Winter fun in San Diego

Hot springs, Sleeping Giant at La Jolla Cove, pickleball, puppets, special trails, minus tides, snow, poinsettias, wind tunnels, San Diego Gulls

Sledding on Mount Laguna
  • Sledding on Mount Laguna
  • Photograph by Siobhan Braun

Drums, giants, and Mother Goose

  • Stargazing in Anza-Borrego
  • 652 Palm Canyon Drive
  • Borrego Springs

Winter Fun

Winter Fun

Illustration by Ted Skirvan

This year, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park was officially designated an International Dark Sky Community, thanks to years of concerted effort to minimize light pollution in the desert valley two hours outside town.

Stargazing in Anza-Borrego

Stargazing in Anza-Borrego

Photograph by Joey Lenze @Housewrecker

On clear nights around a new moon, those dark skies reveal glorious views of the milky way, visible to the naked eye. Winter skies reveal the Orion nebula and Andromeda galaxy. Bring optical gear if you’ve got it, or check out a free, guided stargazing program.

Crystal Pier Cottages

Crystal Pier Cottages

Photograph by Matthew Suárez

The Anza-Borrego Desert Nature Center offers one on December 8 at 7:30 pm, plus a telescope and limited binoculars. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park plans to host one in late December; find out the exact date by following its Facebook page, or call 760-767-4205.

La Jolla tidepools

La Jolla tidepools

Photograph by Matthew Suárez

  • Watch surfers at Sleeping Giant
  • La Jolla Cove
  • La Jolla

Most days of the year, deep water La Jolla Cove is better known for its snorkeling than its surfing.

Snow Days at Legoland

Snow Days at Legoland

But on rare occasion a swell hits the coast with enough power to carve waves off of its rocky bottom, and that’s when the wave called Sleeping Giant awakens. Only a select few, highly athletic surfers can handle the ride, but witnessing the spectacle is thrill enough.

Poinsettia display at Balboa Park’s Botanical Building

Poinsettia display at Balboa Park’s Botanical Building

Monitor surf reports to be ready when the massive, left-breaking wave appears — watch for west-northwest swells in the 12- to 20-foot range. Expect heavy traffic into La Jolla, as the shape of the cove grants a rare chance for crowds to enjoy a close-up view of the majesty of big wave surfing.

Belmont Park in the off-season

Belmont Park in the off-season

Photograph by Matthew Suárez

  • Mother Goose Parade
  • Main Street
  • El Cajon

One of the county’s largest parades takes place in downtown El Cajon, on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. This year, the Mother Goose Parade lands on Sunday, November 18.

Coronado shipwreck

Coronado shipwreck

Photograph by Jamie Lantzy

Beginning at 1 pm, marching bands, clowns, equestrians, pageant contestants, floats, civic organizations, drill teams, and athletes will cover the 1.25-mile parade route down Main Street, moving east from El Cajon Boulevard to First Street.

Full moon parties at Trilogy Sanctuary

Full moon parties at Trilogy Sanctuary

Grab your spot on the parade route early to spend a couple hours watching out for Scooby Doo in the Mystery Machine, cosplaying members of the San Diego Star Wars Society, and balloons depicting a snowman, gingerbread man, and Mother Goose herself.

Valparaiso Hot Springs

Valparaiso Hot Springs

Photograph by Matthew Suárez

  • San Diego Jazz Festival
  • 500 Hotel Circle North
  • Mission Valley

Antoinette Chirinos Sound Healing

Antoinette Chirinos Sound Healing

Photograph by Scott Rose

This San Diego Thanksgiving tradition, the San Diego Jazz Festival kicks off at the Town & Country Resort with evening performances Wednesday and Thursday, November 21 and 22. Things get hopping from Friday November 23 through Sunday November 25, with a schedule featuring jazz genres such as Dixieland, ragtime, big band, swing, and even rockabilly.

Cosmic Flow Sound Healing

Cosmic Flow Sound Healing

Six distinct venues offer the chance to enjoy some performances in an intimate, listening setting, and others in large ballrooms that promise to get dancers on their feet. Score a three-day ticket for $105, or pay just $20 more to attend each day of the event.

Stroll along Old Highway 80

Stroll along Old Highway 80

Photograph by Pea Hicks

  • Soak in a hot mineral bath
  • 39555 Great Southern Overland Stage Route of 1849
  • Agua Caliente County Park

Seventeen miles to the southeast of Julian, the 910-acre Agua Caliente County Park offers 140 high desert campsites and several miles of hiking trails, but a trio of pools generated by geothermal hot springs are the main attraction.

