Make the most of December in San Diego with these festive holiday happenings.
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, to local holiday theater shows, to teatime with Santa, we hope the following roundup of festivities helps you and yours to make the rest of the season a happy and fun one. (We even threw in a cocktail bar and nightlife venue offering festive decor and spirits to lift your spirit!) Happy holidays!
Select Dates. It’s high time for teatime at the elegant Westgate Hotel, which is offering two fun holiday tea experiences. The kiddos will love “Santa’s Story Time Tea” at Le Fontainebleu & Petit Salon—featuring storytelling by Santa himself, hot chocolate, sandwiches, desserts, holiday music and a keepsake teddy bear for each child. Geared toward adults, “Winter Wonderland Tea” in the beautifully decorated Grand Lobby includes premium teas, a glass of Champagne, tea sandwiches, pastries and music by a live harpist. See website for dates offered and reservations. 1055 Second Ave., downtown, 619.238.1818
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, featuring 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 artistic direction by Raul Salamanca—conducted by John Stubbs and Classics 4 Kids’ Dana Zimbric. See website for showtimes and ticket pricing. (Opportunities to meet the cast after the show are also available.) 1100 Third Ave., downtown, 619.241.2565
Through Dec. 23. Outdoor moviegoing reaches new heights with Rooftop Cinema Club Embarcadero, which is presenting myriad holiday movies this month—from box office hits to classics—on the fourth-floor terrace of the Manchester Grand Hyatt. Enjoy city views and an elevated cinema experience—including a state-of-the art projector, headphones and deck chairs; plus popcorn and snacks available for purchase. The lineup includes Home Alone, It’s a Wonderful Life, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, The Holiday, Elf and Die Hard. See website for full schedule and tickets. (Bundle up!) 1 Market Place, downtown
Through Dec. 23. Petco Park’s Gallagher Square becomes an over-the-top holiday haven brimming with festive lighting displays, decorations, holiday characters, European-inspired artisanal shops, vendors offering seasonal treats and drinks, visits with Santa, an old-fashioned carousel, live entertainment and music, holiday characters, and a 30-foot-tall Christmas tree. Shop for one-of a kind ornaments, decorations and gifts; watch performers dance live inside large glass spheres; and let the kiddoes write and send letters to Santa via an official North Pole mailbox. See website for hours and tickets. 840 K St., East Village
Through Dec. 23. Go inside Old Saint Nick’s digs at the North Pole with this immersive holiday pop-up at Parq Nightclub. The venue has been transformed into a Santa-approved winter wonderland, decked out with lavish holiday lights and decorations. The experience includes music and a special holiday cocktail menu with premium spirits, offering fun libations like the Not My Buttons and Havana Christmas served in festive drinkware; plus bites such as meat and cheese plates. Th-Sa 4-10 p.m. (also available for private events). See website for reservations and to purchase tickets. 615 Broadway, downtown
Through Dec. 24. Step inside a Victorian Christmas card and follow cantankerous banker Ebenezer Scrooge through a ghost-filled night that changes his outlook on the holidays and life itself forever. Back for its eighth season at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town, A Christmas Carol gets a musical makeover by artistic director Sean Murray—featuring original music by Billy Thompson, live sound effects and puppetry. Murray is also directing, and this year is even stepping into the lead role of Scrooge for the first time. 4040 Twiggs St., Old Town, 619.337.1525
Through Dec. 24. Plaid Tidings, the holiday spinoff of the 1950s homage jukebox musical Forever Plaid, returns. The legendary Francis, Jinx, Smudge and Sparky at first aren’t really sure why they’ve been brought back to Earth for another posthumous performance. A phone call from a ghostly Rosemary Clooney sets them straight about their mission: to spread holiday joy in an uncertain world—with a program of Christmas standards that have all been “Plaid-erized.” David Humphrey (a former Plaid himself) directs. See website for showtimes and tickets. 4650 Mercury St., Kearny Mesa, 858.560.5740
Through Dec. 24. The Old Globe brings us a theatrical holiday favorite: Ebenezer Scrooge’s BIG San Diego Christmas Show. Set in San Diego circa 1919, the family-friendly comedy is a fast-paced parody of the Dickens play—featuring the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future. There’s a local twist: Scrooge is now a British émigré who moves to San Diego from England to seek his fortune at the Panama-California Exhibition—which means the entire play is set in Balboa Park and surrounding communities. Expect some localized jokes. 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park, 619.234.5623
Through Dec. 24. Take a fun detour from traditional holiday productions with Diversionary Theatre’s presentation of The Mystery of Irma Vep. Set the in dark moors of the English countryside, the campy comedy (billed as “a queer comic masterpiece”) melds classic B-movies with gothic horror and Victorian romance—with two performers bringing myriad colorful characters to life. Written by Charles Ludlam and co-directed by Matt M. Morrow and Allison Spratt Pearce, the show returns to Diversionary Theatre for the first time in 20 years. See website for showtimes and tickets. 4545 Park Blvd., University Heights, 619.220.0097
