Postcards & Passports

Free Christmas Festivities in San Diego

This post was most recently updated on December 15th, 2023

Will you be visiting San Diego during the holidays this year? Or do you live in San Diego and want to know where you can enjoy Christmas festivities without cost? Here’s a list, though certainly not comprehensive, of some of the best free Christmas festivities to enjoy in San Diego.

Liberty Station Tree Lighting & Holiday Festivities

Friday, November 24, 2023 from 5:00 to 9:00 pm

At Liberty Station’s North Promenade (2848 Dewey Road), you can enjoy live entertainment on the Main Stage. Get your picture taken free with Santa and see the lighting of an 88-foot tall Norfolk Pine Christmas tree. The film How the Grinch Stole Christmas will be shown, and there are festive firetruck rides. Throughout the evening, there will be shopping, entertainment, and lots of opportunities to grab a quick bite or snack at one of many restaurants or Liberty Public Market. Visiting one of the many art galleries or taking a stroll along the water are a few more things to enjoy in Liberty Station.

The Marine Band San Diego is presenting their annual Holiday Concert at 5 PM, on December 9th at North Promenade in Liberty Station.

On the first Friday of December, the Liberty Holiday Extravaganza includes open art galleries and holiday-themed exhibits, dance and choral performances.

Little Italy Tree Lighting

Saturday, December 2, 2023 from 4:00 to 8:00 pm

Little Italy is a lovely Italian neighborhood in downtown San Diego. Enjoy festive decor, a visit from Santa, live music and entertainment, horse carriage rides, holiday treats, kids’ arts and crafts, and seasonal vendors. Santa makes his appearance at 4:00 pm and will listen to kids’ wishes in his “living room” on India Street at 6:00 pm. Little Italy has two Christmas trees: one is a 25-foot tower of Poinsettia flowers in the center of Piazza Basilone, and the other is a permanent 20-foot tree in the Piazza della Famiglia (to be lit up at 6:30 pm). Of course, there are also many great places to dine in Little Italy, if you want to add a meal to your itinerary.

Children’s Coalition Christmas on the Prado

Friday, December 1, 2023 1:00 to 8:00 pm & Saturday, December 2, 2023

The Children’s Coalition Christmas on the Prado is held at Balboa Park. It includes Organ Pavilion Christmas music performances, a tree lighting at 6:30 pm on Saturday, kids’ crafts and fun zone, a full-size nativity diorama, gingerbread house, and photos with Santa. You can bring an unwrapped toy to donate to the Toys for Tots toy drive. There’s also face-painting, an elf contest and the International Cottages with cultural food, music, and decorations.

Balboa Park December Nights

Friday, December 1, 2023 3:00 to 11:00 pm & Saturday, December 2, 2023 11:00 am to 11:00 pm

Christmas festivities at Balboa Park’s December Nights include lights, performances of dance and choral music, a carnival, parades and puppetry, a visit with Santa, food vendors, International Cottages, a living Christmas tree, and free admission to the museums. Parking can be difficult to find, since this event is so popular. Be sure to take advantage of free shuttles that run to off-site parking.

San Diego Bay Parade of Lights

Sunday, December 10 and 17, 2023 beginning at 5:30 pm

See a procession of about 80 lavishly decorated boats as they make their way across the bay. They start at Shelter Island and go to Harbor Island, the Embarcadero, Seaport Village, the Cesar Chavez Park pier, and finally to the Ferry Landing in Coronado. Over 100,000 spectators gather along the waterfront to enjoy this tradition of 47 years. You can even join the procession if you have a boat! (There is a fee to enter a boat, and you can find out more here.)

Old Town Las Posadas

Friday, December 8, 2023, 7:00 pm

Throughout the day, enjoy Christmas entertainment, decorations, and shopping at the many stores in Old Town. The Las Posadas procession is a walking reenactment of the biblical story of Mary and Joseph’s search for a birthplace for Jesus. All are invited to join a candlelight procession and sing traditional holiday carols in Spanish and English as the actors go from inn to inn, symbolically asking for lodging. Location: Heritage County Park, 2454 Heritage Park Row, San Diego, CA 92110

San Diego Temple lights

November 25 – December 31, 2023

Christmas festivities

San Diego temple, photo by Kamala Venkatesh

–Thank you to Kamala for permission to include her beautiful photo here. You can see more of her work on Instagram, and at her website.–

A life-size nativity and beautiful lights are on display at this temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, perched next to Interstate 5. The public is welcome to walk the peaceful grounds, enjoy the light display and take photos.

