Christmas tree on the beach in San Diego. A classic San Diego Christmas tradition.

San Diego is known as “America’s Finest City,” and is known to be a fun vacation place. Therefore, it makes sense that there are a lot of fun Christmas activities to do in San Diego. 

Coming to San Diego for Christmas is the perfect winter getaway. Enjoy a break from the snow and extremely cold weather. If this sounds like something you would enjoy then check out the list below. 

In this article, written by a San Diego local, you will find the best Christmas activities for each neighborhood. Take a look and find something that fits your budget!


#1 Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker 

Date and Time: Wednesday, Dec 18th at 3pm 

Cost: Ranges from $27-$97 Location: Copley Symphony Hall buy tickets here

If you have never experienced the Nutcracker Ballet before then this is the perfect season for you to watch this play. Enjoy watching world-class dancers, beautiful scene sets, lots of sparkling costumes, and an overall great Christmas in San Diego experience. 

#2. The Vet + Pet West Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade

Date and Time: December 15th from 12-5pm

Cost: Free or if you want to be part of the parade then it is $15
Location: Gaslamp district in downtown SD

Are you an animal lover? This is the perfect holiday event for you. Get yourself and your pet dressed up in some holiday gear and march down the streets of downtown San Diego. There will be prizes for the best dressed.

For more information on how to enter your pet and where to pay, check out the Gaslamp Quarter website.

#3 Christmas Eve Dinner Cruise 

Date and time: December 24th from 6-9pm

Cost: Ticket prices vary Location: Flagship Cruises and events 990 N Harbor Dr, San Diego

If you are someone who does not enjoy cooking on Christmas Eve then this is perfect for you! Enjoy a night out on the San Diego bay with all your friends. Prime-rib and oven-roasted turkey will be served along with holiday salads and some amazing desserts. 


#4 Surfin’ Santa Arrival 

Date and time: November 30, 2019 from 1-5pm

Cost: Free

Location: Sea Port Village 

This is considered to be one of the ten best Santa sightings, according to USA today. Join the classic San Diego styled Santa. All decked out in boardshorts and his favorite Hawaiian shirt. Guests can take pictures with Santa and his surfboard.

Enjoy a parade along the Seaport Village boardwalk. Make sure to arrive early as it may get crowded. 

#5 Port of San Diego Bay Parade of Lights 

Date and time: December 8th and 15th

Cost: Free Location: Varies depending on the location of boats. See below.

Here are the approximate arrival times at various locations.

Shelter Island (start of parade): 5:00pm

Harbor Island: 5:30pm

The Embarcadero: 6:00pm

Seaport Village: 6:30pm

The Pier at Cesar Chavez Park: 6:45pm

Ferry Landing on Coronado: 7:00pm


#6 Balboa Park December Nights 

Date and Time: December 6th: 3-11 pm and December 7th: 12-11 pm

Cost: Free-costs money if you choose to buy food or souvenirs  Location: Balboa Park

This San Diego Christmas event is a classic to San Diego. Balboa Park turns into a Christmas miracle. There are tons of festivities that occur during these December nights. Enjoy lots of entertainment, good food, free museums, light displays and even dance performances.

For LOTS more information check out the Balboa Parks website on where to park, how to get in and the best Christmas activities to do.

#7 Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas 

Date and Time: November 10-December 29th 

Cost: Prices Vary go here to buy tickets

Location: Balboa Park 

Stop by the Old Globe Theater in Balboa Park and enjoy the holiday production How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Make sure to take in all the “Whoville” decorations that will surround you. 


#8 SoNo Fest and Chili Cook-Off

Date and Time: December 1st from 11 am-5 pm 

Cost: Prices Vary go here to buy tickets

Location: Thorn & 32nd Streets in North Park, San Diego, CA 92104

This chili cook-off is perfect for those “cold” December nights in San Diego. It is a great family event that is unique to these neighborhoods. There is a chili cook-off between the South Park and North Park restaurants. 

Enjoy some holiday gift shopping, live music, games and activities, and lots more-including beer at this fun Christmas event in San Diego. 

#9 North Park Toyland Parade

Date and Time: December 8th from 10 am -3 pm 

Cost: Free

Location: University Avenue, San Diego, CA 92104

Celebrate the 56th Annual Toyland Parade with the North Park residents. There will be vintage cars, dance, marching, other groups, and even Santa Claus. 

