The sun sets over a Christmas tree on Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach.
The sun sets over a Christmas tree on Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach. Photo by Chris Stone

It’s the most wonderful time of the year and though San Diego only may have caroling in the (faux) snow, dang it, we have it. Whether you like your celebrations big or small, at big amusement parks or in parades close to home, here’s a look at the sheer number of ways to celebrate the season this year.

We break it down weekend by weekend. Scroll to the last section for events taking place for all or most of December.

This weekend

  • Balboa Park – December Nights, an annual tradition that spreads out over a big part of the park, with food, music, decorations and open houses at many museums and attractions, 3 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday, free.
  • Carlsbad – The Forum begins a month’s worth of events with the 20th anniversary tree lighting, 6 p.m. Friday. Kick off includes light show and Santa’s arrival.
  • Coronado – The city of Coronado’s holiday parade from the Ferry Landing to the Hotel del Coronado, with a tree lighting in Rotary Park, 6 p.m. Friday, free.
  • La Mesa – Holiday in the Village aims to become a Victorian retreat with live music and dance, cozy fires, craft vendors and a kids’ area with holiday movies, noon Saturday, free.
  • Escondido – the Winter Wonderland at the California Center for the Arts features Santa’s Corner Café, crafts led by teaching artists, gifts from local artisans and self-guided tours of the Northern Lights display, 3 p.m. Saturday, free.
  • Little Italy – Look for 10-foot tall nutcrackers and kinetic tree displays on street corners for the Tree Lighting and Christmas Village, 4 p.m. Saturday, free.
  • Ocean Beach – the Holiday Parade makes its way down Newport Avenue, with judging in several categories, including “Best OB Spirit,” 5 p.m. Saturday, free.
  • Encinitas – the Holiday Parade rolls along Coast Highway 101, 5:30 p.m. Saturday, free.
  • La Jolla – It’s a “Grand Ole Christmas” at the La Jolla Christmas Parade and Holiday Festival with bands, drill teams, horses, and a camel too. Church bells are set to peal during a fly-over too. 1:30 p.m. Sunday, festival until 4 p.m., free.
  • Chula Vista – At Starlight Nights, hop on Santa’s Holiday Train, see local businesses at the Holiday Market, listen to live music at Memorial Park, 3:30 p.m. Sunday, free.
Baby Yoda in Christmas attire; Ocean Beach and many communities throughout the county host holiday parades. Photo by Chris Stone

Dec. 9-11

  • Poway – Christmas in the Park features a tree lighting, visits from Santa, train rides, live music, performances, crafts and more at Old Poway Park, 5:30 p.m. Dec. 9, 3:30 p.m. Dec. 10. Free
  • Mission Bay – Christmas Boat Parade of Lights with sailboats and other pleasure craft decorated for the holiday season, 5:30 p.m. Dec. 10.
  • Oceanside – the Harbor Parade of Lights circles the harbor with a wide variety of boats, decorated for the holiday season. 7 p.m. Dec. 10.
  • Mission Bay – at Santa Paws at Paradise Point, take Spot to brunch for a pet picture and create a pet-themed ornament, 10 a.m. Dec. 11.
  • San Diego Bay – the first of two chances to see the Port of San Diego Bay Parade, with more than 80 private boats decorated with holiday lights. 5:30 p.m. Dec. 11.

Dec. 16-19

  • Gaslamp Quarter – Cute pups unite at the Gaslamp Pet Parade to preen and show off their best red and green duds. 1 p.m Dec. 17. Free to watch, $25 to take part.
  • Liberty Station – The Chabads of Downtown San Diego and Pacific Beach host a public menorah lighting at the Central Promenade to commemorate the first night of Hanukkah. 5 p.m., Dec. 18, free.
  • San Diego Bay – the second chance at the Port of San Diego Bay Parade. 5:30 p.m. Dec. 18.
  • La Jolla – the Valencia Hotel hosts a session of gingerbread house decorating, 11 a.m. Dec. 19. $100 per house.

Dec. 23-25

Mission Bay – the Jingle Belle Family Cruise, by two resorts, the Bahia and the Catamaran, gives passengers a chance to sip on hot cocoa and snack on cookies while singing with carolers and watching Santa. Evenings, Dec. 23-24, and afternoon, Christmas Day. $45.

Ongoing during the season

  • Pacific Southwest Railway Museum – the North Pole Limited, hosted by elves, delivers passengers to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus after leaving Campo Depot, continues through Dec. 17. Fare starts at $35 for adults, $25 for kids. Through Dec. 17.
  • Petco Park – The Holiday Market in Gallagher Square, with local and European artisan shops, lighting displays, Santa and more; through Dec. 23. Admission, $14 and up.
  • Old Globe Theatre – features two holiday shows. Ebenezer Scrooge’s BIG San Diego Christmas Show continues through Dec. 24. Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas! runs through Dec. 31.
  • Belmont Park – See rides transformed for the holidays, enjoy elf face painting and take pics with holiday sculptures through Jan. 1. Ticket packs start at $10 with full-day passes at $60.
  • Hotel del Coronado – at Skating by the Sea, glide along the ice within steps of the beach, $40 per session, through Jan. 1; check out our list for more local outdoor ice skating.
  • San Diego Botanic Garden – “Lightscape,” the traveling show adapted to the garden’s contours, includes a mile-long trail of lit displays through Jan. 1. Admission starts at $27.
  • San Diego Zoo – the “Jungle Bells” celebration has roaming entertainers and a special light show, “Aurora” during extended hours, to 8 p.m. Through Jan. 1. Starts at $63.
  • San Diego Zoo Safari Park – “Wild Holidays,” on weekends and select dates through Jan. 1, features a bridge of lights, Safari Park themed tree and choreographed light show. Starts at $63.
  • Legoland – meet Santa, the Toy Solider and Gingerbread Man and marvel at the 30-foot Lego Christmas tree with over 400 Lego ornaments. Weekends and select dates through Jan. 8. Tickets start at $89.
  • Snow n’ Glow – the festival at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, with 1 million lights and activities including snow tubing, opens Dec. 8, then on select dates through Jan. 1. Starts at $25.
  • SeaWorld – features seasonal shopping, live shows and displays, including a 30-foot Christmas tree and a music-activated tunnel of lights, through Jan. 8. Promo pricing starts at $55.
  • Sesame Place – “Very Furry Christmas,” through Jan. 8, includes games, special merchandise, and photos with Sesame Street faves in their holiday finest. Starting at $65.


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Ellen Bullock