Holiday Snow Days
One Legoland Drive, Carlsbad
A 30-foot Christmas tree made of nearly 250,000 legos lights up each night leading to Christmas. It’s part of regular admission to Legoland during the holiday season, which also includes nightly entertainment, Santa visits, and fireworks throughout the month of December. But the theme park’s most thrilling feature throughout these dates must be the piles of snow set up to turn it into a white winter wonderland. That means kids can make snowmen out of real snow, not plastic bricks. Though, realistically, they’ll want to make both.
2920 Zoo Drive, Balboa Park
A chance to see exotic animals at night makes this annual event worth a look, but from December 12-January 3 the zoo will be decked out with holiday lights and special performances, plus plenty of hot chocolate and cookies. Expect music, animal-themed Christmas tales, and Santa holding court in an igloo while his elves bounce on a trampoline. Tying the wacky vibe together will be the large, tropical toog tree in the zoo’s Front Plaza, outfitted with a musical light display featuring over 1000 bulbs.
Holiday in the Village & Starlight Parade
373 Park Way, Chula Vista
Third Avenue Village becomes a festive place Saturday, December 5. From noon to 4pm, Memorial Park will be the site of a holiday festival featuring food, carolers, and Frosty snow hill, where SoCal kids get a chance to toss snowballs and even go sledding. At 6pm, over 100 groups will parade floats, vintage cars, and marching bands for the Starlight Parade along the west side of Third Avenue between H and E Streets.
2100 Costa del Mar Road, Carlsbad
Gingerbread House Festival
Omni La Costa resort celebrates by sponsoring a gingerbread house contest, with cash and prizes inspiring local bakers and holiday enthusiasts to come up with an inventive batch of decorative cookie and icing structures. Judges include local editors and reporters (not this one) plus an interior designer to show it’s legit. Winners will be announced and there will be carolers and edible treats at the resort’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony December 5 (3pm), but all entries will be on display to the public from 10am-7pm at the resort’s Plaza from December 4-January 4.
1950 N. Harbor Drive, Oceanside
Oceanside Harbor Parade of Lights
While the much larger San Diego Harbor event gets most of the attention, the Oceanside Yacht Club also organizes a parade of lights, wherein a couple dozen brightly decorated boats circle the harbor in a display of seagoing holiday festivity. The fun starts at 7pm, December 12, and lasts roughly two hours. It may be viewed from any point around the harbor, whether you prefer to set down lawn chairs or watch comfortably from one of the waterfront restaurants.
Cowles Mountain Winter Solstice Hike
Navajo Road and Golfcrest Drive, San Carlos
At 6am the mornings of December 21st, 22nd, and 23rd, specially permitted guides will lead experienced hikers on a free night hike up Cowles Mountain. Rather than hit the peak, they’ll go off-trail to visit a Kumeyaay solstice observatory. From this vantage point, the tribe would commemorate the shortest day of the year by watching the sun rise over an outcropping of rock that effectively splits the heavenly body in two. The three-mile hike is rated difficult, and it’s requested flashlights have red lenses or covers, as bright lights will prevent other hikers’ eyes from adjusting to the dark.
2640 Historic Decatur Road, Liberty Station
Fantasy on Ice
The old Horton Plaza ice-skating rink has been permanently relocated to a new Liberty Station location. While the place may not be the same, the fun will continue to benefit the Peckham Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Rady Children’s Hospital. And parking is not just easier, but free. Skating commenced November 19th and will continue until January 3rd. Admission ranges from $10-14, operating from 10am-10pm daily, with the pace expected to pick up during night sessions, after the younger children have gone home.
— Ian Anderson
Rustic Holiday Gift Wrap
Make your gifts extra personal by wrapping them in rustic paper of your own design. In this class, you’ll learn to make patterns and designs before producing your own wrapping paper. Cut any holiday image you like (such as snowmen, trees, and stars) into an eraser, sponge, or even potato to form stamps to dip in acrylic paint and ink. Use dried flowers and other found items to make each package so pretty, they won’t care what’s inside.
300 Pepper Drive, El Cajon
Family Christmas Trees
Bring the family to this ten-acre farm for fresh, native-California Monterey pine–scented air, and make a day of choosing your tree. Visit farm animals, take a hay wagon ride, and browse handmade wreaths, cinnamon brooms, and potpourri for sale. Employees of this family-run farm will cut, shake, drill, net, and tie your tree for a small fee. If you want the real do-it-yourself experience, you can cut down your chosen tree yourself with a saw that is provided.
