10 Ways to Enjoy the Wonderful Holidays in San Diego

The most wonderful time of the year is fast approaching, but the added stress of holiday shopping, family demands and staying within a budget may have you feeling a little like the Grinch. What you need is a break from it all. Luckily, we have found some enchanting events perfect for celebrating the holidays in San Diego. Even better, many of them are free! So, find your Santa hat and read on to discover more.

1. Attend a Tree Lighting Event to Spark Your Spirit

There is something special about a sparkling Christmas tree that immediately brings joy. The excitement of counting down the seconds to the burst of dazzling lights is sure to bring holiday cheer to you and your family.

Liberty Station

Liberty’s Station Tree Lighting & Holiday Festivities takes place on Friday, November 25, from 5:00pm to 9:00pm. Ride on festive fire trucks, take pictures with Santa, listen to live entertainment and marvel at the lighting of the 88-foot Norfolk pine. Speaking of the Grinch, bring a blanket to watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas on the lawn. This event is free to attend.

While at Liberty Station, take a spin on the Rady Children’s Ice Rink. Tickets are just $20 for adults and $15 for kids. Ticket sales directly benefit the Thriving After Cancer program at the Peckham Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. Purchase tickets here.

San Diego Mission Bay Resort

At the San Diego Mission Bay Resort’s Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony, sip hot chocolate, sing along to your most-loved Christmas carols, take a photo with Ms. Claus and watch the brilliant lighting of the tree, all for free. For just $30, little elves can build their own stuffed animal, decorate cookies, ornaments and stockings, play family bingo and enter a special raffle. Happening on Thursday, December 1, from 5:00pm to 8:00pm, RSVP and purchase tickets for Santa’s Workshop here.

Little Italy

Walk through a winter wonderland at the Little Italy Tree Lighting and Christmas Village on Saturday, December 3, from 4:00pm to 8:00pm. Featuring not one, but two Christmas trees plus live holiday music, festive décor, treats and of course, Santa. The traditional Italian tree lighting takes place at 6:30pm in the Piazza della Famiglia. There is no cost to attend.

A lighted boat from the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights. A parade is a wonderful way to celebrate the holidays in San Diego.

Photo Courtesy of San Diego Bay Parade of Lights

2. Celebrate the Holidays in San Diego with a Parade

Who doesn’t love a parade? In San Diego, you can see boats on parades, pets on parade and just good old-fashioned holiday parades. Grab your friends and family and head on down to view these merry and free events.

A glow boat gliding through the water from Eco Boat Rentals
Photo Courtesy of Eco Boat Rentals

3. Light Up the Bay on a Christmas Glow Boat Ride

Take a breather from the holiday hustle and explore the majestic San Diego Bay on a colorful glow boat from Eco Boat Rentals. Christmas rides are available on Friday December 23, Saturday December 24 and Sunday, December 25 at 6:30pm and 8:30pm. These illuminated pedal boats fit up to three adults and one child and include speakers perfect for blasting holiday music. Bring your friends and create your own boat parade around the bay. A glow boat ride is also an excellent idea for a romantic holiday date. To find out more, click here.

4. Meet Surfin’ Santa

On Saturday, November 26, Santa trades his suit for a pair of boardshorts and his favorite Hawaiian shirt and cruises over to Seaport Village by watercraft for some fun in the sun. Snap a picture with Santa on his lifeguard tower, see the Surfin’ Santa parade, hear live music and browse the many shops in the village. Who knew Santa could surf?

A lighted holiday tree with carolers at December nights in Balboa Park.
Photo Courtesy of December Nights Balboa Park

5. Experience a Holiday Festival in Balboa Park

On Friday, December 3 and Saturday, December 4, Balboa Park turns into December Nights, a stunning display of holiday lights and decorations. The largest free holiday festival in San Diego, enjoy live music and dancing, shop local crafters and eat delicious food. Entry into the many museums is free both nights from 5:00pm to 9:00pm.

6. See How the Grinch Stole Christmas Live

Playing through December 31 at the Old Globe Theatre, Dr. Suess’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a family favorite. The stage is transformed into a whimsical Who-Ville village. The kiddos will love humming along to “Santa for a Day” and “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” This play is suitable for all ages. For tickets, click here.

Pub Crawlers from the Ugly Sweater Holiday Crawl.
Photo Courtesy of San Diego Pub Crawlers

7. Go on a Holiday Pub Crawl

For adults, San Diego Pub Crawlers offers two different pub crawls to kick off your holidays in San Diego. On Saturday, December 10, dress up as Santa for the cheerful Santa Crawl. Don’t have a Santa hat? No worries! They will give you one at check-in. The following Saturday, December 17, put on your tackiest, ugliest Christmas sweater for their Ugly Sweater Holiday Crawl. Each crawl visits four different bars with drink specials, dancing and complimentary cover charges. Cheers to the holidays!

8. Shop the Holiday Market at Petco Park

Returning for its third year, the Holiday Market at Petco Park offers unique artisan vendors for your holiday shopping. Running from December 1 to December 23, savor seasonal food and drinks, admire spectacular Christmas lights and displays and meet Santa and other holiday characters. Tickets are required to ensure the best experience for everyone. Tickets are free, but parking is $15.

A reindeer at the San Diego Zoo.
Photo Courtesy of the San Diego Zoo

9. Visit Jungle Bells at the San Diego Zoo

Jungle Bells at the San Diego Zoo runs from Friday, December 9 through Sunday, January 1 and is included with all zoo admissions and memberships. This family-friendly event will delight all ages with amazing entertainment. Children can take part in the reindeer games, play in snow and visit polar bears and reindeers plus so much more. The whole family will appreciate the astonishing show, Aurora, and the music of the Jingle Brass and the Tinseltones. It’s a full day of holiday fun.

10. Watch the Menorah Lighting at Liberty Station

The Menorah Lighting at Liberty Station is on Sunday, December 18 from 5:00pm to 8:00pm. This magical event commences the start of Hanukkah with a traditional menorah lighting and music. Finish the evening gliding around the Rady Children’s Ice Skate Rink.

We wish you and your family the happiest of holidays. Share your favorite holiday tradition in the comment section below.