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Published November 7, 2023

San Diego's Ultimate 2023 Winter Bucket List

From ice skating by the sea to dazzling light shows, here's everything to do in San Diego this winter and holiday season. 🎄⛸🎁

by San Diego Bucket List


The holiday season is coming, San Diego, and while that may not mean we'll be pulling on parkas and shoveling snow, it does mean lots of opportunities for cozying up with a hot chocolate, gliding across ice rinks, and strolling through twinkling lights.

From dazzling boat parades to holiday festivals, San Diego has something for everyone to enjoy during this magical time of year. We rounded up the best holiday events and winter activities happening throughout the area, so you can make the most of winter in San Diego!

19 Things to Add to Your San Diego Bucket List This Winter

Experience December Nights at Balboa Park

Soak up the holiday cheer on El Prado and in the Balboa gardens with twinkling lights, festive foods, live music, and local crafts offered over a two-night celebration! Guests can also enjoy free entry to all the museums, a variety of booths, and international house events.

Where: 1549 El Prado, San Diego, CA
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Grab Drinks at Santa's Lair

If you haven't quite been able to get into the holiday spirit yet, one visit to Santa's Lair will change that. Transport yourself straight to the North Pole at this holiday pop-up bar bursting with Christmas cheer. Enjoy holiday-themed drinks and small bites in a nightclub whose halls have been decked out in floor-to-ceiling tinsel, trimmings, ornaments, and more. Perfect for a night out with friends this December.

Where: Lair Nightclub: 615 Broadway, San Diego, CA
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615 Broadway, San Diego, CA 92101, USA
Santa's Lair
Starting at $15

Book now


Watch the Mission Bay Parade of Lights

The Mission Bay Parade of Holiday Boats is floating our way! Join the festive family fun boat parade on December 9 at 5:30 pm. The night begins with SeaWorld’s spectacular fireworks and continues with giveaways, raffles, and of course, lots of sparkling boats parading across the bay!

Where: 1215 El Carmel Place, San Diego, CA
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Ice Skate by The Sea

There’s a divine pastime in San Diego we’re gifted with: ice skating by the beach! There are plenty of places in our tropical town to lace skates—both indoor and outdoor. We recommend the iconic Skating by the Sea at the Coronado, where a portion of the proceeds of your skate go to the Make-a-Wish Foundation of San Diego. You can also check out the Rady Children’s Ice Rink in Liberty Station, with proceeds that benefit Randy Children’s Hospital.

Where: 1500 Orange Ave, Coronado, CA
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Visit the Holiday Basement Speakeasy

Have you ever wished you could transport yourself inside your favorite holiday movie? While we can't quite do that, you can head to this speakeasy where some of your favorite movie characters will be serving you and making special appearances! Immerse yourself in holiday movies and enjoy delicious holiday-themed dishes.

Where: El Cruce + 241: 241 3rd Ave, Suite C, Chula Vista, CA
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241 3rd Ave suite c, Chula Vista, CA 91910, USA
The Holiday Basement Speakeasy
Starting at $25

Book now



Tour the Enchanted Village

Don't let the holiday season pass you by without taking a drive or stroll through Enchanted Village. It takes place over eight acres at Noah Homes in Spring Valley from December 15 through the 22. Come by between 5 and 5 PM every evening for live musical performances, carolers, hundreds of candy canes and Christmas trees, holiday displays, and more. The best parts? All proceeds benefit Noah Homes, a nonprofit that provides housing and care to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Where: Noah Homes, 12526 Campo Road, San Diego, CA
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Attend the Holiday Festival at The Del

The Del always has a jam-packed holiday season with beachside igloos, photos with Santa, spectacular light shows, and more. Make sure to come by on December 6 for the Annual Holiday Festival with musical performances, a skydiving Santa who parachutes in to join the festivities, skating by the sea, fireworks, and more!

Where: 1500 Orange Ave, Coronado, CA
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Go Whale Watching

From December to April, catch a glimpse of the amazing 10,000-mile annual migration of the magnificent Pacific Gray Whales—maybe some dolphins and other creatures, too—all from your very own harbor cruise!

Where: 1617 Quivira Rd, San Deigo, CA
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1617 Quivira Rd, San Diego, CA 92109, USA
Whale Watch and Dolphin & Whale Sunset Cruises
Starting at $49

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BYOB to a Holiday-Themed Paint Night

Come one and all to a festive BYOB ceramic paint night! There’s a variety of holiday-themed classes with all materials included. No experience is necessary, so come create a custom Christmas tree with lights to take home for the season!

