I’m late in publishing this San Diego in December post because, well, let’s hope we don’t have another December like this one. It started okay, but toward the end of the first week catapulted into a regional stay-at-home order that (as you know) closed theme parks, hotels, onsite restaurant dining, and a ton of small businesses that are already hurting.
December is normally one of the most popular times to visit San Diego. Many tourists would normally be reading this post. Since they are not permitted here, and hotels cannot accept leisure travel, let me tell you, residents, what’s on tap that we can actually do.
If you book tickets, tours, or hotels using the links in this post, I may be compensated.
San Diego December Weather
San Diego weather in December is a mix of cold days and sunny warm days. So far this month, we’ve had a couple of shorts weather days along the coast, but they do end in the evenings with a need for a coat and Ugg boots.
I mentioned our sunny weather along the coast, but if you’re in the inland valleys, mountains, or desert, the temperatures that you feel are usually more extreme. It does snow in the mountains occasionally in December but usually deeper into winter.
Blue Skies in Winter
I like December in San Diego because we have mostly blue skies in which we can enjoy the various holiday lights and tree lightings. Technically, it’s our coldest month, and we can have thunderstorms. The latter is rare.
Here are the San Diego December weather stats:
- Average temperature (high/low): 65°F/48°F
- Rainfall: 1.5 inch
- Days of rain: 6
- Days of sunshine: 73%
- Daylight: 10 hours
- Ocean temperature (high/low): 61.7°F/59.2°F
I can only remember a handful of times when it’s rained on Christmas. Most of my memories are usually of the family hanging out in shorts in the backyard.
Can You Go to the Beach in December?
A frequently asked question by people planning winter break vacations here is whether it’s warm enough to go to the beach in San Diego.
My answer is that it depends. We, locals, use it for walks, runs, picnics, watching the sunset, and water sports like surfing.
Visitors from cold weather climates tend to use our beaches as we do in the summer. They’re used to snow and parkas. They find the idea that they can go to the beach ultra appealing, which means they do soak up rays and head into the ocean.
So, what I tell out-of-state families is that if you want to get your Pacific Ocean fix, you can. Just rent a wetsuit. Many of our surf shops and rental spots even have wetsuits for kids. A rental may not fit perfectly, but something is better than nothing. Call ahead to see if kids’ sizes are available.
Don’t let cold water temperatures hold you back from our best water sports. You CAN still take surfing lessons. In fact, many of our best surfing schools like Surf Diva offer awesome winter break camps.
If you plan to head in for more than a (chilly) minute or two, wear a wetsuit.
Advice for Booking Hotels in December
If you plan to visit during winter break, you should book San Diego hotels as soon as they’re available for reservations. Winter break is one of our most expensive peak seasons, and during normal times, room rates only increase as your travel date nears.
In 2020, our hotels are unable to accept leisure travelers. This isn’t likely to be the case next year.
So, I advise visitors and residents planning staycations to lock in a flexible rate directly through the hotel. These rates are easy to adjust in the rare event that rates fall. Most of the time, the hotel will just adjust your existing reservation instead of canceling and rebooking a new one. Easy.
Our hotels deck the halls literally with beautiful Christmas trees, Menorahs, poinsettias, and other decor. And each usually offers its own list of holiday programming from opportunities to see Santa, holiday afternoon teas, Christmas dinners, holiday treats, and much more.
Hotel del Coronado is the most festive place to stay thanks to its beachfront ice skating rink and a long list of holiday activities. Another almost equally festive resort is Fairmont Grand Del Mar with its Winter Wonderland and a multitude of things to do.
Beach valet services will be up and running so that visitors can clock in beach time. Our outdoor swimming pools are heated year-round so rest assured you can still use them.
San Diego December Events
San Diego events in December typically focus on holiday fun. Sadly, most are canceled this year. For those of you planning to visit in December 2021, you can expect parades, holiday markets, theme park events, boat parades, and even a Surfin’ Santa.
Check my ultimate guide to San Diego Christmas and holiday events for the full list, but here are a few.
Balboa Park December Nights
Balboa Park December Nights is a two-day holiday tradition where the numerous museums and cultural institutions in Balboa Park, the nation’s largest urban cultural park, open their doors free of charge. Guests also look forward to live music, holiday light displays, dance performances, and food from around the world.
San Diego Zoo Jungle Bells
Jungle Bells at San Diego Zoo was supposed to start at the end of November but it’s been pushed to December. Dates are currently set (but subject to change) for December 4-6, 11-23, 25-Jan. 3. The celebration includes lighted displays, seasonal food, live animal presentations, holiday decor, and more.
And, remember that you can buy discount San Diego Zoo tickets through me.
