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25 Free Things To This Winter In San Diego

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.

  • Join the festivities during Balboa Park December Nights, a two-day holiday celebration of food, entertainment and fun on Dec. 5 (3-11 p.m.) and Dec. 6 (noon-11 p.m.). The numerous museums and cultural institutions in Balboa Park, the nation's largest urban cultural park, open their doors free of charge from 5-9 p.m. Festivities in the park include carolers, live music, holiday light displays, theater and dance performances and delicious foods from around the world. Also, be sure not to miss the "Whoville" decorations in the plaza in front of The Old Globe theater, which are on display Nov. 15 - Dec. 27 to coincide with the theater's annual holiday production of "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!"
  • Witness a tradition that began as a gift to the children of San Diego in 1947 - the Annual Mother Goose Parade on Nov. 23 in the East County city of El Cajon. The largest parade in San Diego County, the event features floats, clowns, Santa Claus, marching bands, equestrian teams and celebrity appearances.

  • 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. Spectators can catch a spectacular show during December through April when these majestic mammals pass through the waters off San Diego's coastline.
  • Be part of a grand Holiday Celebration on Dec. 6 in Coronado with a festive parade along Orange Avenue, the lighting of a 75-foot Christmas tree, holiday music and a fireworks show over Glorietta Bay.

  • Enjoy free organ concerts at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park beginning at 2 p.m. each Sunday in October and November and on Dec. 1. The Organ Pavilion features the world's largest outdoor pipe organ, where organists play holiday favorites, waltzes and show tunes from the organ's monstrous 32-foot lead alloy pipes.
  • See Old Town State Historic Park decked out for the holidays during Holiday in the Park on Saturday, Dec. 13 and enjoy holiday treats, activities and extended shopping hours, along with strolling carolers. On Dec. 14, watch the 63rd Anniversary Las Posadas , a centuries-old tradition in which actors reenact the biblical journey of Mary and Joseph through the town of Bethlehem.Head over to Seaport Village for the festive Surfin' Santa at Seaport Village event on Nov. 29 from 1-5 p.m. Hang ten with San Diego's board short-wearing Santa and enjoy a lively parade down the Seaport Village boardwalk, along with music, kids' crafts and photo opportunities of family and friends with surfin' Santa.
  • Spread some holiday cheer at the La Jolla Christmas Parade and Holiday Festival on Dec. 7 at 1:30 p.m. in downtown La Jolla. The event includes marching bands, floats, equestrian groups, vintage automobiles and an appearance by Santa Claus.
  • Visit the historic mountain village of Julian in San Diego's rural East County and get immersed into the holiday spirit. This gold mining town kicks off the holiday season on Nov. 29 with the Julian County Christmas & Tree Lighting from 1-5 p.m. at Pioneer Park. The town decorates the buildings along Main Street with twinkling white lights and garlands, and every Saturday until Christmas you can enjoy the sounds of wandering Christmas carolers and a living nativity. Don't forget to get a warm mug of hot apple cider and a delicious slice of Julian's legendary homemade apple pie.

  • Cheer on the participants of the 51st Annual North Park Toyland Parade on Dec. 6. Enjoy marching bands, floats, vintage cars, dance groups, beauty queens, city officials and Santa in this popular community celebration. The parade is followed by a holiday fair behind the historic North Park Theatre.
  • Let it snow at the Village Walk in Chula Vista as the center's Magical Snow falls accompanied by the sounds of carols every night in the courtyard by the koi pond from Dec. 1-24 at 6 and 7 p.m. On Dec. 13 from 12 to 3 p.m., visitors can enjoy snowfall during the day as Santa and Mrs. Claus stop by the Village Walk for a special event with music, train rides and crafts. Kids can take pictures with Santa and receive coloring books from Mrs. Claus.

