Give, get and go

Posted: December 5th, 2014 | Arts & Entertainment, Features, Top Story | No Comments

By Kai Oliver-Kurtin

Twenty-five ways to get into the holiday spirit this month

’Tis the season for holiday parties, ice skating, sparkly lights, gingerbread houses, holiday performances and, of course, giving to others.

Here are 25 different festivities or venues — all within the greater Downtown area — to help you share in “the most wonderful time of the year.”

(l to r) Lynn Congemi, USO San Diego’s chairman of the board with Megan Madrigal, marketing director for The Headquarters, in front of the Giving Tree, where donations for needy military families will be accepted through Dec. 24. (Photo by John Cocozza Photography)

(l to r) Lynn Congemi, USO San Diego’s chairman of the board with Megan Madrigal, marketing director for The Headquarters, in front of the Giving Tree, where donations for needy military families will be accepted through Dec. 24. (Photo by John Cocozza Photography)

To benefit USO San Diego, The Headquarters at Seaport District (789 W. Harbor Drive) is celebrating the holidays with a 25-foot “giving tree” to support active-duty military and their families. Gifts and monetary donations can be dropped off until Christmas Eve for children up to age 18.

The Giving Tree in all its glory.

The Giving Tree in all its glory.

Back for another season at The Old Globe (1363 Old Globe Way), Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! transforms the theatre into Whoville through Dec. 27. Popular with youth audiences, this whimsical musical is based on its beloved namesake children’s book.

To celebrate the season on the high seas, Hornblower Cruises offers holiday lunch, dinner and champagne brunch buffets (including Christmas Eve and Day) while cruising around the San Diego Bay. Through the end of the year, enjoy traditional holiday food and music set against the backdrop of the Downtown skyline and city lights. Boarding locations along North Harbor Drive.

Sycuan’s Fantasy on Ice at Horton Plaza (225 Broadway Circle) brings ice-skating to the shopping center through Jan. 4. Proceeds benefit Rady Children’s Hospital San Diego. On Dec. 13, KPBS is hosting family day at the rink featuring entertainment, family activities and a discounted admission fee.

More than 350,000 people are expected to attend Balboa Park’s December Nights (1549 El Prado), San Diego’s largest free community festival Dec. 5 –6. Enjoy food, music and entertainment from around the world, including Christmas music on the Spreckels Organ Pavilion stage, and free admission into participating park museums from 5 to 9 p.m. each day. New this year, ride a 200-foot zip line near the San Diego Natural History Museum.

The Little Italy Association kicks off the neighborhood’s annual holiday season Dec. 6 with a tree lighting and Christmas Village, held on West Fir Street between India Street and Kettner Boulevard. From 4 to 8 p.m., enjoy free Italian cookies, cider and coffee, and shop for holiday gifts from Little Italy Mercato vendors. Santa Claus will make his arrival at the fire station at 4:30 p.m.

For local, handmade gifts, check out the San Diego Made Holiday Market in Barrio Logan Dec. 6 – 7 at Union artists’ studios (2191 Main St.). Featuring products from about 40 local artists and craftsman, the event will also have food trucks, open galleries, holiday drinks and music. The event is from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. both days, and the first 25 people to arrive each day will receive a free gift bag.

For the first time, Petco Park (100 Park Blvd.) will transform into a holiday wonderland for 12 nights in December (Dec. 5-7, 12-14, 19-24). Admire light displays, ride Polar Express trains, explore Candyland, feed reindeer, and take photos with Santa Claus in front of a 40-foot Christmas tree. Holiday concessions and merchandise available throughout the ballpark.

RA Sushi (474 Broadway) is hosting a toy drive and ugly sweater party Dec. 9 from 7 to 10 p.m. benefitting local nonprofit, It’s All About the Kids, which supports children in San Diego and Baja. Guests can bring a new, unwrapped toy or $15 donation to receive happy hour prices all night, and enter to win prizes in the ugly sweater contest.

Through the end of the year, head to San Diego Civic Theatre (1100 Third Ave.) for holiday performances including Celtic Woman: Home for Christmas symphony tour (Dec. 10) and The Nutcracker by the California Ballet (Dec. 13 – 21). Balboa Theatre (868 Fourth Ave.) will feature the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus Holiday Spectacular (Dec. 13 – 14), and jazz concerts Peter White Christmas (Dec. 20) and Dave Koz and Friends Christmas tour (Dec. 23).

Coolio at Tin Roofewb

Coolio will play at Tin Roof’s holiday party.

Live music joint Tin Roof (401 G St.) is having a Throwback Thursday holiday party featuring rapper Coolio on Dec. 11. This 90s-themed party will feature holiday drink specials, raffle prizes and old school radio jams, including Coolio’s 1995 hit, “Gangsta’s Paradise.” Doors open at 7 p.m., 90s attire is strongly encouraged.

