The Most Festive Things to Do in San Diego This Holiday Season

Spread cheer at a distance.

Enchanted Village
Photo courtesy of Enchanted Village

It’s holiday season in San Diego, and while some of our favorite events won’t be taking place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the spirit of the season lives on with safe, socially distanced celebrations you can walk through, drive through and enjoy from the comfort of your car. In fact, there are so many festivals that it can be hard to decide what to spend your hard-earned money on. Not to worry, we’ve gathered the best experiences to help you plan your holiday fun accordingly. Happy holidays, San Diego!

Hotel Del Coronado santa photos
Photo courtesy of Hotel Del Coronado

Thursday, November 26-Thursday, December 31
Hotel Del Coronado
Holidays at the Del are always magical, and this year they’ve transformed the beachfront Windsor Lawn into a winter wonderland of sparkling lights, enormous decorated trees, and snowy surprises. Socially distanced photos with Santa will be available on select days, along with sips and treats at the Frostbite Bar, and craft kits like cookies, snow globes, and ornament decorating. 
Cost: Varies with activity.

Wednesday, December 2-Wednesday, December 30 (select dates)
San Diego Botanic Garden
Wander through 37 acres of illuminated plant collections and garden areas, including the Dickinson Family Education Conservatory, the Rainforest, the Lawn Garden, and more at San Diego Botanic Garden’s Botanic Wonderland. Lighted animals, laser lighting, fire pits, and strolling musicians will be on hand nightly, and hot beverages and food will be available for purchase. Reservations are required and can be made online
Cost: Non-members: $18 for adults, $10 for children; Members: $10 for adults, $7 for children

San Diego Trolley Tours
Photo courtesy of San Diego Trolley Tours

Thursday, December 3-Wednesday, December 30 (except Christmas Day)
Old Town Trolley Tours
Sit back and let your elf conductor take you on a tour of the best holiday sights on Old Town Trolley’s Holiday Lights & Sights Tour. You’ll see the festive lights of Old Town, Embarcadero, and Balboa Park on your 75 minute ride, including a 15-minute stop at Seaport Village for holiday festivities. Reservations are required, and accessible tours are available by calling 619-298-8687, option #0, at least 24 hours in advance.
Cost: $25, children ages three and under are free (on an adult’s lap)

December Nights Balboa Park
Photo courtesy of December Nights Balboa Park

Friday, December 4-Sunday, December 6
Balboa Park
December Nights in Balboa Park has been a holiday tradition for more than 40 years, attracting more than 350,000 revelers to the park’s stunning displays. In order to keep the winning streak going in the age of COVID-19, the event has been transformed into Taste of December Nights, featuring 20 favorite vendors and food trucks from past December Nights. The drive-thru event at the Inspiration Point parking lot allows you to order and pick up your favorite food offerings from the safety of your car. The first 500 cars to arrive each day will score a Taste of December Nights tote filled with cool stuff, and daily giveaways include tickets to the park’s most popular venues, Padres swag, and more. 
Cost: Varies

Saturday, December 5-Saturday, January 2
Del Mar Fairgrounds
Experience a magical evening, filled with amazing light displays, holograms and projection mapping at Holidays In Your Car at Del Mar Fairgrounds. Featuring over one million lights, 40 foot displays and high-end projectors casting computer-generated images onto sets, arches, and surfaces, you’ll be able to enjoy the spectacular show from the safety of your own vehicle while respecting social distance rules. Ticket prices are good for one car and as many people as there are seat belts in your vehicle. Reservations can be made online.
Cost: $49-64

the grinch
Photo courtesy of Old Globe Theatre

Various dates
Old Globe Theatre
The Old Globe Theatre has hosted a delightful production of Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas! forever, and they weren't going to let COVID-19 spoil the season. This year, they’ve gone to the airwaves with free, audio-only performances on Saturday, December 5, Sunday, December 20, and Thursday, December 24 via KPBS Radio 89.5 FM, on the KPBS website and app, and on smart speakers. You’ll be able to sing along with “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and all your other favorite songs, so pour the hot chocolate and celebrate the holidays with everyone’s favorite humbug.
Cost: Free

Lions, Tigers and Bears Animal Sanctuary
Photo courtesy of Lions, Tigers and Bears Animal Sanctuary

