Top Things to Do in San Diego: November 29 – December 2, 2012

North Park Toyland Parade and Festival

The holiday season is officially upon us! If you are avoiding the stores (or even better…done with your shopping), get out and enjoy one of these San Diego events and things to do this weekend.

1. NCAA® 2012 Women’s College Cup

NCAA 2012 Women's College Cup

Catch the excitement of the NCAA 2012 Women’s College Cup for its first visit to San Diego

For the first time ever, the University of San Diego will be hosting the NCAA College Cup, the women’s Division I soccer national championship on November 30 & December 2, 2012 at Torero Stadium. Penn State, Florida State, North Carolina and Stanford will make their way to San Diego to play for the national championship.

Location: Torero Stadium, 5998 Alcala Park, San Diego, CA 92110 (map)
Dates: November 20 and December 2, 2012
Cost: $40 for all three games. Parking is free
> Find out more about the NCAA 2012 Women’s College Cup

2. LEGO Train City Exhibit

LEGO Train City Exhibit - San Diego Model Railroad Museum

All aboard the train to LEGO City at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum

If you have kids of a certain age, visiting this exhibit at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum is a must. The exhibit features LEGO trains, trestles, transportation, skyscrapers, canyons, mountains, an ocean boardwalk and town buildings. Little ones can also enjoy playful learning in a LEGO Brick City zone filled with interactive, creative and educational activities.

Location: 1649 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101 (map)
Dates: November 20, 2012 – January 18, 2013
Time: 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM (Closed on Mondays)
Cost: Included with admission. Adults – $8, Seniors – $6, Children 14 and under – Free
> Find out more about the San Diego Model Railroad Museum’s LEGO Train City Exhibit

3. Holiday Lights at the Del Mar Fairgrounds


Enjoy the largest animated drive-through light show on the U.S. West Coast with more than 400 brilliant holiday light displays. Themed for the holiday season, the Holiday of Lights is a spectacular drive-through light show with crowd-pleasing, family oriented displays organized into themes, which include: Candy Cane Lane, Toyland, San Diego County Fair, Treasures by the Lake, Del Mar Racetrack, the Twelve Days of Christmas and Elves at Play.

> Find more Christmas light displays in San Diego

Location: Del Mar Fairgrounds, 2260 Jimmy Durante Boulevard, Del Mar, CA 92014 (map)
Dates: November 22, 2012 – January 1, 2013
Times: Sunday-Thursday: 5:30 to 10:00 PM. Friday-Saturday: 5:30 to 10:30 PM
Cost: $15 per car, up to 5 people. $20 per vehicle, 6 or more people. $50 per bus. $10 per person for the Holiday Hayride
> Find out more about Holiday Lights at the Del Mar Fairgrounds

4. North Park Toyland Parade and Festival

North Park Toyland Parade and Festival

Get swept up in the holiday spirit during the North Park Toyland Parade and Festival

Celebrating its 49th year, the North Park Toyland Parade and festival includes vintage cars, marching bands, dance groups, beauty queens and city officials. Keep your eye out for Santa Claus and his sleigh, as he jingles all the way down the parade route.

> Discover even more Holiday Things to Do in San Diego

Location: Click here for the parade route
Date: December 1, 2012
Time: Parade starts at 11:00 AM
Cost: Free
> Find out more about the North Park Toyland Parade and Festival

5. SoNo Park Holiday Fest & Chilipalooza

SoNo Park Holiday Fest & Chilipalooza Collage

Chili, Shopping, Chili, Beer and Wine, Chili and Family Fun at the SoNo Park Holiday Fest & Chilipalooza. Did we mention there will be chili?

For the past 3 years, the two neighborhoods of South Park and North Park come together for the SoNo Park Holiday Fest & Chilipalooza. This family friendly festival offers a kids zone, shopping from local artisans, music, local craft beer and, of course, chili made by local restaurants and residents. Stop by to taste some chili and vote for your favorite in the “People’s Choice Award.”

Location: 32nd Street and Thorn, San Diego, CA 92104 (map)
Date: December 2, 2012
Time: 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Cost: Festival is Free. $20 for a ceramic chili bowl, 5 restaurant tastings and unlimited community tastings
> Find out more about SoNo Park Holiday Fest & Chilipalooza

> Browse more great things to do on the San Diego Event Calendar

Know of any other great events going on in San Diego this weekend? Let us and others know about them in the comments below.

