Christmas cheer can still be found near this holiday season at well-planned, socially distanced holiday events all over the city. Your family can either safely walk-thru or drive-thru the joy and magic of festive events like the Drive-In Nutcracker, Holidays in Your Car, the Enchanted Village, Holidays at LEGOLAND and so much more. Read on for the details on San Diego’s best holiday drive-thru events and Christmas events well worth a stroll.

Winter Wonderland at Hotel Del

Walk through the Hotel Del as it will transport you to a winter wonderland complete with a two-story Christmas tree, snowy surprises, holiday movies with Jingle S’mores on the beach, socially distanced photos with Santa in his sleigh, holiday treats & drinks and take away holiday craft kits.

When: Nov. 26 – Dec. 31 from 5-9 p.m.
Cost: free to walk around, cost varies per event
Tickets: advance purchase required for events

Hotel Del
1500 Orange Ave., Coronado
619-435-6611
Event details.

Holiday in the Village at La Mesa

Christmas is meant to be merry and bright and you’ll find all the merriment of the Holidays in La Mesa Village. They'll have a socially distanced holiday craft market, holiday music, craft vendors, a food court and a unique holiday photo station inside the Joy Globe that will transport you to a winter spectacular. All of this joy and cheer will be guided by one-way directional arrows to guide your flow and aid in easy social distancing between groups.

When: Dec. 5 from 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
Cost: Free to walk around, cost varies for individual vendors
Tickets: n/a

La Mesa Village
7914 La Mesa Blvd., La Mesa
619-343-2460
Online: lamesavillageassociation.org

Drive-in Nutcracker at Liberty Station

Drive-in to Liberty Station to watch the famous sugarplum fairies leap across the stage from your car. You’ll watch an hour long pop-up performance of the Nutcracker from the safety and comfort of your car. Spectators are encouraged to bring your own portable chairs, blankets and other cozy necessities to tailgate in comfort directly in front of your car. There will only be 30 parking spaces per show and only 5 shows total, so get your tickets before they sell out. Plan ahead to support the local businesses to order food & drinks from local restaurants to bring in with you.

When: Nov. 27-29, Dec. 5-6 at 3 p.m.
Cost: $99/general admission, $129/VIP admission
Tickets: available here

Liberty Station
2850 Womble Rd., Liberty Station
619-756-7992
Event details.

Enchanted Village in Spring Valley

Drive-thru a magical holiday light tunnel, see over 100,000 holiday lights, beautiful displays and a large musical Christmas tree from the safety of your car. You’ll even be able to take a photo with Santa from a safe distance. The best part about this experience, is helping Noah Homes programs to support people with developmental disabilities. You’ll start at Steel Canyon High School and end your experience at Noah Homes 8+ acres.

When: Dec. 18-23 from 5-8 p.m.
Cost: $65/vehicle (no motorcycles, buses, limos or RVs)
Tickets: advance purchase required

Start: Steel Canyon High School
12440 Campo Rd., Spring Valley

End: Noah Homes
12526 Campo Rd., Spring Valley
Event details.

Holidays in Your Car at Del Mar

Discover a symphony of sight and sound at one of southern California's largest drive-thru Holiday Light Spectaculars! Experience Holidays in Your Car at the Del Mar Fairgrounds featuring more than one million lights, holograms, and projection mapping animated Holiday Classic tunes.

Watch another experience from your car with one of the live stage drive-in shows. 1) Santa Saves Christmas: the gang has to fill up his empty gas tank with holiday cheer. Snowy surprises, holiday sing-a-longs, a light show and large video screens will ensure everyone has a good time. 2) The Nutcracker: performed live on stage by the City Ballet of San Diego.

Drive Through Holiday Lights Show
When: Dec. 5 - Jan. 2 from 5-10 p.m.
Cost: $49/car with 4 people; $64/car with 5+ people
Kids 2 and under in a rear-facing car seat don’t count towards the total number.
Tickets: advance purchase required

Drive-In Live Show: Santa Saves Christmas
When: Dec. 12 & 13 at 4:30 or 7:30 p.m.
Cost: $49-$229 per car
Tickets: advance purchase required

Drive-In Live Show: Nutcracker Ballet
When: Dec. 19 at 5 & 8 p.m.
Cost: $99-$279 per car
Tickets: advance purchase required

Del Mar Fairgrounds
2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar
858-755-1161
Online: holidaysinyourcar.com

More event details.

Northern Lights at California Center for the Arts

The Center for the Arts will be transformed into a spectacle of light, hope, and joy after each evening. You’re invited to this self-guided experience to wander along the walkways, take in the holiday sights and sounds and enjoy tunnels of twinkling lights, giant Christmas trees and favorite holiday characters. Lights will move to music in a display curated by local Escondido family The Peace’s as featured on ABC’s The Great Christmas Light Fight. You may also find fresh baked cookies, hot cocoa and a snow machine.