65th Anniversary Las Posadas
2754 Calhoun Street, Old Town
Experience the Mexican tradition of reenacting the biblical story of Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to stay on the day of Jesus’ birth. Join the candlelit procession that begins at 4:45pm, Sunday, December 13. Sing holiday songs in both Spanish and English while actors playing Mary and Joseph roam the town in search of lodging (las posadas). When the procession ends, witness a live nativity scene and choir performance in front of Casa de Estudillo.
Handmade Holidays: Arctic Animals
200 W. Island Avenue, East Village
The New Children’s Museum is like a giant indoor playground, with interactive exhibits that allow kids to explore and discover by touching, climbing, and playing among installations. In this daily Handmade Holidays workshop, kids create their favorite snowy creature using recycled materials, paint, and paper. Younger tots (4 and under) can take part in Toddler Time, where they dance and sing along to festive music.
Lamplighters Community Theater
Journey to Christmas past with the Lamplighters production of Orson Welles Presents: A Christmas Carol Radio Show. Set in 1939, the performance takes you behind the scenes of an old-time radio show, as the great Mr. Welles and his actors perform A Christmas Carol live on air, complete with sound effects and carol-singers. Family-friendly performances Friday and Saturday evenings (8pm) and Sunday afternoons (2pm) through December 20.
— Barbarella Fokos
100 Park Boulevard, East Village
Petco Park’s Holiday Wonderland
This holiday season Petco Park will transform into a winter wonderland for 12 nights. Beginning December 4 through December 23rd the ballpark will deck its halls with live reindeers, a Santa’s Workshop, a 40-foot Christmas tree, sledding, and a Polar Express that visitors will have the opportunity to ride. The Holiday Wonderland will open each evening from 4:30 p.m. to 9:30. Tickets are $15 per adult, $10 per child. Children under 3 are free. Military discounts are available.
Cedros Design District
Cedros Avenue, Solana Beach
Solana Beach’s Cedros Design District is a holiday shopper’s dream come true. The district is home to dozens of small businesses capable of filling any Christmas list with one-of-a-kind gifts. Shop home decor, fine art, antiques, and jewelry. The design district features 2½ blocks of dining and shopping with over 85 businesses. Visit on a Sunday and stop by the Solana Beach Farmers’ Market at the corner of Rosa Street and Cedros Avenue from noon to 4pm for a wider selection of unique holiday gifts.
3900 Lomaland Drive, Point Loma
Point Loma Nazarene presents Handel’s “Messiah”
On Sunday, December 6th, at 3pm, Point Loma Nazarene will present their annual performance of Handel’s “Messiah” at Brown Chapel. The PLNU Choral Union, comprised of both student and community singers, will be accompanied by chamber orchestra and student soloists. The concert has been a tradition and gift to the community for over 40 years. Admission is free. Donations are accepted. Arrive early to score the best seat and to beat the traffic.
North Park Toyland Parade & Holiday Fair
University Avenue, North Park
The 51st Annual North Park Toyland Parade & Holiday Fair takes place from 10am-4:30pm, December 6. The tinseled procession will snake down University Avenue between Utah and Iowa streets. This festive pageant will include antique cars, appearances by local beauty queens, city officials, St. Nick and his reindeer, whimsical marching bands, and more. Afterward, shop at the holiday fair located throughout the shopping district of North Park. All-day parking is offered at North Park’s multistory parking structure for $1.
Julian Cider Mill Living Nativity
A San Diego Christmas is not complete without a visit to the cozy town of Julian. A long-standing holiday tradition in Julian is their living nativity scene. Every Saturday until Christmas, beginning at 5:30pm, a living nativity is staged in front of the Cider Mill on Main Street. Locals appear as Joseph and Mary and the shepherds. Viewing is free to the public. Be sure to visit the Cider Mill to taste their famous raw cider and to stock up on an assortment of candy and fresh local honey.
