Updated for the 2020 Christmas 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 swimsuit (and a jacket for those cold nights), and enjoy some of the best Christmas events in San Diego for families!
San Diego Christmas Events 2020
Meet Santa – San Diego Style
Santa doesn’t come to San Diego on a sled pulled by reindeer. He comes on a surfboard!
1. Seaport Village
One of the most classic San Diego Christmas events 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 takes place December 13 and 20th at 5PM. Pictures with Santa are available on select dates November 21- December 24, 2020. The Parade of Lights is now cancelled for 2020 because San Diego moved into the Purple Tier.
Find nearby lodging at these Downtown San Diego hotels.
2. Bates Nut Farm
Take a Polar Express hayride to visit Santa at the Annual Christmas in the Valley at Bates Nut Farm on December 13 and 14. This free event includes live entertainment, Christmas carols, and storytelling. Come early enough to see Santa arrive by fire truck or helicopter! *This event may be cancelled for 2020 but there is another option below.
On November 27-29, 2020, you can do your holiday shopping at the “Christmas on the Farm” Arts, Crafts & Vintage Market. This event is now cancelled since San Diego County moved into the Purple Tier. All sorts of homemade goodies from artisans will be available for purchase. There will also be pony rides, face painting, barbeque food, and music.
3. 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. Cancelled for 2020 due to Covid-19.
Find more Christmas activities for families all over the United States.
Christmas Events at San Diego Theme Parks
4. 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.
It will take place Dec. 4–6, Dec. 11–23, Dec. 25–31, 2020 and Jan. 1–3, 2021. As of 12/2/20 advanced reservations are require to visit the zoo.
As of 12/7/20 the San Diego Zoo had to close due to the governor’s Stay at Home order. Check back frequently for updates.
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.
5. 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, lots of seasonal food and treats, and, of course, lots of sea life to enjoy.
This events run on select dates from Nov 13, 2020- January 4, 2021.
As of 12/7/20 the SeaWorld San Diego had to close due to the governor’s Stay at Home order. Check back frequently for updates.
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.
Make a weekend out of it! Book your stay at the LEGOLAND Hotel.
Also, don’t miss the annual Kids’ New Year’s Eve! There are kids’ bands, party favors, fireworks and a 6pm giant brick drop!
Note: As of November 2020, the rides at LEGOLAND are still closed but Sealife Aquarium at LEGOLAND is open.
Parades and Special Christmas Events
7. 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 13 and 20, 2020 starting at 5:30pm, followed by fireworks. Cancelled for 2020.
8. 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. Cancelled for 2020.
9. La Jolla Christmas Parade
“Christmas in the Cove” is the theme for the La Jolla Christmas Parade. Festivities will fill the streets of downtown La Jolla on December 6, 2020 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.
10. Holiday Bowl Parade
See America’s largest balloon parade on December 31 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! *This event has been cancelled for 2020.
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 4, 2020 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 7 pm when Santa and the mayor flip the switch.
Outdoor Ice Skating in San Diego
11. 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 22, 2020 to January 5, 2021.
Skating by the Sea has been cancelled due to the governor’s Stay at Home Order.
Book your stay at the Hotel Del Coronado. We are a trusted affiliate of Tripadvisor.
12. Fantasy on Ice, Liberty Station
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 benefiting Rady Children’s Hospital. *This event has been cancelled for 2020.
13. 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. *This event has not yet updated its status for 2020.
Stay at the Hotel Del Coronado and ice skate with the family!
Fantastic Christmas Lights in San Diego
14. Botanic Wonderland Holiday Nights in the Garden
Enjoy touring the San Diego Botanic Gardens for their Botanic Wonderland Holiday Nights in the Garden event on select nights in December from 5-8:30pm. 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!
15. Lit-Up Neighborhoods
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.
Check out the best hotel deals in San Diego for families.
Balboa Park – December Nights
16. December Nights
Note: This event has been cancelled for 2020.
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.
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
17. Lamb’s Player Theatre
Note: This event has been cancelled for 2020.
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. Last year the Lamb’s Players presented “A Lamb’s Festival of Christmas” at their Festival of Christmas.
18. Balboa Park Theatre
Note: These events have been cancelled for 2020.
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 Nov 10 – Dec 29, 2019. Then, catch the San Diego Civic Youth Ballet presents the Nutcracker at the historic Casa Del Prado Theatre in Balboa Park from Dec 11-22, 2019.
19. 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.
Next, watch a Biblical procession of Mary and Joseph traveling through the streets looking for a place to stay on Dec 14 from noon – 8pm. Then, Los Posadas will begin at 5pm and will wrap up with a campfire and s’mores in the Plaza.
These events have been cancelled due to the governor’s Stay at Home order.
20. Holiday in the Village
Holiday in the Village is a free event for the whole family in La Mesa Village on December 4-5, 2020 Enjoy strolling minstrels, meeting Santa, carolers, carnival rides, food, laser tag, and horse-drawn carriages in this Victorian Wonderland.
Holiday Events at Resorts
Note: As of 12/7/20 the governor has ordered hotels to only operate for essential service through at least December 28, 2020.
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.
A special thanks to Katie Dillon who was the original author of this article. This article was updated for 2019 and 2020 by Sharlene Earnshaw
Lead image by Shutterstock
Pin this to bookmark all the best Christmas events in San Diego for families; we update it yearly: