Christmas in San Diego: 25 Things To Do [2024 Guide]

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TL;DR: The best ways to celebrate Christmas in San Diego include attending the annual December Nights festival at Balboa Park to see elaborate light displays, watching decorated boats cruise by during the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights, and shopping from local vendors at the Petco Park holiday market.

San Diego locals get pretty festive around the holidays. 

From kicking it with Surfin’ Santa on the beach to festive Christmas lights, pet parades, and everything in between–there are tons of events on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. 

If you, like me, come from a colder climate and you’re wondering about the temperature in San Diego at Christmas, you’re in for a treat. 

Through December, the weather remains as sunny as ever in Southern California. San Diego Christmas weather means temperatures that rarely drop below the 50s. 

So, if you’ve been wondering where to go for Christmas in San Diego, then read this list, pull out your tackiest Christmas sweater, and head out into the magic. The holiday cheer awaits you!

A man wearing an ugly Christmas sweater stands next to a small doghouse decorated like Santa's workshop, with a small, white dog in a Santa costume lying out front, and palm trees in the background.

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What is There to Do in San Diego at Christmas Time?

Holiday Bowl & Parade

A white car driving down a road blocked off from traffic, with large, red white and blue balloons floating overhead for the Holiday Bowl & Parade.

When: December 27th, 5pm
Where: Petco Park, San Diego, CA
Cost: The game starts at $71, and the parade is free! [based on last year]

Calling all sports fans! 

If you’re all about combining your love of San Diego sports with the holidays, you won’t want to miss the annual Holiday Bowl & Parade at Petco Park.

Each year, Petco Park gets into the holiday spirit by hosting their annual Bowl Game, accompanied by their free holiday parade, Bowl Bash, Tailgate Party, and several other festivities. 

This San Diego parade is famous for being America’s Largest Balloon Parade.

Bring the whole family out in Santa hats to witness incredible marching bands, magnificent floats, drill teams, and enormous balloons.

Balboa Park December Nights

Crowds of people walking down a paved walkway towards Balboa Park, with silhouettes of palm trees against an orange and pink sunset.

When: December 1st & 2nd
Where: Balboa Park, San Diego, CA
Cost: Free admission

Balboa Park brings back its annual festival of lights, December Nights, at the beginning of the season each year

This free family event in Balboa Park is a favorite of San Diegans around the holidays. 

Come out to Balboa Park and enjoy the breathtaking December Nights light displays. 

Beyond the holiday lights, December Nights also includes art, live music, games, live entertainment, and a plethora of delicious food in the park over the first weekend of December.

San Diego Bay Parade Of Lights

When: December 10th & 17th
Where: The parade starts at Shelter Island and finishes at the Ferry Landing at Coronado
Cost: Free

San Diego’s Parade Of Lights in the San Diego Bay is a classic holiday tradition in Southern California. 

The San Diego Bay Parade Of Lights follows a waterfront route through the bay. 

Beginning at Shelter Island, it then moves to Harbor Island, The Embarcadero, Seaport Village, The Pier at Cesar Chavez Park, and finishes at the Ferry Landing on Coronado. 

The whole San Diego Bay Parade Of Lights is about two hours in total.   

With over 100,000 guests to watch over 80 decorated boats cruise along the shoreline, the Parade of Lights is one of the free Christmas events in San Diego that you won’t want to miss. 

Grab some hot chocolate and enjoy the festive lights on the water.

Surfin’ Santa Arrival

When: 2023 dates TBD
Where: Tuna Harbor Pier, Seaport Village, San Diego, CA
Cost: $25

Seaport Village welcomes Surfin’ Santa at the beginning of the holiday season. 

USA Today ranks this is a unique San Diego holiday tradition among its Ten Best Santa Sightings.

The afternoon begins with breakfast on Tuna Harbor Pier. Surfin’ Santa will arrive donning his favorite Hawaiian shirt and board shorts rather than his usual suit. 

From here, the Surfin’ Santa Parade travels down the boardwalk. 

Once the parade is through, Surfin’ Santa will be posted on his lifeguard stand for family photo ops, followed by some holiday-themed live music and entertainment. 

Lots of snacks, goodie bags, drinks, and festivities are in store. Nothing says Merry Christmas like a Seaport Village beach party!

The Holiday BRICKtacular at Legoland

A lego sculpture of an elf popping out of a blue gift box in a display at the Holiday BRICKtacular at Legoland.

When: through November & December
Where: Legoland California Resort, San Diego, CA
Cost: from $99

California’s LegoLand transforms into a holiday BRICKtacular through November and December. Bring the whole family out to enjoy some Christmas activities LEGO style.

You can expect to see their famous 30-foot LEGO Christmas tree and Santa’s LEGO reindeer waiting to take you on a sleigh ride. 

