Guide to Christmas in San Diego: Activities, Parades, and Lights

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 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 with parades, holiday lights, and even ice skating. 

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Ice Skate Outdoors

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 Nov 22, 2018 - Jan 1, 2019. It's decorated with lights and has a festive holiday ambiance.

Viejas Outlet Center also offers some outdoor ice skating during the holiday season and has one of the biggest rinks in the county.

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Get in the Spirit with December Nights

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. This year the event is scheduled Friday, Dec. 7, (3:00-11:00 p.m.) and Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018 (noon-11:00 p.m.)

The beloved San Diego event features sparkling lights, theatrical and musical entertainment, and exotic food and spirits throughout the Park.

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Discover the Magic of the Toyland Parade

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, usually followed by the North Park Holiday Festival.

This year the events take place on  Saturday, December 1, 2018, with the parade running from 11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. For this year only the post-parade festival (only) is canceled.​

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Enjoy the Neighborhood Christmas Lights

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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Take in Jungle Bells at the San Diego Zoo

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.

Adults can preview Jungle Bells on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018 - 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. during "Wild Night Out."

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Watch the Boat Parade

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 dates for 2018 are December 9 and December 16, 2018. Participants in this year’s holiday boat parade will decorate their boats to fit this year’s theme, Tropical Island Christmas.

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 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 Holiday Bowl at SDCCU Stadium, one of college football's most exciting and successful bowl games. 

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Grinch Out at the Old Globe

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 brings to life the classic Dr. Seuss book with incredible sets and memorable performances.

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Enjoy the Sugar Plum Fairy Fantasy

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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Go Shopping

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. 

In addition to the upscale Fashion Valley Mall, visitors love shopping at the Carlsbad Premium Outlets.

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Give a Gift

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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Ring in the New Year

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.

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