When: Nov. 30 – Jan. 3, daily from 4:30-9 p.m.
Cost: Free
Tickets: n/a

California Center for the Arts
340 N. Escondido Blvd., Escondido
760-839-4138
Event details.

Sleigh Rides at Temecula Carriage Co.

Jingle all the way over to Temecula Carriage Co., where your family will enjoy a private horse-drawn carriage ride over the hills and through the vineyards to see 100,000 twinkly lights and holiday displays. Sleigh rides are 25 minutes for same households of 4 people. Or you can choose their Santa’s workshop sleigh rides for 15 minutes that includes prepackaged cookies and a short visit with Santa Claus in his “wine country workshop.”

When: Nov. 27 - Jan. 3 from 3-9 p.m.
Cost: $65 for 4 guests on a 25 min sleigh ride
Tickets: advance purchase required

Temecula Carriage Co.
40001 Berenda Rd., Temecula
844-369-1852
Online: temeculacarriageco.com

Neighborhood Holiday Lights

Make some hot cocoa, turn on the holiday tunes, buckle up, and go for a drive to enjoy dazzling Christmas light displays around various neighborhoods. There are lots of well-known neighborhoods that really go all out with their holiday decorating. These neighborhoods are always worth the drive.

Christmas on Knob Hill
Knob Hill Rd., San Marcos

Holiday Magic
Fairway Village + Stoney Gate Pl., Carmel Mountain Ranch

Christmas Card Lane
Oviedo St., Rancho Penasquitos

Christmas Park
Lana Dr. + Mt Abernathy Ave., Clairemont

Starlight Circle
Magnolia Ave. + Tomel Ct., Santee

Christmas Circle
First Ave. + H St., Chula Vista

Wonderland Holiday Nights at San Diego Botanic Garden

Keep your spirits bright amidst outdoor festive holiday lights strung throughout 37 acres of gardens. While there won’t be Santa or live entertainment this year, you can still wander around the lighted pathways for a fun way to get outside and get a bit of holiday cheer this year.

When: select dates Dec. 2-30 from 5-9 p.m.
Cost: $7-$20
Tickets: advance purchase required

San Diego Botanic Garden
300 Quail Gardens Dr., Encinitas
760-436-3036
Event details.

Seas ‘n’ Greetings at Birch Aquarium

Birch Aquarium’s annual Seas ‘n’ Greetings celebration is moving outdoors, for a safe, socially-distanced holiday celebration that runs daily Nov. 28-Dec. 31, 2020 from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas day with an early closure at 3 p.m. on New Year’s Eve). 

The outdoor areas of the aquarium will be transformed into a winter wonderland featuring SEAsonal music and decor the whole family will love. 

On Tide Pool Plaza, guests can take in epic ocean views while touching juvenile Swell Sharks, Horn Sharks and Round Rays in the aquarium’s newest exhibit. 

Additional outdoor activities can be found on the south side of the aquarium, on Smargon Courtyard, which is now tented in preparation for winter weather. There, guests can enjoy some of their favorite animals outdoors, including tropical species like cleaner shrimp, local animals including Leopard Sharks and rays, and baby animals  from our nursery, as well as several hands-on activities. 

The Education Courtyard has also been activated, to make the most of the aquarium’s outdoor spaces. There, guests can explore elements of the popular Oddities: Hidden Heroes of the Scripps Collections exhibition, while learning more about the superpowers of ocean creatures. 

Fun photo opportunities abound with a 12-foot-tall ocean-themed holiday tree, an 18-foot-tall inflatable octopus, a life-sized cutout of Scuba Santa, and the ocean views that have made Birch Aquarium famous. 

Due to San Diego’s Purple Tier designation, Birch Aquarium is operating entirely outdoors. Indoor spaces including the Hall of Fishes and Seadragons & Seahorses are temporarily closed and will reopen when restrictions lift. 

Seas ‘n’ Greetings is included in the cost of admission and free for members. Tickets must be reserved in advance online for a specific date and time to visit (even for members).  

Face coverings are required for all guests ages 2 and up. 

When: Nov. 28 – Dec. 31 from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily (closed Christmas Day)
Cost: discounted outdoor only admission is $16.50/adults, $12/kids
Tickets: advance purchase required

Birch Aquarium
2300 Expedition Way, La Jolla
858-534-3474
Event details.

Jungle Bells at San Diego Zoo

Ring in the holiday season with Jungle Bells at the Zoo’s annual celebration. You’ll be treated to views of your favorite animals, seasonal decorations, lighted displays, music and joyful roaming entertainers. Try some new culinary delights at the Zoo’s many restaurants and food stands throughout the park.

