There’s an abundance of sun on display in San Diego year round, and although temperatures are a bit crisper than usual, winter is no exception. Festivals, parades and dining specials make good use of the city’s enduringly pleasant weather to create uniquely San Diego holiday experiences. Here’s a sample platter of what to do, see and tuck into during the Christmas season.

Christmas lights adorn the buildings and boats in the harbor
The city decorates for the holiday season © dszc / Getty Images

Brightly Themed Parks

Twinkling lights wrapped around palm trees and twisted into animal shapes light up San Diego Zoo’s annual Jungle Bells. Held from mid-December through the New Year there are also acrobatic performances by Santa and his Elves in addition to wandering carolers.

When: Dec 14-23, 2018 & Dec 25, 2018-Jan 6, 2019

Where: San Diego Zoo

a decorative red sleigh filled with presents and Santa Clause in front of the Museum of Man in Balboa Park San Diego
Balboa Park is decorated for Christmas and lit up at night for festive fun © Richard Cummins / Getty Images

December Nights at Balboa Park is a cornucopia of entertainment, food, extended museum hours and more. The park’s Plaza de Panama and Botanical Building are just some of the park’s festively lit features of what is perhaps the biggest free festival in San Diego.

When: Dec 7-8, 2018

Where: Balboa Park

Further north in seaside city Carlsbad, Legoland California is the backdrop for a super-sized LEGO Christmas tree, Santa and holiday show, while neighboring Sea Life Aquarium and Legoland Hotel feature similar programming.

When: Nov 17-Dec 31, 2018

Where: Legoland California

Mad dressed as Santa Clause rides a beach cruiser with a trailer filled with presents along side other men in santa hats also riding bikes
Holiday parades are popular throughout the city during the winter season © Rick Gerharter / Getty Images

Festive Parades on Land & Sea

In Downtown’s historic Gaslamp Quarter, the Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade in December invites pet owners to deck out out their two and four-legged companions to the soundtrack of live music. There is even a costume contest that includes the category, ‘best ugly holiday sweater,’ open to pets and their humans.

When: Dec 16, 2018

Where: 401 K Street

For a nautical twist, cheerfully lit and decorated boats sail around San Diego Bay as part of the annual Bay of Lights Boat Parade. Running commentary on participating boats is best heard at the Maritime Museum on the Embarcadero, where the announcers are located.

When: Dec 9 & 16, 2018

Where: Shelter Island to Ferry Landing in Coronado

Parents and children ice skate under palm trees strung with holiday lights
Ice skating on the beach is all the rage at Hotel del Coronado © Audrey Simper Photography / Getty Images

San Diego on Ice

Ice skating on the beach sounds like a paradox, yet the Hotel del Coronado continues to host Skating By The Sea from November to January, whereby the Del’s seaside Windsor Lawn – which faces Coronado beach – transforms into an ice skating rink. On Saturday, Dec 15 children can also skate with Olympic gold medalist Tara Lipinski.

When: Nov 22, 2018-Jan 1, 2019

Where: Hotel del Coronado

Holiday Feasts

In December, order butter pecan french toast and honey-glazed ham benedicts at Breakfast Republic, with seven locations across the county. Then, warm up with an eggnog latte at Fig Tree Café, a Lonely Planet top choice cafe.

When: Month of December

Where: Various locations

On Christmas day, book the Hornblower Cruises Christmas Day Buffet for dinner with a welcome glass of champagne, bay views and free WiFi to capture every moment.

When: Dec 25, 2018

Where: San Diego Bay

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