San Diego holiday and Christmas events in 2020 include popular annual activities that are modified to current health and safety measures, in addition to some new festive fun. They still include opportunities to see Santa, festive lights, Christmas tree lightings safely, and even get your annual dose of The Nutcracker.

I’ve listed 20 fun ways to celebrate Christmas in San Diego to choose from at San Diego hotels, theme parks, neighborhoods, and other venues around the county. Keep in mind that you should verify dates and times before you go in a rapidly-changing environment like the one we’re in now.

Note: Starting on roughly Monday, December 7, Southern California is in a regional stay at home order which means that many attractions will close for a minimum of three weeks. I’ve updated the ones who have formally announced closures. You can still get Christmas dinner in San Diego via take-out.

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.

1. Dr. Seuss’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas!

The Old Globe Theater is determined not to miss a season of the beloved annual performance of Dr. Seuss’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The whimsical musical is back, featuring favorite songs like “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and more. This year, the production can be heard on the radio for free.

Tune into KPBS Radio 89.5 FM, on the KPBS website and app, and on smart speakers on these dates and times:

  • Thursday, November 26 (Thanksgiving Day) at 12 p.m.
  • Saturday, December 5 at 12 p.m.
  • Sunday, December 20 at 12 p.m.
  • and Thursday, December 24 (Christmas Eve) at 6 p.m.

2. Little Italy Tree Virtual Lighting & Holiday Markets

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 from a prior year

The Little Italy San Diego tree lighting goes online this year, but you can still prepare for Christmas in San Diego by shopping at the weekly holiday market.

The Little Italy Holiday Special will stream via various platforms, details are still to be determined. It will be a 45-minute Hallmark-style event that will light the live 30′ tree at the center of Piazza della Famiglia on W. Date and India Streets.

Viewers will be treated to an Italian countdown by Father Joe Tabigue of Our Lady of the Rosary, a musical performance by Our Lady of the Rosary Choir in the church, a reading of Twas the Night Before Christmas by Santa & Mrs. Claus.

Instead of the usual Christmas Village, you can shop the weekly Holiday Market on Wednesdays in December from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. There will be some other fun events so keep an eye on their calendar for more holiday cheer.

The tree lighting will be streamed on December 5 from 5:30-6:15 p.m.


3. Where to See The Nutcracker in San Diego

The San Diego Ballet Company is presenting eight outdoor matinee performances of The Nutcracker Ballet on Friday, November 27 – Sunday, November 29 and Saturday, December 5 – Sunday, December 6. The outdoor, drive-in, pop-up auditorium will accommodate 30 parking spots per show. This event is currently sold out.

City Ballet dancers take guests on an extraordinary journey to the magical Land of the Sweets with Clara and her Nutcracker Prince a little differently this year — with a masquerade theme! You can watch the performance online, on-demand by renting it.

Take a virtual stage tour complete with narrated excerpts from The Nutcracker via Poway OnStage and Southern California Ballet Company.

On Saturday, December 19, you can watch a live performance of City Ballet’s The Nutcracker at Del Mar Fairgrounds from your car. Performances are at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. You will need to reserve your spot (and I’ll tell you more about the car experiences at the Fairgrounds below).


4. Holiday Events at Hotel del Coronado

There is always lots to do during the holiday season at the Hotel del Coronado. Sadly, the Skating by the Sea ice skating rink is on-pause for 2020 but you can still go to the resort for some San Diego Christmas events and fun.

In the rink’s place will be a Winter Wonderland with an enormous beachside tree. Due to the regional stay at home order, most of the planned events are canceled including opportunities to take photos with Santa from a proper distance, arts and crafts for kids, in addition to festive drinks and treats for the whole family. Also canceled are their line-up of holiday movies on the beach like Elf and private Jingle Roasts, a private bonfire your own fire pit on the beach where you can roast s’mores (and enjoy food and beverage items from a small menu, including adult beverages).

However you can still go shopping, order Christmas dinner to-go, and enjoy the Christmas tree.

Learn more in my round-up of things to do at Hotel del Coronado during the holidays. November 26 – December 31.


5. Omni La Costa Resort and Spa Christmas Day Brunch

In addition to fun holiday activities for guests in residence, you may order Christmas dinner from Omni La Costa Resort and Spa to cook at home with turkey, stuffing, and all of the fixings. A box serves four people. Order by December 17.


6. Jungle Bells at the San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo will temporarily close starting on December 7. The annual Jungle Bells at San Diego Zoo is a celebration that includes an opportunity to view colorful light displays and enjoy live performances such as a DJ, dancing elves, and other musical groups in the evenings. December 4-6, 11-23, 25-31, and January 1-3.

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7. SeaWorld San Diego’s Christmas Celebration

Elmo and friends hold presents in front of a Christmas tree.

