Top San Diego Things to Do in December

Spend Christmas Eve at University Heights’ newest hotspot, Rare Society.

This month, San Diego brings you Skating by the Sea, Botanic Wonderland, The Nutcracker and more. See our list of the top 30+ San Diego things to do in December.

Edited by Brooke Knetzger.


Holiday at the Races
Dec. 1. Enjoy Closing Day at the races with Holiday shopping from 25+ retail pop-up vendors, receive complimentary mini-spa and mini-glam treatments, enter the free drawing with $3,000+ in prizes, plus holiday activities, live music and more. Come early for Happy hour until 2:00 pm for 1/2 off Del Mar signature drinks including Del Marys and stop by the Newcomers wagering seminar for horse racing information and selections. 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. DMTC, Plaza de Mexico & Hacienda Lounge, 2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd, Del Mar.


Holiday at the Races
Dec. 1. Enjoy Closing Day at the races with Holiday shopping from 25+ retail pop-up vendors, receive complimentary mini-spa and mini-glam treatments, enter the free drawing with $3,000+ in prizes, plus holiday activities, live music and more. Come early for Happy hour until 2:00 pm for 1/2 off Del Mar signature drinks including Del Marys and stop by the Newcomers wagering seminar for horse racing information and selections. 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. DMTC, Plaza de Mexico & Hacienda Lounge, 2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd, Del Mar.


Winter Waters: A Sustainable Series by JoJo + Friends
Dec. 2. San Diego’s only sustainability-focused dinner series will bring some of the country’s most talented and acclaimed chefs to San Diego, the first Monday of each month from December 2019 – March 2020. The series aims to shine a spotlight on the local and regional fishermen, all of whom are doing their part to preserve sustainable catch practices across the industry. Kicking off the series on December 2 from 6 – 9 p.m., Chef JoJo will be joined by James Beard Foundation Rising Star Chef, Nate Appleman, and former Bravo’s Top Chef “cheftestant” Chad White, who’s owned and operated successful restaurants in San Diego, Tijuana and Spokane, Washington. $120 pp. Hotel Del Coronado, 1500 Orange Ave, Coronado.


Botanic Wonderland: Holiday Nights in the Garden 
Dec. 3-8, 10-15, 17-23, 26-30. Held in the San Diego Botanic Garden’s brand new Dickinson Family Education Conservatory, this family-friendly festival contains many of the holiday traditions you’ve come to know and love over the years at the Garden, as well as some fantastic new ones! For the first time ever, select areas of Hamilton Children’s Garden and Toni’s Treehouse will be lit up and ready to play in during our December evening hours. 230 Quail Gardens Drive, Encinitas.


Retro Game Night at Barrel Republic Oceanside
Dec. 4. Explore your freedom to pour at Barrel Republic’s Oceanside location for brews, bites and a blast from the past for Retro Game Night! From 7 – 10 p.m., put your skills to the test and enjoy some friendly competition with video game classics brought to you by Portacade. 215 N Coast Hwy, Oceanside.


Annual Tree Lighting at La Valencia.

La Valencia Tree Lighting
Dec. 5. Head to the crown jewel to celebrate La Valencia’s annual holiday tree lighting with warm holiday beverages, homemade cookies, carolers and children’s crafts counting down to the lighting in La Sala at 5 p.m. La Valencia Hotel, 1132 Prospect Street, La Jolla. 


Drink Play Create
Dec. 5. Don your favorite ugly sweater and join us for some holiday cheer at The New Children’s Museum’s next 21+ after-hours event! It’s the most wonderful time of year to enjoy live music, food and drinks while shopping for gifts from various local vendors in our holiday market. Tickets include a hands-on art activity, access to the Museum’s art installations, pub games, food tastings, a cash bar and more! Plus, best ugly sweater wins a prize! $20 presale; $30 at the door. 6 – 9 p.m. 200 W. Island Ave, San Diego. Tickets


Craft + Sip
Dec. 5. Learn how to create decorative, hand lettered cards inspired by the holiday season, while enjoying music, giveaways and savory bites from the California Pizza Kitchen. Materials are provided, space is limited and tickets are required. All proceeds benefit the California Center for the Arts, Escondido’s educational outreach programs. California Pizza Kitchen at Westfield North County, 200 E Via Rancho Pkwy, Escondido. Tickets


Annual Tree Lighting & Holiday Open House at Cape Rey Carlsbad Beach
Dec. 5. Join Cape Rey Carlsbad Beach as guests light the tree and get into the spirit of giving. Live music, hot cocoa, cookie decorating and festive bites abound. And don’t forget about Santa! He’s visiting the Cape to hear Christmas wishes and pose for photos! 5:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Free Event. 1 Ponto Road, Carlsbad. Tickets


Holiday Sip & Shop at Spa Estancia
Dec. 5. The Spa at Estancia is excited to announce their first ever Sip & Shop taking place at the beautiful Reflexology Garden at the Spa. Come dressed in comfy clothes, change into one of our luxurious spa robes and shop our exclusive retail lines including lululemon, BABOR, Air Minerals, Maison de Papillon, Lalicious and Zofia Day. Enjoy champagne, sweet treats, gift with purchase and raffles! Free event. 4 – 7 p.m. Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa, 9700 N. Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla.