Watch some holiday live entertainment, eat lots of festive treats, and do some holiday crafts at this one-of-a-kind San Diego holiday experience.

Holiday Market At Petco Park

When: 2023 dates TBD
Where: Gallagher Square at Petco Park, San Diego, CA
Cost: Free admission

One of the top San Diego Christmas events takes place at Petco Park, and you won’t want to miss it.

If you’re looking for a fun way to support local businesses and artists while doing some Christmas shopping, the Holiday Market is a great way to celebrate Christmas in San Diego. 

Expect vendors selling food and drink, artisans, live entertainment, sparkling lights, and light displays. 

Enjoy the many family holiday activities alongside Santa, his elves, and other Christmas characters.

Liberty Station Tree Lighting & Rady Children’s Ice Rink 

When: 2023 date TBD
Where: Liberty Station, San Diego, CA
Cost: Free admission

If you need some kid-friendly San Diego Christmas events to fit your budget, check out the annual Christmas Tree Lighting & Holiday Festivities at Liberty Station. 

This family-friendly free event offers Christmas lights, hot chocolate, live entertainment, Santa photo ops, holiday decor, and much more around a giant 88-foot Christmas tree. 

While the weather in San Diego at Christmas is usually relatively agreeable, you’ll want to bundle up before heading down to Liberty Station for the tree lighting. The whole event is outside during the evening, and it gets chilly down there. 

You can also take the kids ice skating at Rady Children’s Ice Rink, a fundraising ice rink with proceeds going to a different cause each year.

La Jolla Christmas Parade & Holiday Festival

When: December 3rd, 1:30pm
Where: The Holiday Festival is on Wall Street (between Girard & the alley by the Athenaeum). The Christmas Parade starts at Kline & Girard
Cost: Free admission

The holidays in San Diego are never too far from the beach! La Jolla celebrates Christmas on the sand with its annual Christmas Parade & Holiday Festival. 

The parade will feature giant floats, marching bands, vintage vehicles, horses, Santa Claus, and a live camel. 

After the parade, Santa’s Village really kicks off. 

This festival will offer Santa Claus meet-and-greets, Christmas crafts, games, Christmas carols, face painting, and lots of Christmas spirit.

Annual Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade & Pups In The Pub

Three people in wacky holiday attire parade down the street with their dogs, also dress for the occassion, at the Annual Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade.

When: 2023 dates TBD
Where: The Hilton San Diego, Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego, CA
Cost: Free admission, pet registration $25

The annual Pet Parade in the Gaslamp Quarter is a San Diego County favorite. Even Santa Claus himself can’t resist attending perhaps the most adorable Christmas parade in San Diego. 

Dress your fur baby in their sweetest holiday costume and march them through the Gaslamp Quarter to show off their cuteness.

After the parade, stick around for the Pups In The Pub Party at the Hilton San Diego. 

Enjoy live music, craft beer, cocktails, snacks, and games.

Encinitas Holiday Parade

When: December 2nd; parade begins at 5:30 pm
Where: South Coast Highway 101, Encinitas, San Diego CA
Cost: Free

The Encinitas Holiday Parade is a beloved Encinitas tradition.

Over 100 parade entries, floats, bands, characters, community groups, and other festive folk march down Highway 101 to ring in Christmas with the holiday spirit. 

Before the parade, there’s a tree-lighting ceremony complete with beautiful holiday décor and lights.

Irving Berlin’s White Christmas

When: Select dates in December
Where: California Center for the Arts, 340 North Escondido Blvd, Escondido, CA
Cost: $140

The beloved holiday classic film White Christmas hits the stage in a community adaption by the California Center for the Arts.

The original film starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Rosemary Clooney has been a Christmas favorite film since its release in 1954. 

In this show, you’ll enjoy 17 Irving Berlin Songs performed by the talented performers at CCAE Theatricals right in downtown San Diego.

Jungle Bells at the San Diego Zoo

The illuminated from entrance sign  at the San Diego Zoo picture at night decorated with Christmas garlands for Jungle Bells.

When: through December
Where: The San Diego Zoo, San Diego, CA
Cost: $80 per adult, $38 per child

Christmas in San Diego for families isn’t complete without a trip to the famous San Diego Zoo during their annual Christmas celebration, JungleBells

Jungle Bells Christmas events include The Jingle Brass Brass Ensemble playing live concerts nightly.

There will also be “Reindeer Games” with interactive fun and dancing for kids, “The Celebration Of Lights” with holiday lights set to a holiday soundtrack, The Jack Frost Juggler, and much more!

Read our guide to the San Diego Zoo vs Safari Park.

The San Diego Botanical Garden Lightscape

A nighttime scene of a star-shaped sculpture illuminated with purple light at the San Diego Botanical Garden Lightscape.

