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Though San Diego might not have that fun “white Christmas” weather, that comfy climate keeps it packed full of great events for the whole family all year, and Christmastime is no exception! Whether you’re looking for a twinkling lights display, a holiday parade, or the all-day fun of a theme park, this San Diego Christmas guide will let you know all the best places to visit this holiday season.
Balboa Park December Nights
1549 El Prado
San Diego, CA 92101
Balboa Park December Nights is the largest free community festival in San Diego. December Nights is just one of the many free things to do in Balboa Park! Balboa Park December Nights was formerly called Christmas on the Prado, and most native San Diegans still call it that! Enjoy an afternoon and evening of food, fun, music and lights with your whole crew. This year, December Nights takes place on December 2 from 3-11 p.m. and December 3 from 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Arrive early because December Nights draws thousands of visitors.
SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration
500 Sea World Dr.
San Diego, CA 92109
For the holiday season, SeaWorld is transformed into a wintry, watery wonderland. Visit jolly old St. Nick inside Sesame Street Christmas Village. Play “reindeer games” in Rudolph’s Christmastown. Of course, there’s lots of holiday food and shopping opportunities as well.
Many holiday activities and shows are included in a day’s admission. This year’s Christmas Celebration runs from November 14, 2022-January 8, 2023. Tickets start at $64.99, but one child ages 3-9 can enter free per full-priced adult ticket ($99.99). Dining packages are also available to streamline your experience.
The Westgate Hotel
1055 Second Ave.
San Diego, CA 92101
At this whimsical holiday tradition, enjoy a holiday tea with loved ones. The meal includes holiday beverages, teas, house-made pastries and desserts. There are two holiday-themed tea time events this year, Santa’s Story Time Tea and Winter Wonderland Tea. Tickets to either event range from $74-$95 per person, but are all-inclusive. Each event is available on selected dates from November 25, 2022-January 1, 2023. Santa’s Story Time Tea is from 1-3 p.m., while Winter Wonderland Tea takes place from 2:30-5 p.m. Reserve your spot in advance on the hotel website.
San Diego Bay Parade of Lights
This Christmas light show has a definite SoCal twist! More than 80 lavishly decorated boats “parade” across San Diego Bay to onlookers sitting along the harbor. The parade begins at 5:30 p.m., proceeding to the pier at Cesar Chavez Park before making the turn to Coronado. Spectators watch from Shelter Island, Harbor Island, the Embarcadero, Seaport Village, the pier at Cesar Chavez Park or the ferry landing on Coronado. This year’s parade will be held on December 11 & 18.
SheBuysTravel Tip: You should probably bundle up! This parade takes place alongside the harbor; therefore, it can get pretty chilly once the sun sets.
1 LEGOLAND Dr.
Carlsbad, CA 92008
Bask in the glow under the world’s largest LEGO Christmas Tree during Holidays at LEGOLAND. The winter-themed festivities are included with park admission. There’s live entertainment and posing for photos with the life-sized LEGO Brick Santa and Reindeer. This year, the event runs on selected dates from November 19, 2022-January 8, 2023.
Even the Sea Life Aquarium receives a holiday treatment with a seasonal underwater dive show. Hungry? Grab a holiday smoked turkey sandwich with stuffing and spiced cranberry dressing or indulge in a peppermint milkshake.
All participants will need a ticket-prices start at $89.99. Children 2 and under are free.
Christmas Tree Lighting Celebrations Around the County
Wherever you find yourself in San Diego county, there’s bound to be Christmas tree lighting and fun family-friendly celebrations!
Liberty Station (North Promenade)
The gorgeous 88-foot Norfolk pine tree in Point Loma Liberty Station will light up the night! Free entertainment includes music, fire truck rides, photos with Santa, and a screening of The Grinch. This year’s ceremony takes place on Friday, November 25.
Julian (Pioneer Park)
The Country Christmas Tree Lighting in Julian is always a popular event, with visitors coming far and wide to see the lighting and visit Santa. Your child can also write a letter and stick it in the Santa mailbox. This year, the event has moved to the new “Town Square” location at the corner of Main Street & Washington Street. It runs on November 26 from 1-8 p.m.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Parking is always limited in Julian so you’ll want to arrive early in the day.
