From gingerbread houses to snow fall to holiday crafts, the holiday season is happily busting at the seams in San Diego. To add to your holiday cheer we’ve found 15 affordable December happenings that will leave plenty of wiggle room in your Christmas-time budget. So check your holiday to-do’s twice and surround yourselves in the spirit of the season.

1. The Fairway Village neighborhood within Carmel Mountain Ranch conducts a grand display of lights and over-the-top Christmas decorations Dec. 1 – Jan. 1. This community event is reminiscent of October’s trick-or-treating since many participating homes graciously hand out free treats like holiday baked goods, crock pot appetizers and hot chocolate. As you make your way on foot though the neighborhood keep an eye out for a fire truck that’s transporting Santa. This event is in high demand, so prepare to arrive early since curbside parking fills up quickly.

2. The Mission Bay Christmas Boat Parade of Lights is a free event that can be viewed from numerous locations around the bay. On Dec. 10 at 5 p.m. the decorated boats will begin their journey from Quivira Basin and they’d like you to know that they can best be viewed from Crown Point parks. This parade of floating lights will commence at 9 p.m.


Photo: Tony Webster via Flickr

3. The water vehicles at the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights will be decked out in a theme that coincides with this year’s zoo theme, “It Began With A Roar – San Diego Celebrates 100 Years.” On Dec. 11 & 18 at 5 p.m. the parade will take a first ever extended route in hopes of spreading more holiday joy to its fans. Be at Shelter Island for kick off at 5 p.m., 6 p.m. at Harbor Island, The Embarcadero at 6:30 p.m., Seaport Village at 7 p.m., the Pier at Cesar Chavez Park at 7:15 p.m. or for the finale at Coronado’s Ferry Landing at 7:30 p.m.

4. If you haven’t yet had the chance to see them in person, you’ve got to check out Hullaballo this month. See the free-range band perform for free Sat. Dec. 3 at the Central Library at 10:30 a.m. or at Westfield UTC during the mall’s Winter Nights event. If you opt for the Winter Nights performance, your little ones will also be privy to stilt walking Toy Soldiers.

5. The Lakeshore Learning Store at Hazard Center will be hosting three different holiday themed craft times during the month of Dec. Holiday crafters can choose to make a polar bear Dec. 3, a treat holding holiday hat Dec. 10, a Frosty photo frame Dec. 17 or all three. All events take place between 11 a.m.-3 p.m.


Photo: Marit & Toomas Hinnosaur via Flickr

6. Many branches within the San Diego Public Library are hosting free Gingerbread House Workshops. Pre-made houses are provided, but some branches require pre-registration and a bag of candy for sharing. Click here to find an event in your neighborhood.

7. If Bernardo Winery weren’t already hospitable enough to little ones, their Holiday Lights! event is inviting to little elves of all ages. Admission and parking is free for this Dec. 12- 18 winter production and its an event where you can pay as little or as much as you’d like. On a budget, families may go to view the light display, purchase a cup of cocoa or coffee, visit for free with Santa and choose a couple nominally priced kiddo craft activities. Visit anytime between 4-9 p.m.

8. Wear your favorite pajamas and travel to the North Pole from the warmth of a Barnes & Noble near you. The Polar Express Pajama Story Times may be heard Fri. Dec. 2 at 7 p.m. at a book store near you. Activities and letters to Santa will follow.


Photo: SD Dirk via Flickr

9. A beautiful display of lights can be seen off the 5 and Nobel Dr. at the San Diego Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The trees are symbols of holiday cheer with the dazzling lights that adorn them. Holiday light seekers will also find an abundance of glowing wreaths and stars on the temple’s grounds. This display can be expected to light Dec. 1 – Jan. 1.

10. Come dressed in your orange apron and be ready to create a Gingerbread Man Candy Dish Sat. Dec. 3 at Home Depot. This holiday themed crafternoon is part of the monthly Free Kids Workshops hosted by the home improvement giant the first Sat. of each month.

11. If you’ve got a gingerbread enthusiast in the house, you’ve got to visit the lobby of the Omni La Costa in Carlsbad sometime between Nov. 26 & Dec. 30. Various community members have contributed a gingerbread house to this Third Annual Gingerbread Competition. This is a great opportunity to take a few notes and work on your own masterpiece at home.


Photo: Let’s Go Out Bournemouth and Poole via Flickr

12. Mail your letters here. Write down everything you hope to receive and deliver on Dec. 3 at Chula Vista’s Holiday in the Village. Between noon-4 p.m. they’ll be preparing a shipment of letters to the North Pole and characters from The Polar Express, The Nutcracker and A Snow White Christmas will be on-site for a meet and greet. If you live nearby consider returning at 6 p.m. for the City of Chula Vista’s Starlight Parade.

13. A holiday happening just steps from the water is a San Diegan’s dream and it looks like the Hilton San Diego Bayfront has planned accordingly. The hotel has a whole program of holiday events, but they’ll be screening three holiday favorites at their Promenade Plaza Saturdays at 7 p.m. Visit the seven layers of the Candy Cane Forest with Elf Sat. Dec. 10, help Scott Calvin save Christmas with The Santa Claus Sat. Dec. 17 and have your tickets ready for The Polar Express Sat. Dec. 24.

14. There’s snow in the forecast. Flakes are due to fall each evening at 6 & 7 p.m. between Dec. 3 & Dec. 24 at the Village Walk at EastLake in Chula Vista. Catch a fistful of flurries and plan to come back tomorrow.


Photo: Ewen Roberts via Flickr

15. December nights should be spent at Balboa Park. This urban cultural area just might be as equally popular with us as it is with our little helpers. Many activities will take place Fri. Dec. 2 between 3-11 p.m. and Sat. Dec. 3 between noon-11 p.m., but the coolest thing just might be the free admission that’s offered both nights from 5-9 p.m. to all of the park’s museums.

What other affordable happenings should we add to our list? Where is your family celebrating the holiday season? Tell us below!

— Jeannette Swanson