My wife likes to say that she hates Christmas. She says it when the traditions start to feel like nothing more than obligations, when the outings become ordeals, when the expenses become extravagances. What’s awful and silly about this is that it doesn’t have to be this way. There’s a reason they call it the Christmas spirit: it’s incorruptible. Maybe it’s been a tough year. Maybe it’s been a tough five years. So, how can you celebrate when things are so rough? How can you not?
I think I’ll take her down to the Del to see the big tree in the old-timey lobby and watch the skaters by the beach. “Start fresh,” I’ll say. “Look up and look around. How grand is it that this whole city is gearing up to show us a good time? Armies of planners and makers and doers, all of them on our side. All of them on the side of a Merry Christmas. Yeah, there’s stuff to buy. It’s wonderful stuff — we’ll buy a little! There’s stuff to do and stuff to see, some that costs but some that’s free.”
I’ll stop there, before she slaps me for rhyming. And I think she’ll believe me. It’s Christmas.
— Matthew Lickona
10678 Sunrise Highway, Mount Laguna
Sledding on Laguna Mountain
A benefit of San Diego living is that a quick drive up Sunrise Highway allows us to have epic snowball fights and sledding adventures without the hassle of dealing with pesky cold weather downsides like shoveling and de-icing car windows. At Laguna Mountain Lodge they provide day visitors with directions to nearby sledding locations. Purchase an adventure permit for $5, enabling you to park legally and avoid $200 fines. After a long, powder-filled day, the lodge offers rooms and cabins to accommodate holiday plans, $63–$195
12551 Highway 79, Descanso
Snow hike to Stonewall Peak
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, across from Paso Picacho Campground, Highway 79, Descanso, 760-765-0755
Approximately 50 miles east of San Diego on State Route 79 stands the 5730-foot Stonewall Peak. Although many guidebooks advise to take the two-mile hike to the top during the spring, it’s less crowded and equally scenic (wildflowers be damned!) after a snowfall. An easy/moderate, tree-lined, heavily switchbacked trail with a 700-foot elevation gain makes it suitable for young’uns. Those steep stone steps one must traverse on that final ascent (the best part) might be icy, but the metal handrail will save the day and the 360-degree views on the exposed rocky summit are well worth any possible struggle.
3801 30th Street, North Park
Stepping into Pigment’s 3000-square-foot clean-lined space is like entering a gift-giving wonderland where you want it to be your birthday every day. Small batch, hand-picked items like cantaloupe-vanilla jam, grenadine, strawberry-fennel syrup, brightly-colored felted ornaments, and locally-made crystalline gem jewelry comingle with Falcon-brand’s Americana enamelware, eclectic Rifle Paper Co. greeting cards and wrapping sheets, Voluspa luxury candles, and Mast Brothers chocolate. Pigment’s Plant Lab houses glass eco-orb terrariums waiting to be filled with a succulents, pebbles, colored sand and mosses. Do it yourself or have one of their specialists do it for you.
1212 Knoxville Street, Bay Park
Having trouble getting into the holiday spirit? City Lights will cure you of your Grinchy tendencies right quick. Since 1989 they’ve wowed visitors with 28,000 square feet of charming festive displays, even having shipped over 50 brands of collectible figures to 56 countries. Think an enormous, plastic-walled, snowy village scene complete with locomotive, rows of colored garland and ornaments, and almost 30 different styles of Barcana artificial trees. including a Nutcracker-themed pink-flocked tree, parrots perched on a lime-green number, a posh peacock-adorned tree, and an all-white beauty covered in chic sparkly and feathery ornaments.
2205 Fern Street, South Park
Keeping things out of the landfill, one item at a time, Bad Madge is chock-full of pre-screened treasures hand-picked by San Diego-native Tanya McAnear and members of her team — each one with a different specialty. Ninety percent of the inventory is considered vintage, yet the barware, records, furniture, dresses, books, pillbox hats, pins, brooches, metal toys, coats, mini liquor bottles, hair pins, shell casings, cowboy boots, dress shoes, suiting, and art are priced with more of a thrift store mentality. Everything is for sale, which means the display surfaces are constantly changing so you’ll have to come often.
989 W. Kalmia Street, Little Italy
inside Klassik, 989 W. Kalmia Street, Little Italy, 619-640-6995
Self-described as a store within a store within a store, The Platform is a beautifully-designed 250-square-foot oasis, tucked into Mid-Century furniture store Klassik, that begs you to stay awhile. Curated by the creative minds behind Tend’s eco-orbs, Jetter Green’s sacred geometry art, and JXL’s gollypods (also of Bells & Whistles), their individual projects are highlighted while focusing on various aspects of others’ art. Think collaborations between jewelry designers and plant purveyors in the form of miniature, wearable terrariums; metal weavings from UK’s Nativeline; Lia Friedman pottery; Mr. Blue Skye’s hand-dyed silk kimonos; and Bearhead Factory’s cosmic, goddess-like jewelry.
1947 30th Street, South Park
Wanna be the cool aunt/uncle/grandma/Santa this year? Since 2007, Leyla Chavez has been stocking her children’s boutique, So Childish, with everything from Charm’s adorable animal rockers to Mudpie’s leopard-printed faux fur boots to Star Wars books on how to speak Wookie and Droid. Doesn’t get more fun than pretending to be Chewie, does it? There are classic wooden toys, luxe animal coats complete with ears and tail, Rockabye Baby’s lullaby renditions of your favorite bands (read: Johnny Cash, Nirvana, and more), and even toy instruments. They’ve done the hard work for you — you simply need to find something in your price range.
