San Diego's Holiday Lights
Christmas Lights San Diego
Looking for Christmas Lights in San Diego? If you love to drive around to see Christmas lights and public Christmas light displays, we've put together a hand-picked list of the best places to go see Christmas light displays in San Diego.
Residential Holiday Displays
Coronado - Coronado is one of our favorite areas to go holiday light hunting every year. Why? Because the people of Coronado go all out in getting into the Christmas spirit. Many of the older homes are very large and can take lots of lights. Peer pressure from the neighbors must factor in Coronado because so many homes are decorated to the hilt with Christmas lights.
Chula Vista - Chula Vista is the county's second largest city and Candy Cane Lane is one of the shortest streets in the County that used to carry the most Christmas punch. We know that many people still search for Candy Cane Lane in Chula Vista, but we must advise you that it no longer exists. We have learned from local sources that the traffic back-ups caused by the enormous popularity of this main attraction led to its downfall. Some of the residents still turn on their house lights but Candy Cane Lane is not what it used to be.
However, there is a silver lining to this story. Chula Vista's answer to Candy Cane Lane is now Christmas Circle which is worth a look-see. Christmas Circle is located on Whitney Street and Mankato Street. These two streets form a loop which provides for easy viewing. The area is located between First and Second Avenue off H Street. The easiest access is off of I-5.
Mission Hills - Located in the hills above Old Town, Mission Hills is a neighborhood of stately craftsman homes dating back to the early 20th century. Quite a number of these beautiful homes have been designated as historically significant homes. Kate Sessions, landscape planner of Balboa Park, started the Mission Hills Nursery a century ago (which sells Christmas trees this time of year). This is a great place to drive around to see the lights because the streets are windy and are void of traffic. Many of the homes are lit up for the holidays as are a number of the skyline trees that soar above the palm trees that line the major streets. Be sure to look for the tallest star pine you can find and see if you can spot the lit star at the top.
Kensington - One of San Diego's oldest and most charming residential neighborhoods, Kensington, is situated north of El Cajon Boulevard and east of Interstate 15 above the south rim of Mission Valley. Like Mission Hills, Kensington is known for its winding streets and beautiful homes. Many of the Kensington homes are Spanish-style and quite a number of them have not changed their appearance in decades. Follow Adams Avenue east of the Kensington sign to Van Dyke. Pass through the intersection of Van Dyke and Adams. It would be hard to miss the lights of this neighborhood. We tip our hats to all of the neighbors for stringing up all those lights! You are in for a real treat!
South Park/Burlingame - South Park and Burlingame are two communities that are geographically close but are separated by the urban canyons that criss-cross this older part of San Diego. South Park is a friendly residential community that is situated between North Park at Juniper Street and Golden Hill at "A" Street. Bordered on the west by Balboa Park, South Park boasts beautiful vistas and classic California Craftsman style homes that have been getting better with a conscious effort of homeowners to preserve the past. Many of the homeowners are proud of their homes and do their very best to deck their halls with classy light displays. We found a particularly spectacular residential display on 28th Street between Upas and Thorn which will knock your Christmas socks off. It is a must see!
Burlingame is a residential community known for its pink concrete sidewalks - you know you are in Burlingame when you start seeing the pink sidewalks! Burlingame has a charming tradition of uniting various neighbors with strings of lights on certain streets to make a block holiday display.
Point Loma - Point Loma is one of the oldest and wealthiest communities of San Diego. Blessed with spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean to the west and views of both Downtown and America's Cup Harbor to the east, Point Loma is one of the area's most desirable communities. People from all types of backgrounds have settled in Point Loma and each of these communities bring their special kind of taste for holiday displays with them. One constant theme in Point Loma is maritime and seafaring. Many retired military people live here as do many retired Portuguese fishermen. Their homes' holiday displays are big, nautical, and always full of Christmas spirit.
Point Loma is a very large community with many different types of housing styles so there will be areas that have displays and others that do not. Just keep driving around. One street that is particularly impressive is Garrison off of Catalina Boulevard. This is the kind of street that people get out of the cars and walk around because the displays are awesome.
La Jolla - La Jolla is a beautiful part of San Diego that always sets itself apart from the City because it can. It is a beautiful place that is quite unlike anything else in San Diego. The beach surrounds this lovely community and the homeowners take full advantage of this fact. Many of San Diego's wealthiest people live here and their holiday displays demonstrate that level of wealth. La Jolla sits west of I-5, going from Torrey Pines State Reserve in the north to the hills of Pacific Beach in the south. The Village of La Jolla is located in the middle of it all and this is the place where they have their annual Christmas Parade. The Village is a great place to walk around, do some shopping, get something to eat, go look at the ocean, and then get in the car to go do a drive-by to see the lovely lights.
Tierrasanta - We recently learned of a very special holiday display that is appropriately called Belardo Lights. This display is the work of one special family that resides at 5306 Belardo Drive. The Schimka family decorates their home with 65,000 lights and oodles of homemade decorations during the holiday season. This year, the display will be lit up from November 28 to December 27, 2009 from 5:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., nightly. As a special treat, tune your car radio to FM 89.7 to hear the synchronized music.
