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From traditional holiday parades and festivals to the migration of California gray whales along the Pacific coast, a visit to San Diego during the winter offers a wealth of free, fun and festive experiences. Visitors to the region can escape overcast skies and the wintry cold for San Diego's brilliant sunshine and temperate climate and enjoy diverse wintertime experiences, with a Southern California twist.

The following suggestions for free activities and events are sure to capture the imagination and lift the spirits of visitors to San Diego during the holiday season (organized roughly by occurrence):

  1. Witness a tradition that began as a gift to the children of San Diego in 1947 - the annual Mother Goose Parade in the East County city of El Cajon. One of the biggest parades of its kind in the country and the largest single-day event in San Diego County, the parade features floats, clowns, Santa Claus, marching bands, equestrian teams and celebrity appearances.
    Date: November 21, 2015
  2. Head over to Seaport Village for the festive Surfin' Santa Arrival in November. Hang-ten with Santa and enjoy a lively parade along the Seaport Village boardwalk, live music, stilt walkers, kid's crafts and photo opportunities of your family and friends surfing with Santa.
    Date: November 28, 2015
  3. Julian's Country Christmas and Tree Lighting kicks off the holiday season with the annual lighting of the town's huge living Christmas tree, drawing hundreds of visitors who gather at Pioneer Park to watch the lighting and visit with Santa.
    Date: November 28, 2015
  4. Santa arrives via the Ferry at the Coronado Ferry Landing, a festive parade follows down Orange Avenue and Santa lights the Christmas Tree in Rotary Plaza during the Coronado Christmas Parade & Open House.
    Date: December 4, 2015
  5. Join the festivities during Balboa Park December Nights, a two-day holiday celebration of food, entertainment and fun. The sights, sounds and smells of the holiday season fill the air as the museums and cultural institutions in Balboa Park, the nation's largest urban cultural park, open their doors free of charge. Festivities include carolers, live music, light displays, theater and dance performances, and delicious foods from around the world.
    Dates: December 4-5, 2015
  6. Enjoy free organ concerts at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park beginning at 2:00 PM each Sunday. The Organ Pavilion features the world's largest outdoor pipe organ, a San Diego landmark for over 90 years, where organists resound holiday favorites, waltzes and show tunes from the organ's monstrous 32-foot lead alloy pipes.
    Dates: Ongoing
  7. Holiday Tree Lighting and Winter Wonderland Festival at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido brings the North Pole to the heart of Escondido. Children will have the chance to frolic in real snow, decorate their very own Christmas cookies, and create fun, hand-made gifts for their loved ones. At dusk, the Winter Wonderland Forest comes alive with twinkling lights, and no one will be able to resist the holiday spirit!
    Date: December 5, 2015
  8. Experience the unique sights and sounds of the annual North Park Toyland Parade in December. Enjoy marching bands, floats, vintage cars, dance groups, beauty queens, city officials and Santa in this popular community celebration.
    Date: December 5, 2015
  9. Celebrate the season during Little Italy's Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony and see the unique Christmas Tree - a 25-foot tower of 1,000+ gorgeous Poinsettias. Enjoy the community's festive decorations, live music and entertainment, snacks, holiday beverages and more!
    Date: December 5, 2015
  10. Holiday in the Village envelopes Third Avenue Village's Memorial Park with holiday wonder and family friendly merriment. Make sure to don your ugliest apparel for the return of the Ugliest Holiday Sweater Contest.
    Date: December 5, 2015
  11. Celebrate the Season in Downtown Chula Vista! The Chula Vista Starlight Parade is a great way to kick-off the holiday season and get in the festive spirit!
    Date: December 5, 2015
  12. Thousands of people will be on floats and in bands with tens of thousands more cheering them on as the Encinitas Holiday Parade rolls along Coast Highway 101.
    Date: December 5, 2015
  13. Bring the whole family to a unique neighborhood event featuring a chili cook-off between more than 20 of the celebrated restaurants of South and North Park. At the SoNo Fest & Chili Cook-Off in December, you can pick out your own hand-spun ceramic bowls then sample chili from the local restaurants. You can also shop for holiday gifts from local artisans and enjoy free live music, kids' games and activities, gourmet food trucks, a beer garden featuring local craft beers and more.
    Date: December 6, 2015
