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 😉
Located just minutes from downtown San Diego, Mission Bay Park is the largest park of its kind in the world, spread out over 4,200 sparkling acres. Something you may not know about this aquatic playground is that there are some really cool and surprising animal encounters along its 27 miles of beaches.
A recent visit to the Bahia Resort piqued my interest in Mission Bay’s wildlife when I spotted a friendly seal named Gracie frolicking in a pool out front of the resort. I couldn’t believe my eyes. What a fun and memorable way to welcome visitors!
I soon discovered that other creatures great and small call Mission Bay home and make for some great photo opps, if you know where to look. And the best part: viewing is free.
Here’s the inside scoop on Mission Bay’s amazing menagerie of animal encounters and where to find them:
Gracie the Seal at the Bahia Resort
Gracie the seal basking in the sun at Bahia Resort
Gracie the seal, a rescue from La Jolla Cove, first called Bahia Resort home in 2006. She’s curious, outgoing and well-loved by all. When she’s not swimming around her spacious pool with her best friend Billy, she can be found sunbathing on the rocks. A great time to visit is during feeding time: 9:00 AM and 2:00 PM daily.
Parrots, Macaws and Cockatoos at the Catamaran
Meet the the talkative parrot named Cornell and enjoy even more animal encounters at Catamaran Resort
Colorful parrots, macaws and cockatoos can be found at the Catamaran Resort, located outside behind the main lobby. The bright – and talkative! – birds are on display daily from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM. Check out the cool Bird Cam. You can call each of them by name; feathered pics of who’s who (including Cornell the parrot, above) can be found on the resort’s exotic wildlife page.
Catamaran also has two ponds with koi fish, ducks and turtles that love to bask in the sun.
Animal Encounters at Paradise Point
When it comes to fascinating fauna on land, sea and air, Paradise Point Resort has it all! Swimming beneath the surface of the large lagoon next to Barefoot Bar & Grill are spotted leopard sharks, stingrays and guitar fish! The resort’s network of gardens and lagoons is also home to ducks, red-eared slider turtles, frogs, hummingbirds, herons and egrets…oh my!
See you in Mission Bay for some close encounters of the animal kind! 🙂
I’m on a “mission” (pun intended 😉 ) to find the most affordable sights, bites and places to stay in Mission Valley and share them with you for when you visit San Diego.
Find out how to win a stay in San Diego when you finish reading this post!
Mission San Diego de Alcala
Mission San Diego de Alcala in Mission Valley
Mission San Diego de Alcala, the first in a chain of 21 Alta California missions, is our first stop. For only $3 you can visit a small museum brimming with artifacts from the mission’s early years. It’s pretty cool and surreal being able to step back into time to the 1770s – especially with so much modern development in the valley now. Also be sure to check out the quaint chapel, padre’s quarters and stroll through the beautiful gardens, including a cool archeological dig!
Just down the road is Mission Trails Regional Park, one of the nation’s largest urban natural parks covering over 6,005 acres and featuring 42 miles of scenic trails for hiking, mountain biking, birding and rock climbing. Best of all: it’s Free – everything! – including free guided nature walks every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 9:30 AM. Stop by the Visitor Center to get the lay of the land.
A fantastic view from the top of Cowles Mountain
My favorite spots are the historic Old Mission Dam on the San Diego River and Cowles Mountain where you’ll be rewarded with spectacular 360 degree views of all of San Diego from its 1,592 foot peak!
The San Diego River
San Diego River flowing through Mission Valley
Running through Mission Valley is the picturesque San Diego River. It’s sometimes hard to find through all the condos and shopping centers, but it’s there. Pedestrian/bicycling paths can be found along the Mission Valley Greenway between Texas Street and Hazard Center. There’s also urban kayaking, for the more adventuresome!