On a personal note, we would like to add that the Schimka family creates this holiday gift to the community but it also serves as a wonderful family project throughout the year. The family has two sons with autism and the holiday display provides an enriching opportunity to engage their boys and create holiday magic. We thank the family for sharing their family gift and generosity with all of us.
Clairemont - Clairemont is a community in the City of San Diego that is home to many families of many income levels. Some locals may wonder why we have included this area since it is not known as being a ritzy area. However, the good people of Clairemont really put on the glitz when it comes to Christmas. In fact, over 40 homes get into the act and decorate their homes in a big way. Best of all, the homes are located on a circular drive. Go to Lana Drive and Jamar just off Mt. Abernathy Avenue to see this great light display.
Rancho Peñasquitos - Located in the northern area of the City of San Diego, Rancho Peñasquitos is home to many, many families. Christmas Card Lane, started with 15 families in 1985. Since that time, over 200 families have gotten into the holiday lighting act. The organizers of Christmas Card Lane have one request. Park your car and walk around so that you can take a Christmas stroll, sip hot chocolate, munch on and baked goods, and listen to Christmas carols.
Christmas Card Lane is located on Oviedo Street, just off Black Mountain Road. The entire area includes Twin Trails, Carmel Mountain Road, Ellingham Street, Renato Street, Oviedo Street, Twin Trails Drive, Barrymore Street, Totherham Avenue, Talca Avenue, Talca Court, Allenbrook Way, Davenport Avenue, and last, but not least, Amber Sky Lane.
San Marcos - "Christmas on Knob Hill" is one of the largest residential light displays in San Diego County. This is one family's labor of love that has grown and grown to the enjoyment of all the visitors who put Knob Hill on their list of favorite places to view Christmas light displays. For 21 years, the family that resides at 1639 Knob Hill has decorated their property with over 80,000 lights, 100 plastic figures, 20 rope light figures, 80 snowmen, and 100 candy canes, and more. Visitors can enjoy viewing this display from November 26 to December 31, 2009 between 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
And as a very special treat, Santa visits Knob Hill during December 11 through December 23, 2009 from 6:30 p.m. - 8:00 p.m., except on Wednesdays when he takes the evening off to go bowling.
La Mesa - Many locals know that La Mesa is the gracious host of the annual Oktoberfest, but it is also home to Bob's Christmas Wonderland (7171 Cornell Avenue) in La Mesa. This one-of-a-kind residential display features trains, animated lawn decorations, and to top it all off, a miniature drive-in theater playing "Disney's Magical Christmas." The wonderful thing about Bob's Christmas Wonderland is that Bob uses the event to collect nonperishable food donations from all the people who come by to see his amazing decorations. Bob also provides visitors with hot chocolate, apple cider and fresh popcorn. All he asks in return is for visitors to bring one canned food item each to be donated to the Salvation Army. We couldn't think of a better cause.
El Cajon- Just east of La Mesa, El Cajon gets into the holiday spirit in a big way. After visiting Bob's Christmas Wonderland in La Mesa, head over to La Mesa's Jingle Bell Hill. Please note this display is also known as Pepper Drive Lights. In either case, this display is located in a quaint neighborhood that just happens to take the joy of Christmas very seriously. Jingle Bell Hill is located on Solomon Avenue and Pegeen Place. It can be reached off the SR-67, exiting on Bradley.
San Diego Attractions' Holiday Displays
Holiday of Lights at Del Mar - Get yourself in a festive mood from November 26, 2009 through January 1, 2010 at the 2009 Holiday of Lights at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. The Holiday of Lights at the Del Mar Fairgrounds is a spectacular drive-through light show and exhibit with more than 400 displays. The Christmas displays are organized into themes, which include: Candy Cane Lane, Toyland, San Diego County Fair, Treasures by the Lake, Del Mar Racetrack, the Twelve Days of Christmas and Elves at Play.
Visitors view the lighted and animated holiday creations from the comfort of their vehicles as they drive along a 1.5-mile route through the Fairgrounds, while enjoying festive holiday music. It takes most visitors 15-20 minutes to complete one trip around the route and to view all of the displays.
New this year to the Holiday of Lights is the Holiday Hayride. On select Friday nights, visitors can enjoy a tour of the Holiday of Lights using real horsepower.
Dates & Times of Operation:
Nightly from Thanksgiving (November 26, 2009), through Sunday, January 3, 2010, including December 24, 25, 31 and January 1, 2009.
Sundays-Thursdays, 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Fridays and Saturdays 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.
The Holiday Hayrides will take place on the following Fridays: November 27, and December 4, 11, and 18, 2009 every half hour, 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Inclement Weather Hotline: (858) 793-5555.
2009 Admission Prices & Discounts
General Admission: $14 per vehicle, up to 5 people/ $19 per vehicle, 6 or more people/ $49 per bus
Holiday Hayride - Additional $10 per person (includes ride, hot chocolate or hot cider, and a holiday cookie)
Discounts: Discount tickets can be purchased in advance at Albertsons|Sav-on for $12.
