San Diego in December: Festive Activities and Holiday Events

Small House with gift boxes and holiday tree in Spanish Village Art Center, San Diego, California

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Try traveling to San Diego in December if you don’t like the chilly winter weather but are seeking a fantastic getaway location during the season.

Throughout the month, San Diego experiences pleasant, sunny weather with temperatures ranging from 49 to 66 degrees Fahrenheit.

This makes it convenient for exploring the city, where you’ll find many festivals and activities for the holidays.

To help plan your trip, this guide will discuss the festive things you can do in San Diego in December including Christmas-themed events, shows, lights, parades, and more.

Sightseeing tours, winter camping, winter surfing, and whale viewing are also included.

You may also enjoy our guide to California in December.

San Diego also made it to our list of warm places to visit in December in the USA.

Festive Activities and Holiday Events in San Diego in December

Check out all the holiday events and activities lined up during the month- including the Winter Wonderland Festival, San Diego’s Santa Run, and holiday parades.

Winter Wonderland Festival

The annual Winter Wonderland Festival is sponsored by the California Center for the Arts (340 N Escondido Blvd) and is a treat for the entire family to play in real snow and sip on holiday drinks at Santa’s Cafe.

While here, partake in artists-led holiday crafting activities and shop the works of local artists. 

Holidays at Legoland

Experience Holidays at Legoland (One LEGOLAND Dr) which features lots of Christmas-themed and kid-friendly activities.

Kids can take photos with special characters like LEGO Gingerbread man and LEGO Santa.

There’s also a 30-foot LEGO Christmas tree, holiday treats, rides, and live music.

The event starts from November 19 to January 2.

Botanic Garden Lightscape

The Botanic Garden Lightscape (300 Quail Gardens Dr) is a must-see when you visit San Diego in December. 

Bring the entire family and escape into a world of beautiful colors and magical sounds. 

Dress for the weather and wear comfortable shoes as the walking path is one mile around the garden.

Tip: The path is accessible to strollers and wheelchairs.

Santa Run

If you are looking for fun things to do in San Diego in December, participate in the 5K San Deigo Santa Run (875 Garnet Ave(. 

When you run, you will receive Santa Swag which includes a Santa Suit, sunglasses, a custom bib, chip time result, and a complimentary drink ticket (redeemed at Mavericks Beach Club).

Santa Run is stroller friendly and has a dedicated area for dogs (Santa’s helpers).

Encinitas Holiday Parade

Visit Santa Claus in San Diego at the Encinitas Holiday Parade (Coast Highway 101).

This San Diego Christmas event is for all ages and kicks off with a tree lighting ceremony at the Lumberyard shopping center courtyard and moves from D Street to J Street.

Old Town Holiday Lights

Old Town (4010 Twiggs St) in San Diego in winter is unique because the summer crowds are gone, but the authentic rich history of the birthplace of California remains. 

Stroll through the historic Old Town or take a hop-on hop-off trolley tour to experience beautiful holiday lights and decorations.

Holiday lights and Christmas ornaments hanging at Mexican-style houses in Old Town San Diego California

Balboa Park

See San Diego in December and enjoy holiday performances and twinkling lights at Balboa Park December Nights (1549 El Prado). 

You will walk, mingle, and grab some delicious food during the two-night event as you enjoy the lights and other Christmas activities. 

Listen to a free organ concert of your favorite holiday covers at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion by The Spreckels Organ Society organists.

Over 300,000 people attend this free holiday event each year to explore the 1200-acre park full of walking paths, museums, and gardens.

Balboa State Park in San Diego California

La Jolla Christmas Parade

The La Jolla Christmas Parade and Holiday Festival are part of the San Diego winter events you can look forward to. 

The outdoor fun takes place at Kline & Gerard in downtown La Jolla and includes games, crafts, and food.

Be sure to stop by the recreation center to take a photo with Santa.

Holiday Pet Parade

Enjoy live music and watch The Gaslamp Pet Parade (starting at 401 K St), where the cutest holiday-attired pets compete for prizes and boasting rights at the Pet Expo.

The Pet Parade is free and open to the public and travels up Fifth avenue and ends at the MLK Promenade Park. 

You are encouraged to enter your holiday-dressed pet to walk in the parade, and the first 350 entries will receive complimentary pet-friendly goodie bags. 

Arrive early to score a good spot to see the parade and peruse the pet expo.

Parade of Lights

The San Diego Parade of Lights (1449 Cesar E. Chavez Pkwy) is one of the favorite things to do in San Diego in December for locals and travelers alike. 

Be a part of an honored tradition and watch over 80 boats parade around the bay with their holiday lights.

More than 100,000 residents and visitors each year migrate to San Diego’s shores for this free event that lasts 90 minutes.

Holiday Bowl Parade

The Holiday Bowl Parade (California Street) is at the top of the list of things to do in San Diego during winter.

This annual event is a long tradition where the downtown streets of San Diego come alive with marching bands, floats, and the largest balloon parade in America. 

The festivities begin with a 5K run/walk, and participants who make it to the finish line receive a medal at the end of the event.

The free street-side viewing attracts 100,000 spectators annually.

Christmas in Old Poway Park

Escape back in time while you enjoy live music and caroling and visit Santa in Poway’s Christmas in the Park (14134 Midland Rd). 

The family will love the children’s crafts, model trains, and tasty holiday treats. 