Mission Valley Eats
If you’ve worked up an appetite, at Mission Valley Center the popular new Broken Yolk Café is perfect for breakfast or brunch (recommend the eggs benedict and hash browns). Nearby Pho’ Cali serves up some of the tastiest Vietnamese beef noodle soups. And for dinner, local favorite Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza is yummy, as is Oki Ton Japanese Bistro, one of the best sushi bars in town!
Tiki Oasis in the Heart of San Diego
Tiki Oasis art at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Mission Valley
If you’re looking for a place to rest your head at night, look no further than Hotel Circle North and South dotted with numerous affordable motels, hotels and resorts. My personal fav is the tiki oasis known as Crowne Plaza Hotel (formerly the Hanalei).
Back in the day it was much more tiki-fied, but remnants remain and it’s a hoot to spot Polynesian artifacts in the lobby and pool areas. The Crowne Plaza, BTW, is the site of 14th annual Tiki Oasis festival on August 14-17. I’ll be there! 🙂
Tip: To see all of Mission Valley in one fell swoop, catch a ride on the San Diego Trolley’s scenic Green Line which hugs the San Diego River. It only costs $2.50 ($5 for a day pass), with convenient stops at Mission Valley Center and Mission San Diego.
See you in Mission Valley – in the middle of it all!
Mission Possible: Stay and Play in San Diego Sweepstakes
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to stay and play in the heart of San Diego.
Just steps from the San Diego Marriott Mission Valley’s central location, the Rio Vista Trolley Station makes it a breeze to visit some of the best of San Diego offerings including Petco Park, Old Town, Gaslamp Quarter and the Embarcadero.
The entry page will self destruct on Monday, 9 June 2014, at 10:00 AM.
From the water to the mountains, there are plenty of free things to do with kids in San Diego
Believe it or not, one of the most amazing destinations to visit with kids actually has so many fun things to do that are free! If you are heading into town and looking for great adventures to do with your family on a budget, check out my favorite free things to do with kids in San Diego!
Let’s start with the obvious – San Diego has some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and, yes, they are free! From swimming in the waves to perfecting your sand castle masterpieces, grab your buckets and shovels and be prepared for you kid’s to have so much fun, you may get away with reading a magazine or two!
My favorites for families: Coronado, Moonlight in Encinitas, La Jolla Shores and Law Street in Pacific Beach.
As the tide retreats, tiny pools fill up and become a natural aquarium for you and your family to enjoy. Find the starfish, sea urchins and guess whether there’s a crab in that shell!
My favorites for families: Swamis in Cardiff, Carlsbad off Tamarack, in front of the Power Plant and the La Jolla Cove.
Just as you find yourself needing a break from the sun, enter into one of the many San Diego libraries for some free fun. The new central library in San Diego’s East Village offers plenty of different open spaces for kids and teens to read and play.
My favorite for families: Encinitas library with its ocean views.
Explore San Diego’s waterfront with free beach wheelchairs rentals
The City of San Diego’s Park & Recreation Department provides a number of services for the disabled – including free use of motorized beach wheelchairs that allow those with mobility disabilities to propel independently along the sand at Mission Beach. There’s even a non-motorized chair that allows users to roll right in to the ocean.
Beach wheelchairs can be reserved for one hour at a time. (Identification is required and will be held as security.) Maximum weight capacity on the motorized chair is 250 pounds; it’s 500 pounds on the water-going chair. (Only one rider at a time is permitted on either vehicle.)
Find the chairs just outside the lifeguard station at Ventura and Ocean Front Walk, behind Belmont Park.
Beach Wheelchair Rental Hours
Weekdays: 11:30 AM to 4:30 PM (closed Tuesdays)
Weekends: 11:30 AM to 5:30 PM
Friday-Sunday: 11:30 AM to 3:30 PM
No beach wheelchairs available
Friday-Sunday: 11:30 AM to 3:30 PM
Reservations are highly recommended; phone 619.980.1876.
