Best Christmas Events in San Diego For the Whole Family

Updated for the 2017 holiday season!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year and there is hardly a more beautiful place to enjoy the Christmas season than in San Diego! Grab your flip-flops, shorts, and swim suits (and a jacket for those cold nights), and come enjoy some of the best Christmas events in San Diego for families!

A guide to the best Christmas events in San Diego for families.


Meet Santa – San Diego style

A guide to the best Christmas events in San Diego for families.

Santa doesn’t come to San Diego on a sled pulled by reindeer. He comes on a surfboard! See Santa decked in board shorts arrive by watercraft on November 25 at Seaport Village and then take photos with him on his surfboard. Enjoy a holiday parade, children’s crafts, and live street performers in this unique shopping venue. Take a Polar Express hayride to visit Santa at the Annual Christmas in the Valley at Bates Nut Farm on December 8 and 9. This free event includes live entertainment, Christmas carols, and storytelling. Come early enough to see Santa arrive by fire truck or helicopter! A special breakfast with Santa at Neiman Marcus is held on two Saturdays in December and sells out quickly. Parents and kids love the chance to have more conversations with Santa and Mrs. Claus as well as yummy breakfast foods and special photos taken. Call the store directly for schedule and booking.

Theme Park Christmas Fun


The San Diego Zoo gets into the holiday spirit during Jungle Bells, which runs all day from December 9 – January 1, 2018 with the exception of December 24. Hop aboard the Twinkle Light Trolley to see lighted animal sculptures throughout the zoo. Meet Santa or enjoy Dr. Zoolittle’s fun version of “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Watch acrobatic trampoline elves, walk through a lit up forest of winter-loving animals, stop to take pics with Santa at his igloo, and so many more fun holiday activities.

Santa is friends with the orcas of SeaWorld! At SeaWorld’s Christmas celebration families can eat breakfast with Santa and the orcas. Reservations required. An all-new Live Nativity Musical will delight families, along with classic shows such as the Dolphin Island Christmas show, and Clyde and Seamore’s Christmas Special. These daily events run from Nov 18 – Jan 8, 2018. LEGO Santa, his reindeer, and elves are waiting at LEGOLAND this holiday season for pictures and greetings! The LEGO Christmas tree will be lit each night, and Emma and her friends from Heartlake City will be meeting kids after their daily winter show. Enjoy holiday breads, grilled sausages, and giant Bavarian pretzels at the all-new Winter Holiday Market. Watch a holiday-themed dive show at the SEA LIFE Aquarium and special games for guests of the LEGOLAND Hotel. Check the schedule for details and enjoy festivities Nov 18 – Jan 1.

Parades and Special Events


More than 100 private boats decorated with holiday lights sail through the waters of San Diego Bay in the Parade of Lights. Great places to view this event are at the Coronado Ferry Landing, Seaport Village, and the Embarcadero on both December 10 and 17 starting at 5 pm, followed by fireworks.

Another distinctly California holiday boat parade is the Mission Bay Christmas Boat Parade of Lights, taking place December 9 from 6-9pm. This free event is highly anticipated by locals and tourists alike who line the bay near SeaWorld and Paradise Point Resort at great places such as Crown Point, the east side of Vacation Island, or the west side of Fiesta Island.

“Christmas Jewels” is the theme for the La Jolla Christmas Parade. Festivities will fill the streets of downtown La Jolla on December 3 at 1:30pm. After the parade, enjoy the Holiday Festival at the La Jolla Recreation Center, which includes arts and crafts, live music, and the Birch Aquarium bus. Santa is the last entry in the parade and joins the Festival for visits and photos with the kids. The day ends with the lighting of the Christmas tree.

See America’s largest balloon parade on December 28 at 10 am. In conjunction with the Holiday Bowl, marching bands, floats, drill teams, and a procession of enormous balloons will march along the bayside streets of downtown San Diego. The Holiday Bowl Parade is a fun and festive way to recover from Christmas and yes, the balloons are massive!

Wave hi to Santa and the many bands and floats of the Annual Coronado Christmas Parade. Catch a good viewing spot between 8th St. and R.H. Dana Place on Friday, December 1 at 6 pm. Be sure to bring a stuffed animal donation to benefit Rady Children’s Hospital. Stores along the route will have treats to make the event a festive holiday. Don’t miss the Christmas Tree lighting near the Rotary Plaza at 7 pm when Santa and the mayor flip the switch.

Reserve your hotel for the parades!

Outdoor Ice Skating


While the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean, strap on a pair of ice skates and twirl (or fall) on the ice with sparkling lights from the Hotel del Coronado shining overhead. It doesn’t get more beautiful than Skating by the Sea just steps from the sand. Other beautiful places to skate outdoors in San Diego include Fantasy on Ice, located at Liberty Station. This is ice-skating in an urban environment with the added bonus of proceeds benefitting Rady Children’s Hospital. Outlet shoppers can head to Viejas Outlets to bargain shop and then skate in Southern California’s largest outdoor ice-skating rink.

