11 Things To Do For The Holidays That Are Uniquely San Diego

While the holiday season in San Diego may not be your typical winter wonderland, there’s plenty of festive fun to be had in our little slice of paradise.

Embrace the opportunity to enjoy these must-do San Diego holiday experiences.

Ice Skating on the Beach at the Hotel del Coronado

Every year, an ice rink pops up just steps from the Pacific Ocean at the Hotel del Coronado. You can literally glide across the ice and then walk across the sand and dip your toes in the water afterward. Thanks to the mild weather, you may even be able to leave your jackets and scarves at home, which you definitely can’t say at most ice skating rinks.

Skating by the Sea is open daily through January 5. The cost is $30 per person if purchased online and $35 at the rink; both prices include skate rental. Upgrade your experience by reserving a private rink-side lounge for 90 minutes at Frostbite for four ($200) or six people ($250) with a cozy fire pit as well as food and beverage service.

Parade of Lights on the San Diego Bay

When you have a body of water as beautiful as the San Diego Bay on your doorstep, you have to incorporate it into your holiday tradition. For 48 years, the waterfront has hosted the Parade of Lights with viewing locations at Seaport Village, the Embarcadero and Coronado Ferry Landing, among others. Watch as about 80 boats light up the bay with their creative displays of holiday lights highlighting this year’s theme, Comic-Con on the Bay, on December 8 and 15.

Winter Wonderland at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar

For the second year, the Fairmont Grand Del Mar has been transformed into a Winter Wonderland that is open to the public. The stunning resort is the perfect setting to take a whimsical ride on a Ferris wheel or carousel, snap a selfie with Santa around a festive 25-foot tree, and snack on s’mores by the fire. And for the first time, this year’s Winter Wonderland includes a 5,000 square-foot ice skating rink!

Holiday Pet Parade in the Gaslamp District

It’s not just humans who get into the holiday spirit in San Diego. As a super pet-friendly city, our canine companions and an assortment of other furry, feathered and scaly friends join the festivities with the annual free holiday pet parade in the Gaslamp on December 15. Animals of all shapes and sizes show off their finest holiday fashions as they march through the downtown streets starting at 2 pm. If you’d like to participate with your pet, it’s just $15 for registration if you sign up in advance ($20 day of the event)!

See the Christmas Lights in San Diego Neighborhoods

Sure, you can see holiday lights in neighborhoods all over the country but San Diego is home to a few must-see streets of colorful displays. Where to see the best Christmas lights in San Diego? Some of the hot spots that locals love include Candy Cane Lane in Poway, Christmas Card Lane in Rancho Penasquitos and Garrison Street in Point Loma.

Sleigh Rides & Sledding at San Diego Botanic Gardens

After the sun goes down, the San Diego Botanic Garden is transformed into a dazzling winter wonderland, with over 125,000 sparkling lights illuminating the Garden for a magical holiday experience!

Festive holiday activities abound including visits with Santa (on select nights), a musical light show with nightly “snowfall,” a twinkling light tunnel, hot mulled wine and a food truck court. The Botanic Wonderland is open most days through December 30 (closed 9th , 16th, 24th and 25th) from 5 to 8:30 PM. Prices range from $10 to $25 for adults depending on the day and whether you’re a San Diego Botanic Garden member.

Holiday Bowl Parade

Keep the holiday festivities rolling after Christmas by planning a trip downtown to see this colorful parade of the largest collection of massive balloons in the country. The parade precedes the Holiday Bowl, which features yet-to-be-determined teams from the Big Ten and Pac-12. While the game kicks off at 5 pm on December 27 at SDCCU Stadium, the free parade will be held on December 26 at 3 pm in downtown.

Watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas At The Old Globe

It’s not Christmas without the Grinch and the Whos down in Whoville! Get your fix of this classic Christmas story at the Old Globe Theatre through December 29. Tickets range in price but you can view some of the festive Whoville decorations outside the Balboa Park theater for free.

Celebrate Las Posadas in Old Town

Enjoy a traditional Christmas celebration in Old Town with Las Posadas on December 14. For 68 years, this event has recreated the story of Mary and Joseph’s journey into Bethlehem. Visit Old Town for shopping and entertainment starting at noon, watch the procession starting at 5 pm and stick around for a piñata, campfire and smores in the Plaza until 8 pm.

Stroll Little Italy

Little Italy knows how to celebrate the holidays! The whole neighborhood is decorated, lit up, and in a festive mood! Head down there in the evening without a plan and just enjoy the scene. Stop at the Piazza for a hot toddy and some of the best people-watching in town, then pick one of the amazing restaurants for dinner. You can’t go wrong!

Ice Skating and Strolling Through Liberty Station

Liberty Station is a San Diego gem, and it shines bright during the holidays. The Rady’s Ice Skating Rink is open for business through January 5, the giant 88-foot Norfolk Pine tree is decorated for Christmas, and there is plenty of shopping and food to enjoy in the Market.

Bonus: Support Your Neighborhood Bar!

San Diego’s bars are decked out for the holidays – just take a look at the Sippin’ Santa pop-up at the Grass Skirt or Miracle on 30th Street pop-up at Polite Provisions to see what we mean! Let’s make sure to show them our support! Stop in a for a holiday drink (or three!) at your favorite and leave an extra tip for your favorite member of the hospitality industry that is so important to life here in San Diego!

Make Your Plans!

You know the holiday season is going to fly by in the blink of an eye, so be sure to put these San Diego holiday must-do’s on your calendar now!

See you there!