10 Things to Do In San Diego During the Holidays

San Diego is the perfect Holiday retreat, with sun, a slight chill in the air, and plenty of holiday cheer. Outdoor activities make the most of San Diego’s beautiful weather. Enjoy thrilling light displays and excellent shopping opportunities. San Diego’s best parades are saved for the holiday season, between the months of November and December, including the Holiday Bowl parade. For visitors and locals alike, San Diego offers holiday experiences like nowhere else.

Here’s a list of the 10 best things to do in San Diego during the November and December holiday season!

#1) Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Balboa Park/ Old Globe Theatre

Dates: November 3-Decemeber 29, 2018

Price: $24+

The Old Globe Theater

How the Grinch Stole Christmas at The Old Globe Theater. Photography courtesy Brian Chow

Located in beautiful Balboa Park, the Old Globe Theatre is transformed annually to host Whoville and the classic holiday musical.  Kids will get a kick out of the delightful characters and parents will love seeing their childhood holiday favorite on stage! Take some time before the show to explore the grounds, lights, and stunning Balboa park architecture.

#2) Garden of Lights

San Diego Botanic Garden

Dates: December 1- 23, December26- 30, 2018

Price: $10+

San Diego Botanical Garden

The San Diego Botanical Garden, located at Balboa Park. Photography courtesy Bryan Hyland

Nightly entertainment, holiday snacks and beverages, and gorgeous light displays make up this San Diego favorite. Local bands play each night of Garden of Lights.  This event is family friendly, with marshmallow roasting, snow to play in, crafts, and more! Santa will be at the Garden of Lights through December 23. Over 125,000 lights transform the Garden into a sparkling Holiday wonderland.

#3) Jungle Bells

San Diego Zoo

Dates: December 8, 2018 -January 1, 2019

Price: Free with Zoo Admission

Jungle Bells event at the San Diego Zoo

Jungle Bells at the San Diego Zoo. Photography by cultivar413

The world-famous San Diego Zoo gets dressed up for the holidays with lights, special activities and treats, holiday animal experiences, and visits from Santa! Enjoy the holiday decorations, interactive guest experiences, and dancing light shows. Two special 4-D experiences are available for the holiday season. Open daily, the Zoo closes at 5PM on Christmas Eve.

#4) Port of San Diego Parade of Lights

San Diego Bay

Dates: December 9 &16, 2018

Price: Free

San Diego Bay Parade of Lights

The San Diego Bay Parade of Lights in full effect. Photography courtesy Tony Webster.

The 80-boat parade is themed “Tropical Island Christmas” this year, and can be viewed from various locations along the route, on and off the water. The boats with the best holiday lights and decorations are awarded for their hard work. The best dry-land vantage points include the park behind Seaport Village and Harbor Island. This delightful parade starts at 5pm on both Sundays.

#5) Old Town Las Posadas

Mission Valley and Old Town

Date: December 15, 2018

Price: Free

Old Town San Diego Entrance Sign

Old Town is a local favorite with many festivities and parades throughout the year, including the Old Town Posado held in December. Photo credit: Db9023

A 68-year San Diego Tradition, Old Town Las Posadas officially begins its processional reenactment of The First Christmas at 5PM, in the park. At journey’s conclusion, there will be a piñata for children, and a campfire and smores for all. Enjoy shopping, decorations, and song in Old Town during the day before the processional.

#6) The Vet+ Pet West Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade

Gaslamp Quarter

Date: December 16, 2018

Price: Free Viewing, $15+ to participate

Dog dressed up in clothes wearing goggles

This well dressed pup stops for a photo-op during the Vet + Pet West Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade. Photo by Andy Orin

All pets, furry, scaled, and feathered, are welcome in this annual costumed parade! Awards are given for best costumes in various costumes to pets and their humans. Participation space is limited. This parade is a family favorite!

#7) Holiday Nights

Bernardo Winery

Dates: December 17-22, 2018

Price: Free

Bernardo Winery Logo

Enjoy a night of old-fashioned family fun at the Bernardo Winery! Live music, carriage rides, shopping, and wine tasting, Holiday Nights is a perfect evening activity. The winery’s grounds are decorated to the nines with holiday flair. Admission and parking are free.

#8) Holiday Bowl Parade

Downtown San Diego

Date: December 31, 2018

Price: Street Side Viewing is Free

San Diego Holiday Day Bowl

San Diego Holiday Bowl Parade. Photo courtesy of the Port of San Diego.

The Holiday Bowl Parade is America’s largest balloon parade, with a procession of world-class performers, spectacular floats, the best marching bands, and of course—the enormous balloons.

Join the 100,000 street side spectators to enjoy this nationwide favorite. Get involved with the parade as a volunteer or run the Solar Turbines 5K. The parade starts at 10AM. Grandstand seats are available, starting at $25.

#9) Spreckles Organ Society Concerts

Balboa Park

Date: Every Sunday, 2PM

Price: Free and Open to the Public

Spreckels Organ Pavilion Concert

The U.S. Navy Band Sea Chanters performing at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.

This ongoing concert series features the grand Spreckles outdoor organ. Special performances with vocalists and other musicians will take place during the holiday season. See website for a detailed list of activities, nighttime performances, and more. Picnics and pets are welcome.

#10) San Diego’s Beaches

Various Locations

Price: Free and Open to the Public

Ocean Beach Pier

The Ocean Beach pier captured by Abominator

San Diego’s signature attraction is the 70 miles of coastline, perfect for surfing, strolling, and enjoying the sunshine, and gathering with friends at some of the best beaches for bonfires. Whale watching is at its best December- March at Point Loma. Collect seashells for unique holiday décor. Take a break from holiday stresses to simply enjoy the beautiful Pacific Ocean.

These are just a few of the holiday activity options in San Diego. Many events are annual traditions, with something for everyone in the family.  Enjoy San Diego’s beautiful weather by getting out for a hike or a stroll in the park. If you’re hosting a holiday get-together this year, check out our holiday decorating tips!

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