Things to Do in San Diego in Winter 2016 – December Holidays & More

Smaller crowds, more vivid sunsets, and temperate weather in the 60’s and 70’s make winter in San Diego one of the best times to visit the area.

Although you’re unlikely to see any snow, there are lots of seasonal activities and fun things to do in December and beyond. Take advantage of thinning crowds and sightsee around San Diego at your own pace this winter.

From amazing theme park attractions to low-key local fun, check out our list of popular things to do in San Diego in Winter 2016, including some of the best holiday activities and attractions to help you plan the perfect winter itinerary.

Save on Attraction Admission

Regular admission to a number of these attractions are included on the Go San Diego® Card.

Choose as you go from dozens of top attractions and save up to 55% on combined admission vs paying at the gate.

See all available San Diego passes, attractions & prices.

Please note, some of these special Winter events may be separately ticketed and not included on the Go San Diego Card.

Explore Balboa Park

Balboa Park is home to 12 amazing museums. Here are a few of our favorites that we highly recommend visiting this winter.

The San Diego Zoo

See polar bears play and swim at the Northern Frontier exhibit at the San Diego Zoo.

Recently voted the number one zoo in the world by TripAdvisor, the San Diego Zoo features 107 acres of animal habitats and over 800 species of animals, including their iconic panda bear and polar bear exhibits. Winter is a great time of year to visit! You’ll see everything from giant lions and gorillas to reptiles, birds, and insects.

From December 10, 2016 through January 12, 2017 the Zoo plays host “Jungle Bells,” with lots of fun and festive activities, performances, decorations, and more. You’ll get to see twinkle light animal sculptures, acrobatic elf performances, and more. On December 24, 2016, the Zoo is open until 5:00 pm with no Jungle Bells activities.

Getting in: San Diego Zoo tickets are included with the Go San Diego Card and Jungle Bells activities are included with admission, unless otherwise noted.

Reuben H. Fleet Science Center

fleet-scienc-center-san-diego-museums

Let the kids play scientist for a day with all the hands-on things to do and exhibits at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center.

Kids can examine images from the Hubble Telescope, build free form structures using wooden planks, explore the unseen world of cellular biology through the lens of a microscope, and more.

Plus, “Kid City” features a part play area, part exhibit where younger kids can explore scientific concepts while staying entertained and interacting with other kids.

Bonus: one IMAX movie is free with admission.

Getting in: Reuben H. Fleet Science Center tickets are included with the Go San Diego Card.

Natural History Museum
natural-history-museum-san-diego-museums

Find a new appreciation for nature and the environment. The oldest scientific institution in southern California, this 134 year old museum focuses on the natural worlds of the Southern California and Baja peninsula regions while maintaining a global scientific perspective.

Travel to the Polar Regions at the End of The Earth: From Polar Bears to Penguins exhibit, or see a striking film come to life in the museum’s 3-D theater.

Getting in: Natural History Museum tickets are included with the Go San Diego Card.

 Air and Space Museum
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Explore all things aviation at the San Diego Air & Space Museum, from ancient aircraft designs to modern space-age flights.

Wander through the World War galleries or experience the action firsthand in the FS2000 Two-Seat Flight Simulator.

On December 2-3, 2016, the San Diego Air & Space Museum will feature musical performances by Full Measure and the Rockin’ Cranberries, festive decorations and lighting, and food for families in the Pavilion, and beer available for purchase from 3:30 to 10:30 pm for December Nights.

Getting in: San Diego Air and Space Museum tickets are included with the Go San Diego Card and December Nights activities are included with admission, unless otherwise noted.

Museum of Photographic Arts

museum-of-photographic-arts-san-diego-museums

Explore over 9,000 images from the 19th century to today through the lens of a trained eye at the Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA).

The MOPA is dedicated to collecting, conserving, and portraying the art of photography in its entirety with exhibits featuring cultural, historical, and social issues.

The MOPA will be participating in the Balboa Park December Nights, December 2-3, 2016 with holiday-themed props and a festive background for the perfect holiday photo opp you can take home with you.

Getting in: Museum of Photographic Arts tickets are included with the Go San Diego Card and December Nights activities are included with admission, unless otherwise noted.

San Diego Art Institute

The San Diego Art Institute in Balboa Park

Head to the San Diego Art Institute to explore exhibits that exclusively feature art created by living artists of today with a new exhibit on rotation every four to six weeks.

Getting in: Museum of Photographic Arts tickets are included with the Go San Diego Card and December Nights activities are included with admission, unless otherwise noted.

Museum of Man
museum-of-man-san-diego-museums

Explore one of the most impressive presentations of anthropology and human evolution in the nation.

This museum seeks to answer questions such as “What makes us human?” and “Race: Are We So Different?” through extensive artifact collections and exhibits.

The Museum of Man will be participating in December Nights, December 2-3, 2016, with art activities both nights and live performances (Saturday only) in their galleries.

Getting in: Museum of Man tickets are included with the Go San Diego Card and December Nights activities are included with admission, unless otherwise noted.

