Christmas in San Diego is a wonderful time of year where the good in even the worst people come out. There are a lot of San Diego Christmas events that will keep you busy during the holiday season. Yes, San Diego does not give you a winter wonderland-y Christmas, but it is definitely fun.
Christmas in San Diego is brimming with a festive spirit! From Surfin’ Santas to Ice Skating on the Beach, this San Diego Holidays Guide will show you to best things to do for Christmas in San Diego.
You wouldn’t think a tropical feeling town like San Diego gets into the traditional Christmas spirit but that’s not really the case. Christmas in San Diego is full of the holly jolly spirit as we go all out every year. San Diego is an expensive city to live in, I won’t lie. But there are some awesome free activities you can go to during the holidays. The city wants its residents and visitors to enjoy the holidays. As I said, Christmas is a time where people want to give back.
Restaurants create specials, parades are held, and special events come to town for the season. Like all the other big holidays, San Diego takes pride in going all out. Being born and raised in San Diego, it’s only fair that I tell you about all the fun San Diego Christmas events.
Important: Please note that we are currently updating this guide with the 2023 updated information as it is released.
Holiday Bowl & Parade
December 27, 2023
THE biggest Holiday event in San Diego is Holiday Bowl, a tradition upheld since 1978. Of course, there is the game, but then there are lots of other fun events, such as the Port of San Diego Holiday Bowl parade, which draws over 100,000 spectators each year. Get Tickets here>>
Surfin’ Santa Arrival
2023 dates TBD
Who goes to San Diego and doesn’t at least consider visiting the beach? Well, Santa makes his grand entrance on a surfboard in his best SoCal threads. Not only does Santa come to Seaport Village but there’s also a big parade with live street performers and booths from local shops.
This year, there are some special precautions and you can take pictures of a mural of Surfin Santa instead. Get your pictures with Santa as he brings a San Diego Christmas.
Breakfast with Surfin’ Santa is back at Seaport Village! Hosted by Seaport Village and Grain & Grit Collective, families can join us for a delicious breakfast. Tickets are $25/person and include breakfast, fun holiday festivities, photos with Surfin’ Santa, and a holiday goodie bag. Learn more and purchase tickets here>>
Balboa Park December Nights
December 1-2, 2023
This is possibly one of my favorite activities during the holidays. December Nights is a two-night event, December 1st & 2nd 2023, where you get to go down to Balboa Park and explore the museums for free and enjoy Christmas in San Diego. Enjoy Balboa Park in its festive decor as you walk and mingle, enjoy the lights, foods, booths, and museums.
Museum tours and entrance are available from 5 pm to 9 pm on both nights. You can walk around and enjoy multicultural cuisines and a lot of Christmas activities. It puts me in the spirit every year. Read our full post on Balboa Park December Nights here>>
San Diego Bay Parade of Lights
December 10, 2023 & December 17, 2023
This is a great San Diego Holidays tradition and has delighted San Diegans for 53 Holidays so far. The theme this year, “Christmas Traditions Around The World“, should bring some colorful and fun boat decorations. Head down and watch the San Diego Parade of Lights go by along the Bay. The event lasts about 1-1.5 hours and is a great holiday event for the whole family. This year’s dates are Sunday, December 10, 2023 and December 17, 2023. The route goes as follows:
Less crowded spots are usually Coronado Centennial Park and South Embarcadero. Parking is limited, so get there early or take a shared ride.
If you are in North County, the Newport Beach Holiday Boat Parade of Lights might be a great option for you as well. Book your tickets here>> And if you want to experience it from the water, you can even do a Holiday Lights Cruise!
Del Mar Snow’n’Glow
2023 Dates TBD
This is the perfect Holiday event for the whole family. Right on the Del Mar Fair Grounds, you can enjoy snow-tubing, walk through a Holiday Wonderland of lights and even rent your own Igloo. Beautiful decorations, lights, and Holiday Carols will put you in the Holiday spirit.