Surfside Ranch beach horseback riding

Surfside Ranch beach horseback riding

Photograph Courtesy Surfside Ranch

Closed during the summer due to high heat, winter daylight hours allow day use of the park, or the pools in particular for $3. Outside, a balmy swimming pool and children’s wading pool offer family fun, while an adults-only indoor pool provides the therapeutic benefits associated with soaking in a 102-degree Fahrenheit mineral bath, including improved circulation, joint pain relief, and relaxation.

  • Solstice drum circle
  • 1613 Lake Drive
  • Encinitas

Community music event Fête de la Musique started in France in 1982, and has spread to 800 cities in 120 countries on five continents. Translated in the United States to Make Music Day, the solstice event gathers people together to make music en masse. Anyone can bring an instrument, or in the case of this year’s winter solstice, a drum. Hundreds are expected to form a massive drum circle in Encinitas, at the Seaside Center for Spiritual Living. Attendees will beat in the longest night of the year and a rising full moon for about an hour-long Winter Solstice Drumming Celebration, beginning at 7pm on December 20.

– Ian Anderson


  • Pearl, Pinot, Pickleball

  • Full moon parties at Trilogy Sanctuary
  • 7650 Girard Avenue
  • La Jolla

Dance to the beat of drums with three hundred or so of your newest best friends under the moonlit sky on Trilogy Sanctuary’s rooftop. Start the evening early with dinner at their excellent vegan cafe. Each party’s theme plays off the ancient cultural name given to the full moon based on the behavior of the plants, animals, or weather during that month. The festivities vary a bit different from month to month, but typically begin around a drumming circle inside the yoga room, followed by music, dancing, acro, fire performances and whatever else spontaneously happens. Participants in this free event are encouraged to bring their own musical instruments to share wholly in the circle of music and drumming.

  • SoNo fest and chili cook-off
  • 3216 Thorn Street
  • North Park

The ninth annual SoNo Fest & Chili Cook-Off features nearly 30 local restaurants in San Diego’s biggest and best chili throwdown. A five taster ticket runs just $15, but throw in an extra $5 for a beautiful keepsake bowl handmade by the San Diego Ceramic Connection. More than two dozen brewers, cider makers, and vintners will help you wash it all down in a block-long beverage garden. Afterwards, head over to the two stages presenting local bands, a kids’ fest with carnival games and bounce houses, local artisan vendors, and food trucks. December 2. 2018. 11:00 am - 5:00 pm

  • Dive-in movies at The Pearl
  • 1410 Rosecrans Street
  • Point Loma

The iconic, playfully retro Pearl Hotel hosts a free Dive-in Theatre event poolside every Wednesday. Start your evening with dinner at the newly revamped Charles and Dinorah restaurant, whose namesakes owned the original hotel, the Sportsman’s Lodge, for nearly forty years. Post-dinner, grab a cocktail and a couple of seats by the pool, or, if you’re the adventurous type, hop into the water to view the show. Wednesdays, 8:00 pm.

  • Pickleball at Barnes Tennis Center
  • 4490 W Point Loma Boulevard
  • Point Loma

Invented in 1965, pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the country. Swiftly-paced and easy-to-learn, it’s a mashup of tennis, ping-pong, and badminton. Players (singles or doubles) face off and whack a wiffle-like ball with a solid paddle across a low net on a small court to score points. Give it a try at one of the open play sessions at Barnes Tennis Center in Point Loma; a half-hour lesson on the basics starts you off, and loaner paddles are included in the $7 court fee. A quick internet search will provide other venues all over San Diego county where you can practice with all levels of players.

  • Paint at Pinot’s Palette
  • 2820 Roosevelt Road
  • Liberty Station

Unleash your inner Picasso at Pinot’s Palette in the Liberty Station Arts District. Each two- or three-hour session, a local staff artist will walk you through the creation of your own colorful painting, no experience required. The upbeat staff and chill environment provide just the right atmosphere to let go and paint your own masterpiece. Grab a glass of vino or beer to sip and loosen up your creative muscles, then relax and follow the instructor-led, step-by-step directions. Everyone leaves with a painting ready for hanging (or hiding).

– Mary Beth Abate


Floating baskets, wrecked ships

  • Wat Thai Buddhist temple
  • 139 West 11th Avenue
  • Escondido

In November, rivers bulge in middle-Thailand and leave villages surrounded by water. This is when villagers and monks pay their respects to the water gods and celebrate Loi Khratong (“to float a basket”), in which you make a little basket with a candle inside, and let it float away on the waters to symbolize “letting go” of your past year’s angers and resentments. Escondido’s Wat Thai Buddhist Temple invites everybody to celebrate with them between 10am and sunset, Sunday November 18. Free, but you can make a donation. Food. Dances. Buddhist prayer chanting. And by the way, as soon as you enter the temple grounds, you’ll be in the year 2561.