2207 Fern Street, South Park
Serious about buying local? Enter Make Good. The store currently houses about 130 local artisans’ works — 90 percent San Diegans, 10% percent from Baja — all of whom have a personal, working relationship with proprietor Sophia Hall. Pick up anything in the store and she’ll tell you the who, where, and how. The 35 jewelry artists produce trinkets like rings made from coins or glass bottles, pocket-watch necklaces, bicycle-part jewelry, and rose pins constructed from paperback books. You’ll also find hand-painted henna frames, knitted goods, coasters and notebooks crafted from vinyl records, and an entire corner devoted to kids’ items.
2225 30th Street #1, South Park
Located in a rustic-yet-modern converted automotive garage, three-year-old Progress has gifts ideas for every age and interest. We’re talking: vintage-style shaving paraphernalia; design-oriented kids’ toys like Eames Memory Game; Joseph Joseph’s hip, colorful kitchenware; books that prompt action such as cheese-making, urban farming and whiskey-distilling; Jonathan Adler’s giant animal erasers; and Back to the Roots’ Mushroom-growing kit and AquaFarm — a self-cleaning fish tank that grows food. Among all these are locally-made goods like caramel sauce, SoNo Trading mustard, rows of jewelry, even a collaboration with Caffé Calabria producing a custom Progress-blend coffee.
1142 Orange Avenue, Coronado
Lamb’s Players Theater: An American Christmas
Artistic director Robert Smyth has built the Lamb’s Players into a local theatrical institution, and this three-hour, five-course turn-of-the-twentieth-century Christmas party into its festive counterpart. Smyth writes and directs; his wife Deborah does the musical direction. The Lamb’s Players are the Marshall family, your circa-1912 hosts for an evening that starts with hors d’ oeuvres overlooking the beachside skating rink and includes music, songs, stories, and dancing along with the feasting. Dress up (jackets requested for gentlemen), step back, and enjoy. For added verisimilitude, leave your cell phone at home. Runs December 16-24; $125–$160.
1322 K Street, East Village
Skye Limousine Holiday Lights Tour
Pick from over 15 of the best private and public light displays throughout San Diego area and let everyone do their gawking from the safety of the backseat. (A few favorites among public displays: the San Diego Botanical Gardens’ “Garden of Lights,” the San Diego Boat Parade of Lights, and America’s Finest Victorian Mansions/The Forward House. The four-hour limo tour includes a virtual fireplace, holiday music, and a holiday lights display map to help you find your way. Fleet cars include executive sedan (3–4 passengers, $240–$320), executive limo/luxury van (2–6 passengers, $300–$400), or luxury stretch limo (4–10 passengers, $360–$480). 619-239-7599.
2920 Zoo Drive, Balboa Park
Jungle Bells at the San Diego Zoo
Santa and polar bears go together, and not just because they both pitch Coke and hang out up north. Festivities run from December 15–January 6, 9 a.m.–8 p.m., and include an intimate Jungle Bells tour in a “one-horse” VIP cart ($69), a 5 p.m. tree lighting, and handbell choirs at 5 p.m., 6 p.m., and 7 p.m. Santa mans his workshop from 4 p.m.- 8 p.m. Plus, there’s a place called Chocolate Town. Singers, zoo characters, and animals roam about as you munch, shop, and take in the animated lights displays. Zoo admission: $44 adults, $34 kids 3-11.
La Jolla Christmas Parade and Holiday Festival
The parade starts at 2 p.m. on December 8th, but get there early to stake out a spot and enjoy the pre-parade buzz. Equestrians arrive around 10 a.m., and the Kids Zone opens at 11. Float judging begins at noon. Watch out for the Grinch’s arrival around 1 p.m., and watch the skies for antique aircraft. Beginning at Kline Street, the parade heads down Girard and then west on Prospect, ending at Draper Avenue. Finish with a family festival at 3:30 p.m. at the La Jolla Recreation center: live music, a jumpy house, and a Christmas tree lighting at 4:30 p.m.
1650 El Prado, Balboa Park
Classic theater, classic ballet, newish performers. Enjoy the San Diego Civic Youth Ballet’s presentation of Tchaikovsky’s maybe most-famous composition. The 640-seat Casa Del Prado is a reconstruction of the original, built (like the rest of Balboa’s buildings) for the 1915 Pan American Expositions. The San Diego Civic Youth Ballet is a classical ballet school, training dancers from age four right up through pre-professional. Let these young artists enchant you in the Land of Sweets, thrill you with the battle between the mice and toy soldiers, and lull you into a dream of falling snow and waltzing flowers.
Holidays in the Heart of Del Mar Village
West corner of Camino Del Mar/15th Street and Del Mar Plaza
You can have a White Christmas in San Diego. Or at least a White December 7th, from 2 p.m.-7 p.m. You bring the mittens, and the City of Del Mar will provide the snow (machine). Mr. and Mrs. Claus will be on hand for pics, and carolers in Dickensian garb will stuff your years with music while cocoa and holiday cookies line your tummy. Don’t miss the cake walk and dance performers, and be sure to stick around for the Christmas tree lighting at 5 p.m. Finally, relax with nouveau-classic Elf, screening at the L’Auberge Amphitheater at 5:15 p.m.
4002 Wallace Street, Old Town
Holiday in Old Town
Old school Christmas shopping — really old school. On December 14th, all of Old Town’s museums, stores, and restaurants will be open with extended hours. Find unique gifts such as artisan pottery, boutique root beer, hand carved candles, and flavored tobaccos. Festive decorations will adorn the park and professional carolers will be strolling about. Once your shopping is done, come back December 15th and December 26th-30th for bonfire nights in the Old Town State Park. Merriment around the fire goes from dusk to 9 p.m. Join carolers and other performers. Grown ups and kids alike will delight in the free s’mores.
Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis
Balboa Park, 6th Avenue and Quince, Banker’s Hill
On December 14, Santa’s reindeer and his elves will be hoofing it to raise money for the Arthritis Foundation. Most participants wear a holiday-themed costume and many literally have bells on their toes. Jingle all the way! Approximately 2000 San Diegans will either run the 5K timed course or enjoy a fun three-mile walk. Children can participate in a one-mile fun run with elves and enjoy activities in the kids zone (cookie decorating, games, and arts and crafts). Pets welcome: prizes will be awarded for best-dressed pups. There will also be entertainment, a food tent, and a “cheer tent” for adult participants.
13330 Paseo del Verano Norte, Rancho Bernardo
Winter Wonderland by the Mojalet Dancers
The Vine Black Box Theater at Bernardo Winery, 13330 Paseo Del Verano, San Diego, 858-243-1402
If all your nuts have been cracked but you’re still hungry for dance, here is a wintry, zippy alternative to ballet: on December 14th and 15th, Mojalet’s Jamolet junior company and Eclectic Expression youth group will put on a winter-themed show ranging from traditional hits (“Walking in a Winter Wonderland”) to contemporary arrangements by the Vitamin String Quartet. Performers range from age 5 to 20; tickets range from $15 (general admission) to $10 (student/seniors).
937 South Coast Highway 101, Encinitas
Encinitas Holiday Parade
Everyone loves a parade, and that includes North County beach people and surfer types. And yes, it includes you, too. Come to the Lumberyard at 5 p.m. on December 7th for a tree lighting ceremony, and then stick around for the floats, the cars, the civic organizations, the cheerleaders, the bands, and the thousands of kids marching their way down the 101. This is how civilization keeps going: it marches and multiplies. Parade starts at 5:30 p.m., ends at 9 p.m.
Port of San Diego Big Bay Balloon Parade
On December 30th at 10 a.m., the Big Bay Balloon Parade will parade its big balloons by the Bay, and over 100,000 folks will gather to watch. Why not join them? You’re pretty much guaranteed a glimpse of the Bumble Bee Foods’ bee and the Wienerschnitzel wiener floating over the floats and drill teams and marching bands. After that, it’s anybody’s guess. We’re hoping for Heat Miser and Cold Miser, plus appropriate theme music. And $20 (plus fees) gets you a seat on the Grandstand! Visit holidaybowl.com to buy tickets and see the parade route.
2891 University Avenue, North Park
Look, nobody is ever going to be Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen. And while we’re at it, nobody is ever going to be Irving Berlin, who wrote the songs. But those souls have left us for the Big White Way in the Sky, and there’s something vital in hearing that title song live, even in San Diego. You don’t need to see a white Christmas to understand what it means. Plus, Sisters show runs December 12-22. Tickets run $42-$72, with discounts for kids and seniors.
401 K Street, Downtown San Diego
Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade
Who doesn’t love a little Christmas kitsch? On Sunday December 8th dress your beloved fury, feathered, or scaly pal up in their holiday best to compete in the 6th Annual Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade. The event starts at 3 p.m. and ends at 5 p.m. at the Gaslamp Hilton Park. Activities include a parade, a pet expo, and a costume contest. Viewing is free. If you’re interested in entering your animal in the parade, tickets cost $20 at the door and $15 in advance. Registration begins at 1 p.m. Award categories include: best duct tape ensemble, ugliest holiday sweater, and best holiday costume.
300 Pepper Drive, El Cajon
Family Christmas Tree Farm
If you want to wield an axe to go along with that lumberjack beard you grew during Movember, head down to the Family Christmas Tree Ranch in El Cajon to chop down your own Christmas tree. The family-owned ten-acre farm offers saws and twine to aid visitors in their tree cutting endeavors. Afterward, they’ll shake, drill, and net your tree. They offer hay wagon rides and a straw bale playpen for children. Along with the purchase of a Christmas tree, you’ll be given a 6-inch seedling to take home so you can grow your own Christmas tree.
Carriage Ride in Julian
Main Street Carriage Company, Corner of Main and Washington, Julian, 760-765-0438
No other San Diego neighborhood screams Christmas cheer quite like the sleepy, apple-pie-loving, hot-cocoa-sipping community of Julian. What better way to take in the old-fashioned streets of Julian this holiday season than in a horse-drawn carriage. Main Street Carriage Company offers a historic 15-minute narrated tour of downtown Julian in a horse-drawn surrey. They can accommodate anything from a couple to a large group. Afterward, head to one of Julian’s many café’s for...what else? The Julian Pie Company or Mom’s pies are both excellent options.
4901 Mount Helix Drive, La Mesa
Caroling atop Mount Helix
Want to go caroling minus the awkwardness of knocking on unsuspecting strangers’ doors and forcing them to listen to your rendition of “Silent Night”? La Mesa’s Mount Helix is the place for you. On Sunday, December 15, sing-along Christmas Caroling will take place atop the scenic mountain. Parking and shuttles are available at the San Miguel Fire Station at 10105 Vivera Drive at Mt. Helix Drive beginning at 6:15 p.m. “That Music Lady,” Gina Seaforth, and her musicians will be leading guests in Christmas favorites like “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer” and “Jingle Bells.” Santa will be on hand to see who has been naughty or nice. This is a free family event.
1020 Rose Ranch Road, San Marcos
During the month of December local churches offer visual depictions of why they celebrate Christmas through the staging of live Nativities. In San Marcos you can view Grace Episcopal Church’s Nativity scenes on Friday and Saturday, December 20 and 21, 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. Their event features carolers on Friday, and a children’s pageant on Saturday. In Julian, the Cider Mill, located at 2103 Main Street has a live Nativity staged by Calvary Chapel. Church members and musicians tell the story of Christ’s birth. The event takes place every Saturday at 5 p.m. until Christmas Cost: Free. For more info contact the Calvary Chapel at 760-765-0446.