  14. Spread some holiday cheer at the La Jolla Christmas Parade and Holiday Festival in December in downtown La Jolla. The event includes marching bands, floats, equestrian units, vintage automobiles and an appearance by Santa Claus.
    Date: December 6, 2015
  15. See Old Town State Park decked out for the season during Old Town Holiday in the Park & Las Posadas. Guests can learn how residents celebrated the holidays in the 1800s while enjoying candlelight tours, holiday singers, live performances and complimentary refreshments.
    Dates: December 12-13, 2015
  16. Take a walk around Balboa Park and discover its beautiful architecture. Be sure not to miss the "Whoville" decorations in the plaza outside the Old Globe Theatre, which are on display to coincide with the theatre's annual holiday production of Dr. Seuss' How the Ginch Stole Christmas!
    Dates: Mid-November through December
  17. Celebrate holiday cheer with Poway's Christmas in the Park in December. The event features a tree lighting ceremony, visits from Santa, train rides, live music, theatre performances, food, treats, crafts and more.
    Date: December 12, 2015
  18. Watch the season sail by at the Oceanside Harbor Parade of Lights in December. The popular parade circles the harbor and features a wide variety of boats, brightly decorated for the holiday season.
    Date: December 12, 2015
  19. Delight in the festive gatherings along the Mission Bay Christmas Boat Parade of Lights in December. Over 100 brightly illuminated powerboats and sailboats parade along Mission Bay.
    Date: December 12, 2015
  20. Enjoy the Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade in downtown San Diego's historic Gaslamp Quarter. Owners and their dressed-up pets march down the decorated streets of the neighborhood, ending at a Pet Expo featuring an award-ceremony for best-dressed pups.
    Date: December 13, 2015
  21. Enjoy the twinkling waters of the San Diego Bay and more than 100 private boats decorated with holiday lights for the annual Port of San Diego Bay Parade of Lights over two weekends in December. Great views are available on dry land from Shelter Island, Harbor Island, the Embarcadero, Seaport Village, Marina Park and Coronado's Ferry Landing.
    Dates: December 13 & 20, 2015
  22. Rock out at the Poinsettia Bowl Gaslamp March in December. Kicking off two days prior to the annual Poinsettia Bowl, which is played in San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium, bands representing the two Bowl football teams line up at opposite ends of Fifth Avenue in downtown's Gaslamp Quarter and face-off in an old-fashion battle of the bands.
    Date: December 21, 2015
  23. Gaze up at the massive balloons during the Port of San Diego Holiday Bowl Parade, the country's largest balloon parade. Floats, balloons and marching bands are just some of the offerings in this colorful holiday parade along San Diego Bay in downtown San Diego.
    Date: December 30, 2015
  24. Cross the Coronado Bay Bridge and make your way to the Hotel del Coronado to marvel at the illuminated hotel and the popular and beautifully decorated tree in the hotel lobby.
    Dates: All December
  25. Drive to the mountain town of Julian for a warm mug of hot apple cider and a delicious piece of Julian's legendary homemade apple pie. On Saturdays, stroll through the quaint neighborhood streets and enjoy the sounds of wandering Christmas carolers and a living nativity scene.
  26. Drive to the 600,000-acre Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to marvel at wildlife and a kaleidoscope of colorful flowers amidst the desert warmth. Anza-Borrego is located just two hours from San Diego via Highway 78 and Interstate 8.
  27. Experience a white Christmas in San Diego when you make the scenic, one-hour drive to the top of Mount Laguna. Sled down mountain slopes, build snowmen and have snowball fights (weather conditions permitting).
  28. Whale watch from the shores and cliffs of Point Loma, as California gray whales migrate south to the warm-water breeding grounds off the coast of Baja, California. Spectators can catch a spectacular show during December through March when these majestic mammals pass through the waters off San Diego's coastline.
  29. Explore the tide pools in Point Loma when the tide is low to see some of the magnificent creatures of the sea. Point Loma tide pools are located just south of the tip of Cabrillo Point near the Cabrillo National Monument.
  30. Take a walk along one of San Diego's 70 miles of beaches, all free and open to the public. Collect seashells for decorating special holiday gifts or just enjoy the magnificent Pacific Ocean.
  31. Take a drive to the top of Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial in La Jolla for a panoramic view of the city all spruced up in holiday finery. Along the way, take a peek at the beautifully decorated homes in this exclusive community.

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