  • Hornblower Cruises & Events
  • 970 N. Harbor Drive
  • Embarcadero

Ugly Sweater Cocktail Cruise, Saturday December 22: This is one event where you’ll really need your ugly sweater. It’s gonna be cool out there. For fifty bucks you’ll be cruising around the bay on a Hornblower boat rocking to DJs Tati and Frankie, drinking cocktails and grabbing canapés from passing stewards. It’s a two-hour post-sunset excursion (7-9 pm) to set you up for a night downtown. Of course, the ugly sweater contest is de rigueur. Who knows? You could be back on the water, if you win the dinner cruise for two prize. (Don’t want to go home yet? Google San Diego Pub Crawl. They have fun crawls most Friday and Saturday nights in the Gaslamp, for $20-$30. Most fun: “Let It Glow” nights. They provide the glow accessories.)

  • The Yellow Deli
  • 32011 Lilac Road
  • Valley Center

Winter Greens: Up among the hills of Valley Center, not far from Hellhole Canyon Preserve, the Twelve Tribes, a retro religious group trying to unite Christianity and Judaism, have a farm. And at 32011 Lilac Road, they have turned a li’l ol’ farmhouse into a restaurant in the middle of nowhere that’s also a place to sell the vegetables they grow (organically) on the farm, the Yellow Deli. These are fabulous giant specimens of beets with rainbow stalks, collard greens, all sorts of different lettuces, avocados. A riot of greens and reds. Something like $3 a bunch. They also have them crushed into bottles of mixed veggie “Green Drink.” And while you’re there, get some of their raisin walnut sourdough bread, or the whole wheat. You suddenly realize what bread can be. These guys are retro in more ways than one.

  • Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater
  • 2130 Pan American Road
  • Balboa Park

Get holiday drama old school-style at Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater, Balboa Park. This institution has been revving kids up since Marie Hitchcock and her sister Genevieve started performing with hand and string puppets in 1947. Punch and Judy, of course, but also seasonal plays, and new writings all the time. Winter holidays are the best times, when families are wanting to do “together” things. Even today, kids, if they’re young enough, love the unexpected vivacity of it. They have six full-time puppeteers, and yes, they accept apprentices to learn the ancient art. Usually, turns out, half the audience is adult.

  • San Diego Zoo
  • 2920 Zoo Drive
  • Balboa Park

Get to know Denny, the delightfully bright three-year-old gorilla at the San Diego Zoo: Denny was born here in San Diego to Jessica. He’s still suckling from her. But the best part of his day happens when zoo regulars come by to play hi-five, and show him videos of his cousins from here and elsewhere. “He gives us such life,” says David Carr, who says he’s one of maybe a hundred visitors who can’t stay away. “Once he knows you, he’ll come and greet you, and want to play,” Carr says. “It’s just a life-affirming experience with our nearest cousins.”

  • Coronado shipwreck
  • Coronado Shores

Visit the beached 300-foot gambling ship Monte Carlo, exposed by winter storms on Coronado. She was the largest of a fleet of ships popularly known as Gambling Ship Row, and they all sat anchored just beyond the three-mile limit of Prohibition-era drinking and gambling laws. A storm on New Year’s Eve 1936 ripped her from her anchor chains, and sent her careening onto Coronado beach (right off from the Coronado Shores towers). Winter’s the time to spot the town’s most famous shipwreck, because storms have dragged the sands out to sea and exposed more of the old hull. A treasure of silver dollars is said to lie below. But don’t try looking. Holes and cracks in the deck can be lethal.

– Bill Manson


Fun in the nation’s birdiest county

  • Boardwalk and Belmont Park Off-Season
  • 3146 Mission Boulevard
  • Mission Beach

The best time of year to hit up Mission Beach is in winter when the boardwalk is actually walkable and the waves are perfect for surfing. Beach cruisers as well as scooters can be rented at bike shops that are on almost every corner, and restaurants come with ocean views and the sounds of street performers. At Belmont Park, the local amusement park, lines for the 1925-era wooden roller coaster are short, and your monster ice cream cones and frozen bananas won’t melt so fast.

  • Winter birdwatching
  • Tijuana to Oceanside

Check out the yellow-rumped warblers, white-crowned sparrows, great blue herons, or one of the 500 other species that have been spotted in San Diego County, making it the birdiest county in the United States. If landing here in February, be sure to check out the San Diego Bird Festival, February 27 through March 3 at the Marina Village Conference Center.

