Please note, some light displays and events are weather dependent.
Here are just a few of San Diego’s Christmas Lights highlights:
San Diego Bay Parade of Lights
View more than 80 decorated boats at the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights!
More than 80 lavishly decorated boats will sail over the calm waters of the Big Bay during the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights. The parade starts at Shelter Island and makes it way down to the Ferry Landing on Coronado. Make sure to arrive early at one of the viewing spots that include: Harbor Island, Shelter Island, the Embarcadero, Seaport Village and along the pathway on Coronado.
Dozens of vessels will take to the waters of Mission Bay with decorations and lights aboard. Arrive early to secure a good viewing spot on Crown Point, the east side of Vacation Island or the west side of Fiesta Island.
Boats of all sizes get decked out with holiday lights and circle Oceanside Harbor
Fishing boats, sailboats, yachts, kayaks and dingys dressed up in holiday swag and circle the Oceanside Harbor to enchant onlookers at the harbor, restaurants and beach. Many of the boats feature people dressed up like Santa waving to the crowd. One of the best viewing spots is along the side of the Oceanside Harbor near the fishing dock and police station. From this vantage point, you can see the parade twice!
Lights, flowers and s’mores – what more could you ask for? (photo by by John Bryant)
At night, the San Diego Botanic Garden is transformed into a winter wonderland with over 100,000 lights, live music, horse drawn wagon rides, warm beverages and snow (on certain days, make sure to check in advance). Just make sure to bring a sled (no metal runners please).
A labor of love by two parents for their two sons with autism, the Schimka family has been lighting up Belardo Drive for the past seven years while raising money for the National Foundation for Autism Research. The display, which is synchronized to the music on 106.1 FM, has grown tremendously over the years and this year will include a new animated snowman and an improved spiral mega tree!
Popular San Diego Neighborhoods with Christmas Lights
There are plenty of San Diego neighborhoods who collectively get into the holiday spirit with entire blocks lit up with Christmas lights. San Diego Family Magazine has collected all the locations on one printout you can download via the link below.
Winter in San Diego is the place to be! With the exception of the occasional rainy day, skies are generally blue during one of the coldest times of year around the rest of the country. In fact, it’s not unusual to find yourself reading your novel on the beach as your kids play in the sand. To top it off, San Diego stops at nothing when it comes to getting into the spirit of the holidays! The entire county literally lights up and there’s plenty of activities to help make memorable moments that will last a lifetime for the whole family. Here are some of my favorite things to do in San Diego during the holidays.
Ice Skating on the Beach in Coronado
Skating by the Sea at The Del!
Okay, you may be thinking that I mentioned you would be on the beach…Well, if you head to Coronado’s Ice Rink you can enjoy the view of the ocean and test your balance skating on ice! Every year the Hotel Del Coronado opens an ice skating rink adjacent to the hotel from November to January! What better way to (ironically) spend a sunny day on the beach in San Diego!
San Diego neighborhoods light up during the holidays.
If you love the infamous Griswold house in the “Vacation” movies from the 80’s, then you will adore Christmas Card Lane in Rancho Penasquitos! An annual tradition, the entire neighborhood gets involved in decorating the yards around themes and is a local’s favorite! The streets are lively and many visitors rent double-decker buses and limos to tour all the decorations! I recommend parking the car and walking around on foot. Many homes offer hot chocolate for a small price and popcorn. And it’s likely you will run into some carolers singing traditional songs along the way!
Where: Located in Rancho Penasquitos at Oviedo Street – off Black Mtn. Rd. includes Twin Trails, Carmel Mtn. Rd., Ellingham St., Renato St., Oviedo St., Twin Trails Dr., Barrymore St., Totherham Ave., Talca Ave., Talca Ct., Allenbrook Way, Davenport Ave., Amber Sky Ln.
