In a city defined by crystal blue skies, swaying palm trees and 70 degree weather year-round, it can be difficult to transition from our carefree summer mindset into the festive holiday spirit. Sipping peppermint hot cocoa, singing along to holiday music, dressing our doggies up like Mrs. Claus and shopping for loved ones can help, but the best way to fully embrace the new season is by attending San Diego holiday events.
Gather the whole family together for a fun night out, or sneak away with your special someone for a romantic date night. A few of our favorite holiday events include the magical two-day celebration of December Nights at Balboa Park, the vibrant Parade of Lights on San Diego Bay, the adorable Holiday Pet Parade in the Gaslamp Quarter, and the brand new So You Wish You Could Skate benefit for Make-A-Wish San Diego. Bundle up, join together, and soak up the holiday spirit San Diego-style at these can’t-miss winter events.
Discover the top ten San Diego holiday events.
December Nights at Balboa Park – 12/2-3
Balboa Park is one of the most iconic attractions in San Diego, filled with art museums, pedicured gardens and historic architecture. During December Nights, Balboa Park becomes even more beautiful when adorned with thousands of dazzling holiday lights. This two-day event is expected to attract more than 300,000 visitors during its 34th consecutive year on Friday, December 2 from 5-10pm and Saturday, December 3 from noon to 10pm. Completely free with fun for the whole family, December Nights is a multicultural holiday experience with live music, dance performances, museum shopping and food from all over the world. This year’s highlights include the International Christmas Festival at the House of Pacific Relations Cottages and performances by San Diego Junior Theatre and San Diego Civic Youth Ballet. For more information, visit balboapark.org
San Diego Bay Parade of Lights – 12/11 & 12/18
Although the harsh winter chill freezes lakes and creates natural ice skating rinks on the East Coast, here on the Best Coast we like to keep our water nice and warm for the holiday season. And not to worry, we bring in man-made rinks for ice skating fun at the beach. Discover a new side of holiday entertainment with the San Diego Bay Parade of Light, back for its 40th year on two dates, Sunday, December 11 and Sunday, December 18 from 5:30 to 9pm. Free for spectators, this annual tradition features a parade of boats bedazzled in holiday lights, cruising through San Diego Bay, as fireworks fill the sky. The parade route takes the bright boats past Seaport Village, the Star of India and west to Coronado. Recommended viewing areas are The Embarcadero at 6:30pm and the Coronado Ferry Landing at 7:30pm.For more information, visit sdparadeoflights.org
Holiday Festival at Hotel Del Coronado – 11/30
The historic Hotel Del Coronado is an epicenter of holiday entertainment in San Diego. From holiday dining to ice skating by the sea, and on-site theater productions, all of your Christmas wishes come true at The Del. Start the season off right during The Del’s Holiday Festival on Wednesday, November 30. This special occasion will illuminate the entire city as the resort’s 100,000 twinkling white lights burn bright. Children can visit with St. Nick and his elves at Santa’s Village and play with holiday booths featuring games and prizes. Meanwhile, mom and dad can sip hot cocoa or festive libations while enjoying a fireworks show. For more information, visit hoteldel.com
Holiday Wonderland in Del Mar Village – 12/4
Del Mar Village celebrates the holiday season with a free community event filled with family-friendly entertainment, elevated by a gorgeous ocean view. Holiday Wonderland takes place on Sunday, December 4 and offers fun holiday activities from 2 to 5pm, such as horse and carriage rides, arts and crafts, a cake walk, face painting, and visits from Santa Claus surrounded by fresh snow. At 5pm, the sea-side sunset Tree Lighting ceremony will take place near L’Auberge Del Mar Resort, along with local restaurant tastes and live music. For more information, visit delmarmainstreet.com
Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade – 12/11
Who says Halloween is the only holiday for dressing up? In San Diego, it's just the beginning. The Gaslamp Quarter Association hosts one of our favorite annual events, the Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade, which is taking place on Sunday, December 11. Precious puppies are the star of the show; dress your doggie up as a festive Christmas tree, mischievous elf, playful dreidel or flirty Mrs. Claus and show off in style this holiday season. The parade starts on the corner of 4th Avenue and K Street at the Gaslamp Hilton Park, and the event will feature prizes for the best costumes as well as a Pet Expo and Pet Talent Show. Check-in begins at 1pm and the parade will take off through the Gaslamp Quarter starting at 3pm. For more information, visit gaslamp.org
