December is a magical month in America’s Finest City. Nearly all of San Diego’s major attractions host a holiday celebration of one kind or another. Neighborhoods get into the spirit with tree lightings, festivals, and parades. You’ll discover holiday favorites like a performance of How the Grinch Stole Christmas or The Nutcracker Ballet, plus the iconic San Diego Bay Parade of Lights, and so much more. Throughout the holiday season everyone gets in the spirit, including hotels, museums, and gardens. You can even find ice skating rinks! This complete guide to the holidays in San Diego brings you all the best San Diego has to offer in December 2018.
Major San Diego Holiday Attractions
How the Grinch Stole Christmas – November 3 to December 29
This whimsical musical is based on the beloved children’s book of the same name written by Dr. Seuss. This year marks the 21st year of performing the family favorite. The whole family will enjoy classic songs like “Santa for a Day” and “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” Performances are held in the Old Globe Theater, transformed into a snowy Whoville, in Balboa Park.
SeaWorld San Diego Christmas Celebration – November 17 to January 6
SeaWorld has tons of fun lined up for families in December, 2018. The park features a new nativity show called “O Wondrous Night.” Santa’s Christmas Village has mesmerizing Christmas lights, Santa, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Don’t miss other attractions at SeaWorld like Dolphin Island Christmas and Breakfast with Killer Whales and Santa.
Holidays at LEGOLAND California – November 17 to December 31
LEGOLAND California Resort will be dressed to the nines in holiday décor. The largest LEGO Christmas tree in the world at 30-feet tall will be on display. It’s made from over 245,000 green DUPLO bricks. There’s also a new Holiday Village inside Fun Town. Santa and other characters in holiday wear will be handy for greetings and photo opportunities. Don’t miss the holiday light show.
Birch Aquarium Seas ‘n’ Greetings – December 1 to December 31
Birch Aquarium hosts a month of magical holiday activities for the entire family. The aquarium transforms into a holiday wonderland in the Hall of Fishes. There are scavenger hunts, themed animal encounters, and Scuba Santa Dive Shows, plus weekend musical performances.
Balboa Park December Nights – December 7 & 8
San Diego’s 41st annual holiday festival kicks off December 7th in Balboa Park. As always, there will be colorful light displays, inspirational entertainers including bands, choirs, and dancers, and other fun-filled attractions. You’ll find plenty of holiday treats, eats, and shopping too.
San Diego Bay Parade of Lights – December 9 & 16
The 47th annual San Diego Parade of Lights is a time-honored San Diego tradition. This year’s boat parade theme is “Tropical Island Christmas.” San Diego visitors and residents can expect 80 boats, lavishly decorated, sailing through San Diego Bay in a spectacular parade of lights.
The Nutcracker Ballet – December 14 – 23
The California Ballet Company leaps on stage with a glittering production of The Nutcracker, accompanied by the San Diego Symphony. America’s favorite Christmas extravaganza is brought to life with a cast of more than 150 dancers. There will be Red Carpet Photo Ops before performances and Meet the Cast sessions after performances.
Jungle Bells at San Diego Zoo – December 14 – January 6
A wild wonderland with merry performances and twinkling lights, Jungle Bells has festive foods, jazzy carols, a toy shop trampoline hop, 4-D Polar Express adventure, and a dazzling Celebration of Lights. Visit Santa’s Factory, the Northern Frontier Holiday Forest, and Gingerbread Landing. Check out all there is to do and see at Jungle Bells.
Old Town State Historic Park Las Posadas – December 15
Fiesta de Reyes hosts Las Posadas for the 68th consecutive year at Old Town State Historic Park. The entire park is wrapped in festive decorations, and provides holiday entertainment all day. Las Posadas, a reenactment of Joseph and Mary’s search for shelter in Bethlehem, begins at 5 p.m. Festivities end with campfire s’mores in the plaza.
Noel Noel Family Concert San Diego Symphony – December 15 & 21, 22
The San Diego Symphony presents Noel Noel, a traditional family concert, at Copley Symphony Hall this season. Broadway singer Bryonha Marie Parham will sing “Believe,” “White Christmas,” and other Christmas favorites. Choirs will sing traditional favorites like “Sleigh Ride,” and the audience will be invited to sing-a-longs with Santa and the symphony.
Port of San Diego Holiday Bowl Parade – December 31
The Holiday Bowl Parade is self-described as America’s Largest Balloon Parade. This exciting televised family event features beautiful floats, world-class marching bands, awe-inspiring drill teams, and thrilling balloons. Grandstand seats are available for pre-purchase.