San Diego Botanical Garden’s Garden of Lights
Lights, flowers and s’mores – what more could you ask for? (photo by by John Bryant)
Every year this is the spot my family gets our traditional photo with Santa. Immediately after, we enjoy the incredible lush gardens that are beautifully lit up for the holidays during their annual Garden of Lights! We make sure to catch the horse-drawn carriage and sing carols as we tour the grounds. After, we order some of the food sold during the event and then roast our marshmallows while listening to the live music act of the night! And on certain nights, snow is brought in for sledding! This is truly a gorgeous event and a must-do during the holidays in San Diego!
Another gorgeous way to experience the best of both worlds of gorgeous winter weather and holiday spectacular is to head to the bay to enjoy the beautiful lit up boats! And believe me, competition can be fierce for who has the best display! With dozens of participants, take in the sights and the fresh San Diego air. The boat parade begins at 6:00 PM from Quivira Basin. Best viewing is from Crown Point, the east side of Vacation Island or the west side of Fiesta Island.
Discover a Holiday Wonderland in Downtown San Diego at Petco Park
This year, Petco Park will be a Holiday Wonderland full of festive cheer, lights and plenty of ways to keep the kids happy. Make your way through Santa’s Workshop and Candy Cane Lane toward what used to be a baseball field for train rides, a hill covered in snow, reindeer, music and a place for Mommy and Daddy to relax. Just make sure to bring your camera to capture all the smiles your children will be giving you!
From boats decorated with lights to a Big Balloon Parade, there plenty of Holiday Fun on San Diego’s Big Bay. Photo courtesy of Cook & Schmidt
For those of you making holiday plans to visit San Diego, following are a few fun and festive ways to make some merry on San Diego’s sparkling Big Bay.
43rd Annual San Diego Bay Parade of Lights
View more than 80 decorated boats at the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights!
What’s better than a cool holiday boat parade? Two holiday boat parades! Yep, the 43rd Annual San Diego Bay Parade of Lights takes place on two Sundays next month. More than 80 boats lavishly decorated from bow to keel with colorful twinkling lights and decorations will glide the waters of San Diego Bay.
It’s quite a spectacle and best part, it’s free! This year’s theme is “Children’s Stories” which is sure to be a hit with the kids. Check out the route map here. The procession starts at 5:30 PM, but head to the Bay early for prime viewing spots including the Embarcadero and Embarcadero Park (North & South), Seaport Village, Coronado Ferry Landing, Harbor Island and Shelter Island.
Giant inflatable characters at Port of San Diego Big Bay Balloon Parade
Check out the Port of San Diego’s Big Bay Balloon Parade, “America’s Largest Balloon Parade” floating down Harbor Drive along the Embarcadero. And who knows, you might be on TV! The parade is televised nationally and on local Channel 4. You’ll see world-class marching bands, colorful floats, drill teams and of course, a procession of enormous balloons of familiar cartoon and pop culture characters. Over 100,000 spectators are expected!
The parade is part of our big annual National University Holiday Bowl festivities when the eyes of the nation are on San Diego for exciting gridiron action between two Pac-10 and Big 12 Conference teams.
California gray whale breaching off the San Diego coast
December is the launch of San Diego’s exciting whale watching season, when hundreds of majestic California gray whales are spotted of the coast making their annual migration from the Arctic to the warm lagoons of Baja California. These “peaceful giants of the sea” can be seen swimming our local waters through April. Hop aboard the Hornblower, Flagship Cruises or one of the many other whale watching cruises departing daily from the Embarcadero on San Diego. The whales can also be seen from high atop Cabrillo National Monument on Point Loma – bring your binoculars, though! 🙂
The holidays are just around the corner and there’s no better place to be than San Diego’s sparkling Mission Bay where distinctly California festivities await!
Mission Bay Christmas Boat Parade of Lights
Mission Bay lights up December 13 during the Parade of Lights
Everybody loves a holiday parade. But in San Diego, they don’t just happen in the streets. A unique maritime way to make some merry this holiday season is the popular Mission Bay Christmas Boat Parade of Lights on December 13, featuring dozens of boats festooned with holiday lights and décor sailing around Mission Bay.