Gaslamp Quarter Holiday Pet Parade
On Sunday, December 13th, from 1-5pm, the Gaslamp District will host its annual Holiday Pet Parade. It begins at 3pm from the Martin Luther King Jr. Promenade Park. The kitschy procession marches under the Gaslamp Quarter Archway and through the district. Furry, scaly, and feathered pets will compete for costume prizes. The event is free to the public. If you would like to enter your pet, the fee is $20 the day of, or $15 advance registration. No livestock allowed. Your chickens will have to sit this one out.
— Siobhan Braun
2300 Expedition Way, La Jolla
You could rent the wetsuit and scuba instructor to guide you through La Jolla’s incredible underwater kelp forest, or you could see the whole thing without getting wet. Scripps’ Birch Aquarium has brought it all inside with their 70,000-gallon kelp forest tank. Kelp can grow to 100 feet tall, 10 stories. The tank is only 2, but it’s still home to some mighty kelp trees and 200 denizens of the deep they shelter. Best times: Tuesdays, Thursdays (12:30pm), Saturday (2pm), Sunday (10:30am), when aquanauts dive down to feed inhabitants like giant seabass, garibaldi, barracuda, eels, lobsters, and leopard sharks.
Sky Combat Ace
2015 North Marshall Avenue, El Cajon
Become a fighter pilot. You, dogfighting over San Diego. Really. Flying the plane, firing into enemy aircraft, watching their smoke flare when you score a laser hit. This is the promise of Sky Combat Ace, at Gillespie Field. No experience necessary. You fly with a pro in the backseat ready to take over when you screw up. You get up to five combat engagements with an enemy plane, including vertical fights where you’re both climbing for height advantage in the great blue yonder. Most fun? When your best buddy’s flying the other plane. Expensive? Fees, $1000 up. Cheaper: simulated bombing runs, aerobatic flights.
37349 Great South Stage Route 1849, Julian
Vallecito Stage Station County Park
Meet a ghost in the desert. Before the railroads, there were the stagecoaches. And Butterfield’s coach ended one of their roughest desert stages at this still-standing sod stage post at Vallecito. One evening a century and a half ago, an exhausted bride-to-be climbed down from the Butterfield stage, made it into a dark adobe alcove off the kitchen, lay down on the dirt floor in her white wedding dress, and died. Visit, and you may hear what a lot of folks, including at least one park employee have heard: the snorting of horses and the sighing of a lady.
Lions, Tigers, and Bears
There are lions, tigers and bears in the hills east of Alpine. Really. Bobbi Brink started this sanctuary for abused exotic animals in 2002. Now she has 55 rescues, 17 species, on a 94-acre ranch. Become a “member for a day” ($30), or “feed a wild one” ($130), hand a 585-pound lion a snack, and hear the stories behind these cats and bears. Or actually become “keeper for a day” ($1000). Best experience: staying overnight in the cabin and listening to the lions roar and tigers grunt. After bears, slurp a beer at the excellent Alpine Brewery (2351 Alpine Boulevard).
Oaxacan Christmas at El Tejate
205 West Mission Avenue, Suite R, Escondido
All through December, Oaxacans stage festivals. They really splash out on the moles they’re famous for. Come to El Tejate for Oaxaca-style tamales wrapped in banana leaf, filled with pork in black or green or yellow mole. Then order another Oaxacan favorite: deep-fried grasshoppers (chapulines) with a side of gusanos (worms that live in the agave plant), about $12 a plate. Both surprisingly delicious. And why not swing by on December 23, Noche de los Rábanos, night of the radishes — a show of huge, carved radishes like they do in Oaxaca.
— Bill Manson
Holiday Bowl Parade
Harbor Drive, Embarcadero
Head over early on December 30th to the corner of Harbor Drive and Ash Street to purchase your grandstand tickets. $20 cash. With 100,000 spectators expected, if you score a seat you will be a lucky one. The Holiday Bowl Parade marches off at 10am. It’s the largest balloon parade in America. Hang around until 11:45 and you can hear the Battle of the Bands on the Broadway Pier. For the creative tiny people in your life, there is the Southwest Airlines Float Contest for school children K–5. A drawing and a description of where they would fly in the United States. The winner receives a four-pack of tickets to the Poinsettia Bowl and four tickets to the Holiday Bowl. And best of all, a ride on the winning float during the Holiday Bowl Parade.