SeaWorld San Diego will temporarily close starting on December 7. This year SeaWorld San Diego’s Christmas Celebration features a chance to decorate cookies with Santa, watch a shortened version of Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer, and take photos with favorite Sesame Street characters like Elmo in the Sesame Street Christmas Village. Families can go on treasure hunts and pick up treats along the Stocking Stuffer Christmas Trail. The rides are closed by outdoor exhibits, and shows are still running. Select dates between now and January 4, 2021, during park opening hours.

If you are going to attend, you REALLY should take advantage of the park’s Black Friday sale (now through November 30.

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


8. Holidays at LEGOLAND California

LEGOLAND California will temporarily close starting on December 7. Head over to LEGOLAND California for physically-distant meet-and-greets with holiday characters such as Santa, the Toy Solider, and Gingerbread Man. You’ll also see 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.

This popular San Diego Christmas event features seasonal treats, opportunities for kids to participate in LEGO builds, and live music performances. The rides are still closed, but you’ll need a special ticket. November 20 – 29, December 4-6.


9. Balboa Park December Nights

People enjoying Balboa Park at night in the plaza with its multiple wire Christmas trees during December nights.
December Nights in a normal year (Photo courtesy of Balboa Park)

Balboa Park December Nights is one of the most popular San Diego holiday events and has been modified for 2020. It will focus on 20 vendors and food trucks from past December Nights that will feature their most popular menu items. You’ll order and pick-up in a drive-thru setting in the Inspiration Point parking lot. Guests remain in cars but must have face coverings for interactions with vendors.

“Taste of December Nights” will happen Friday, December 4 – Sunday, December 6 from 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.


10. Birch Aquarium Holiday SEAson Seas ‘n’ Greetings

Birch Aquarium will temporarily close starting on December 7. From December 1 to 31, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Birch Aquarium celebrates Seas ‘n’ Greetings all happening outdoors with SEAsonal music and decor the whole family will love including a 12-foot-tall ocean-themed holiday tree, an 18-foot-tall inflatable octopus, and a life-sized cutout of Scuba Santa. The area is tented for winter weather but you can still enjoy the panoramic views from Tide Pool Plaza and Smargon Courtyard. All Seas ‘n Greetings activities are included with admission.


11. Garden of Lights – San Diego Botanic Garden

They can remain open as an outdoor recreation facility! The San Diego Botanic Garden lights up for the holidays after dusk, complete with new holiday lights and decor. The nonmember cost is $18 for adults and $5 for children 3–12. December 2-6, 9-13, 16-23, and 26-30 from 5 – 8:30 p.m. Indoor spaces and food sales will be closed


12. Liberty Station’s Salute the Season & Holiday Events

Liberty Station’s annual Salute the Season features several events throughout the holiday season. These include the aforementioned drive-in Nutcracker performance in addition to a festive art walk, Christmas tree photo opportunities, and much more.

There won’t be a Christmas tree lighting ceremony this year, but you can see Liberty Station’s decorated 88′ tree starting on Thanksgiving Day. It’s located directly behind Stone Brewing and ready for all of your photos.

You can also take a self-guided tour of the Salute the Season Art Walk featuring 12 installations inspired by the “Twelve Days of Christmas” carol. Find them throughout Liberty Station’s North and South Promenade.

If you snap photos with the installations and post them to social media with #SaluteTheSeason, you may win a chance to Zoom with Santa Claus. November 26 to Sunday, January 10.


13. 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 Claus, carolers, and arts and crafts. Complimentary admission. Sunday, December 6, from 3 – 5 p.m., tree lighting happens at 5 p.m.


14. La Jolla Christmas Parade & Holiday Festival

The La Jolla Christmas Parade is still scheduled with a Christmas at the Cove theme. Some virtual entertainment and lighting of the Christmas tree will happen in front of the Athenaeum. Details are still being ironed, but I did read that they may make the floats stationary while viewers drive by—stay tuned. Sunday, December 6 at 1:30 p.m.


15. 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. It will occur in a modified Craft Market format that has been approved by County and City officials with holiday music, craft vendors, a food court, and unique holiday photo stations on La Mesa Blvd. between. Palm Ave. & 4th street. December 5 from 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.


16. Poway’s Christmas in the Park

Poway’s Christmas in the Park is also modified this year. You will need to reserve your time. The annual tree lighting will be held via Facebook live on December 12 at 5:15 p.m., but you’ll be able to go to the park to drop off letters to Santa, pick-up some fun crafts, and safely visit Santa on some dates. December 5, 12, 19 from 8 a.m. – 1 p.m.


17. Holidays in Your Car

Take a festive drive through the Del Mar Fairgrounds, rain or shine, to look at some spectacular holiday light displays and decor set to Christmas music. You’ll see over a million lights on displays as tall as 40′. You can save on admission with a Groupon. December 5 – January 2, 2021.


