A look at all the top late-fall and winter happenings around San Diego during the 2023-24 holiday season:
Attractions and Events
Liberty Station Salutes the Season
When: Through Jan. 7
Holiday cheer abounds at Liberty Station this season, from a festive Holiday Tree Lighting to a Nutcracker Tea with the San Diego Ballet to a Hanukkah Celebration and Menorah Lighting. And don’t miss the Rady Children’s Ice Rink, located in the Central Promenade at ARTS DISTRICT Liberty Station. The outdoor skating rink is an ideal place to take a winter spin, and it raises funds for the Thriving After Cancer program at the Peckham Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders.
Del Mar Racetrack Fall Season
When: Through Dec. 3
The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club’s fall Bing Crosby Season kicked off Nov. 10 and runs through Dec. 3, with a lineup of exciting races and events. The fall meet will feature 15 stakes races in 13 days, and the lineup of trackside events includes the Uncorked Derby Days Wine Festival, Thanksgiving Brunch, Beer & Wine Fest and more.
SeaWorld Christmas Celebration
When: Through Jan. 7
The SeaWorld Christmas Celebration returns to SeaWorld San Diego. Guests can enjoy live entertainment, delicious festive food and drinks, and eye-catching displays, including the 320-foot SkyTower Tree of Lights.
Skating at the Hotel Del
When: Through Jan. 7
Skating by the Sea® at Hotel del Coronado has returned for the 2023 holiday season, as part of the Hotel Del’s Frosted by the Sea celebrations. The beachfront ice rink features stunning views of the Pacific and benefits Make-A-Wish® San Diego. Guests can also reserve the rinkside Frostbite Lounge with plush seating, roaring fire pits, holiday-themed libations and delectable bites. Frosted by the Sea also features sparkling lights draping the hotel’s iconic red turrets, plus Christmas trees, visits from Santa, snowy surprises and garlands galore, filling the property with holiday cheer.
Lightscape at the Botanic Garden
When: Through Jan. 1
The internationally acclaimed Lightscape show illuminates the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas once again. The enchanting, after-dark, illuminated trail spans one mile and features a festive world of wonder, with over 1 million twinkling lights. Attendees can enjoy eye-catching art installations that come alive at night with color, imagination and sound.
When: Through Dec. 31.
Annual holiday cocktail pop-ups Miracle and Sippin’ Santa have returned to town, with inventive holiday-themed drinks and decorations. The Miracle cocktail list includes a “Christmapolitan,” made with vodka, elderflower, dry vermouth, spiced cranberry sauce, lime, rosemary and absinthe mist; and the Snowball Old-Fashioned, with rye whiskey, gingerbread, aromatic and wormwood bitters and orange essence. This year, Miracle is at Draft Belmont Park, while Sippin’ Santa has transformed The Grass Skirt in Pacific Beach.
When: Nov. 24 – Dec. 23, 2023
The USS Midway Museum will deck out the carrier from bow to stern with hundreds of thousands of twinkling and shimmering lights to celebrate this year’s holidays with “Jingle Jets,” its inaugural festive lighting experience. This joyous evening event will be the newest holiday tradition in San Diego.
When: Dec. 1-2
December Nights will return to Balboa Park as the City of San Diego’s largest free holiday festival. The family-friendly event brings San Diegans together to enjoy the lights, the sounds, the attractions and, of course, the amazing food.
When: Dec. 9 – Jan. 1
The San Diego Zoo will be aglow with holiday cheer and decorations, with music filling the air, joyful roaming entertainers, and special food items and sweets available. The Zoo’s Jungle Bells celebration lights up the night until 8 p.m. (except Dec. 24) with entertainment featuring the spectacular show “Aurora.”
DirecTV Holiday Bowl
When: Dec. 27
The Holiday Bowl returns to Petco Park on Dec. 27, with DirecTV as the new title sponsor and featuring top teams from the Pac-12 and ACC. For the second straight year, the downtown skies above Petco Park will light up after the Holiday Bowl with the 46th KGB Sky Show. First launched in 1976, the KGB Sky Show is an astonishing and crowd-pleasing fireworks display synchronized to music and broadcast over the radio.
