The Ultimate Guide to December Holiday Events in San Diego

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 2016 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.

Surfin’ Santa at Seaport Village

He arrives in November but this SoCal tradition is worth a mention. Donning boardshorts and his favorite Hawaiian shirt, Surfin’ Santa cruises into Seaport Village via speedboat and poses for free photos with visitors on his giant surfboard and six-foot wave. The free event also features a festive parade along the boardwalk, kids crafting activities, live street performers and holiday shopping at more than 50 unique, locally-owned shops and eateries throughout Seaport Village. And he’s not just a favorite among San Diegans – Surfin’ Santa was a finalist on TruTv’s “Santa’s in the Barn,” a competition to find America’s best Santa! Date and Time: Saturday, November 26 from 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 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, 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.

Get all of the details here: 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 their annual Gingerbread Festival and Tree Lighting on Saturday, December 3 from 4:00—7:00 p.m. The family-friendly event is full of food, caroling and fun. Omni La Costa is challenging local San Diego bakers and holiday enthusiasts to create over-the-top gingerbread houses for the chance to win prizes including a cash prize and donation to the Carlsbad Boys & Girls Club in their name, and a donation to a local classroom.

Winners will be announced on Saturday around 5:00pm, at the resort’s annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony, and the gingerbread houses will be displayed on property from November 26, 2016—December 30, 2016.

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 December 3 from 2:00 – 6:00 p.m.

During this timeframe, the resort will host California’s largest display of poinsettias in the Plaza and throughout the resort, in partnership with Dummen Orange.

3rd Annual Olde Fashioned Christmas

The 3rd 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. It’s a free event that is open to the public. Date: Friday, December 2 from 5:00 p.m.—9:00 p.m.

Teddy Bear Tea and More at Park Hyatt Aviara

Teddy Bear Tea at Lobby Lounge

Each Saturday and Sunday in December, Park Hyatt Aviara will offer an exceptional tea experience 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 $45 and $30 for children 12 and under (taxes and gratuity not included).

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

From December 17—20, adults and children are welcomed to join in the spirit of the holidays with the expert pastry team, as they cheerfully guide guests in a festive gingerbread decorating class. Classes are from 1:30 p.m.—3:30 p.m. daily and require reservations in advance.

Cape Rey Carlsbad Tree Lighting

Head over to Cape Rey Carlsbad for their 4th 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. Date and time: Thursday, December 1 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.) Dates and time: Saturdays, December 10 and 17 at 8:30am—10:00am. Cost $35 for kids 3 and up and $45 for adults. Includes breakfast and professional pictures. Right now, there is a wait list for both dates.

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. Dates and times: Weekends, December 3—4, December 10—11 from 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Cost is $19.99 for adults and $9.99 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. It’s also a chance to see the larger-than-life centennial animal puppets of “The Journey”—lit up and aglow for the holidays in celebration of the Zoo’s 100th birthday. Cost to enter is included with admission (see how to save on San Diego Zoo tickets). Dates and time: From December 2 – January 10 from 9:00 a.m.—8:00 p.m.

SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration

This year features Rudolph’s Christmastown filled with Christmas décor, bright lights, and vignettes from the movie that fill the town with visual imagery of your favorite characters and scenes from 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 Shamu 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. Dates: November 19 – January 1 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 2 and 3 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 3—23 and 26—30 from 5:00 p.m.—9:00 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 the Wish Kids served by Make-A-Wish San Diego.

Date: November 24 – January 2
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 29—January 29
Times: 5:00 p.m.—10:00 p.m.
Cost: $14—$16 ($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 17—January 8
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 3rd Annual Olde Fashioned Christmas (mentioned above).

Dates: December 2—January 2
Times: Hours vary
Cost: $15 – $18 including skate rentals, for a 3-hour session

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. – 7:00 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 (5:30 p.m.—9:00 p.m.). 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 2 from 2:00 p.m.—9:00 p.m. 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 arts and crafts. Executive Chef Nathan Lingle will be serving hot cocoa, savory bites and holiday cookies. Spa L’Auberge will offer a table – for both kids and adults – for writing letters to Santa. L’Auberge Del Mar invites the community to donate an unwrapped toy to Rady’s Children’s Hospital and the Ronald McDonald House of San Diego. Complimentary admission. Date and time: Sunday, December 4 from 3:00 p.m. – 5:00 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 80 private boats decorated with holiday lights and sailing along the waters of San Diego Bay. This year’s theme is It Began with a Roar—San Diego Zoo Celebrates 100 Years. 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 11 and 18 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. Date and time: Saturday, 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 pm above SeaWorld San Diego. Date and time: Saturday, December 10 at 6:00pm with fireworks at 9:00pm.

Ocean Beach Holiday Parade

The theme of this year’s Ocean Beach Holiday Parade is The Year of the Pier with Holiday Cheer – Celebrating 50 Years. 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 3 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 4 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. Date and time: Sunday, December 11 at 3:00pm.

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. The parade starts first from 11:00 a.m.—1:00 p.m. followed by a festival from 12:00 p.m.—3:00 p.m. Date and time: Saturday, December 3 from 11:00 a.m.—3:00 p.m.

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: December 10 from 10:00 a.m.—10:00 p.m.

Alpine Village Christmas Parade and Snow 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 2 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 p.m. 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 10 will feature the annual open house with treats and shopping. On December 11, watch the 66th 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 10—11. 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:  Tuesday, December 27 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 10 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:

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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