18. Take Pictures with Santa at the Mall

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

For example, at Westfield UTC mall, you’ll find Santa starting on November 27 in a new location by Anthropologie. He’ll be ready for photo ops that will be taken a little further away this year.


19. Breakfast and Photos with Santa at Seaport Village

San Diego's Surfin' Santa looks through a telescope over the bay at Seaport Village.
Surfin’ Santa from a few years ago (Photo courtesy of Seaport Village)

You have two opportunities to see Santa at Seaport Village in downtown San Diego this year. First, he’ll be available for photos on select dates beginning November 21.

Surfin’ Santa’s typical arrival festivities have been canceled and sadly so was his planned breakfast at Eats by Sam. Guests would have enjoyed an exclusive breakfast menu by Sam “The Cooking Guy” in addition to photos with Surfin’ Santa, an interactive magic show with the Toy Soldier, live music, and goodie bags.


20. Holiday Trail at PETCO Park

Celebrate Christmas in San Diego at PETCO Park’s Holiday Market & Trail. It’s a safe, socially distanced, single-way market featuring local and European artisan shops, magical themed lighting displays, seasonal food and beverage, Santa, and other holiday characters. December 3 – 6 and 9 – 23 with daily time slots from 4 – 9:30 p.m.


21. Winter Wonder Beachside at Belmont Park

Kids at the holiday event last year (Photo courtesy of Belmont Park)

Yes, Belmont Park in San Diego is open and celebrating the holidays with larger-than-life holiday sculptures, photos with Santa, gift shopping, and more by the Pacific Ocean. The family event is called Winter Wonder and it’s also a good time to see new Go Kart track which has been decked out with lights, even if you can’t ride it. And on Friday nights, the Beach House was going to offer holiday movies and dinner, but this has been canceled.

Belmont Park is also hosting a toy drive benefitting Toys for Tots. Bring a new, unwrapped toy to Draft, Plunge Pool, or Mission Beach Rentals between December 1st-11th. For each donated toy, you will receive an awesome reward at the respective location, like a day pass to the Plunge, 25% your next visit to Draft, or “Rent One, Get One Free” at Mission Beach Rentals.

If you purchase a toy for this purpose at Geppetto’s you’ll receive a 10% discount at participating La Jolla, Old Town, and Fashion Valley stores.


22. Neighborhood Christmas Lights in San Diego

Take a drive through these neighborhoods to see houses decked out in lights beyond belief. While there are many Christmas lights in San Diego to enjoy, these are some of the most popular every year.

The key this year, I believe, is to enjoy the local holiday spirit by only driving by. During normal times, these displays can be crowded as visitors walk between the homes to admire them. This year, you will want to respect the space between you, the host homes, and other people viewing the lights. BYO hot chocolate and have a great time, thanks to these clever residents.

Candy Cane Lane (Poway)

Each house here is estimated to have over 50,000 holiday 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. Belardo Lights has blossomed into an annual tradition that San Diegans look forward to every winter. If it is raining, check the website to see if the lights will be off. They will spread Christmas cheer in 2020. 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

Jingle Bell Hill (El Cajon)

The residents of Pepper Drive in El Cajon also decorate for the holidays. Keep an eye out for the gingerbread house at the top of the hill. Location: Just off of Pepper Drive in El Cajon. Use the Lindenwood Drive entrance.

Christmas Circle (Chula Vista)

Lighted homes have been a constant annual event on this street for over 60 years. It started with military families stringing lights from tree to tree but has expanded into a much more ornate sight. Location: Whitney Street off Mankato between 1st and 2nd Ave (off H Street).


Outdoor Ice Skating Rinks in San Diego

Sadly, our chance to ice skate with loved ones is on pause in 2020. Normally, we look forward to Hotel del Coronado’s Skating by the Sea, the Viejas Ice Rink, and Rady Children’s Ice Rink at Liberty Station.

Fingers crossed that we’ll be able to ice skate under sunshine next year.


List of Canceled San Diego County Holiday Events

If you don’t see things listed above, it means that these annual activities have been canceled or information is to be determined. The list of officially canceled events and activities includes:

  • Hotel del Coronado Skating by the Sea
  • Viejas Ice Skating Rink
  • Rady Children’s Ice Rink at Liberty Station
  • Coronado Holiday Parade and Open House
  • Ocean Beach Holiday Parade (and chili cook-off)
  • San Diego Bay Parade of Lights (boat parade)
  • Holiday Bowl football game at SDCCU Stadium and Port of San Diego Holiday Bowl Parade (America’s largest balloon parade in downtown San Diego)
  • North Park Toyland Parade
  • Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade and Pet Expo

See also:

What are your favorite fun San Diego holiday activities? Please leave a comment with anything missing from this list! And, don’t forget that shortly after the winter holidays, that we have Lunar New Year San Diego events to look forward to.

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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!