Join characters from The Nutcracker for refreshments at the hot chocolate and cookie bar, then enjoy the narrated program with fully immersive vignette performances.
  • Join characters from The Nutcracker for refreshments at the hot chocolate and cookie bar, then enjoy the narrated program with fully immersive vignette performances.
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elenabs / iStock / Getty Images Plus

There’s a war on Christmas. You can see it right on your TV; in fact, it’s your TV that’s the aggressor in this particular conflict. Lifetime has 20, count ’em, 20 new movies to go along with their already loaded inventory. For the streamers, Netflix has Holiday in the Wind, Let it Snow, Klaus, The Knight Before Christmas, Holiday Rush, Merry Happy Whatever, A Christmas Prince: the Royal Baby, A Family Reunion Christmas, and Spirit Riding Free: The Spirit of Christmas. Disney+ has only Noelle, but they pulled in Emmy winner Bill Hader and Oscar nominee Anna Kendrick for that one. This invasion of the holiday snatchers wants to colonize your holiday and replace it with something that’s prettier and more pleasant and more neatly wrapped in a bow, but not actually real. Fight the invaders. Get off your couch and do this stuff.

The San Diego Ballet hosts its 2nd Annual Nutcracker Tea Party at Building 177 in Liberty Station on Sunday, December 15 from 3:30 pm - 5:30 pm. Join characters from The Nutcracker for refreshments at the hot chocolate and cookie bar, then enjoy the narrated program with fully immersive vignette performances from The Nutcracker at 4 pm. Afterwards, a member of the Ballet will host a short, interactive demo of basic ballet moves, followed by a visit from Santa for photos with the whole family. Photos will be available online for free download after the event. Tickets are $55.

Salute the Season at Liberty Station features Rady Children’s Ice Rink on the Central Promenade through January 5, 2020.

Salute the Season at Liberty Station features Rady Children’s Ice Rink on the Central Promenade through January 5, 2020.

Photograph by Matthew Suárez

Salute the Season at Liberty Station features Rady Children’s Ice Rink on the Central Promenade through January 5, 2020. Open daily from 10 am to 10 pm, except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. Proceeds go to the Thriving After Cancer Program at the Rady Children’s Hospital’s Peckham Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders. Your ticket is good for all day and has in-and-out privileges, so you can skate to your heart’s content, then visit the Liberty Public Market or one of dozens of neighborhood galleries, museums, shops and restaurants. Tickets are $13-$15 and include skates and a helmet.

Calling all feathered, furry, and scaled friends to strut their sweet or sassy fashions at the 12th Annual Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade on Sunday, December 15 from noon - 5 pm at Martin Luther King Jr Promenade Park. Prize categories include best pet, human, and group costumes, but all entrants receive goodie bags full of fun samples, toys, coupons, and other gifts. Watch the parade from viewing stations located around the Gaslamp Quarter, especially along 4th and 5th Avenues between E and K Streets. There’s also a pet expo, a holiday market, and live music that’s free and open to the public. Entrance fees to participate in the pet parade are $15 per pet in advance and $20 at the door.

The Old Globe's Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre introduces a new twist on Charles Dickens’s classic A Christmas Carol in this fast-paced, quick-witted, and extravagant production that reimagines it as a comedy, and set in San Diego! You’ll meet all the traditional characters, including Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim and the three spirits of Christmas in this family-friendly retelling of Ebenezer Scrooge and his spiritual reawakening that’s equal parts storytelling, music and laughter. Tickets run $30-$99, depending on the date and performance time.

What better way to ring in a new decade than a moonlight cruise aboard Inspiration, Hornblower’s $25-million party yacht.

What better way to ring in a new decade than a moonlight cruise aboard Inspiration, Hornblower’s $25-million party yacht.

What better way to ring in a new decade than a moonlight cruise aboard Inspiration, Hornblower’s $25-million party yacht? You’ll be welcomed aboard with a Champagne toast before you head up to one of the three dance decks, each featuring its own DJ and the best in hip hop, Top 40, dance remixes, and EDM. Twelve bars pouring top-shelf selections guarantees minimal waiting and an exquisite array of displayed and passed appetizers keep the munchies at bay while you enjoy spectacular 360-degree views of the sparkling San Diego skyline. VIP status gets you aboard an hour early for mingling and drinking on the upper deck. Tickets are $184 for general admission, add $40 for VIP early admission.