The City Ballet of San Diego will perform The Nutcracker at Spreckels Theatre (121 Broadway) Dec. 12 – 24. Matinee and evening performances feature live music by the City Ballet Orchestra and vocals by Pacific Coast Chorus.

To burn off excess holiday calories, register for the Jingle Bell 5K Run/Walk for Arthritis in Balboa Park Dec. 13. Participants are known to wear holiday-themed costumes or tie jingle bells to their laces, but all will help fund research to find a cure for arthritis. Also includes a shorter children’s dash (1K) course with elves.

More than 30 local artists and designers will be selling their creations at Handmade Holiday at San Diego Central Library (330 Park Blvd.) Dec. 13 from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The event will feature handmade goods, live music, children’s crafts, and a special appearance from the Grinch.

Harbor House Restaurant at Seaport Village (831 W. Harbor Drive) is hosting a breakfast with Santa Claus that includes a photo, face painting and a gift for children Dec. 13 –14. Reservations are required.

The San Diego Zoo (2920 Zoo Drive) will transform into a winter wonderland for its annual Jungle Bells celebration Dec. 13 – Jan. 4. Ride the twinkle light trolley, admire lighted animal sculptures and trees, and enjoy holiday treats, special music from carolers, entertainment from trampoline acrobats, and photos with Santa Claus.

Ice skating by the beach at the Hotel del Coronado.

Ice skating by the beach at the Hotel del Coronado.

It was Hotel del Coronado (1500 Orange Ave.) that strung the first set of outdoor tree lights back in 1904. The resort is also the first to introduce a beachfront ice-skating rink, now in its 10th season (open through Jan. 4). A Victorian tea service is available daily through the end of the year from noon to 4 p.m., beginning Dec. 13 (except Christmas Day). Lamb’s Players Theatre presents “An American Christmas” nightly Dec. 15­ – 27 accompanied by a five-course holiday meal in the ballroom. Through Dec. 21, Sunday brunches in the Crown Room will include photo opportunities with Santa Claus. Children staying as guests at the hotel can request a bedtime tuck-in and story time with one of Santa’s elves.

For those with fur babies, the Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade on Dec. 14 takes over the Gaslamp Quarter as pets and their owners parade the streets starting at 3 p.m. Owners are encouraged to dress their pets in holiday attire and costumes, to be judged in various costume categories and honored during the following awards ceremony. The parade begins and ends at Hilton Gaslamp Park at 4th Avenue and K Street (route approximately 0.75 miles), where a pet expo will be held from 1 to 5 p.m.

An entrant in the annual Parade of Lights

An entrant in the annual Parade of Lights

The Port of San Diego presents its annual San Diego Bay Parade of Lights Dec. 14and 21. More than 100,000 people will line the shores of the bay to view about 80 participating boats, decorated according to this year’s theme, “Children’s Stories on the Big Bay.” Announcers will be located north of the Maritime Museum of San Diego along the Embarcadero, and at the Coronado Ferry Landing, offering a brief history and description of the boats as they pass by. The parade begins at Shelter Island at 5:30 p.m., proceeds past Harbor Island, the Embarcadero, Seaport Village, and finishes at the Coronado Ferry Landing.

Rooftop600 at Andaz San Diego (600 F St.) is hosting a Holiday Hope Concert featuring acoustic music by Ron Morabito and Arun on Dec. 17 at 7 p.m., benefitting Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Diego County and the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Dieguito. A $10 donation is suggested for admission.

Enjoy festive Irish holiday songs at the San Diego Symphony Holiday Pops Dec. 19 – 21, featuring Grammy Award-winning Irish fiddle champion Eileen Ivers. Matinee and evening performances held at Copley Symphony Hall (750 B St.).

Billed as “America’s Largest Balloon Parade,” the Port of San Diego’s Big Bay Balloon Parade on Dec. 26 is the kickoff event to the 2014 Holiday Bowl game the following day. This family-friendly event features more than 20 gigantic balloons, marching bands, drill teams and floats. Over 100,000 spectators will line the Embarcadero along the parade route, which begins at 3 p.m. on North Harbor Drive near the County Administration Building, and heads south to end near Seaport Village.

The Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego (1 Market Place) continues its holiday tradition of building a gingerbread replica of the 1,628-room hotel. On display surrounding the gingerbread hotel towers are dozens of gingerbread houses made by local elementary students. The public can vote on its favorite gingerbread house and the winning class will be treated to a holiday luncheon at the hotel. A check for $1,500 will be presented to the Make-A-Wish foundation in the winning class’ name.

The US Grant Hotel (326 Broadway) is offering guests a luxurious 12 Days of Christmas package in December when they book 12 consecutive nights in the presidential suite. This VIP experience gifts couples a new adventure each day, leading them on a journey through pre-arranged San Diego outings, performances, pampering services and private workshops.

—Kai Oliver-Kurtin is a local freelance reporter who also works full-time doing social media marketing for the U.S. Navy. She enjoys covering events, restaurant news, culture and entertainment. Contact her at

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