From the bottom to the top of San Diego, a multitude of birds represent the local ecosystem. Starting at the Tijuana River National Estuariane Reserve, Belding’s savannah sparrows can be seen with your binoculars, and if you’re in the right spot, a long-billed curlew might fly by. Chula Vista boasts brants, ducks, scoters and skimmers. Shelter Island is home to diving pelicans and cormorants. At Santee Lakes in East County — one of the best birding locations in San Diego every season — wood ducks breed, white pelicans fool non-birders into thinking they are swans, and Clark’s grebes dance across the water right before spring.

  • Julian wineries
  • Julian

While there might be a little snow on the ground, for the most part the sun will be out while you sample the local vintages in our beloved mountain town. Wineries such as Volcan Mountain Winery — which offers in Viognier and Chardonnay — and Woof’n Rose Winery and Vineyards — which makes Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon — offer picnic areas and are pet friendly. The Orchard Country Inn offers guests local wines such as Orfila from Escondido, and their house wine is La Serenissima from nearby Warner Springs.

  • San Diego Botanic Garden
  • 230 Quail Gardens Drive
  • Encinitas

Walking through the San Diego Botanic Garden in winter, you might think you’re on a tropical island as you stroll past bright pink Hong Kong Orchid trees, clusters of white daisies, and bold Mexican Sunflowers. Of course, winter in San Diego wouldn’t be the same without the multi-colored poinsettias that are a favorite during the holidays. Self-guided tours are available, and you can make your way around the 37-acre garden that boasts approximately 4000 species. Or, if you’re afraid of getting lost, you can join a guided tour. The Sculpture Garden displays 61 works supplied by 30 artists. The show runs through April 2019. Wander through the bamboo groves, dragon trees, and soothing ponds and try to remember that in most other states, it’s freezing and there isn’t a plant or shrub to be seen.

Ride your bike from Oceanside to San Clemente

Riding your bike along Highway 101 in San Diego can often be dangerous, but the ride from Oceanside to San Clemente is filled with relaxing Pacific Ocean views and breezes, and no traffic. The 11-mile trip starts at Las Pulgas Road off Interstate 5 and it’s there that a long section of bike path begins between Camp Pendleton and San Clemente. This sometimes bumpy ride winds along the coastal cliffs, where you can find benches to sit for spectacular views of San Onofre State Beach. You’ll soon hit the town of San Clemente, where you won’t find actual bike lanes on the main thoroughfare of El Camino Real, but the road is marked “Bike Route”, and it winds through the neighborhoods. Keep riding until you reach San Clemente State Beach where restaurants on the pier serve clam chowder, burgers, and cocktails.

– Candice Reed


High peaks, low tides

  • Cowles Mountain Fire Road Hike
  • 6940 Barker Way
  • San Carlos

Though the Cowles Mountain trail that begins on Golfcrest is the most popular, the fire road trail that begins on Barker Way has fewer switchbacks, fewer people, and some breathtaking views. The three-mile hike is easy in spots, and strenuous in others, especially when you’re near the top. If you’re still feeling frisky or you really need to burn off more calories, add the 1.5 mile hike to Pyles Peak to your itinerary. Be aware: This hike will definitely be crowded the day after Thanksgiving and on New Year’s Day.

  • Polar Bear Plunge
  • 8200 Camino Del Oro
  • La Jolla Shores

On New Year’s Day, locals will head to La Jolla Shores for a very chilling experience: the annual Polar Bear Plunge, sponsored by the La Jolla Cove Swim Club, takes place starting at 10 am, Barring a major storm, nearly 300 locals and tourists will likely start off 2019 by jumping into 56-degree water. Participants should bring some chili or soup and warm clothes to change into after the dip.

CIF Football Playoffs

High school football’s second season begins officially November 2 when playoffs start for area schools. Quarter-finals will be held Nov. 9, followed semi-finals a week later. On November 17, the top two teams in the open division (the division with the best teams) compete for the area championship at Southwestern College. On November 23-24, the top teams in the other five divisions will hold their championships at Southwestern College.

  • Minus Tides
  • La Jolla Cove, Point Loma Tide Pools

It may be too cold to swim in the ocean during the winter months — for most of us — but it’s still a great time to explore the shoreline at La Jolla Cove and the Point Loma Tide Pools. Between November and March, the lowest tides of the day are during daylight hours, making it easy to see the anemones, starfish, and crabs clinging to the rocks at the shoreline. Minus tides — tides lower than the mean low tide — offer the best chance to see creatures stranded in local tide pools. The first minus tides of the seasons will be November 23 and 24 at 3:34 pm and 4:18 pm, respectively, followed by low tides the late afternoons of December 21-23. For dates in January, February, and March, check a tide table. Note: It is illegal to take any natural item or living organism from the tide pools.