Get your tickets here>>
Check Out the Christmas Lights in San Diego
Take your family for a drive around town and check out some of the beautiful Christmas Lights in San Diego. One of our favorite traditions is visiting both venues and neighborhoods that put their time and their hearts into stringing Christmas lights. Read our full guide on the best places to see the Christmas Lights in San Diego>>
Holiday Market at Petco Park
2023 Dates TBD
This downtown Holiday Market is the closest thing San Diego has to a European-style Christmas Market. You will find booths, Holiday decorations, gifts and trinkets, food stalls with delicious treats, and lots of photo ops at Gallagher Square at Petco Park.
We liked the lights and decor, as well as some of the booths, but to be honest, it was too commercialized for us. Read our full review here>>
Liberty Station Tree Lighting and other Holiday Events
Liberty Station has quite a few Christmas events going on this year. Their Salute the Seasons event schedule is fun for kids and adults alike. Here is what you can enjoy:
Liberty Station Tree Lighting – 2023 Dates TBD: Go between 5 PM – 9 PM and admire the 88 ft tall Christmas tree at Liberty station and join the crowds to uhh and ahh as the lights come on. This is the perfect Photo opportunity for your Holiday cards!
Hanukkah & Menora Lighting – 2023 Dates TBD: On the first day of Hanukkah, you can watch the lighting of the Menora at Liberty Station at 5 PM.
Nutcracker Ballet – 2023 Dates TBD: This family-friendly event is a Holiday classic, so put it on your calendar!
Rady Children’s Ice Rink – 2023 Dates TBD: The famous outdoor fundraising ice rink is a San Diego institution and a favorite for skaters of all ages. This year, the proceeds go to the Thriving after Cancer Program. The Ice Rink is open daily.
Julian Country Christmas Tree Lighting
Julian is a little north of San Diego but you’re still close enough for a little day trip. Being in the mountains, you’ll feel Jack Frost nipping at your nose, smell the fires burning in their places, and perhaps some pine mingling with the spices of apple pie. Take pictures with Santa, enjoy the live performances, tree lighting, and maybe try some of that pie.
Julian Tree Lighting – 2023 Dates TBD: If you’re like me then you may be jonesing for something on the humble side, the Charlie Brown Christmas side. You and your loved ones can go up to Julian for the Christmas tree lighting. They have a real old-fashioned cozy way of celebrating the holidays.
Country Christmas Parade – 2023 Dates TBD: Starting at 5:30 PM, a cheery and joyful Holiday parade in Julian gives you all the Hallmark Christmas movie vibes you need during the Holiday season.
La Jolla Christmas Parade & Holiday Festival
December 3, 2023
Join the 66th La Jolla Christmas Parade & Holiday Festival with the motto “Grand Ol’ Christmas”. The Holiday Festival kicks off at 11:30 AM, and the Parade starts at 1:30 PM and goes down Girard and then turns left on Prospect.
Encinitas Botanical Garden Lightscape
November 17, 2023 – January 1, 2024
Stroll through the beautifully decorated gardens at night as they are illuminated by over 1 Million sparkling lights. Warm up with some hot chocolate and roasted marshmallows. This is a popular event, so make sure to get tickets soon!
Annual Mother Goose Parade
2023 Dates TBD
I like to think of this as the kick-off to the holiday season. Once a year, since 1947, Downtown El Cajon has turned into an annual celebration of the upcoming Holiday season. Like a miniature Thanksgiving Day Parade. People from all over the US come to build extravagant floats and put on amazing shows to celebrate the season.
SoNo Fest & Chili Cook-Off
December 3, 2023
San Diego loves to highlight the local shops around town. So on December 3th, South and North Park will hold a festival celebrating over 30 local restaurants in a huge chili cook-off. You can walk around for free, but to really indulge in the tastings, you’ll have to pay $25 (get tickets here). Proceeds go to the local Elementary School.
You can eat loads of chili and sip on wine and craft beer while you listen to music and window shop all day on December 5th.
Annual Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade
December 16, 2023
What better way to celebrate the holiday season than to see a bunch of adorable animals dressed up and parading around town? Every year in the beautiful Gaslamp District, people create homemade floats and cute vehicles to parade their pets around in.
It’s free to view the spectacular pet parade but if you feel like your pet is worthy of that kind of attention, then you can pay to enter.
