Make the most of December in San Diego with these holiday happenings and festive dining options.
As the end of the year draws near, we could all use a little extra cheer. From exploring iconic San Diego destinations offering unique holiday experiences and events, to options for dining on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, we hope the following roundup of festivities and feasts helps you and yours to make the rest of the season a happy and filling one. (We even threw in a few cocktail bars offering festive decor and spirits to lift your spirit!) Happy holidays!
Note: Before visiting venues, please call or check websites for possible menu/schedule updates and to confirm guest safety protocols.
Through Dec. 23. No holiday season is complete without a dancing sugarplum fairy. Golden State Ballet presents Tchaikovsky’s timeless holiday classic at the Civic Theatre, complete with live orchestra accompaniment by the San Diego Symphony. Centered on Clara and her nutcracker prince, the family-friendly production includes exquisite costumes and staging, with choreography by Jared Nelson and artistic direction by Raul Salamanca. John Stubbs conducts. See website for safety protocols and showtimes. $25-$109. 1100 Third Ave., downtown, 619.241.2565.
Through Dec. 26. Celebrating its 20th-anniversary season and newly renovated theater, New Village Arts presents 1222 Oceanfront: A Black Family Christmas—a world-premiere holiday musical. In it we meet matriarch Dorothy Black, who invites us into her oceanfront Carlsbad home to celebrate Christmas Eve with her family. Expect some mild family drama but also plenty of love, laughs, dancing and singing—complete with reimagined traditional carols and original songs. Delicia Turner Sonnenberg directs a talented ensemble cast. $52 (with discounts available). 2787 State St., Carlsbad Village, 760.433.3245.
Through Dec. 26. Cygnet Theatre’s annual holiday production of A Christmas Carol returns to Old Town Theatre. Step inside a Victorian Christmas card as we follow cantankerous banker Ebenezer Scrooge through a ghost-filled night that changes his outlook on the holidays and life itself forever. The family-friendly live show features lyrics and adaptation by Sean Murray (who also directs) and an original score by Billy Thompson; plus creative staging, singing, live sound effects and puppetry. See website for showtimes, safety protocols and ticket pricing. 4040 Twiggs St., Old Town, 619.337.1525.
Through Dec. 26. “Bah! Humbug!” Ebenezer Scrooge comes to town in this fast-paced, funny reimagining of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Written by Gordon Greenberg and Steve Rosen and directed by Greenberg, the comedic play is staged at The Old Globe’s intimate White Theatre, which offers 360-degree stage views. We meet the usual suspects, among them: Tiny Tim and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. (Keep an eye out for some “wintery” San Diego weather.) See website for times and tickets. 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park, 619.234.5623.
Through Dec. 30. The 37-acre San Diego Botanic Garden transforms into a sparkling holiday oasis filled with family-friendly attractions. The garden’s glass conservatory will be decked out in festive decorations; along with a 1-mile pathway of holiday lights through the property. The fun also includes photos with Santa; hands-on kids’ activities, including writing letters to Santa; strolling carolers; and food and drink vendors on the gazebo lawn. 5:30-9 p.m. (closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day). See website for required reservations and ticket pricing. 300 Quail Gardens Drive, Encinitas, 760.436.3036.
Through Dec. 31. Transformed into an underwater winter wonderland, the aquarium hosts an ongoing celebration filled with “SEAsonal” family fun. Take advantage of festive photo ops, an interactive scavenger hunt with prizes for kids, holiday music and ocean-themed gifts for purchase in the aquarium’s retail shop. Be sure to check out the new jellyfish exhibit in the Hall of Fishes, and keep an eye out for Scuba Santa. Open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. $24.95 adults; $19.95 children (see website for required reservations). 2300 Expedition Way, La Jolla, 858.534.3474.
Through Jan 2. Take a walk on the wild side at San Diego Zoo, which will be aglow with decorations, music, entertainers, specialty food items, kids’ activities and the return of “Aurora”—a magical experience filled with lights and 3D projections. Entertainment includes the Jingle Brass musical ensemble; the Toy Shop Hop acrobatic elves; “Celebration of Lights” at the Front Street Toog Tree; The Tinseltones a cappella group; Christmas storytelling; photos ops at Santa’s Factory; and much more. See website for hours and admission info. 2920 Zoo Drive, Balboa Park, 619.231.1515.