Greet 2020 with laughter at the National Comedy Theatre’s New Year’s Eve Spectacular.

Greet 2020 with laughter at the National Comedy Theatre’s New Year’s Eve Spectacular.

Greet 2020 with laughter at the National Comedy Theatre’s New Year’s Eve Spectacular. Like Drew Carey’s Whose Line Is It Anyway?, this fun improv comedy show takes its cues entirely from audience suggestions. Included in your ticket price is a buffet dinner before the show, a champagne toast at midnight, and an after-show party with the cast as you count down the seconds to the new year. The show is nearly always sold out, and tickets ($79) must be purchased online in advance. 21+ only.

— Mary Beth Abate

If you want to feel the holiday spirit with the largest number of San Diegans possible, December Nights is the best bet. Taking place December 6-7 at Balboa Park, the two-day festival will feature holiday displays, musical performances, dances, rides, and, of course, lots of food. The biggest lines will be for standard holiday items like bratwurst and pea soup, but the Japanese Garden also has a big line for teriyaki anything. Free admission at all the museums is a big perk, but so is the nativity scene located at the Organ Pavilion.

  • Holiday Bowl
  • San Diego County Credit Union Stadium
  • Mission Valley

Now in its 41st season, the Holiday Bowl is known for high scores and close games. As of press time, the teams haven’t been announced, but the matchup will be between the No. 3 Pac-12 team and the No. 4 Big Ten team. Unlike other games, fans know to stay until the end: at least 25 percent of the bowls have been decided by three points or less.

The Holiday in the Village is the type of small town gathering usually only seen in Hallmark movies

The Holiday in the Village is the type of small town gathering usually only seen in Hallmark movies

CeCe Canton Photography

Taking place December 13-14 in La Mesa Village, the Holiday in the Village is the type of small town gathering usually seen only in Hallmark movies — except there’s little chance of a white Christmas. Students from local schools and parishioners from local churches perform traditional seasonal songs. Along with Santa, there will be face painting clowns, a variety of foods, and, if things hold true to recent years, a sneak preview of new businesses opening up in the rapidly gentrifying area.

  • Minus Tides
  • Point Loma, La Jolla

For nature lovers, the holiday season corresponds with the year’s lowest daytime tides. These minus tides allow people to see tidepools normally covered by water and provide a wonderful view of local sea life. This year, the best days for tidepooling are December 9-13, December 23-28, January 8-10, and January 22-25.

The aquatic theme park offers holiday attractions through January 5 including a Sesame Street Christmas Village, an Ice Skating Spectacular featuring 15 of the nation’s top skaters, and a Cirque Christmas featuring members of Cirque du Soleil. The park’s animals will also celebrate the season. Clyde and Seamore’s Christmas Special features trained seals attempting to put on a variety show, while two dolphins at the Dolphin Amphitheater will be celebrating their first Christmas.

— Patrick Henderson

  • Tijuana Holiday Market Hop
  • San Ysidro/Tijuana

Founded by US journalist Derrik Chinn in 2009, Turista Libre offers a monthly Market Hop that highlights massive neighborhood swap meets. But on Sunday, December 8, TL offers a special holiday edition highlighting “four of Tijuana’s most iconic tianguis, including the city’s longest-running flea market, the Mercado de Artesanías, and Mercado Miguel Hidalgo — the city’s oldest open-air market in Zona Rio — which will be especially festive in honor of the season. Even if you make your way out of the bargain bin maze without dropping a single peso, you’ll walk away having lived an essential Mexican experience: the mercado.” With the meeting point in the U.S., it’s a perfect intro for those still wary of what’s south of the border.

In this, its 13th year, the annual San Diego Tango Festival is back with five full days of workshops with award-winning instructors, and milongas (read: tango dance parties) with world-renowned DJs, as well as two milongas bookending the main event. Promoted as a festival where “we take our tango seriously, but not TOO seriously,” they promise a professional atmosphere in regards to crowd flow on the dance floor (‘cause that’s a serious thing, it would seem!) but also some serious fun. This year, the action runs from December 27 to January 1, 2020 at the Wyndham Bayside hotel, with a NYE Celebration Milonga ending at 6 a.m. There are also four beginner’s evening classes over the weekend with a free intro class on Friday.

