How to Celebrate the Holidays in San Diego 2023

Andrew Polec (center) as The Grinch with the cast of “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

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 over-the-top decor and themed cocktails at your favorite watering holes, we hope the following roundup of festivities helps you and yours to make the rest of the season a merry one. Happy holidays!! 

Rooftop Cinema Club Embarcadero presents a screening of “Home Alone” on Dec. 22.
Holiday Films at Rooftop Cinema Club 

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 The Santa ClauseHome Alone and The Holiday. See website for full schedule and tickets. (Dress warmly!) 1 Market Place, downtown 

Golden State Ballet’s presentation of “The Nutcracker
Golden State Ballet’s The Nutcracker

Through Dec. 24. 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, choreographed by artistic director Raul Salamanca— with John Stubbs as music director and principal conductor, and Dana Zimbric as conductor. 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 

Peppermint Beach Club at Westfield UTC

Through Dec. 24. Head to Westfield UTC for some holiday cheer at Peppermint Beach Club. The fun includes live entertainment, snowfall and lights; retailer pop-ups; photos with Saint Nick at Santa’s Villa (furry friends are welcome!); a gift-wrapping station; a curated seasonal menu at Queenstown Bistro, including specialty cocktails and the popular Holiday Sandwich with oven-roasted turkey, brie cheese, stuffing, gravy, cranberry and jalapeno relish; a holiday gift with purchase (see website for details); and ice skating at the UTC Ice Sports Center. Open daily 10 a.m.-9 p.m. 4545 La Jolla Village Drive, UTC

“Plaid Tidings” at San Diego Musical Theatre
San Diego Musical Theatre’s Plaid Tidings

Through Dec. 24. Plaid Tidings—the holiday spinoff of the 1950s homage jukebox musical Forever Plaid—returns, presented by San Diego Musical Theatre. 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 songs that have all been “Plaid-erized.” Jonathan Sangster directs. See website for showtimes and tickets. 4650 Mercury St., Kearny Mesa, 858.560.5740

Scrooge Theater Show at The Old Globe

Through Dec. 24. The Old Globe brings us a 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 Dickens’ A Christmas Carol—featuring the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future. There’s a local twist: Scrooge now is 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

Top of the Hyatt has been transformed into a nostalgic winter wonderland.
“Over the Top” at Top of the Hyatt

Through Dec. 27. Top of the Hyatt—Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego’s cocktail lounge located 40 stories up, overlooking San Diego Bay—has been overhauled into the “Over the Top Holiday Lounge.” The pop-up experience transforms guests to a snowy winter wonderland, reminiscent of a nostalgic family vacation, complete with bunk beds and a cozy hearth to sit near with a hot toddy. The fun includes a themed holiday cocktail menu featuring Maker’s Mark, small plates, live entertainment and those epic bird’s-eye views. See website for hours and details. 1 Market Place, downtown, 619.232.1234

Coastal Christmas Del Mar

Through Dec. 30. Open on weekends through the end of December, Coastal Christmas transforms the Del Mar Fairgrounds into a winter wonderland. Stroll through millions of twinkling lights at the Holiday Light Spectacular; visit and take photos with Santa; go ice skating accompanied by Christmas music; bounce, climb and zipline through Frosty’s Fun Zone; shop for gifts at the Holiday Market; rent your own igloo and toast marshmallows; sip holiday cocktail at the Mistletoe Lounge; and more. 4-9 p.m. See website for special events and ticket pricing. 2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar

Sean Murray as Ebenezer Scrooge in Cygnet Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol
Cygnet Theatre’s A Christmas Carol

Through Dec. 30. Step inside a Victorian Christmas card and follow cantankerous banker Ebenezer Scrooge through a ghost-filled, epiphanous night with Cygnet Theatre’s staging of A Christmas Carol—back for its eighth season at Old Town Theatre. Adapted and directed by Sean Murray—who also portrays lead role of Scrooge for the second time—the family-friendly show features original music by Billy Thompson, live sound effects and puppetry. See website for showtimes and tickets. (And arrive early for an audience holiday singalong led by cast members.) 4040 Twiggs St., Old Town, 619.337.1525 

