It’s definitely a different type of ‘winter’ wonderland, but San Diego pulls out all the stops to ring in the holidays with festivities you’ll only find in our fantastic city: seaside ice skating, a boat parade of lights, Old Town’s traditional Las Posadas procession, the Holiday Bowl Parade and so much more! Read on for the details on the cozy neighborhood get-togethers and citywide extravaganzas sure to get you into the spirit of the season––sunny side up!

photo: Liberty Station Facebook

1. Salute the Season at Liberty Station Gather loved ones to celebrate one of the the best tree lightings in the city. A mini train ride on this night serves as your shuttle to the North Promenade where you can watch the tree lighting, shop local vendors, grab dinner and cozy up on the lawn with blankets to watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas November 29, 2017 from 5-9 p.m. Also don’t miss some of the season’s best events like ice skating everyday until Jan. 7 with all proceeds benefitting Rady Children’s Hospital and a beautiful menorah lighting on Dec 12.

2. The festive December Nights event lights up Balboa Park with a two-day iconic San Diego tradition. Enjoy the museums, carolers, live music, dazzling lights and theater and dance performances free of charge. Feast on foods from around the globe at the House of Pacific Relations Cottages. Take public transit to avoid parking hassles. December 1, 3-11 p.m. and Dec. 2, noon-11 p.m.

3. Coronado Holiday Parade & Open House Gather in Rotary Plaza, sing carols and await Santa’s arrival via fire truck! After the Christmas Tree is lit, settle in for a festive parade down Orange Ave. End your evening with a ride down Snow Hill, shopping and music from the Community Band. Dec. 1, 6 p.m.

photo: Helen Woodward Animal Center

4. Helen Woodward’s Frosty Farm offers a perfect holiday romp for animal lovers with photo opportunities with fluffy, feathery and scaled friends. Embrace the spirit of giving back by making a toy for an orphaned animal. There’s hot cocoa, cookie decorating, an elf obstacle course and Santa too! Dec 2–3, and Dec. 9-10, 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

5. Botanic Garden of Lights Witness the wonder of winter as the garden transforms into an even more magical setting. Sparkling lights, horse-drawn wagon rides, marshmallow roasting, visits with Santa and snow (on select evenings) make for a fantastical family night out. December 2–23 and 26–30 5–9 p.m.

photo: John Bryant

6. Ocean Beach Holiday Parade There’s no place like OB to bring on a parade filled with dog lovers and their pooches, VW Beetles and classic Woodies, even a Grateful Dead cover band. Dec 2, 5 p.m.

7. La Jolla Christmas Parade and Holiday Festival Downtown La Jolla spreads some holiday fancy at its Christmas Parade and Holiday Festival. Grab your beach chairs or a seat at your favorite restaurant patios to check out school marching bands, cheerful floats, horses, vintage cars and Jolly St. Nick. December 3, 1:30 p.m.

8. Grab a date and enjoy an adult night out at the Dive in Theatre at The Pearl Hotel. Lounge around the pool and take in a fun holiday movie like Elf or National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Warm up with a Creme Brûlée and Toasted Beatnik Cocktail from the bar. Weds. nights throughout December. Movie starts at 8 p.m. Reservations recommended.

9. Julian’s Country Christmas Feel a true chill in the air in the mountains of Julian and celebrate an old-fashioned homestead holiday with Fort Cross Old Timey Adventures. A holiday adventure like no other, there will be cider pressing, hayrides, hoedowns, caroling, rustic ornament making, candle dipping, a petting zoo and tomahawk throwing. Reservations required. Nov. 29 and Dec. 4, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.

photo: Marv Sloben/San Diego Bay Parade of Lights 

10. San Diego Bay Parade of Lights Arrrgh! Pirate lovers will cheer for boats decked out like pirate ships in this year’s parade themed “A Pirate’s Christmas.” The parade begins at Shelter Island and ends at the Ferry Landing in Coronado. Two weekends: Dec 10 and 17, 5 p.m.