Autumn is upon us, San Diego’s Kids Free October promotion is around the corner, and below are a few Fall Festivals that offer the best bargain around: free for the entire family!
Free Family Fall Festival in Balboa Park’s Organ Pavilion
Try something different and Hula Hoop to classic organ music
In addition to the free organ concerts at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park at 2:00 PM each Sunday in October and November, there’s a Family Festival in October, especially for kids. The 2:00 PM organ concert will feature Civic Organist Dr. Carol Williams along with guest young organists. Pre-concert activities start at 1:30 and include the San Diego Civic Youth Ballet, hula hoop artist William Huson of SpinYang Hoops, and more. Kids are invited to sit onstage for a portion of the performance. The public is also invited to tour the inside the organ building which include views of the pipes, shutters and installation. Fascinating for “kids of all ages” to see and hear the world’s largest outdoor pipe organ.
Dance, drink, eat, shop and more at the free La Mesa Oktoberfest
This 3-day fall festival patterned after the world-famous Munich Oktoberfest, offers an assortment of arts and crafts, children activities, entertainment, German brats and cold beer. Admission to the general festival is free and attendees have the option to visit the large Beer Garden at the event and listen to spirited oom-pah-pah bands, watch costumed folk dancers perform traditional waltzes and polkas, and get the whole family out on the dance floor and join in the fun.
Family Fun and the La Jolla Art and Wine Festival. Photo: Steve Simpson
The 5th Annual La Jolla Art & Wine Festival takes place in coastal village of downtown La Jolla and features the works of over 150 established artists from San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange County, Baja and beyond. In addition to an eclectic mix of original artwork, the LJAWF offers an expansive wine and beer garden highlighting over 20 premier wineries from around the world including Baja’s flourishing Valle de Guadalupe region. A handful of San Diego’s renowned breweries will be pouring award-winning brews and a gourmet marketplace will offers attendees an eclectic taste featuring local favorites. Children have the opportunity to paint a car, take art or dance classes, participate in games, chalk art, crafts, edible art, cartooning, and even a family scavenger hunt. Other highlights include live music as well as roving entertainment by the San Diego Circus Center.
Enjoy the traditional Folklorico Dance in Old Town State Historic Park
Enjoy the history and charm of Old Town State Historic Park during two fall festivals: The Old Town San Diego Art Festival features contemporary artists, fine craft, fashion and home décor artisans along with the Flavors of Old Town international foods, a wine-tasting pavilion and continuous live entertainment. The Old Town’s Fall Festival provides fall crafts and children’s activities reflecting San Diego in the 1870s. The festival occurs in the central plaza at Old Town San Diego State Historic Park and many merchants surrounding the park will have activities as well.
Where: Old Town State Historic Park – 2415 San Diego Ave, San Diego, CA 92110
Step back in time in the Gaslamp Quarter at the annual Fall Back Festival
Don’t forget to set your clocks for the Fall Back Festival in the Gaslamp Quarter. The annual children’s street faire shows guests what life was like in the mid- to late- nineteenth century when San Diego was a bustling new town. Admission is free and, while supplies last, kids in attendance can receive a free hot dog at Dick’s Last Resort Hot Dog Stand, free ice cream sundae and chocolate squares at the Ghirardelli Chocolate Saloon and a free pony ride. In addition to pie-eating contests, there are historical recreations and demonstrations with a “nineteenth-century” blacksmith plying his trade, prospectors teaching children how to pan for gold, butter churning and candle dipping demonstrations, and a Wild West shoot-out. Carnival rides are offered for a fee.
Free Día de los Muertos – Day of the Dead in Sherman Heights
Embrace Mexican culture and experience a traditional Dia de los Muertos celebration at the Sherman Heights Festival
One of San Diego’s most authentic and longest standing Dia de los Muertos Celebration takes place in the heart of Sherman Heights! Embrace Mexican culture and experience a traditional celebration, honoring our departed loved ones with an official blessing of the community altars, followed by live performances, food, shopping, altar tours and Day of the Dead themed workshops!
