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 swimsuit (and a jacket for those cold nights), and enjoy some of the best San Diego Christmas events for families! Updated for the 2023 Christmas season!
San Diego Christmas Events 2023
Meet Santa- San Diego Style
Santa doesn’t come to San Diego on a sled pulled by reindeer. He comes on a surfboard!
One of the most classic Christmas events in San Diego is to see Santa Claus decked in board shorts arrive by watercraft in November 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.
The Parade of Lights will return for its 53rd year on December 10 and 17, 2023 beginning at 5:30pm.
There will have pictures with Santa at Seaport Village available on select dates in late November through Christmas Eve. There will also be live entertainment, a menorah lighting, and opportunities to have breakfast with Santa.
Find nearby lodging at these San Diego hotels.
Holiday Market Place at Petco Park
One of the new Christmas events in San Diego run select nights in December. Your family will enter a winter wonderland at Petco Park. This Holiday Market includes reindeer encounters, carnival rides, fun games, endless light displays, and many photo opportunities. Most importantly Santa is waiting to hear your Christmas Wishes in Toyland! Bring the whole family for shopping, food, and merry libations!
As of 11/9/23 no information has been posted by Petco Park about this year’s event.
Bates Nut Farm
On December 8 – 9,2023 you can do your holiday shopping at the annual “Christmas in the Valley at Bates“ Arts, Crafts & Vintage Market. All sorts of homemade goodies from artisans will be available for purchase. There will also be Santa, hay rides, pony rides, face painting, barbeque food, and music.
Neiman Marcus San Diego
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.
Find more Christmas activities for families all over the United States.
Christmas Events at San Diego Theme Parks
San Diego Zoo
The San Diego Zoo gets into the holiday spirit during Jungle Bells, Hop aboard the Twinkle Light Trolley to see lighted animal sculptures throughout the zoo.
This year’s will take place December 9-31, 2023 as well as January 1, 2024. During this special event the zoo is open until 8PM.
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 enjoy so many more fun holiday activities.
Make a long weekend of it with this great 3-day San Diego intinerary.
SeaWorld San Diego
Santa is friends with the sea life of SeaWorld! At SeaWorld’s Christmas celebration families can still experience holiday fun in a safe and fun way!
Classic shows such as the Dolphin Island Christmas show and Clyde and Seamore’s Christmas Special are back for another year. There will also be holiday music-activated Tunnel of Lights, a sea-themed Christmas tree, a parade, Donner and Blitzen’s Laser Light Show, Rudolph’s Cjhristmastown, lots of seasonal food and treats, snowfalls, and, of course, lots of sea life to enjoy.
This event runs on select dates from Nov 17, 2023- January 7, 2024.
LEGO Santa, his reindeer, and elves are waiting at LEGOLAND California this holiday season for pictures and greetings! The LEGO Christmas tree will be lit each night and twinkling to holiday music. The tree is 30 feet tall and has 400 LEGO ornaments.
Santa, the Toy Solider, and the Gingerbread Man will all be around for pictures. Don’t miss the sleigh with a life-sized LEGO Santa. There will also be a new show to enjoy, Santa’s Top Elf.
Also, don’t miss the annual Kids’ New Year’s Eve! There are kids’ bands, party favors, fireworks and a 6pm giant brick drop!
Holidays at LEGOLAND takes place November 18, 2023 through January 7, 2024. Don’t visit this park without first reading our comprehensive LEGOLAND Tips article.
Sesame Place San Diego
The newest theme park to open in the San Diego area is Sesame Place, located on the former Aquatica site in Chula Vista.
A Very Furry Christmas at Sesame Place takes place November 10, 2023 through January 7, 2024. In addition to the normal rides there will be Elmo’s Christmas Wish theater show, a parade, A Very Merry Sesame Street Sing-Along, and the Furry Friends Christmas Dance Party.
Kids will also enjoy the Christmas Tree Maze, Spot-the-Gift-Scavenger Hunt, and lots of opportunties to take photos with their favorite Sesame Street characters, including Cookie Claus!
Winter Wonder at Belmont Park
Belmont Park is a beachside amusement park on Mission Beach with rides and attractions year round but during December weekends, they also offer a special Winter Wonder experience.
They will have seasonal characters walking around, 15-foot holiday sculptures, face painting, a Christmas Tree farm, special Holiday movie nights and Illuminated Winter Nights when the sun goes down.
Winter Wonder takes place November 14 – December 30, 2023.
Parades and Special Christmas Events in San Diego
San Diego Bay Parade of Lights
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, 2023 beginning at 5:30pm.
Mission Bay Christmas Boat Parade of Lights
Another distinctly California holiday boat parade is the Mission Bay Christmas Boat Parade of Lights.
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. This year’s parade will be December 9th at 5:30pm.
Oceanside Harbor Parade of Lights
Oceanside Harbor Parade of Lights – This year’s event takes place December 9, 2023 at 7 pm. One of the best viewing spots is along the side of the Oceanside Harbor near the fishing dock and police station where you can actually see the parade twice!