When: select dates Dec. 4 – Jan. 3
Cost: included with membership or admission
Admission: $50/kids 3-11; $60/adults 12+; Free for kids 2 and under
Tickets: available online or at the gate

San Diego Zoo
2920 Zoo Dr., Balboa Park
619-231-1515
Event details.

Wild Holidays at San Diego Safari Park

Make it a Wild Holiday this year at the San Diego Safari Park. Go on a holiday expedition of light and travel through places that glow and twinkle with holiday cheer while seeing your favorite animals. Enjoy culinary delights from the food stands and shop for the perfect holiday gifts.

When: select dates Nov. 27 – Jan. 3
Cost: included with membership or admission
Admission: $50/kids 3-11; $60/adults 12+; Free for kids 2 and under
Tickets: available online or at the gate

San Diego Zoo Safari Park
15500 San Pasqual Valley Road, Escondido
619-231-1515
Event details.

Holidays at LEGOLAND

Winter Fun is forecasted for the Holidays at LEGOLAND. The Park’s Fun Town turns into a winter wonderland as buildings are trimmed with twinkling lights and holiday décor. Feel the LEGO® cheer with the 30’ tall LEGO Christmas tree, see your favorite characters for a socially distanced meet and greet, enjoy seasonal treats, live entertainment, walk around the new themed Miniland and enjoy building LEGO ornaments.

When: Nov. 20 – Jan. 10
Cost: starts at $14.99, free for kids 2 and under
Tickets: advance purchase required

Legoland
One Legoland Dr., Carlsbad
888-690-5346
Event details.

Wild Winter at Helen Woodward Animal Center

These animals can’t wait to spread holiday cheer at Wild Winter this year! This festive event includes hands-on animal encounters with alpacas, chickens, rabbits and a miniature horse. You’ll get a cute craft to keep or gift, a sweet treat for all and a gift for little ones.

When: Dec. 5, 6, 12 & 13 from 9 a.m.-3 p.m., Dec. 4 & 11 from 5-7:15 p.m.
Cost: $50 per group of 6 people for a 1 hour experience
Tickets: advance purchase required

Helen Woodward Animal Center
6461 El Apajo, Rancho Santa Fe
858-756-4117
Event details.

Holidays by the Bay at Seaport Village

You’ll find the Christmas spirit alive and well at Seaport Village with lighted holiday displays, stage bands playing holiday tunes, masked roaming carolers, a socially distanced breakfast with Santa on Dec. 13th and even socially distanced Santa photos. Their famous surfin’ Santa will instead be a wall mural photo op if you want to keep your traditions alive this year. Seaport Village is an ideal spot to watch the Boat Parade of Lights on Dec. 13th & 20th as it passes right by.

When: Nov. 28 – Jan. 1 daily 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
Cost: Free to walk around, breakfast with Santa $25/person, photos cost varies
Tickets: advanced purchase required for breakfast with Santa and photos

Seaport Village
849 W. Harbor Dr., San Diego
619-530-0704
Online: seaportvillage.com

Old Town Trolley Holiday Lights & Sights Tours

Hop aboard Santa’s sleigh (aka the Trolley!) for a tour of San Diego’s fun holiday sights and lights. Elf conductors will share fun holiday facts and traditions about your favorite San Diego sights including Old Town, Embarcadero, Seaport Village, Balboa Park and more! This is a 75 minute outdoor trolley tour with currently 50% occupancy seats.

When: Dec. 3-24, 26-30 from 6-8:30 p.m.
Cost: $25 for ages 4+, free for kids 3 and under
Tickets: advance purchase required

Old Town Trolley
4010 Twiggs St., Old Town
866-754-0966
Event details.

Holiday Market & Trail at Petco Park

Stroll through the Holiday Market Trail at Petco Park where you’ll find a socially distanced, one-way trail featuring European artisan shops, lighting displays, food and drinks, unique crafts and gifts. You’ll be able to fill the stockings up with ornaments, wooden figurines, oils and soaps, and many more trinkets. Enjoy cider or wine, delicious bratwurst, shortbread, and other tasty treats along the way. Lighting displays will feature Candyland, Winter Wonderland, Home for the Holidays, and more to bring you that cozy holiday spirit.

When: Dec. 3-6, 9-23 from 4-9:30 p.m.
Cost: $10/kids 1-14, $14/adults 14+, kids under 1 are free
Tickets: advance purchase required

Gallagher Square at Petco Park
840 K St., Downtown
619-795-5000
Event details.

Note: The above events have plenty of space to spread out and enjoy special experiences with your household. Please keep in mind that restrictions can change at any moment, so it’s advisable to check directly with each venue before heading out. Per local regulations, all of these winter wonderlands require face coverings and social distancing throughout, with new and enhanced safety measures. Some venues may have one-way paths to follow, a brief health screening or even a temperature check before entering. Exposure to COVID-19 is an inherent risk in any public location where people are present.

––Bonnie Taylor

featured image: via LEGOLAND CA

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