Balboa Park December Nights
Dec. 6-7. Head to Balboa Park for the 42nd annual free holiday festival. December Nights will kick off the holiday season and feature light displays; inspirational choirs, bands and dancers; amazing food and fun-filled attractions. Museums will offer free admission from 5 p.m. – 9 p.m. Balboa Park. Fri 3 p.m.- 11 p.m., Sat Noon – 11 p.m.


Encinitas Holiday Parade
Dec. 7. For the 62nd year, more than 100 parade entries will roll, march, cycle, scoot and cruise down the Coast Highway on the most magical night of the year. Thousands of people will be on floats, on foot, in cars, and marching in bands while tens of thousands cheer them along the Parade route along Coast Highway 101. Followed by a countdown and ceremonial tree lighting, Santa himself will make a brief appearance to kick things off at 5 pm at the Lumberyard shops courtyard. Free Event. Coast Highway 101, Encinitas.


The Nutcracker
Dec. 6-22. The Nutcracker is the classic Victorian-era story of the adventures of Clara, the Nutcracker Prince, Herr Drosselmeyer and the Sugar Plum Fairy told through a magical theatrical experience to Peter Tchaikovsky’s famous score. Young and old alike will be captivated by Elizabeth Wistrich’s choreography, the exquisite costumes and grand sets. Let your childhood dreams return and inspire you to imagine a by gone time. Spreckels Theatre, 121 Broadway, Downtown San Diego.


Saturday Nights at One Paseo 
Dec. 7, 14 & 21. Every Saturday evening leading up to Christmas Eve, enjoy complimentary s’mores in Plaza West near Urbn Coal Fired Pizza. The center will transform into a holiday wonderland at night. Visit with festive holiday characters and enjoy photo opportunities while snow cascades from the rooftops. 3725 Paseo Place, Del Mar.


South Park Holiday Walkabout & Luminaria
Dec. 7. South Park’s Holiday Walkabout & Luminaria will kick off with a gathering at 5:30 p.m. on December 7th in Grape St. Square. There, a city official will light up a marquee for the season. There will be elves, the Grinch, carolers and various holiday-themed activities going on for the evening. The trolley will be running and decked out in lights. Neighborhood businesses will host various activities, specials and pop-ups throughout the evening. The quarterly Walkabout will follow the lighting ceremony and go from 6 – 10 p.m., from the north to the south end of the neighborhood– Kalmia & 30th/Fern Streets to Beech and 30th Street.


Hold These Truths 
Through Dec. 8. Shocked by the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, and driven by fear and prejudice, America shipped its own citizens of Japanese ancestry off to internment camps for forced detention. Hold These Truths tells the inspiring true story of American hero Gordon Hirabayashi, a young man who defied an unjust order. Join Gordon on a 50-year quest to avenge an injustice to his community, restore his faith in the U.S. Constitution and reconcile America’s greatness with its shortcomings. San Diego Repertory Theatre, Lyceum Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza, downtown.


Don’t miss the La Jolla Christmas Parade & Holiday Festival.

La Jolla Christmas Parade and Holiday Festival 
Dec. 8. Experience the holidays in San Diego’s crown jewel with vintage automobiles, equestrian units, floats, marching bands and an appearance from Santa Claus. 1:30 p.m. Free event. Girard Avenue, La Jolla.


San Diego Bay Parade of Lights
Dec. 8, 15. The 48th annual San Diego Bay Parade of Lights will return to the Bayfront on December 8 and 15. This year, the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights has partnered with Comic-Con to kick off the holiday season. Participants in the highly anticipated boat parade will decorate their craft to fit the theme, “Comic-Con on the Bay.” The parade starts at Shelter Island and proceeds to Harbor Island, the Embarcadero, Seaport Village, the Pier at Cesar Chavez Park, and ends at the Ferry Landing in Coronado. 


