When Christmas season rolls around I like to become a tourist in my own city. My kids are out of school, my husband takes a week or two off of work, and the family and I go on mini adventures throughout the city. It has taken a few years for this Midwestern girl to fully embrace the palm trees and 70 degree weather that a San Diego Christmas consists of. Throughout the years I have learned to embrace the Southern California holiday season by taking advantage of our great weather and visiting the fun spots, from the old-timey streets of downtown Julian, to the touristy hot spot of Old Town, to building holiday-themed sand castles on our beaches.
Christmas tree farm
18425 Highland Valley Road, Ramona
Cutting down a Christmas tree is a Braun family tradition. Principe di Tricase Winery in Ramona is a fun alternative to the traditional Christmas-tree farm. Not only is it a fully functioning winery with tasting room, it also hosts a Christmas tree farm on the same property. Be careful not to get too sloshed or you might end up with a nine-foot tree. At the Highland Valley Christmas Tree Farm you can choose and cut any tree to take home. Prices begin at $10 per foot. The farm offers free cutting, shaking, drilling, and netting. The Highland Valley Christmas Tree Farm and Principe di Tricase Winery are open to the public Thursday through Sunday from noon to sunset. Wine tastings range from $5–$10 per flight.
Visiting Julian is a Christmastime must. It’s the closest San Diegans come to the traditional brisk holiday weather that much of the country experiences. With the Cuyamaca Mountains acting as a backdrop, you’ll be sure to get into the Christmas spirit. The Julian Live Nativity put on by the Calvary Chapel is a longtime community tradition. This Living Nativity is staged at the Cider Mill on Julian’s Main Street. Local townies appear as Joseph and Mary and the shepherds. You can catch this free event every Saturday at 5 p.m. until Christmas.
Ride the canals
503 Grand Caribe Causeway, Coronado
Coronado is magical during the holiday season. The Hotel Del decked out in Christmas splendor, ice skating on the beach, and all the little tourist shops in their holiday finery — it’s a holiday jackpot. Why not take the traditional Coronado Christmas visit one step further with a private gondola ride through the canals of the Coronado Cays? Make it a romantic journey for two or a family adventure. Each gondola can accommodate up to six passengers. The cruises are 50 minutes. Cozy blankets are provided along with select wines for purchase. Cruises are available weekdays from 3 to 10 p.m. and weekends from noon to 11 p.m. Reservations are required.
Old Town Trolley holiday lights tour
Old Town Trolley tours are a go-to when hosting out-of-town guests. Tours offer a wealth of information while hitting all the popular spots. During the holiday season they take it a step further. The conductor leads riders in bouts of sing-along carols, a litany of little-known San Diego Christmas trivia, and a tour of all the festive holiday-light displays in town. The 75-minute tour takes you through the Christmas lights of Old Town, the Embarcadero, Balboa Park, Garrison Street, and more. It’s a great way to take in all the San Diego holiday scenery without having to deal with parking and crowds; $25 for adults, $15 for kids ages 3–12 (2 and under are free) Reservations are required.
1410 Rosecrans Street, Point Loma
The Pearl Hotel hosts a “Dive-In Theatre” on a 10-by-13-foot screen every Thursday night at their poolside lounge. During the month of December they screen holiday favorites. Showtime is at 8 p.m. Food is served until 10 p.m., and the bar is open until 11 p.m. Reservations are h3ly recommended. The swimming pool is open to hotel guests for free and visitors with a drink purchase. The Pearl’s December movie schedule includes: Elf on December 6th and 7th, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation on December 13th, A Christmas Story on December 20th, and Scrooged on December 27th.