San Diego holiday and Christmas events in 2021 include the return of popular annual activities in addition to some new festive fun. They include opportunities to see Santa, festive lights, Christmas tree lightings, and even get your yearly dose of The Nutcracker.

I’ve listed nearly 30 fun ways to celebrate Christmas in San Diego to choose from at San Diego hotelstheme parks, neighborhoods, and other venues around the county. Keep in mind that you should verify dates and times before you go.

You can save on tickets, tours, and hotels through my affiliations. If you make purchases through the links in this post, I may be compensated.

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 22nd season, featuring favorite songs like “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” and more. Buy tickets in advance. November 10 — December 29.

Little Italy Tree Lighting & Christmas Village

Crowds gather around the Little Italy Christmas tree at night as it's being lit for the first time.
Photo courtesy of Little Italy Association

The Little Italy Association will close down India Street from W. Cedar to Hawthorn for a Christmas celebration featuring horse-drawn carriage rides, a new custom-designed Christmas tree in Piazza Basilone with color-changing lights, a pop-up holiday market, live music, kids’ arts and crafts, and visits with Santa.

At 6:30 p.m., they will light a second Christmas tree, a new 25-foot live tree at the new Piazza della Famiglia on W. Date and India Streets.

Starting at 4 p.m., take the kids to “Santa’s Living Room” to take photos and chat with Santa.

India Street will be decked out in sparkling white lights throughout the season, in addition to 10-foot nutcrackers on street corners. Saturday, December 4, from 4 – 8 p.m.

The Nutcracker Ballet at Spreckels Theater

City Ballet dancers take guests on an extraordinary journey to the magical Land of the Sweets with Clara and her Nutcracker Prince. Performances take place at the Spreckels Theatre. 

  • December 22nd and 23rd, 2021, show times are 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Surfing Santa at Seaport Village

Surfin’ Santa returns to Seaport Village on Saturday, December 11th for a morning of merriment at Samburgers! The ticketed event includes meet-and-greets with Surfin’ Santa, breakfast and bevies from Sam ‘The Cooking Guy’ Zion, family-friendly performances, goodie bags, and more. Priced at $25 per person, reservations are available for groups of 2 to 6. Saturday, December 11, from 9 – 11 a.m.

You can also stop by Santa’s Workshop, located next to Geppetto’s, to take photos with Santa. The cost is $40 for a flash drive with captured photos. Check Santa’s schedule before you go. No appointments are necessary.

San Diego Symphony Noel Noel Family Concert

The San Diego Symphony will perform their annual Noel Noel family concert at the Rady’s Shell, decked out with boughs of holly and sparkling lights.

  • December 10, 2021 5 p.m.
  • December 11, 2021 5 p.m.
  • December 12, 2021 5 p.m.

Holidays at Hotel del Coronado

The Hotel Del Coronado offers some of the best holiday events in San Diego from Skating by the Sea to Victorian tea.

There is always lots to do during the holiday season at the Hotel del Coronado.

Happenings include a lively 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. November 22 – January 5.

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

Holidays at The Grand

Come to Fairmont Grand Del Mar for Holidays at The Grand, a festive event with memorable dining experiences, a 30′ Christmas tree, tea with Santa, s’mores, and much more for residents and hotel guests. November 24 – January 1.

See also: Where to Have Christmas Dinner in San Diego

Holiday by the Bay

Hilton San Diego Bayfront hosts Holiday by the Bay with events that include an oversized Christmas tree with nightly light shows on the Bayfront Pier, holiday movie nights on Fridays and Saturdays, Sunday breakfasts with Santa, and more from November 25 – December 31.

Tree Lighting at La Valencia in La Jolla

A tree lighting ceremony will be held at La Valencia in their La Sala Lounge with warm holiday beverages, homemade cookies, and crafts for kids. Thursday, December 2 at 4:30 p.m.

Virtual Santa Visit at Neiman Marcus

Santa can’t wait to see you! Neiman Marcus will be hosting a Virtual Santa visit. Appointments are available beginning November 26, 2021, at 3 p.m. until December 24, 2021, at 6 p.m. and are based on availability, so book yours early.

Jungle Bells at the San Diego Zoo

The annual Jungle Bells at San Diego Zoo is a celebration that includes an opportunity to visit Santa, colorful light displays, 4-D holiday experiences including a Polar Express train ride, and more in the evenings. December 10 – December 23, December 25 – January 2.

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

SeaWorld San Diego’s Christmas Celebration

Rudolph and friends in front of holiday decor at SeaWorld San Diego's Christmas Celebration.
Photo courtesy of SeaWorld San Diego

This year SeaWorld San Diego’s Christmas Celebration features an all-new Santa’s Circus acrobatic show and a new Elmo’s Christmas Wish show in addition to “snowfall” on select dates. Visit Rudolph’s Christmastown and Sesame Street® Christmas Village to meet favorite characters.