Note: The temple began extensive renovations in Aug 2023, so Christmas llights may not be available this year.

Christmas Card Lane

Every night, from the day after Thanksgiving through New Year’s

In the suburb of Rancho Penasquitos, residents decorate their homes with giant plywood greetings. Themes range from popular movies to Christmas characters and religious scenes. Neighbors have been decorating their homes since 1982 when resident Alana Hastings came up with the idea to promote Christmas spirit and unity in their neighborhood. The displays can be seen on Ellingham, Oviedo, and Renato streets and include up to 200 homes participating. The best place to park is at nearby Sunset Hills Elementary, 9291 Oviedo St. Then you can walk through the decorated streets. On weekends, you are likely to hear local bands playing, and scouting and school organizations sell baked goods and hot chocolate.

Christmas in Old Poway Park

Enjoy Christmas festivities in Old Poway Park, 14134 Midland Rd, on Friday and Saturday, December 8 and 9, 2023. Enjoy live music performed by Charles Dickens carollers and other music groups and visit with Santa. You can also purchase tasty holiday treats or finish your Christmas shopping at the craft boutique. Board the Poway Midland Railroad for a night-time ride around the park (train rides for a fee).

Candy Cane Lane, Poway

This is another neighborhood where everyone is all decked out with Christmas lights and decorations. It’s a wonderful place to drive through, or park and walk around to enjoy all the festivities. Plenty of photo opps available, as well as frequent performances by local bands or dance groups. One home even syncs all their Christmas lights with a local radio station’s music! Head to Hickory Court, Butterwood Court, Rockrose Court, and Hickory Street for all the displays. Access this neighborhood on Saddlewood Drive off of Carriage Road. Displays are available to see all of December,


I hope you will enjoy your Christmas traditions and perhaps make some new memories with these Christmas festivities. Whether you are looking for secular or sacred Christmas festivities, this list is a great mix. Merry Christmas, and may the peace of the season be with you!

Christmas Festivities

Christmas festivities



15 thoughts on “Free Christmas Festivities in San Diego

    1. Tami Post author

      The boat parade is something I really want to see this year, too! In the 29 years I’ve lived here, it has always conflicted with other events, but this year they’re holding it on two weekends, so I have a better chance!

  1. Linda

    San Diego sounds like a great place to celebrate the holidays. The tree lighting in Little Italy sounds great. A 25 foot Poinsettia tree sounds must be beautiful. We would want to try to time our visit to see the Parade of Lights. Thanks for giving us a new spot for holiday festivities.

  2. Jenn and Ed Coleman

    Oh so many memories. I really think more people should anchor a winter trip to San Diego around Balboa Nights and the La Jolla Temple is so beautiful in the season. I would probably include walking around Hotel Del too (but avoid the skating rink like the plague). Make me miss San Diego reading this article.

  3. Kate

    Wow, it sounds like Balboa goes all out for the holidays! I think the hardest part would be enjoying all the festivities at that park and still having time to get to the other activities on your list! 🙂

  4. Christopher Rudder

    I’ve always been more of a ba-hum-bug type of person when it comes to Christmas and the holidays but Christmas in San Diego looks amazing. Its already on my to go to list but now I would love to come during the holidays!!!

    1. Tami Post author

      Sherianne, the public can walk anywhere on the temple grounds, but not inside the actual temple itself. We should both make a commitment to see the boat parade this year. I can’t believe I still haven’t gone!

  5. Mei and Kerstin

    We’ve been to San Diego only once and it was during a day trip from L.A. We only got to stroll around Balboa Park and had an ice cream. So we’d love to return and explore it in depth! With all the things to do and see during Christmas time, this might be the perfect time!

  6. Stevo Joslin

    I love Christmas time! Christmas Card Lane sounds like an amazing experience, to hear local bands play Christmas tunes and drink hot chocolate in the cold southern California winter! The San Diego Bay Parade of Lights looks amazing, the boat folks look like they’re going all out getting into the holiday spirit. I don’t know if I would want to be a part of the parade because then I couldn’t watch the whole thing! I’ll definitely share this with my friends in San Diego! Thanks for sharing!

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