Pile the fam into the car and make your way to one of these bright spots to behold gorgeous Christmas lights. We’ve found neighborhoods that are aglow with festive twinkling lights that will make everyone’s eyes sparkle. From dazzling houses complete with Santa visits to a Botanic Wonderland and San Diego Bay Parade of Lights, read on for where to see the best Christmas light displays in San Diego.

Candy Cane Lane, Poway

The second week of December, this neighborhood transforms into a twinkling wonderland. You'll be amazed by grandiose light displays, giant inflatables and holiday decorations that will delight your whole family. If you're viewing lights from your car, pack your patience and plan on moving at a very slow pace. Many opt to park their car, bundle up the kids in strollers and walk through the neighborhood to see the lights at their own speed.

Hickory St., Poway

Online: facebook.com/powayccl

Christmas Card Lane, Rancho Peñasquitos

Nothing says larger than life than the colossal cards that grace these landscaped lawns. Your little angels will sing with joy at the hundreds of giant Disney greetings on display. Clippity-clop on a horse-drawn carriage or warm-up to a bountiful bonfire. Dawdle or drive-down this magical street. Neighborhood lights up the first weekend in December.

Insider's Tip: Best time to go is between 7-8 p.m. (it’s crowded, but all lights are on).

Oviedo St., just off Black Mountain Rd.
Rancho Penasquitos, CA

Carlsbad Home Offers Lights AND a Personalized Letter from Santa!

For a truly charming experience, take your little elves to mail their very own letter to Santa at his real mailbox located at 6646 Elegant Tern Pl. in Carlsbad. Santa actually writes back a free personalized letter to each kiddo (include your home address for a response)! According to the California Christmas Lights website, this personal residence boasts multiple illuminated features (as seen above) that will draw many ooohs and aaahs. The mailbox out front has candy canes to sweeten the outing.

Read more about the Carlsbad mom who decks out this house and knows the true meaning of the holiday spirit here.

Good to know: Santa's mailbox is located curbside from Dec. 1 through Dec. 23rd so his elves have ample time to receive the letters before Christmas Day. There will also be a community party on Dec. 14th from 6-9 p.m. where visitors can enjoy a visit with Santa, crafts, bubbles, music, hot cocoa, mulled wine and fresh spun cotton candy!

Dates: Dec. 5th-25th, 6-10 p.m. nightly.

Online: californiachristmaslights.com

Belardo Lights, Tierrasanta

This one-house masterpiece at 5306 N. Belardo Dr. is truly a must-see. It started in 2006 as a way for the Schimka family to give their two autistic sons, Brandon and Stephen, their very own light show for the holidays. This labor of love has more than 100,000 lights and is a heartwarming tradition for many families and continues to be an anxiously anticipated event each holiday season. Tune your car radio to 106.1 FM to hear holiday music played in sync with the lights.

Date: The house lights up starting Nov. 30th.

Online: belardolights.com

photo: John Bryant

Botanic Wonderland

Gather up your family and friends and go spend an evening at the all new Botanic Wonderland! Held in the Garden's brand new Dickinson Family Education Conservatory, this family-friendly festival contains many of the holiday traditions you’ve come to know and love over the years at the Garden, as well as some fantastic new ones. For the first time ever, select areas of Hamilton Children’s Garden and Toni’s Treehouse will be lit up and ready to play in during December evening hours. Go celebrate and explore the new educational space filled with unique and unusual tropical plants, many of which have never been displayed before at the Garden. Activities include visits with Santa and the Snow Princess, scavenger hunt, holiday crafts, a real snow play area, face painting, a twinkling light tunnel and so much more. 

Botanic Wonderland dates are: December 3–8; 10–15; 17–23; 26–30

San Diego Botanic Garden
230 Quail Gardens Dr.
Encinitas, CA 92024
Online: sdbgarden.org/botanicwonderland

Carmel Mountain Ranch

Almost 100 homes on this friendly residential street turn up the wattage and amp up the brightness to really shine. You can drive on out to what is known as one of the best neighborhood light displays in the county. Cocoa, cookies and music can be found in this happenin’ hood during their annual block party event. When the weather is right, some say Santa’s red fire truck is spotted scurrying little elves down the street.

Fairway Village at Stoney Gate Pl.
Dec. 1-Jan. 1
Time: dusk-10:30 p.m.

Online info: fairwayvillagenews.com

Knob Hill, San Marcos

Clocking in at over 85,000 lit-up lights, hundreds of fun-figurines and a whole lot of electrical wiring, this Knob Hill neighborhood is a go-to for brilliant displays. Santa is known to show up nightly for about a week before Christmas Day to hand-out candy canes and hear wishes from kids. Don't miss the home of who the locals have dubbed "Mr. Christmas." For the past 30 years Bill Gilfillen has spent three months decorating his home with over 100,000 lights. Visitors have come from as far as Australia and Japan to behold the stunning splendor.

Lights-on between 5-9 p.m. nightly around Thanksgiving-Dec. 30

1639 Knob Hill Rd.
San Marcos, CA 92069

Online: christmasonknobhill.com

San Diego Bay Parade of Lights

San Diego is known as a sea-worthy city and the annual San Diego Bay Parade of Lights brightens the water like never before. This time-honored holiday tradition is brought to San Diego by the boating community. Continuing its long-standing San Diego tradition, the 48th annual San Diego Bay Parade of Lights promises to dazzle and entertain bay-front crowds with views of 80 lavishly decked out boats during the evenings of Dec. 8th and 15th. The theme for this year’s San Diego Parade of Lights is “Comic-Con on the Bay,” a timely collaboration between two premier San Diego events as Comic-Con celebrates its 50th anniversary.

You can behold this free event from multiple locales, watching brilliantly bedecked boats buoy your holiday spirit. The two-hour long route travels through some of San Diego’s most treasured waterfront destinations including Shelter Island, Harbor Island, the Embarcadero, Seaport Village, the Pier at Cesar Chavez Park and the Ferry Landing in Coronado. Dress warmly––it can get quite nippy on these nautical nights.

Good to know: USA Today named the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights a candidate for "Best Holiday Parade" in the U.S.!

Dates: Dec. 8 and 15 beginning at 5 p.m.
Online: sdparadeoflights.org

––Leah R. Singer & Beth Shea


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