– Patrick Henderson


Winter fun on land and sea

  • Snow Days at Legoland
  • One Legoland Drive
  • Carlsbad

Good news for the road-trip averse, you can skip the long drive to the mountains and build a snowman in Carlsbad. The Legoland park brings in many tons of snow to provide visitors with quintessential winter weather experiences from November 17 to December 31, including taking part in snowball fights and tubing down a snow-covered hill. Build a snowman with Lego accessories such as cool sunglasses that add expression and character to your cool creation. Or simply play around in the cold wet stuff, a refreshing activity on what will likely be a nice warm day. Around the corner and still within the theme park is an ice skating rink to round out your frozen fun.

  • Poway Winter Festival
  • 13094 Civic Center Drive
  • Poway

On Friday, January 12 from 5-9 pm and Saturday, January 13 from 3:30-8:30 pm, the Winter Festival will transform Poway Community Park into a picturesque winter village covered in freshly made snow that seems to fall from the sky. The ice skating is synthetic, but the snow beneath your sleds and piled around for building snowmen will be the real deal. Take part in arts and crafts, gather ‘round a campfire to roast marshmallows, or stroll among the vendors for specialty goods and fresh hot food. In the evenings, twinkling lights overhead add a wintry charm.

  • Winter Fishing at H&M Landing
  • 2803 Emerson Street
  • Point Loma

November isn’t just about turkeys, and December doesn’t have to be all goose. Take a half day, full day, or even one and a half days to find fresh fish fit for a warm hearty meal centered around your catch at H&M Landing. The sky is often clear, the waters are frequently calm, and the captains know all the best spots along the coast to give you every advantage. In the winter months you’re most likely to find rockfish, shark, and yellowtail. If you get out early enough in the season (November), then bluefin and albacore tuna could also be on the menu.

  • An amphibious ride with SEAL Tours
  • 500 Kettner Boulevard
  • Seaport Village/Embarcadero

SEAL tours are fully narrated, meaning your 90-minute ride will be packed with San Diego history and trivia. Whether you’re visiting or grew up here, you’ll learn about San Diego when you take this ride over land and sea. Begin with a drive along the streets from the Gaslamp and then dive right into the waters of Mission Bay, where sea lions frolic. The winter schedule has tours ending a bit earlier (10 am - 3 pm instead of 10 am - 5 pm), but the wildlife is just as active, as are the people out sailing, kayaking, and jet-skiing. If you’re lucky, you might see dolphins.

  • Camp Out at Safari Park
  • 15500 San Pasqual Valley Road
  • Escondido

Experience the thrill of a night’s stay in “East Africa,” where you can experience giraffes, rhinoceroses, and gazelles, all within view of your campground. Safari Park’s Roar & Snore experience is for all ages, and brings you up close and personal to wildlife, from the elephants in the distance to the exotic animal ambassadors brought to camp for special close-up viewing. Take in the park after hours with guided walks, and hear stories around the campfire. Cost includes meals (dinner, evening snack, and breakfast). Be on the lookout for special winter-themed nights, such as the Holly Jolly Jungle on November 24.

– Barbarella Fokos


Where the wet stuff becomes white stuff

  • Fallbrook Tree Lighting
  • 341 Heald Lane
  • Fallbrook

This year the living tree in front of Fallbrook Community Center is a youngster, replacing the 50-foot Monterey Pine that succumbed to drought. Surrounded by a festival of lights for its inaugural year, the fresh cedar will continue the tradition and get some seasonal sparkle at the Fallbrook Tree Lighting. Food vendors, holiday shopping, and music round out the celebration. See the Willow Tree violin ensemble, North County Dance Academy, and (sure to be cute) vocal performance by Quality Children’s Services Preschool. Free parking and shuttle at SonRise Church (Heald Lane will be closed). As the date approaches, Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce will release a detailed map of locations where visitors can view décor and light displays around town. November 30, 5-7:30 pm. Free.

  • Fallbrook Christmas Parade
  • Main Street
  • Fallbrook

Come early, bring chairs, and leave them along the Fallbrook Christmas Parade route to stake out a spot on Main Street — that’s what locals do for the nighttime Toyland Christmas Parade. Spend the day in the village for lunch and shopping, then stick around after the sun goes down to watch the floats twinkle by. From Ammunition to Ivy streets, see more than 100 displays. Fallbrook and Santana High School marching bands will serenade spectators — and this might be a rare opportunity to see the Marine Corps Band, if they respond to organizers’ requests. Check web site events tab for info and updates. Street closes at 2 pm, parade starts at 5 pm, Saturday December 1. Free.