The Zoo’s annual Jungle Bells celebration, free with admission, transforms its 100 acres into a “glittering wonderland” filled with “wildlife and winter charm.” Expect “live music and entertainment, animal experiences, seasonal decorations, Santa Claus, and tasty food options.” A highlight is the interactive Jingle Brass Band at the front entrance stage, which will surely get your young ones (and you) singing and dancing along. “New this year is Aurora — a multisensory, immersive experience blending sound, lights, 3-D projection mapping, and live performers.” Runs December 13 through January 5, 2020 from 9 am to 8 pm, although the magic really happens after sundown when the lights lead the way. Closes at 5 pm on December 24.

On Friday, December 6 from 3 pm to 11 pm and Saturday, December 7 from noon to 11 pm, bypass the hullabaloo of Balboa Park’s main event — December Nights — and head straight to the International Cottages for their annual Christmas Festival happening at the same time. Located just southwest of the Organ Pavillion, each of the 33 cottages are representative of a different culture. On these two nights, all 33 will be open in order to share their culture, and provide various ethnic foods and spirits, from Chinese dumplings and Israeli latkes to Irish Coffee. “Entertainment from around the world” will also be in full action on the stage nestled in the center.

La Pulga Holiday Market will be a place to locally shop specifically for holiday gifts. They are promising “shoes, toys, art, plants, bags, hats, candles, body care, and so much more.”

La Pulga Holiday Market will be a place to locally shop specifically for holiday gifts. They are promising “shoes, toys, art, plants, bags, hats, candles, body care, and so much more.”

In addition to their monthly flea market coinciding with the 2nd Saturday of Barrio Art Crawl, the La Bodega Gallery team has a bonus shopping event in the works. With the monthly event already described as “a place to discover and shop from talented emerging artisans and independent vendors showcasing one-of-a-kind, rare goods, attic treasures, art, clothing, jewelry, and a variety of new and used items,” the La Pulga Holiday Market will also be a place to locally shop specifically for holiday gifts. They are also promising “shoes, toys, art, plants, bags, hats, candles, body care, and so much more.” This free, family- and pet-friendly event is happening Saturday, December 21 from 1-6 pm.

  • The Nutcracker
  • Various Locations

So many Nutcracker performances, so little time. To name a few: California Ballet Company’s version of the holiday classic has been revamped by new Artistic Director Jared Nelson with the score expertly executed by the San Diego Symphony. Their world premiere is December 13 at the Civic Theatre, with 13 showings through December 24. At Spreckels Theatre, the award-winning production from City Ballet of San Diego runs December 6 thru December 22 with 12 showtimes. San Diego Civic Youth Ballet dancers ages 4 to 18 will light up the Casa del Prado Theatre with their production December 11 through 22. With only two performances on December 28 and 29, the San Diego Ballet comes to Copley Symphony Hall with over 100 dancers.

— E. V. Hepworth

Irish tenor Emmet Cahill, Sony recording artist and principal vocalist of Celtic Thunder, will be performing “Christmas in Ireland” on Friday, December 6, at 7 pm at St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church. Cahill has sung in 60 cities across North America this year alone. This concert — featuring holiday songs, Irish melodies, some sing-a-longs, and Cahill’s popular “song request medley”— will assuredly put your heart in the spirit of the season. Tickets are $30, and the limited number of meet and greet tickets are $45.

Saturday, December 14, pick your race and outfit: The San Diego Santa Run is about to start. The 5K racers receive Santa suits, white beards, and sunglasses. The 1-mile racers don a Santa hat and sunglasses. The start line is at 909 Garnet Avenue. There are four 1-mile races: men at 11:20 am, women at 11:30 am, Santa’s Elves kid race at 11:45 am, and Santa’s Little Helper dog-with-owner race at noon. All racers over 21 receive a complimentary post-run drink ticket for Bub’s, 710 Beach Club, or Maverick’s. At 1 pm, the 40th Pacific Beach Holiday Parade kicks off.

On Wednesday, December 11, the Del’s annual Holiday Festival runs from 4 pm to 7 pm. Saint Nick will be in town and available for photos with fans from 3:30 to 8 pm. $15 per photo. There will be carnival games and prizes on the beach at 4 pm, performances in the Upper Grande Hall by Coronado schools from 4 to 5 pm, an ice skating performance at 6:15 pm on the outdoor ice rink on the Windsor Lawn behind the hotel, and fireworks at 6:45 pm. Those longing for some fire pit warmth can reserve a pit for 90 minutes on Windsor Lawn at 4 pm, seating for 4 to 6 people. Those looking to take to the ice can skate from 7 to 10 pm. Tickets for skating are $30 online, $35 at the event.