Christmas light guide to East and South County
When it comes to Christmas lights, many San Diego neighborhoods go all out. In East County, visit Jingle Bell Hill located off the 67 and Bradley in El Cajon. You’ll find Solomon Avenue and Pegeen Place chock-full of Christmas spirit. Afterward, head west down Insterstate 8, stopping in La Mesa, at Bob’s Christmas Wonderland (7171 Cornell Avenue). The home features hand-crafted displays with trains, animated figures, and a mini drive-in theater featuring “Disney’s magical Christmas.” Bob serves refreshments for guests. In return he requests visitors leave one non-perishable food item to be donated to the Salvation Army. Further south, off 15, Chula Vista’s Christmas Circle is a must-see. Located on a loop through Whitney Street and Mankato Street, the many decorated homes supply electrified Christmas cheer.
Christmas light guide to North and Central San Diego
North and Central San Diego also get into the Christmas spirit with blocks upon blocks of decorated homes. Christmas Card Lane in Rancho Peñasquitos, located on Oviedo street off of Black Mountain Road is one of the largest neighborhood-run light installations in the county. In Tierrasanta, the Schimka family of 5306 Belarado Drive, decorate their home using 6500 lights accompanied by homemade decorations. If you tune your radio to 89.7, their lights are synchronized to music. In Clairemont, visit Lana Drive off Mt. Abernathy Ave. You’ll find a circular street with over 40 homes decorated.
230 Quail Gardens Drive, Encinitas
The San Diego Botanic Garden’s Garden of Lights
The San Diego Botanic Garden is a less crowded version of Balboa Park’s December Nights. December 7th–30th, the garden transforms into a winter wonderland filled with over 100,000 sparkling lights. Holiday features include a Poinsettia Garden, live music in the evening, horse-drawn wagons, marshmallow roasting, an appearance by Santa Claus, and a nutcracker display. They even offer sledding at the garden on December 7, 9, 11, 26, and 28. Bring your own disc or sled for use. No metal runners allowed. $6–$14, Children 2 and under are free.
2658 Del Mar Heights Road #198, Del Mar
Skysurfer Balloon Co.
Keep your eyes peeled for flying reindeer as you ascend to hundreds of feet above the earth on a sunset hot-air balloon adventure for two. Take in sweeping coastal views of Del Mar, inland expanses of Rancho Santa Fe, and snow-capped mountains on the Eastern horizon while toasting with complimentary champagne or non-alcoholic beverages. Skysurfer boasts over 35 years of safe flying, and their professional pilots invite you to chat over additional beverages while the crew packs up after your expedition. Flights are $210 per person or $350 per couple. Make reservations at least a week in advance.
Doratto and BONA
1038 Avenida Revolución, Zona Centro Tijuana, 664-685-7027
Curio vendors still line the tourist strip of Revolución, but a new and growing breed of retailers offers a fresh contrast to the traditional downtown Tijuana shopping experience. No intrusive hawkers barking promises of free tequila. No ceramic Angry Birds. Just locally crafted, one-of-a-kind jewelry and boutique attire that is certain to make the perfect present for fashion-savvy friends and lovers. From crocheted alpaca fur scarves to vintage Star Wars tees to handmade mustache earrings, Doratto has something for just about everybody. Neighbors BONA turn up the kitsch with Han Solo throw pillows, knitted stuffed animals, and tongue-in-cheek souvenir TJ tees.
Tropical Paradise at MOM Store
Pasaje Rodriguez (between Third and Fourth on Revolución) – Local 29, Zona Centro Tijuana, no phone
Snow may be falling everywhere else in the country, but it’s always summer in our region, and nobody understands that better than the curators at Tijuana’s Tropical Paradise. Situated in the arts and culture alleyway of Pasaje Rodriguez, Tropical Paradise offers repurposed fashion with a focus on loud patterns and gloriously outmoded designs. But that’s just the first rack you’ll encounter at the storage unit-sized MOM Store. Browse several other lines of resurrected apparel before heading upstairs to do some bin digging through storeowner Rashad’s collection of vinyl rarities. The best part? Nearly everything goes for 50 pesos (about $3.75).
2871 University Avenue, North Park
Hunt & Gather
No matter how much Macklemore and Wanz hype the virtues of thrift-store shopping, sometimes you just don’t have time — I’m talking to you, last-minute holiday shoppers — to wade through the faded polos and beer-stained grandpa jackets to find that diamond among the dust bunnies. Luckily, the folks at Hunt & Gather are seasoned vintage miners with an eye for esoteric outerwear, which is modified in-store to craft unprecedented fashions for both men and women. Among the upcycled attire you’ll find exclusive designer pieces, cowboy boots, customized handbags, local jewelry and art, feathered headbands (because Burning Man), and chronologically sorted vinyl.
North Park Toyland Parade & Holiday Fair
University Avenue and Utah Street, North Park, 619-501-1074
The theme for this 50th-annual parade is “Back to the Past,” a motif that promises a convoy of floats inspired by predecessors dating back to the festival’s beginnings in 1931 (excluding years off during World War II and 20+ years following the construction of I-805 in 1968, when the San Diego Union dubbed the event “San Diego’s largest Christmas parade”). Anticipate marching bands, costumes, local politicians giving the Lady Di wave from vintage cars, and, of course, Santa. The all-ages festivities kick off at 11 a.m. on Saturday, December 7. Park free at the 3829 29th Street garage structure.