When: through November and December
Where: The San Diego Botanic Garden, Encinitas, CA
Cost: $18 for children, $29 for adults

The San Diego Botanic Garden hosts their annual light show, Lightscape, throughout the gorgeous grounds of the Botanical Gardens. 

If you’re seeking Christmas lights in San Diego, you won’t want to skip this one. 

The folks at the Botanical Gardens merge art and nature with the one-mile loop of winter wonderland. 

Garden visitors during the holiday season can expect yummy holiday treats for purchase within the park.

**21+** Sippin’ Santa Pop-Up Bar

When: 2023 dates TBD
Where: The Grass Skirt, 910 Grand Ave, San Diego, CA
Cost: Free admission [based on last year]

During the holiday season, the Sippin’ Santa Pop-Up Bar happens in cities all over North America. 

This year, they are taking over The Grass Skirt Tiki Bar with their rendition of a retro-kitsch Christmas party.

Created by Beachbum Berry, this annual San Diego Christmas event has been described as one of Imbibe Magazine’s “25 most influential Cocktail Personalities of the Past Century,” and not without reason. 

Think Santa on a surfboard, hibiscus garland, and tacky tinsel; if you’re looking for San Diego holiday boozy events, this one is for you.

Ebenezer Scrooge’s BIG San Diego Christmas Show

When: 2023 dates TBD
Where: The Old Globe Theatre, San Diego, CA
Cost: from $45 [based on last year]

If you’re a fan of Charles Dickens’s classic holiday story, A Christmas Carol, you’ll love this highly theatrical, cheeky rendition of Ebenezer Scrooge’s story at The Old Globe Theatre. 

The traditional plot points remain intact, but they’ve added their comical flavor. 

This time, the story takes place in San Diego, filled with laughs and music. Guests of all ages will feel the holiday cheer at this San Diego Christmas classic.

Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas

When: 2023 dates TBD
Where: The Old Globe Theatre, San Diego, CA
Cost: from $45 [based on last year]

San Diego Christmas means The Old Globe Theatre transforms into Dr. Seuss’s WhoVille to bring a lively rendition of the beloved Christmas classic, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, to the stage. 

All your favorite songs, characters, and “Who-venile” delinquents will be present, so be prepared to sing along to this live theater performance. 

I promise you won’t “hate hate hate, double hate, loath entirely” this show!

San Marcos Holiday Market

When: December 3rd, 10 am-4 pm
Where: 251 North City Drive, San Marcos CA
Cost: Free admission

If you’re looking for holiday events in Southern California that are a little removed from downtown San Diego, you’ll love the Holiday Market in San Marcos

Get some of your Christmas shopping done with over 100 unique vendors, including local businesses and artists. Here, you’ll find special gifts for the special people in your life. 

There will be live music and entertainment and lots to eat and drink. 

The Holiday Market is also proud to showcase “Rescue Row,” a booth by local animal organizations promoting pet adoption.

Old Town Trolley’s Holiday Sights & Festive Nights Tour

When: daily through December, excluding Christmas Eve & Christmas Day
Where: Old Town Market – 4010 Twiggs Street, San Diego, CA
Cost: from $25

San Diego is well-known for its Old Town Trolley Tours. Get into the festive spirit aboard the holiday version of the trolley.

Elf conductors lead passengers in Christmas carols and share holiday trivia and history.

The trolley rides past Old Town, Little Italy, Banker’s Hill, Garrison Street, and beyond, all while lit up with decorations and lights. 

If you’re looking for things to do in San Diego around Christmas with the family, this one will be an unforgettable family experience for all ages.

Julian Country Christmas Tree Lighting

When: 2023 date TBD
Where: Town Square on the corner of Main Street and Washington, Julian, CA
Cost: Free 

Julian is a gold mining town situated an hour east of San Diego. This Country Tree Lighting ceremony in Julian is a beloved annual community event for the whole family. 

With lots of music and performances, a Christmas market, and a visit from Santa Claus, Julian keeps things traditional and old-fashioned for Christmas.

Looking for more to do in the area? Read our guide to the best things to do in Julian.

What to Do in San Diego on Christmas Day?

Christmas Dinner & Holiday Activities at Hotel Del Coronado

When: through November & December, including Christmas Day
Where: Hotel Del Coronado, San Diego CA
Cost: varies by activity, $185 for Christmas Day dinner [based on last year]

San Diego Christmas is at its pinnacle each year at The Hotel Del Coronado. With so many activities spanning all through the holiday season, there’s no way you’ll be bored on Christmas here. 

The Hotel Del Coronado offers a new theme each year to unite their numerous activities. For 2023, the theme focuses on the razzle-dazzle of The Roaring 20s. 

Art deco motifs in tones of silver and gold will cover the Hotel grounds throughout the season. 

Some holiday activities include The Frostbite Lounge, All That Jazz Lightshow, Beachside Igloos, photos with Santa, gingerbread houses, and more. 