340 N. Escondido Boulevard, Escondido
Holiday Tree Lighting and Winter Wonderland Festival
In the mood for a little music, a little Santa, a little Winter Wonderland? The California Center for the Arts is hosting a free event on December 5th from 3:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. The tree-lighting and Winter Wonderland Festival will be held in the Lyric Court at the Center. Live reindeer, falling snow, and even the main man Santa will be partying. Included in the entertainment will be singing carolers, hula dancers, and stilt walkers. Visitors can channel their inner Martha Stewart and decorate cookies. The sparkling lights of the Winter Wonderland Forest will add to everyone’s holiday spirits.
26757 Old Julian Highway, Ramona
Oasis Camel Dairy
Release your inner Wise Man. Get a hint at what their travels to Bethlehem must have felt like. Head up to the 34-acre Oasis Camel Dairy in Ramona. Call to schedule a guided tour of the farm and make sure to grab a camel ride while you’re there. Close-up visiting with the dromedary camels and their farm friends the turkeys and exotic birds is sure to delight all ages. The guided tour costs $100 for up to ten people. Camel rides are $5 for kids age 3–14, and $10 for adults ages 15 and up. Make sure to pop into the gift shop and snatch some camel milk products. Gold frankincense and myrhh soap run $5; Rare Milk 75% Camel Milk Serum is $16.
San Diego Bay Parade of Lights
San Diego Bay
This will be the 44th year of San Diego Bay hosting boats bursting with holiday lights and festivity during the annual San Diego Bay Parade of Lights. This year’s theme of Christmas Around the World takes place on Sunday, December 13, and Sunday, December 20, starting at 5:30 p.m. from Shelter Island and concluding at Coronado Ferry Landing. The free event attracts around 80,000 people each year to view the colorful parade. Boating participants are charged $50 entry fee, $60 after December 1. Prizes are awarded at a January 6th event at Tom Ham’s Lighthouse. This year’s prizes include a getaway to Cancún and a cruise package.
Jingle Bell Run/Walk
Sixth Avenue and Quince Street, Balboa Park
Need to energize and shed a few pounds put on from the feasting over Thanksgiving? Don your favorite Santa suit or Grinch outfit (costumes are encouraged) and head down to Balboa Park on December 12 for the Jingle Bell Run/Walk. Added bonus: donating to the cause of a cure for arthritis. The 5K run takes off at 8:00 a.m., with registration from 6:30 to 7:30. $35 for adults. For the young’uns, there is a 1K run with Santa’s elves, which kicks off at 9:15. $20 for kids age 5–10.
3725 Greenwood Street, Midway District
Modern Times Brewery and Jewish Family Service Hanukkah Party
Named after a utopian town founded on Long Island in 1850 (now Brentwood) that experimented with the conventions of marriage, Modern Times Brewery experiments with hybrid brews and complex aromas. Warm your hands by the menorah and cozy up to a cask of Shvarts Hoyz (Pumpernickel Black House) or Shalomaland brewed especially for the festival of lights. Then soak up the suds with latkes, reubens, and knishes from food truck New York on Rye. Proceeds benefit Jewish Family Service. Tuesday, December 8th 5-9 p.m.
Write Out Loud Christmas Across the Pond
4040 Twiggs Street, Old Town
Local actors, including Ron Choularton, take to the Old Town Theatre stage to bring alive six holiday readings from England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. Happy Christmas, a World War II–era tale about an English family taking in refugees on Christmas Day, by The Birds author Daphne du Maurier, will feel timely today, as Syrian refugees make their way west. Musical interludes by Celtic Echoes. Monday, December 7th. Complimentary reception at 6:15 on the patio, music at 6:30 on stage, performance at 7. Tickets $20, seniors and military $17, students $5. Purchase online at writeoutloudsd.com. Call 619-297-8953, or box office opens at 6.
House of Israel December Nights
2156 Pan American Way, Balboa Park
Fried foods are a must for Hanukkah — the holiday is based on oil. Celebrate with the first public U.S. establishment to fly the new State of Israel flag, House of Israel in Balboa Park, offering sufganiyot (donuts) and latkes to entice visitors over to the Jewish side of December Nights. Inside the cottage, experience a piece of the Holy Land: a wall of Jerusalem stone transports visitors to the ancient city. Friday, December 4th, 5–10 p.m. and Saturday, December 5th, 12–10 p.m. Admission is free; fee for food and parking.