Of course, there are competitions and prizes up for grabs! Enter your pet to win the best ugly sweater, the best costume, best in the show, best-costumed duo, and best float. Unfortunately, livestock is not eligible to enter but bring Fido and catto!
Free is always awesome, however, sometimes you have to spend a few dollars to have a butt load of fun. It happens. Christmas in San Diego is a magical thing. You can get the magical feeling of the holidays even in this tropical town. For a few dollars, you can make the most out of the season!
Holidays at the Harbor – Dana Point
2023 Dates TBD
If you are looking for a fun Holiday day trip, put Dana Point Harbor on your list. The Christmas Lights displays, Holiday harbor cruises, Christmas caroling, and fun Santa events for the kids will make it a memorable event for the whole family. Read our full review here>>
Encinitas Holiday Parade
December 2, 2023 5:30 PM
This year’s Holiday Parade Theme is “Classic Encinitas” and will take you down memory lane as the floats pass by on Highway 101 between D Street and J Street. Don’t miss out on the Encinitas Tree Lighting Ceremony at 5 PM at the Lumberyard Shops courtyard.
San Marcos Holiday Market
December 3, 2023
The beloved open-air market returns to North City on Sunday, December 3, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Shop for holiday gifts, decorations, pre-packaged food and treats, and indulge in a variety of delicious hot food from over 100 local artisans and crafters. The fun doesn’t stop there, take the little ones over to the kid’s zone while you delight in some cheerful live music. This event is for everyone to enjoy and even Santa Claus will be paying a special visit.
The Holiday Market is located at 251 North City Drive, off Hwy 78 and Twin Oaks Valley Road.
Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas
An iconic story gets told at the famous Old Globe Theater. It has been a San Diego tradition for over 26 years.
Showtimes vary, however they are recurring Tuesdays through Sundays. Tickets really aren’t that much if you aren’t picky about your seat. It’s really a great show that’ll set the mood for the season.
Jungle Bells at the San Diego Zoo
2023 Dates TBD
For my zoo lovers out there, the #1 zoo in the world, the San Diego Zoo, holds its annual Jungle Bells fest every December. Lights and decorations are everywhere and the air around the park feels so holly jolly.
While there are festive animal feedings and talks, there is also a live performance of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas with dances and music. You can purchase tickets on-site, online, or get the Go San Diego Pass here.
Groupon always has great deals on Zoo Tickets: Buy Your Zoo Tickets Here
Victorian Tea Party at Hotel Del Coronado
2023 Dates TBD
It wouldn’t be the holidays if you didn’t get in touch with your inner child, at least for me. There is just something about whimsical activities that really get me in the mood for Christmas. If you have some kiddos or you want to feel like a kid, I recommend heading down to the Hotel Del Coronado and having some tea like a Princess.
The tea party is held in December at the historic Hotel Del Coronado. Honestly, it’s worth it for the whimsical activity of sipping tea, eating crumpets and cucumber sandwiches.
Ice Skating On the Beach
November 17, 2023 – January 7, 2024
Among the San Diego Christmas activities, what’s more memorable than ice skating? It’s also at the Hotel Del Coronado from November 17th to January 7th, 2024. The times it’s open varies depending on the upcoming holiday. However, on average, it is open at least 6 hours on a normal day and around 2 plus hours on some holidays.
Visitors can skate by the sea and, if they so choose, reserve a lounge spot just outside the arena to relax and maybe sip on cocktails or munch on snacks by the fireside. Tickets cost $30 per person online and $35 per person at the rink. If you have a military discount then you can get a discount! You can reserve a Frostbite spot in the lounge online and bask in the luxury.
The holidays can be a magical time, and if you play your cards right, you can create loads of memories for your Christmas in San Diego. I like to think that it’s never about where you are, but about the memories you create there, so why not make the season especially memorable?
Christmas in San Diego – The Ultimate San Diego Holidays Guide – Pin for Later
A Guide to a Holly Jolly Christmas in San Diego was written and edited by Hedge Metreyeon. For more San Diego Explorer posts, check out our homepage. For more of their articles visit here. Follow them on social media here.
Last Updated on September 19, 2023 by Maria Haase