Enjoy the parade that goes down University Avenue between Utah and Iowa Streets. This is one of San Diego’s most beloved winter events. 


#10 Little Italy’s Christmas Tree Lighting Event

Date and Time: December 7th from 4-8pm 

Cost: Free

Location: India St & W Fir St, San Diego, CA 92101

Head to Little Italy to see the unique 25-foot tower of 1,100 Poinsettias be lit up like a Christmas tree at 6:30pm. Little Italy will turn into a small Christmas village. There will be festive vendors, food, music, Christmas treats, and even a visit from Santa. 

Santa will have an opportunity for your kids to take pictures with him from 4-6 pm on India Street. There will be kids crafts as well in “Santa’s Living Room.” 


#11 Etsy Market at West-field Mission Valley

Date and Time: December 7th from 10am-9pm

Cost: Free unless you buy items

Location: 1640 Camino Del Rio N, San Diego

This is a day full of fun handmade crafts. Enjoy visiting booths from all the local artists and designers. Purchase some handmade gifts as Christmas presents. Find the pop-up Etsy shop located in front of Nordstrom’s Rack. 

#12 Christmas under the stars in Mission Trails Regional Park 

Date and Time: December 20th from 6pm-8pm

Cost: Free 

Location: Mission Trails Regional Park 

Join the Mission Trail Church in a Christmas service under the stars. Whether you are a believer or not-you can gather together to sing some Christmas songs and hear the Christmas story all while sitting under the stars. 


#13 Old Town Las Posadas:

Date and Time: December 14th from 12-8pm

Cost: Free

Location: 2415 San Diego Ave, San Diego, CA 92110

Old Town Las Posadas will be all decked out for this Christmas in San Diego. There will be entertainment and holiday experiences for everyone! Old Town will also have its traditional Las Posadas procession. End the night by enjoying some s’ mores by the campfire in the Plaza. 


#14 Ocean Beach Holiday Parade:

Date and Time: December 7th from 5-7pm 

Cost: Free

Location: Sunset Cliffs Blvd & Newport Ave, San Diego, CA 92107

This quaint surf village known as Ocean Beach has hosted a holiday parade for 40+ years now. Enjoy listening to The Point Loma Marching band or watching the SD roller derby ladies skate on by. 

Continue the holiday cheer by enjoying a night out at one of the many bars in Ocean Beach. Come dressed in your best holiday gear. 


#15 San Diego Santa Run 5k

Date and Time: December 14th at 9 am

Cost: $40 for the 5k run/walk

Location: 900 Garnet Avenue, San Diego 

Rally all your fellow Santa friends for a fun morning exercise! For those who enter, you will receive a Santa suit and a drink coupon. After you finish your run, join other Santa’s for post-race celebration drinks prior to the Pacific Beach Holiday parade. 

This event is also suitable for children! They have a kid’s one-mile run as well! For all the details on how to register and pick up your Santa suit check out the Santa run website.


#16 Mission Bay Christmas Boat Parade of Lights 

Date and Time: December 14th from 6-9pm

Cost: Free

Location: 1215 El Carmel Place, San Diego, CA 92109

This 2019 Christmas event occurs every year and it is always so special. Enjoy the festive gatherings along the coastline of Mission Bay as the Christmas Boat Parade of Lights floats by. 


As you can see from the list above, Christmas in San Diego is a special time of the year. Even though you may not get a “White” Christmas, you will get to experience Christmas in a different way-shorts and flip flops! 

Being a born and raised San Diego local, I have attended a lot of these events throughout my life. I can highly recommend all of them. Christmas is such a joyous time of year. Gather with your family and friends, snuggle up, and enjoy the season. 

If you are looking for other fun activities during your time in San Diego then check out this article on some of the best hikes in San Diego. Looking for a nice area to stay? Check out this article on La Jolla Beach hotels.



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  1. This is a great article. I am originally from So. Cal and I am still amazed at how Chistmasy we can make it even without the snow. If I was going to be in town, I think the surfing Santa arrival would be a must see for the kids.

  2. I’m a sucker for Christmas lights, so Balboa park would be a definite for me. I’d love to see How the Grinch Stole Christmas with my nephews too!

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