Old Town Trolley Holiday Tours

Through Dec. 30. All aboard! Old Town Trolley’s “Holiday Sights & Festive Nights” tours let you explore the festive 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 90-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. Starting at $25 per person (free ages 3 and under). 4010 Twiggs St., Old Town, 866.754.0966

2 Pianos 4 Hands at North Coast Rep

Through Dec. 31. Relieve some holiday stress with a good laugh and some great music. Hilarious duo Jefferson McDonald and Matthew McGloin return to 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

“A Cocktail Carol” at Polite Provisions

Through Dec. 31. The corner of 30th Street and Adams Avenue is aglow again with this fun annual holiday pop-up (formerly called “Miracle on 30th Street”). 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 a special collection of holiday-themed cocktails in addition to its usual menu. Hideous holiday sweaters and other festive attire are encouraged. See website for hours. 4696 30th St., North Park, 619.269.4701

Andrew Polec (center) as The Grinch and the Little Whos of “Dr. Seuss How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
The Grinch at The Old Globe

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 to star in the title role of The Grinch; along with Steve Gunderson as “Old Max”; and an endearing ensemble cast. See website for showtimes and ticket pricing. 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park, 619.234.5623

“Miracle” at Draft at Belmont Park

Through Dec. 31. Belmont Park’s oceanfront restaurant Draft has been transformed into “Miracle,” a Christmas-themed pop-up cocktail experience hosted at select locales across the globe. The pop-up features over-the-top holiday decorations and exclusive libations served in collectible mugs like the signature Santa’s Head and Christmas Carol Barrel. There’s the “Christmapolitan” made with vodka, elderflower, dry vermouth, spiced cranberry sauce, lime, rosemary and absinthe mist; the Snowball Old-Fashioned with rye whiskey, gingerbread, aromatic and wormwood bitters and orange essence; and more. See website for reservations. 3105 Ocean Front Walk, Suite B, Mission Beach

“Wild Holidays” at S.D. Zoo Safari Park

Through Dec. 31. See San Diego Zoo 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 Safari Base Camp; firefly stilt walkers 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

San Diego Zoo’s “Jungle Bells Aurora”

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; the interactive “Reindeer Games” to get the kiddos dancing; The Tinseltones a cappella group (with “snow” falling at the end of each performance); photos ops at Santa’s Factory; and more. See website for hours and admission info. 2920 Zoo Drive, Balboa Park

Lightscape” at San Diego Botanic Garden
Lightscape at S.D. Botanic Garden

Through Jan. 7. Go walking in a one-of-a-kind winter wonderland at San Diego Botanic Garden, which presents the internationally acclaimed show Lightscape for a second year. The experience has been reimagined for 2023—comprising an illuminated, 1-mile walking trail around the 37-acre property, filled with light tunnels, lanterns, glowing California poppies and other immersive light installations that come to life with vibrant color and sound—plus seasonal treats and libations available for purchase along the trail. See website for dates, hours and ticket pricing. (Wear comfy shoes!) 300 Quail Gardens Drive, Encinitas, 760.436.3036

Rady Children’s Ice Rink at Liberty Station

Through Jan. 7. Skate into the season with the return of the Rady Children’s 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. Open daily 10 a.m.-10 p.m. (See website for upcoming special events such as the Liberty Station Tree Lighting on Nov. 24.) $20 adults; $15 kids (ages 12 and under). 2875 Dewey Road, Liberty Station, 619.221.1970

Skating by the Sea at Hotel del Coronado
Skating by the Sea at Hotel Del

Through Jan. 7. This celebrated tradition at the historical Hotel del Coronado—which is decked out with its “A Twenties Holiday Affair” holiday theme of decorations and 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

Photo credits: The Grinch / The Old Globe (2) by Jim Cox. The Nutcracker / Golden State Ballet by Sam Zauscher. A Christmas Carol / Cygnet Theatre by Karli Cadel Photography.


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