Fun Filled San Diego Events for the Holidays

If you’ve traveled to San Diego, you’ve likely shopped and dined in its historic Gaslamp Quarter, caught a Chargers game at QUALCOMM Stadium, relaxed in one of its sandy beaches or enjoyed world-renowned rides and attractions at SeaWorld. If you haven’t been in San Diego for the holidays, however, you’re missing out on some of the best holiday celebrations anywhere. Whether you’re interested in winter entertainment on the water, eye-catching lights displays or family-friendly holiday exhibits, these San Diego events make perfect ways to celebrate the holiday season and spread plenty of cheer in the process. Below is a handful of holiday festivities taking place in the place nicknamed “America’s Finest City,” plus noteworthy San Diego hotels that lie near them.

1. Balboa Park December Nights: Balboa Park – the nation’s largest urban cultural park – features 15 major museums, lush gardens, famous performing arts venues, and the hugely popular San Diego Zoo. It is also home to Balboa Park December Nights, a two-holiday event that kicks off the holiday season with sparkling lights, mouth-watering food, music and entertainment. Now in its 33rd consecutive year, December Nights will be held Friday, Dec. 3 from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 4 from noon to 10 p.m. Participating Balboa Park museums open their doors free of charge from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on both evenings.

This is hands down the largest free community festival in the city, as Balboa Park December Nights is expected to draw more than 300,000 visitors over the two-day event. Highlights include the Fossil Mysteries exhibit set to holiday music inside the atrium of the Natural History Museum, foods and crafts from around the world at Cascades Holiday Marketplace, a holiday tree adorned with the Schlappi collection of unique ornaments by Elizabeth Schlappi and the late Florence Hord at the Timken Museum, and rousing musical performances by local groups on The Palisades Stage. Balboa Park is less than two miles away from the U.S. Grant Hotel and The Sofia Hotel.

2. Holiday of Lights: The Del Mar Fairgrounds north of La Jolla will be transformed into the largest drive-through holiday lights show on the west coast for Holiday of Lights. The event runs most nights (closed Dec. 6 and Dec. 13) from Thanksgiving Day through Sunday, Jan. 2, 2011. More than 400 stunning displays, all centered around such themes as Toyland, Treasures by the Lake, Candy Cane Lane, and Elves at Play, will be set around the Del Mar Racetrack. Visitors can delight in the holiday displays from the comfort of their vehicles as they drive along a 1.5-mile stretch through the lively Fairgrounds. On select Fridays, you can tour Holiday of Lights on the much-touted Holiday Hayride, which was introduced in 2009 and quickly became a crowd favorite. If you’re looking for nearby accommodations, check out L’Auberge Del Mar Resort and Spa, a seaside estate-style property that is ranked among the best luxury resorts in the country by Condé Nast.

3. San Diego Bay Parade of Lights: If your idea of spreading holiday cheer involves being on or near the water, don’t miss the 39th annual Parade of Lights, which happens to be the city’s only Christmas parade. Boats of all shapes and sizes decorated for the holiday season will parade around the bay as more than 80,000 spectators watch in awe. The parade has grown so much in popularity that it’s held twice annually; this year it is scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 12 and Sunday, Dec.19, both evenings from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. The theme for 2010 is The Sounds of Christmas, and the festivities will kick off with a fireworks show at 5:30 p.m.

The San Diego Bay Parade of Lights will begin at the east end of Shelter Island and travel eastward, past Harbor Island to North Embarcadero. From there, it will head south along the Embarcadero near the 10th Street Terminal. The parade will then make its way toward Coronado before moving west to Ferry’s Landing. And if you’re curious about San Diego hotels in the area, the 44-acre Paradise Point Resort & Spa on Mission Bay, as well as the 25-story Westin San Diego, are both less than 4 miles from the event.

4. Garden of Lights: You don’t have to be a nature lover to appreciate the lovely city’s Botanic Garden’s Garden of Lights, which runs from Dec. 9 through Dec. 23 and again from Dec. 26 through Dec. 30 (5-9 p.m.) With over 100,000 sparkling lights, live music, a Nutcracker exhibit, horse-drawn-wagon rides, marshmallow roasting and much more, it’s easy to see why children and parents alike can’t enough of this family-friendly winter wonderland. Located in Encinitas, the Botanic Garden boasts the Hamilton Children’s Garden – the largest interactive children’s garden on the west coast – as well as the nation’s largest bamboo collection. Visitors can stay at Del Mar Motel on the Beach, set approximately 6 miles from San Diego Botanic Garden.

A slew of great San Diego holiday events await. What are you waiting for?