12905 El Camino Real, Del Mar
It’s Christmas! Wee Billy got his Beyblades, little Laura got her Lalaloopsy dolls, and Mom & Dad bought each other identical time-share packages. But once the tinsel settles and the living room lies in an apocalypse of ribbons and bows, what does our hypothetical household do to keep the spirit alive? You got it — the movies! Of course, not just any cinema will do for our festive family. Cinépolis garnishes the moving pictures with luxurious seat-side service including craft cocktails, short ribs, sushi, sliders, and beyond. Tickets start at $15.50 for adults, $13.50 kids.
5855 Mission Gorge Road, Grantville
Cocktails at Szechuan Mandarin
Sure, Christmas is canonized as the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” but what about the Festivus for the rest of us? For those who don’t celebrate the birth of Christ (and even for many who do) the holidays tend to include the time-honored Festivus tradition known as “Airing of Grievances,” and there’s no better way to ignite a heated volley of truthin’ than a sturdy drank o’ booze. Enter Szechuan Mandarin. Every Wednesday from 5 to 9, their brutally potent, quasi-tropical cocktails are 2 for 1 ($7.95). They’ll be open on Christmas day and, most wonderfully, it’s a Wednesday.
4000 Ruffin Road, Suite C, Serra Mesa
South Sun Beads
The year is 2013 — an enchanted epoch in which ambitious aunts and (perhaps) uncles everywhere are scouring Etsy for homespun stocking stuffers that will complement your eclectic aesthetic like cookie crumbs on a rich winter beard. Wanna step it up a notch? Harken back to the olden days and do-it-your-own-dern-self. South Sun Beads specializes in everything you’ll need (including classes) to string together perfect pendants for all of your holiday giftees. Touting two decades of experience in the gem, silver, and bead biz, South Sun is equally equipped for your La Jolla Lorettas and your Ocean Beach Moon Blossoms.
1105 South Coast Highway 101, Encinitas
Adventure Ski and Snowboard School
Anyone who has broached the task of snow sports knows that the first day on the hill sucks. You slip. You slide. You look like a dunce. In order to save yourself a costly and painful afternoon on the bunny slopes, this North County school offers indoor lessons to sharpen your skills before you hit the snow. Strap into a board or a pair of skis and master the techniques of the peaks in the comfort of coastal Encinitas on a rotating, inclined carpet, where you can take one-on-one instructions with a group of up to four friends/family members.
1500 Orange Avenue, Coronado
Photos by the Tree at the Hotel Del Coronado
Grab your favorite cheesy Christmas sweater and head on down to the Hotel Del Coronado for a holiday photo in front of their lobby’s spectacular tree. The hotel is celebrating its 125th anniversary, and its Victorian decorations and 100,000 white lights will drive the Scrooge out of anybody. The first outdoor electric Christmas tree in America was the Del’s 1904 tree, and they have been putting out spectacular trees ever since.
1500 Orange Avenue, Coronado
Ice skating by the Sea
After taking your photos in front of the Del’s Christmas tree, why not go ice skating? For nine years, the Windsor Lawn has been transformed into a holiday skating rink. With a view and breezes from the Pacific Ocean, this is skating at its San Diego best. Part of the funds from the skating will go to Make-A-Wish Foundation of San Diego, and the rink will be closed for one of its events on December 10th. Each skating session is two hours. Sessions through December 13th run from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., 4:00 to 6:00 p.m., and 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. Weekend and holiday early-bird sessions are from 11 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. From December 14th through January 5th, sessions are from 11 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., 4:00 to 6:00 p.m., and 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. Adult tickets are $23, children age 10 and under are $18. Military discount with ID, $5. If you tote your own skates, $5 off as well.
5005 Willows Road, Alpine
Ice Skating in the mountains
Southern California’s largest outdoor skating rink right here in San Diego County at Viejas. Put on your gloves, tie up your laces and hit the ice. There’s nothing quite like feeling the mountain breeze on your face as you skate along under the stars admiring the colossal outdoor Christmas tree nearby. Open through Sunday, January 5th, Monday through Friday from 5:00 to 10:00 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday are from noon until 10:00 p.m. Kids age 12 and under, $12; Ages 13 and up are $14. Military with ID are $12. If you bring your own skates, there is a $2 discount.
225 Broadway Circle, Downtown San Diego
Sycuan’s Fantasy on Ice at Horton Square
We’ve all seen the movies showing ice skaters gliding around the outdoor rink in New York City’s Rockefeller Center. It looks like so much fun. You can get a taste of that city skating here in San Diego at Sycuan’s Fantasy on Ice at Horton Square, which runs through January 5, 2014.
The rinks’ entry fees benefit Peckham Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Rady Children’s Hospital. Hours are Monday through Thursday from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., and Friday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m.to 7:30 p.m., plus a late session from 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Adult tickets are $14; children under 12 skate for $12.
Las Posadas in Old Town
Folks in Mexico have been reenacting the biblical journey of Joseph and Mary looking for shelter throughout Bethlehem for over 400 years. In San Diego’s Old Town, it’s been done for over 60 years. This free event is on Sunday, December 15th with caroling starting at 2:00 p.m. and the procession of Las Posadas starting at 5:00 p.m. “In the name of heaven, I ask you for shelter, because my beloved wife can continue no longer,” cries Saint Joseph. “Let us sing with joy, all bearing in mind that Jesus, Joseph, and Mary honor us by having come,” answer the townspeople.
1100 Third Avenue, Downtown San Diego
California Ballet Company’s presents The Nutcracker
The California Ballet Company will be performs Tschiakovsky’s dreamy Christmas classic The Nutcracker on the stage of the Civic Center. Performances accompanied by the Classics Philharmonics open Saturday, December 14th with 2:30 and 7:00 p.m. shows, and continue with Sunday December 15th shows at 1:00 and 5:30 p.m. The remaining shows feature the San Diego Symphony. Wednesday December 18th through Friday December 20th, 7:00 p.m.; Saturday, December 21st, 2:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. ; Sunday, December 22nd, 1:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Tickets range from $30 to $90. Under age 4 are not admitted.
