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25+ Free Holiday Events and Things to Do in San Diego

Traditional holiday parades, festivals, Christmas trees & more!

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Holidays with a SoCal Twist

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).

Free Holiday Events

  1. Mother Goose Parade
    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 20, 2016
  2. Surfin' Santa Arrival
    Head over to Seaport Village for the festive Surfin' Santa Arrival. 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 26, 2016
  3. Julian's Country Christmas and Tree Lighting
    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 26, 2016
  4. Balboa Park December Nights
    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 2-3, 2016
  5. Coronado Christmas Parade & Open House
    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 2, 2016
  6. Spreckels Organ Pavilion
    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
    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 3, 2016
  8. North Park Toyland Parade
    Experience the unique sights and sounds of the annual North Park Toyland Parade. Enjoy marching bands, floats, vintage cars, dance groups, beauty queens, city officials and Santa in this popular community celebration.
    Date: December 3, 2016
  9. Little Italy's Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony
    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 3, 2016
  10. Holiday in the Village
    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 3, 2016
  11. Starlight Parade
    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 3, 2016
  12. Encinitas Holiday Parade
    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 3, 2016
  13. Ocean Beach Holiday Parade
    Come find out what the locals have known for 30+ years - Santa would rather be in the quaint little surfing village of OB at the Ocean Beach Holiday Parade.
    Date: December 3, 2016
  14. SoNo Fest & Chili Cook-Off
    Bring the whole family to a unique neighborhood event featuring a chili cook-off between more than 40 of the celebrated restaurants of South and North Park. At the SoNo Fest & Chili Cook-Off, 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 4, 2016
  15. La Jolla Christmas Parade and Holiday Festival
    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 4, 2016
  16. Old Town Holiday in the Park & Las Posadas
    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 10-11, 2016
  17. La Mesa's Christmas in the Village
    The Village is transformed into a Victorian Wonderland during La Mesa's Christmas in the Village with carolers, snow, a 15' Christmas tree, Santa and more.
    Dates: December 10, 2016
  18. Dr. Seuss' How the Ginch Stole Christmas
    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
  19. Poway's Christmas in the Park
    Celebrate holiday cheer with Poway's Christmas in the Park. The event features a tree lighting ceremony, visits from Santa, train rides, live music, theatre performances, food, treats, crafts and more.
    Date: December 10, 2016
  20. Oceanside Harbor Parade of Lights
    Watch the season sail by at the Oceanside Harbor Parade of Lights. The popular parade circles the harbor and features a wide variety of boats, brightly decorated for the holiday season.
    Date: December 10, 2016
  21. Mission Bay Christmas Boat Parade of Lights
    Delight in the festive gatherings along the Mission Bay Christmas Boat Parade of Lights. Dozens of brightly illuminated powerboats and sailboats parade along Mission Bay.
    Date: December 10, 2016
  22. Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade
    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 11, 2016
  23. Port of San Diego Bay Parade of Lights
    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 & 18, 2016
  24. Poinsettia Bowl Gaslamp March
    Rock out at the Poinsettia Bowl Gaslamp March. 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 19, 2016
  25. Port of San Diego Holiday Bowl Parade
    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 27, 2016
  26. Hotel del Coronado 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
  27. Julian 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.
  28. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
    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.
  29. Mount Laguna
    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).
  30. Whale Watch
    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.
  31. Cabrillo National Monument
    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.
  32. San Diego Beaches
    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.
  33. Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial
    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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