Best Things to Do in December in San Diego

10 Best Holiday Attractions in San Diego

Don't shovel snow, come to San Diego! It may come as no surprise that December in San Diego is quite pleasant with the sun typically shining through slightly-crisp air. People still go to the beach and wear shorts while local attractions spread holiday cheer with special decor and events.

Combining the best of both worlds, we actually can ice skate just steps away from the beach. Hotel Del Coronado's Skating by the Sea is an experience that can't be had in many other places around the world. Cap the experience off by visiting their famous Christmas tree or dining at one of the hotel's many top-notch restaurants.

The San Diego Zoo turns into a winter wonderland during Jungle Bells, a three week holiday event starting on December 14, 2018. With a nightly tree lighting ceremony, opportunities to greet Santa and even a spot of man-made snow, this family event is incredibly popular.

Or, take part in Holiday Bowl festivities including the famous Big Bay Balloon parade where gigantic balloons float in the sky in celebration of the famous football game. It is America's largest balloon parade, after all.

If your travels bring you to San Diego during the holidays or if you live here and are looking for things to do, definitely have a look at this list.


The Gaslamp Pet Parade steps off promptly at 2:00 p.m. from under the iconic Gaslamp Archway. It continues up Fifth Avenue takes a left at E street and down Fourth Avenue ending at MLK Promenade Park for the Pet Expo, free and open to the public from 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Here, festively-attired critters will compete for bragging rights and prizes in various contest categories. Guests will also get to enjoy live music and special pet presentations. You can also register your pet to walk in the parade. The first 350 Pet Paraders to register will receive a complimentary goodie bag filled with pet-related products and special offers from Gaslamp Quarter businesses.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: There are more pets than you can imagine dressed up in holiday wear and other costumes. It's fun for the entire family!

Katie's expert tip: The best vantage points for the Pet Parade are along 4th & 5th Avenues between E and K Street from 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. (arrive early to peruse the Pet Expo and guarantee a great spot to watch the parade).

Read more about Gaslamp Pet Parade →

Located in the city's lovely Balboa Park and reported to be the oldest professional theater in the state, this venue is made in the image of Shakespeare's Globe Theater and includes 581 seats. Season after season the Old Globe delights patrons with excellent renditions of both old standbys and up-and-coming modern selections. The annual performance of "Dr. Seuss's The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" brings the famous Dr. Seuss book to life on stage as the Old Globe is transformed into a snow-covered Whoville. It is an incredibly well-done performance with matinees during the day for younger kids. Be sure to explore the park afterward!

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Attending "Dr. Seuss's How The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" is an annual tradition for many San Diegans.

Katie's expert tip: Did you know that Dr. Seuss was a resident of La Jolla?

Read more about Old Globe Theatre →

The Holiday Bowl is a post-season NCAA college football game featuring top teams from the Pac 12 and Big 12 that has been played at SDCCU Stadium since 1978. As this bowl game is a big draw for tourists, there are other activities related to the event to enjoy such as the Big Bay Balloon Parade. Game goers can buy special Holiday Bowl travel packages that include airfare and hotels. And, there's a special VIP tailgate party in addition to a pre-game party with food trucks and an interactive college football experience. This year, the game kicks off at 4:00 p.m. on December 31.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The Holiday Bowl college football game will feature the Washington State Cougars and Michigan State Spartans.

Katie's expert tip: Remember that the San Diego trolley stops at SDCCU Stadium, making downtown hotels an option for fans.

Read more about Holiday Bowl →


When you purchase a home in certain neighborhoods, there is an unwritten rule that holiday decorations are a must. And, we're not talking a strand of lights here and there. It means going all out with elaborate displays intended to be enjoyed by the community. Sure, it's a lot of effort but San Diegans drive across the county take walks through Garrison Street in Point Loma, Candy Cane Lane in Poway, Christmas Card Lane in Rancho Penasquitos, Belardo Lights in Tierrasanta along with dozens of others. Some displays are in tune to Christmas music played on local radio while others offer hay rides and hot chocolate.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Put on by local residents, these displays are a fun way to support local neighborhoods.

Katie's expert tip: Some guests opt to drive slowly through the neighborhoods while others like to get out and walk. Either is okay!

Read more about Neighborhood Holiday Lights →

The parade and holiday festival draws over 25,000 people a year to downtown La Jolla. This year's parade is shaping up to be the best ever with over 100 entries, including beauty queens in vintage vehicles, a dozen bands, 60 equestrians and several thousand kids marching in various groups (Girl Scouts, Brownies, Gymnastics, Boy and Cub Scouts, school marching bands and color guards). Registration for the parade, which is open to all at no cost, is complete and the lineup will be posted on the website the week before the parade. The parade starts at Girard Avenue and Kline Street and heads toward the beach. It always ends with a family festival, which this year is on Wall Street.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The parade is well-done, free for the community to enter and watch, and a great way to get into the holiday spirit.