Through Jan. 2. The Del Mar Fairgrounds doubles as one of the more thrilling winter wonderlands you’ll find this year. Churning out fresh snow Friday through Sunday (sourced from 50-plus tons of ice!), the festival comprises snow-tubing down a 20-foot snow slide; strolling through 1 million twinkling holiday lights; private igloo rentals where guests can roast marshmallows and sip hot coca fireside; and a 1.5-mile “Holidays in Your Car” drive-thru experience. Open select dates 4-10 p.m. See website for details and pricing. 2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar.
Through Jan. 2. See Safari Park aglow with family-friendly holiday fun (on select dates)—including festive lights, music, treats and experiences. The entertainment includes “Light Up the Holidays,” an area of trees that illuminate in a choreographed show set to a holiday soundtrack; visits and photos with Santa at Village Market; firefly stilt walkers around the lagoon; the Turtle Doves violin duo; a roaming holiday troubadour; the Bridge of Lights lighted archway; and much more. See website for hours and admission info. 15500 San Pasqual Valley Road, Escondido, 619.231.1515.
Through Jan. 9. Skate into the season with the return of the Rady Children’s Hospital ice rink, located on the central promenade at the Arts District Liberty Station. All net proceeds from ice-rink admission will benefit the Thriving After Cancer program at the Peckham Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Rady Children’s. Tickets include helmet and skate rentals (see website for safety protocols). Open daily 10 a.m.-10 p.m. (closed Christmas day). $15 adults; $13 kids; $10 Rady Children’s staff and military. 2875 Dewey Road, Liberty Station.
Through Jan. 2. This celebrated holiday tradition at the historical Hotel del Coronado is a one-of-kind San Diego experience—a beachfront ice rink on the resort’s lawn, offering views of world-famous Coronado Beach and the Pacific. Guests can also reserve a spot at Frostbite—a private rink-side lounge offering holiday-themed cocktails, bites, a firepit and cozy seating. Ice-rink proceeds benefit Make-A-Wish San Diego. See website for hours, safety guidelines and to reserve tickets. 1500 Orange Ave., Coronado, 619.435.6611.
FEASTS + LIBATIONS
Animae | Dine-In
Dec. 24. Spend Christmas Eve indulging in fine eats at downtown’s posh hotspot. Chef Tara Monsod’s decadent menu of Filipino-inspired dishes includes A5 beef tartare, a Hamachi-taro tostada, ginger-chicken congee, “Halibut Cha Ca” with dill and peanuts, whole roasted duck, and filet mignon with truffles. A special dessert menu features the 5-Spice Apple Financier and Mostra Coffee chocolate-mousse bar with Taiyaki. Dress to impress. Reservations required. 4-8 p.m. $115 per person. 969 Pacific Highway, downtown, 619.432.1225.
Bleu Boheme | Dine-In
Dec. 24. Celebrate Christmas Eve with the French bistro’s special three-course menu—with your choice of appetizer, entree and dessert—by owner/executive chef Ken Irvine. Choices include caramelized Spanish onion soup and crab croquettes to start; duck confit, Faroe Island salmon and steak frites as entrees; and crème brûlée and warm gingerbread with caramel ice cream for dessert. Add-ons such as the limited-edition Canneberge cocktail—a cranberry gimlet served up with artisanal French gin, cranberry juice, lime, simple syrup and cranberry bitters—are also available. Reservations required. 4-8 p.m. $68 per person. 4090 Adams Ave., Kensington, 619.255.4167.
Cafe Sevilla | Dine-In
Dec. 24-25. The Spanish restaurant and flamenco dance spot is offering a three-course, prix-fixe menu on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day—with a side of live Latin music. Menu offerings include lobster bisque, croquetas de paella, stuffed pork tenderloin, pan-roasted salmon and Tahitian-vanilla-bean bread pudding. (Sevilla’s full dinner menu is also available.) Reservations recommended. Seating begins at 4 p.m. each day. $55 per person. 353 Fifth Ave., Gaslamp Quarter, 619.233.5979.
