From mulled wine by the fire to ice skating under the stars, there’s nothing better than being home for the holidays. Now that I’m based in San Diego full-time, I’ve fully embraced the seasonal vibes. I’m ready to hang the mistletoe as soon as I take off my Halloween costume!
While we might not see many white Christmases, there’s no shortage of yuletide cheer in Southern California — and you can have your pick of the lot when it comes to things to do in San Diego at Christmas.
In fact, people here are so excited to get their chestnuts roasting that the best holiday events tend to book out weeks (sometimes months) in advance.
So, pick your faves, bookmark this page, and be ready to hit the ground running. Here are the best things to do around Christmas in San Diego!
Petco Park Christmas Market
Perfect for all ages, the Petco Park Christmas Market is a much-loved spot and exploring it is the perfect way to get into the holiday spirit.
After exploring the Christmas markets of Europe, there’s nothing I love more than taking in fragrant holiday recipes and walking amongst the glittering lights.
Fortunately, you don’t need to cross the world to experience a traditional European market. In Gallagher Square, you can soak in the warm and cozy vibes of a classic Christmas market.
Find the perfect gift for that someone special amongst the endless array of local and European artisan goods. Treat yourself to all of your fave holiday drinks and sweets. If you’ve got little ones along or are just feeling nostalgic, get a pic snapped with Santa and the elves.
Candlelight Symphony Concert
Fever is one of my new go-to apps. Whenever I’m looking for a fun day out or a new experience, I browse the latest and greatest from Fever.
One of my best winter experiences with Fever has been the Candlelight Symphony Concert.
Check their listings to see what they have on offer — the one I went to was located in the old church at Liberty Station. This is perfect for a date night or a fancy night out with the girls!
Photos courtesy of SoCalRailway.Org
Polar Express Train
Based on the magic of The Polar Express book and movie, this one-hour trip to visit Santa is truly magical. As soon as you hop on the Polar Express Train, you’ll have your golden ticket punched.
As you make your way to the North Pole, you’ll sip hot chocolate and munch on cookies while you read along to the classic Chris Van Allsburg’s book The Polar Express.
Photo courtesy of the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum Association
North Pole Limited
The North Pole Limited is a must for any kids in San Diego over the holidays. Arrive at Campo Depot at least 45 minutes early to explore the park and check out the gift shop. If you have time, the Hobo Camp next door is also worth visiting. It’ll give you a deep dive into the railroad’s history.
When you’re ready to board, you’ll head into the beautifully restored waiting area.
Once onboard the North Pole Limited, you’ll listen to a popular Christmas story and get to join along singing Christmas carols. The train makes a pitstop at Santa’s Workshop to pick up Santa and Mrs. Claus, who will both visit with all the passengers on the way back to Campo Depot.
The train ride lasts around 90 minutes or so (depending on how many passengers Santa needs to visit with!).
Photos courtesy of San Diego Zoo
Jungle Bells at SD Zoo
This is one of the best all-ages holiday celebrations in San Diego. The magical 3D projections, lighting displays, and entertainment will make it one of your best nights out over the holidays.
Be sure to come hungry to sample all the best holiday treats.
If you have a membership, a visit to Jungle Bells is included. It’s also free when you buy any admission so you can come earlier and make a full day of it.
Hotel del Coronado decked out for Christmas
Skating image courtesy of Hotel del Coronado
Hotel del Coronado
This iconic hotel is another dreamy night out for all ages. Choose your adventure and make an evening of it.
For a romantic date night, book the Frostbite rinkside fire pit dining. Strap on your ice skates and create a different kind of beach memory at Skating by the Sea.
The entire property is beautiful so plan extra time to sit out and soak it all in.
See the Grinch Musical at the Old Globe Theater
Welcome to the whimsical world of Dr. Seuss! This fun musical is based on everybody’s favorite winter read: How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
From You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch to Santa for a Day, you’ll be singing your heart out all night as you hear the classics performed live.
December Nights in Balboa Park
During December, there are enough free all-ages events to keep you busy every night of the week.
And it’s a foodie wonderland! Sample the Tastes of December Nights in the safe and easy food truck stop. Set up like a drive-thru, you can eat your way through San Diego’s top 20 food trucks.
From educational stops to live performances, the calendar is full of events so plan your perfect night.
Photo courtesy of Rooftop Cinema Club
Rooftop Cinema Club
Enjoy the ultimate open-air cinema experience near the San Diego coast! The stunning skyline views simply can’t be beaten and with a December holiday line-up featuring tons of classics, you may find yourself wanting to go back again and again…
Read through the listings to find your top picks, then book early. This is an ultra-popular event every year and every show tends to sell out.
Photo courtesy of San Diego Bay Parade of Lights
San Diego Bay Parade of Lights
We do things a bit differently in San Diego! Forgot wandering the snowy streets and admiring the light displays (though that’s most certainly worthwhile here as well!). Here, we hit the beach. Walk along the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights and take in the nearly 100 boats that light up the harbor.
Walking the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights is a time-honored tradition loved by locals and tourists alike. Go for a stroll any given Sunday of December around 5:30 pm and soak in the incredible beauty.
What kid doesn’t love Legoland? Whether you’re building your very first Lego collection or are just a kid at heart, you’re going to love this place. Explore the wonders of what can only be described as art (yeah, I called Lego art!).
For you true fans out there, make an adventure of it. Go for the 2-Day Hopper Tickets and spend the night in a Lego-themed room. Get exclusive early access to the LEGOLAND Park, in-room treasure hunts, and nightly live shows.
Photo courtesy of Trolley Tours
Trolly Lights Tour
Find out how San Diego earned the nickname America’s Finest City. When you hop on a holiday trolley tour of Old Town, you’ll discover the best of the city at its very best. Soak in the glowing lights of the city while you sing your heart out to your favorite Christmas carols.
Your elf conductor will make a quick stop at Seaport Village for a hop-off tour, then you can jump back on and see the best of Old Town, Embarcadero, Seaport Village, Balboa Park, and beyond.
Photos courtesy of TeaTime Magazine
Christmas Tea at Westgate Hotel
Forget eggnog! At the Westgate Hotel, you can celebrate Christmas with a festive tea party.
Go for afternoon tea and enjoy the artisanal teas and homemade baked goods. You can get a fragrant cuppa on dates throughout December so check the calendar to find a date that works for your tea party crew. Afternoon tea with light bites is $65 for adults and $35 for kids.
Cesarina Decked Out for the Holidays
Tree Lighting Ceremony & Cesarina
If you have time, check out the tree lighting ceremony from Liberty Station to Little Italy.
This area has some of the best restaurants in San Diego and it’s absolutely at its prime over the holidays.
While you’re in the Point Loma neighborhood, check out one of my favorite restaurants: Cesarina! You’ll absolutely need reservations for this hip and happening place, but it’s a must! And it’s so cute when it’s decked out for Christmas.
Ready to plan your dream San Diego escape? I’ve got you covered! Grab my ultimate San Diego guide and start planning.