Old Town Las Posadas
Dec. 14. Let Old Town San Diego help make your holiday season merry and bright! Halls will be decked, fires built, songs sung, and shopping to be done during Old Town Las Posadas. Fiesta de Reyes invites you to enjoy the holiday spirit with festive decorations throughout the park, entertainment, and holiday experiences for the whole family. At 5:00 PM, the traditional Las Posadas procession will begin. Based on the story of Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter in Bethlehem, this event has been part of Old Town San Diego’s celebration of Christmas for 68 years. Following the procession there will be a piñata for children. The day’s festivities will wrap up with a campfire and s’mores in the Plaza. Noon- 8 p.m. 2415 San Diego Ave, San Diego.


Mission Bay Christmas Boat Parade of Lights
Dec. 14. The Mission Bay Christmas Boat Parade of Lights, a distinctly California celebration, features boats decorated for the holidays that will sail around the Bay. This free, distinctly California celebration features boats decorated for the annual holiday season that will sail around Mission Bay. A highly anticipated event in the San Diego community, dozens of vessels take to the water for the parade. 6 – 9 p.m. 1215 El Carmel Place, Mission Bay. 


Studio by the Bay 
Dec. 14. In collaboration with The New Children’s Museum, Seaport Village presents Studio by the Bay Family Days! Featuring art-making with two artists-in-residence, Kurosh Yahyai and Jose Venegas, children and families are invited to stop by the colorful waterfront studio and enjoy free monthly workshops and play-based experiences. On December 14, visit Studio by the Bay and give the gift of art this holiday season! Guests will design and make a wearable “shrinky-dink” and card for someone special. 10 a,m. – 2 p.m. Seaport Village, 809 W Harbor Drive,

Festive Bubbly and Brunch at the Beach featuring Champagne Billecart-Salmon.

Festive Bubbly and Brunch at the Beach featuring Champagne Billecart-Salmon
Dec. 15. San Diego’s beachfront hotspot invites all brunch-goers to JRDN for a Festive Bubbly and Brunch on Sunday, Dec. 15, featuring Champagne Billecart-Salmon. Located on the Pacific Beach boardwalk, JRDN is the perfect spot to sip on champagne while taking in the beautiful Pacific views. With bubbly in hand and the ocean in sight, guests will enjoy a four-course brunch prepared by Executive Chef David Warner and paired perfectly with bubbles from Champagne Billecart-Salmon. The brunch experience with wine pairings costs $89 per person and includes tax and gratuity. 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. JRDN, 723 Felspar St, Pacific Beach. Reservations


Mamma Mia
Through Dec. 15. Coronado Playhouse ends its 73rd season with the award-winning, high-energy production of Mamma Mia! Fall in love with the characters, the story, and the music that make Mamma Mia! the ultimate feel-good show. This sunny, funny, sensational story is told through the magic of ABBA’s timeless music and explosive dance numbers. Music and lyrics are by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, the musical writing team and the “guy-half” of ABBA, that brought us the hits you know and love, like “Dancing Queen,” the title song “Mamma Mia!” and more. 1835 Strand Way, Coronado, 619.435.4856. Tickets


Cambodian Rock Band 
Through Dec. 15. Dubbed “fierce, gorgeous and heartwarming” by the Los Angeles Times, this epic play/rock concert thrusts us into the life of a young woman trying to piece together her family history thirty years after her father fled Cambodia. Featuring a cast that performs a mix of contemporary Dengue Fever hits and classic Cambodian oldies, playwright and UC San Diego alum Lauren Yee brings to vivid life the Cambodian rock scene of the ‘60s and ‘70s, a movement cut short by the Khmer Rouge’s brutal attempt to erase the music (and musicians) once and for all. La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Dr., La Jolla, 858.550.1010.


Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade
Dec. 15. Deck those paws with bells so jolly and jingle all the way through the Gaslamp Quarter for the 12th Annual Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade. Pet owners and their furry, feathered, and scaled companions are invited to don their favorite costumes for this jolly promenade and Holiday Pet Market. Entry to participate in the Pet Parade is just $15 per pet in advance, and $20 on the day of the event. Free for spectators!  Noon- 5 p.m.

Carlsbad’s Jeune et Jolie Turns One.