King’s College Cambridge, on Christmas Eve 1918, was the birthplace of the holiday tradition of Nine Lessons and Carols. It’s a journey through salvation history combining music and readings of the Old and New Testaments. Part musical recital, part sing-a-long, part meditative bible readings, the event inspires remembrance of the story and historical characters behind the Christmas holiday. A Festival of Word and Song to Prepare for Christmas is a free event offered each year at the Founders Chapel. Two performances, one Saturday, December 7 at 7:30 pm and one Sunday, December 8 at 2 pm.

Right here in San Diego, we have the largest outdoor ice skating rink in Southern California. In fact, it’s bigger than the rink at New York’s Rockefeller Center. A Christmas tree overlooks the rink. Lights sparkle overhead. Hot cocoa and popcorn steam in the cool night air. An evening on the ice here in the foothills is sure to bring all the feels of the season. The 90-minute skating sessions run $15 for kids age 12 and younger, $17 for adults and teens. Go big with a season pass for $99. Open from 3 pm to 10 pm or 5 pm to 10 pm through January 26. Check website calendar for specific daily hours.

— Eve Kelly

The Victoria House Corporation, the organizer for last year’s North Park Toyland Parade, canceled the event less than one week before it was scheduled to take place. Lack of monetary support from traditional sponsors was the reason given for the shutdown. In a bid to rescue the event, The North Park Main Street Association jumped in with a pledge of $10,000 to keep the decades-long tradition going. Besides confusion that resulted in some cars getting towed along the parade’s route and staging area, the event went off without a hitch. The close call generated some press, which resulted in increased turnout for the event. We’ll see if 2019’s Toyland Parade (the 56th year of the event) can keep the momentum going. Look for the usual grab bag of marching bands, vintage cars, local city officials and, of course, Santa. The parade takes place December 8 and runs east on University Avenue from Utah Street to 32nd Street. The festivities begin at 11 am.

As a former resident, I can state with confidence that Ocean Beach’s uber-eclectic annual holiday parade is the perfect representation of the community’s holiday spirit. You get all the traditional parade attractions such as floats and marching bands, but more often than not, they pass by with a unique comic twist. Locals always flock to this event, so if you are planning to drive over, make sure to leave early so you can find both decent parking and parade-watching spots. The event takes place Saturday, December 7 and begins at 5:05 pm. The parade route runs west down Newport Avenue, starting at Sunset Cliffs Boulevard and ending at Abbott Street. The theme for 2019 is “Miracle On Newport Avenue.” A float depicting Santa Claus finding a parking spot on Newport in the middle of July seems appropriate.

Dr. Seuss’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas has become a certified tradition at Balboa Park’s Old Globe Theater.

Dr. Seuss’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas has become a certified tradition at Balboa Park’s Old Globe Theater.

Photograph by Ken Howard

Dr. Seuss’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas has become a certified tradition at Balboa Park’s Old Globe Theater. Now in its 22nd year, the event will once again transform the theater into a kid-friendly Whoville during its run from November thru December 29. It’s yet another reminder of the genius of the late Theodor Geisel — the longtime La Jolla resident better known as Dr. Seuss. There will be three performances of the musical on Saturdays and Sundays from 12/1 - 12/22. The earliest of those (11 am) will be the only performances in which children under the age of three will be allowed to attend. There will also be a special “Sensory-friendly performance” for children on the autism spectrum and other families with special needs on December 14 at 10:30 am.

If your holiday budget is veering toward the leaner end of the spectrum, the Las Americas Outlets in San Ysidro offer a cheap gift-buying experience, and one that also exists within a stone’s throw of the US/Mexico border. Due to its location, the people-watching at this outlet center can be pretty fascinating. The border is a busy corridor for tourists from countries far and wide, and it seems as if many of them can’t resist the allure of buying discounted US products as they come and go. The Levi’s outlet store seems like a favorite of the tourists, who are drawn in by items such as the iconic 501 jeans. Local shoppers can find plenty of deals as well, but don’t expect to knock out all your gift shopping here. You aren’t going to find your most sought-after electronic gadgets at apparel stores such as Nike, Calvin Klein, Vans, and Old Navy, but you may be able to re-up your wardrobe for 2020. Check their website for online deals before you make the trip as well.