— Leorah Gavidor
Escape from the Puzzalarium
841 14th Street, East Village
As much a fun gift to give as it is an experience to share, Puzzalarium puts you behind the locked door of an escape room, where you and your friends or family have one hour to use encyclopedias, wit, deductive reasoning, and problem-solving skills to crack the exit code. Rummage through furniture and discover secret lockboxes to reveal clues to your liberation. The experience works best with groups of three or four, whereas couples and singles are outright discouraged and will be charged for three. $25 per person.
Drink rompope at Dandy del Sur, Tijuana
Flores Magón 2030, Tijuana Centro
Long before hip mezcal bars and late-night punk dives lined Tijuana’s downtown Sexta block, there was Dandy del Sur. This time-honored cantina has been a meeting place for artists, musicians, and college kids since 1957. Falling smack in the middle of classy and divey, El Dandy is an idyllic destination to soak in the holiday vibe over a glass of traditional rompope, an eggnog-like concoction spiked with rum. Pop a dollar in the jukebox, which covers everything from classic Mexican love songs to modern metal and rock, and sip those winter chills away.
SoNo Fest and Chili Cook-off
32nd and Thorn Street, North Park
In its sixth year of celebration, this street fair and cook-off summons 40 local restaurants to compete for the best chili on the block. If you’re not feeling beany, choose from five food trucks offering an international assortment of fare on wheels. The live music lineup is 11 acts long, including highlights such as Schitzophonics, G Burns Jug Band, the Creepy Creeps, and the Downs Family. In the spirit of holiday cheer, all proceeds benefit the nearby McKinley Elementary. $15 with your own bowl, $20 without. December 6, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
2325 Highland Avenue, National City
SouthBayUprising dinner at Machete Beer House
SouthBayUprising is a hashtag popularized by Eddie Trejo and Joann Cornejo of Machete Beer House. The tag is associated with the culinary and craft-beer revolution taking place in South Bay communities, which the beer house showcases via curated dinners. On December 6 (6:30 to 10 p.m.), invite a friend, family member, or loved one to sit around the table and feast on a holiday meal presented by chefs Alex Emery, Rose Peyron, Elliot Townsend, Ami Cisneros, Claudia Sandoval, and Philip Esteban. Council Brewing will be providing beer pairings for each course. $70 per person.
3176 Thorn Street, North Park
Home-brewing Class at Thorn Street Brewery
Give the gift of home-brewed beer this holiday season with an introductory course on draft systems. The two-hour class, which includes a question-and-answer session with Thorn Street brewer Dan Carrico, will cover tap assembly, hose lengths, corny kegs versus sanke kegs, jockey boxes, serving pressures, cleaning, and nitro taps. Classes are held on a different topic every few months. December 9, 10 a.m. to noon. $20 per person includes a flight of Thorn Street beer. RSVP at [email protected].
Normal Heights, North Park, South Park
For over five years now the SD DrinkAbout has been hosting a monthly showcase of Uptown’s best beer bars with a free shuttle running along 30th, El Cajon Boulevard, Park, and Adams, because the last thing you want to unwrap for the holiday is a DUI. On December 16, hop the bus every half hour (7 to 11:40 p.m.) from Blind Lady, Small Bar, Live Wire, Toronado, Station, Hamilton’s, Ritual, or Tiger! Tiger! and get red-nosed on San Diego’s bounty of fine craft brew.
Poinsettia Bowl Gaslamp March
Fifth Avenue and Market Street, Downtown
Poinsettia Bowl festivities kick off on Monday, December 21, at 6:00 p.m. when the marching bands, spirit squads, and mascots of the opposing teams face off in the middle of the Gaslamp Quarter. The teams will parade from each end of Fifth Avenue performing seasonal classics, then meet at Market Street for a spirited battle of the bands. Our own San Diego State Aztecs are eligible to receive the bowl invitation, so make a holiday wish for a hometown advantage. The event is free for spectators.
1500 Orange Avenue, Coronado
Ice skating by the Sea
When you head to the beach, the last thing you normally pack is a pair of ice skates. But when you visit Hotel del Coronado through January 7, a seaside winter wonderland awaits the entire family. From the ice rink on Windsor Lawn, you’ll enjoy views of the hotel adorned with thousands of white lights, Coronado Beach, and the Pacific Ocean. Ice rink admission is $25 per person and includes ice skate rental. Hours vary. Call 619-522-8490 for details.