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Christmas at SeaWorld San Diego
You’ll also be able to start celebrating Christmas at SeaWorld San Diego from November 13 through January 4! You’ll be able to see Santa at a proper distance, enjoy popular park shows like Dolphin Island Christmas Presentation and Clyde & Seamore’s Christmas Special, in addition to seasonal food. Admission is included with regular park admission.
Refer to my post about buying cheap SeaWorld San Diego tickets. Reservations are required.
Holidays at LEGOLAND California
Kids always look forward to seeing the world’s largest LEGO Christmas tree (30′ tall). The entire resort will be decked out in holiday décor and more during Holidays at LEGOLAND California. In addition LEGO Christmas characters including LEGO Santa, events include a holiday light show.
Things to Do in San Diego in December Now
Here, I will list things to do in San Diego in December that are open now in 2020 during the stay at home order. We’re talking about mostly outdoor activities. Some outdoor tours are still running as well should you want to hop in a kayak or boat.
Go Tide Pooling
Keep an eye out for our twice-daily low tides that happen during daylight hours. If you check the online tide charts, you are likely to find minus tides in December that are perfect for tide pooling.
Use my list of best tide pools in San Diego to find out where to go, but you can find multiple tide pools in La Jolla along the La Jolla seal trail. to hit a few popular spots like La Jolla Cove and Shell Beach.
As I said last month, be sure to practice good etiquette by leaving the tide pools as you found them. The most commonly-seen creatures include hermit crabs, sea anemones, sea cucumbers, limpets, and small crabs. You can’t remove anything other than trash from tide pools in the La Jolla Ecological Reserve (around La Jolla Cove).
Visit San Diego Botanic Garden
San Diego Botanic Garden is open as an outdoor recreation facility. Because Governor Newsom reversed playground closures, this also means that Hamilton Children’s Garden is open, too. You can (and should) walk the 4 miles of trails for exercise and let the kids blow off steam in a pretty garden-like setting with some edutainment activities woven in.
Enjoy Our Outdoor Shopping Areas & Malls
Retail stores are open at 20% capacity so if you need to do some holiday shopping do it in person and locally. Sure, you can head over to Westfield UTC mall but also to shops in the Village of La Jolla, Cedros Avenue in Solana Beach, North Park, and more.
Holidays in Your Car
You can drive through a magnificent display of lights at Del Mar Fairground. See it for less with a Groupon.
Tours on the Water
You can take a tour to the La Jolla sea caves by kayak. Or, while most dining cruises on San Diego Bay are not running, you can take a harbor tour or ride the Patriot Jet Boat with Flagship Cruises and Events.
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Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
Yes, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is open for hikes. Guy Fleming and Parry Grove trails are one-way loops.
Cabrillo National Monument
Indoor exhibits and buildings such as the Old Point Loma Lighthouse and Visitor Center are closed. The Cabrillo sea cave and parking lot near the tide pools are both also closed. But, you can go to walk these mild trails, enjoy ocean views, and spend a nice day outside at Cabrillo National Monument.
Climb at Belmont Park
It’s free to enter Belmont Park so if you’re in the area, check out their holiday decor that was meant to go with their winter programming. Retail stores, quick bites dining, the Rock Wall, and Sky Ropes are open Thursday–Sunday.
What to Wear in San Diego in December
Your San Diego packing list for December involves more sweaters, long-sleeved T-shirts and a medium weight jacket if you plan to be out in the evenings.
Although, as I type this, it’s hot outside, and people are walking around the Village of La Jolla in shorts. So, don’t forget the shorts.
Here’s what to put in your suitcase:
- Face coverings — required everywhere you’re not 6′ away from someone
- Medium weight jacket for the evenings
- Portable umbrella
- Bathing suit and warmer cover-up
- Rashguard or UV shirt for sun protection and warmth
- Flip flops for the beach and pool
- Shorts for beachgoing
- T-Shirts (mostly long-sleeved)
- Pants or jeans
- Sweaters or sweatshirts
- Comfortable walking shoes for sightseeing
- Casual wool/warm dress or collared shirt and nice jeans (if you plan to dine in one of our nicer restaurants )
- Sweaters and sweatshirts
- Ugg boots
- Wetsuit, if you have one (otherwise they’re easy to rent)
People here generally do not wear traditional raincoats. Part of the reason is that it very rarely rains. Do not pack fur coats or fur accessories to keep you warm. They generally are not well-received.
Lifestyle: What Residents Are Up To
Normally, San Diegans are prepping for the holiday season. We’re eating too much, staying up too late, and shopping in our outdoor malls.
This year, we’re at home and trying to figure out how best to support the struggling local businesses around us. They’re part of who we are and why San Diego is such a fantastic place to live and visit.
If you live here, please share your thoughts about San Diego in December!