All are welcome to this free aquatic pageant which attracts tens of thousands of spectators to the shoreline.
The boat parade begins at 7:00 PM from the Quivira Basin. The best viewing spots are from Crown Point, Santa Clara Point Park (by Sail Bay), the east side of Vacation Island and west side of Fiesta Island. Check out this map of Mission Bay to scope out the area beforehand.
Also on Mission Bay, SeaWorld San Diego makes a big splash with its annual Christmas Celebration, beginning this Saturday. Festivities include Christmas-themed animal shows, holiday décor throughout the park, Santa’s Cottage for the kids, the 320-ft. Skytower Christmas Tree of Lights and SnowWorld, a winter wonderland with hills of snow for kids to sled down and practice making snowballs. Yep, it snows in San Diego! (we just have to make it 😉
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Kids hang 10 for free Surf Diva!
Wiggle your toes in the sand at La Jolla’s famous family friendly beaches and hang 10 with Surf Diva, offering kids free surfing lessons (a $71.50 value – wow!) with the purchase of an adult lesson.
Kids can hop aboard the Old Town Trolley Tours‘ new La Jolla & Mission Beach Tour for free (with the purchase of an adult ticket) or the splashy Seal Tours on San Diego Bay or narrated city tour to top tourist sites like Old Town and Coronado.
Kids admitted free all month to the Birch Aquarium at Scripps!
Birch Aquarium, nestled high on a bluff overlooking the Pacific, is one of my top “must-sees” with 60+ tanks of colorful marine life including coral reefs, a kelp forest (My fav! It’s like snorkeling without getting in the water 😉 ), sharks, jellyfish and three outdoor tide pools where you can touch sea anemones, starfish and more!
As you can see, there’s lots of fun for free in picture-perfect La Jolla! Bring the kids and make it a fall getaway to remember. 🙂
There’s a tale of a Cat, so cool in a Hat, that…did you hear…was created right here! 🙂
Yep Dr. Seuss, that master smith of rhyming words for kids, lived atop a hill called Mt. Soledad in La Jolla (north of downtown San Diego) where his fantastical world of Cat in the Hat and other memorable characters came to life for readers of all ages.
I’ve always been a big fan of Dr. Seuss whose real name BTW is Theodore (Ted) Seuss Geisel. His widow Audrey still lives in lovely seaside La Jolla.
On the heels of Dr. Seuss’ recently released new book, Horton and the Kwuggerbug and more Lost Stories, me thinks with my thinker that a fun way to tinker would be an incredibly fun linker to a few Seussian sights and events in La Jolla:
Wish Dr. Suess at Happy Birthday at UCSD
Dr. Seuss birthday celebration at Geisel Library, UCSD in La Jolla
Every year in celebration of Dr. Seuss’ birthday on March 2, the aptly named Geisel Library at University of California at San Diego (UCSD) in La Jolla exhibits selections from their Dr. Seuss Collection of over 10,000 items(!), including his drawings, rough drafts, notebooks and other cool memorabilia. It’s the world’s largest repository of original works by Seuss. Last year Mrs. Geisel substantially added to the collection, donating an additional 1,500 items from his personal archive!
Look for an announcement of next year’s big b-day bash on Geisel Library’s news page after New Year’s.
7 ½ foot Cat in the Hat
Dr. Seuss and Cat in the Hat sculpture at Geisel Library, UCSD in La Jolla
In the meantime, next time you’re in La Jolla, check out the life-size bronze sculpture of Dr. Seuss and a towering 7 ½ foot Cat in the Hat in front at the library. Seuss selfies are encouraged!
Secret Art of Dr. Seuss
The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss includes Unorthodox Taxidermy
In the charming Village of La Jolla, the Legends Gallery displays some wonderful imaginings in its “Secret Art of Dr. Seuss” exhibit. Visitors can view the sophisticated, technically accomplished and unrestrained side of Seuss’ talent, including lesser-known paintings, illustrations and sculptures from his Unorthodox Taxidermy collection (a fun fav!).