New Hotels and Renovations
Wayfarer San Diego
Opened in Sept. 2023 on the sand in Pacific Beach, the refreshed and rebranded Wayfarer San Diego features 126 bright and beachy accommodations, an oceanfront pool deck with a heated pool and outdoor firepit, and the new Zephyr Café for quick bites, craft canned cocktails and local roasts from Bird Rock Coffee Roasters.
In July, CH Projects reopened the historic Lafayette Hotel following a $31 million makeover that included opening five new restaurants and bars. Still to come in late fall are Le Horse restaurant, Lulu’s Jungle Room and The Mississippi Room. Le Horse will be a luxurious European-style restaurant that pays homage to the old-world style of restaurant dining, with prime rib cut tableside, cold martinis and table service carts. Lulu’s Jungle Room and the Mississippi Room will be in adjacent rooms and operate together as a supper club and bar, except on nights when Lulu’s offers live music on its clamshell stage. Then, they will run separately, and the Mississippi Room will also offer a chef’s table meal service.
Hotel La Jolla
A multimillion-dollar renovation is nearly complete for Hotel La Jolla, Curio Collection by Hilton, a landmark 50-year-old property in the beautiful seaside community of La Jolla Shores. The project is slated for completion in November 2023. It includes a revamp of each of the property’s 110 guestrooms and suites, 1,600 square feet of meetings and events space, and the 11th Floor, which will include the opening of Sea & Sky, a penthouse-level fine dining restaurant that’s replacing the hotel’s existing eatery Cusp Dining & Drinks.
Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina
The Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina’s multimillion-dollar renovation to the Marina Tower will launch in early 2024. The redesign of the Marina Tower focuses on the hotel’s public spaces, guest rooms and suites. The resort will also welcome four new concepts: Rumorosa, a Cali-Baja-inspired dining outlet; the first San Diego Brewery X location; Sunglow harborside bar and cabana club; and Strada, a casual grab-and-go eatery.
Arts and Culture
Interpretations 2023 Exhibition
When: Through Dec. 30.
Interpretations 2023 is featured at the Visions Museum of Textile Art from Oct. 13 through Dec. 30. This biennial juried exhibition showcases some of the most innovative art quilts today. Of the 377 entries received from 13 countries, jurors invited only 37 artists to the exhibit. In its fifth year, this exhibition celebrates their collective creative spirit.
Beyond the Elements
When: Through Dec. 31
From Sept. 14 to Dec. 31, Beyond the Elements at the New Americans Museum pays tribute to the vibrant and creative energy of San Diego’s hip-hop subculture from the mid-’80s to early ‘90s. It’s a salute to the immigrant and multi-gen youths who fueled this unforgettable movement, uniting diverse communities and inspiring a generation. Guests can explore the fusion of cultures that defined this iconic era, celebrating self-expression through aerosol art, graffiti, DJs, MCs, underground parties and dance crews.
Kelly Akashi: Formations at MCASD
When: Through Feb. 18
The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s new exhibit, Kelly Akashi: Formations, runs Sept. 21 through Feb. 18 at the museum’s flagship location in La Jolla. Encompassing a selection of artworks made over the past decade, Kelly Akashi: Formations features a newly commissioned series in which Akashi explores the inherited impact of her family’s imprisonment in a Japanese-American incarceration camp during World War II.
Restaurants, Breweries and Bars
Opened this April in Leucadia, Manna is a “modern-day atelier” created by executive chef and owner Andrew Bachelier (Jeune et Jolie, Cucina Enoteca). This stylish cafe and test kitchen’s eclectic and craveable daytime menu ranges from coconut milk-soaked, Spanish-style French toast to blue corn chilaquiles in mole negro and Turkish poached eggs served alongside fresh juices and tonics. Its 25-seat patio will also be used for special events, including preview dinners for Chick & Hawk, the highly anticipated North County restaurant with Tony Hawk.
