Guide to Thanksgiving in San Diego: Events and Things to Do

Spending Thanksgiving in San Diego offers you the opportunity to experience the holiday in a new way and make some new traditions. Whether you mark the holiday by visiting the world-renowned San Diego Zoo or have your holiday meal at the historic Hotel Del Coronado, there are many ways to make this Thanksgiving more memorable in San Diego from the city's organized events to its natural attractions.

In 2020, some of these events may be postponed, canceled, or will be held virtually and theme parks in California may still be closed. Be sure to check the official organizer's website for the latest updates.

01 of 10

Enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner at the Hotel Del Coronado

Hotel Del Coronado

Stephen Saks / Getty Images

If you want to enjoy your Thanksgiving meal in a grand setting, there's no better place than at San Diego's iconic Hotel del Coronado. For the holiday, the oceanfront ballroom and magnificent Crown Room both offer elegant holiday spreads, which include a buffet of fresh seafood as well as traditional Thanksgiving fare. As you dine among other families in this grand setting, a live band will provide the entertainment.

This year's dinner is still scheduled for November 26, 2020, but tables will be placed six feet apart and guests must wear masks when not seated. Reservations are always recommended, but with less room this year, you may want to act quickly to secure yourself a table.

02 of 10

Go Ice Skating by the Sea

Ice skating at Hotel Del Coronado

Samuel Antonio / Contributor / Getty Images

The Hotel del Coronado offers an experience that's very unique in Southern California. Thanksgiving Day usually kicks off the season for the hotel's ice skating rink, which allows visitors the opportunity to skate beneath the palm trees and just steps away from the ocean. The iconic hotel's oceanfront Windsor Lawn will be transformed into a spectacular ice rink with skating sessions offered daily until New Years' Eve weekend and the Victorian Building of the original hotel is decorated with thousands of white lights, providing a festive backdrop.

The hotel has not announced whether or not it will open the ice skating rink for 2020.

03 of 10

Watch the Mother Goose Parade

61st Annual Mother Goose Parade
WireImage / Getty Images

The Mother Goose Parade is a San Diego institution that typically attracts upward of 400,000 spectators along the streets of El Cajon. The event always takes place on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, so if you're in town by then, you can get the holiday celebration off to an early start. It includes bands, clowns, floats, a pageant, and a two-mile equestrian portion that highlights a variety of horse breeds and riding attire. 

In 2020, the parade will be held virtually and streamed live on the local news on November 22.

04 of 10

See Sea Creatures in a Tide Pool

Sea Lions on the beach in La Jolla cove

TripSavvy / Sharyn Umaña-Angers

Because the year's lowest tides typically occur during fall and winter, November and December are a great time to explore the natural wonders of San Diego's ocean tide pool ecosystems, with the popular ones being in Point Loma and La Jolla. It's also a great activity for kids because you can observe sea creatures in their natural environment, such as crabs, sea mollusks, fish, and even an octopus if you're lucky. It's a fascinating glimpse into a very fragile ecosystem, which also means that you can look, but don't touch, and never remove any living creatures from the pools.

Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10

Run a 5K

Balboa Park
Roman Eugeniusz / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

In the spirit of Thanksgiving and also having some family fun, you can help change the lives of your neighbors in need by assisting Father Joe's Villages in providing more than 1.7 million meals through the organization's Thanksgiving Day 5K Race. The race is typically held in Balboa Park and runners and spectators alike can enjoy a festival with live music, food, and a beer garden after the race.

In 2020, the race will be held virtually so runners can help fundraise anytime between November 26 to December 1.

06 of 10

Go Christmas Shopping

Carlsbad Premium Outlets

Carlsbad Premium Outlets

Black Friday has come into its own as a holiday and it's hard to resist the jaw-dropping deals that can be found on the day after Thanksgiving. If you want to do some shopping in San Diego, head to one of the city's top malls like Westfield UTC (which also has a movie theater and ice skating rink) and Fashion Valley in Mission Valley or an outlet mall like Carlsbad Premium Outlets for a variety of deals all in one place. If you want to avoid the big crowds on Friday, the major sale events usually last all through the weekend so you can still find some good deals on Saturday and Sunday.

07 of 10

Commune With the Animals at the Zoo

A baby hippo

TripSavvy / Kathleen Messmer

If you're in San Diego over the Thanksgiving weekend, take advantage of the opportunity to visit the world-famous San Diego Zoo in beautiful Balboa Park. Instead of cages, the large zoo is organized into animal habitat areas which are connected by wheelchair-accessible chairs. It is also well-loved for its lush botanical gardens and the Skyfari Aerial Tram that helps visitors move quickly from one side of the park to the other.

The zoo will be open on Thanksgiving Day in 2020, but new social distancing rules and health screenings mean long wait times so try to reserve your tickets in advance to speed up the process.

08 of 10

Explore Legoland California

The entrance to Legoland California

TripSavvy / Arthur Levine

Get the kids in the car and drive 30 minutes north for some fun at Legoland California, which is typically open on Thanksgiving Day. You can even stay at the Lego-themed hotel on-site if you want to spend the weekend. Legoland is filled with more than 60 kid-powered activities, fun rides, shows, and attractions including the opportunity to build with Legos. There is also a water park, restaurants, and an aquarium.

Legoland California will not be open on Thanksgiving Day in 2020.

Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10

Listen to Jazz

Women perform on stage at the San Diego Jazz Festival.
WireImage / Getty Images

The San Diego Jazz Fest is usually held over Thanksgiving week at the Town & Country Hotel and Convention Center. During this event, you can enjoy five days of traditional jazz and swing music performed by individual arts and bands from near and far. There are several floors for dancing and if jazz and swing are new to you, you can sign up for a lesson.

In 2020, the festival will be held virtually from November 25 to 29.

10 of 10

Learn About Natural History

San Diego Natural History Museum

Rhododendrites / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

The San Diego Natural History Museum is one of San Diego’s most popular museums. Known as the NAT, the museum has a range of exhibits and experiences that are both fun and educational. The Fossil Mysteries exhibit takes you through the paleontological history of the San Diego region and the Coast to Cactus in Southern California exhibit showcases the diversity of plant and animal life across the varied ecosystems. The museum is usually closed on Thanksgiving Day, but it still makes for a fun visit over the holiday weekend. In 2020, however, the museum is still closed and will likely be closed until the end of November.

Was this page helpful?