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25+ Free Holiday Happenings

Holidays with a distinctly SoCal twist

From taking in traditional holiday parades and festivals to witnessing the migration of California gray whales along the Pacific coast, a winter visit to San Diego offers a wealth of free, fun and festive experiences. Escape the chill for San Diego's brilliant sunshine and temperate climate, and enjoy diverse wintertime experiences with a distinctly Southern California twist.

The following suggestions for free San Diego activities and events are sure to capture your imagination and lift your spirits during the holiday season.

Free Holiday Events

  1. Encinitas Holiday Street Fair
    When: Nov. 19, 2023
    Continuous since 1989 - children's rides, two stages of live entertainment and food and drink refreshments provide an attractive setting for the public and a great boon to vendors.
  2. Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas
    When: Nov. 12 - Dec. 31, 2023
    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 Grinch Stole Christmas!
  3. Liberty Station's Tree Lighting & Festivities
    When: Nov. 24, 2023
    Liberty Station invites the community to celebrate the season at its 2023 Salute the Season main event, the Liberty Station Tree Lighting & Holiday Festivities, taking place in the North Promenade on Friday, Nov. 24, from 5PM to 9PM.
  4. Julian's Country Christmas and Tree Lighting
    When: Nov. 25, 2023
    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.
  5. Surfin' Santa Arrival
    When: Nov. 25, 2023
    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, street performers and photo opportunities of your family and friends surfing with Santa.
  6. Balboa Park December Nights
    When: Dec. 1-2, 2023
    A two-day holiday celebration filled with carolers, live music, light displays, theater and dance performances, and delicious foods from around the world.
  7. Coronado Holiday Parade
    When: Dec. 1, 2023
    Join Coronado in holiday cheer from the Ferry Landing, down Orange Avenue, all the way to the Hotel del Coronado for live music, local business open houses, sing-alongs, a parade and a grand tree lighting at Rotary Park.
  8. Little Italy Tree Lighting and Christmas Village
    When: Dec. 2, 2023
    Celebrate the season during Little Italy's Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony and see the unique Christmas Tree - a 25-foot tower of 1,100 gorgeous Poinsettias. Enjoy the community's festive decorations, live music and entertainment, snacks, holiday beverages and more!
  9. OB Holiday Parade
    When: Dec. 2, 2023
    For more than 40 years, the quaint little surfing village of Ocean Beach has hosted one of the best Holiday Parades in SoCal.
  10. Holiday in the Village: A La Mesa Tradition
    When: Dec. 2, 2023
    Walk the streets of La Mesa's historic downtown and enjoy live music and dance, cozy fires, craft vendors, food, and a kids' area with holiday movies and activities.
  11. Encinitas Holiday Parade
    When: Dec. 2, 2023
    Floats and in bands and more rolling along Coast Highway 101.
  12. Winter Wonderland Festival
    When: Dec. 2 - 3, 2023
    Join in on a weekend of winter magic at the Annual Winter Wonderland when the heart of Escondido comes alive the holiday spirit.
  13. Chula Vista Starlight Parade & Festival
    When: Dec. 3, 2023
    Third Avenue turns into a mesmerizing wonderland.
  14. SoNo Fest & Chili Cook-Off
    When: Dec. 3, 2023
    Bring the whole family to a unique neighborhood event featuring a chili cook-off between the 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.
  15. La Jolla Christmas Parade and Holiday Festival
    Dec. 3, 2023
    Spread some holiday cheer at the La Jolla Christmas Parade and Holiday Festival in December in downtown La Jolla. The event includes marching bands, community groups, drill teams, vintage vehicles, horses, and yes ~ a camel. Church bells peal with a fly-over. There is also a Holiday Festival and Tree Lighting Ceremony.
  16. Liberty Station Hanukkah and Menorah Lighting
    When: Dec. 7, 2023
    Liberty Station in partnership with The Chabads of Downtown San Diego and Pacific Beach will host a public menorah lighting at Liberty Station's Central Promenade to commemorate the first night of Hanukkah.
  17. Paradise Point Tree Lighting Ceremony
    When: Dec. 7, 2023
    Bring your family and friends over to Paradise Point for a festive tree lighting ceremony where you can roast s’mores over the bonfire, enjoy caroling, The Churro Addict food truck, holiday cocktails and activities for kids of all ages. There will also be a special visit from Santa!
  18. Las Posadas: An Old Town Celebration
    When: Dec. 8, 2023
    There will be six stations in Heritage County Park as we follow Joseph and Mary astride a donkey. Each station features a brief narration and call-and-response verses performed by volunteers from the Mormon Battalion Historic Site. After the finale, guests are invited back to the Mormon Battalion Historic Site for refreshments.
  19. Poway's Christmas in the Park
    When: Dec. 8-9, 2023
    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.
  20. Jingle Terrace Live
    When: Dec. 8-23, 2023
    The Moonlight Amphitheatre will be adorned in a spectacular holiday light show that you will be able to walk through while you enjoy holiday refreshments, festive displays, live entertainment, family activities and photo opportunities.
  21. Mission Bay Christmas Boat Parade of Lights
    When: Dec. 9, 2023
    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.
  22. Oceanside Harbor Parade of Lights
    When: Dec. 9, 2023
    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.
  23. Port of San Diego Bay Parade of Lights
    When: Dec. 10 & 17, 2023
    Enjoy the twinkling waters of the San Diego Bay and more than 80 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, the pier at Cesar Chavez Park and Coronado's Ferry Landing.
  24. Gaslamp Pet Parade
    When: Dec. 16, 2023
    This holiday parade presents cute dogs and their amazing owners parading in colorful fashion as they proudly promenade through the heart and soul of the Gaslamp for all the onlookers to see!
  25. Snapdragon Bowl Bash
    When: Dec. 26, 2023
    The San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl is excited to host the second annual Snapdragon Bowl Bash in the Gaslamp Quarter of downtown San Diego! The Snapdragon Bowl Bash is a time for fans and locals to gather in the heart of San Diego for FREE family fun, great food, live music, giveaways and more!
  26. Port of San Diego Holiday Bowl Parade
    When: Dec 27, 2023
    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.
  27. Christmas Tree Trail
    When: All December
    From a Christmas tree right on the beach to a rooftop tree visible miles away to a Grinch Christmas tree, follow the trail and catch the spirit of the season in San Diego.
  28. Hotel del Coronado
    When: All December
    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.
  29. 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.
  30. 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).
  31. 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.
  32. 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.
  33. 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.

*Please note, events are subject to change and cancellation. Please confirm the event information by visiting the event website. 

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