Cesarina | Dine-In, Cocktails
Through Jan. 1. Point Loma’s beloved trattoria is celebrating the holidays and its new full liquor license. Order from a new cocktail menu of eight craft libations, such as the Margherita Calabrese with Calabrian-chile-infused tequila, elderflower, blood orange and lime. And Cesarina’s over-the-top holiday decor is an “Italian Alps ski chalet” theme this year—featuring oversized ornaments, cascading garland, faux furs and fleece blankets. Snuggle up with a plate of house-made pasta and a knitted lap warmer around one of two custom chiminea fireplaces. See website for hours and special holiday menus. 4161 Voltaire St., Point Loma, 619.226.6222.
JRDN at Tower23 Hotel | Dine-In
Dec. 24-25. Enjoy several holiday dining offerings created by JRDN’s executive chef Stephen Gage, with a side of ocean views. Menu highlights include duck with a cider reduction and braised red cabbage, spiced ham with pickled mustard, and a winter catch with pistachio butter; plus a new holiday dessert menu offering eight-layer carrot cake, apple-miso cheesecake, chocolate-croissant bread pudding and more. The full holiday dinner menu is available Christmas Day, 3-8 p.m. (Guests can also dine from an a la carte menu on Christmas Eve, plus holiday specials offered for Christmas Day brunch.) 723 Felspar St., Pacific Beach, 858.270.5736.
“Miracle on 30th” at Polite Provisions | Cocktails
Through Dec. 31. The corner of 30th Street and Adams Avenue is aglow again this year with this famed holiday pop-up. Enter a winter wonderland filled with twinkling lights and snowflakes hanging from the bar’s atrium-style ceiling and rafters; along with wreaths, trees, holly, tinsel, garland and other decorations. One of around 80 participating bars around the world, Polite Provisions will offer special holiday-themed cocktails in addition to its usual menu. Ugly sweaters and other festive attire are encouraged. M-Th 4 p.m.-2 a.m.; F-Su noon-2 a.m. 4696 30th St., North Park, 619.269.4701.
Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa | Dine-In
Dec. 25. The luxe resort is serving the ultimate Christmas Day feast. Menu highlights include an expansive cold seafood station, cheese and charcuterie, house-made cavatelli, Mero sea bass and wild-mushroom risotto; plus a specialty kid’s buffet. The fun also includes live music, seasonal sweets, horse-drawn carriage rides, cookie decorating and carolers. Reservations required. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. $165 adults; $55 kids. 5921 Valencia Circle, Rancho Santa Fe, 858.756.1123.
Ranch 45 | Takeout
Preorder by Dec. 19, 4 p.m. Fully customize your holiday meal with a special a la carte holiday pickup menu at this popular butcher shop and eatery. Choose from main courses such as herb-crusted prime rib and smoked turkey legs; sides including green-bean almondine and olive-oil-smashed potatoes; and desserts such as pecan pie and apple crisp. 512 Via de la Valle, Solana Beach, 858.461.0092.
Serea | Dine-In
Dec. 24-25. Celebrate Christmas Eve and Christmas Day seaside at the Hotel del Coronado’s flagship restaurant, complete with postcard-worthy views of Coronado Beach and Serea’s full “sea to table” dinner menu available. Guests can also order holiday specials such as a 24-ounce prime-ribeye entree with black-truffle bordelaise; and a cranberry-mousse dome for dessert, served with spiced-apple compote and vanilla crémeux. 3-8 p.m. See website for reservations and pricing. 1500 Orange Ave., Coronado, 619.435.6611.
“Sippin’ Santa” at The Grass Skirt | Cocktails
Through Dec. 31. Have you met “Sippin’ Santa”? He’s a swell guy who doubles as a tiki-themed holiday pop-up bar. One of just 28 participating bars across the U.S., The Grass Skirt is hosting the only pop-up in San Diego. Enter an over-the-top oasis decked out in holly, garlands, ribbons, kitschy tchotchkes and lights—complete with holiday music in the background. A special tiki-themed menu offers cocktails such as the White Russian Christmas, Azul Navidad and Yule Log Grog. Tu-Su beginning at 5 p.m. 910 Grand Ave., Pacific Beach, 858.412.5237.
Photo credits: 1222 Oceanfront by Rich Soublet Photography. The Nutcracker by Sam Zauscher. Animae by James Tran. Cesarina by Arlene Ibarra. All other images are courtesy of the venues featured.