Modeled after a modern Parisian Cafe, Pâtisserie Mélanie opened its new North Park storefront this May. The menu includes classic, yeast-leavened viennoiseries such as croissants, escargots aka pains aux raisins, and two different sizes of kouign-amann, the caramelized Breton pastry, as well as canneles, macarons, financiers, and traditional cakes and tarts ranging from mille-feuille and Paris-Brest to tarte tatin. There are also coffee drinks, French-style hot chocolate, and various teas and tisanes from French gourmet food house Fauchon.
Japanese Food Emporium
An all-in-one destination for Japanese food that’s emerged in the East Village is an ambitious enterprise from the team behind Beshock Ramen. The largest storefront belongs to Asa Bakery, a sidewalk-facing cafe offering coffee, espresso drinks, matcha and hojicha lattes. The in-house bakery turns out a wide range of Japanese bread and pastries. Behind a secret door hidden in the right wall of the bakery is Bar Kamon, a speakeasy that transports guests back to Japan in the 1920s. A door in the back of the bakery leads to Sushi Gaga, a cozy 10-seat, omakase-only sushi bar.
In September, chef Helene Henderson and her actor-director husband John Stockwell opened the ninth and largest location of their Malibu-born international restaurant chain in the former Harbor House location in Seaport Village. Malibu Farm’s menu is vegetable-forward with a focus on sustainability. The restaurant sources produce from local farmers and serves brunch and dinner daily, along with seasonal cocktails.
Rikka Fika Café
In September, Rikka Fika Café, a weekly Asian bakery coffee pop-up business, moved into a newly leased cafe in East Village. The bakery offers a concise menu of carefully crafted coffee and matcha drinks and a rotating pour-over and bean menu curated by international specialty coffee roasters. The small-batch baked goods are made in-house with fresh, seasonal ingredients.
The James Beard Award-nominated L.A. pizza joint Pitfire Pizza, renowned across Los Angeles and Orange Counties for its prodigious pies, is making its debut in Carlsbad this November. The Carlsbad menu is anchored by 12 core pies, all of which begin with Pitfire Pizza’s slow-rise fermented sourdough pizza crust. Pitfire’s California-style pizzas are known for their quality and custom ingredients such as house-made vegan cheese and cauliflower crusts to please all, including vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.
Steak 48, a high-end national steakhouse chain, will open in the long-shuttered Searsucker space at the Del Mar Highlands Town Center in October. The restaurant is an experiential steak and seafood spot offering multiple private dining rooms for special events, chef’s table experiences, a glass-walled kitchen, a 3,000-bottle wine vault, and an in-house 28-day beef-aging program. The new location joins six other Steak 48 restaurants nationwide.
Bivouac Ciderworks will soon open a 5,700-square-foot space next door to its existing taproom and brewery in North Park, which will triple its overall footprint. The Adventure Lodge will offer 100 indoor and outdoor seats, a coffee shop, a communal co-working-style space, a market for cider and chef-driven pantry and other items, a retail shop with adventure-inspired gifts, a cider education and tasting bar, a members-only private brandy lounge and a large cider production facility.
Return of the Whaling Bar
Following a 10-year closure, the Whaling Bar will reopen this fall at the La Valencia Hotel. Opened in the 1940s, the nautical-themed cocktail lounge will continue as part of the hotel, but its cocktail and bar menu will be created and managed by the SDCM Restaurant Group.
Finca, a casual, 90-seat California tapas restaurant and wine bottle shop in North Park, is set to open soon. The restaurant is a project from Dan Valerino and Joe Bower, two hospitality veterans who met while working at the acclaimed restaurant Juniper & Ivy. The space will be an open kitchen concept and the menu will feature Spanish-inspired shareable plates, complemented by a bar program highlighting sangrias and wines from Spain and California.
Busalacchi’s new Lala Gastropub
Busalacchi Restaurants will open its latest concept, an upscale Italian gastropub named Lala, this fall. The Busalacchi family has owned restaurants in Little Italy since 1996, including Nonna, Zucchero and Barbusa. Lala will serve shareable modern Italian food, along with cocktails. The restaurant will have an “Italian Mediumalist” design, including an 18-seat granite-top bar and a covered outdoor patio illuminated by fringed lanterns.