Little Italy Christmas tree lighting
The Christmas tree in Piazza Natale in Little Italy (India Street & Date) will be lit on Saturday, December 7, 2013 from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. Besides the twinkling lights, there will be music and dancing for entertainment. Italian cookies, apple cider, and coffee will be served, free of charge. Little Italy businesses will be full of holiday gift items. St. Nick will roll into town on Fire Engine 3 at 4:30 p.m. For those feeling full of Holiday gifting spirit, the Little Italy Holiday Toy drive will also be in full swing, collecting unwrapped toys to give to foster children at New Alternatives. Toys can be dropped off at participating Little Italy businesses through Friday December 13.
4931 Newport Avenue, Ocean Beach
925 Prospect Street, La Jolla
It’s an eternal problem: women love receiving gifts that come in little black fuzzy boxes, but men hate mall-based jewelry shops with their high prices and high pressure. Fortunately, we have local artisan Heidi Smith, who sells unique and affordable pieces in her two shops, many of which she crafts on-site. A hundred bucks goes a long way here. Smith is known for her sterling and shell designs, particularly her swirling “Sol Wave” design. This is not gaudy hippie-wear, but the finely crafted work of an artist. Of the two locations, the O.B. spot feels truer to the artist’s beachy spirit.
960 Rancheros Drive, Suite L, San Marcos
(No longer in business.)
Holiday cooking at Alchemy of the Hearth
Spice up your holiday festivities with dishes and goodies from around the world — all made by you. Alchemy of the Hearth culinary school offers Feast of the Seven Fishes and Cuban Noche Buena, where participants learn traditional Italian American and Cuban Christmas Eve. Try your hand at nacatamales of Nicaragua or go traditional with a crown pork roast. Their abundant holiday baking classes include Italian cookies, holiday cupcakes, gingerbread people, and French croquembouche. Most classes cost $65 for three hours of instruction. Teen classes are available as well.
2130 Pan American Road West, Balboa Park
When was the last time you saw a show with hand-puppets? Use your preschooler as an excuse to do it again. The 200-seat Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater’s holiday schedule includes free evening performances of A Christmas Carol (December 6 and 7) during Balboa Park’s December Nights, and regularly priced daytime performances of The Merry Christmas Show (December 10-15), Benito Bunny’s Great Christmas Adventure (December 18 to 22), and Jack and the Beanstalk (December 26-30.) Bonus: this is one of the last places left that still offers entertainment for $5 or less.
1055 Fifth Avenue, Downtown San Diego
House of Blues Gospel Brunch
Get your gospel on over Bloody Marys and an all-you-can-eat brunch buffet featuring Southern favorites such as chicken and waffles, biscuits and gravy, and Creole chicken jambalaya. On December 22, a special holiday-themed gospel show will get you in the spirit, with a little help from the Bloody Mary Bar. Choose from premium vodkas and get creative with the fixin’s: shrimp, beef jerky, olives, pickled okra, and more. All seats are assigned, and reservations are required. Ticket cost ($39.50 for adults, $17.50 for children ages 6-12, free for children under 6) includes entertainment, food, nonalcoholic beverages, tax, and gratuity.
San Marcos tree lighting ceremony
The City of San Marcos presents its annual Santa’s Magical Village on Saturday, December 7 from 3:00 to 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, December 8 from 10:00 a.m to 3:00 p.m. The event features an indoor holiday boutique as well as activities for children, including ornament-making, sand art, candle creation, and visits with Santa. Band and choral-group performances will take place throughout the weekend, and on Saturday at 6:30 p.m., Santa Claus will climb to the top of the tree and turn on thousands of twinkling lights. Entertainment for the tree-lighting ceremony will begin at 5:30 p.m.
1 Civic Center Drive, San Marcos
Pancake breakfast with Santa Claus
As part of the City of San Marcos’ annual Santa’s Magical Village, children and adults can feast on pancakes with Santa Claus. The breakfast takes place from 9:00 to 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, December 8, and the cost ($4 for adults, $3 for children) includes pancakes, sausages, eggs, and photo opportunities with the big, jolly man himself. Afterward, families can browse the holiday village and participate in crafty activities. And if the pancakes aren’t enough, specialty food vendors will be on hand to accommodate.
7514 Girard Avenue, Suite 1110, La Jolla
Holiday winery and train tour
There is no need for a designated driver when everyone’s taking the train. Jump onboard the Coaster with La Jolla Wine Tours. Tour includes stops at three local wineries, a restaurant stop for a light lunch, and coastal views along the way. Expect approximately two miles of walking, from train depots to wineries and restaurant, but no more than 15 minutes at a time. Tour runs Monday through Friday, from approximately 1:40 to 6:40 p.m. and costs $88 per person (not including the $11 round-trip train ticket, gratuity, or ticket-handling fee).
Chula Vista’s Christmas Circle
Whitney Street at Mankato, between First and Second Avenue, Chula Vista
Yes, you can wear your sunglasses at night, especially if you’re anywhere near Chula Vista’s Christmas Circle between December 8 and 26, when nearly 60 bedazzled homes glow with lights galore. Among the shining candy canes, twinkling Nativity scenes, and blinking Rudolph noses, expect at least one good, old-fashioned Snoopy scene; one house bedecked in the Pixar character of the moment; and more than a couple sneaky rooftop Santas. For the best views, and the fewest frustrated drivers behind you, park your car and walk the course.
