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25 Free Things to Do in San Diego, CA this Winter

25 Free Things to Do in San Diego
During the Winter

From traditional holiday parades and festivals to the migration of California gray whales along the Pacific coast, a visit to San Diego during the winter offers a wealth of free, fun and festive experiences. Visitors to the region can escape overcast skies and the wintry cold for San Diego's brilliant sunshine and temperate climate and enjoy diverse wintertime experiences.

The following suggestions for free activities and events are sure to capture the imagination and lift the spirits of visitors to San Diego during the upcoming winter months.

  1. Join the festivities during Balboa Park December Nights, a two-day holiday celebration of food, entertainment and fun on December 2 - 3. The numerous museums and cultural institutions in Balboa Park, the nation's largest urban cultural park, open their doors free of charge, and festivities include carolers, live music, holiday light displays, theater and dance performances and delicious foods from around the world.

  2. Witness a tradition that began as a gift to the children of San Diego in 1947 - the Annual Mother Goose Parade on November 20 in the East County city of El Cajon. One of the biggest parades of its kind in the country and the largest single-day event in San Diego County, the parade features floats, clowns, Santa Claus, marching bands, equestrian teams and celebrity appearances.

  3. Whale watch from the shores and cliffs of Point Loma, as California gray whales migrate south to the warm water breeding grounds off the coast of Baja, California. Spectators can catch a spectacular show during December through April when these majestic mammals pass through the waters off San Diego's coastline.

  4. Be part of a grand Holiday Celebration on December 2 in Coronado with a festive parade along Orange Avenue, the lighting of a 75-foot Christmas tree, holiday music and a firework show over Glorietta Bay.

  5. Enjoy free organ concerts at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park beginning at 2 p.m. each Sunday. The Organ Pavilion features the world's largest outdoor pipe organ, where organists resound holiday favorites, waltzes and show tunes from the organ's monstrous 32-foot lead alloy pipes.

  6. See Old Town State Historic Park decked out for the holidays during Holiday in the Park on December 10 and enjoy holiday treats, activities and extended shopping hours, along with strolling carolers. On December 11, visitors can watch the 61st Anniversary Las Posadas, a centuries-old tradition in which actors reenact the biblical journey of Mary and Joseph through the town of Bethlehem.

  7. Head over to Seaport Village for the festive Surfing Santa at Seaport Village event on November 26. Hang-ten with Santa and enjoy a lively parade along the Seaport Village boardwalk, music, stilt walkers, kid's crafts and photo opportunities of your family and friends surfing with Santa.

  8. Spread some holiday cheer at the La Jolla Christmas Parade and Holiday Festival on December 4 in downtown La Jolla. The event includes marching bands, floats, equestrian units, vintage automobiles and an appearance by Santa Claus.

  9. Drive to the mountain town of Julian for a warm mug of hot apple cider and a delicious slice of Julian's legendary homemade apple pie. On Saturdays, stroll through the quaint neighborhood streets and enjoy the sounds of wandering Christmas carolers and a living nativity scene.

  10. Take a walk around Balboa Park and discover its beautiful architecture. Take advantage of the park's variety of free offerings, including touring its spectacular gardens. Be sure not to miss the "Whoville" decorations in the plaza outside of The Old Globe theatre, which are on display November 19 - December 31, to coincide with the theatre's annual holiday production of Dr. Seuss' "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!"

  11. Take a walk along one of San Diego's 70 miles of beaches, all free and open to the public, and explore the tide pools in Point Loma, Ocean Beach and La Jolla when the tide is low to see some of the magnificent creatures of the sea.

  12. Visit the village of La Mesa on December 9 and 10 for Christmas in the Village. Enjoy street performers, carolers, carriage rides, entertainment for the family and more.

  13. Bring the family to the SoNo Park Holiday Fest on December 4 and celebrate with the restaurants and residents of South Park and North Park in a chili cook-off. Visitors can taste chili in hand-spun ceramic bowls, shop for holiday gifts from local artisans and enjoy live music, kids' activities, gourmet food trucks, a beer garden featuring local craft beer and more.

  14. Enjoy the Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade on December 11 in downtown San Diego's historic Gaslamp Quarter. Owners and their dressed-up pets march down the decorated streets of the neighborhood and end at a Pet Expo featuring an awards ceremony for best-dressed pups.

  15. Take a drive to the top of Mt. Soledad in La Jolla for a panoramic view of the city all spruced up in holiday decoration. Along the way, enjoy at the beautifully decorated homes in this exclusive community.

  16. Drive to the 600,000-acre Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in San Diego's East County to marvel at wildlife and a kaleidoscope of colorful flowers amidst the desert warmth. Anza-Borrego is located just two hours from San Diego via Highway 78 and Interstate 8.

  17. Gaze up at the massive balloons during the Big Bay Balloon Parade, the country's largest balloon parade, on December 28. Floats, balloons and marching bands are just some of the offerings in this colorful holiday parade along San Diego Bay in downtown San Diego.

  18. Enjoy the twinkling waters of San Diego Bay and more than 100 private boats decorated with holiday lights for the 40th Annual Port of San Diego Parade of Lights on December 11 and 18. Great views are available on land from Shelter Island, Harbor Island, the Embarcadero, Seaport Village, Marina Park and Coronado's Ferry Landing.

  19. Get in the holiday spirit during Chula Vista's 50th Annual Starlight Parade on December 3, featuring carolers, holiday cheer, floats, drill teams, marching bands, classic cars, a children's event and visit from Santa.

  20. Experience a white Christmas in San Diego after making the scenic, one-hour drive to the top of Mount Laguna in San Diego's rustic East County. Sled down mountain slopes, build snowmen and have snowball fights (weather conditions permitting).

  21. Delight in the festive gatherings of the Mission Bay Christmas Boat Parade of Lights on December 10. Over 100 brightly illuminated powerboats and sailboats parade along Mission Bay; the parade ends with a fantastic fireworks show at 9 p.m. above SeaWorld San Diego.

  22. Experience a magical evening of holiday celebrations on December 3 at the California Center for the Arts Escondido during the annual Holiday Tree Lighting and Winter Wonderland.  Enjoy seasonal music and Victorian carolers, a visit from Santa, free art activities and treats, a spectacular light show, and real snow! Then make "A Tribute to Heroes" during the 61st Annual Christmas Parade on December 10 in the city of Escondido.

  23. Celebrate holiday cheer during Christmas in the Park - Poway on December 10. The event features a tree lighting ceremony, visits from Santa, train rides, live music, theatre performances, food, treats, crafts and more.

  24. Join the community of Carlsbad for their annual Tree Lighting Festivities, December 4 at the Village Faire Shopping Center. Enjoy children's crafts, cookies and cider, entertainment and pictures with Santa Claus. 

  25. Rock out at the Poinsettia Bowl Battle of the Bands in the Gaslamp Quarter on December 19. Held two days prior to the annual Poinsettia Bowl, which is played in San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium, bands representing the two Bowl football teams line up at opposite ends of Fifth Avenue in downtown's Gaslamp Quarter and face-off in an old fashion battle of the bands.

  26. Ok, 26... there's always skinny dipping!

Happiness is calling in San Diego. For more information on San Diego offerings, including exciting vacation packages and valuable coupons for attractions, restaurants and more, visit the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau's Web site, www.sandiego.org, or call 619-236-1212. In San Diego, visit the International Visitor Information Center, located along the Embarcadero at the corner of West Broadway and Harbor Drive in downtown; the La Jolla Visitor Center, located at the corner of Herschel Avenue and Prospect Street in La Jolla; or the California Welcome Center, located at the Viejas Outlet Center in Alpine.

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