  • Bring the family to the SoNo Park Chili Fest on Dec. 7 and celebrate the holidays with the residents and restaurants of South Park and North Park in a chili cook-off. Sample chili in hand-spun ceramic bowls, shop for holiday gifts from local artisans and enjoy free live music, kids' activities, gourmet food trucks and beer garden featuring local craft beers and wines.
  • Get a kick out of watching the Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade on Dec.14 from 1 to 5 p.m. 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 up to nine costume categories, like best pet holiday costume and ugliest holiday sweater.
  • Take a drive to the top of Mt. Soledad in La Jolla to enjoy the majestic 360 degree view of the city all spruced up in holiday decorations. Along the way, enjoy all the beautifully decorated homes in this exclusive community.
  • Stop by the village of La Mesa from 5-10 p.m. on Dec. 12-13 for Christmas in the Village. Enjoy as the village transforms into a Victorian wonderland with a holiday parade, carolers, carriage rides, street performers, live music, entertainment for the whole family and a visit from Santa.
  • Escape the hustle of the city and head 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. Anza-Borrego is located just two hours from San Diego via Highway 78 and Interstate 8.
  • Gaze up at the massive balloons during the Big Bay Balloon Parade, the country's largest balloon parade, on Dec. 26 at 3 p.m. Floats, balloons and marching bands are just some of the offerings in this colorful holiday parade that takes place along San Diego Bay in downtown San Diego.

  • Admire the twinkling waters of San Diego Bay and the more than 80 private boats decorated with holiday lights for the 44th Annual Port of San Diego Bay Parade of Lights on Dec. 14 and 21 at 5:30 p.m. This year's theme celebrates children's stories, and great views are available on land from Shelter Island, Harbor Island, the Embarcadero, Seaport Village, Marina Park and Coronado Ferry Landing.
  • Ring in the season in Chula Vista with Third Avenue's Holiday in the Village and the Starlight Parade on Saturday, Dec. 6. This family-friendly event in San Diego's South Bay showcases themed performances, children's activities, strolling carolers, marching bands and Santa Claus.
  • Dream of 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, make snow angels and have snowball fights (weather conditions permitting).
  • Delight in the festive gatherings of the Mission Bay Christmas Boat Parade of Lights on Dec. 13. More than 100 brightly illuminated powerboats and sailboats parade along Mission Bay. Best viewing is from Crown Point, the east side of Vacation Island or the west side of Fiesta Island.
  • Experience a magical evening of holiday celebrations on Dec. 6 at the California Center for the Arts Escondido during the annual Holiday Tree Lighting and Winter Wonderland Festival. Enjoy seasonal music and Victorian carolers, a visit from Santa, free art activities and treats, a spectacular light show and real snow! Also on Dec. 13, enjoy the 64th Annual Escondido Jaycees Christmas Parade in the city of Escondido.
  • Celebrate holiday cheer on Dec. 13 during Christmas in the Park in North County's Old Poway Park. The event features a tree lighting ceremony, visit from Santa, horse-drawn hayrides, live music, theatre performances, food, a petting zoo, crafts and more.
  • Explore San Diego's neighborhoods and marvel at the residential light displays found around the city. Notable neighborhoods include Chula Vista's Christmas Circle along Whitney Street and Mankato St., Christmas Card Lane in Rancho Penasquitos at Oviedo St., La Mesa's Jingle Bell Hill on Solomon Ave. and Pegeen Place, Garrison Street in Point Loma and Poway's Candy Cane Lane starting at Hickory St. and Saddlewood Dr.
  • Come out and cheer on the Encinitas Holiday Parade on Dec. 6 as it rolls along the historic 101 Coast Highway in San Diego's North County. The parade will begin at 5:30 p.m. and will include marching bands, children's groups and nearly 100 floats. A 5 p.m. tree lighting ceremony at the Lumberyard Shopping Center will precede the parade.
Happiness is calling in San Diego. For more information on San Diego's offerings, including exciting vacation packages and valuable coupons for attractions, restaurants and more, visit the San Diego Tourism Authority's website at or call (619) 236-1212.
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