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Where to see holiday lights this year

A photo of PB Holiday Parade
A Christmas tree in Pacific Beach
(Howard Lipin/The San Diego-Union-Tribune)

Because of COVID-19, a lot of events are canceled this 2020 holiday season. But one tradition that remains is hopping in your car (with people from your own household), putting on your favorite Christmas playlist and driving around to see colorful light displays.

Whether it’s a spirit-filled neighborhood or an outdoor event at an amusement park, here’s where you can find holiday lights this year.

Public events

Botanic Wonderland at Botanical Garden
Enjoy a dazzling evening in nature with Holiday Nights in the Garden throughout December. The Dickinson Family Education Conservatory, Toni’s Treehouse, Rainforest and Waterfall, Lawn Garden, Canary Islands/Cork Oak Grove and Seeds of Wonder Children’s Garden are among the areas decorated in the 37-acre San Diego Botanical Garden. Highlights include lighted animal displays, laser lighting and fire pits. Open from 5 to 8:30 p.m. on Dec. 2-6, 9-13. 16-23 and 26-30. Reservations required and ticket prices range from $7 to $18. Visit the website to buy tickets and check for updates in schedule or activities. 230 Quail Gardens Drive, Encinitas; sdbgarden.org/botanicwonderland.htm

Enchanted Village: A Drive-Thru Holiday Experience
The Noah Homes’ Enchanted Village: A Drive-Thru Holiday Experience puts guests in the driver’s seat for holiday cheer. Experience interactive displays and a drive-through lighted tunnel featuring over 100,00 lights — and you can even get your picture taken (from a safe distance) with St. Nick. $65 per car. 5 to 8 p.m. Dec. 18-23. 12526 Campo Road, Spring Valley; enchantedvillage.org

Holidays at Legoland California Resort
While Legoland’s theme park remains closed, its resort is ready to celebrate the season. Take a trip to Fun Town and marvel at a 30-foot Christmas tree made out of Legos, and decorated in hundreds of Lego ornaments, which will come to life each evening during a Holiday Light Show synced to music. Snap photos in front of a life-size model of Lego Santa, build Lego reindeer and holiday ornaments, and participate in socially-distanced meet and greets with characters like Santa, the Toy Soldier and Gingerbread Man. Tickets are required and must be purchased online; general admission is $14.99 or $9.99 for annual pass holders. Happening Nov. 20-29; Dec. 4-6, 11-13, 18-31; Jan. 1-10, 2021. Check Legoland’s website for detailed health and safety guidelines due to COVID-19. One LEGOLAND Drive, Carlsbad; legoland.com/california/things-to-do/seasonal-events/holidays-at-legoland

Holidays In Your Car in Del Mar
From Dec. 5 through the end of the month, head to Del Mar Fairgrounds for a large scale, drive-through holiday light experience. The family-friendly show features more than one million LED lights, as well as holograms and projection mapping animated to holiday music. Tickets are only available to buy online for $45 (car with up to four people) or $64 (cars with five or more people) with a 45 minute time slot between 5 and 9 p.m. Attendees must stay inside their vehicle for the duration of the show. 2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar; holidaysinyourcar.com

Holiday Market & Trail at Petco Park
Peruse a one-way, socially-distanced trail at Petco Park’s Gallagher Square and enjoy local and European-themed artisan shops, lighting displays, seasonal characters, food and drinks and unique gifts at the Holiday Market & Trail at Petco Park. $10 for kids and $14 for adults. Dec. 3- 6 and Dec. 9-23. 100 Park Blvd., East Village; padres.com/holiday

Jingle Terrace Park
Vista’s Brengle Terrace Park debuts a new drive-through lights display showcasing the city’s various recreation and community programs. The one-mile loop will take you through various lands including: Ahoy to the World (the Wave Waterpark), Steal Home for the Holidays (Youth Sports), ‘Twas the Moonlight Before Christmas (Moonlight Stage Productions), Winter Solstice (the Rancho Buena Vista Adobe), Merry and Flight (Vista’s Public Art Program) and Santa’s Workshop (Senior Services). Vista’s craft beer scene and the Vista Fire Department will also be featured. The event is free and runs from 6 to 10 p.m. nightly from Dec. 5-28 (there will be no display on Dec. 24 and 25). cityofvista.com

Hundreds of colored lights will decorate the tooga tree in the front plaza during Jungle Bells at the San Diego Zoo.
Hundreds of colored lights will decorate the tooga tree in the front plaza during Jungle Bells at the San Diego Zoo.
(Photo by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo Global)

Jungle Bells at the San Diego Zoo
Ring in the holidays with the San Diego Zoo’s Jungle Bells celebration, with Jingle Singers, the Elf Mobile and the Celebration of Lights experience, where a tree adorned with thousands of bulbs comes to life and “dances” to the sounds of the season. Dec. 4 -6, Dec. 11-23, Dec. 25-31 and Jan. 1-3. 2920 Zoo Drive, Balboa Park; zoo.sandiegozoo.org

Northern Lights in Escondido
Starting Nov. 30, California Center for the Arts, Escondido invites guests to a self-guided tour of its outdoor venue decked out in lights, blow-up figurines and large LED Christmas trees. One of the displays is created by an Escondido family and has the lights synced to music. Masks are required but can be briefly taken off for photos. The non-ticketed public event is free. However, donations are encouraged and can be made texting LIGHTUP2020 to 44321. Open through Jan. 3, 2021 from 4:30 to 9 p.m. 340 North Escondido Blvd., Escondido; artcenter.org/northern-lights-2020/

