A December to Remember in San Diego

 San Diego has many ongoing traditions and events that happen in December, plus a few other holiday and snow (yes, snow!) activities you'll want to partake in during the month of December in San Diego. The dates of the events listed below change each year so click on the link for each section to get dates and times for this year. Then start planning your schedule so you have a December to remember.

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    The view from the Hotel Del Coronado ice skating ring.
    Gina Tarnacki

     A tradition for many families in San Diego is to go the Hotel Del Coronado in December when the iconic hotel has an ice skating rink set up. What makes this rink even more special? It's steps from the sand and boasts a gorgeous view of the ocean. 

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    Ice skating isn't the only holiday tradition you can partake in at the Hotel Del Coronado. Its famous Holiday Afternoon Tea is also a festive and memorable thing to do in December. Walk through the hotel lobby with its two story Christmas tree and then take a seat in the grand dining room where petit sandwiches, champagne and the requisite tea is served to you. 

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    The unofficial start to the December holiday season in San Diego is December Nights in Balboa Park. During the first weekend of December every year, Balboa Park is transformed into a light-filled wonderland with cultural entertainment and food from around the world. Many of the museums in Balboa Park also offer free admission during December Nights. 


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    Big Bear

    Snowboarding at Big Bear Mountain
    Rodrigo Ruiz Ciancia/Moment/Getty Images

     Get into the San Bernardino mountains in under two hours and settle in for a snowy getaway in Big Bear. You can go skiing or snowboarding for the day at Big Bear Mountain or rent a cabin and relax in a hot tub. It's a fun way to get into a wintery mood. 

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     This parade feels like quintessential San Diego since it takes place on the San Diego Bay. Head to the bay for two evenings each December to watch a holiday spectacle put on by 80 or so boats. Presented by the Port of San Diego, this yearly tradition consists of boats decorated in holiday lights and other decorations, which will float by on the water and be visible to those watching from the shore, or from another boat on the water. Each year is a different theme, too, which many of the boats will be decorated to reflect. 

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     The beauty of San Diego's most famous garden is transformed into a twinkling wonderland after the sun goes down in December. Walk along the garden paths and see the gardens alit with holiday lights and then visit with Santa or do some garden-themed shopping. 

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     This holiday parade makes its way through La Jolla Village along Girard and Prospect Street. In addition, there is a festival with a kid zone, stages for musical performances and Santa photo opportunities. At the end of the festival at dusk there is also a Christmas tree lighting celebration. 

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    Another popular parade in San Diego is the North Park Toyland Parade. University Avenue comes alive each December with holiday cheer as parade floats, vintage cars and local officials cruise down the street. 


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    Encinitas Holiday Parade

     Those in North County don't have to travel all the way down to San Diego for a holiday spectacle. Head toward the ocean and enjoy the Encinitas Holiday Parade, which takes place along the Coast Highway and features a variety of floats sponsored by local businesses, plus music, food, Santa and a tree lighting ceremony. The parade starts after sunset, which means a light-filled parade for extra holiday fun. 

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    Little Italy Neighborhood of San Diego
    David Madison/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

    If tree lighting ceremonies are what you enjoy most and you can do without the parade aspect, head to Little Italy for its annual tree lighting celebration. Little Italy also sets up a charming Christmas Village that has live music, holiday beverages and food, arts and crafts for kids, a Santa photo opportunity and more. 

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    Poway's Christmas in the Park has the requisite Christmas tree lighting and Santa Claus, but it also has steam locomotive train rides making it a hit with kids. Other activities at Christmas in the Park include holiday treats, pony rides, a petting zoo, face painting, a Christmas tree decoration competition and more. 

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    At Chula Vista's Holiday in the Village, you'll see characters from your favorite holiday tales, including the Polar Express and the Nutcra​cker. Santa will be there, too, along with snow showers that will be sprinkling periodically throughout the festival. Snow in San Diego plus ugly Christmas sweaters? Sounds like a memorable occasion. The Starlight Parade follows the festival and travels down 3rd Avenue. 

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    Escondido Winter Wonderland Festival

     Inland North County San Diego also has a holiday festival for local residents thanks to the Escondido Winter Wonderland Festival, hosted at the California Center for the Arts. This festival actually has real snow, which children will delight in playing in. There is also live entertainment like carolers and stilt walkers. Grab something to eat or drink and walk through the Wonderland Forest that is set up complete with twinkling lights. 

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    Legoland is covered with a holiday facade over the holidays and features its usual attractions with holiday twists like lights and festive decor. Legoland also has a real snow area for snowball fights and snowman making (or whatever else strikes your snow fancy). You'll also have to make sure you check out the holiday live entertainment, the massive Lego Christmas tree and even Lego Santa. 

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     Jungle Bells comes to the San Diego Zoo every year, which means holiday fun to be had along with animal sightings. Carols, lights, a holiday trolley, elves and more will greet you as you walk around the zoo and soak in the holiday atmosphere and jungle fun. 

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    If you're a sports lover, forget about holiday festivities for awhile and focus on football at the Port of San Diego Holiday Bowl Parade. This parade is the preamble to the Holiday Bowl football game played every year at Qualcomm Stadium. The parade is the largest balloon parade in America and in addition to the many enormous balloons, it also features marching bands, drill teams and an array of floats. Need more football fun? Get tickets to the Poinsettia Bowl football game played at Qualcomm Stadium in December as well. 

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    Don't let your favorite pet miss out on the parade fun. The Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade is a fun and unique parade that features owners walking their pets down K Street downtown all dressed up for the holidays. Animals and their owners can enter different outfit categories like Best Costumed Duo, Cutest Critter and Best Ugly Holiday Sweater. Dogs in ugly Christmas sweaters? Now that sounds like a parade you may not want to miss. 

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    How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a beloved Christmas tale that is brought to life every year at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. Multiple performances are offered throughout December, including a special one for children on the autism spectrum. Afternoon and evening performance times are available. 

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     Another artistic performance that has become an annual tradition in San Diego is the Nutcracker ballet performed at the beautiful San Diego Civic Theatre in downtown San Diego. There will also be holiday photo opportunities and carolers on the plaza outside the theatre before many of the performances. Like How the Grinch Stole Christmas, there is an autism-friendly performance. There is also a toddler-friendly performance when children under the age of four are welcome to attend. 

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    Like your December holiday season to come with some adrenaline? Partake in the San Diego Santa Run and jog your way down Garnet Street in Pacific Beach. The setting is fun, but what really sets this race apart is that you'll be given a shorts-style Santa suit to wear while you run -- which makes this an entertaining race to watch as well. There is also a one mile race for those who want to foster their competitive spirit and sprint their way to the finish line. 

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     When the air gets a bit crisper it's the perfect time for some hearty chili. If you're a fan of this chunky soup, don't miss out on the SoNo Fest and Chili Cook-Off in North Park (the name is derived from a combination of South Park and North Park). Chefs from local restaurants compete at the yearly cook-off for the award of best chili and there is also be a beer garden and local vendors selling their wares and crafts. 

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    New Year's Eve

    End your festive December to remember in San Diego with a New Year's Eve you won't forget. There are a variety of ways to ring in the new year in San Diego. Head to one of the New Year's Eve bashes at the trendy clubs downtown or opt for a more low-key New Year's Eve at one of San Diego's best restaurants featuring a prix-fixe menu. For more ideas, check out this article about New Year's Eve in San Diego.