Then, on Christmas Day, join The Hotel Del Coronado for Christmas dinner in the Southpoint Ballroom. It will be a decadent feast to savor indeed.

Ice Skating By The Sea

When: November through January
Where: Hotel Del Coronado, Coronado CA
Cost: $35 [based on last year]

One popular San Diego Christmas event is the Hotel Del Coronado’s beachside ice rink. 

Bundle up and bring the family out to spend the day enjoying the grounds at the hotel. Try your feet on the ice whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned vet. It’s all good fun to get out there and try!

Once you leave the ice, cozy up by the bonfire with some holiday refreshments.

Del Mar Snow’N’Glow

When: Weekends through December
Where: Del Mar Fairgrounds, Del Mar, CA
Cost: starting at $15.99

The Snow’N’Glow at The Del Mar Fairgrounds is a great option if you’re seeking San Diego Christmas events focusing on outdoor activities. This may be the only place to find snow during Christmas in San Diego. 

The Fairgrounds transform into a unique winter wonderland in Southern California; they make their own real snow! 

For kids who love winter sports, snow tubing on the real snow hill is one of the most exciting San Diego Christmas activities. 

The fairgrounds will feature over a million twinkling lights alongside the snow activities. 

And if that doesn’t sound dreamy enough, there are also private igloos that you and your loved one can rent out for the night. 

If you’re looking for romance on Christmas in San Diego, Del Mar Fairgrounds is the place to find it.

Craving real snow? Check out our article on the best places for snow in California!

Annual Christmas Day Orphan Ride

When: Christmas Day
Where: Meet at 1058 22nd Street in Golden Hill at Ralph’s
Cost: Free 

If you’re looking for things to do on Christmas in San Diego and don’t have much family nearby, the San Diego Bicycle Club’s Annual Christmas Orphan Ride is a great way to spend the day with friends and enjoy the city. 

This community bike ride will take you 25 miles around San Diego Bay before heading back on the ferry. 

They’ll have coffee, donuts, juice, and other snacks to nibble on.

Explore the Festive Seaport Village

When: through November & December
Where: Seaport Village, 849 W Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA
Cost: Free 

Holiday decorations are abundant in Seaport Village, so taking a pleasant stroll through the village is one of your best options for holiday things to do in San Diego on Christmas. 

Lights will weave through the village streets, and Santa will be by the Christmas tree on select days to meet children. 

If you head down to the pier at Cesar Chavez Park, you may be able to spot some of the decorated Christmas boats still in the water from the Parade of Lights.

Christmas at SeaWorld

When: throughout November & December, including Christmas Day
Where: SeaWorld, San Diego, CA
Cost: Children $29.99, adults $49.99

Seaworld is one of the few San Diego attractions that remains open and busy on December 25th.

The holiday events at SeaWorld are a family favorite during the Christmas season. 

Check out their sea-themed Christmas tree, catch some incredible live performances, meet Mr. and Mrs. Claus with their live reindeer, and end the night with a magical fireworks display.

FAQs about Christmas in San Diego

A display of Santa and his sleigh on the lawn in front of Spanish Mission-style building flanked by palm trees, with a partly cloudy blue sky behind it.

Is San Diego a good Christmas destination?

If you’re looking for warm weather and outdoor festivities, America’s Finest City is one of the best places to spend Christmas in America. 

Looking for more ideas? Read our complete guide to the best places to enjoy Christmas in California.

Is San Diego worth visiting in December?

With some of the best weather in the country, San Diego is definitely worth visiting in December. 

The holiday events kick off just before Thanksgiving, so there’s always lots going on throughout December until after New Year’s. 

How warm is San Diego at Christmas?

San Diego fluctuates between the low 50s to mid-60s around Christmas. You’ll want a jacket, but you definitely won’t be shivering.

Get Your FREE California Travel Planner + printable checklists for 101 things to do in California!


Taylor Neal

Taylor is a multi-disciplinary artist, writer, yoga instructor, and frontline worker who spends most of her time in her van (Vannigan) winding through the coastal and mountain roads of California where she feels most at home. From navigating the realities of van life to the fluctuations in diverse climates and landscapes, Taylor is excited to bring everything she’s learned about California to fellow wanderers seeking beauty and adventure.

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A man wearing an ugly Christmas sweater stands next to a small doghouse decorated like Santa's workshop, with a small, white dog in a Santa costume lying out front, and palm trees in the background, with the text overlay, "Christmas in San Diego."

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Hi, I'm Mimi! I'm an outdoorsy Californian who has spent over 28 years immersed in the incredible natural beauty that California has to offer. My goal is to inspire others to get out and find their next adventure in California. Whether it’s escaping to an alpine lake in the Sierras, finding peace among the giant redwoods, or road tripping down the PCH, there’s always more to explore in this beautiful state.


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