A Guide to the Best Holiday Activities in San Diego this Christmas Season

The holiday season is approaching, and America’s Finest City is getting festive with several holiday activities in San Diego throughout the fall and winter seasons. While some events remain adjusted to account for the pandemic, many others are taking advantage of outdoor settings to promote fun, safe ways for San Diegans to gather.

Check out the best San Diego Christmas events 2021 has to offer, including a few returning favorites that weren’t on the docket over the last holiday season.


Little Italy Tree Lighting and Christmas Village

Activities in Little Italy San Diego are back, including holiday traditions residents missed out on during the last Christmas season. The Little Italy Tree Lighting is one such event and is planned for Dec. 4 with much fanfare.

Enjoy live music, holiday treats and two different tree lightings that night. Both trees at the Piazza Basilone and the Piazza della Famiglia will be lit that night to kick off a month of holiday activities in San Diego.

Little Italy will also be transforming into a Christmas Village by that night, with local vendors selling their holiday wares to visitors. Head over to the Christmas Village on Dec. 4 during the tree lighting ceremonies or during any of the Little Italy Wednesday Holiday Markets, held throughout December.

The markets are a perfect place to pick up not only holiday treats for home but stocking stuffers for family and friends. The Christmas Village will be happening on India Street between Cedar and Grape streets, making it one of the most convenient San Diego Christmas events for San Diego’s downtown residents.

Holiday market

Taste of December Nights

The popular Taste of December Nights will remain a drive-thru experience this year due to continuing concerns over large groups gathering at this time. The experience went so well last year that organizers have added even more entertainment and vendors to the event, planned for Dec. 3-5.

Bring your car and your appetite to the Inspiration Point parking lot to support local businesses and sample cuisine from your favorite food trucks.

Balboa Park, San Diego during the holidays

Holiday Parties at Home

San Diego residents have begun feeling safer spending time together and gathering for holiday parties. Returning to holiday traditions that may have been on pause for a while can feel right at this moment. No matter your apartment layout, your home is the perfect place to spend some time with those you love.

Consider your apartment amenities if you’re the one hosting. If you’re living in the Ariel Apartments, the complex has a recreation room and clubhouse for you to use instead of your apartment if you’re seeking a change of scenery.

Small, outdoor holiday party

See San Diego’s Best Lights Displays

San Diego may not get snow, but the city boasts some impressive light displays year after year. The most popular neighborhoods for light-spotting in and around San Diego include Christmas Card Lane on Oviedo Street and Black Mountain Road in Ranchos Penasquitos, Candy Card Lane in Poway, and Christmas Park on Lana and Jamar Drives in Clairemont.

As these neighborhoods didn’t skip a beat in decorating over the course of the pandemic, expect homes to go big this year, too.

Closer to downtown, head to 1st and Ivy streets in Bankers Hill to catch a glimpse of “The Forward House.” You won’t be able to miss the display at this one, often host to a Santa stop on the home’s rooftop if you time your visit right.

Houses with Christmas lights

Get a Local Gift at a Magical Market

Coming off the smashing success of last year, the Holiday Market and Trail at Petco Park promises to be even bigger and better the second time around. Guaranteed to be safe and festive fun for the whole family, this socially distanced trail at Gallagher Square will be a one-stop shop to get you in the holiday spirit.

At this market, you’ll be able to pick up the perfect stocking stuffer or a special gift from the artisan huts. Think local and European-themed gift shops selling handmade soaps, ornaments, and one-of-a-kind arts and crafts. While wandering through this enchanting trail, you’ll also be treated to magical light displays and have the chance to meet Santa and his merry band of elves. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, you’ll find an assortment of seasonal refreshments, like crepes, strudel, gingerbread, sugar cookies, truffles, and more.

The festivities will run from November 29 – December 24, 2021. We can’t think of a better way to celebrate the season!

Buying treats at a holiday market

Walk in a Winter Wonderland

Skating by the Sea, the annual ice skating event at the Hotel del Coronado and one of the most popular San Diego Christmas events, won’t be happening this year. But the historic hotel has a family-friendly replacement through December.

Walk into a Winter Wonderland on the hotel’s beachfront Windsor Lawn to see their 35-foot Christmas tree and take socially-distanced photos with Santa with the city’s best backdrop. The event will be held entirely outdoors, with snacks, drinks, and festive holiday crafts available to-go.

Hotel del Coronado during the holidays

Jungle Bells

The beloved Jungle Bells event at the San Diego Zoo is also back this year and ready to allow visitors back onto the zoo’s trolleys to see the park after dark. See trees decorated in holiday lights, special displays featuring your favorite zoo critters, live entertainment and the zoo’s holiday tree decked out for Christmas.

The zoo is no longer requiring reservations to visit, but purchasing tickets in advance is always recommended to save time at the gate.

San Diego zoo

Holiday Theater at The Old Globe

Live theater in San Diego has returned, and The Old Globe has two classics planned for the holiday season that will surely top the list of the best San Diego Christmas activities 2021 has to offer.

Choose from Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas or Ebenezer Scrooge’s BIG San Diego Christmas Show, based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

Anyone 12 and over purchasing tickets will need to abide by the theater’s health and safety policies in place to keep live theater going in San Diego. That includes proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 or negative results of a COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours of your chosen performance. The Old Globe reserves the right to deny entry to any patron who refuses to follow posted safety rules, regardless of ticket status.

Christmas Tree in Ocean Beach, San Diego

Greet Surfin’ Santa

Looking for free holiday events in San Diego? The annual arrival of Surfin’ Santa in Seaport Village is set for Nov. 27 on the Tuna Harbor Pier.

This Santa won’t be arriving with the usual reindeer, by the way. He typically cruises in for his greeting on the San Diego Bay. Join him for photos with his giant surfboard, shorts and Hawaiian shirt, live entertainment and a parade in his honor. Bonus points if you arrive in a Hawaiian shirt of your own.

Santa surfing in the ocean

Support a Good Cause

Celebrate the holiday season by giving back and supporting your local community this holiday season. The Little Italy Association’s annual toy drive for foster children at New Alternatives, Inc., will run through Dec. 13. Find a San Diego Food Bank near you to help hungry families by meeting their list of nutritious, most-needed food items.

A popular way to give back over the last holiday season was buying gifts locally. This remains an excellent choice in supporting small, local businesses to ensure your favorite shops are around next year. Purchasing meals or gift cards from your favorite eateries is a great option, too, and a habit to keep up once the holidays are over and the Christmas rush is done.

People volunteering at a food bank

Bring the Holiday Spirit Home

When spending more time at home, getting into the holiday spirit can be as easy as adding some holiday decor to your space. Make the most of your apartment space with decorations that feel festive without the clutter. Think twinkle lights, scented candles in the most delightful holiday fragrances, and wreaths or a Christmas tree if that’s part of your tradition.

Home decorated for the holidays

Are you already feeling the holiday spirit that living in downtown San Diego apartments can offer? Schedule your Little Italy apartment tour at the Ariel Apartments to see the best of not only holiday activities in San Diego but the best of luxury apartment living.