Bring a chair or a blanket to sit on the grass and enjoy free summer concerts under the warm San Diego sunshine
Free summer concerts have become traditions in neighborhoods throughout San Diego County. They’re an opportunity for visitors, locals and their families to socialize, picnic, enjoy music together – and maybe even dance as the sun sets on another perfect San Diego day.
Here’s a sampling of the free summer concerts to expect this summer:
San Diego’s Free Summer Concerts
The Point Loma Summer Concert Series opens July 12 with Jumping Jack Flash (a Rolling Stones tribute band) and continues on consecutive Fridays through August 9. Shows run 5:30 to 8:30 PM. Pack a picnic or buy food at the venue. Bring blankets, lawn chairs and Frisbees to Point Loma Park, 1049 Catalina Blvd.
Pacific Beach Concerts on the Green are set for Sundays July 21 through August 11. Shows run from 4:00 to 6:30 PM at Kate Sessions Park (Lamont Street, just north of Beryl). Bring your own food and drink.
Mission Hills’ Concerts in the Park series opens June 21 at Pioneer Park and continues on consecutive Fridays through August 23. Once exception: No concert on July 5 because of the community’s big Fourth of July celebration, which includes a concert. The series opens with Hullabaloo followed by Zydeco Patrol on June 28 and Dr. Elvis on July 4. Pioneer Park is at 1425 Washington Place.
Balboa Park’s Twilight in the Park concert series kicks off at 6:15 PM June 18 and continues on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays through August 29 at the park’s Spreckels Organ Pavilion. The hour-long shows feature everything from classical music to R&B.
Enjoy organ music? The International Summer Organ Festival features organists from around the world. Showtime is 7:30 to 9:30 PM on Mondays, June 24 through Aug. 26, at Balboa Park’s Spreckels Organ Pavilion.
The Bird Park Concert Series in North Park will open June 15 with jazzman Lenny Rankins. More concerts are scheduled June 29 (indie rock), July 13 (Latin jazz), July 27 (country rock) and August 10 (blues). All shows run 5:30 to 7:30 PM. Bird Park is at 28th and Thorn streets.
Enchanted Music on Coronado
Coronado’s Concerts in the Park series is set for 6:00 PM on Sundays, May 26 through September 8, at Spreckels Park, 7th and Orange. Families (but no dogs) are welcome to picnic during the 90-minute shows. The Coronado Community Concert Band will open the series.
Coronado Ferry Landing Concert Series kicks it off with the Coronado Big Band on May 25 and continues rocking Saturdays and Sundays through July 28. Most performances run from 2:00 to 5:00 PM.
Rocking Out in North County
Del Mar’s Summer Twilight Concerts are set for Powerhouse Park, overlooking the Pacific, at 1600 Coast Blvd. The series begins June 18 with Atomic Groove, followed by Mrs. Robinson on July 9, Back to the Garden on August 13 and Mark Wood and the Parrot Head band on September 8. Show time is 7:00 PM, with pre-show entertainment beginning at 6:00 PM.
Carlsbad’s TGIF Jazz in the Park is staged at three community parks. The 28th season opens at Stagecoach Park (3420 Camino de los Coches), with concerts on June 28, July 5 and 12. The party moves to Poinsettia Park (6600 Hidden Valley Road) for concerts on July 19, 26 and August 2. The season closes at Calavera Hills Park (2997 Glasgow Drive) with concerts on August 9, 16 and 23. Showtime is 6:00 to 8:00 PM. Wear your dancing shoes.
Roaring Good Time in East County
El Cajon’s Dinner and a Concert series is set for 6:00 to 8:00 PM Fridays through Sept. 30 on the Prescott Promenade near East Main Street and Rea Avenue in downtown El Cajon. The family oriented venue is smoke-, alcohol- and dog-free. No need to pack a picnic; about a dozen restaurants edge the promenade, offering on-the-spot dining or picnics to go.
