Christmas in San Diego: Best Things to Do During the Holidays

Christmas in San Diego proves you don’t need snow and cold temperatures to enjoy the holiday season. From free things to do to festive shows and shopping, San Diego offers a warm-weather retreat chock full of vibrant holiday festivities. If spending Christmas in San Diego or just visiting during the holiday season, check out the best things to do.

Spend Christmas in San Diego: Family-friendly Things to Do

Christmas in San Diego family vacation

Photo: Port of San Diego

Free Events in San Diego

The city offers more than 25 free ways to enjoy the holidays. One popular event is Surfin’ Santa Arrival, where Santa arrives via a surfboard and 6-foot wave. Held annually at the end of November, this one-day festival also features a boardwalk parade, kids’ activities, live entertainment and delicious dining options.

Another favorite is Balboa Park’s December Nights, a two-day holiday celebration. During this event, guests hear live carolers and music, tour light displays, and try foods from all over the world. Read about all the free events in San Diego.

Visit Major Attractions

From the botanical garden to Legoland and San Diego Zoo, the area’s top attractions host holiday events for all ages. See more than 100,000 lights at the Gardens of Lights. Or take the Santa Train, and sip hot cocoa to Christmas stories before stopping at Santa’s Workshop.

Families can also visit Legoland’s 30-foot Christmas tree made entirely out of Legos. It’s even decorated with Lego ornaments! Additionally, San Diego Zoo hosts the annual Jungle Bells, which has large light displays and showcases entertaining animals.

Christmas in San Diego events

Photo: Bring Back Words

Join the Parades

More than 10 parades in the San Diego area celebrate the sights and sounds of the holiday season. Don’t miss the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights where more than 100 private boats deck the halls and sail along the bay. Afterwards, enjoy a fireworks show over the water.

In downtown La Jolla, check out La Jolla Christmas Parade and Holiday Festival. The event features marching bands, floats, Santa and more. Other areas, such as Coronado, North County and East County, also host fun parades and shows.

Enjoy Warm Weather

San Diego’s mild climate and 70-degree winter days provide the ideal environment for getting outdoors. Three ice skating rinks in the San Diego area welcome guests to grab skates and hit the ice.

College football fans cheer for their favorite teams at two bowl games, which offer post-season football action. In addition, those who want to achieve personal fitness goals can sign up for a marathon. The area hosts 5 and 10Ks, half marathons and a special kids’ Kandy Kane race.

Christmas in San Diego california

Photo: jc.winkler

See a Live Show

During Christmas in San Diego, there’s no shortage of shows for the entire family, ranging from ballet to theater. Held at Old Globe theater in Balboa Park, see the long-running How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

In downtown San Diego, the California Ballet Company performs the elegant and classic The Nutcracker. The San Diego Symphony hosts another can’t-miss show: the Festival of Christmas performed by the Lamb’s Players Theater in Coronado, which has delighted audiences for more than 30 years. These are just a few of the shows and live entertainment, so check the schedule to learn more.

Don’t Miss the Sales

What’s the holiday season without shopping? Lots of shops – including big box and boutiques – make shopping in San Diego a breeze. Find big-name designers at Fashion Valley Mall, an outdoor shopping mecca for fashion. Westfield UTC features dining and anchor stores such as Macy’s and Nordstrom.

In La Jolla, browse upscale boutiques and smaller shops. If looking for a deal, check out three outlet malls located just outside San Diego. Shoppers will find discounts at Viejas Outlet Center in the East County, Carlsbad Premium Outlets in North County Coastal, and La America’s Premium Outlets in San Diego’s South Bay. Remember, buy yourself a little something special, too. Get the scoop on the San Diego shopping scene.

Want to celebrate Christmas in San Diego? Start planning and book a vacation rental in San Diego.