67th annual Las Posadas, a centuries-old tradition in which actors reenact the biblical journey of Mary and Joseph through the town of Bethlehem. Saturday December 9, at 5:00 p.m.

Holiday Bowl 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. Grandstand tickets are $22. Thursday, December 28 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. 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 9 from 3:30 p.m.–8:30 p.m. 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: 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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