Santee’s Free Summer Concerts are scheduled 6:30 to 8:30 PM on Thursdays, June 20 through August 22 (except July 4), at Town Center Community Park East, 550 Park Center Drive in Santee. The Navy’s Southwest Showband will open the series. Picnics are welcome, but know that food trucks rally nearby.
Music, food, drinks, rides and more! Find some Holiday Cheer at Balboa Park’s December Nights
Balboa Park’s December Nights – the city’s annual holiday gift to the community – promises to be bigger and better than ever this year. The 35th annual two-day celebration is the city’s largest free festival, expected to draw at least 300,000 this year.
December Nights is as close as San Diego gets to becoming a winter wonderland. Balboa Park is decked in twinkling lights and silvery garlands. Fanciful Christmas trees abound and the aromas of multi-cultural holiday treats waft through the air.
Free Entry into the Museums
For the occasion, park museums open their doors to the public, free of charge, from 5:00 until 9:00 PM both evenings. Many present special holiday programs. Kids will be awed by the elaborate gingerbread constructions at the Mingei International Museum and can join in holiday-inspired craft projects at the San Diego Air & Space Museum. All ages will be enthralled by the amazing bell ringers who perform at the San Diego History Center.
Things to Do During December Nights
Enjoy a traditional Santa Lucia Procession in the California Quadrangle in front of the Museum of Man
Festivities are family friendly, multi-cultural and staged throughout the park. The San Diego Civic Youth Ballet will perform excerpts from “The Nutcracker” on the Casa del Prado Stage. Steps away, on the California Quadrangle near the San Diego Museum of Man, revelers can see the Santa Lucia Procession and children’s choir performances. Dozens of singers, dancer and musicians will take to the stage at the Organ Pavilion.
Youngsters will have the opportunity to visit with roving Santas and can pose for a photo in The Old Globe courtyard with Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! At the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater, they can see puppets come to life in an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and they can join with San Diego Junior Theatre students singing holiday songs. A series of children’s holiday movies will run nonstop both evenings in the theater at the San Diego Hall of Champions. There also are plenty of carnival rides to keep the younger set entertained.
December Nights are prime time for holiday shopping. Find great gifts at museum stores, from Spanish Village Art Center artisans and at a wide range of arts and crafts booths.
December Nights Food Options
Sample delicious delicacies from around the world including traditional dishes from the House of China.
Hungry? December Nights is known for its mouth-watering range of food and drink offerings. The International Cottages of the House of Pacific Relations offer traditional holiday foods from a smorgasbord of nations: Think empanadas, eggrolls, aebleskiver, samosas, fried plantains, pierogi, bourekas, baklava, paella, even mashed potato stew. Many museums offer tasty treats: Find roasted chestnuts at the San Diego Art Institute, yakisoba at the Japanese Friendship Garden, hot toddies at the Hall of Champions. In addition, numerous food vendors sell an array of yummy holiday delights – from melted Swiss raclette to fresh-baked gingerbread cookies. The 21+ set can sip a locally crafted brew at one of several beer gardens.
Getting to December Nights
With so many attending December Nights, parking can be tougher than fitting down a chimney. Shuttles are provided from PETCO Park (where parking will cost $5), the County Administration Building and several City College Parking lots offering free parking. Carpooling with all your friends is a must!
Since parking can be a little rough, consider saving yourself the hassle and taking public transportation. Ride the Orange or Blue Trolleys to the City College stop on 11th Avenue and then either hop on the Number 7 bus or enjoy a brisk walk up park. From Hillcrest, Uptown, Mid-City, Normal Heights, City Heights, and North Park communities take any bus to University Avenue and Park Blvd and transfer to a special Route 7 shuttle heading to Park Blvd.
Want to relax without worrying about which stop to get off at or if you can get to the parking spot before it’s gone? Consider taking a taxi or using the posh Uber private driver service.
