Updated for the 2018 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 swimsuit (and a jacket for those cold nights), and enjoy some of the best Christmas events in San Diego for families!
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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 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.
Take a Polar Express hayride to visit Santa at the Annual Christmas in the Valley at Bates Nut Farm on December 7 and 8. 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.
The San Diego Zoo gets into the holiday spirit during Jungle Bells, which runs from December 10 – January 2, 2019 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 enjoy 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 are required. After seeing the orcas, catch one of SeaWorld’s amazing shows. The all-new Live Nativity Musical will delight families, while classic shows such as the Dolphin Island Christmas show and Clyde and Seamore’s Christmas Special can become annual experiences. These daily events run from Nov 17 – Dec 31, 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 17 – Jan 1.
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 9 and 16 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 2 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 enters 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 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!
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 7 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.
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 benefiting 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!
Enjoy touring the San Diego Botanic Gardens for their Garden of Lights event from Dec 1 – 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.
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. 7 from 3-11pm, and Saturday, Dec. 8 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.
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 the Lamb’s Players present “A Lamb’s Festival of Christmas” at their Festival of Christmas. Purchase tickets before they are sold out for Nov 30 – Dec 30. In addition, 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, while jackets are suggested for gentlemen. Included are a four-course meal, champagne toast, entertainment, and more. But, this experience is not for children under the age of 5. Presented nightly Dec 13 – 24.
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 8 – Dec 24. A sensory-friendly performance will be played on Saturday, Dec 1 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. Then, catch the San Diego Civic Youth Ballet presents the Nutcracker at the historic Casa Del Prado Theatre in Balboa Park from Dec 8-17.
First, ring the kids and prepare to do some shopping at Old Town State Historic Park. Enjoy Bonfire Nights on Dec 10 & 12 and 17 and 23 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 12 from noon – 9pm. Then, 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 7 – 8 from 5-10pm. Enjoy strolling minstrels, meeting Santa, carolers, carnival rides, food, Lazer Tag, and horse-drawn carriages in this Victorian Wonderland.
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 on Dec 22 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. Then, mark your calendar for Dec 23 to enjoy a holiday movie night at the L’Auberge Del Mar Ampitheater – this special event is free to hotel guests!
A special thanks to Katie Dillon who was the original author of this article.
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