Robert Arends

5 to Try: Sparkling East County Holiday Delights!

Skiers at the Viejas Outdoor Skating Rink
Skiers at the Viejas Outdoor Skating Rink in San Diego's East County

SoCal’s largest outdoor ice skating rink at Viejas!

OK, I know it’s only a few days after Halloween and Thanksgiving is still a few weeks away, but the winter holidays will be here before you know it!

So gather up the family, grab your gift list, Santa hat and mittens (yep, there’s a 55 degree chill her in the air at night – brrrr! 😉 ) and join me on a jolly jaunt to San Diego’s charming East County communities. They really know how to make some merry.

Following are 5 to Try East County Holiday Delights:

1. 66th Annual Mother Goose Parade

Goose Float at the Mother Goose Parade in San Diego's East County

El Cajon’s Mother Goose Parade!

The colorful Mother Goose Parade in El Cajon is San Diego’s traditional holiday kick-off, featuring thousands of spectators, colorful floats, marching bands, equestrians and celebrity appearances – fun for the whole family!

Location: Begin at Magnolia and Main, head down Main St. to N. Second Street, turn North then end at Madison.
Date: November 18, 2012
Time: 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM, Parade starts at 10:00 AM
Cost: Free
> Find out more about the 66th Annual Mother Goose Parade

2. Julian’s Country Christmas Celebration & Tree Lighting

Julian Country Christmas & Tree Lighting.

The historic, Norman Rockwell-esque mountain town of Julian kicks off the holidays with a Country Christmas celebration & Tree Lighting, complete with costumed carolers, Santa Claus and, of course, their famous apple pies and piping hot apple cider!

Location: Julian’s Pioneer Park (map)
Date: November 24, 2012
Time: Starts at 4:00 PM. Lighting around 6:00 PM
Cost: Free
> Find out more about Julian’s Country Christmas Celebration & Tree Lighting

3. Santa Train North Pole Limited

Santa on the North Pole Limited

Make tracks for the Santa Train North Pole Limited!

All aboard the Santa Train North Pole Limited, a Christmas vintage train ride through our rustic backcountry, departing from the Campo Depot. The adventure features Santa and his elves, cookies and hot cocoa, plus a reading of the famous holiday story, The Polar Express. Reserve seats now for this sell-out holiday favorite!

Location: State Highway 94 & Forrest Gate Road, Campo, CA (map)
Dates: Fridays and Saturdays, November 23 – December 22
Times: Trains at 5:00 PM and 7:00 PM (depending on the date)
Cost: $20-$50, Toddlers under 2 are free
> Find out more about Santa Train North Pole Limited

4. Ice Skating at the Viejas Outlet Center

Ice Skaters at the Viejas Outlet Center in San Diego's East County

There’s plenty of room at the largest outdoor skating rink in Southern California.

The Peanuts Christmas special always comes to mind at the Viejas Outlet Center, home of the largest outdoor ice skating rink in Southern California!

Location: 5005 Willows Rd Suite 229, Alpine, CA 91901 (map)
Dates: November 16 – January 6, 2012
Time: TBD
Cost: TBD
> Find out more about Ice Skating at the Viejas Outlet Center 

5. Alpine Village Christmas Parade of Lights & Snow Festival

Santa Claus at the Alpine Christmas Parade!

The quaint town of Alpine kicks off the season with its Alpine Village Christmas Parade of Lights & Snow Festival, featuring a parade, Santa and his elves, caroling and a big snow mountain for sledding. Snow in San Diego… who knew?!

Location: 1347 Tavern Road, Alpine, CA (map)
Date: December 7, 2012
Time: Starts at 6:30 PM
> Find out more about the Alpine Village Christmas Parade of Lights & Festival

A hearty happy (early) “Ho ho ho” from San Diego! 🙂 Know of any other great East County Holiday events? Let us and other’s know in the comments below.

Brent Bernasconi

Trains, Grains and No Automobiles – A Green Beer Tour of San Diego

La Jolla Wine Tour Beer Train Tour Collage - Coaster Ride

I love beer (IPAs to be exact) and it helps that I live in San Diego with over 40 amazing breweries to its name. The hard part is getting a chance to sample all of the different local brews.