Jeune et Jolie Turns One
Dec. 17. In celebration of the restaurant’s anniversary, Jeune et Jolie has planned a very special Chef Collaboration dinner with Chef Mathew Peters. Peters, working alongside Jeune et Jolie’s Executive Chef Andrew Bachelier, has created a 7-course dinner worthy of the occasion. Tickets for this celebratory evening are $170 per person, inclusive of tax and tip (beverages not included.) Vegetarian and pescatarian requests happily accommodated with at least one week’s advance notice, so please note in your reservation if desired. 2659 State St, Carlsbad. Reservations


The Santaland Diaries
Through Dec. 22. From the brilliantly twisted mind of David Sedaris comes a classic tonic for the holidaze. Out of work and options, The Santaland Diaries finds David as he begins his career as an elf in Macy’s Santaland during the holiday crunch. Battling throngs of rabid families clamoring towards a drunken Santa to satiate their Christmas fix, David makes do with some hilarious observations on human nature, and an unexpected connection to the holiday spirit. Through December 22. 4545 Park Boulevard #101, University Heights, 619.220.0097. 


Rare Society
December 24. For an upscale Christmas Eve dinner, slide into a booth at University Heights’ newest neighborhood hotspot, Rare Society. They’ve rolled out a new cocktail menu for the holiday season featuring a selection of festive takes on classic drinks including a boozy eggnog, their holiday old fashioned and Too Many Zooz (bison grass vodka, herbal liquor, sparkling wine, cinnamon, apple cider vinegar, bitters). Cozy up on the outside patio, or pick a warm seat inside to enjoy the shared plates menu featuring Santa Maria style wood-fired steaks, chops, and seafood with mouthwatering steakhouse sides to accompany. For Christmas Eve reservations, please call (619) 501-6404 or visit website. 4130 Park Blvd, University Heights, 619.501.6404.


Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa
Dec. 25. Indulge in festive fare on Christmas Day with the Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa’s holiday buffet. Take in breathtaking views of Mission Bay while enjoying holiday flavors, including scrumptious carving stations, main courses, sides, salads and desserts. A children’s buffet ensures little ones have plenty to feast on, and guitarist will play Christmas favorites throughout the afternoon. $62 Adults, $25 Children (5-11), Free (under 5). 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.


Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas
Through Dec. 29. The perfect holiday tradition for spirited kids young and old, Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas is a colorful production of the heartwarming Dr. Seuss classic. See website for show times and ticket prices. Shiley Stage at the Old Globe, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park, 619.234.5623.


New Year’s Eve Three-Course Festive Dinner at L’Auberge Del Mar
Dec. 31. Welcome 2020 at L’Auberge Del Mar and indulge in a festive meal of fine dining. Starters include Smoked Trout Roe with house potato chips and Sundried Tomato Tartelette with goat cheese mousse. Delectable main selections include Sea Scallops with chanterelle mushrooms, Butter Poached Lobster Tail with Alaskan fingerling potato or Ratatouille Farro Latkes with tarragon vinaigrette, among other delicious options. See website for full menu- and don’t forget to order dessert. $125+. 7 p.m. first seating; 9 p.m. second seating. Please call 858-793-6467 for reservations.


Winter Wonderland at Fairmont Grand Del Mar
Through Jan 1. ‘Tis the season for celebrations at Fairmont Grand Del Mar with the second annual Winter Wonderland at The Grand. Local families and resort guests alike are invited to take a whimsical ride on a Ferris wheel or carrousel, snap a selfie with Santa around a festive 25-foot tree, and snack on s’mores by the fire. For the first time, Winter Wonderland at The Grand will feature an outdoor ice skating rink with over 5,000 square feet of ice featuring open skating as well as special ice shows on select dates. See website for additional information. 5300 Grand Del Mar Court, Del Mar.


Skating by The Sea at Hotel del Coronado.


Skating by the Sea 
Through Jan 5. This spectacular beachfront ice rink features stunning views of the Pacific and benefits Make-A-Wish San Diego. Now you can reserve your own rink side lounge at Frostbite – A Place to Chill. Where guests will enjoy skating passes and plush 4 or 6 person seating around a roaring fire pit with full food and beverage service. Choose from your favorite holiday-themed libations or snacks and enjoy unlimited hot cocoa and coffee as you enjoy watching the beachfront ice skating. Through January 5, 2020. $30+. Hotel Del Coronado, 1500 Orange Ave, Coronado.


Rady’s Children’s Ice Rink
Through Jan 5. Rady Children’s Hospital Auxiliary and Liberty Station will kick off the holiday season with outdoor ice skating at the Rady Children’s Ice Rink at Liberty Station. The rink will stay open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. except on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and will be featured in Liberty Station’s Tree Lighting & Holiday Festivites on Friday, Nov. 29. Closes January 5. $15 adults;13 children.



Photos: Rare Society courtesy Chemistry PR. La Jolla Christmas Parade courtesy La Jolla Cove. La Valencia courtesy The Nth Element. Jeune et Jolie courtesy Bay Bird. JRDN courtesy Chemistry PR. Skating by the Sea courtesy J Public Relations. 


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