It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas with all the events happening in Southern California this weekend. Spend the weekend in Balboa Park for the 35th annual December Nights holiday tradition. Bring your furry kids to the Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade. The San Diego Botanic Garden kicks off its annual Garden of Lights on Saturday evening. Or head up to Orange County for lots of great holiday events including the Irvine Santa Train and CHILL aboard the Queen Mary.

San Diego

December Nights
San Diego’s favorite kick-off to the holiday season, will celebrate 35 years of bringing friends, families and the community together. In the spirit of the holidays, participating Balboa Park museums open their doors free of charge from 5:00pm to 9:00pm both evenings. The largest free community festival in San Diego, December Nights will bring more than 300,000 visitors to the park to revel and enjoy the season over two days. Fri. and Sat., 5:00 pm – 10:00 pm, Balboa Park, Free. All ages. Event details.

Chocolate at theNAT
Learn about the unique cacao tree whose seeds started it all, and find out how chocolate was transformed from a bitter drink of kings into the indulgence we love today. Fri., 10:00 am – 5:00 pm, San Diego Natural History Museum, Free with admission. All ages. Event details.

Carols and Community Sing-a-long
Here’s your opportunity to sing all those Christmas songs you love to hear this wonderful time of year! Join the San Diego Children’s Choir in celebrating the holiday spirit with Benjamin Britten’s beautiful Ceremony of Carols. Sun., 3:00 pm, San Diego First United Methodist Church, $5 – $15. All ages. Event details.

Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade
All pet owners and their furry, featured and scaled companions are invited to don their favorite costumes and put their best paw, wing and fin forward for this jolly promenade and pet expo. Sun., 3:00 pm, Gaslamp Hilton Park, Free. All ages. Event details.

North County

Garden of Lights
As the sun goes down, the San Diego Botanic Garden will be transformed into a dazzling winter wonderland with over 100,000 sparkling lights illuminating the Garden for a magical holiday experience. Leave the hustle and bustle of the malls behind and enjoy a relaxing evening strolling through the lighted Garden. From December 8 – 13 and 26 – 30, families can enjoy winter fun in the snow! Weather permitting, please bring your own sled. Sat., 5:00 pm – 9:00 pm, San Diego Botanic Gardens, $4 – $12. All ages. Event details.

Orange County

Santa’s Wonderland
The OC’s newest Holiday Tradition will dazzle and delight your entire family. Become and honorary Elf in our Elf Academy, decorate gingerbread, play Reindeer Games, stop by Santa’s office and control room and check the Naughty/Nice list. Then make your way through the Mischief Maze. Shop the Mistletoe Market and enjoy a treat at the Candy Cane Cafe’. Finish your tour with a visit to Santa for a cherished family photo! Tours run every 2 hours reserve early for the best times. Sat., 10:00 am, Irvine California, $25. All ages. Event details.

Christmas at the Zoo
Celebrate the holidays with the animals of the OC Zoo in Irvine Regional Park! Christmas at the OC Zoo welcomes children to story time with Mrs. Claus, a visit with Santa, seasonally inspired crafts and holiday face painting. Watch the zoo animals receive treats hidden inside Christmas Trees! While at the OC Zoo, take a ride on Irvine Park Railroad’s annual Christmas Train through Irvine Regional Park. Sat., 10:00 am – 4:00 pm, Orange County Zoo, Costs vary. All ages. Event details.

Christmas Train
Ride the Christmas train. Kids can meet and have a picture taken with Santa Claus. Enjoy activities in Santa’s Village including carnival games, a Santa moon bounce, story time with Mrs. Claus and more. Sun., 5:00 pm, Irvine Park Railroad, $10. All ages. Event details.

CHILL on Queen Mary
The iconic Queen Mary presents CHILL, an experience that will bring cheer, enchantment and cold temperatures to Southern California just in time for the holiday season. The only event of its kind on the West Coast, CHILL is a not-to-miss holiday event. CHILL will offer a completely unique holiday experience. Sun., 10:00 am, Queen Mary, $12.95 – $24.95, All ages. Event details.

What is your family doing this weekend? Are you embarking on holiday adventures?

– Leah R. Singer

December Nights image courtesy of Balboa Park Facebook page