11. Bates Nut Farm Christmas in the Valley The farm puts a twist on holiday celebrations by including its own singing contest called “The Christmas Voice.” Come listen to some amazing local talent and take a Polar Express ride to visit with Santa, make crafts and sing carols during this fun event. Dec 8, 3:30-8 p.m. and Dec. 9 , 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

12. Poway’s Christmas in the Park Take the family back in time with caroling, live music and horse-drawn hay rides. Do some holiday shopping at the craft boutique, or board the Poway Midland Railroad for a night-time ride around the park. Free parking shuttles. Dec 9, 3:30-8:30 p.m.

13. La Mesa Holiday in the Village Enjoy La Mesa’s newly renovated vibe with lively, hip restaurants and entertainment. The night will be filled with glowing fire pits, craft vendors and a kids’ area with holiday movies and games. December 9, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. and Dec 10, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

photo: Hotel Del Coronado

14. Skating by the Sea Gorgeous sunsets, stunning beachfront views and the iconic Hotel Del all lit up with its glorious white lights. Enjoy the ultimate in holiday magic ice skating at the Hotel Del’s ice rink. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Make-A-Wish San Diego. Reserve your spot. Open Nov. 23-Jan. 1.

15. Take a Holiday Breath Yoga Series. Get your holiday Om on as you take a calming morning yoga class outside the Hotel Del overlooking the water. Class fee helps support yoga programs in local underserved communities. Sundays in Dec. at 10:30 a.m. through Dec. 17.

16. Sail into the yuletide spirit as boat enthusiasts get creative with sparkling lights and fun music at the Oceanside Harbor Parade of Lights. Dec 9, 6-10 p.m.

17.  Walk alongside Old Town’s Las Posadas in a traditional reenactment of the story of Mary and Joseph’s journey to the Inn. The candlelit procession includes holiday songs in Spanish and English. Afterwards, keep warm with a cozy bonfire, hot chocolate and a festive piñata-breaking party. Stores and museums will stay open late for shoppers. December 9, 4:45 – 8 p.m.. Also, Old Town will bring holiday cheer every Sat. during December with carolers, a bonfire and free cocoa.

18. Maker’s Arcade Holiday Faire.  Shop local and buy one-of-a-kind, handcrafted gifts from more than 100 local Makers gathered at the Broadway Pier.  Enjoy food trucks, free crafts, live music, games and a new kids’ area. Dec 9 , 11 a.m.-7 p.m.

photo: Jim Cox

19. It just wouldn’t be Christmas without How The Grinch Stole ChristmasThe Old Globe’s performance is filled with music and whimsy and the stage is transformed into a delightful snow-covered Whoville. A sensory-friendly performance for children on the autism spectrum or kids with special needs is offered on December 9th at 10:30 a.m. Show runs now through Dec. 24.

20. Mission Bay Parade of Lights Powerboats and sailboats put on a show as they parade on a dazzling night, lights reflecting off the water. The parade begins at Quivira Basin. Best viewing is from Crown Point, the east side of Vacation Island or the west side of Fiesta Island. Dec 9,  6 p.m.

21. Head to the Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade to see local pups strut through the Gaslamp Quarter dressed in their cutest holiday costumes. The event also includes a Pet Expo and an awards ceremony honoring the best-dressed pets including best ugly holiday sweater. Register your pet to participate. Dec. 10, 1-5 p.m.

photo: Global Winter Wonderland

22. Jungle Bells Visit your favorite zoo friend all decked out for the holidays. Tour the Zoo’s festive décor aboard a Twinkle Light Trolley. The Zoo is a great place to do some holiday shopping or relax with Happy Hour at Albert’s Restaurant. Now through Jan. 2.

23. Global Winter Wonderland This new, gorgeous multi-cultural celebration at SDCCU Stadium (formerly Qualcomm) features holidays celebrated around the world. Jaw-dropping illuminated landscapes twinkle with lights. Enjoy talented live acrobatics, carnival rides and games and international foods. Now through Jan. 7.

24. Need an excuse to bundle up? Take your crew to a Gulls game and enjoy hockey San Diego style. A fun family-friendly Teddy Bear toss giveaway will get the kids cheering. Sat., Dec. 16, 7 p.m.


25. Did you know The Holiday Bowl Parade is the country’s largest balloon parade? Gaze up at the spectacle of the many balloons marching by and enjoy colorful floats and great, local talented bands along San Diego Bay downtown. Dec. 28, 10 a.m.

Where are you celebrating the holidays in San Diego? Share in the comments!

––Cherie Gough