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

Christmas in San Diego defies all the stereotypes weather-wise, but there's no shortage of shows, events, and attractions to discover during the winter holidays. From traditional parades and dinners to festive lighting displays and activities, you're sure to find something to put you in the Christmas spirit this year.

01 of 06

Watch the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights

Decorated Boat in the San Diego Parade of Lights
Port of San Diego/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Coastal Californians are familiar with Christmas parades on the water, with lighted and decorated boats standing in for motorized floats. But if you're from somewhere else, the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights is a sight you'll never forget.

The Parade of Lights takes place on two Sundays in mid-December, starting at 5:00 p.m. and is free. The boats start at Shelter Island and go clockwise past the city waterfront before turning at the Coronado Bridge. It takes about two hours to reach the Coronado Waterfront.

The best place to watch the parade early in the evening is from Shoreline Park on Shelter Island or in Harbor Island Drive Park. If you want a closer view, go to Seaport Village or the Embarcadero Marina around 7 p.m.

Restaurants along the route offer great views of the parade. However, seats are limited, so making an early reservation is essential.

Parking will be harder to find than usual, but you can take the San Diego Trolley to the Convention Center stop, then walk to the waterfront.

02 of 06

Enjoy Christmas Performances by LAMB'S Players

Entrance to LAMB'S Players Theatre

LAMB'S Players Theatre

Located on Coronado Island, LAMB'S Players Theatre puts on a series of Christmas productions each year in December in honor of the holiday season.

Productions include the Festival of Christmas, an annual series of performances of an original play. Performances will take place on select evenings in December.

03 of 06

Spend Your Holidays at Popular Tourist Attractions

Christmas Tree Lighting at Legoland
Courtesy of Legoland California

San Diego is home to some of the biggest tourist attractions in California, each of which celebrates the holidays a little differently.

Sea World has Christmas-themed shows on weekends from Thanksgiving through mid-December and daily through the end of the month.

Holidays at Legoland bring out adorable seasonal LEGO creations, including a life-sized Santa and reindeer and the world's largest LEGO Christmas tree. For most of December, you can visit the park's snow play area to throw real snowballs at LEGO targets. Or stay until the sun goes down for a nightly Tree-lighting ceremony, entertainment, and live music.

The San Diego Zoo stays open later than usual on selected dates from early December through early January for a nightly tree-lighting ceremony and family-friendly activities.

04 of 06

Stroll Through the Garden of Lights at the Botanic Garden

Garden of Lights at the San Diego Botanic Garden
Courtesy of San Diego Botanic Garden and Rachel Cobb

There's one place in the city you can go to see an entire forest illuminated with Christmas lights this December: the San Diego Botanic Garden.

Each night, a myriad of sparkling lights transform the garden into a winter wonderland. Younger children may enjoy the lights and gardens more, but there are plenty of adult-oriented events, drinks, and performances to enjoy throughout the month.

Besides taking an hour-long stroll through the gardens and enjoying the lights, guests can roast marshmallows over a wood fire, visit Santa Claus, and enjoy the performers most nights of the month.

Continue to 5 of 6 below.
05 of 06

Explore Other Great Lighting Displays Nearby

Light Display from Christmas Card Lane, San Diego
©2010 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

December temperatures can be so high in San Diego that hearing the song "Baby It's Cold Outside" might make you laugh. "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" may sound like a hallucination, but the residents of San Diego still go all-out for Christmas when it comes to holiday lighting displays.

In fact, San Diego has more neighborhoods full of lights than any other California City, including the famous "Christmas Card Lane" on Ovideo Street off Black Mountain Road. Each year, homeowners along this street create huge lighted cards as Christmas greetings.

06 of 06

Discover Other Winter Activities

Surfin' Santa at Seaport Village
Courtesy of Seaport Village

In early December, you can head to Balboa Park for December Nights, a free event featuring live musical performances and holiday refreshments at some of the area's museums. You could also stop by the Hotel Del Coronado for Polar Bear Tea or the posh Westgate Hotel for Teddy Bear Holiday Tea on weekends throughout the month.

Fortunately, San Diego's warm weather doesn't stop the Christmas ice skating. You can try the rinks at Liberty Station, Hotel Del Coronado, or the city's largest ice rink at Viejas Outlet Center.

At Seaport Village, you'll be greeted by an entirely different way to enjoy the season. During the Surfin' Santa event, Saint Nicholas arrives by surfboard wearing board shorts and his signature red cap.

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