Winter Whale Watching

San Diego gray whale watching season begins December 8. Winter brings the seasonal migration of gray whales from their summer feeding grounds in the Bering Sea to warmer waters off Baja California, where females give birth. Migrating gray whales generally stay in coastal waters, so sightings are common. Dolphins and seals often make appearances, along with — very rarely — orcas. Several companies operate 2-4 hour tours that depart from downtown San Diego or Oceanside. Narrated by a naturalist, the tours start at $35 per person. Ask about group discounts and the “whale guarantee.”

  • Snow hike on Palomar Mountain
  • Thunder Spring and Upper Doane Valley Trail
  • 19952 State Park Drive
  • Palomar Mountain

If that hankering for snow is strong, get out your tire chains and head up to the top of Palomar Mountain where elevation turns the wet stuff to white stuff. The Thunder Spring to Upper Doane Valley Loop Trail will take hikers past a meadow that might be covered with a blanket of snow, and plenty of pine trees emitting their crisp wintery scent. Go the day after a cold rainy day in town. Bring cash for parking and toboggans in case of spontaneous sledding.

  • Bonfire at Fiesta Island
  • 1590 East Mission Bay Drive
  • Mission Bay

Since winter brings fewer visitors to San Diego, locals might actually be able to snag a spot on Fiesta Island during the colder months. Bundle up, pack s’mores supplies, pour some hot chocolate in a thermos, and head to Mission Bay for a chilly-weather bonfire (in one of the fire rings, please). It’s the perfect place to watch the sunset, often spectacular in winter due to high clouds that linger after storms pass over the region. Dogs can play off-leash, and parking is free and available right on the beach. Alcohol is prohibited. Make sure to be out by 10 pm when the gates shut.

  • Poinsettia Display
  • Botanical Building
  • Balboa Park

From the first weekend in December through the first week in January, view red and white varieties of the winter bloomer on display at Balboa Park Botanical Building. Shorter winter days cause the upper leaves of the poinsettia’s branches to turn a vibrant red, which gave rancher Albert Ecke the idea to market the Mexico native plant as a holiday decoration. In 1924 he bought a 40-acre tract in Encinitas, growing the idea into a tradition. Now more than 80 percent of all poinsettias in the world come from Ecke stock. Admission to the Botanical Building is always free. Open daily 10 am to 4 pm, closed Thursdays and major holidays.

– Leorah Gavidor


Winter fun from mountains to sea

Sledding on Mount Laguna

The temperature rarely drops below 40 degrees at any location in the County of San Diego, and the last time it snowed anywhere near downtown was December 13, 1967. This same week in history found the local mountains collecting a whopping eight feet of snow. The sledding at Mt. Laguna likely hasn’t been better since then, but, at just shy of 6000 feet, it still gets its fair share of snow nearly every winter. After a snowfall, seemingly every parent in the region is attempting to get their kids to the top of that mountain. As a result, Sunrise Highway (the main route) can back all the way up to I-8. Be prepared to chain-up if your automobile lacks four-wheel drive. Don’t forget snow pants and jackets, mittens, hats and a sled coated with Clark W. Griswold’s top-secret wax.

  • Skating By the Sea
  • Hotel Del Coronado
  • 1500 Orange Avenue
  • Coronado

In a city with such a moderate winter, the thought of outdoor ice-skating seems almost like an impossibility. Not only does the Hotel Del’s ice rink buck this trend, it does so in an absolutely picturesque setting. Opening day for Skating By the Sea this year is November 22, closing day is January 1. If you prefer to watch the slips and falls, you and your party can enjoy a “rink side lounge” at Frostbite — where a firepit, food, and drinks will help keep you cozy. Whether you choose to skate or observe, be on the lookout for wedding proposals. This place is a hotspot for brave men and women dropping the big question. Watch for the skaters on bended knee, they might be doing more than adjusting their laces.

  • Surf Sunset Cliffs
  • Point Loma

The masses view surfing as a summer sport. The hardcore surfers in San Diego view summer as the flat, crowded off-season. The fall and winter are when the adrenaline starts to flow as the big swells arrive. The reef breaks along Sunset Cliffs often require large swells to generate rideable waves, but, once they start working, look out. If you are a novice, tread carefully. Overhead sets are common, and just making it past the breaks can be an ordeal on its own. Also, the locals can be less than welcoming. But, if you ever get to ride a long, head-high right at a spot like Sunset Cliffs break North Garbage, you aren’t likely to forget it. If you’re feeling brave, make sure to wear a warm full-suit, have a reliable leash, and respect the locals.

Free-Diving For Lobster

The spiny lobster is a different sort of arthropod than the more well-known American lobster. It lacks the trademark large claws found on its East Coast counterpart but has a much larger antennae. Its tail is quite tasty when cooked. As a result, fishing for the species is a popular activity for those who are willing to enter the water in search of them. The San Diego lobster season runs yearly from the Saturday before the first Wednesday in October to the first Wednesday after March 15. To participate legally, you will need a standard California fishing license with an “Ocean Enhancement Validation” added to it. The best time to hunt for them is at night, so make sure to bring a flashlight.