Traveling Stories book drive
Every Saturday in December, local nonprofit Traveling Stories hosts a holiday story time in their tent at the City Heights Farmers’ Market (4326 Wightman Street, 760-688-6251). The organization seeks volunteers to help decorate the Story Tent, listen as the children read, and read holiday tales aloud. In an effort to encourage reading at home, they will also host a book giveaway on December 21, for which they seek book donations (appropriate for kindergarten through second-grade levels). Books can be dropped off at the Story Tent on Saturdays during market hours (91m-1pm every Saturday) through December 14 or via arrangements made by email: [email protected]
San Diego Holiday Half Marathon
Give yourself an excuse to stay fit through the holidays. The inaugural winter half marathon takes place on Sunday, December 29, at 7:30 a.m. The point-to-point course begins in Rancho Peñasquitos and ends at Torrey Pines State Beach. It includes a 714-foot net drop, and the only major hill is early in the race, around mile 1.5. Participants are encouraged to bring a nonperishable food item (or two) to the bib pick-up on December 28. The Joan Kroc/Salvation Army will collect all food donations and distribute them to homeless shelters in the county. Registration: $99. SDholidayhalf.com
Home Start Holiday toy drive
Over 50 corporations have been collecting toys for the Home Start program since early fall. The toys are still coming in, and Home Start seeks volunteers to help sort and organize toys. They also need volunteers to participate in their toy distribution event on December 19. Santa and elves will be in attendance to help spread the holiday cheer. For those who don’t have the time to volunteer this holiday season, opportunities are still available to participate in the Home Start Adopt-a-Family program and bring joy to a low-income family. New toy and cash donations also accepted. Contact Amanda: [email protected]
2550 Fifth Avenue, 12th floor, Bankers Hill
Happy Christmas at Mr. A’s
Forget the chow. Don’t worry about the drinks. You’re here for the view. After all, Bertrand at Mr. A’s is up Banker’s Hill and on the 12th floor. Two rules: Get a balcony seat and get here at late sunset, as planes glide in beneath you, the stars come out above you, and the holiday lights of the city slam on before your eyes. Oh, and get here during happy hour (daily except Saturday 2:30–6:00 p.m.). That way you can spend $7 per plate (say, for three Kobe beef sliders) and not a zillion.
201 E. Main Street, El Cajon
Singing carols in the language Jesus spoke? “Christmas on Prescott” promises the nearest thing. It is being organized by El Cajon’s 40,000-strong Christian Chaldean community. They’ll be celebrating the season with carols in Aramaic — Jesus language — Arabic, and English. They’ll also put on skits and bring out Santa Claus, plus face-painting and balloons. Be sure to ask for only-at-Christmastime koleicha cakes. They’re filled with walnuts, dates, mysterious spices. Tradition-minded Chaldeans fast before Christmas, so these little cakes are the scrumptious fast-breakers. All welcome. Saturday, December 18th, 1:00–5:00 p.m.
Christmas at the Julian Gold Rush Hotel
What’s more romantic than jumping into a downy bed in a cozy room with the snow flaking down outside? Sitting beside a roaring fire in the saloon of the Julian Gold Rush Hotel. In winter, especially when it’s snowing, Julian is another country, and this hotel feels straight out of a movie set. Except it’s real: this is the oldest continuously operating hotel in Southern California, started by former slave Albert Robinson and his wife Margaret, in 1897. Not up for an overnight stay? They do a great ceremonial afternoon tea. Gotta try the scones.
Pipe up the Holidays
You could hire a DJ for your party. Or, call Larry Samuels. He plays the bagpipes. Can you handle “Scotland the Brave” and “Amazing Grace” live in your party room? “Something physical happens when you hear the pipes,” says Samuels, two-time West Coast Champion piper. “Emotions flood over you.” But it doesn’t have to be heavy. “Ask me to play ‘The Irish Washerwoman.’ You can’t resist dancing.” He also does carols, the theme from Star Wars, and Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” Samuels charges $175 to perform. Max: 1 1/2 hours. “Believe me, that’ll be plenty,” he says.
33691 Bailey Meadow Road, Palomar Mountain
Holiday getaway to Palomar Mountain
Take over the 1888 Bailey House high on Palomar Mountain for a holiday getaway. Think Julie Andrews, opening shot, Sound of Music — trees, streams, ponds, birds. Incredibly, nothing’s really changed in the 125 years since the Bailey family pioneered the place. They still own it. House sleeps 14. So, you and 13 of your best friends can rent the three-story, seven-bedroom adobe-in-a-meadow for $1995 (4 days, 3 nights; say, $50 each per night). Or camp in “luxury” cabins with double beds and decks, $125-$175 per night for two.
4010 Twiggs Street, Old Town
Holly Jolly Trolley Tours
San Diego’s Old Town Trolley Tours is celebrating the season with their, uh, “Holly Jolly Holiday Trolley Tours.” Yes, impossible to say and totally touristy, but it’s a great way to get in the mood. The encyclopedically knowledgeable, musically precocious conductors really help. Ninety minutes, $18 ($10 for kids). Departures, 7:00 p.m., December 13 thru 23 and December 26 thru December 29. Dress warmly and be ready for sing-along Christmas carols as you breeze through Old Town, Balboa Park, Gaslamp Quarter, and the Embarcadero. Most fabulous sight? Tall ships, up close. Reservations required. Board at Old Town Market.
