14 Not-to-be-Missed Holiday Events in San Diego

The Holidays in San Diego

It’s time to celebrate the season with tons of fun and festive holiday events. MTS is here to get you to and from events across the regions - from South Bay to Balboa Park and La Jolla. Remember to use your PRONTO card or app and you'll never pay more than $6 in a day (helping you save on gas). Youth ride for free with the YOP pass as well. Check out a few of the celebrations happening around town below, and be sure to get MTS on Instagram, TikTok and Twitter to share your holiday cheer!

MTS Holly Jolly Trolley

1. Holly Jolly Trolley

Saturday December 9, 2023 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Gaslamp Quarter Station

For the first year, MTS is hosting a fun-filled holiday celebration with its Holly Jolly Trolley! We’ll be running a special holiday theme on our 1001 Vintage Trolley as it cruises through downtown San Diego. After the ride, guests can enjoy refreshments, music, and holiday activities at Gaslamp Quarter Station. Unfortunately, this limited-capacity event is already sold out. However, stay tuned to our Rider Insider email list and social media pages next week should extra spots become available!

2. Rady Children’s Ice Rink at Liberty Station

Now through January 7, 2024
Cost: $20 for adults, $15 for children, Rady Children's Staff or military; includes skate rentals

Enjoy a holiday tradition of ice skating outdoors at the Rady Children’s Ice Rink at Liberty Station. In its 27th year, the Rady Children’s Ice Rink is a fun family tradition that helps raise money for kids with cancer. It’s a great way to spend time outdoors and enjoy the delights of the season that we don’t always get to experience here in San Diego. Get to Liberty Station via Route 28.

3. Skating by the Sea

Select dates from now through January 7, 2024
Cost: General Admission (includes skate rentals): $40 | Value Skate Days (Dec. 4-5, 11-12): $35

There aren’t a lot of places where you can wear a t-shirt and enjoy an ocean view while ice skating - but in Coronado this is a thing you can do! Take Route 901 or  Route 904 to Coronado (Orange Ave & Adella Ave) to enjoy some ice skating by the sea at the Hotel Del Coronado.

December Nights

4. December Nights at Balboa Park

Friday December 1, 2023 (3pm - 11pm) to Saturday December 2, 2023 (11am - 11pm)

The City of San Diego’s largest holiday festival is back in Balboa Park. This free family-friendly event brings San Diegans together to enjoy the lights, the sounds, the attractions, and of course, the amazing food. MTS is also offering FREE RIDES to the event from City College Transit Center on Route 7, 215, and a special Park Blvd. Shuttle.

What’s so great about December Nights? Here’s a list!

  1. Museums are FREE - Most museums in Balboa Park are free during December Nights, from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. It’s great fun exploring the museums. Our personal favorite is the San Diego Model Railroad Museum and admiring the miniature landscapes as the model trains run the tracks.
  2. The Food - There are so many different kinds of food to taste and explore from multiple different cultures. Be sure to check out the Internal Cottages for treats from every country and Spanish Village hosts an array of local food trucks.
  3. Live Performances - There are different stages around Balboa Park where you can see live music, dancing, choirs, and other performances.
  4. The Lights - There are beautiful displays of lights all over the park to see as you wander around and take everything in.
  5. Unique and Local Crafts - December Nights hosts a large number of local businesses with crafts and holiday goodies for sale. Browse through the many vendors to find something special for the holidays.

December Nights always draws a large crowd, making it hard to get to and from the event. With MTS as your (FREE) ride, you’ll be able to get in and out a little more easily. Park and Ride at one of our stations to catch the Trolley downtown then hop onto the UC San Diego Blue Line or Orange Line to City College Transit Center. Take Route 7, 215, or the Park Blvd. Shuttle. For more information, check out our December Nights event page.

Please remember that each person in your party needs their own separate PRONTO card or app to tap or scan before riding.

5. Little Italy Tree Lighting & Christmas Village

Saturday, December 2, 2023 from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Little Italy will be transformed into a winter wonderland with twinkle lights, 10-foot tall nutcrackers and holiday tree displays. There will be Christmas songs and much more. Everyone is invited to experience the joy of the season at this free family-friendly event. There will be seasonal vendors, live music, entertainment, holiday treats, a tree lighting ceremony and Santa will be back! Take MTS to Little Italy via the Green Line or UC San Diego Blue Line. Get off at County Center/Little Italy Station and walk a few blocks to get to the heart of the neighborhood.

6. La Mesa Holiday in the Village

Saturday, December 2, 2023 from 12:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Take in some holiday fun in La Mesa, conveniently located off the Orange Line Trolley in downtown La Mesa. This free family friendly event features caroling and live holiday music, cozy fires, craft vendors, lots of foods and snacks, holiday photos with Santa, and a kid’s area.

Take the Orange Line to La Mesa Blvd Station for easy access to the event.

Chula Vista Starlight Parade
Photo by Chula Vista Starlight Parade

7. Chula Vista Starlight Parade and Festival

Sunday, December 3, 2023 starting at 3:00 p.m.

The Starlight Parade and Festival returns to Chula Vista in Memorial Park after a three-year hiatus for another event full of fabulous fun! Everything kicks off with the Starlight Festival and Holiday Market. At 5:45 p.m. there is the tree lighting followed by the Starlight Parade at 6:00 p.m. with an appearance by Santa. (Keep an eye out for our festive MTS bus in the Parade, too!) This is sure to be an amazing festival with lots of fun for the whole family. The UC San Diego Blue Line can get you to Chula Vista off E Street or H Street. Routes 701, 704, 705, 709, or 929 all stop near Third Avenue in Chula Vista. Use our Trip Planner for exact directions and times.

