Santa’s 13 Best Hotel del Coronado Christmas & Holiday Events-2023

Which Hotel del Coronado Christmas and holiday season activities are best for you? From the holiday lights shows to Christmas dinner, The Del’s Santa gave me insider tips on enjoying them all. And now I’m passing them on to you.

Then read on for more details on each event. I’ve included a chart with dates and prices. I also walked to each venue so you’ll know how much time it will take you to get there.

Ice Skating by the SeaNov 17 – Jan 1st$40
Frostbite LoungeNov 17 – Jan 1stSee website
Beachside IgloosNov 17 – Jan 1st$400
Holiday Lights ShowNov 17 – Jan 1stFREE
Thanksgiving Dinner BuffetNov 24$185+ adults*
Holiday Movies on the BeachDec 3, 10, 17, 31$25 per person*
Holiday FestivalDec 7FREE
Santa PhotosDec 7, 9, 10, 16, 17, 22, 23, 24$40
Elf DeliveriesDec 9, 10, 16, 17, 23, 24$75 per child*
Jingle RoastDec. 17th – 24th$195+
Gingerbread House DecoratingDec 17, 18, 22, 23, 24$65 per house
Victorian TeaDec 15-18See website
Christmas Eve Buffet Dec 24$185+ adults*
Christmas Day Brunch Dec 25$185+ adults*
*Special prices for hotel guests, later registration and children – see the activity’s description below this table.

If you make purchases through the links in this post, I may be compensated. Read my Advertising Disclosure for more info. Thanks! ~ Nancy

Click HERE for special room and package deals for SanDiegoing readers at Hotel del Coronado

When Does Hotel del Coronado Decorate for Christmas?

Santa told me many holiday decorations at The Del are up by November 17th when the ice skating rink opens. You’ll see the entire display starting on Community Day, Dec. 7th when he officially arrives at the hotel. 

Hotel del Coronado's Santa in front of the iconic San Diego landmark surrounded by tropical foliage hung with Christmas ornaments.
Santa Claus at Hotel del Coronado. Photo provided by Mike Stilwell. Holiday foliage frame by Nancy Ulrich.

Santa’s first tip for happy Del Hotel holidays is to arrive early for any event. Get to the hotel an hour in advance of your activity. These events are popular and parking may be a challenge.

Ice Skating by the Sea at Hotel del Coronado

Ice skate on the beach at Hotel del Coronado’s rink. Enjoy one of the most scenic skating venues on the planet. Here sparkling ocean views alternate with Hotel del Coronado’s iconic red-capped towers.  All skill levels are welcome from wobbly novices to triple-axel jump professionals.

This is a reservation-only experience that must be booked in advance with a credit card authorization. You can skate all day, for up to 10 hours. You’ll be provided skates to lace on, but you’re also welcome to bring your own. The proceeds go to Make-A-Wish® San Diego.

  • Nov 17 – Jan 1st
  • Skating times vary. Check the rink’s calendar.
  • Where? On the oval Windsor Lawn
  • 3 minutes to walk from the parking lot elevators
  • $40 general admission (see HERE for all prices and to make your reservations)

Hotel guests, active military, and first responders get discounts. Check their website for all the details.

This is a fun activity even if you don’t lace on blades yourself.  Watching your kids, grandkids, and others on the ice is entertaining. But it’s more enjoyable with libations and excellent food. There are plenty of good ice rink observation spots at the Sun Deck, Babcock & Story Bar, Sheerwater and Serẽa eateries. 

Santa has noticed that you’ve been very good this year. Treat yourself to a premium rinkside holiday experience at the…

Frostbite Lounge at the Hotel del Coronado

Frostbite Lounge is an outdoor icerink-adjacent dining experience designed for up to 6 of your friends and family. Reserve a firepit for resting your legs (or derrière –  depending upon your skill level) between skating sessions. Or just enjoy watching people glide and spin on the ice from your cozy fireside seating. 

Two women eating and drinking at the Frostbite Lounge at Hotel del Coronado
Photo courtesy of Hotel del Coronado.

Frostbite Lounge offers full food and beverage service. Sip a holiday-themed cocktail between skating sessions. Savor the sunset with delightful savory snacks and your special people.

  • Nov 17 – Jan 1st
  • Times vary. Check their online calendar
  • Where? Next to the ice rink on Windsor Lawn
  • 3 minutes to walk from the parking lot pedestrian exit

Frostbite Lounge reservations are available starting in November. Firepit times vary with the ice rink’s schedule. Starting time is usually 11:00 AM and it’s often open until 10:00 PM. Check the hotel’s website for Frostbite Lounge days and reservation times.

Click HERE for special room and package deals for SanDiegoing readers at Hotel del Coronado

Beachside Igloos – Group Fun at The Del

Imagine sharing food and libations in a glittering lighted dome on the beach with your 5 favorite people. Each igloo has comfy living room seating for six, and a firepit. Your dedicated server will keep you all supplied with upscale s’mores plus any tasty dishes or drinks you want to order from their menu.

Looking for even more comfort? Wrap yourselves in 2 complimentary Hotel del Coronado blankets. 

  • Nov 17 – Jan 1st
  • 4:00 or 7:00 PM
  • Duration: 2 hours
  • Where? Coronado Beach
  • 3 minutes to walk from the parking lot pedestrian exit
  • $400

Santa suggests that if you’re going to be at either Frostbite Lounge or the Beachside igloos in the evening, take a small detour on your way to or from the rink to… 

Free Holiday Lights Show at Hotel del Coronado

Hotel del Coronado lit the first outdoor electrically lit Christmas tree in 1904 for the public to enjoy. And this tradition continues to this day with their free holiday light show.