  • Christmas season in the mountains
  • Julian

Sometimes it’s tough to get into the holiday spirit when temperatures are still pushing 80 degrees in December. Lucky for us, the mountain towns to the east of San Diego can often offer a temporary portal into a chillier and less hectic realm that seems more in-sync with the holiday season. The small community of Julian (population 1500) that lies northeast of Ramona has low temperatures that average in the 30s from November through March, while high temperatures over the same span reside in the 50s. If you are lucky (and have either four wheel drive or tire chains) you can even take in the quaint mountain town as it rests under a blanket of snow. Julian’s main tourist draw is its apples (and its famous apple pie), but the holiday season features attractions such as a Christmas tree lighting (11/30) and a holiday hayride (11/30 and 12/1) as well. Check the Julian Guide for more events and info on restaurants and lodging.

— Dryw Keltz

Sip hot cocoa and coffee aboard a Party Cat pontoon boat while cruising around San Diego waters during the Parade of Lights. Seaforth Boat Rentals offers two tour options for viewing the holiday boat parades — one on San Diego Bay (December 8 and 15, 5 pm), and one on Mission Bay (December 14, 6 pm). Your $35 ticket includes warm drinks, holiday music, and a three-hour boat tour that gives you the best seat in the house for viewing the parade boats.

Get a bird’s-eye view of holiday lights during a private helicopter tour. Waverider Helicopter Tours offers 30-minute flights over beach towns from Oceanside to Del Mar for $375.

Get a bird’s-eye view of holiday lights during a private helicopter tour. Waverider Helicopter Tours offers 30-minute flights over beach towns from Oceanside to Del Mar for $375.

Photograph by Waverider Helicopter Tours LLC

Fly high over San Diego with your spouse, your kids, or your two best friends and get a bird’s-eye view of holiday lights during a private helicopter tour. Waverider Helicopter Tours offers 30-minute flights over beach towns from Oceanside to Del Mar for $375. Festivities begin at the Oceanside Municipal Airport, where you and your party (three people maximum) will be picked up in a bedazzled golf cart and driven to your helicopter. Once you’re buckled in and your pilot gets the go-ahead, you can relax and enjoy the holiday music playing through your individual noise-canceling headsets while you peer down at the holiday light displays below. Tours begin December 7 and run nightly through December 30. No flights on Christmas Eve or Christmas day.

Mountain High Resort offers Yeti’s Snow Parks at its east and north resorts. Each features 10 lanes for tubing.

Mountain High Resort offers Yeti’s Snow Parks at its east and north resorts. Each features 10 lanes for tubing.

  • Yeti’s Snow Park — Mountain High
  • 24510 Angeles Crest Highway
  • Wrightwood

Just over two hours north of San Diego, Mountain High Resort offers Yeti’s Snow Parks at its east and north resorts. Each features 10 lanes for tubing. A $30 ticket buys two hours of tubing or sledding. Or meet Yeti and friends with a $20 ticket for 2 hours in the snow play area. Mountain High also offers skiing, snowboarding, and other winter sports and activities. Stay the night at the resort, rent a cabin nearby, or take a day trip from San Diego.

Don your Santa hat and your light-up Christmas earrings to paddle around Mission Bay with other holiday revelers.

Don your Santa hat and your light-up Christmas earrings to paddle around Mission Bay with other holiday revelers.

Photograph by Aqua Adventures

The people at Aqua Adventures love any opportunity to put on costumes and parade around in kayaks and on stand up paddleboards. So don your Santa hat and your light-up Christmas earrings to paddle around Mission Bay with other holiday revelers. The event is free if you have your own gear, or you can rent a vessel and all the necessary equipment. Bring your pets, as this is a pet-friendly event as well. December 22, 3-5 pm.

  • South Bay Holiday Lights
  • Christmas Circle
  • Chula Vista

For 62 years, residents of the Whitney-Mankato Street Circle in Chula Vista have made the best-dressed list for their neighborhood’s display of holiday decorations. Each year, the 55+ homes in and around Christmas Circle light up the night and draw thousands of visitors. Drive the circle slowly (you’ll have no other choice) or park your car and walk to take in the festive atmosphere at a leisurely pace. December 16-26, 5 pm -10 pm.