  • Sunset Cliffs storm sunsets
  • Point Loma

San Diego is renowned for its many picturesque, sunny days, but the occasional storm system does unlock a hidden treasure— epic sunsets, especially as viewed off the coast of Point Loma. The combination of the Pacific Ocean, a descending sun, and lingering clouds can serve as the basis for another type of profound beauty. Once you are south of Point Loma Avenue,, the parking lots and street spaces off of Sunset Cliffs Boulevard start to fill up quickly at sunset. If you are thinking of catching one (and you don’t have the luxury of walking to the cliffs) arriving early is the best bet. The more professional photographers you see set-up, the better the sunset is bound to be. Any spot from Osprey Street to Ladera Street is a winner.

– Dryw Keltz


The best part about being a San Diegan

  • San Diego Gulls
  • 3500 Sports Arena Boulevard
  • Midway district

If you are looking for an opportunity to pretend that is in fact winter, throw on your favorite flannel and head to a San Diego Gulls hockey game. Sadly, a large portion of San Diegans have no idea that we are home to a professional hockey team. The gulls belong to the American Hockey League and are affiliated with the Anaheim Ducks. They have been tearing it up in San Diego since 2015. You can catch a Gull’s home game at the Valley View Casino Center (aka the Sports Arena). Their next home game is Friday, November 9 at 7 pm vs. The Colorado Eagles. Bundle up and catch a few guys getting their teeth knocked out. Tickets range anywhere from $32, to the more highbrow $148 a pop.

  • Leo Carrillo Ranch
  • 6200 Flying Leo Carrillo Lane
  • Carlsbad

Leo Carrillo Ranch is a nod to old Hollywood. It is a hidden gem located behind an elementary school in Carlsbad. The ranch is free to the public. Perhaps the most enchanting sights on the 27-acre estate are its dozens of free-range peacocks. If you are lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the ranch’s solitary white peacock, whose iridescent plumage is a sight to be seen. Leo Carrillo bought the estate in 1937 after retiring from acting. He starred in over 90 films but is best know for playing Poncho on The TV show The Cisco Kid. The ranch is closed on Mondays but open to the public Tuesday - Friday from 9 am - 5 pm. And 11 am - 5 pm on Sundays. Free guided tours are offered over the weekend. Self-guided tours are also available. It’s a great spot for picnicking, or taking in he beautiful landscape while walking on the ranch’s trails.

  • Crystal Pier Cottages
  • 4500 Ocean Boulevard
  • Pacific Beach

The best part about being a San Diegan is the fact that we do not have to contend with severely cold weather. In the winter months, we can throw on a swimsuit and head to the beach. Perhaps the best way to take in our beautiful Pacific is by renting a cottage on Crystal Pier. This historic wooden pier with its 1930s-era cottages has one of the best sweeping coastal views in all of California. Crystal Pier has been around since 1927. The cottages aren’t cheap, but worth the splurge. In the winter months a two-night reservation is required.

  • Surfside Ranch Beach Horseback riding
  • 2225 Hollister Street
  • South San Diego

Surfside Ranch delivers horses to Border Field State Park, allowing riders the opportunity to ride on the beach. Adding to the charm is the fact that the rides takes place on a secluded stretch of shore on the border of California and Mexico. Surfside ranch offers 1½- to 2-hour beach rides and a 1½-hour sunset adventure. A 1-½ hour beach ride costs $85, 2 hours is $100. The Sunset ride is 90 minutes for $100.

  • Wind Tunnels and Fish Creek Wash
  • Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
  • Borrego Springs

The best time to visit the whimsical wind tunnels of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is in the winter. A short hike to this unique local destination, overlooking the Carrizo Badlands in all their rugged magnificence, begins on the far east side of the Park. The 1.25-mile-round-trip hike leads to sandstone formations whose wind-eroded pockets beg to be climbed and explored. This is a great family adventure. The trailhead to the caves is accessed via Fish Creek Wash, an easy four-wheel-drive route passing through Split Mountain.

– Siobhan Braun


Hot springs, hot dancing

  • Lions, Tigers & Bears
  • 24402 Martin Way
  • Alpine

Located outside of Alpine, 93-acre Lions, Tigers & Bears is a no-contact “Big Cat and Exotic Animal Rescue” founded in 2002. Situated at around 4000 feet on the border of the Cleveland National Forest, its location is perfect for seeing the seasons change, and seeing 19 animal species housed in species-specific habitats on the currently-developed 20 acres. Watching bears frolic in the snow? Yes, please. Two-hour education tours are available Wednesday through Saturday with a few upgrade options. The San Diego Zoo has nothing on this place, so don’t let the $43 price tag deter you ($26 for those 12 and under). Upcoming events include November 23rd’s Thanksgiving Turkey Bash and LTB’s Christmas Festival Fundraiser on December 1.