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! at the Old Globe
“Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” at the Old Globe in Balboa Park
Fall in San Diego means warm days, cool nights, Halloween fun and, of course, pumpkin patches! Browse the list below to find the perfect pumpkin patch near you.
Bates Nut Farm Pumpkin Patch
Acres of pumpkins await at Bates Nut Farm
Bates Nut Farm in Valley Center has been a Pumpkin Patch staple for as long as I can remember (the Bates family has owned the farm since 1921, and I have been going since the early 80s). Bates has plenty of pumpkins of all shapes and sizes, tractor hayrides, a straw maze, pony rides and a petting zoo. Weekends at Bates include live entertainment from 12:00 to 3:00 PM, BBQ, kettle corn, food trucks, rock climb, bounce, slide and other family friendly events.
Where: 15954 Woods Valley Road, Valley Center, CA 92082 When: September 24 – October 31, 2014 Hours: Monday-Friday: 9:00 AM to 5:30 PM. Saturday-Sunday: 8:30 AM to 6:00 PM Cost: Free Admission. Pumpkin and activity prices vary. > Find out more about Bate’s Nut Farm Pumpkin Patch
Boomont Park Fall Festival and Haunt
Pick an amazing pumpkin by the beach at Belmont Park’s Boomont Park Fall Festival and Haunt. While you’re there, bravely walk through the Boomont Manor (a kid-friendly haunted house and maze), play zombie laser tag, ride the spooky Giant Dipper and enter the costume contest on Saturdays. Don’t forget to bring the pumpkin pail for free trick-or-treating.
Where: 3146 Mission Blvd, San Diego, CA 92109 When: October 3 – November 1, 2014 (Fridays-Sundays) Hours: Friday: 5:00 to 10:00 PM. Saturday-Sunday: 11:00 AM to 10:00 PM. Cost: Free admission. Haunted House, rides and laser tag have separate admission costs. > Find out more about the Boomont Park Fall Festival and Haunt
Your conductor is dying to take you to the Great Pumpkin’s Pumpkin Patch
Join in the fun aboard the Pumpkin Express at the historic Campo Depot and travel to the Great Pumpkin Patch. Enjoy the one hour train ride, then tour the Haunted Train, where each child gets to pick out his or her own pumpkin and decorate it inside the Display Building. Advance reservations are required and arrive at least 45 minutes before your departure time.
Where: The Pacific Southwest Railway Museum – 750 Depot Street, Campo, CA 91906 When: October 11-26, 2014 (Saturday-Sunday) Hours: Departures at 10:00 AM, 12:15 PM and 2:30 PM Cost: $5-$15 > Find out more about the Pumpkin Express
Farm Stand West’s Pumpkin Patch
Pick the perfect pumpkin straight from the field at Farm Stand West’s Pumpkin Patch
Get a true pumpkin picking experience by picking the perfect future jack-o-lantern straight from Farm Stand West’s pumpkin fields. Stop by over the weekend of October 25-26 between 10:00 AM and 5:00 PM for the Annual Farm Stand Fall Harvest Festival & Boutique. Have fun on a hayride, pick up some delicious homemade jams and farm fresh produce, and shop from local artisans.
Take the family on a day trip to Julian for apple pie from Mom’s and pumpkins from the Julian Mining Company. Even more fall fun awaits with Indian Camp, Tomahawk throwing and farm animals. Upgrade to the Harvest tour and enjoy a hayride, fresh apple cider and an animal corral. In for a fright? Well then ride on the kid-friendly Night Time Spooky Hayride: Tale of the Doomed Miner through the pastures and fields and includes the tale of the doomed miner (you may even see his spirit wandering with a lantern in the distance). Spooky Hayrides are offered on October 18 and 25 at 7:30 PM and 8:30 PM. Reservations for the Spooky Hayride are required.
