The 12 days of Christmas!

Okay, so I can only write from experience and I promised myself I wouldn’t put anything on this list that I haven’t attend (just because it’s on some “visit San Diego” website). So here it goes…. 

In the past two years we’ve visited these places during the holidays and they didn’t disappoint. Keep in mind, my kids are still little so the lump sum of their gifts (from Santa…shhhhh) is probably $150 total, so I can spend more money on experiences (ala…the list below). There are some that are FREE*, so I’ll start with the most expensive and end with the least. 



1. Disneyland. You just can’t have the holidays in my book without visiting Disneyland. I grew up in Orlando, FL and this was what we got instead of a “white” Christmas. I will say, this year we went on a Sunday and it was PACKED! Go early in the season and try a midweek day if you can. Oh, and splurge for the Max Pass and download the app so you can make it on the most rides as possible. Insider tip: Toon town characters have shorter lines than the characters on main street & if you want to visit Santa in California Adventure, do that first and get it out of the way (especially because CA adventure is dead first thing in the morning so the line will be much shorter!)

2. San Diego Zoo: Jungle Bells Dec 14- Jan 6th

The zoo is open late and has really pretty lights and cute story time from Dr. Zoolittle. And this year Santa has a brand new workshop so the kids get pictures and can do arts and crafts inside. Really fun carolers are walking around the grounds too so it’s super festive! I don’t think I’ve ever had a trip to the zoo where I didn’t feel like I got my money’s worth. Love this place and it checks the box for a range of ages. 



3. SeaWorld Christmas Celebration. Okay, so I know SeaWorld can get a bad wrap, but their Christmas shows and village are seriously adorable….AND if you have the really small littles the park is easy to navigate (and less crowded these days than it once was). They have a Santa lodge with hot cocoa, kettle corn and holiday treats surrounded by a big stage where elves do nightly dance parties. Mrs. Clause is even there in the village for story time and nightly snow fall (super cute!). On the other side of the park they have costumed characters dressed up as Rudolph and his gang, as well as a nightly tree lighting. My 2.5 year old absolutely loved this!


4. Legoland Holiday celebration. Who doesn’t love a giant tree made of lego bricks? The park is all themed out for the holidays and has nightly snow fall and a tree lighting. They have a holiday show with singing elves and now the girls of Heartlake City have a holiday show too. 


5. Santa’s Village at Skypark. It’s a drive but, minds will be blown! This place basically looks like you jumped out of San Diego and right in the middle of the north pole! They have a train ride with a real conductor around the premises, ice skating, cookie cottages, hang out in Santa’s workshop and sometimes they even get a good dusting of snow (the real stuff). Insider tip: Do an overnight stay with the family at Lake Arrowhead resort so you make the long drive up worth your while. They have smores out on the lake with the family and then you can get up early and spend the day at Santa’s Village.


6. December Days and Nights @ The Rancho Bernardo Inn. A life-sized gingerbread fills the lobby and this event is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen at a resort in San Diego. They have a dozen trees decorated throughout the hotel, and an entire light show in the courtyard. The days and nights event is a full program for the kids with cookie decorating, story telling and Santa (of course). You have to sign up before-hand because it only happens for one weekend before Christmas, but it’s good for all ages and has so many photo opportunities!


7. Seas -n- Greetings at the Birch Aquarium. When else can you see scuba Santa? This is probably one of our favorite daytime activities to just walk around and look at all of the animals and play in the touch tanks. Good for the kids under 5 but might be a little underwhelming for the older kids. Check their website for dive times so you make sure to see Santa and his elves in the kelp tank!


8. Botanical Gardens – Garden of Lights. This is seriously the best Santa I’ve ever seen (well it has been for the past 2 years). We are headed there as one of our favorite family holiday evening events. It’s a simple 2-hour in and out experience where you walk through a magical garden full of lights. They have cottages where the kids can do a few crafts, and hot cocoa/cider for sale. For a small fee you can take a carriage ride pulled by a little pony (adorable!), and they have marshmallow roasting around a fire pit. The Santa is so charming and the line is usually no more than 10 minutes long. They have a huge open yard for kids to run around and get all their energy out just in time to go home for bedtime! We usually arrive around 5pm and stay for a few hours.


9. The Park Hyatt Aviara- Giant Chocolate Santa. The hotel is decked out for Christmas and some of the top Food Network stars have built a giant santa and elves completely out of sugar, rice crispy treats and molding chocolate. They have some really great restaurants for the holidays, but you can also just stop by for a cocktail, carolers and to take in the seasonal décor. They also have teddybear tea for the kids as well as gingerbread making classes throughout the month of December.


10. *Not for the kids, but Polite Provisions is the most *spirited place this holiday season (see what I did there, lol). The bar basically looks like Clark Griswold himself took over on the decorating front, and their cocktails are so festive that you’ll want to take home the glassware as a souvenir. Hands down, the best happy hour during the holidays!


11. UCT Mall new Winter Nights- Believe it or not….you can kill 2 birds with one stone….shopping and letting the kids see Santa and get in on some holiday cheer! The mall isn’t just a mall anymore, it’s a destination and if you can’t find it there, well I don’t think you’re gonna get it! The mall now has costumed characters walking around, really good musicians performing and lights all over the entire shopping center. They used to have a little train over by Pottery Barn too, but don’t quote me on that!


12. Christmas Card Lane- FREE! And so adorable! At least 50 houses all themed out for Christmas with lights galore! It’s like a holiday neighborhood on crack! Basically put Oviedo St. in your GPS and it will take you there….right off Black Mountain rd. We bring a radio flyer wagon and put the kids in and walk around for about an hour. You can certainly stay in the car if you wanted to for the quick version, but we love bundling up and walking around.








Heather Lake