Stay at the Hotel Del Coronado and ice skate with the family!

Fantastic Lights

Enjoy touring the San Diego Botanic Gardens for their Garden of Lights event from Dec 2 – 23 and 26 – 30, from 5 – 9 pm. Walk the garden on foot or travel by horse-led wagon rides to see the dazzling light displays and enjoy the festive music sung by carolers and mariachis. Kids will love roasting marshmallows, drinking hot chocolate alongside the campfire, and making holiday crafts. Weather permitting, snow will fall!

Several communities join forces to light up their streets in an over-the-top fashion. Garrison Street in the wealthy, seaside community of Point Loma never fails to please. Christmas Card Lane in Rancho Peñasquitos is where residents mix life-sized Christmas cards with ornate light displays and more. Don’t forget about Jingle Bell Hill in El Cajon or Christmas Circle in Chula Vista, as well.

Balboa Park – December Nights


December Nights is one of the biggest San Diego community festivals. Large numbers of families and friends come to enjoy this annual event taking place on Friday, Dec. 1 from 3-11pm, and Saturday, Dec. 2 from noon-11pm. The fantastic museums of Balboa Park will be open for free, and live entertainment and food will be available throughout the area. Don’t miss the Santa Lucia Procession at the Plaza de California, musical and dance presentations by the San Diego Junior Theatre, San Diego Civic Youth Ballet, Del Cerro Baptist’s Christmas Story Tree, and a diverse choice of ethnic foods at the International Christmas Festival at the House of Pacific Relations Cottages.

Special Holiday Performances


A wonderful blend of original music and dramatic storytelling is what brings families back to the Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado every year to celebrate Christmas. We thoroughly enjoyed the stage presentation and stunning music in the intimate theatre. This year the Lamb’s Players present “A Fargo Christmas” at their Festival of Christmas. Purchase tickets before they are sold out for Dec 1 – 30. The Lamb’s Players also present “An American Christmas” at the historic hotel, The US Grant. Guests are seated around tables of 8 with festive attire and jackets for gentlemen suggested. Included are a four-course meal, champagne toast, entertainment, and more. Not for children under the age of 5. Presented nightly Dec 14 – 24.

In Balboa Park, there are two historic theatres which play host to two holiday presentations. Enjoy the wonderful and whimsical musical, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” based on the book by Dr. Seuss playing at The Old Globe Theatre on Nov 4 – Dec 24. A sensory-friendly performance will be played on Saturday, Dec 9 at 10:30 am for kids on the autism spectrum and their families, as well as other families with special needs. Adjustments are made to produce fewer loud noises and flashing lights as well as other features. The San Diego Civic Youth Ballet presents the Nutcracker at the historic Casa Del Prado Theatre in Balboa Park from Dec 6-17.

Historic Holidays


Bring the kids and prepare to do some shopping at Old Town State Historic Park. Enjoy Bonfire Nights on Dec 13 & 14, and 26-30 for free s’mores over the campfire. Carolers will be strolling around, stores will stay open a bit later and offer special treats, and decorations will be especially festive. Watch a Biblical procession of Mary and Joseph traveling through the streets looking for a place to stay on Dec 10 from noon – 9pm. Los Posadas will begin at 5pm and will conclude with a choir singing in front of Casa de Estudillo. Christmas in the Village is a free event for the whole family in La Mesa Village on Dec 9 – 10 from 5-10pm. Enjoy strolling minstrels, meeting Santa, carolers, carnival rides, food, Lazer Tag, and horse-drawn carriages in this Victorian Wonderland.

Holiday Events at Resorts

Photo by L’Auberge Del Mar

Many resorts are offering great holiday packages to allow every guest a chance to enjoy the holidays to the hilt. Many are open to non-guests so check resort for details on dates, prices, and reservations. Roast marshmallows around a beach campfire at Hotel Del Coronado and enjoy special Elf Tuck-Ins as a guest. A special Polar Bear Tea will be held on Dec 21 with special activities and visits by Mrs. Claus. At Paradise Point Hotel & Resort kids can enjoy cookies and hot cocoa. It’s the perfect resort to view the Annual Mission Bay Parade of Lights. At the Omni La Costa Resort and Spa kids can listen to stories around the campfire read by one of Santa’s elves as well as roasting s’mores and making gingerbread houses. Don’t miss the Christmas tree lighting on Dec 2 along with visits from their skydiving Santa. Guests of L’Auberge Del Mar can make their own gingerbread house on Saturday, Dec 23 while enjoying a hot chocolate bar.

A special thanks to Katie Dillon who was the original author of these Christmas events to enjoy in San Diego.

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About the author

Michelle McCoy is Trekaroo’s Lead Travel Expert. She and her husband love traveling to National Parks and going camping, but when life with 4 young kids keeps them home - especially now with a high schooler - they find their fun in traveling to the local beaches in Orange County, CA and hiking in the wilderness areas nearby.

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