If serenity and solitude give you joy, a day on snowshoes in the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area may be the perfect holiday gift to give yourself this year. Laguna Mountain receives the most snowfall in San Diego County, but it doesn’t usually last long. Keep your ear tuned to weather reports for the area, and when the snow hits, rent a pair of snowshoes — REI has them — and take the hour drive away from palm-tree-Santas and relentless Christmas music. You may need to put chains on your car after you exit I-8, so be sure to have them handy. Early mornings are best for a quiet snowshoe experience. Choose from a handful of different trails, or spend a weekend in a cabin nearby and try them all.

—Elizabeth Salaam

Charles Dickens’ classic 1843 redemption tale of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge returns to the Cygnet for its sixth year.

Charles Dickens’ classic 1843 redemption tale of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge returns to the Cygnet for its sixth year.

Photograph by Daren Scott

Charles Dickens’ classic 1843 redemption tale of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge returns to the Cygnet for its sixth year. The family-friendly, two-hour production uses “original music, creative stagecraft and puppetry, and live sound effects” to follow Scrooge through supernatural visits from former business associate Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Yet to Come, convincing the coldhearted Scrooge to change his behavior and outlook on life. Dickens’ book, a Victorian favorite from which the play was adapted, has been continuously in print for 175 years. The show runs from November 27 through December 29.

  • Christmas Card Lane
  • Oviedo Street (off Black Mountain Road)
  • Rancho Peñasquitos

For nearly forty years, residents of Oviedo and surrounding streets have been going all-out with their holiday decorations, erecting giant plywood “cards” of cartoon characters and Christmas themes to accompany elaborate light displays. In recent years, as many as 200 houses in the neighborhood have added to the festive spirit. Decorations start going up after Thanksgiving, but a mid-December visit will ensure the scenes are fully complete and lighted. Plan on parking your car a few blocks away and getting out to walk the displays, as you’ll be greeted on foot by carolers, school band performances, and neighborhood residents offering hot cocoa and other treats for sale. The lights are on from dusk until 10 pm throughout December.

— Dave Rice

Check out the gift shop at D.Z. Akins for one of San Diego’s best-stocked Judaica stores: dreidels, menorahs, candles, and decor.

Check out the gift shop at D.Z. Akins for one of San Diego’s best-stocked Judaica stores: dreidels, menorahs, candles, and decor.

Photograph by Matthew Suárez

Eating fried food is part of celebrating Hanukkah. As if you needed an excuse. So if you don’t have a Jewish grandmother, or even if you do, head over to D.Z. Akins for some latkes and fixings. Served during Hanukkah (December 22-29, closed Christmas) alongside traditional brisket, matzo ball soup, kugel, and Israeli couscous. Save room for sufganyot (donuts), cooked to decadent perfection in hot oil. Latkes are available for party-ready takeout — frozen or cooked, along with most menu items. Check out the gift shop for one of San Diego’s best-stocked Judaica stores: dreidels, menorahs, candles, and decor.

Liberty Station marks the humble Hanukkah holiday with a menorah lighting and festival on the Central Promenade.

Liberty Station marks the humble Hanukkah holiday with a menorah lighting and festival on the Central Promenade.

Liberty Station marks the Hanukkah holiday with a menorah lighting and festival on the Central Promenade. For the special occasion, the menorah will be converted from electric light bulbs to an oil-burning lamp to commemorate what the holiday is all about. Join Chabad Centers of Downtown and Pacific Beach for the blessing as the sun goes down, when they light the shamash (the helper) and the first candle. Enjoy live music and Cirque-du-Soleil-esque performers, and look out for the animatronic polar bears. Free event; near the ice rink (tickets required for skating). Sunday, December 22, 5-8 pm.

Watch the rescued bears and big cats open their presents and go wild at the Lions Tigers & Bears Holiday Open House.

Watch the rescued bears and big cats open their presents and go wild at the Lions Tigers & Bears Holiday Open House.

Bears don’t know it’s Christmas, of course. But that doesn’t hinder the holiday fun at Lions Tigers & Bears sanctuary in Alpine, where their human friends are putting on a celebration. Watch the rescued bears and big cats open their presents and go wild at the Holiday Open House. Food trucks, music, and Santa Claus make appearances. Tickets $50 ($25 for members). Upgrade to VIP tickets ($150 non-member/$125 member) for a holiday drink and “Feed with a Keeper” up-close experience. Saturday, December 14, 12-4 pm.

