Snowy weather, soft sweaters and the smell of the fireplace are the the hallmarks of a traditional Christmas, but the spirit of the season isn’t lost in the sunny, summery days of December in San Diego. Visiting my young niece during the holidays felt weird at first, but we quickly found our Southern California Christmas vibe and holiday spirit! Here are some great ways to spend the Christmas holiday with kids and family in San Diego.
First, the nice weather means that drivers can (and do) turn their cars into reindeer. Plenty of them feature red button noses and antlers that wouldn’t survive the wintery weather of New Jersey. And poinsettias thrive outside, bringing color and joy to scenic places like Old Town and Balboa Park. The spirit of the season is best captured on Christmas Circle, a neighborhood in Chula Vista where every home looks as if it were decorated by Clark W. Griswold and it is absolutely charming in the evening! The warm weather also means live nativities and a decorated boat parade. Crowds gather along the waterfront to watch a parade of brightly decorated boats pass by, truly a unique Christmas experience. I hear it gets crowded along the waterfront downtown, but we had great views from Coronado.
You can find traditional ice skating at places like Horton Plaza and at the Hotel del Coronado, but beware that you’ll likely be skating on mush. The Hotel del is worth the trip just to see the lobby and its exquisite Christmas tree., and visit the unique toy store with lots of ocean-themed toys.
My favorite tradition of Christmas is San Diego was the Botanic Garden, about an hour’s drive from the city. Here’s how to do it best with kids – arrive at around 3pm and make your way to the children’s garden section, complete with a tree house, alphabet garden, sensory garden and plenty of other places for kids (and aunts!) to explore.
From there, take a walk up a short incline for sunset views over the Pacific ocean.
Then the true holiday festivities start as more than 100,000 lights glow throughout the gardens. Grab hot chocolate, make smores, enjoy live entertainment and visit Santa. Then hop on board a horse-driven carriage for a tour around the beautifully lit garden.
In downtown San Diego, The Spreckles Theatre puts on an adorable Nutcracker Show, and the BoatHouse is the best place for Christmas Eve dinner.
Those unaccustomed to Southern California take heed – Christmas Eve mass in San Diego is a fashion show. In NJ, we bundle up and swipe on lipstick to look nice. Without the need for heavy coats, churchgoers in California dress up in designer duds. Also, you won’t find “Dominick the Donkey” on the airwaves, a perennial favorite among anyone living in the NJ/NY/Philly area. Instead you’ll hear an awful song called “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.”
Christmas spirit thrives in Southern California. Those traveling from overseas should note – since military bases and training facilities abound in the San Diego region, you’ll often hear and see praise for our military at tourist attractions, events, etc. This part of American culture is sometimes not well understood nor appreciated by those visiting from other countries. Our intent in acknowledging active duty and veterans is distinct from however we feel about any particular leader or how/where troops may be deployed; it is simply one way that we honor and thank their service and sacrifice.
So, get out your sunglasses and enjoy a warm and Merry Christmas California-style!