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.
Update: Due to the current restrictions, some of the events have been canceled or offer limited accessibility. Please check with the event organizers for the latest updates. We try to keep this page as updated as possible.
Surfin’ Santa Arrival
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.
You can also book tickets for a breakfast with Santa with live music, (socially distanced) photos with Santa, breakfast treats, holiday drinks, and a goodie bag for the kiddos. Get your tickets here>>
Balboa Park December Nights
Update: 2020 San Diego December Nights Event has been changed to a drive-through event. Read all the details here>>
This is possibly one of my favorite activities during the holidays. December Nights is a two-night event, December 6th, and 7th, where you get to go down to Balboa Park and explore the museums for free and enjoy Christmas in San Diego.
Museum tours and entrance are available from 5 pm to 9 pm on both nights. The festival lasts from 3 pm to 11 pm on the 6th and noon to 11 pm on the 7th. You can walk around and enjoy multicultural cuisines and a lot of Christmas activities. It puts me in the spirit every year.
San Diego Bay Parade of Lights
Update: Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the 2020 Bay Parade of Lights has been canceled. However, if you don’t want to miss out, you can go to Newport Beach for their Holiday Boat Parade of Lights. Book your tickets here>> And if you want to experience it from the water, you can even do a Holiday Lights Cruise!
This is a great San Diego Holidays tradition. 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 13, 2020 and December 20, 2020. The route goes as follows:
Shelter Island (5 PM)
Harbor Island (5:30 PM)
Embarcadero (6 PM)
Seaport Village (6:30 PM)
Cesar Chavez Park Pier (6:45 PM)
Coronado Ferry Landing (7 PM)
Less crowded spots are usually Coronado Centennial Park and South Embarcadero. Parking is limited, so get there early or take an a shared ride.
Del Mar Drive-Through Holiday Lights
This is the perfect Holiday event for the whole family. Right on the Del Mar Fair Grounds, you can drive through a Holiday Wonderland. Beautiful decorations, lights, and Christmas 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>>
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: While the tree lighting event itself has been canceled this year, you can still go and admire the 88 ft tall Christmas tree at Liberty station starting Thanksgiving Day. This is the perfect Photo opportunity for your Holiday cards!
Drive-in Nutcracker Ballet: Since all indoor performances have been canceled, the San Diego Ballet is offering this year’s rendition of the Nutcracker as a Drive-In experience. Tickets start at $139/car. Get your tickets here>>
Salute the Season Art Walk: This art installation can be visited between November 26 to January 10 and features local artists sharing their interpretation of the 12 Days of Christmas. Read more here>>
Rady Children’s Ice Rink: While Rady Children’s Hospital decided to not open their famous outdoor fundraising ice rink this year, you can still donate if you wish. Read more here>>
Julian Country Christmas Tree Lighting
If you’re like me then you may be jonesing for something on the humble side, the Charlie Brown Christmas side. From 2 pm to 7 pm on November 30th, 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.
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.
Annual Mother Goose Parade
I like to think of this as the kick-off to the holiday season. Once a year for two hours, Downtown El Cajon turns into an annual celebration. 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.
In 2020, the parade will be held on November 22th from 1 pm to 3 pm. Bring your kids to watch the brilliant animation, kind equestrians, and awe-striking performing artists.
SoNo Fest & Chili Cook-Off
San Diego loves to highlight the local shops around town. So on December 1st, South and North Park 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 and measly $20.
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 1st. You can either bring your own chili bowl and get 5 tastings for $15 or get a novelty bowl and 5 tastings for $20. Just head down to Thorn and 32nd street at 11 am!
Annual Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade
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 $15 per pet before the event or $20 per pet on the day of. The parade kicks off on December 15, 2019, at 2 pm. It doesn’t stop there! The pet expo lasts from 12 pm to 5 pm so you can really see all the wonderful pets out there.
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!
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 20 years. The whimsical musical begins, this year, on November 10th and the last performance is on December 29th.
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.
Holiday By the Bay
Down by the San Diego Bay and right next to the Convention Center is the Hilton Bayfront Hotel. I only know about this because I worked there in the winter of 2018. Just outside of the hotel, they meticulously build this miniature theme park from November to January.
In the theme park, there is this magnificent ice tube slide that as by far my favorite thing. Before every shift, we got to test it out and we zoomed down the slide. It was so much fun! We also had these really neat bumper cars and a mechanical bull that was really hard to stay on but still super thrilling.
On top of the rides, on some nights we had live music but there was a lounge nearby the slide that served holiday cocktails by a fire pit.
Tips and Tricks for this San Diego Christmas Activity:
- Don’t eat the BBQ there, it’s not good and there are hundreds of amazing restaurants closeby in the Gaslamp
- Make sure you check the bottom of your tube once you’re off the slide so you don’t lose anything.
- Reserve a spot at the lounge because it’s popular and bring marshmallows!
- Look out for concerts because in 2018 we had celebrity appearances
- Don’t go on the tube slide while intoxicated, that’s super dangerous
- Don’t let small baby children go down the slide, they usually fall off
- PLEASE LISTEN TO THE INSTRUCTIONS YOU ARE TOLD IT IS FOR YOUR SAFETY
Jungle Bells at the San Diego Zoo
For my zoo lovers out there, the #1 zoo in the world, the San Diego Zoo, holds their annual Jungle Bells fest from December 13th to January 5th. 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
Polar Bear Tea Party
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 with the polar bears.
The tea party is held on December 20th of 2019 at the historic Hotel Del Coronado. Tickets are $65 for adults and $35 for children. Honestly, it’s worth it for the whimsical activity of sipping tea with polar bears (not actual polar bears).
Ice Skating On the Beach
Update: Unfortunately, the Hotel Del Coronado decided to not set up the ice skating rink this year due to social distancing rules. Hopefully, we can enjoy it again in 2021.
Among the San Diego Christmas activities, what’s more memorable than ice skating? It’s also at the Hotel Del Coronado from November 22nd to January 5th. 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 of snacks by the fireside. Tickets cost $30/person online and $35/person at the rink. If you have a military discount then you can get a discount! You can reserve and 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 December 6, 2020 by Maria Haase