Little Italy (Piazza della Famiglia)
The annual tree lighting ceremony and Christmas village in downtown San Diego Little Italy is back again in 2022. This event is full of holiday cheer with 10-foot Nutcrackers, Christmas tree displays, caroling and music, and of course food! The fun begins on December 3 from 4-8 p.m. The tree lighting will take place at 6:30 p.m.
Seas ‘n’ Greetings at The Birch Aquarium
2300 Expedition Way
La Jolla, CA 92037
Where else would you expect to see Scuba Santa? Admission to The Birch Aquarium during the Seas ‘n’ Greetings holiday events includes crafts, scavenger hunt and other activities for kids. There will also be live holiday music on the weekends. The cost is included in regular admission, which is $24.95 for adults and $19.95 for children ages 3-17. The event takes place every day during the month of December, excluding Christmas Day. Hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m., except on Christmas Eve, when it closes at 4 p.m.
Elegant Winter Celebrations at the Hotel del Coronado
1500 Orange Ave.
Coronado, CA 92118
The hotel lights up with a range of festive winter wonderland activities. Take holiday photos on the lit-up Windsor Lawn. Snag Santa photos on December 9, 10, 16, 17, 23 & 24. Cost varies by event. Reservations are required – get yours here.
This year, Skating by the Sea returns again. Attend a Jingle Roast any evening from December 17-24. Enjoy your own private beach bonfire (complete with Santa hats) and choose food from a menu ranging from s’mores to fireside franks. If your family loves movies, check out Holiday Movies on the Beach (December 3, 10, 17, 31). You can select a private bonfire complete with daybed or sand chairs. And you can also enjoy Victorian Tea, Gingerbread Houses, and more!
SheBuysTravel Tip: If you’re more of the stay-warm-by-the-fire type, you’ll love the Frostbite Lounge at the Del. Ninety minutes of reserved cozy seating around a fire pit with a front row view of the rink. The seasonal menu offers drinks and snacks.
San Diego Zoo Jungle Bells
2920 Zoo Dr.
San Diego, CA 92101
The San Diego Zoo is transformed into a wild wonderland during the holidays with lights and seasonal performances. For the price of regular admission, guests can enjoy the animal light sculptures and live entertainment including acrobatic elves! Be sure to make a reservation. Choose evening hours for extra lighted experiences. This year, the special event runs from December 9, 2022-January 1, 2023, excluding Christmas Eve, December 24. Ticket prices start at $55 for children ages 3-11 and $65 for adults.
If you have the entire day to spend, check out this post full of one-day San Diego Zoo itinerary tips.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Visit the Northern Frontier Trek once night falls. This location where the winter-loving animals live has been redesigned for the holiday event with beautiful lighted trees.
More Places to Enjoy the Holiday Spirit
Escondido – Winter Wonderland Festival
California Center for the Arts
340 N Escondido Blvd.
Escondido, CA 92025
Santa and his reindeer are on hand for photo ops along with live performances, kid’s crafts, snow play area, princess meet and greets and free train rides. December 18, 2022 from 3-7 p.m.
Port of San Diego Holiday Bowl Parade
1600 Pacific Hwy.
San Diego, CA 92101
You thought the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City had a lot of balloons? The Port of San Diego Holiday Bowl Parade is actually America’s largest balloon parade! This year, the parade is set for December 28. Grandstand seats are $22 in advance and $25 at the entrance if they are still available. Streetside viewing is free.
This holiday parade brings together world-class marching bands, floats, drill teams and a procession of towering balloons. And the San Diego bonus-no snow!
Purchase grandstand seats ahead of time online if you’d rather not sit curbside. For additional downtown things to do, read this San Diego 2-day itinerary.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Avoid bringing a car into the busy downtown area for this event. Consider staying in a nearby hotel or take the trolley to the parade route.
Holiday Bowl Football Game
100 Park Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92101
The college bowl game is always a great sporting event. There are pregame parties and free activities included with your game ticket, such as live music, face painting, temporary tattoos and photo booths. This year’s game takes place December 28 at 5 p.m.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Be in your seat 30 minutes before the game starts to watch the pre-game show with marching bands and parachute jumpers.