Finest Holiday Traditions in San Diego

San Diego’s holiday festivities are not to be missed.



Balboa Park December Nights

Other cities may have their traditions, but America’s Finest City has mastered the art of holiday cheer. It sweeps into this town like a dance troupe, spreading joy and nostalgia through traditions that locals have enjoyed for decades.

An American treasure dear to the heart of San Diego is the Hotel Del Coronado (hoteldel.com). Setting the stage of holiday enchantment since 1888, it has been providing a gorgeous holiday display and host of activities not to be missed.

New York’s Rockefeller Center has nothing on Skating by the Sea, a picturesque ice-skating rink set up just steps from the waves on the Windsor Lawn. Through Jan. 1, skaters can enjoy the unique experience of spinning on the ice while enjoying a breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean. Even better, a portion of the proceeds benefit Make-A-Wish Foundation.

SKATING BY THE SEA Hotel Del FINE magazine
Shown above: Skating by the sea at Hotel Del Coronado

And reserve your seats now for Hotel Del’s spectacular production of “An American Christmas,” an interactive dinner decked with all the trimmings that whisks you away to Christmas past. The Marshall family—portrayed by 25 performers who never miss a beat—welcome guests to a lavish yuletide feast set in the year 1911. Held from Dec. 17 to 24, this performance is presented by the Lamb’s Players Theatre, whose playhouse is just down the street from the hotel.

Head over to Balboa Park (balboapark.org) for December Nights, an event that attracts nearly 300,000 visitors each year. Held on Dec. 7 and 8 from 5 to 10 p.m., this free event is one of San Diego’s greatest legacies. Experience an elaborate holiday festival of music, arts and entertainment in the crisp night air. Participating Balboa Park museums open their doors free of charge. Guests can taste scrumptious foods from around the world and experience international traditions such as the Santa Lucia Procession at the San Diego Museum of Man. Visit the Casa del Prado Theatre to see excerpts from “The Nutcracker,” performed by the San Diego Civic Youth Ballet, or feast your eyes on the exquisite Christmas tree displays of Schlappi Christmas ornaments at the Timken Museum. Or simply stroll through the grounds, visiting the charming gift shops at the museum stores and the talented artisans of the Spanish Village.

SAN DIEGO BAY PARADE OF LIGHTS fine magazine
Shown above: The San DIego Bay Parade of Lights

Balboa Park is also home to the renowned Old Globe theater (theoldglobe.org), which brings the whimsical Christmas story “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” to life. Now in its 15th year, this delightful production animates the original storybook with a bewitching cast of enchanting characters, quirky costumes and spectacular sets. With performances through Dec. 29, this show is perfect for children over 3 years old—and the 11 a.m. matinee production is open to all ages.

A time-honored tradition of the boating community is the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights (sdparadeoflights.org), where more than 80 boats parade around the bay. On Dec. 9 and 16, enjoy boasts lavishly decorated around these year’s theme: “Our 41st Anniversary, USS Santa Claus.” Sunset kicks off the event with fireworks from the San Diego Bay Embarcadero.

HORIZON NORTH COUNTY LIVING NATIVITY fine magazine
Shown above: Horizon North County Living Nativity

A memorable experience for the whole family is the Living Nativity created by the Horizon Christian Fellowship in Rancho Santa Fe (horizon.org). Enjoy a guided tour of a Bethlehem village where nine scenes from the life of Jesus are artfully staged and reenacted. Historical details such as live goats and camels will bring to life the remarkable stories of the first Christmas. Sample delicious treats from the Mediterranean marketplace, play games or make crafts from the time period, or ride a camel. More than 900 volunteers participate to make this an incredible production for the two weekends before Christmas.

There are many other local traditions to take in—all of which support our city. Support the arts this season by taking in a performance of “The Nutcracker” by the San Diego Ballet (sandiegoballet.org) or another local troupe. Discover unique gifts made by local artists and artisans, or make your own art memories with your loved ones. Take a stroll with your family on the many pristine San Diego beaches and capture a December sunset. Share a meal and laugh with friends, or donate time or resources to your favorite charity. And take time to express love and gratitude this holiday season towards those who serve in our military and their families.

There are so many ways to celebrate our finest traditions this holiday season. As Augusta E. Randal beautifully expressed, the holidays are “that magic blanket that wraps about us, that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance... Always it will be a day of remembrance—a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved.”