Board the Steam locomotive train and take the loop around the park at night to see the Christmas tree. 

Christmas tree lighting and Santa’s arrival are two highlights when thinking of things to do in San Diego in winter.

Santa-Grotto

Other Things to Do in San Diego in December

In this list, you’ll find more things to do in San Diego, California in December including ice skating, winter camping, holiday bar hopping, and tours.

Visiting San Diego on a budget? Check this guide.

Torrey Pines State Park

Winter hiking in Torrey Pines is a treat in December because with fewer crowds, it may feel like you have the trails all to yourself. 

Hike the Guy Fleming trail for panoramic views and an easy loop.

Take the trail to the beach to see a scenic view that stretches 4.5 miles, where people come to fish, sunbathe, swim, and surf. 

Broken hill in Torrey Pines State Park, San Diego, California

Winter Camping

With waterfront RV camping and a wide range of activities and amenities, no wonder Campland on the Bay (2211 Pacific Beach Dr) is a favorite location for winter camping.

Located only 14 minutes from Downtown San Diego and 21 minutes from Torrey Pines State Park, there’s so much to see and do. 

Tents camping is allowed, so you don’t even need an RV if you are thinking about San Diego winter camping in December.

Liberty Station

You can count on great food and a full calendar of activities in December at Liberty Station (2820 Historic Decatur Rd).

Plenty of activities for the entire family include crafts and woodworking for the kids and several workshops for adults.

Visit some of San Diego’s best restaurants, including sushi, ramen, bakery, and specialty cheeses, which offer seasonal holiday menu items.

This is a foodie’s heaven, and the biggest challenge may be what to choose to eat from so many options. 

The weather is nice in December so enjoy the outdoor seating while you eat.

Explore the Spanish Village Art Center

The Spanish Village Art Center (1770 Village Pl) at Balboa State Park features art exhibits and crafts from local artisans.

You can shop here for gifts like handblown glass ornaments, baskets, jewelry, and more.

This place is also known for its quaint houses and colorful tiles that get vibrant and festive when decked out in holiday-themed ornaments like gift boxes, lights, and trees during the season.

Small House with gift boxes and holiday tree in Spanish Village Art Center, San Diego, California

Old Globe Theatre

If you are visiting San Diego in December, you must bring the children to a viewing of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas at The Old Globe Theatre (1363 Old Globe Way).

The entire family will love seeing Dr. Seuss’ storybook classic come to life on stage as the theater transforms into Whoville.

Matinees present a great time of day to bring the younger watchers, and while here, be sure to explore the rest of the park. 

Visit La Casa de Estudillo

If you want to get a taste of history and experience the feel of San Diego during the 1800s, head to La Casa Estudillo (4001 Mason St. Old Town), one of San Diego’s oldest houses.

This historic home is built in 1827 featuring Spanish architecture and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Note that the place is not open for visits during Christmas and New Year’s eve.

La Casa de Estudillo in Old Town San Diego, California

Nason’s Beer Hall 

During the season, Nason’s Beer Hall (570 J Street) is decked out in Christmas decor and holiday lights.

They serve draft and bottled beers, cocktails, as well as food for brunch and dinner.

And one great thing about this place is they have food menu items for your dogs, should you bring them.

Polite Provisions

Polite Provisions (4696 30th St) transforms into a Christmas-themed pop-up bar and features festive decorations and lights.

You can go to this retro-style bar and get some of their seasonally-themed drinks- like the Snow Ball Old Fashion which is a mix of things like butterscotch rye, spiced Demerara, wormwood bitters, and Orange Zest.

Winter Surfing

Colder water, giant waves, and smaller crowds are what you can expect if you are looking for San Diego winter surfing. 

Because there are fewer people, the waters become your playground to surf in San Diego in December, particularly at La Jolla and Encinitas. 

The consistent waves stay soft and mellow and are favorable for beginners.

For advanced surfers looking for more of a challenge, head to La Jolla (Black Beach), Oceanside, and Grandview for bigger swells and incredible waves. 

View of the ocean and buff covered in greens at Beacon's Beach, San Diego, California

Whale Watching

San Diego in the winter means the migration of gray whales from Alaska to Mexico.

Take a 90-minute seal tour and watch 20,000 whales migrate to warmer waters.

Whale watching is a fantastic experience that you can witness starting mid-December.

Relax and encounter some of the best views of San Diego by land and water. 

A Day Trip to Julian

San Diego winter activities should include taking a day trip to Julian to enjoy a warm cup of apple cider and a slice of apple pie on a Saturday in December. 

This small mountain town with its apple orchards is just over an hour’s drive northeast of San Diego, where you can explore charming neighborhoods and enjoy wandering Christmas carolers. 

Julian is one of San Diego’s scenic treasures, with hiking trails, winter camping, and rich California history. 

Ice Skating by the Sea

On the beautiful Island of Coronado, Ice skating in San Diego in the winter has become another tradition that starts in late November and continues through December at Hotel Del Coronado (1500 Orange Ave). 

Watch incredible views of the Pacific Ocean while you skate.

Reserve your spot rink-side as you warm up around the roaring fire pit, and order your favorite holiday drink and snacks.

Final Thoughts

Did you enjoy our list of activities and events in San Francisco in December? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Aside from San Diego, you may also want to explore more places in California like the ones in the guide below.

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