December has arrived — probably sooner than you expected — and we in San Diego County have many options for celebrating the season. Some are traditional; others uniquely Southern California. Here are some of the holiday events in our corner of the country:
Winter Fest at the Orange County Fair & Event Center: Dec. 16 through Jan 1. There’s snow and ice less than an hour’s drive north at the annual Winter Fest. The fun includes unlimited ice-tubing, ice skating, bounce houses, craft-making, character meet-and-greets, live music, strolling carolers, snow-play for toddlers, two-million lights, “the world’s largest rocking horse” and of course, Santa.Tickets start at $10. WinterFestOC.com.
Free harbor cruises and selfies with Santa: sponsored by Dana Wharf Whale Watching in Dana Point Harbor. 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 3 and Dec. 4. A $5 donation to the El Camino Real Woman’s Club is suggested. No reservation required. danawharf.com.
Holiday Tree Lighting and Winter Wonderland Festival: 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Dec. 3 at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido. Play in real snow, decorate cookies, make gifts and visit with real reindeer. Free.
Encinitas Holiday Parade: Dec. 3. Tree-lighting at 5 p.m.; parade down Highway 101 at 5:30 p.m. Free.
Balboa Park December Nights: Today and Dec 3. This immensely popular, free heart-of-the-park event showcases carolers, live music, light displays, theater and dance performances, foods from around the world. Many museums offer free admission. balboapark.org/decembernights.
Toast of the Gaslamp: 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 10. Adults only. Sample cocktails and bites from 20 of the top Gaslamp Quarter restaurants and shopping deals at 20 Gaslamp retailers. $25 in advance; $30 day of the event. ToastOfGaslamp.com.
Port of San Diego Holiday Bowl Parade: 10 a.m. Dec. 27. Claims to be the country’s largest balloon parade. Route runs along San Diego Harbor. Parking is tight so take the Coaster, which drops you two blocks from the excitement. Free. sandiegobowlgames.com/events/parade/.
58th Annual Vista Christmas Parade: 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 3. South Santa Fe Avenue and Main Street. This year’s theme: “A Nintendo Christmas.” Free. (760) 726-1122.
Holiday boat parades abound in Southern California:
• Oceanside Harbor Parade of Lights: 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Dec. 10. Watch from the shore or join the parade with Oceanside Adventures’ 90-minute harbor cruise. $29 adults; $19 children. (888) 507-1130.
• San Diego Bay Parade of Lights: 5 p.m. Dec. 11 and Dec. 18. Theme: “It Began with a Roar – San Diego Zoo Celebrates 100 Years.” More than 100 private boats decorated with holiday lights. Great views from Shelter Island, Harbor Island, the Embarcadero, Seaport Village, Marina Park and Coronado’s Ferry Landing. sdparadeoflights.org/.
• Dana Point Harbor Boat Parade of Lights: 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Dec. 9, 10, 16 and 17. Theme: “Under the Sea.” danawharf.com.
• Mission Bay Christmas Boat Parade of Lights: 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Dec. 10. Dozens of brightly illuminated powerboats and sailboats shine brightly around Mission Bay.
Lake Powell, Ariz.: If you are up to venturing out of state and want to keep it simple, celebrate the holidays on a houseboat at Lake Powell. Bring just the essentials, focus on family and friends, and enjoy the spectacular scenery. Rentals at Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas are 50 percent off through Dec. 31. lakepowell.com.
And finally, if you want the real thing — snow, brisk weather and alpine scenery — you can find it in Big Bear Valley. (Remember, when the lowlands get rain, Big Bear gets snow.)
A two-hour drive gets you on the slopes at Bear Mountain and Snow Summit for skiing, snowboarding and tubing.
There are Christmas celebrations in Big Bear Village every Saturday and Sunday until Dec. 24.
Santa and Mrs. Claus greet visitors from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., corner of Knot Boulevard and Village Drive.
For all holiday and winter activities, visit BigBearGuide.com and BigBearMountainResort.com.
E’Louise Ondash is a freelance writer living in North County. Tell her about your travels at firstname.lastname@example.org