The Best San Diego Holiday Activities

Hotel del Coronado holiday lights
Photo by John Bahu / Courtesy of Hotel del Coronado

Spending the Christmas holiday season in San Diego means you'll probably have mild weather since December is typically one of the sunniest months of the year, but it's not super hot. But that doesn't mean San Diegans lose out on traditional holiday activities—San Diego has plenty of fun things to do to celebrate the holidays. Here are some top holiday season picks.

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    Outdoor Ice Skating in Southern California
    © Kayte Deioma

    The Hotel del Coronado offers ice skating by-the-sea with an outdoor ice rink overlooking the ocean from the end of November through the beginning of January. It's decorated with lights and has a festive holiday ambiance. Viejas Outlet Center also boasts some outdoor ice skating during the holiday season and has one of the biggest rinks in the county.

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    December Nights in Balboa Park

    December Nights at Balboa Park
    kellinahandbasket / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    The after-Thanksgiving holiday season kicks off with a grand celebration in Balboa Park thanks to its December Nights, which is a two-day gift to the community that brings out the holiday spirit in all, and typically takes place the first weekend in December. The beloved San Diego event features sparkling lights, theatrical and musical entertainment, and exotic food and spirits throughout the Park.

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    North Park Toyland Parade
    Courtesy of North Park Toyland Parade

    Unwrap some magic this holiday season and take in the festive fun at the Annual North Park Toyland Parade and Holiday Fair, followed by the North Park Holiday Festival.

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    Holiday lights in a San Diego neighborhood.
    Mike Liu / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

    Who doesn't love to see Christmas lights? Several neighborhoods around town put on annual displays (competitions?), but perhaps none more venerable than Christmas Circle in Chula Vista, a tradition for over 46 years. People come from all over San Diego to see the wonderful displays. You'll find Christmas Circle between First and Second Avenues, just south of H Street and I Street.

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  • 05 of 13
    San Diego Zoo Jungle Bells
    mliu92 / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

    For a wild twist to holiday festivities, take in the San Diego Zoo's annual Jungle Bells celebration. The zoo typically stays open until 8 p.m. each night except Dec. 24—when it will close at 5 p.m.—during the celebration. You'll get to see the San Diego Zoo transformed into a winter wonderland complete with nightly tree-lighting ceremonies, bell ringers, lighted figurines, special shows, holiday treats and much more.

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    Drive-Thru Christmas Lights

    Del Mar Fairgrounds holiday lights
    Courtesy of Del Mar Fairgrounds

    Hop in your car and experience sparkling, colorful lights at the Del Mar Fairgrounds' Holiday of Lights display? With more than 400 lighted and animated scenes, this 1.5-mile drive around the world-famous Del Mar Racetrack is sure to get everyone from ages 1 to 100 into the holiday spirit. Favorites such as Toyland, Candy Cane Lane, Treasures by the Lake and Elves at Play will delight car passengers as you drive by. 

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    San Diego Bay Parade of Lights
    Tony Webster / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    Now, this is quintessential San Diego: the annual San Diego Bay Parade of Lights. For a couple weekends each December, you can see over 80 boats, all decked out in lighted glory, cruise a 7.5-mile route on San Diego Bay. The theme changes each year, and the best vantage points are from the shore area along the Embarcadero, Seaport Village, Harbor Island, and Coronado.

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    Take in the Holiday Bowl Big Balloon Parade

    Holiday Bowl Big Balloon Parade
    Port of San Diego / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    The Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl Parade is known for one thing: balloons. Dubbed "America's Largest Balloon Parade," more than 30 giant balloons will float down the one-mile route along the Embarcadero, along with bands, drill teams and more. It's the precursor to the evening's main event: the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium, one of college football's most exciting and successful bowl games. After the parade hit the Family Festival at the Broadway Pier.

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  • 09 of 13
    The Grinch Old Globe Theater
    Photo by Henry DiRocco / Courtesy of The Old Globe

    The Old Globe Theater production of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" has established itself as an annual holiday classic. The musical, directed by acclaimed director Jack O'Brien, brings to life the classic Dr. Seuss book with incredible sets and memorable performances.

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    See Sugar Plum Fairies

    The Nutcracker
    Gabriel Saldana / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    Speaking of show performances, what's Christmas without the Nutcracker? The City Ballet, San Diego Ballet, West Coast Ballet and the California Ballet typically perform the holiday dance classic each year in and around San Diego.

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    Shops and Christmas decorations in Las Americas shopping mall, San Diego, USA
    anouchka / Getty Images

    It kind of goes without saying during Christmas, right? But shopping over the holidays is often more than just buying gifts. For many it's a way to hook up with friends and family, making the shopping trip more of a social outing. 

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    Toys for Tots
    Courtesy of Toys for Tots

    Lest we get all wrapped up in the material aspect of Christmas, how about buying one extra gift and donating it to someone in need? Whether it's through the Salvation Army, Toys for Tots or one of the many gift drives conducted by local TV and radio stations, giving to those less fortunate helps remind us all what the holiday season is really about.

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    Spend the Holidays and Ring in the New Year in San Diego
    David Sucsy/E+/Getty Images

    Celebrate at any of the many parties at hotels and nightclubs to revel in the New Year (the Gaslamp Quarter is a natural setting for this). Or, if you have kids to celebrate the New Year with, check for New Year's Eve celebrations at one of San Diego's many amusement parks, such as Legoland California, the San Diego Zoo, and SeaWorld.

    Updated by Gina Tarnacki