Up near the small mountain town of Ramona is the Mountain Valley Ranch Pumpkin Patch. Take some time to find the perfect carving or cooking pumpkin, get lost in the gigantic corn maze, launch an ear of corn out of a cannon, pet a few farm animals and add a few pictures of the kids on antique farm equipment to the scrapbook.
A whole day of fun at Norris Amusements Pumpkin Patches
Norris Amusements has North County and South Bay covered with locations in Chula Vista and Oceanside. Both locations offers pumpkins and fun for the little ones with bounce houses, giant slides and obstacle courses. Go on Tuesdays for Wristband Tuesday and enjoy unlimited rides for one price.
Where: Chula Vista – 555 Broadway, Chula Vista, CA 91910
Oceanside – 2205 Vista Way, Oceanside, CA 92054 When: October 1-31, 2014 Hours: Sunday-Thursday: 10:00 AM to 9:00 PM. Friday-Saturday: 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM Cost: Varies, Ride Wristbands: $10-$25 > Find out more about Norris Amusements Pumpkin Patches
15th Annual Oma’s Pumpkin Patch
Over in Lakeside, Oma’s Pumpkin Patch is offering fun for the whole family. The child admission includes a Jack Patch pumpkin, a bottle of water, covered hay rides, a hay bale maze, petting corral, kid-powered games, sand pile with toy trucks & tractors, and a large play area with the climbable Cottonseed Mountain.
All aboard…one of the seven convenient Pumpkin Station locations (including the two actual farms) throughout San Diego County. At the Pumpkin Stations, kids can peruse for the perfect pumpkin while enjoying the kiddie rides, slides, inflatable play centers and petting zoo. At their two farms in Rancho Bernardo and Bonita, little pumpkin carvers will find a living pumpkin patch, corn maze, farm animals and a tractor-pulled haywagon ride.
San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum Fall Family Festival
Stop by the San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum for hands-on education (don’t tell the kids), pumpkins and fun. The Fall Family Festival will feature live music by Hullabaloo, a petting zoo, pumpkin patch, food, gardening workshops to educate children and families on current environmental and conservation issues, Halloween costume exchange, and other fun fall activities!
Bring something to help carry home your harvest at Suzie’s Farm Pumpkin Palooza.
Make a day of it in San Diego’s South Bay with pumpkin picking at Suzie’s Farm. Bring a wheelbarrow to carry home plenty of pumpkins for carving and cooking picked right from the fields, fresh produce, jams and more. During Pumpkin Palooza, enjoy live music and plenty of delicious food. Don’t forget the camera!
Places like Pizza Port are great kid friendly restaurants that also make sure Mom and Dad have a good time
For some reason (ahem), people are often surprised that my husband and I regularly eat out with our five kids, ages 10, 8, 5, 3 and 3. Yes, we know a thing or two about a restaurant that can cater to children and, well, ones that just can’t kid around (get it?). In general, San Diego is very family friendly, so it wasn’t easy to narrow down my top 5 kid friendly restaurants, but the promise for ice cream got me going (kidding… kind of). Here are five kids friendly restaurants that both the little ones and parents will enjoy!
Starting in North County, the top pick for locals is Pizza Port, located in Carlsbad (options are also in Solana Beach, Ocean Beach, and Bressi Ranch). Truly delicious pizza, the kids love it, too, as they can play video games or enjoy the grub. Go early as it can be tricky to nab a table, but nothing screams a beach town visit like some seaside pepperoni pie.
Truth be told, my family may as well start collecting our mail at this Cardiff breakfast/lunch joint. With plenty of outdoor seating, not only can you (very ) affordably feed a large family (trust me), you can also enjoy sea breezes and ocean views. In fact, three of my kids can share the “big breakfast” and Dana, who can regularly be found behind the coffee counter, is always good for a great big hug.
Hands down one of the most authentic, delicious Mexican food restaurants in town, this is a family favorite for its affordability, too. When the weather is nice, request outdoor dining or inside in the back room if you think your kids might need to be a li’l louder than usual. Though the booths inside the main dining are just as accommodating as are the coloring books and crayons that they offer to occupy the kids. Located in Solana Beach this is a San Diego must!