There is a new way in town to do just that through La Jolla Wine Tours (LJWT) who are now offering a Beer Train Tour. LJWT’s goal is to showcase great San Diego breweries, wineries and restaurants while making sure everyone has a fun and safe time. They offer beer and wine tours on foot, by car, and now, by train that take visitors all over the county. All I heard was beer, food, train, frivolity and sunshine and I was sold.

On a gorgeous Friday afternoon, my little brother (now 21, which is scary), myself, and a few other beer fans met up with beer and wine sommelier, Stephen, and tour guide/tour creator, Patricia, from LJWT to embark on The Beer Train Tour.

Once aboard The Beer Train Tour, our group made three stops along the coast of San Diego starting in the Downtown area and ending in the seaside village of Carlsbad. Here is a sample of what you might expect to experience on this fun and green tour:

La Jolla Wine Tour Beer Train Tour Collage - The Beer Co.

Station 1: Downtown’s The Beer Co.

We all met at our first stop, The Beer Company, in San Diego’s Downtown. After the meet and greet, Stephen got down to business and led us through the complexities and flavors of a few samples from the Beer Co.’s wide selection and styles of in-house beers. As a bonus, we were lucky enough to meet one of the brewers while he poured us a pitcher straight from the tanks! To keep things fun, Patricia threw out a couple trivia questions that resulted in a few prizes for me (I admit it- I am a beer nerd) and the ability to select a growler fill for the train ride.

La Jolla Wine Tour Beer Train Tour Collage - Coaster Ride

Once good and giddy, our group took a short walk to the Santa Fe Train Station to hop on the train. As it pulled out of the station, we all relaxed in our comfy chairs while enjoying a growler fill of The Beer Co.’s Trippel (a Belgian style Tripel) as the views of the waterfront chugged by. Next stop, the sleepy surfer town of Encinitas.

La Jolla Wine Tour Beer Train Tour Collage - Encinitas and Union Kitchen

Station 2: Encinitas’ Union Kitchen and Tap

Moving away from the hustle and bustle of downtown, we disembarked from the train into the sun-kissed, laid back surfer town of Encinitas. We strolled down the South Coast Highway 101 enjoying the warm ocean breeze and picking up a few fun facts from Stephen as we made the short walk to the Union Kitchen and Tap. Stephen perused the local beers on tap and made sure to order samples based on everyone’s preferences. Magically, both food and beer samples made their way to our table and before we knew it, it was time to ride on to our next destination.

Note to self: Head back to Encinitas and the Union for a quintessential San Diego afternoon of sunshine, surf and great beer.

La Jolla Wine Tour Beer Train Tour Collage - Carlsbad and Coaster

Station 3: Carlsbad’s The Compass

Now even happier and chattier than before, everyone unloaded from the train into the coastal village of Carlsbad. As we walked to our final stop, Stephen gave us a quick history of Carlsbad and its special liquid resource, mineral water. After waving hello to a LJWT wine tour group at the Witch Creek Winery, our lively group of new friends sat down at The Compass for a few more samples, mac and cheese (that my brother loved), and good conversation before heading back south on the train to San Diego and the weekend.

As I reflect back on the fun I had, I especially appreciated how Stephen and Patricia made sure everyone received the chance to both sample a beer style they loved and one they had never tried. As a local, the tour also introduced me to new local restaurants (my brother has decided to return to The Compass for his birthday in May) with a large selection of taps allowing San Diegans and visitors the chance to sample many local beers in one place.

Whether you are in the mood for beer or wine, LJWT has you covered with even more great tours:
– Wine Train Tour
– San Diego County Wine Tours
– Beer and Wine Walking Tours
– Special Holiday Tours

So what are you waiting for? Call LJWT, get on the train and enjoy all that San Diego has to offer.

Tell me in the comments below: Where is your favorite place to grab a drink while in San Diego?

PS. Stop by Bine and Vine in San Diego’s Normal Heights Neighborhood for a great selection of bottled beers and wines. Ask for Stephen and tell him Brent sent you!

Robert Arends

‘Tis the season: Holiday Festivities in East County!