Little Italy Tree Lighting & Christmas Village
West Fir Street between Columbia Street and Kettner Boulevard, Little Italy
Celebrate the holidays with the entire family — furry friends are welcome, too — at the 16th annual Little Italy Tree Lighting and Christmas Village on December 5 from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. The festivities start when Santa ditches his sleigh and arrives by fire engine at 4:00 p.m. After capturing memories with Santa, head to the Piazza Basilone at 5:30 for the 25-foot poinsettia tree lighting. The event also features live entertainment, crafts for the kiddos, and holiday shopping with Little Italy Mercato vendors.
3007 University Avenue, North Park
2161 India Street, Little Italy
When it comes to gifts for holiday hosts, skip that widely distributed bottle of wine and turn to the libation San Diego knows best. Bottlecraft is a boutique shop that curates the best local, domestic, and international craft beer. There’s something for every palate, including year-round staples, seasonal releases, and limited collaborations. Plus, the North Park location partners with Venissimo Cheese, which offers hundreds of cheeses as well as charcuterie, paninis, and chocolates that pair perfectly with the lightest lager or the stormiest stout.
West Grove Collective
3010-B Juniper Street, South Park
West Grove Collective is a marketplace filled with goods provided by local merchants and artists. The collective plays host to long-term vendors, pop-up shops, and trunk shows, which promises holiday shoppers a rotating collection of unique items. Choose from books, artwork, and music to clothing, jewelry, home goods, and furniture — there’s a something for everyone on your gift list. And if you’re looking to give back this season, peruse the philanthropy booth, where a portion of your fair trade purchase is donated to the International Rescue Committee.
Bella Vado offers edible and consumable gift alternatives for your upcoming holiday gift exchange. To sample their locally grown avocado oil products, visit the Poway Farmers’ Market on Saturdays from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at Old Poway Park. Choose from culinary oils infused with garlic, jalapeño, lemon, or lime to cosmetic lotions, serums, soaps, and lip balms produced with food-grade ingredients. If you can’t make it to the market between stringing lights and decorating cookies, place your order online at bellavado.com.
2619 National Avenue, Barrio Logan
Nothing warms you up like a cup of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate when it’s chilly outside. The folks at Cafe Moto are serving up brown sugar lattes, peppermint tea, and Mexican hot cocoa at their family-owned café in Barrio Logan. After you indulge in a toasty treat (or two), don’t forget to head behind the barista station to the retail shop brimming with small-batch roasts, loose-leaf teas, flavored syrups, brewing supplies, ceramics… and more. You’re sure to cross off caffeine-fueled friends and family from your list.
— Vanessa Horne.
The Art Stash
7859 El Cajon Boulevard, La Mesa
Paint the holidays red (and every other color of the rainbow) with the selection of art supplies at this family-owned shop off I-8 in La Mesa. From watercolors to acrylics to colored pencils, you’ll find no shortage of stocking stuffers — and not just for the artists on your gift list. Coloring books for adults are in high demand this year and go beautifully with Prismacolor pencils or Tombow Dual Brush Pens. If you’d rather buy art than make it, the Art Stash offers a gallery of affordable, original works by local artists.
Do It with Icing
7240 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, Clairemont
Take your holiday treats to the next level with classes at Do It with Icing, a cake and candy supply shop offering Christmastime workshops. Try your hand at gingerbread cookies, hand-dipped chocolates, or cupcakes shaped like Christmas ornaments. Classes are offered evenings and weekends throughout December, including a free holiday demo on December 4 (registration required). Maybe this will be the year you give homemade fudge or truffles to the neighbors! Workshop prices range from $50–$100.
Christmas in the Village
La Mesa Boulevard from Spring Street to Allison Avenue, La Mesa
La Mesa’s Christmas in the Village is perfect for people craving the holiday spirit but don’t like the crowds at Balboa Park’s December Nights Celebration. Taking place December 11–12, 5–9 p.m. each night, the celebration starts off each night with a holiday parade as well as a tribute to Vietnam veterans. Strolling minstrels, carolers from area churches and schools, talented street entertainers mix with booths selling crafts by artisans and a variety of street-food offerings.