Holiday Tree Lightings and Festivals by Neighborhood
Little Italy Tree Lighting & Christmas Village – December 1
Little Italy hosts their annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony with an unusual 25-foot tower of 1,100 poinsettias in the shape of a Christmas Tree in Piazza Basilone. This festive event includes a visit from Santa, decorations, live entertainment, holiday beverages, and snacks.
Escondido Winter Wonderland Festival – December 1
California Center for the Arts in Escondido hosts their Winter Wonderland Festival where kids get to play in real snow, see Santa and a live reindeer, and create arts and crafts with a winter theme. There’s food and beverages, plus holiday shopping. Lyric Court lights up at dusk.
Del Mar Village Santa by the Sea and Tree Lighting – December 2
Del Mar Village has its annual holiday celebration and tree lighting on Sunday. There will be a visit by Santa and Mrs. Clause, holiday treats, letters to Santa workshop, holiday crafts for kids, holiday artisan shopping, live music provided by Original Dickens Carolers, and a tree lighting. Guests can bring an unwrapped gift to donate to North County Health Services.
La Mesa Holiday in the Village – December 7 & 8
La Mesa hosts Holiday in the Village with festive holiday entertainment, kids’ activities like elf face painting and reindeer games, holiday treats and shopping, and fire pits to keep warm. There will also be a pet adoption opportunity, carnival games, and train rides.
Poway Christmas in the Park – December 8
Poway hosts their annual free holiday event with horse-drawn hay rides, holiday crafts, caroling, live music, tasty holiday treats, and Christmas shopping at their craft boutique. There are also nighttime rides around the park on Poway Midland Railroad, and model trains to see. Expect a visit from Santa too.
San Diego Holiday Parades
Ocean Beach Holiday Parade – December 1
Ocean Beach has hosted one of San Diego’s favorite holiday parades for more than 30 years. This epic neighborhood parade includes marching bands, gymnasts, VW Beetles, classic Woodies, motorcycles, floats, live music, and of course, Santa.
La Jolla Christmas Parade & Holiday Festival – December 2
The La Jolla Christmas Parade starts at 1:30 p.m. and heads down Girard Avenue to Prospect Street. It ends at the La Jolla Recreation Center where there is a giant Holiday Festival that includes a tree lighting ceremony. Kids will enjoy pony rides, photos with Santa, and live entertainment.
Coronado Holiday Parade and Tree Lighting – December 7
Coronado hosts the island’s 43rd Annual Holiday Parade Friday night, December 7. Attendees who arrive early can join in singing carols and waiting for Santa to arrive in a fire truck. Once he’s there, one lucky person is chosen to turn the switch that lights the giant Star Pine beginning the parade.
Alpine Village Christmas Parade and Snow Festival – December 7
The Alpine Christmas Parade and Snow Festival is a free event in Alpine, 30 minutes east of San Diego off I-8. The parade includes imaginative hometown entries ranging from pets and bikes in lights to floats and decorated big trucks. The snow festival includes an appearance by Santa, snow sledding, children’s activities, and more.
Oceanside Parade of Lights – December 8
Grab a blanket or lawn chair and head to Oceanside Harbor for the annual Oceanside Parade of Lights. (A good spot is by the fishing dock near the Harbor Police station.) You’ll see yachts, sail boats, dinghies, and kayaks all draped in holiday swag, many with their own Santas. Vessels make their way around Oceanside Harbor.
Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade – December 16
The Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego hosts the 11th annual Holiday Pet Parade that begins under the iconic Gaslamp Quarter Archway at 2 p.m. The parade moves up Fifth Avenue to E Street and back down Fourth Avenue to MLK Promenade Park. Pets will then compete for prizes in costume contest categories. Cats, dogs, birds, and fish are welcome. The parade is followed by a festive Holiday Pet Market.
More Fun Holiday Events in San Diego
Holiday by the Bay – November 21 to January 25 (not open every night)
Hilton San Diego Bayfront hosts Holiday by the Bay, an exclusive waterfront holiday adventure park. This popular winter holiday tradition includes cookie decorating, a thrilling two-story Reindeer Run ice slide, iceberg bumper cars, and an hourly light show. There’s an epic Gingerbread House in the hotel lobby that’s a must-see. Sundays at Vela Restaurant, kids can have breakfast with Santa.
Garden of Lights San Diego Botanic Garden – December 1 to 30 (closed Christmas)
Garden of Lights is hosted by the San Diego Botanic Garden in the coastal town of Encinitas. Once the sun sets, the garden turns into a dazzling winter wonderland illuminated by more than 125,000 twinkling lights. There is musical entertainment that changes nightly, a musical light show, marshmallow roasting, face painting, kids’ crafts, a snow slope for sledding, and a toddler snow pit. You’ll also see Santa, so bring your camera. Horse drawn wagon rides through the garden landscape are a small additional fee.