Don your ugly sweater, flip-flops, and trucker hat for SoCal Christmas, this year’s theme for downtown Vista’s annual holiday fair. Winterfest features a tree lighting, vendors selling local food and handmade goods, holiday movies, kid crafts, music and live entertainment. Santa Claus will meet his fans. Catch the roaming mariachis and participate in the homemade tamales contest. Prize for the ugliest sweater, too. Main Street merchants compete for the best storefront decorations. Grab a brew, take a stroll and check out the festive decor. Sunday, December 8, 2-7 pm. Free.

Larger-than-life nutcrackers and horse-drawn carriage rides set the stage for Little Italy’s all-decked-out Christmas Village, debuting on Saturday, December 7 from 4-8 pm. Shop seasonal vendors at the Christmas Mercato or stop by for a kids craft with ArtReach. Starting at 6:30, gather in the Piazza della Famiglia (West Date and India) for a countdown to lighting of the 25-foot live tree. Meet Santa in front of Influx from 4-6 pm, and bring an unwrapped gift for the toy drive. Bonus: a new custom tree dazzles at Piazza Basilone (West Fir and India) a block north. Yes, that’s two trees. Free event.

—Leorah Gavidor

  • San Diego Gulls — Snow Globe Giveaway
  • 3500 Sports Arena Boulevard
  • Sports Arena

The Gulls, San Diego’s professional hockey team, play from October through April at the Pechanga Arena. Tickets start at $25, and even the cheap seats are close enough to hear skates shredding the ice and feel the thunder of players bashing against boards. It’s not just beers and brawn, though. Possibly more exciting than the game itself is seeing kids’ faces light up as they cheer from the stands. The December 21 home game promises a winter wonderland theme night, including a snow globe giveaway. The night will also celebrate the season of giving with a toy drive benefiting Rady Children’s Hospital and the Ronald McDonald House.

Seeing holiday lights intricately woven throughout the beautiful Encinitas Botanic Garden makes it all the more breathtaking.

Seeing holiday lights intricately woven throughout the beautiful Encinitas Botanic Garden makes it all the more breathtaking.

Photograph by John Bryant

Holiday lights are undoubtedly part of what makes this season feel magical. Seeing them intricately woven throughout the beautiful Botanic Garden makes it all the more breathtaking. Picture this: gazing at thousands of twinkling lights as you stroll past a ten-foot poinsettia tower, sipping hot chocolate and cider. Could it get more festive? There’s lots of fun for the kiddos, including facepainting and crafts, a play area with real snow, and photo ops with Santa. But there’s also a Beer, Wine & Mulled Wine Garden, plus nightly entertainment and a Mistletoe Hideaway for all you holiday lovebirds out there.

The SoNo Fest & Chili Cook-Off marks the start of the season when the temperature has finally cooled enough to eat hot chili.

The SoNo Fest & Chili Cook-Off marks the start of the season when the temperature has finally cooled enough to eat hot chili.

Photograph by Simon Yee

For me, the Chili Cook-Off marks the start of the season when the temperature has finally cooled enough to eat hot chili. There’s something whimsical about getting to sample delicious and never-to-be-seen again chili recipes specially made for the occasion. As a feel-good bonus, all proceeds benefit the nearby McKinley Elementary School’s Spanish, arts, music, and gardening programs. Go early enough to get a keepsake handmade ceramic taster bowl before they run out. When you’ve had all the chili you can handle, get a jump on holiday shopping from some of the local vendors. Or watch live bands such as the Creepy Creeps who, if we’re lucky, will make their appearance wearing trademark monster masks met with Santa suits. ‘Tis the season, after all.

The chorus’s upcoming holiday show will feature 200 singers, dancers, and musicians delivering an evening full of new and traditional arrangements. One set will have the audience giggling at silly skits, the next will bring down the house with songs sung by the awesome assemblage of basses and tenors. Get tickets quickly because they expect to sell out all three “fun and frolicking” shows. December 7 and 8.

It’s officially socially acceptable to start watching your favorite holiday films, so go big and make a movie night of it. Get snuggled up with blankets under the stars and watch beloved seasonal classics on the big screen as they deserve to be seen. Rooftop Cinema Club, on 4th Floor Sport Terrace of the Hyatt’s Harbor Tower, will be showing the hits all month with special family nights and even a pet-friendly “wooftop” screening. They’re also hosting 12 Days of Giving, during which you can drop something in the donation box to help people experiencing homelessness. Tickets start at $17 for a lounge seat, or upgrade to a loveseat and add bottomless popcorn. Family screenings are open to ages 3 and up, and tickets are only $12 for guests 17 or younger.

– Samantha St. Pierre

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