Wildflour at Liberty Station
Open Gym restaurateur/chef Phillip Esteban will soon open his latest restaurant concept in Barracks 19 at Liberty Station. Inspired by a cafe of the same name in the Philippines, Wildflour will be an all-day restaurant/delicatessen incorporating elements of a bakery, coffeehouse and bar. The menu will deliver fresh Southern California vibes, centering around seafood and expanding on the relationships forged with local fishermen over the pandemic-born Fish to Families program.
Pali Wine’s new restaurant
Pali Wine Co., a Central Coast winery with a tasting room in Little Italy, is readying its first full-service restaurant in North Park. The 63-seat restaurant will offer Mediterranean fare, including house-baked pita, fresh seafood, and California produce. The wine menu will feature the full spectrum of Pali’s cellars, which include still and sparkling, white, pink, orange and red wines. Architects Tecscape Design are giving the indoor-outdoor venue the vibe of Central Coast wine country.
Le Coq in La Jolla
In December, San Diego restaurateurs Brian Malarkey and Christopher Puffer (Animae, Herb & Wood, Herb & Sea) will open Le Coq, a French-inspired steakhouse, in their former Herringbone restaurant space in La Jolla. The restaurant will be remodeled into an elegant, modernist French space serving escargot, frisée salad, chateaubriand and other classic French fare.
Enlitenment, an Asian-fusion eatery, is set to open this December in downtown San Diego’s Gaslamp neighborhood. The space will be a bar, restaurant and day club hybrid, featuring a custom Zen Garden with a swing set and art from Austria. The menu will include Korean crispy chicken sandwiches and several other bites that draw from all corners of Asia as inspiration.
Awards and Recognition
Citing its beautiful beaches, recent influx of hot hotels and an emerging culinary scene, Condé Nast Traveler recognized San Diego as the No. 2 big city in America as part of the magazine’s annual Reader’s Choice Awards.
A Top Winter Destination
WalletHub.com, a personal finance outlet, named San Diego as 2023’s second-best warm destination for winter travel according to a recent study.
Airport Earns Accolades
San Diego International Airport (SAN) has been selected as the 2023 Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA) Environmental Achievement Award winner in the Mitigation Award Category. Earlier this year, SAN introduced renewable diesel for all non-road diesel vehicles and equipment on the airside. The judging panel praised the program, saying it was an effective way to lower emissions until electricity technologies become more available.
In addition, more than half of all restaurants and retail shops at San Diego International Airport have been certified as SAN Green Concessions in recognition of their significant efforts to conserve energy and water and reduce waste. The certification, earned by 12 restaurants and 18 retail shops, lasts one year and requires an annual check-in to ensure continued participation in the program. Certified businesses display a SAN Green Concessions logo at their storefront.
More Airport Advances
Visitors heading by foot and car to San Diego International Airport (SAN) on North Harbor Drive now can access Terminal 1 via new entrances — part of the airport’s New T1 planning and construction. The entrances also allow construction crews to continue working on the New T1 Parking Plaza, which will open in late 2024. The five-level structure will offer 5,200 parking spaces — 750 more than the old Terminal 1 surface parking lot. Ten percent of parking spaces in the new parking structure will be equipped with charging stations for electric vehicles. The first phase of the New T1 is scheduled to open in late summer 2025.
San Diego International Airport added daily nonstop service to Atlanta via Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Alaska Airlines starting May 16.
San Diego International Airport also will increase nonstop service with a second daily flight to London Heathrow Airport on British Airways starting April 20, 2024.
And the airport will increase nonstop service to Munich, Germany, via Franz Josef Strauss International Airport on Lufthansa Airlines starting April 2024. Lufthansa currently serves the route three times a week. It will expand to five days per week in April 2024 and transition to daily service in June 2024.
Cover photo courtesy of Rady Children’s Hospital