Enjoy the Holidays in San Diego

There is something magical about the holidays, and when you celebrate in sunny San Diego, outdoor celebrations are plentiful. While San Diego offers amazing outdoor shopping like the newly redesigned Westfield University Town Center in La Jolla or Fashion Valley minutes from downtown, here’s a guide to a few unique holiday activities only available in America’s Finest City. With warmer weather comes outdoor holiday festivals, boat parades on the bay, and even ice skating on the beach. Let’s start in Balboa Park, home of the San Diego Zoo.

Palm trees and Christmas lights at sunset at the San Diego Zoo

Holiday Cheer at Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo
The San Diego Zoo is one of the top attractions in the city, and a visit during the holidays is extra special with the annual Jungle Bells celebration. Jungle Bells kicks off in mid-December through early January showcasing hundreds of animal-shaped light displays, live music, and special events all month such as holiday storytelling by Dr. Zoolittle. While you are in Balboa Park, check out the December Nights festival, a holiday favorite by locals. This free festival takes place on December 6 and 7, 2019 and features light displays, music, and local cuisine in the park. The event does attract a large crowd, so taking a Lyft or rideshare to the park is usually a little less stressful.

A boat lit up with Christmas lights for the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights

Bright Lights on the San Diego Bay
In its 48th year, the annual San Diego Bay Parade of Lights that takes place on December 8 and 15, 2019 is guaranteed to entertain crowds. The parade consists of 80 or so boats, fully decked out for the occasion, sailing along the shores of the bay. There are a number of locations along the route to catch the parade, as well as many waterfront restaurants on Harbor Island.  I suggest Coasterra – not only are the views spectacular, but the modern Mexican cuisine is delicious as well. From the cocktail menu, a must-try is Deb’s Coconut Margarita, named after Chef Deborah Scott. While the sun always shines bright during the day, it can get chilly by the water in the evening, so be sure to bring a scarf and jacket if you’re planning to enjoy the boat parade outdoors.

A holiday sand castle on the beach at the Hotel del Coronado

Holiday Cheer from Downtown to Coronado
Holiday cheer runs aplenty with nightly light shows on Bayfront Pier to Skating by the Sea at Hotel del Coronado, Curio Collection by Hilton. For a great way to view all of the lights and décor, start at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront near the oversized Christmas tree and walk along the water to the ferry, which will take you across the bay. Flagship Cruises offers ferry service every hour, on the hour, across the bay to Coronado. Once you are in Coronado and make your way to The Del, lace up your skates and enjoy stunning views from the oceanfront ice rink. If skating isn’t for you, lounge at Frostbite for s’mores and holiday cocktails.

Fun fact: Hotel del Coronado had the first electrically lit, outdoor Christmas tree in 1904 – needless to say, holiday traditions run deep at the resort. There are many events going on throughout the holiday season so check the events calendar before your visit.

A large Christmas tree in front of the Hilton San Diego Bayfront

While you could spend the entire month of December exploring all San Diego has to offer to get your fill of holiday cheer, I hope these ideas add an extra sparkle to your travels. Many memories will be made from celebrating with the animals at the zoo to sipping hot chocolate as the sunsets over the Pacific Ocean at The Del. For additional information about holiday happenings in the city, check out Travel.Hilton.com/SD or San Diego’s events calendar.

Girl with brown hair in a grey blazer and black shirt.

This post was written by Hilton Suggests Team Member, Amanda R. Are you interested in traveling to San Diego? Let us know if we can help you with any other recommendations. Tweet us for more great local travel tips!

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