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Located near the airport, be sure to take a few minutes before entering and get a very up close view of the planes coming in for a landing! Though not your usual “kids” establishment, my children consider this unique twist on the usual Mexican food a favorite! Go early as the later crowd tends to be more “club”, but if you can arrive by 5, my kids love the free Mexican wrestler that comes with the children’s menu plates and the Chiclets chewing gum that accompany the bill. Also, music plays on the dance floor prepping for the later evening crowd and my fam has been known to bust a move. Though darker on the inside, you can request outdoor seating for an even better view of the overhead planes. And, whatever you do, don’t miss out on the churros for dessert!
Though it’s a chain that can be found in many cities, I had to include this pick as the downtown San Diego location was always a favorite of mine growing up. Not to mention, keeping kids happy on a vacation isn’t always easy, so a favorite stand by of past is sure to reel them back in. Catering to kids and families, it’s a sure-fire bet for fresh ingredients and old school pasta delights, including gluten-free options as well.
Kids are free in San Diego again this year! Kids Free in October during the entire month of October, kids eat, stay and play for free throughout San Diego. Take advantage of great deals at more than 100 participating partners and get ready for the ultimate family vacation.
Jump into the pool for some downtime at the Grand del Mar or any of these family friendly hotels
Where you stay with your kids on vacation can make or break a trip. Comfort and kid-friendly amenities can lesson the stress of traveling with little ones, even when you will mostly be on the go exploring all there is to do and see with children. When nap time strikes or just the desire for some down time at the pool, check out these 5 Family Friendly Hotels in San Diego (in no particular order).
Hyatt Regency Mission Bay Spa & Marina
Very close to SeaWorld San Diego, the Mission Beach boardwalk, and Belmont Park, home to the famous Giant Dipper roller coaster, this family friendly location is central to much of San Diego! Personally, my family spent much of our time on the three water slides in the bay front pool, complete with a shallow section for kids! Opting to eat in the casual Swim and Bar Lounge, we love the views of the water and the 60-degree, 800-gallon aquarium!
For dessert, roast marshmallows in the water-front fire pits on the hotel grounds – the hotel sells s”more making kits. And of course be sure to catch a ride or two on the beach front boardwalk nearby!
Complete with a splash pad and 3 feet deep pool, this family friendly hotel is a great option for the downtown San Diego experience. Walk to kid-friendly Spaghetti Factory or catch the ferry over to Coronado for dinner! Don’t miss the nearby Seaport Village or the amazing New Children’s Museum, both an easy walk and fun for the whole family. And for some delicious pancakes, check out the nearby Richard Walkers as well.
Recently named the number one hotel in the US, believe me when best online casino I tell you this is an amazing option. A little more off the beaten path, so to speak (read: you will need to drive to most activities), the resort is known for their exceptional service. With gorgeous grounds and a family pool complete with under water music (seriously), choose from tennis lessons, hiking trails or their offer to take you to the beach!
Considering <a title=”Discover San Diego”s La Jolla” href=”http://www.sandiego.org/discover/la-jolla.aspx” target=”_blank”>La Jolla is named the Crown Jewel of San Diego, it’s a spot you will want to visit! The Grande Colonial is a favorite of mine as it’s central to everything in the downtown area. Walk to see the seals at the cove or grab your coffee from the nearby Living Room. Though the pool is on the smaller side, you will enjoy the water views. And sleeping to the natural sounds of waves crashing? Priceless.
From ping-pong tables to life-size chess and Connect Four at the pool, the Loews Coronado Bay Resort is one of my favorite family friendly hotels to stay with my family! Be sure to check out the easy access tunnel to the beach and even rent bikes to get there. Or take a gondola ride through the canals of the Coronado Cays. The resort also offers shuttle service into the main area of Coronado if you feel like venturing out for a meal without getting in the car. And as the day ends, grab your hot chocolates and sit on the courtyard of Cays Lounge overlooking the sunset and the bridge!