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

Spending Thanksgiving in San Diego offers you the opportunity to add some new experiences to the traditions of the day. Whether you mark the holiday by visiting the world-renowned San Diego Zoo or have Thanksgiving dinner at the historic Hotel Del Coronado, San Diego offers you a ton of ways to make this one memorable.

There's a parade to watch, several Thanksgiving Day runs, and even more outdoor recreation opportunities in and around this California city by the ocean.

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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, you won't find a better place to do it than at San Diego's iconic Hotel del Coronado. The oceanfront ballroom and magnificent Crown Room both feature elegant holiday buffet feasts including seafood as well as traditional Thanksgiving fare, and a special children's buffet is available, too. As you dine in this historic setting, enjoy live musical entertainment. Reservations are recommended.

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Go Ice Skating by the Sea

Ice skating at Hotel Del Coronado

Samuel Antonio / Contributor / Getty Images

The Hotel del Coronado also offers a unique Southern California experience—outdoor ice skating overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The famous hotel's oceanfront Windsor Lawn is transformed into a spectacular ice rink with skating sessions offered daily starting on Thanksgiving Day and going until New Years' Eve weekend. The Victorian Building of the original hotel is decorated with thousands of white lights, providing a festive backdrop.

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Watch the Mother Goose Parade

61st Annual Mother Goose Parade
WireImage / Getty Images

The Mother Goose Parade is a San Diego institution that 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 early, get the holiday celebration off to an early start. It includes bands, clowns, floats, a Queen's contest, and a 2-mile equestrian ride that highlights a variety of horse breeds and riding attire. 

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See Sea Creatures in a Tide Pool

La Jolla Tide Pools
Alexander S. Kunz / Getty Images

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 popular ones in Point Loma and La Jolla. Observe sea creatures in their ocean 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 look, but don't touch, and absolutely never remove any living creatures from the pools.

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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. To participate, run or walk on a course that winds through beautiful Balboa Park. Once you cross the finish line, enjoy the race festival with live music, refreshments, and a beer garden. 

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Go Christmas Shopping

Carlsbad Premium Outlets

Carlsbad Premium Outlets

The day after Thanksgiving, nicknamed Black Friday, is the start of the holiday shopping season. Head to one of San Diego'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.

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Commune With the Animals at the Zoo

Polar bears at the San Diego Zoo
Stuart Westmorland / Getty Images

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. which is open on Thanksgiving Day.

The large San Diego Zoo is organized into animal habitat areas connected by themed trails, some of which are wheelchair accessible and all of which are marked with their distance, time, and level of difficulty to navigate.

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Explore Legoland California

The entrance to Legoland California

TripSavvy / Arthur Levine

Take the family 30 minutes north for fun at Legoland California, also open on Thanksgiving Day. You can even stay at the Lego-themed hotel on site. Legoland is filled with more than 60 kid-powered activities, fun rides, shows, and attractions including the opportunity to build with Legos. While Legoland is ideal for ages 2-12, other family members will have a good time too. There is also a water park, restaurants, and an aquarium.

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Listen to Jazz

The San Diego Jazz Fest is held over Thanksgiving week at the Town & Country Hotel and Convention Center. 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, lessons are available.

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Visit Santa

Seaport Villiage in San Diego

TripSavvy / Ana Alarcon

Once you're done feasting, take your holiday list to share with Santa at Seaport Village. The big man himself is available for photographs with your children in the East Plaza Gazebo, and the photos you have taken will be available for sale on a USB drive for you to take home to create your own holiday cards.

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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 closed on Thanksgiving Day, but still makes for a fun visit the day after.

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Cruise in an Electric Boat

Duffy Boats are canopied electric boats that hold 11 to 12 passengers and can be rented for a cruise around Mission Bay. You have to be 21 years old to drive a Duffy boat and have valid identification. The company provides a detailed map of Mission Bay and goes over how to drive the boat and where to go on the map before you depart. There are also wine cruises and sightseeing cruises that you can make a reservation for and sit back and have the skipper do all the driving.

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Do a Trail Run

Penasquitos Canyon

Wilson44691 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-1.0

The Running of the Turkeys is a 5K or 10K Trail Run on Thanksgiving morning. The course takes you through scenic Penasquitos Canyon and the trails natural and varied with wide dirt paths and a fun water crossing that marks the halfway point. There is no official entry fee but they accept a minimum $20 donation for charity. Runners meet at Torrey Hills Neighborhood Park for a pre-race briefing in the morning and then walk to the start/finish about a half-mile away.

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