SoCal's largest ice skating rink at Viejas Outlet Center

San Diego’s bucolic East County always beckons me this time of year. I don’t know if it’s the crispness in the air, change of color in the leaves or subtle scent of pine trees as you drive out into the backcountry that’s so enticing, but it’s absolutely wonderful and welcoming! It’s where locals and visitors alike go to experience winter in San Diego. And yes, we even get snow on occasion in the higher elevations. Our historic mountain town of Julian is particularly nice – like a Norman Rockwell painting come to life when the first snow falls.

With Thanksgiving and the official launch of the holiday season just around the corner, following are some fun and festive activities for folks to enjoy in East County:

El Cajon's Mother Goose Parade!

  • Make some merry at the 65th Annual Mother Goose Parade on Nov. 20. This very popular, local holiday tradition is the largest parade in San Diego County and largest of its type west of the Mississippi, attracting thousands of spectators to the streets of El Cajon. The free fete features marching bands, colorful floats, equestrians and this year’s Grand Marshal, Taylor Guitars.

    Carriage ride through Julian.

  • There’s nothing more charming than a good ol’ fashioned Christmas celebration. Jingle up to Julian on Nov. 26 for the Julian Country Christmas & Tree Lighting, featuring strolling carolers, horse-drawn carriages, the scent of freshly-baked apple pies (yum!) and Santa Claus’ arrival aboard a bright red fire engine for the tree lighting.
  • The delightful downtown of La Mesa is transformed into a Victorian wonderland on Dec. 9 & 10 during their family-friendly Christmas in the Village, featuring horse-drawn carriages, strolling minstrels, carolers, an outdoor market with gift ideas galore and jolly ol’ Saint Nick.

    Ice skating at Viejas Outlet Center

  • The quaint town of Alpine joins in the festivities on Dec. 9 with its 16th Annual Alpine Village Christmas Parade of Lights & Snow Festival, complete with a snow hill for sledding! Just down the road, Viejas Outlet Center (awesome holiday shopping deals!) is home to the largest outdoor ice-skating rink in Southern California – open now through New Year’s.

    Santa on the North Pole Limited train in Campo.

  • All aboard… the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum’s 8th Annual North Pole Limited! This popular Christmas vintage train ride through the backcountry to the “North Pole” takes place on Nov. 25-26, Dec. 2-3, 9-10 and 16-17.The one-hour adventure begins at the Campo Depot and features an on-board reading of a famous Christmas train story (hint: see photo above 😉 ), hot cocoa, holiday cookies and an appearance by Santa Claus and his elves. Reservations are required; sure to sell out! 

    Wintertime in Julian.

     Happy Holidays from East County!

Robert Arends

3 Tried and True Backcountry Adventures

Joy is in the journey! Ne’er so true in San Diego’s scenic East County where wild and wonderful adventure tours await. From gold mine trains to desert off-roading to flights into the wild blue yonder, following are three sure bets to put some “spring” in your sightseeing:

Mine a good time at Smith Ranch in Julian.

  1. Make tracks… For the Smith Ranch Train Rides in Julian! Just in time for the town’s big annual Daffodil Show (March 26-27), pioneers of all ages can enjoy a one-mile train ride up the mountain and through the blooming backcountry. Afterward, explore an authentic 1870 gold rush mine (climb into one of the mine cars for an unforgettable ride!), and then try your hand panning for gold!  
  2. Wheel good time… California Overland is roughing it at its finest, especially venturing deep into the vast (600,000 acres!) untamed landscape of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park – “one of the most pristine desert parks in the world” (National Geographic). Hop board their open-air military vehicle for an unforgettable wildflower tour, as you discover hidden palm oases, slot canyons, wind caves, Native-American pictographs, historic ruins, stark Badlands, ancient fossil reefs, dry lake beds and breathtaking vistas {whew!}. Travel + Leisure Magazine-approved! 

    Go wild with California Overland!

  3. Fly like an eagle…  Just west of Borrego in Warner Springs, grab some serious air with Sky Sailing where your heart will soar high as the birds as you hitch a ride on a sail plane (also called a glider)! It’s the ultimate adrenaline rush and the views of pine peaked mountains and the desert floor in the distance are out of this world!

    Hip to the height with Sky Sailing.