If you are close enough, try getting some fresh air and cycling into Balboa Park. There are plenty of bike racks throughout the park. The biggest bike racks can be found by the entrance of the San Diego Zoo. Please remember to be safe and to wear a helmet and reflective vest, and to use front and rear blinking lights.
Balboa Park’s December Nights General Information
Location: Balboa Park Dates: December 7-8, 2012 Times:
– Friday, December 7: 5:00 to 10:00 PM
– Saturday, December 8: 12:00 to 10:00 PM Cost: Free Website:www.balboapark.org/decembernights
And be sure to bundle up. While San Diego may better known for sandmen than snowmen, it can get downright chilly here on December nights!
Get ready to enjoy a fun and warm fall weekend in San Diego with these great things to do:
1. Old Town San Diego’s Dia de los Muertos
An impressive alter at Fiesta de Reyes
Colorful altars and other traditional celebrations of Day of the Dead, one of Mexico’s most revered and festive holidays, return to Old Town San Diego. This community-wide commemoration, which honors ancestors and other deceased loved ones with special menus, music, dancing and crafts, is free and designed for all ages.
The free Fall Back Festival brings the history and culture of the Gaslamp Quarter and Old San Diego alive for children and families. The event features entertainment such as a Wild West Shootout, hayrides, ice cream eating contest, clog dancing and food.
The San Diego Asian Film Festival is one of the largest exhibitions of Asian international and Asian American cinema in North America. Along with narrative features, the nine-day Festival also showcases documentaries, short films, and animation. Screenings take place at the Mission Valley UltraStar Cinema with tickets starting at $11.50.
Say Cheers to another exciting San Diego Beer Week!
The San Diego Brewers Guild Festival kicks of San Diego Beer Week (SDBW) this Saturday. SDBW is a ten-day celebration inspiring people to drink local, craft beer and promoting San Diego’s thriving brewing culture. With over 317 events throughout the week, visitors are sure to get their share of San Diego’s best brews.
Over a dozen museums are treating families to free admission for children 12 and under during the 4th annual Balboa Park Halloween Family Day on Saturday, October 27. In addition to free children’s admission with a paid adult, participating museums and cultural attractions will present a spooky array of hands-on activities, crafts, special tours, storytelling, and other free goodies.
Head to the Gaslamp Quarter this Saturday and share in the Halloween fun with music on the entertainment stages, dancing, costumed characters, costume contest and more. Open to adults, 21 years and older. Tickets are $30 in advance, $35 day of show.
The driver never made it through the Haunted Trail! Photo courtesy of Mike Rollerson.
The Haunted Trail of Balboa Park is a stroll you will never forget. As you walk the mile-long Trail, spine-tingling sights and sounds will leave you trembling. Among the twisted grove of pines and gnarled oaks along the trail, you’ll experience terror that is simply too big to house indoors. Watch your back and keep close to your companions because you never know which way the terror will hit you.
Find out why the wine is red…at the South Coast Winery!
South Coast Winery has paired up with the “ghouls and goblins” from its Vineyard Rose Restaurant and its Winery, enhancing the ‘original’ Behind-the-Scenes Tour and adding a “Spook-tacular” Tour. Starting out in the vineyards, then the proceeding to the haunted halls of the winery, one never knows who or what will appear before you to serve up the wines for tour participants and just how it will be delivered. The tour concludes in the winery’s cellar, tucked away in the private Carter Reserve Room, for more haunted happenings.
Haunted Pirate Ships and More at the Birch Aquarium
Discover what lurks beneath the surface at Haunted Birch Aquarium: Shipwrecked! Enjoy close encounters of the fishy kind, BOO-gie down with Billy Lee and the Swamp Critters, and explore our wreckage for sunken treasures. Wander the aquarium’s galleys for tricky treats and discover a sea of glowing creatures while having a monstrous good time. Dress to impress!