You can enjoy lavish holiday traditions without the personal-space incursions of airport security with a visit to our southern neighbor. San Diego boasts festivities of all kinds. Catch the end of the year-long commemoration of Balboa Park’s centenary, or start early for next year’s 100th anniversary of the San Diego Zoo. There are plenty of places to hear live music, such as Panama 66 at the San Diego Museum of Art, Croce’s Park West in Bankers Hill, or 98 bottles in Little Italy.
Skating by the Sea, in its 11th year at the Hotel del Coronado, gives visitors a chance to ice skate outdoors with holiday music and the Pacific Ocean in the background. The rink on the Windsor Lawn has weekend, evening, and holiday sessions from Thanksgiving through Jan. 3 ($25 for 90 minutes). Balboa Park December Nights, a multicultural food and entertainment festival, takes place Dec. 4 and 5. Some museums will be free those nights, and this year the festival introduces a children’s interactive area, featuring a community mural where families can help fill in a giant coloring book page of Balboa Park.
For a bite off the beaten path, head to the East Village and visit The Mission, which offers a variety of pancakes, soy chorizo specials, and a zen breakfast of egg whites, braised tofu, brown rice and vegetables. For luscious Italian fare in a lovely setting, head to Solare at Liberty Station and try the beef medallions with celery root puree, dried fig, and Marsala sauce ($36). Make it special by dining in the glass-enclosed Wine Room. Or try for a reservation at Bracero in Little Italy, where chef Javier Plascencia electrifies foodies with small plates such as wood-grilled octopus ($17)and shrimp and bone marrow sopes ($15).
The Hotel Del Coronado ($275 and up) gets all gussied up for the holidays, making it a delightful time for your first visit or your 41st. Enjoy sunset cocktails outside or wander the history hallway of the National Historic Landmark to take in more than 125 years of the Del. To stay in the heart of downtown, try the boutique Hotel Z
($150 and up), which has a sleek design and features free cupcakes, complimentary bikes to borrow, robes and slippers in every room, and individual duvets laundered after each guest. The dog-friendly hotel allows two dogs per room with no weight restrictions.
Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner provides a carefree way to appreciate the trip down the coast. Trains depart from Anaheim, Fullerton, Santa Ana, Irvine, and San Juan Capistrano.