Military discount: Military discount tickets are sold only at base ticket offices, not at the Holiday of Lights' entrance. Please contact the base ticket office near you.
Please Note: Because of safety concerns, motorcycles and other two-wheeled vehicles are not permitted to tour Holiday of Lights.
SeaWorld Holiday Events 2009 - This popular San Diego attraction does its part to light up the skies of San Diego by lighting up their Sky Tower for the holiday season. Sea World's elves also transform the popular park into one big nighttime wonderland. This year, Sea World gets into the spirit of Christmas by offering its guests a new seasonal movie at the park's 4-D Theater, two special live marine shows, "Shamu's Holiday Nights"and "Clyde and Seamore's Night Before Christmas," appearances by Santa Claus himself, a new ice skating rink (with real ice), and the nightly lighting of SeaWorld's 320-foot Holiday Tree of Lights. Best of all, SeaWorld's Holiday Celebration is included in the park admission. Please note that there is an extra charge for renting the ice skates.
2009 Dates & Times
Open on the weekends of November 27-29 and December 5-13, 2009.
Open daily from December 19-31, 2009.
The times of operation fluctuate according to the day of the week. For the most current information on park hours, please click here.
San Diego Zoo Holiday Events - For the first time, the San Diego Zoo will be hosting the San Diego Zoological Society's annual salute to Christmas and the holidays. This celebration of light used to be held at the San Diego Wild Animal Park but is now coming solely to the Zoo in San Diego's Balboa Park. The new holiday attraction is appropriately called Jungle Bells. There is no extra charge for this seasonal lighting event.
Dates & Times
December 11-23 and 26-30, 2009; January 1 and 2, 2009 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
San Diego Botanic Garden of Lights 2009 - Formerly called the Quail Botanical Gardens, the San Diego Botanic Gardens will be hosting their annual botanical lighting event from December 10 - 23 and December 26 - 30, 2009 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. At sunset, Encinitas' beautiful Botanical Gardens are transformed into a twinkling winter wonderland with over 90,000 sparkling lights illuminating the creative garden displays.
In addition to walking around the gardens and being awed by the light displays, other activities will include horse-drawn wagon rides, holiday crafts, marshmallow roasting, visits with Santa, live music, hot mulled wine, and refreshments. The people at the San Diego Botanic Gardens have made a concerted effort to utilize LED lights in their holiday displays, which are much brighter and more energy efficient than regular lights. Adding to the sparkle is the "Poinsettia Garden," a special area festively decorated with many varieties of poinsettias.
Admission & Prices
Members, Seniors, Military & Students - $8
Non-members - $12
Children 3-12 - $4
Santa and His Sleigh
Balboa Park's December Nights 2009 - This is such a big event that we wrote an article for it. Read it here.
Commercial Holiday Displays
Downtown San Diego - Don't think downtown gets into the act? Sure it does! From the green rings of The Westin on Broadway to the elegant displays at the U.S. Grant and the Westgate, downtown does its best to show off its holiday spirit. Many of the downtown buildings decorate the top of their buildings with some kind of holiday color - why even City Hall gets into the act and hangs a string of lights around its exterior. Naturally, the shopping mecca in downtown, Horton Plaza, is always decked out for the holidays and it is a great place to walk around and do some last-minute shopping. Many of the downtown restaurants decorate their interiors and exteriors with considerable flair - one of our favorite restaurant displays is Dobson's near Horton Plaza.
Uptown - The most reconizable building in this area just north of Downtown is what most San Diegans refer to as the "Mr. A's Building." The iconic Christmas light display is located at the corner of 5th and Laurel. If you fly into San Diego at night during the holiday season, you know that building. It is a cross between a Christmas tree and a birthday cake. The holiday lights have been red, white, and blue ever since the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Don't miss seeing this building up close and personal because it is amazing how much works goes into installing those strings of lights every year. Go ahead, feast your eyes. And while you are in the neighborhood, make your way over to the east side of First Avenue and Ivy to see how much Christmas spirit can envelop a usually unremarkable mortgage company's building.
Mission Valley - Yes, Mission Valley's malls are decorated but did you know that some of the most decorated commercial buildings are its many hotels? The Crowne Plaza, formerly the Hanalei, is usually dripping with lights during the holidays and the Mission Valley Hilton, usually every year, is somehow able to get JOY spelled out in its hotel room windows facing the I-8.
Bazaar del Mundo - Just on the eastern side of Old Town sits the wonderful property of Diane Powers that oozes holiday charm this time of year. This is a great collection of small shops that not only offer a beautiful display of Christmas or Navidad displays but also a great place to do some holiday shopping. The Bazaar is located on Taylor Street and Juan Street - look for the Casa Guadalajara restaurant at the corner; the Bazaar is just behind it.
Gaslamp Quarter - The Gaslamp Quarter will be illuminated and vibrant from 5 p.m. to Midnight every night between November 26, 2009 and January 1st, 2010. Plans have been developed to light up the trees all along the main avenues of this historic district. The trees all along 4th, 5th and 6th Avenues will be lit and some of the gaslamp posts will be adorned with wreaths. This is the first time that the Gaslamp will be lighting up its trees. It should be a gorgeous sight.