Through Dec. 30. All aboard! Old Town Trolley’s “Holiday Sights & Festive Nights” tours let you explore the seasonal lights and landmarks of the city—including historical Old Town (aka the birthplace of California), Balboa Park, Bankers Hill, the downtown embarcadero and Seaport Village, where you’ll stop for some extra holiday entertainment. The 75-minute tour includes a seat aboard an old-fashioned Old Town trolley, complete with carol singalongs and elf conductors who double as tour guides full of fun facts. $30 adults; $25 kids ages 4-12; free ages 3 and under. 4010 Twiggs St., Old Town, 866.754.0966
Through Dec. 31. The corner of 30th Street and Adams Avenue is aglow again with this fun 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. Polite Provisions will offer special holiday-themed cocktails—with fun names like the Christmapolitan and Santa’s Little Helper—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
Through Dec. 31. Who better to get us into the holiday spirit than the big, hairy, grumpy green guy? The Old Globe presents the beloved, family-friendly musical, Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas, based on the classic Dr. Seuss book—with book and lyrics by Timothy Mason and music by Mel Marvin. Audience favorite Andrew Polec returns in the title role of The Grinch; along with Issa Ally as Cindy Lou-Hou; and an endearing ensemble cast. See website for showtimes and ticket pricing. 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park, 619.234.5623
Through Jan. 1. Relieve some holiday stress with a good laugh and some great music. Hilarious duo Jefferson McDonald and Matthew McGloin visit North Coast Repertory Theatre to perform their musical comedy show: 2 Pianos 4 Hands. Written by Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt and directed by Tom Frey, the show centers on the two gentlemen as they share stories and tickle the ivories—remarking on their would-be careers as concert pianists while playing everything from Billy Joel to Bach. See website for showtimes and tickets. 987 Lomas Santa Fe, Suite D, Solana Beach, 858.481.1055
Through Jan. 8. Go walking in a one-of-a-kind winter wonderland at San Diego Botanic Garden, which presents the internationally acclaimed show “Lightscape.” The garden’s 37 acres have been transformed into an illuminated, 1-mile walking trail—filled with artsy installations that come to life after dark. The experience also comprises more than one million holiday lights, tunnels, fire features and sculptures. (And wear comfy shoes, as the walking trails span some steep hills and uneven dirt pathways.) See website for all details and tickets. 300 Quail Gardens Drive, Encinitas, 760.436.3036
Through Jan 1. Take a walk on the wild side at San Diego Zoo, which is aglow with decorations, music and live performers, including the return of “Aurora”—a magical experience filled with lights and 3D projections. Entertainment also 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 (with “snow” falling during the last five minutes of each performance); photos ops at Santa’s Factory; and more. See website for hours and admission info. 2920 Zoo Drive, Balboa Park
Through Jan. 1. This celebrated tradition at the historical Hotel del Coronado—which is decked out with its “Frosted by the Sea” holiday celebrations—is back. Skating by the Sea 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 Lounge—a rink-side hangout offering holiday-themed cocktails, bites, a firepit and cozy seating. Ice-rink proceeds benefit Make-A-Wish San Diego. See website for hours and to reserve tickets. 1500 Orange Ave., Coronado, 619.435.6611
Through Jan. 1. The Del Mar Fairgrounds gets our vote for the area’s grandest winter wonderland this year. Churning out freshly made snow daily (Thursday through Sunday) by using more than 50 tons of ice, the festival comprises snow-tubing down a 20-foot snow slide; strolling through 1 million twinkling holiday lights; visits with Santa; and private igloo rentals where guests can roast marshmallows, build snowmen (with snow delivered directly to your igloo), and sip hot coca fireside. Open select dates 4-9 p.m. See website for details and ticket pricing. 2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar
Through Jan. 1. 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 (pictured) around the lagoon; the Turtle Doves violin duo; a 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. 1. Celebrate by the beach! The oceanfront amusement park is offering myriad festivities—including towering holiday sculptures, a million holiday lights, seasonal treats and beverages (including a hot cocoa bar), balloon animals created by Buddy the Elf, elf face painting and live music. Most of the park’s usual attractions and rides are also open and decorated for the holidays, including the historical Goat Dipper roller coaster; along with many restaurants, such as Cannonball, Draft and Beach House. Open daily (see website for hours). Free general admission. 3146 Mission Blvd., Mission Beach
Through Jan. 8. Skate your way through 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). $20 adults; $15 kids; $10 Rady Children’s staff and military (with ID). 2875 Dewey Road, Liberty Station
Photo credits: Scrooge / The Old Globe by Jim Cox. Grinch / The Old Globe by Rich Soublet II. All other images are courtesy of the venues featured.