Ugly Sweater Bar Crawl-iday in Pacific Beach – 12/3
Because it just wouldn’t be the holiday season without a legit ugly sweater party, VAVi Sport & Social Club is hosting the ultimate Holiday Bar Crawl-iday. Dress up in your most incredibly awful ugly sweater and head to Pacific Beach on Saturday, December 3 for a six-bar crawl filled with prizes, giveaways and drink specials, all in benefit of AJ’s Kids and Rady Children’s Hospital. The party starts at Typhoon Saloon at 12:30pm where you will pick up your official Bar Crawl-iday shirt and wrist band. Then, drink up and crawl on to Tap Room, Tavern, Cabo, Bub’s and Moondoggies. For more information, visit govavi.com
So You Wish You Could Skate at Hotel Del Coronado – 12/14
While ice skating is a fun holiday activity enjoyed by people of all ages and skill levels during the holiday season, we must not forget that it is a seriously competitive sport, too. Make-A-Wish San Diego is embracing the spirit of competition with a new holiday event, So You *Wish* You Could Skate, a playful amateur ice skating fundraiser to raise money to make children’s wishes come true just in time for the holidays. Many familiar faces will perform ice skating choreography on the ice before a live audience, and a lineup of local celebrity judges will decide who makes the cut. Judging will be based on costumes, music selection and entertainment value, which means we’re in for a great show. Confirmed ice skaters include DiscoverSD’s own Michelle Guerin and Nadav Wilf. The event takes place at Hotel Del Coronado, with a Wish Kid Welcome Program at 6pm and the ice skating show from 6:30 to 7:30pm. For more information, visit makeawish-sd.org
Holiday of Lights at Del Mar Fairgrounds – 11/24 - 1/1
While driving through San Diego neighborhoods in search of brilliant bright lights and elaborate holiday decorations is fun, there is an easier and more efficient way to discover over-the-top illumination. Holiday of Lights at the Del Mar Fairgrounds is the largest drive-through light show on the entire West Coast, featuring more than 400 twinkling lights and lively animated holiday displays. Think Scream Zone, but instead of ghosts and goblins, you’ll find merry elves, witty reindeer and Santa Claus himself, enhanced with live holiday music and fire pits for roasting marshmallows. For an extra boost of holiday cheer, treat the family to a joyous adventure on the Holiday Hayride. Holiday of Lights opens on Thanksgiving, November 24, and runs through Sunday, January 1, except for a few blackout dates, and admission is $14 per car with up to 5 people. For more information, visit holidayoflights.com
La Jolla Christmas Parade & Holiday Festival – 12/4
Nothing says Christmas in San Diego like a holiday parade with an ocean view. The La Jolla Town Council presents the La Jolla Christmas Parade & Holiday Festival on Sunday, December 4 taking place along Girard Avenue. This free, family-friendly event will showcase a festive parade of holiday floats complete with antique aircrafts flying overhead at 2pm. The Holiday Festival begins at 3:30pm, featuring photo opportunities with Santa Claus, food, live music, and a ceremonial Christmas Tree Lighting. For more information, visit ljparade.com
Encinitas Holiday Parade – 12/3
Head up to coast to celebrate the holiday season North County-style in the laidback beach community of Encinitas. The Encinitas Holiday Parade is taking place on Saturday, December 3 along Coast Highway 101. The Holiday Parade is expected to feature over 100 themed floats, and a variety of awards will be distributed, including Best Representation of Community in honor of the city’s 25th anniversary of incorporation. Don Hansen, founder of Handsen’s Surboards shop in Encinitas, is this year’s Grand Marshal. After the parade, join together for the tree lighting ceremony at the Lumberyard at 5pm. For more information, visit encinitasrecreg.com
More 2011 San Diego holiday events and attractions include A Christmas Tabernacle at Liberty Station, Gardens of Light at San Diego Botanic Gardens, Poinsettia Bowl Gaslamp March, North Park’s Toyland Parade & Festival, Little Italy’s Tree Lighting & Christmas Village, and Seaport Village’s Holiday Event with Surfin’ Santa.
Discover more holiday theater picks, holiday date ideas and holiday cooking classes