Mother Goose Parade
The Mother Goose Parade is canceled for 2023 and will be re-imagined for 2024. We look forward to seeing what they have in store next year.
The holiday season kicks off in eastern San Diego County with the Mother Goose Parade in El Cajon .
The parade is in its 75th year and features themed floats, marching bands, equestrian units, giant helium balloons and Santa Claus.
La Jolla Christmas Parade
“Spirit of La Jolla” is the theme for the La Jolla Christmas Parade. Festivities will fill the streets of downtown La Jolla on December 3, 2023 at 1:30pm.
Before the parade, enjoy the Holiday Festival at the La Jolla Recreation Center from 11-1PM. There will be music and pictures with Santa available.
Holiday Bowl Parade
See America’s largest balloon parade on December 27, 2023 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 hello to Santa Claus 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, 2023 at 6 pm.
Be sure to bring a stuffed animal donation to benefit Rady Children’s Hospital. Additionally, 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 7pm when Santa and the mayor flip the switch.
Outdoor Ice Skating in San Diego
Skating by the Sea at Hotel del Coronado
While the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean, strap on a pair of ice skates and twirl (or fall) on the ice rink 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. November 17, 2023 through January 7, 2024.
Rady Children’s Ice Rink, Liberty Station
Other beautiful places to skate outdoors in San Diego is located at Liberty Station. This is ice-skating in an urban environment with the added bonus of proceeds benefiting Rady Children’s Hospital. The rink is open November 16, 2023 through January 7, 2024.
Viejas Outlets Ice Rink
Outlet shoppers can head to Viejas Outlets to bargain shop and then skate in Southern California’s largest outdoor ice-skating rink. The rink is open from 3pm – 10pm daily. It is closed on Thanksgiving.
Fantastic Christmas Lights in San Diego
Lightscape at the San Diego Botanic Garden
Enjoy touring the San Diego Botanic Gardens for Lightscape in the Garden event from November 17, 2023 through January 7, 2024. We visited this new attraction last year and really enjoyed it.
There will be one million holiday lights, tunnels, fire, sculptures and artistic installations. This is a traveling exhibition that has been features in London, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York in the past and has always sold out, so book your tickets early! Advance purchase tickets are required.
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 (9190 Ovideo St, San Diego) 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 ( between First and Second Avenues, south of H Street ), 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. The fantastic museums of Balboa Park will be open for free, and live entertainment and food will be available throughout the area. This year’s event takes place December 1 – 2, 2023.
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.
Jingle Jets at the USS Midway
The USS Midway has decided to join in on all the San Diego Christmas fun with their new Jingle Jets experience. The event runs select nights November 24 – December 23, 2023. It is sure to become a beloved local tradition. Tickets can be purchased online.
The massive aircraft carrier will be covered with hundreds of thousands of lights, including a variety of jets of the deck. You can even have your photo taken with Santa is his special red flight suit! There will also e holiday-themed food and drinks, carolers, music, and the opportunity to write letters to service members.
Special Holiday Performances in San Diego
Lamb’s Player Theatre
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 theater. This year they will be performing Respectfully Christmas November 25th – December 24th.
Balboa Park Theatre
In Balboa Park, there are two historic theaters which play host to two holiday presentations. First, 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 November 8 – Dec 31, 20223
Then, catch the San Diego Civic Youth Ballet presents the Nutcracker at the historic Casa Del Prado Theatre in Balboa Park from December 6-17, 2023.
Bonfire Nights at Old Town State Historic Park
First, ring the kids and prepare to do some shopping at Old Town State Historic Park. Enjoy Bonfire Nights on weekends in December 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.
Holiday in the Village
Holiday in the Village is a free event for the whole family in La Mesa Village on December 2, 2023. Enjoy strolling minstrels, meeting Santa, carolers, carnival rides, food, laser tag, and horse-drawn carriages in this Victorian Wonderland.
Holiday Events at Resorts
Many resorts are offering great holiday packages to allow every guest a chance to enjoy the holidays to the hilt. In addition, several 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. Before heading to bed, enjoy special Elf Tuck-Ins as a guest. A special Polar Bear Tea will be held with special activities and visits by Mrs. Claus.
At the Hilton San Diego Bayfront experience unlimited sledding, musical light shows, and meetings with Santa and Mrs. Claus at Holiday by the Bay. For an additional fee enjoy extra holiday activities: cookie decorating, electronic reindeer rides, stocking decorating, and bumper cars! While visiting the event enhance your evening with dinner or dessert – I highly recommend the funnel cake!
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.
Meanwhile, over 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 1 along with visits from their skydiving Santa.
Guests of L’Auberge Del Mar can make their own gingerbread house then cozy up to an ocean view meal at Kitchen 1540.
Find a great place to stay in San Diego at one of these Top Kid-Friendly Hotels in San Diego.
Is there a San Diego Christmas event we missed? Does your business have updated information to share? Email [email protected] and tell us about it!
A special thanks to Katie Dillon who was the original author of this article. This article was updated in 2022 by Elizabeth Bickford and 2023 by Sharlene Earnshaw.
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