In addition to the special holiday-themed animal shows, the park will be brimming with yuletide cheer, and you can even take photos with Santa Claus.

You can also have brunch with Elmo and enjoy various upgrades to your day. All the festivities can be enjoyed among more than one million low-energy holiday lights throughout the park. Now – January 2 during park opening hours.

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

Holidays at LEGOLAND California

Kids stand next to LEGO Santa in front of the LEGO Christmas tree at night.
Photo courtesy of LEGOLAND California Resort

The world’s largest LEGO Christmas tree stands 30-feet tall and is constructed out of more than 245,000 forest green DUPLO® bricks and has 400 LEGO ornaments. The entire resort will be decked out in holiday décor and more during Holidays at LEGOLAND California.

Fun Town transforms into a winter wonderland with LEGO Christmas characters like life-size LEGO models of Santa and his reindeer. Events will include live entertainment and “snowfall.”

Also, don’t forget about Kids’ New Year’s Eve, where the LEGO ball drops at 6 p.m. Now – January 9

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

Balboa Park’s Taste of December Nights

People enjoying Balboa Park at night in the plaza with its multiple wire Christmas trees during December nights.
Photo courtesy of Balboa Park

This year, Balboa Park December Nights will take place as a three-day event called “Taste of December Nights.” It’s a three-day holiday celebration of food, entertainment, and fun. 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 3 through Sunday, December 5 from 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. Admission is free.

Birch Aquarium Holiday SEAson Seas ‘n’ Greetings

From December 1 to 31, from 9 a.m. t– 5 p.m., Birch Aquarium celebrates Seas’ n’ Greetings. It is transformed into a winter wonderland, including appearances by Scuba Santa, crafts, music, and more.

Garden of Lights – San Diego Botanic Garden

Photo courtesy of San Diego Botanic Garden

The San Diego Botanic Garden lights up for the holidays with a Botanic Wonderland 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 4 – 5, 10 – 23, 26 – 30.

Liberty Station’s Salute the Season

People ice skating at Liberty Station on a sunny day.
Photo courtesy of Liberty Station

Liberty Station’s annual Salute the Season features several events throughout the holiday season.

Salute the Season events include The Nutcracker Tea Party and Rady Children’s Ice Rink at Liberty Station. Ice skating net proceeds benefit the Thriving After Cancer program in the Rady Children’s Hospital’s Peckham Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders.

Outdoor Ice Skating Rinks in San Diego

Hotel Del Coronado’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, 2021 — January 2, 2022
Times: Check the website as they vary by the day.
Cost: $35 per person with free skate rentals online

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 2, 2022
Times: Dates and times vary. Please check calendars at the link above.
Cost: $18 – $20

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 18 – January 9, 2022 (closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day)
Times: 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Cost: $10 – $15

Coronado Holiday Parade and Open House + Santa

First, Santa arrives at the Ferry Landing at 3:20 p.m., where there will be a snow mountain for all to enjoy.

Then, at the 46th annual Coronado Holiday Parade and Open House, watch the Holiday Parade (6 p.m.) and stroll Orange Avenue. Then watch the traditional lighting of a Christmas tree in Rotary Park at 7 p.m. Friday, December 3. Admission is free.

North Pole by the Sea — Del Mar Village And Tree Lighting

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

San Diego Bay Parade of Lights

The 50th 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 Twelve Days of Christmas.

The Coronado Island Marriott Resort and Coronado Ferry Landing (a charming collection of gift shops, art galleries, and restaurants) offer excellent shore viewing. Sundays, December 12 and 19 from 5:30 – 9 p.m. 

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. Saturday, December 11 from 7 – 9 p.m.

Ocean Beach Holiday Parade

Attendees at the 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 4 at 5:05 – 9 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. This year’s theme is “Spirit of La Jolla” – Celebrating our Hometown Heroes.

The Holiday Festival with entertainment and photos with Santa occurs before the parade in front of the Athenaeum from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. The parade starts at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, December 5.

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 typically round out the traditional holiday fun (details are still forming). Saturday, December 4 from 12 – 9 p.m.

Port of San Diego Holiday Bowl Parade

Big balloons (panda, toy soldier, ice cream cones) wait to head out into the balloon parade.
Flickr/Port of San Diego

It’s the country’s largest balloon parade! Floats, balloons, and marching bands are just some of the offerings in this colorful holiday parade along San Diego Bay in downtown San Diego. Grandstand tickets are $25. Tuesday, December 28 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 the Poway City Hall parking lot and the Poway Adult School parking lot. Saturday, December 11, from 3:30 – 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 in San Diego County

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

Candy Cane Lane (Poway)

It’s a cul-de-sac themed like the North Pole. Each house here is estimated to have over 50,000 lights. 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! And, don’t forget that we have Lunar New Year San Diego events to look forward to shortly after the winter holidays.

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8 Comments

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

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

  3. 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

  4. 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.

  5. 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!