Old Town Trolley’s Holiday Lights and Sights Tour
A safe way to see some of San Diego’s seasonal sights? The Old Town Trolley’s Holiday Lights and Sights Tour takes guests on a tour of festive lights throughout Old Town, Embarcadero, Seaport Village, Balboa Park and more, while conductors share fun holiday facts and traditions. Dec. 3-24 and Dec. 26-30. 4010 Twiggs St., Old Town; trolleytours.com

SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration
SeaWorld is celebrating the holiday season this year with its annual Christmas Celebration, with a sea-themed Christmas tree and a holiday music-activated tunnel of lights, classic Christmas characters like Santa, seasonal food and drinks and the all-new show, “Santa Presents: Christmas Animals Around the World.” Select dates, now through Jan. 4. 500 Sea World Drive, Mission Bay; seaworld.com

SoCal Winter Wonderland at Westfield UTC
This year, Westfield UTC is making things merry with a life-size snow globe collection throughout the mall bringing festive scenes and characters to life, while also keeping guests safe. Westfield UTC will also host The Grinch’s Grotto photo shoots, inspired by Dr. Seuss’ classic character. Snow globe presentations are 4 to 8 p.m. every Wednesday through Friday during the first three weeks of December; Grinch’s Grotto runs from Nov. 27 to Dec. 31. 4545 La Jolla Village Drive, Ste. E-25, La Jolla; westfield.com

Wild Holidays at Safari Park
Stop by the San Diego Zoo Safari Park for bright lights and activities to celebrate the season on multiple evenings from 4 to 8 p.m. Entertainment includes Enchanted Lagoon, Safari Base Camp Light Show, Bridge of Lights, Nairobi Lantern Walk, as well as roaming performances like firefly stilt walkers and an acoustic music duo. Open Nov. 27-29; Dec. 5-6, 12-13, 19-23, 26-31; and Jan. 1-3, 2021. Tickets or membership to the Safari Park required for entry to Wild Holidays; prices vary. 15500 San Pasqual Valley Road, Escondido; sdzsafaripark.org/wild-holidays

Winter Wonder Beachside at Belmont Park
Celebrate the holidays in true San Diego fashion: at the beach! Belmont Park’s Winter Wonder event features a holiday toy drive, 15-foot-tall holiday-themed sculptures and Illuminated Winter Nights, where the sculptures come to life when the sun goes down. Weekends in December from noon to 8 p.m. 3146 Mission Blvd., Mission Bay; belmontpark.com

Winter Wonderland at the Hotel Del
A beachfront Christmas tree and photos with Santa make the Hotel Del Coronado’s Winter Wonderland at the Hotel Del event a can’t-miss holiday spectacle. Grab a drink from the Frostbite Bar or pick up a special holiday to-go craft kit while admiring the 35-foot Christmas tree in the center of their beachfront Windsor Lawn. Santa photos available from 4 to 7 p.m. on Nov. 28, Dec. 5, Dec. 12, Dec. 19, Dec. 23 and Dec. 24 for $20 (reservations for photos required). Nov. 26 through Dec. 31. 1500 Orange Ave., Coronado; hoteldel.com

Neighborhood happenings
(Note: This list was compiled through word-of-mouth recommendations and is continuously evolving. Please contact nina@pacificsandiego.com if there are any changes, or if you’d like your neighborhood to be included.)

BANKERS HILL: The holidays are lit at the Forward House in Bankers Hill, where homeowner John Olbrich has been decorating his home and de-lighting the neighborhood since 1998. Lights are displayed from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. through New Year’s. Located at First and Ivy in Bankers Hill.

CLAIREMONT: Jamar Drive, Jamar Court, Lana Lane and Lana Drive have decorated for the holiday season. Every year, this semi-circular route off Mt Abernathy Drive behind Madison High School is consistently rated as one of the best Christmas displays in San Diego County.

EL CAJON: “Jingle Bell Hill,” also known as “Pepper Drive Lights,” is El Cajon’s own winter wonderland. West entrance is at Pepper and Rockview drives and east entrance is at Pepper and Lindenwood drives.

LAKESIDE: Take the Riverford exit on Highway 67 to “Tinsel Town,” where more than 20 homes on Paseo Palmas Drive participate. Cross streets are Palm Row and Paseo Palmas. Check social media for updates at facebook.com/lakesides.tinseltown.

MISSION HILLS: Santa’s elves have placed a special mailbox where kids can drop off their Christmas wish lists and have them sent to the North Pole. Bring letters to 2163 Guy Street between 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. every Saturday through Christmas. Families can also see lights and take pictures with elves.

This house in Mission Hills delivers letters to Santa.
(Courtesy of Angela LaChica)

OCEAN BEACH: Newport between Ebers and Sunset Cliffs. Light show synced with music from radio station.

POWAY: Hickory Street turns into “Candy Cane Lane” for the holidays. Most lights stay up until Christmas, and some continue to shine until New Year’s Day. Check social media for updates at facebook.com/powayccl.

RANCHO PEÑASQUITOS: “Christmas Card Lane” on Oviedo Street is a beloved North County spot. More than 200 houses participate in the festivities, and most finish decorating by the first weekend of December.

SAN CARLOS: Extravagant Christmas lights display at 6715 Tuxedo Road. Visitors can tune to 88.9 FM when they’re nearby and they’ll hear festive music synced to the tree’s light show.

Christmas lights in San Carlos
(Courtesy of Caz Gonzalez)

SANTEE: “Starlight Circle” is located at East and West Glendon Circle. Check social media for updates at facebook.com/starlightcirclesantee.

TIERRASANTA: Since 2006, Randy and Brandon Schimka have hosted a holiday lights display (synchronized to music on FM 106.1) at their home at 5306 Belardo Dr. in Tierrasanta. Lights will display from Nov. 28 through Dec. 27. See belardolights.com for more information and updates.


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