San Diego Sports Museum
san-diego-hall-of-champions-san-diego-museums

Explore the best of the athletic world through exciting history, educational treasures, and memorabilia from over 40 different sports at the nation’s largest multi-sport museum, the San Diego Sports Museum.

Getting in: San Diego Sports Museum tickets are included with the Go San Diego Card.

San Diego Automotive Museum

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The San Diego Automotive Museum features 90 vehicles on display, rotating exhibits, and shows such as “Lowriders of Southern California”, “Law Enforcement Vehicles”, and “Cadillacs”–a must-see for any automotive fan.

Visitors will find a new appreciation for the automobile industry and how it has come to symbolize American progress.

Getting in: San Diego Automotive Museum tickets are included with the Go San Diego Card.

SeaWorld San Diego

Photo credit: Mike Aguilera/SeaWorld® San Diego

Photo credit: Mike Aguilera/SeaWorld® San Diego

Take advantage of lighter lines this winter and breeze from thrill ride to thrill ride with less wait time at SeaWorld San Diego.

See animals like penguins, dolphins, and whales up close and see what it feels like to touch stingrays, sharks, and more in the touchpools.

Be sure to bring layers–you might want to bundle up after taking a ride on the Journey to Atlantis if the weather is on the cooler side.

November 19, 2016 through January 1,  2017, SeaWorld goes all out with SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration, filled with festive activities and fun things to do. You’ll get to meet Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and his friends in Rudolph’s Christmastown, complete withe a 40-foot Happiest Dancing Christmas Tree, you can get your picture taken with Santa in his cottage and join the Elves Dance Party for a sing-a-long, watch the nightly lighting of the largest Christmas tree in Southern California, and more.

Getting in: SeaWorld San Diego tickets are included with the Go San Diego Card and SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration activities are included with admission, unless otherwise noted.

The Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Birch Aquarium

Birch Aquarium

Head to La Jolla to poke around the shops, grab lunch seaside, get in some ocean activities, and explore the sea life at the Birch Aquarium.

Dive into exhibits that showcase the mysteries of ocean, air and life through interactive displays and multimedia.

You’ll learn all about living coral reefs, see baby seahorses play, listen to whale songs, and even pet living sea stars.

Check out the Aquarium’s ‘Seas ‘n’ Greetings’ events during the month of December and Deck the Hall (of Fishes) and get into the holiday spirit. Check the schedule for special appearances by Scuba Santa, live holiday music, and face painting.

Getting in: Birch Aquarium at Scripps tickets are included with the Go San Diego Card and all Seas ‘n’ Greetings activities are included with admission, unless otherwise noted.

Check Out the USS Midway Museum

uss-midway-aircraft-carrier-san-diego-museums

Learn about life at sea without ever leaving the Navy Pier port aboard the longest-serving aircraft carrier in United States history.

Aboard the ship there are over 60 exhibits and 27 restored aircraft to explore at your own pace with a self-guided audio tour narrated by USS Midway sailors.

Getting in: USS Midway Museum tickets are included with the Go San Diego Card.

West Coast Whale Watching

whale-watching-san-diegoThe winter season is the best time of year to go whale watching in San Diego during the annual migration, from the Bering Sea to the shores of Baja, California, an estimated 20,000 gray whales pass through the waters off the San Diego coast.

The San Diego Whale Watch guarantees a whale sighting during their three-and-a-half-hour cruises but be sure to lookout for dolphins, sea lions, and migrating birds, too. You’ll even be able to listen to whale and dolphin sounds in real time.

Getting in: Whale Watch tickets are included with the Go San Diego Card.

UTC Ice Sports Center

After getting in a little shopping at the outdoor mall in La Jolla, visitors of all ages can lace up some skates and hit the open-air rink at the UTC Ice Sports Center.

Getting in: UTC Ice Sports Center tickets are included with the Go San Diego Card.

Kayak, Bike, or Snorkel in La Jolla

Head out to the seaside community of La Jolla, where a scenic sprawl of cliffs and sandy beaches await.

Take your pick between biking along the beach town streets, snorkeling in La Jolla Cove, or Kayaking along the coast to get an up close look at the famous sea lions sun bathing on La Jolla beach.

Getting in: Kayak, Bike, and Snorkel Gear rentals are included with the Go San Diego Card.

Watch a Winter Sunset

Torrey Pines State Reserve - November Sunset 180° Pano

By Farwestern Photo by Gregg M. Erickson (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The winter months mean better sunsets. Make a point to watch the sun set over the Pacific Ocean one evening when you’re in San Diego–a must-see experience.

Head to the Sunset Cliffs National Park for a pre-sunset walk along the coastline and one of the best views of the sunset, drive up to Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial to see the famous landmark and watch the sun set with a view of the San Diego skyline, or go out to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve for classic, oceanside sunset views.

Remember to Save on Attraction Admission

So there you have it. Our list of a few things to do in San Diego in the winter, including holiday events, other seasonal activities in December, and more.

Remember, many of these options are included on the Go San Diego Card, where you can save up to 55% on combined admission vs paying at the gate.

Please note, the Winter events taking place at some of these attractions may be separately ticketed and not included with the Go San Diego Card.

We hope you plan to add a few of these fun options to your winter vacation itinerary.

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