State Highway 94 and Forrest Gate Road, Campo
Ride the North Pole Limited
750 Depot Street, Campo, 619-465-7776
Take a night ride aboard the Santa Train North Pole Limited at Pacific Southwest Railway Museum, Campo. Santa’s elves will be aboard, serving cookies and hot chocolate, reading Christmas stories and singing rousing carols as the train rocks and rolls to the North Pole. At Santa’s Workshop the train picks up Saint Nick himself and Mrs. Claus. Kids have the whole trip back to Campo to tell Santa what they totally have to have this year. Fares from $30-$50 adults, $20-$30 for kids. Hint: bring your own picnic. Runs Fridays and Saturdays through December 21.
1800 N. Harbor Drive, Downtown San Diego
Christmas dinner cruise on the bay
How to avoid cooking Christmas dinner? Take Hornblower Cruises & Events’ Christmas Day Dinner Cruise). They trundle you around the harbor from 4:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., handing you chilled champagne as you board, Christmas dinner, a “decadent” dessert buffet, music, dancing, a Santa, and — nice thought — a different view of America’s Finest City with each course. Or, do the same thing, same price, on December 8 and 15 (5:30-8:30 p.m.), to watch the Parade of Lights, when every sailor worth his salt has his boat out on the bay.
Christmas lights and block Party
Fairway Village, Carmel Mountain Ranch, along the west side of Stony Gate Place
Eighty-five-plus homes will be lit up now through January 1. Park along Shoal Creek Drive, then walk. But the best night to go is December 17, the last Saturday before Christmas, for the Neighborhood Block Party, from 6:00 to 10:30 p.m. Just about every homeowner’ll offer you cookies, hot chocolate, and sometimes their own carolers. Houses synchronize lights to music. Others project traditional holiday movies on the sides of their houses. Musicians, dancers… it’s a blast. What’s great: there’s nothing commercial about it.
Christmas goose from Iowa Meat Farms
Take your holiday season back in time and space to an Old World Christmas dinner this year. The classic, European Christmas roast was always goose. Cratchitt has plans to roast a goose in A Christmas Carol, not the turkey that Scrooge eventually buys him. Goose is much more flavorful than turkey, and less labor-intensive since it requires no brining to be roasted properly. Iowa Meat Farms is the place to go for specialty poultry. Call well ahead, since holiday requests swamp the specialty butchers every year.
114 North El Camino Real, Encinitas
Christmas pie at Elizabethan Desserts
Who wants a holiday season without towering slices of pie? Apple pie. Pumpkin pie. The elusive mincemeat pie. Pie is like Country Mac from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the more awesome cousin of all baked goods who comes to town and makes everybody jealous with bad-ass flaky crusts and gooey fillings, or something like that. Elizabethan Desserts, along with its much-anticipated spinoff, Betty’s Pie Whole Saloon, makes it worth a trip to North County for the sake of holiday pie. Reportedly, the Pie Whole Saloon will even carry the rarer forms of pie, such as pork and mincemeat.
2804 Adams Avenue, University Heights
Fruitcake at Twigg’s Bakery
If pie is the awesome bad-ass cousin of the bakery family, fruitcake and yule logs are the beloved grandma who knits everyone custom Christmas stockings and unironically insists on family portraits with matching ugly sweaters. Twigg’s on Adams provides these classic holiday pastries, which are great alternatives for those who quail at the thought of slicing into a steamed Christmas pudding. The bakery’s stollen — a classic German fruitcake — is particularly tremendous sliced, warmed, and spread with soft butter. Wash it down with a little mulled wine to spread a little extra cheer around.
3871 Fourth Avenue, Hillcrest
New Year’s Eve takeout from Hong Kong Restaurant
Nobody really knows how or why the tradition of Chinese food for New Year’s Eve started. Some people think it had to do with Chinese restaurants being the only things open on December 31st, because old-school Chinese restaurateurs would celebrate Lunar New Year a month later and not care overmuch about December 31st. Hong Kong is perfect to keep the tradition alive because it’s primarily a takeout spot, and a good one at that. One thing’s for sure about this peculiar New Year’s tradition: it has to be takeout, eaten at home with family and friends.
7080 Miramar Road, Miramar
Holiday bubbly from San Diego Wine Co.
Can’t ring in the New Year without popping the cork on a bottle (or two, or three) of bubbly! Sparkling wine’s chief problem is the good stuff’s expensive, the bad stuff offensive. Heed this: Lucien Albrecht Non-vintage Brut Sparkling Rose is around $15/bottle and exceptional at that price. Lots of people find it equals a $40 bottle of Veuve-Cliquot. Wine Co. may be the least charming retail outlet around, but it sells this gem at a fair price. It’s easy to pay 30 percent more at a trendier wine shop. If driving to scenic Miramar seems like a pain, order online.
1964 54th Street, Oak Park
Bonnie Jean’s Soul Food
Southerners are enthusiastic, albeit unhealthy, about their eating. So a bevy of superstitions have sprung up over the years to justify New Year soul-food consumption. Eating collards around New Year’s Day is supposed to bring wealth in the new year, because they look like money. Eating cornbread is also supposed to bring wealth, because it looks like golden money. Eating black-eyed peas and hoppin’ john is supposed to bring wealth and prosperity because…well, you get the picture. As if we need an excuse to gorge ourselves on fried chicken and bacon-flavored vegetables.
3485 Del Mar Heights Road, Del Mar
“Special” hot chocolate from Chuao Chocolatier
Boxes of fancy chocolates make great gifts, and Chuao goes whole-hog for holidays. Chocopods, gift sets, those addictive little chocolate honeycombs that have the wild crystalline structure so that they melt in such a pleasing fashion — all good. But the thing that most evokes holiday cheer is “special” hot chocolate. Get some of Chuao’s fancy-pants drinking chocolate and lace a tall mug of the stuff with one ounce each of Bailey’s Irish Cream and peppermint schnapps, plus at least half an ounce of brandy, more if you feel spunky.