Holiday Events & Activities in San Diego

Although we’re short of snow, San Diego does not shy away from holiday festivities. If you’re searching for ideas to help you get in the holiday spirit, here are just some of the fantastic holiday events in San Diego this year.

December Nights

Definitely my favorite holiday event in San Diego and located in beautiful, historic Balboa Park is December Nights—formerly known as Christmas on the Prado. This culinary and cultural festival invites you to enjoy flavors and artistry from around the world, free access to select museums, performances from local choirs and dance companies, and so much more! Head over to the International Houses to sample their specialties or take a seat in the Organ Pavilion and listen to holiday classics. The City of San Diego’s largest free holiday festival is a two-day event on Friday, December 2nd, from 3 pm to 11 pm, and on Saturday, December 3rd, from 11 am to 11 pm. You won’t want to miss this!

december nights

Courtesy of 10News

Holiday Plays and Music

These holiday productions are a new tradition waiting to happen! Buy tickets online or at the box office in advance to secure your event.

Rady Shell Jacobs Park

Noel Noel is a holiday favorite, combining San Diego’s Master Chorale, Children’s Choir and Symphony Orchestra to bring you a heart-warming holiday experience. The concert runs December 9th-11th, nightly at 7 pm.       

The Old Globe in Balboa Park

Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas! runs from November 9th until December 31st at The Old Globe. Take a photo in front of the Seuss-ical holiday tree outside the theater as a keepsake. The A Christmas Carol parody, Ebenezer Scrooge’s BIG San Diego Christmas Show, is also running from December 18th to the 24th.

Old Town’s Cygnet Theater

There isn’t a bad seat in the house at this theater! Catch A Christmas Carol running November 22nd – December 24th. Low-priced preview dates are the week of Thanksgiving.

Old Globe play

Courtesy of The Old Globe

Jungle Bells at the San Diego Zoo & Wild Holidays at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Winter is back for the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance! Don’t miss the awe-inspiring Aurora 3-D light show at the San Diego Zoo’s Jungle Bells. Additionally, Jungle Bells and the Safari Park’s Wild Holidays offer live music, entertainment, and holiday décor. Admission to the park varies but if you’re a resident, the annual membership to the Wildlife Alliance is the way to go!

Indoor and Outdoor Ice Skating

If you are anything like me, a trip to the ice rink in the winter is a must! The rinks can get busy so plan ahead and make reservations when possible. Don’t forget that cup of hot cocoa or mulled apple cider to warm yourself up when you’re done!

Rady Children’s Ice Rink at Arts District

Open between November 17th and January 8th, 10 am-10 pm—with the exception of Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day—the Rady Children’s Ice Rink is an outdoor pop-up in Liberty Station. Check out their site for special happenings and passes. Tickets run $10-$15.

Skating By the Sea (Holiday Family Style Gondola Cruises)

Open between November 17th and January 1st, including holidays, this outdoor rink is beachside at the Hotel del Coronado. All holiday events must be purchased and reserved in advance. Times vary and tickets run $35-40.

Make it an extra special day by taking a group and book a holiday family-style gondola cruise too! The Gondola Company cruises run $510-$560 per boat and can fit up to thirteen people.

UTC Ice Sports Center

Open year-round, the rink hosts hockey and figure skating practices, private events, and public sessions. General admission runs $25, with a $5 discount if purchased in advance online. Or get an annual pass for $299.

Viejas Outlet Center Ice Rink

Southern California’s largest, outdoor ice-skating rink returns on November 4th! Make sure to get your skate on during a day of outlet shopping for holiday gifts. 90-minute sessions run $18-$20 or $99 for a holiday season pass.

ice skating

Courtesy of Hotel del Coronado

Holiday Parades and Tree Lightings

There are many parades and tree lightings in southern California, however, there are a few notable ones that stick out. These events are free for the family but make sure you either get there early or order a ride share since parking will be in short supply.

Little Italy Tree Lighting & Christmas Village

Two Christmas trees?? That’s right, the annual Little Italy Tree Lighting and Christmas Village feature Joshua Hubert’s Aurora tree and a 25-foot tall, in-ground Christmas tree, the latter of which is the focal point of the 6:30 pm traditional Italian tree lighting, on December 3rd. If we’re shopping for unique holiday gifts, head over to India Street between W Cedar and W Grape streets for a Christmas Village that offers all sorts of seasonal goodies. Take the family and enjoy the live entertainment and Santa Claus, too!

Liberty Station Tree Lighting & Holiday Festivities

One of my favorite events is the Liberty Station Tree Lighting & Holiday Festivities! Between photos with Santa Claus to the fire truck rides through the old Naval Training Center to watching the 88-foot, planted pine tree light up for the first time during the holiday season, you are not short of family-friendly fun. Bring a picnic blanket with you to enjoy a movie on the lawn, this year featuring How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Live entertainment starts at 5 pm with the tree lighting at 6 pm, on Friday, November 25th. Check out the surrounding shops for good eats and great shopping!

OB Holiday Parade

Ocean Beach really gets into the holiday spirit each year, with locals extravagantly decking out their cars in Christmas lights and decor to parade down the street, in hopes of winning one of several award categories. One of the best holiday parades in San Diego, the 43rd Annual OB Holiday Parade will take place on December 3rd, at 5:05 pm, with the tree lighting expected to follow after the parade ends. OB’s notorious, crooked Christmas tree is planted in the sand at the end of Newport every year, with hand-made decorations from the children at Ocean Beach Elementary adorning the lower branches.