Where: ClayTime Ceramics: 1863 Bacon St, San Diego, CA
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1863 Bacon St, San Diego, CA 92107, USA
BYOB Holiday Themed Ceramic Paint Night
Starting at $50

Book now


Attend the Port of San Diego Holiday Bowl Parade

For a post-Christmas activity, attend the festive Port of San Diego Holiday Bowl Parade in downtown San Diego. With world-class bands, impressive floats, and a multitude of balloons, it's the city's grandest parade. Plus, don't miss the annual Holiday Bowl 5K Run/Walk along the scenic harbor front, featuring finisher medals for all participants!

Where: East Harbor Drive, Downtown San Diego
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Cozy Up with a Spiced Hot Chocolate

San Diego may not be known for frigid temperatures and white Christmases (we're not complaining), but you can still enjoy a cozy cup of cocoa during the holiday season. Banyan Kitchen offers a range of delicious hot drinks, including a variety of hot chocolate flavors. For something you find anywhere else, we recommend trying the Spiced Hot Chocolate made with dark chocolate, chili, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, and honey!

Bonus: Their collection of artisan chocolates makes a great holiday gift!

Where: 4655 Executive Drive, San Diego, CA
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Attend the Encinitas Holiday Street Fair

Just two blocks from the ocean, enjoy over 450 unique foods, arts and crafts vendors, four entertainment stages, children's rides, and a dog-friendly beer garden! Perfect for getting an early jump on some local holiday shopping!

Where: 101 MainStreet Association, 818 S Coast Hwy 101
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See the Surfin' Santa at Seaport Village

In keeping with San Diego's surf culture nature, Santa himself will don boardshorts and spread holiday cheer in Seaport Village! Come with family and friends to pose for pictures with his giant surfboard and walk along the boardwalk decked out in “snowfall” decor.

Where: 849 West Harbor Drive
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Donate Time or Money to a Worthy Cause

In the season of giving, consider helping to feed families in our community. The San Diego Food Bank provides two meals to families in need for every $1 donated. You can also participate in volunteer opportunities that include assembling and delivering food packages.

Where: 3030 Enterprise Court, Suite A, San Diego, CA
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Shop the La Mesa Holiday in the Village

A La Mesa tradition returns in the heart of downtown with live music, cozy fires, crafting, and holiday pictures with Santa for visitors to enjoy. There will also be dozens of craft vendor stands and food stands to peruse and shop from as well.

Where: La Mesa Blvd. to Spring St. 4th St.
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Attend SoNo Fest & Chili Cook-Off

Think you've got the best batch of chili in town? Find out at the annual SoNo Fest and Chili Cook-Off. The website describes the day as “chili + beer + holiday shopping + kids fun fest = one perfect Sunday in December,” and we tend to agree. Head to the North Park business district to taste the competing chilis and enjoy live music from local bands, carnival games, and more—all free and open to the public at this fiery and festive event.

Where: Thorn & 32nd Streets in North Park, San Diego, CA
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See the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights

For over 50 years, SD residents have enjoyed a stunning boat parade, with around 80 lavishly decorated and lit-up vessels parading through the bay. This year's theme is "Christmas Traditions Around the World," and will proceed to the pier at Cesar Chavez Park before making the turn to Coronado

Where: San Diego Bay Area, Shelter Island
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Take a Pasta-Making Class

Have a night of delicious fun making a scratch-made bolognese sauce and pasta dough into perfect ravioli squares! No experience is required, and they’ll bring you ingredients from local environments. Duckfoot Brewing will also provide a selection of drinks for purchase too!

Where: Duck Foot Brewing: 8920 Kenamar Dr #210
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Duck Foot Brewing Company, 8920 Kenamar Dr #210, San Diego, CA 92121, USA
Handmade Ravioli with Bolognese Sauce
Starting at $59

Book now


Explore Jungle Bells at the San Diego Zoo

We wouldn’t leave our world-famous zoo out of the spectacular holiday fun! Make sure to see the Jungle Bells Aurora celebration, where the zoo will come aglow with holiday cheer and decorations. Bring the family to enjoy treats, performers, and the end-of-the-night show Aurora, combining 3D video production and live performers highlighting the beauty of wind, water, and ice.

Where: 2920 Zoo Drive, San Diego, CA
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