Holiday Dinner at December Nights
1549 El Prado, Balboa Park, Balboa Park
San Diego’s most popular holiday gathering is back for its 39th year on December 4–5 (3–11 p.m. Friday, noon–11 p.m. Saturday.) The museums are free, there is a fun zone full of carnival rides, but the longest lines are for food at the various Houses Of Hospitality. The House of Germany’s bratwurst attracts the biggest crowd, but the House of Ukraine has shorter lines. The House of Spain’s paella is worth the wait. Vegetarians should try House of India or the noodles at Japanese Garden.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park
The Old Globe’s adaptation of How the Grinch Stole Christmas has been bringing in green to the theater for 18 years. Running through December 26, the show runs 7 p.m. weeknights and performances at 11 a.m., 2 p.m., and 5 p.m. on weekends. The simplicity of the plot, colorful costumes and sets, and catchy tunes make this a good bet for the whole family, especially little ones who’ve never seen a play. Tickets $29–$59.
Lowe Down Christmas Music at Belly Up Tavern
143 South Cedros Avenue, Solana Beach
New Wave music legend Nick Lowe (“Cruel to Be Kind”) will be at the Belly Up Tavern December 9 with a Christmas show that features a mix of his best-known songs and new and old holiday favorites. The backing band is Los Straitjackets, a surf-style instrumental group whose members wear lucha libre masks rather than ugly Christmas sweaters. $25–$27.
Tonight in San Diego — Horton Grand Theatre
444 Fourth Avenue, Gaslamp
Even during the busy holiday season, Mondays are a slow time for seasonal events. Tonight in San Diego, a locally based talk show in the spirit of Jimmys Kimmel and Fallon, tapes every Monday at the Horton Grand Theatre, featuring a mix of local music, comedy, and conversation for only $7. The December 7 and 14 shows will include all of those with an emphasis on Christmas themes. $7.
Carols by Candlelight
340 North Escondido Boulevard, Escondido
Now in its 26th year, Carols by Candlelight brings nationally known musical acts to the California Center for the Arts in Escondido to sing their biggest hits and raise money for Rady’s Children Hospital. This year’s lineup includes Lonestar, best known for their 1999 No. 1 “Amazed,” Jamie O’Neal, and Andy Griggs, as well as Poway mayor Steve Vaus, a Grammy-winning children’s music artist under the name Buck Howdy. The highlight of the show comes after it ends when the audience and performers go outside to sing “Silent Night” a capella by candlelight. $19-87.
17550 Bernardo Oaks Drive, Rancho Bernardo
Rancho Bernardo Inn’s giant gingerbread house
You don’t have to be a guest at the Rancho Bernardo Inn to appreciate their Christmas spirit. The hotel is going full tilt, including decorating eight full-size Christmas trees, lots of hot chocolate, cider, cookies, and popcorn on the premises, along with adult beverages. Besides caroling performances and photo ops with Santa, families can enjoy the life-size gingerbread house constructed in the lobby with only edible ingredients.
— Patrick Henderson
4705 Ruffin Road, Kearny Mesa
For the man or woman who has everything, this daylong Strategic Operations Skills Training (SOST) will check off one adventure item from their bucket list. Former and retired Navy SEALs will help advance your action lover’s firearms skills through weapons training and realistic scenarios that may include a tactical patrol through a terrorist village, or everyday life scenarios such as facing bad guys during a home invasion or a carjacking situation. Merry Christmas!
New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge
Kellogg Park, La Jolla Shores
Join the La Jolla Cove Swim Club at their annual Polar Bear Plunge and chili potluck. You don’t have to swim or even get wet, but if you do, you get to say you did. Wear warm clothes and bring chili, soup, or another warm food to share. Cider and coffee will be provided. Look for the LJCSC banner. Start time: 10:00 a.m. on January 1, 2016. Don’t forget your camera!
2156 Alpine Boulevard, Alpine
Christmas in Alpine Home Tour
Stroll through five stunning country estates during the Alpine Woman’s Club’s 11th annual holiday home tour. Touring begins at 10:00 a.m. and goes until 3:00 p.m. on December 12. The Historic Town Hall will open at 1:00 p.m. for ticket-holders to enjoy light refreshments and pick up a surprise gift. Opportunity drawings will take place at the Club House at 4:00 p.m. Tickets: $30 in advance, $35 at the door. Proceeds will benefit the Alpine Woman’s Club Scholarship Fund.