Saturday, December 12 
Lions, Tigers and Bears Animal Sanctuary
For an unexpected twist on the holidays, take a worry-free guided walk through Lions, Tigers and Bears, San Diego’s only accredited big cat and bear sanctuary, and watch rescued exotic animals open their presents, splash around in their pools, and play with their brothers and sisters. Guidelines will be enforced to ensure a safe visit for guests and animals alike and proceeds benefit the rescued animals, providing food, enrichment, habitat maintenance, veterinary care, and more. 
Cost: Members: $40 for adults and $15 for kids. Non-members: $60 for adults and $25 for kids.

Enchanted Village
Photo courtesy of Enchanted Village

Friday, December 18-Wednesday, December 23
Lemon Grove
Noah Homes’ annual Enchanted Village returns for its third year, this time with modifications for safe, socially distanced viewing. You’ll experience over 500,000 lights, interactive displays, and fun attractions from the safety of your vehicle. The event begins at Steele Canyon High School and bends its way through a winter wonderland that includes a drive-thru candy cane light tunnel, an 18-foot Christmas tree, holiday celebrities like Buddy the Elf, plus themed zones like Holiday Under the Sea and Candyland. Proceeds support the residents of Noah Homes, a nonprofit that provides housing, services, and advocacy for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Reserve your time slot online.
Cost: $65 per vehicle

Monday, December 14
Del Mar Fairgrounds
Chabad of East County invites you to their Chanukah Spectacular, with a concert performance by Isreali pop star Gad Elbaz, all from the comfort of your car. The event includes a Grand Menorah lighting, Chanukah gifts for everyone, musical performances, and more. Bring your own food and beverages or purchase them at the venue. Reserve your spot online.
Cost: $99 per vehicle for general admission, and up to $1800, depending on your level of VIPness.

Watch The Nutcracker from your car

Saturday, December 19
Del Mar Fairgrounds
Watch a live performance while staying warm and cozy in your car with City Ballet’s 26th annual production of the holiday favorite, The Nutcracker. Aided by a visual light show, multimedia entertainment and video screens, and the combination of an extra high 360 degree stage and screens, it’s guaranteed to be a great viewing experience for everyone. Reservations are required for the  two performances, at 5pm and 8pm. Your ticket is good for one car, and are offered on a first-come, first-parked basis.
Cost: $99-279

Saturday, December 12-Friday, December 25
We’ll miss seeing several thousand Santas running down Garnet Street, but you can still run the San Diego Santa 5K Run anytime, anywhere this year, as the most festive race of the season goes virtual. You’ll still score the highly sought after Sunny Santa Suit to wear, including a short sleeved jacket, shorts, hat, belt, beard and, of course, sunglasses, plus the opportunity to purchase additional swag like candy cane socks and t-shirts. 
Cost: $45, plus $10 shipping if you want it delivered to your home.

Hornblower Cruises & Events San Diego
Hornblower Cruises & Events San Diego

Thursday, December 31
Hornblower Cruises
Give 2020 the send-off it deserves on board Hornblower’s luxurious New Year’s Eve Gala Dinner Cruise or VIP New Year’s Eve Dinner Cruise. Both options include a 3-hour cruise around San Diego Bay, with spectacular 360 degree views of the glittering skyline, bottomless bubbly or sparkling cider, private tables and DJ entertainment, plus free wifi so you can post your pics while you cruise! The Gala Cruise features a decadent assisted buffet dinner, while the VIP Cruise spoils you with a 5-course seated dinner, a top shelf open bar, souvenir champagne flutes and complementary truffles. Not into late night celebrating? They also have a New Year’s Eve Sunset Dinner Cruise, a New Year’s Eve Brunch Cruise and a New Year’s Day Brunch Cruise
Cost: $139 for the Gala Cruise, $199 for the VIP Cruise, $114.95 for the Sunset Cruise, $75 for the Brunch Cruises

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Mary Beth Abate is a San Diego-based freelance writer by way of Chicago and Los Angeles. Her hobbies include yoga, pickling and fermenting various vegetables and beverages, reading cookbooks and traveling around Mexico. Keep up with her experiments @MaryBeth_Abate.