  • Valparaiso Hot Springs
  • Avenida De La Paz 16420
  • Colonia Buena Vista - Tijuana

Turista Libre, an excellent source of Tijuana activities, describes Valparaiso Hot Springs as “an urban oasis tucked in the foothills of Tijuana’s Colonia Buena Vista. These waters ares the city’s lone natural hot springs, and locals and tourists have flocked here for day doses of R&R since the 1940s.” Your 200-pesos admission ($10.20 at writing) gets you access to the large, indoor sulfuric thermal tub, the dry sauna, the mens’ or womens’ locker/changing room with showers, and the outdoor pool where there are plenty of places to laze about. Plan your visit around the attached yoga studio’s schedule or for extra relajación, book a massage service or a private room with an individual tub.

  • Turista Libre
  • Tijuana

Speaking of Turista Libre, they offer nine tours to fill your calendar these next few months, including one to a Sunday soak at the aforementioned Valparaiso Hot Springs. Living in Tijuana himself since 2007, Midwestern-born journalist Derrik Chinn wanted to bring tourists a local perspective of all the wonderful Tijuana experiences. From that desire, Turista Libre was born in 2009 to help tourists explore beyond the main drag of Avenida Revolución. From Vegan Street Eats to Meals of Migrants food tours; from Craft Brewery to Dive Bar hops; from a Virgen de Guadalupe Feast Day procession & Holiday Posada to an “Against the Wall” border pilgrimage, Turista Libre’s rotating tour options have you and your winter guests covered.

  • Sound Healing
  • 1214 28th Street
  • Golden Hill

Now that we have what seems like 20 hours a day of darkness, it’s the perfect time to go within and do some healing with vibrational sound. Whether it be with gongs, crystal singing bowls, drums, chimes, voice, or other instruments, sound healing has roots in ancient civilizations, and recently a handful of local options to experience it have popped up. Just a few: Cosmic Flow Kundalini Yoga studio in Golden Hill has a rotating option of sound devices at their Sound Immersion happening every 3rd Saturday evening. On both the Full and New Moons, Peruvian Healer Antoinnette Chirinos offers a Crystal Bowl Sound Healing as does Hannah Lei over at the Metta Space in University Heights.

  • Kizomba dancing
  • 3982 30th Street
  • North Park

Forget salsa, bachata, and tango, Kizomba is what’s going to keep you warm and your interest in dancing piqued these winter months. A more modern musical genre and partner dance style with African roots, kizomba means “party” in the Angolan language Kimbundu. This dance is a little more sensual and lot more mesmerizing than Latin-based partner dances. It’s also a little more difficult to find Kizomba classes and events, but well worth the search. A Time to Dance in North Park offers regular classes on Mondays and organizes monthly events like Urban Night on November 17 at Tango del Rey. Meanwhile up in Encinitas, 100% Kizomba is a regular 3rd or 4th Saturday social happening at Dance North County.

  • Jacumba Hot Springs Resort & Spa
  • 44500 Old Highway 80
  • Jacumba

A one-hour drive from downtown San Diego, nestled in the mountains off Highway 8, Jacumba Hot Springs Resort & Spa offers a warming, rejuvenating experience close to the U.S./Mexico border. There’s a 24-room Inn for overnight stays and a Bar & Grill, but the big draw here is the “magical, mystical healing waters” of their mineral-rich hot springs. The therapeutic effects can be felt in the two outdoor pools or the indoor Jacuzzi spa, all three of which average a temp of 98 degrees. On the non-hydro end, is a detoxifying high-tech FIR (Far Infrared) Sauna included in the day-use privileges. Also available are massage services and spa treatments. Cost for non-resort guest day-use is $25.

  • Stroll along Old Highway 80
  • Wildwood Glen Lane
  • Descanso

As temperatures drop, East County is again a non-heatstroke-inducing option for daytime exploration. Some hidden gems are the historic sections of Old Highway 80. One in particular can be found at the end of Wildwood Glen Lane — itself a pristine section of US 80 — less than a mile off Japatul Valley Road, just north of I-8. On the west side of the gate, the original concrete of the old highway gives way to a neglected dirt-covered section that runs parallel to its I-8 replacement. Although this pathway is less than two miles, It’s worth it to explore the remnants of Ellis Wayside Rest — a stone structure outfitted to be fed water from the spring above.

– E. V. Hepworth

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