La Jolla Christmas Parade & Holiday Festival

La Jolla will be celebrating its town history in its ‘Grande Ole’ Christmas’ celebration this year. The 66th Annual Christmas Parade & Holiday Festival is taking place on Wall Street, at 11:30 am, on Sunday, December 4th, with the parade kicking off at the corner of Kline and Girard, at 1:30 pm. This Christmas event is free for the family, but make sure you either get there early or order a ride share since parking will be in short supply.

San Diego Christmas

Courtesy of Stephen Bay Photography

Boat Parades

Catch any one of these fantastic parades, where boats will be decked to the nines with lights and holiday décor. These are the types of holiday events in San Diego that you won’t want to miss!

San Diego Bay Parade of Lights

Running from Shelter Island down to the pier at Cesar Chavez Park before heading to Ferry Landing at Coronado, the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights is in its 52nd year. Bring your chair to this free Christmas event and view the 80+ boat spectacular on December 11th and 18th, starting at 5:30 pm.

You can also plan on an extra special Parade of Lights Dinner & Viewing hosted by the Maritime Museum of San Diego. Get your tickets early so you won’t miss the boat!

Mission Bay Christmas Boat Parade of Lights

Looking for things to do in Pacific Beach? Festively lit boats sail by during the annual Mission Bay Christmas Boat Parade of Lights, and as an added bonus, enjoy the Sea World fireworks, too. Other highlights include food & beverage service in the spectator viewing areas, holiday music, bonfires, kid-friendly entertainment, and Santa! Check it out on December 10th, with the parade starting at 5:30 pm.

Oceanside Harbor Parade of Lights

Boats adorned in the best holiday trimmings will compete for top bragging rights at this year’s Oceanside Harbor Parade of Lights. Bring a lawn chair, blanket, and hot cocoa with you on Saturday, December 11th at 7 pm.

Jingle Belle Family Cruise

Try something different on Christmas Day and take an old-fashioned riverboat ride aboard the Bahia Belle, or as they call her this time of year, the Jingle Belle. Make your reservations early at the Bahia Resort.

San Diego Bay Parade of Lights

Courtesy of San Diego Bay Parade of Lights

Holiday Lights

Old Town Trolley’s Holiday Sights & Festive Nights

Let your trusty elf conductor guide you through the twinkling holiday lights of Old Town to the Embarcadero and Seaport Village (15-minute stop for holiday festivities) to Balboa Park and beyond. Tours cost $25-$30 and run nightly from December 5th through 30th, with the exception of Christmas Day.

Christmas Card Lane

On Oviedo Street, west of Black Mountain Road, in Rancho Peñasquitos, are homes where residents have constructed enormous Christmas cards to showcase on their lawns. The best time to drive the streets to view these festive novelties is between 7 pm-8 pm.

Candy Cane Lane

You’ll want to park and walk the neighborhood around Hickory Street in Poway to take in all of the magnificence Candy Cane Lane has to offer! Check out their Facebook page for more information.

Winter Nights at Westfield UTC

Get your Christmas shopping done while enjoying the sights and sounds of the holidays. From performers in snow globes to live music and entertainment, head to Winter Nights at Westfield UTC the first three Saturdays in December.

San Diego Christmas

Courtesy of Macaroni Kid

End-of-the-Year Events

San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl

The 101.5 KGB Sky Show is back and making its new home at the Holiday Bowl. On Wednesday, December 28th, make your way to Petco Park for kick-off at 5 pm and make sure to stay for the Sky Show after.

New Year’s Eve Balloon Drop at the World Famous Corvette Diner

A family favorite, Corvette Diner in Liberty Station is the place to be on New Year’s Eve in San Diego as they’ll be celebrating with an “east coast” balloon drop at 9 pm along with a glass of champagne or sparkling cider, and toast! Get there early, check out the arcade, and fill up on diner favorites. Go back to New Year’s Day for their Pajama Party with breakfast specials.

Humphreys Half Moon Inn

Ring in the New Year with dancing, live music, party favors, and a champagne toast at Humphreys Half Moon Inn. When you reserve your tickets, you’ll have the option to choose the four-course dining package or even a hotel package bundle.

New Year’s Day Brunch Cruise

Welcome the New Year with a delicious mimosa brunch aboard a yacht, taking in San Diego’s beautiful sights! To enjoy this relaxing cruise, book early, as space is limited.

visit San Diego

visit San Diego

Courtesy of Visit California

Whether you want to take a stroll to view residential Christmas lights or attend a festival decorated to the nines, the holiday events calendar in San Diego is sure to keep you full of holiday spirit. Get out there and enjoy the best of what the area has to offer during the most wonderful time of the year! 

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This blog was written by San Diego native, Melissa Harter. Melissa hails from San Jose, CA, and has been a San Diego local for five years now after a 10-year-long pit stop in Los Angeles. In L.A., she began her writing career crafting digital content for a wide range of clients, including The Real Talk Show, Sharon Osbourne, Hank Azaria, Time-Life, and Cardinal Financial. She’s excited to be able to use her passion for writing to introduce people to some of the best spots in San Diego, many of which she has already frequented or has on her ever-expanding list of things to do …  In her spare time, she enjoys taking her puppy, Milo, to all of the best dog beaches in SD, grabbing a glass of wine or a cup of joe at new places, and hosting watch parties for The Bachelorette TV show.