Everything Fun You Can Do in San Diego This Weekend

See Little Italy light up, chow down on chili, celebrate National Bartenders Day, and more.

SoNo Fest and Chili Cook-Off
Photo courtesy of SoNo Fest and Chili Cook-Off

Unless you’ve been in a turkey-induced coma all week, you’ve probably noticed that San Diego has caught a major case of holiday cheer. This weekend’s events include the return of December Nights to Balboa Park, a chili throwdown in North Park, and the chance to celebrate San Diego’s unsung heroes, our beloved bartenders. Here’s everything you can eat, drink, and do in San Diego this weekend, but you can spread cheer by helping others, too.

Friday, December 2–Sunday, December 4
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. Bright animals, laser lighting, fire pits, and strolling musicians will be on hand nightly, and food concessions will have adult and non-alcoholic beverages and food available for purchase. The gardens will also be open nightly beginning December 8 through January 1, 2023, except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Reservations are required and can be made online.
Cost: Non-members: $29 for adults, $18 for children; Members: $26 for adults, $15 for children. Other costs vary.

Friday, December 2
Various locations
Friday is National Bartender Day, so show your appreciation to the person who remembers what style of beer you like, mixes the perfect Aviation, and nods sympathetically when you complain about the boss yet again. It’s also a great opportunity to taste one of the seasonal cocktails that are popping up on menus all over town, like The Deck at Moonshine Flats’ White Christmas Marg (tequila, cream of coconut, triple sec, lime juice topped with soda water and a red sugar rim) or Grinch Stole Christmas, (vodka, rum, melon liqueur, pineapple juice topped with sprite and a red sugar rim). The Presley in Liberty Station features a trio of boozy riffs on the traditional treats you might leave out for Santa—Santa’s Cookies Martini is crafted with vanilla vodka, amaretto, half and half, frosting, and sprinkles; the Holly Berry Sour, with bourbon, cranberry juice, vanilla chai simple syrup, and lemon juice; and the North Pole Shot, with peppermint schnapps, crème de cacao, and whipped cream. And speaking of popping, Parq Nightclub transforms into “Santa’s Lair”, and Nason’s Beer Hall collaborates with Tipsy Elves for two holiday-themed pop-ups that include festive libations with quirky names like Not My Buttons, Havana Christmas,Tipsy and Toasted, and Breakfast at Tipsy's. Wherever you end up, spread good cheer with generous tips.
Cost: Varies

Friday, December 2–Saturday, December 3
Balboa Park
Balboa Park shows off its holiday finery at December Nights, a free, family-friendly, two-day event that features thousands of twinkling lights, live music, food, and free admission to select museums, exhibitions, and entertainment both days from 5–9 pm. Balboa Park is also teaming up with PATH San Diego and San Diego Gas & Electric for a Sock Drive to benefit unhoused San Diegans. December Nights attendees can drop off new, unworn socks at the SDG&E booth during the December Nights festivities—just look for the all-electric SDG&E truck. Pro tip: December Nights attracts more than 350,000 holiday revelers over two days, so streamline your visit with their handy transportation/parking info, food and beverage guide, and live entertainment lineup.
Cost: Free to enter, other costs vary.

Friday, December 2–Friday, 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 happenings. Reservations are required, and accessible tours are available by calling 619-298-8687, option #0, at least 24 hours in advance.
Cost: $30 for adults, $25 for children 4-12, children ages three and under are free (on an adult’s lap).

Saturday, December 3
Little Italy
Little Italy’s holiday transformation is always a must-see, from twinkling lights lining the streets and lustrous kinetic trees to the gigantic gold nutcrackers standing at attention. Two trees deck the halls, starting with the Aurora Tree at Piazza Basilone. Designed by California artist Joshua Hubert, its iridescent colors shift and change as you walk around it. There’s also a permanent, live, 30-foot-tall tree at Piazza della Famiglia, which lights up for the season at 6:30 pm. Santa Claus returns to hear all your holiday wishes, alongside live music and entertainment, and the Christmas Village is on hand at India Street between West Cedar and West Grape Streets, with one-of-a-kind stocking stuffers and other holiday gifts from artisan vendors.
Cost: Free

Saturday, December 3–Sunday, December 4
The 2022 Makers Arcade Holiday Fair features more than 100 artisans showing their beautifully handcrafted gifts and goodies at the Broadway Pier this weekend. There’s also craft cocktails, beer, gourmet food trucks, live music, photo trailers, styled lounges, door favors, and make-and-take stations, making this the most fun shopping event of the season. A new Merch Package includes general admission and your choice of a Makers Arcade canvas hat or ceramic mug and the new VIP Package includes general admission, front-of-the-line entry, a swag bag with handmade goods and treats from vendors and sponsors, and a drink ticket for any one item at the bar. Purchase tickets online or at the door.
Cost: $6 online, $7 at the door for general admission. $25 for the Merch Package and $50 for the VIP Package.

Sunday, December 4
North Park
Get into the holiday spirit at North Park favorite Louisiana Purchase and their Breakfast With Black Santa Kick Off this Sunday from 10 am–12 pm, followed by photos with Santa from 12 pm–2 pm. Renowned Chef Quinnton “Q” Austin will share delicious NOLA-inspired bites you can pair with refreshing brunch cocktails. Can’t make it this Sunday? No worries, this is just the first of their Black Santa series—photo ops will also be available on Sunday, December 11 and Sunday, December 18 from 2–5 pm. Call 619-396-2316 to make a reservation.
Cost: Varies

Sunday, December 4
North Park
The 12th Annual SoNo Fest & Chili Cook-Off features more than two dozen local restaurants throwing down their best bowls of hot, hearty chili. Three options are available: you can purchase a handmade ceramic bowl and tasting pass at San Diego Ceramic Connection at 32nd & Thorn for $25 on Friday, December 2, Saturday, December 3, or Sunday, December 4; or buy tickets online before the event and get a SoNo logo mug and tasting pass for $25 or a Bring Your Own Mug (BYOM) Tasting ticket for $22; or live dangerously and get tickets at the door while they last. Enjoy libations from brewers, cider makers, and vintners in a block-long beverage garden before heading to the two stages presenting local bands, a kids' fest with carnival games and bounce houses, local artisan vendors, and a food truck court. All proceeds benefit McKinley Elementary School's Spanish, Arts, Music, and Gardening programs. Get the FAQs online.
Cost: $22-$25

Sunday, December 4
Carmel Mountain
There’s no better way to end the weekend than relaxing with your dog and quaffing a cold one. Second Chance Beer Company, one of San Diego’s most dog-friendly breweries, has your back with a Pawliday Market this Sunday from noon until 4 pm. Besides beer specials, including Frosty The Hazeman IPA, there’s dog adoptions from Second Chance Dog Rescue, Erin Wiese Photo and Puppy Picnic Co. will be on hand for holiday photo opps, and more than a dozen local vendors will be selling unique gifts for all the pups in your life. VIP tickets include a ten-minute photo sesh, a drink ticket, and a swag bag, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting Second Chance Dog Rescue.
Cost: Free to enter. VIP tickets are $150.

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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 stuff, reading cookbooks, and drinking fabulous gin. Keep up with her experiments on Twitter.