Liberty Station Salute the Season – November 30 to December 31
Liberty Station hosts numerous holiday activities and events throughout December beginning with a tree lighting ceremony November 30th. Some of these events include ice skating at Rady Children’s Ice Rink at Liberty Station, Nutcracker Tea Party with San Diego Ballet, and Liberty Station Hanukkah Celebration & Menorah Lighting, among many more.
San Diego Model Railroad Museum Polar Express Family Day – December 15
Saturday, December 15th, San Diego Model Railroad Museum hosts their Polar Express Family Day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Regular admission to the museum includes a screening of The Polar Express, plus a special keepsake craft, and a visit from someone important from the North Pole.
Neighborhood Holiday Lights
Rancho Peñasquitos Christmas Card Lane – November 22 to December 31
Rancho Peñasquitos residents have been entertaining San Diegans and tourists with holiday lights since 1982. About 200 residents display giant holiday greetings on their front lawns with religious images, cartoon characters, and other Christmas-themed scenes. Scouts and schools often sell hot chocolate and Christmas goodies near the displays.
Tierrasanta Belardo Lights Home – November 24 to December 27
This is the 6th year of the computerized holiday lights display at the home of Randy and Brandon Schimka in Tierrasanta. This unforgettable light show with over 100,000 lights is synchronized to music, which you can tune to on FM 106.1. You’re encouraged to sign the guest book by the mailbox. The address is 5306 Belardo Drive. Donations go to Stein Education Center, which works with autistic children.
Point Loma Garrison Street – December 1 to December 31
Garrison Street is an area of luxury homes in the Point Loma neighborhood. Each year, they go all out to bring the holidays to light. The 3D extravaganza is a sight to behold, since the sheer number of lights is breathtaking. Park nearby and stroll down this holiday bedazzled street for the best experience. Lights go on at dusk and off at 10 p.m.
Poway Candy Cane Lane – December 1 to January 1
This area off Twin Peaks Road in Poway brings another year of spectacular holiday lights. Residents go all out to decorate their homes for the holidays with giant inflatables, and over 50,000 dazzling lights per home. You’ll find them at Hickory Court, Hickory Street, Butterwood Court, and Rockrose Court. The cul-de-sac resembles a street from the North Pole. You can walk or drive by the displays.
Old Town Trolley Holiday Lights – December 7 to 30 (Closed Christmas Eve and Day)
Hop aboard the Old Town Trolley Lights and Sights Tour. This tour leaves Old Town to tour the festive Christmas lights of Old Town San Diego, Garrison Street in Point Loma, Balboa Park, and the Embarcadero. There will be sing-along carols, plus fun holiday facts, traditions, and history. Tours are 75 minutes.
Carmel Mountain Ranch – December 10 to January 2
Nearly 100 homes in Carmel Mountain Ranch participate in this stunning holiday lights display. They’ve been at it for years and earned their place as one of the best holiday neighborhood displays in North County. Cookies and cocoa are available during their holiday block party. If you’re lucky, you may see Santa’s red fire truck shuttling elves around.
Coronado Holiday Surrey Sleigh Rides – December 14 and January 6
Guests tour the festively decorated neighborhoods of Coronado Island on a pedal-powered surrey “sleigh.” Riders are given wireless headsets to listen as knowledgeable guides explain the holiday sights along the way. Hour-long tours leave from Hotel Del Coronado at 6 p.m.
San Diego Outdoor Ice Skating Rinks
Viejas Ice Rink – November 2 to January 6
You’ll need to travel 40 minutes east of San Diego on I-8 to get to Southern California’s largest skating rink at Viejas Casino & Resort. The entire resort is decked out in holiday lights, and they put on a seasonal water show, so it’s a perfect holiday destination for a day of ice skating.
Rady Children’s Ice Rink – November 17 to January 6
Another season of ice skating is in full swing at Rady Children’s Ice Rink Liberty Station. The outdoor ice skating rink is open to the public every day from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Proceeds from admissions go to Thriving after Cancer (TAC), a program that works with pediatric cancer survivors and their families.
Hotel Del Coronado Skating by the Sea – November 22 to January 6
Skating by the Sea, a spectacular oceanfront ice skating rink, makes its 14th seasonal appearance at Hotel Del Coronado in 2018. Proceeds go to Make a Wish Foundation. Guests can watch skaters from rink-side lounges with a warm fire pit at Frostbite. They serve holiday-themed libations, snacks, and unlimited coffee or hot chocolate. (Skating with Tara Lipinski December 15th for up to 50 children.)