Katie's expert tip: Kids will go crazy for the family festival at the end of the parade route.

Read more about La Jolla Christmas Parade →

Boats of all shapes and sizes cruise the bay totally decked out in elaborate holiday lights and other decor. Over 80 boats participate in this annual event sponsored by the Port of San Diego, which is held over two consecutive Sundays in December (the 9th and 16th in 2018). The Parade route starts at Shelter Island and drives past Harbor Island, the Embarcadero, Seaport Village, and Ferry Landing in Coronado. The parade starts at 5:00 p.m., lasts for about an hour to 90 minutes. You can watch from a variety of free places along the route. The parade theme this year is "Tropical Island Christmas."

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: It's possible to view the boat parade from a variety of places around San Diego and is a beloved annual event.

Katie's expert tip: Consider watching from the comfort of your hotel room at the Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina or one of the bayfront restaurants.

Read more about San Diego Bay Parade of Lights →

This amazing parade occurs in downtown San Diego as a part of the Holiday Bowl festivities. Over 100,000 spectators gather to watch world-class marching bands, magnificent floats, entertaining drill teams, and a procession of enormous balloons that is also televised nationwide. The day begins with the Solar Turbines 5K. The parade starts near the County Administration building on Harbor Drive and runs south to Seaport Village. The good news is that because the balloons are enormous and floating in the sky, it's easy to see the parade from a variety of vantage points. Or, volunteer to be a balloon handler.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: It's touted as America's largest balloon parade and is quite a spectacle to watch!

Katie's expert tip: Parade grandstand tickets offer the best seats on the route for $25 per person purchased on the day.

Read more about Port of San Diego Holiday Bowl Parade →

Located in the Central area of San Diego, Balboa Park draws crowds to its December celebration that features lights, carolers, bands food from around the globe, music, theatrical performances, dancing, and vendors selling handmade crafts. You might even get a chance to snap a picture with Santa Claus himself. The event lasts for two nights during the first Friday and Saturday of December. Another plus is that area museums suspend their admission fee during December Nights, which is usually from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Almost 300,000 people attend this festive event each year. Admission to the event is free.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The December Nights holiday festival is an alternative way to experience the nation's largest urban cultural park.

Katie's expert tip: Participating museums waive admission fees during December Nights.

Read more about Balboa Park December Nights →

San Diego Zoo
Photo courtesy of Joanne DiBona

A trip to San Diego isn't complete without a visit to the world-famous San Diego Zoo. During the holidays is a particularly festive time to go. The annual Jungle Bells event offers holiday-themed animal experiences, holiday-themed entertainment, holiday treats and a nightly tree lighting ceremony. Among other special events, a tractor-pulled trolley drives guests around the Zoo in the evening to see the holiday lights. Even Santa makes an appearance. Located in Balboa Park on 100 acres, the Zoo is home to more than 4,000 animals and 800 species, many of them rare or endangered. Jungle Bells runs for three weeks, ending at 8:00 p.m. each evening (with the exception of Christmas Eve when the Zoo closes at 5:00 p.m.).

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Jungle Bells provides a festive opportunity to view the animals at night amid a number of special holiday activities.

Katie's expert tip: The Zoo is also a great place to do some holiday shopping.

Read more about San Diego Zoo →

The Hotel Del Coronado presents a full line-up of holiday activities including Skating by the Sea, the renowned ice-skating rink overlooking the Pacific Ocean. This spectacular rink is located on the Windsor Lawn, and features stunning views of Coronado beach. Skating sessions will be offered daily from Thanksgiving day through January 1, 2019 with a portion of the proceeds benefitting the Make-A-Wish Foundation® of San Diego. This year it will also feature a rink-side lounge and an opportunity to skate with Tara Lipinski on December 15. Be sure to check the hotel's full line-up of holiday events including the annual Victorian Tea and brunch with Santa.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: An ice rink just steps from the beach is a one-of-a-kind, Southern California holiday experience.

Katie's expert tip: Skate off calories after Sunday brunch with Santa in the Crown Room.

Read more about Skating by the Sea at Hotel Del Coronado →


Meet Katie Dillon

Katie Dillon originally moved to the seaside community of La Jolla to attend UC San Diego. When the opportunity presented itself, she and her husband set off for a 7 year stint overseas as...  More About Katie