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Discover a Winter Wonderland in San Diego

When the holiday season approaches, Southern Californians can feel a little left out. After all, there are few popular depictions of Santa Claus that involve a beach, and “dashing through the snow” is not a function of the SoCal life. And it’s safe to say that the traditional Christmas tree is much harder to find on the coast than the palm tree.

But while the smell of a roaring fire, the coziness of burrowing into a fluffy blanket, and the joy of making snow angels don’t usually say “SoCal winter,” plenty of these holiday traditions await in San Diego. Throughout December, visitors can experience the best of both worlds — a slice of classic holiday magic under the warm California sun.

Mother and daughter skating on outdoor rink at Christmas

Until the last champagne flutes clink on New Year’s Day, the expansive open green space in front of Fairmont Grand Del Mar comes alive with the spirit of the season, as the resort’s Winter Wonderland at The Grand returns. “To me, it always feels like the holidays officially begin when the lights turn on,” says Paige Levy, Director of Weddings and Special Events for Fairmont Grand Del Mar.

With a towering 25-foot tree, live music and carolers, appearances by Santa and a cast of princesses and elves, carnival rides, and more than 200,000 twinkling lights, Winter Wonderland is truly a Christmas playground.

Young girl on a carousel horse, as a man helps her hold on

The centerpiece for the second annual event is brand new: a smooth, gleaming ice-skating rink, one of the very few outdoor variety in San Diego’s North County, with special performances and the chance for young ones to skate alongside their favorite characters.

“We are able to really spend quality time with the children,” says Emily Tarr, who, as an elf, roams the event to add to the enchanting holiday spirit. “Sometimes with events, we have to move through so many guests that it can feel rushed, but at Winter Wonderland we get to interact with everyone.”

Elf with big lollipop, between woman and girl, all standing in front of an igloo and posing for a photo

Fireside lounges cast a glow around the ice rink offering families, couples, and friends a chance to cozy up and roast s’mores, echoing the traditions of winters past. Pastry chef Heather Campbell recalls a childhood camping trip in Wisconsin: “The men built a fire and the kids searched a nearby forest for perfect twigs to roast marshmallows on,” Campbell says. “…Of course, my marshmallow had to be just right — I was born to be a pastry chef!”

Adults will have plenty to enjoy at Winter Wonderland, as well. A Moët and Chandon Champagne Garden help create the ambiance of an elegant night out, adding a touch of bubbly to the proceedings. Live music on Friday nights brings the artistry of local musicians under the stars, too.

Young boy roasting a marshmallow as a man next to him looks on

It’s that idea of “local” that resonates for Levy; she says that the event is not just for resort guests, but the neighborhood and city as well.

“Our community is the reason we created Winter Wonderland,” she says. “The event gives us the opportunity to share Grand holiday magic with those in our own backyard. We want locals to think of us when they’re celebrating life’s important and magical moments.”

And while no one can deliver a traditional “white Christmas” in San Diego, maybe that’s actually for the best.

“I’ve always loved our California Christmases,” Tarr says. “We get all of the joy and magic, without having to worry about getting trapped in our houses by snow!”

The festivities begin after Thanksgiving and last through the new year. The resort’s “Stay. Play. Be Merry.” package includes luxury accommodations, ice skating tickets, s’mores and more.

Robert Spuhler is a Southern California-based writer who covers nightlife and lifestyle, music, movies, pop culture, technology, and government for LA Magazine, MSN, Complex, AM New York, San Francisco Chronicle and more.

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