Holiday Winery Train Tour — San Diego Beer and Wine Tours
Locations between San Diego and Carlsbad
Jump on the Coaster in Old Town, Seaport Village, or Carlsbad and start celebrating the holidays with lots of wine. Tours include VIP wine tastings at urban boutique wineries, light lunch with wine pairings, cheese, and chocolate with wine pairings. Also, exploration of San Diego history on guided historic walks between the Coaster and the wineries and games with prizes. Tours available Monday through Friday. 858-551-5115.
Indie Side: Urban Bazaar
Plaza Cívica de La Patria, Ensenada
This year, get out of town to do your holiday shopping. Indie vendors will sell their crafts, clothing, jewelry, and artisanal culinary products at this urban bazaar. Get in the spirit of the holidays with local entertainment. Prepared foods will keep you fed while you shop. December 19 and 20, 10:00 a.m. Guided whale-watching tours also begin in Ensenada that weekend.
— Elizabeth Salaam
341 South Kalmia Street, Escondido
Over 100 volunteers from the First United Methodist Church perform as shopkeepers, soldiers, scribes, prophets, and residents of a crowded Bethlehem in an effort to give a glimpse of life at the time of Christ’s birth. They’ll tell you about their work, about a strange rumor they’ve heard , and about life in occupied territory (watch out for grumpy, shouty Romans). Stick with your guide and you’ll be okay. The Walk takes place December 11–12. It’s free, but reservations are required through the church’s website.
1229 Camino Del Mar, Del Mar
Your dog does not want a sweater for Christmas; your dog wants fresh baked goodies and fun toys, just like you. Dexter’s bakes cakes and cupcakes for dogs: 4˝ or 6˝, round or bone-shaped. Made from human-grade carrot cake and molasses, so you can share. (A clerk notes that a 6˝ beef cake is available, but just for Fido.) As for toys, try the popular plush hedgehog in sizes from 6˝ to 15˝. Cats go crazy for freeze-dried salmon cubes from Wildside and Rosey the Rat (made with real rabbit fur).
8360 La Mesa Boulevard, La Mesa
A tiny sign in the window reads, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” Mostly Mission’s merchandise is mostly both. It’s half handsome, solid, squared-off Mission-style furniture, and half era-appropriate home decor: lamps with stained-glass shades (dragonflies, trees, flowers, and the like), throw pillows, table runners, and Art Deco fabric purses. I’ve taken home wall tiles of crows and roses, some unframed, some housed in quartersawn oak. And the hammered copper-ceramic clock keeps time in my kitchen.
1201 First Street, Coronado
The City of Coronado is sponsoring a snow mountain at the city’s ferry landing on Friday, December 4th, starting at 2 p.m. They’ll bring in several tons of snow for playtime, so dig out your hats and gloves. Additional holiday fare will include jumpies, face-painting, and seasonal crafts, plus strolling entertainment, hot chocolate, and cookies. Santa will be setting out from San Diego on the 3 p.m. ferry to greet the kiddies on Coronado at 3:20. So maybe consider buying especially good children the $4.75 (one-way) ticket to ride with Saint Nick and his elves.
Hillside Artisans Children’s Boutique
827 Washington Street, Mission Hills
“We buy locally sourced items,” says owner Karen Dole, “as well as items from all over the world. We look for quality within a reasonable price range.” The shop features a huge selection of “green” toys: vehicles made in the USA from recycled plastic. Everything from ferryboats to dump trucks. The store also gives ample space to art supplies, craft kits, and stylish coloring books. Stocking stuffers abound, and Dole says that “people love our free gift wrapping, a signature white bag with green tissue paper flowers and pipe cleaner caterpillars, or with the Christmas or Hanukkah themes.”
French Garden Shoppe
2307 India Street, Little Italy
Owner Eugene Marley says that “right now, we have a huge selection of restaurant porcelain, all 50 percent off. All kinds of plates, casseroles, and unique serving dishes. It’s great for people who need extra pieces for holiday feasts. People also like to decorate tables with our dried materials: flowers, grasses, herbs. They last longer than fresh flowers, and we have lots of vases to put them in.” And if you need extra seating that you will use after the holidays, “we have an outside bistro set with a tile-top table and powder-coated folding iron chairs.”
— Deirdre Lickona