8. La Jolla Christmas Festival and Parade

Sunday, December 3, 2023 - 11:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Celebrate “Christmas on the Sand” in La Jolla with a holiday parade and festival. Visit Santa’s Village in front of the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library and then attend the Christmas Parade starting at 1:30 p.m. near the intersection of Kline & Girard. Get to Santa’s Village and the La Jolla Christmas Parade with MTS - take Route 30 or 140 to get to La Jolla.

San Diego Bay Parade of Lights
Photo by Tony Webster

9. 53rd Annual San Diego Bay Parade of Lights

Sunday, December 10, 2023 and Sunday, December 17, 2023 at 5:30 p.m.

The San Diego Bay Parade of Lights will sail by for its 53rd annual run. The parade will start at Shelter Island then proceed to Harbor Island, the Embarcadero, Seaport Village, the Pier at Cesar Chavez Park and ends at the Ferry Landing in Coronado.

Those looking for some insight into the boats as they float by should catch the parade near the announcers’ area at the Maritime Museum on the Embarcadero or at Coronado Landing. As the boats sail by in their splendor, the announcers will give some history and a description of vessels.

With an expected crowd of 100,000 for this festive parade, viewers are encouraged to Park and Ride. You can get within walking distance of Harbor Drive from a few locations:

  • County Center/Little Italy (UC San Diego Blue Line / Green Line)
  • Santa Fe Depot (UC San Diego Blue Line / Green Line)
  • Seaport Village (Green Line)
  • Convention Center (Green Line)
  • Gaslamp Quarter (Green Line)
  • Barrio Logan (UC San Diego Blue Line)

On Saturdays and Sundays up to two children (age 12 and under) may ride free with a fare-paying adult (age 18 or older) on all MTS routes. All riders 18 & under will be able to ride MTS and North County Transit District (NCTD) services for FREE with a Youth PRONTO app account, or a Youth PRONTO card. Get more information here.

Photo by Robert Thiemann on Unsplash

10. Hanukkah Under the Stars

Tuesday, December 12 from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

View the new Menorah display in Nordstrom Rack Court at this free special celebration in partnership with Chabad of Downtown San Diego at Mission Valley Mall.

Enjoy live acoustic music, strolling magicians, and outdoor games. Express holiday spirit at the Dreidel craft station. Indulge at sweets stations from Mission Valley favorites. Show receipt from MV retailer to spin the wheel and Win prizes and gift cards by showing a receipt and spinning the wheel!

The Green Line goes right to Mission Valley Mall for easy access to the event.

11. Jingle Jets

Select Nights through December 23
Cost: Adult Admission: $25 | Youth Admission: $18

Enjoy a holiday themed experience aboard the USS Midway Museum with extensive holiday light displays, decorations, Christmas trees and more for a shipboard winter wonderland. Enjoy listening to carolers and DJs playing holiday tunes with a dance floor. There will also be food and merchandise, an opportunity to write letters to military service members, and various photo ops and a Santa meet and greet. Make the USS Midway a part of your holiday traditions!

It’s easy to get to the USS Midway Museum with MTS - simply take the UC San Diego Blue Line or the Green Line to Santa Fe Depot. Then walk one block west towards the ocean and one block south along Harbor Drive.

12. Snapdragon Bash Bowl

Tuesday, December 26, 2023 from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

The Holiday Bowl is excited to host the second annual Snapdragon Bowl Bash in the Gaslamp Quarter of downtown San Diego! The Snapdragon Bowl Bash is a time for fans and locals to gather in the heart of San Diego for FREE family fun, great food, live music, giveaways and more!

Witness a one-of-a-kind performance as the two university bands face off in a Battle of the Bands in the streets of downtown San Diego. This event is FREE for all fans and also features photo booths, interactive games, street performers, food & drink specials from participating restaurants and a photo op with the Holiday Bowl Trophy.

The event starts at 5th Avenue and Market Street.

Holiday Bowl Parade
Photo by Port of San Diego

13. Port of San Diego Holiday Bowl Parade

Wednesday, December 27, 2023 at 10:00 a.m.

The scenic, bayside streets of downtown San Diego will come alive with the Port of San Diego Holiday Bowl Parade presented by Kaiser Permanente! Along with the tradition of the Holiday Bowl, this exciting family event brings together world-class marching bands, magnificent floats, entertaining drill teams and a procession of enormous balloons! Over 100,000 street-side spectators will enjoy the parade along with a nationwide television audience. The parade will run along Harbor Drive and street-side viewing of the parade is FREE!

There are a number of viewing locations accessible via the Trolley:

  1. County Center/Little Italy (Green Line, UC San Diego Blue Line)
  2. Santa Fe Depot (Green Line, UC San Diego Blue Line)
  3. America Plaza (UC San Diego Blue Line)
  4. Seaport Village (Green Line)

Harbor Drive is within walking distance of the stops above to give you easy access to view the parade.

14. DirectTV Holiday Bowl & KGB Sky Show

Wednesday, December 27 at 5:00 p.m.
Cost: Tickets starting at $60.00

Since its 1978 debut, the Holiday Bowl is one of the most exciting college football games. The Holiday Bowl makes its way back to Petco Park again this year for another matchup which will feature teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Pac-12 Conference. Fans can enjoy the 101.5 KGB Sky Show postgame which will light up the San Diego Skyline over Petco Park with its spectacular and legendary fireworks display.

Fans are encouraged to skip the traffic and ride the MTS Trolley to the game. Fans can take the Green Line to the Gaslamp Quarter Station, or the UC San Diego Blue Line or Orange Line to the 12th & Imperial Transit Center.


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