This post was most recently updated on July 9th, 2019
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.
Friday, November 30, 2018 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 (at 6:30 pm). The film How the Grinch Stole Christmas will be shown, and there’s ice skating at the Rady Children’s Ice Rink. 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.
And if you want to enjoy more holiday events at Liberty Station, you can come back any Saturday in December before Christmas for free Santa pictures and live entertainment from 5 to 8 pm.
On Friday, December 7th, the Liberty Holiday Extravaganza includes open art galleries and holiday-themed exhibits, dance and choral performances.
Saturday, December 1, 2018 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.
Saturday, December 1, 2018 1:00 to 8:00 pm & Sunday, December 2, 2018
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.
Friday, December 7, 2018 3:00 to 11:00 pm & Saturday, December 8 noon 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.
Sunday, December 9 and 16, 2018 beginning at 5:00 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.)
Saturday, December 15, 2018, Noon to 8:00 pm, procession begins at 5:00 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. The procession ends at a nativity tableau in front of the Casa de Estudillo. Evening activities include a pinata party for children and a campfire with s’mores. To join the procession, gather in front of the print shop at 4:45 pm.
San Diego Temple lights
November 23 – December 31, 2018
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.
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.
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 good mix. Merry Christmas, and may the peace of the season be with you!