  • Nov 17 – Jan 1st
  • 5:00 – 9:00 PM every 30 minutes nightly
  • Duration: 11 minutes
  • Where? On Founders Lawn on the north side of the hotel
  • 3-minute walk from the underground parking elevators
  • FREE for everyone
Hotel del Coronado holiday light show. Lighted pine grove on Founders Lawn.
Hotel del Coronado’s holiday light show on Founders Lawn. The lights flow like water down the trees. Ethereally beautiful.

Unlike 100+ years ago, when they just lit one Norfolk Pine, now the lights are draped over every tree in their historic grove. They’re synchronized to holiday orchestral music. And then something magical happens…you see snowflakes falling through the branches in beachside San Diego. 

For me, the beatific joy is that I’m viewing this dressed in a light sweater, not a heavy parka. Anyone who’s spent time shoveling snow can appreciate that. But you don’t have to be a winter refugee to love this bedazzling presentation.

The best way to walk to the Founders Lawn historic pine tree grove from the underground parking elevators is to turn left towards Orange Avenue. Turn right on Orange just past the fountain. Continue until you see the lights in the trees. This route takes me 3 minutes. 

Do not trust Google or Apple’s online maps to get you to Hotel del Coronado’s lit-up pines. The hotel’s ongoing construction and renovation make those sources unreliable now. Check the hotel’s website for any last-minute changes.

Thanksgiving Dinner Buffet- Get Stuffed at The Del 

So how does Santa get that holiday jelly belly? He goes incognito and gobbles up turkey and all the fixings at this extravagant smorgasbord. 

Unlike many buffets, this classic Thanksgiving meal has plenty of attendants to keep you supplied with drinks and direct you to your favorite foods. Live musicians add to the festive atmosphere.

Thanksgiving Day roasted turkey on a table.
  • Nov. 24th
  • Where? In the Shore House Ballroom
  • A 5-minute walk from the parking elevators 
  • Prices start at $185 for hotel guests and early registrants. There are special rates for various aged children. 

See HERE for all prices and to make your reservations.

It takes me 5 minutes to walk from the parking lot to the Shore House Ballroom. The shortest route is to turn right from the parking elevators and enter the hotel through the north entrance. You’ll pass through the Garden Patio and the lobby. Exit the hotel at the main entrance roundabout and keep right. The ballroom is in the Southpoint Event Center on the right.

If you want to burn a few calories before you go to the Thanksgiving feast, Santa suggests that you go ice skating.

Click HERE for special room and package deals for SanDiegoing readers at Hotel del Coronado

Holiday Movies on the Beach at Hotel del Coronado

Photo courtesy of Hotel del Coronado.

Santa encourages you to share your favorite holiday movies with family and special friends in an outdoor theater on the sands of Coronado Beach. Each night features a different movie ranging from “Home Alone” to “Top Gun Maverick”. Check the movie schedule on the Hotel Del’s website.

  • Dec 3, 10, 17, 31
  • 7:30 PM starting time. Doors open at 7:00 PM
  • Duration: 1.5 to 2:15 hours depending upon the movie’s length
  • North Beach (in front of Beach Village Cottages)
  • 3 minutes to walk from the parking lot
  • $25 per person ($300 for VIP package)

Pre-registration is required. Click HERE to reserve your spot starting in mid-September.

Dress warmly. You don’t have to wear boots, a warm red jacket, and a red stocking cap like a certain jolly ol’ elf. But at least wear a sweatshirt or sweater. Evening temperatures at the beach are often 20 degrees lower than daytime. San Diego’s average December night temperature is 49°F. 

Also, pack a small backpack with light jackets and a fuzzy blanket. The outdoor beach theater can get a bit gusty at night.

Arrive early if you have a preferred spot to watch movies from. Seating is first come, first served. The exception is if you’ve reserved the VIP package. 

The VIP package includes 1 day bed, 2 sand chairs, and 1 fire pit along with unlimited s’mores supplies and water. The attendants visit often for refills and to help with anything else you may need. 

Another reason to arrive early is if you want something to eat during the movie. Bringing your own food and drinks is frowned upon. But you can buy wine, cocktails, beer, and a variety of savory tacos at nearby Beach + Taco Shack

Holiday Festival – Free Fun at Hotel del Coronado

Santa recommends that you go to the Hotel Del’s Holiday Festival, aka “Community Day”. He says that all the Hotel Del lights and holiday decorations are usually up by then. And there are also many free performances by local school children and other groups to enjoy. 

  • Dec. 7th
  • When: 3:30 PM thru the end of the fireworks show at night
  • Where? Throughout the entire hotel grounds
  • FREE for everyone
Photo courtesy of Hotel del Coronado.

Old St. Nick usually arrives in spectacular fashion. He’s been delivered by fire trucks, fancy old cars, and carriages. In 2021 he dropped into the festival with a parachute. He refused to comment on how he’d be arriving this year. Maybe I’ll finally see flying reindeer?

There are also many other fun activities happening that day. See The Del’s website HERE for the entire day’s schedule which is usually posted in mid-September. It includes:

  • Skating by the Sea
  • Frostbite Lounge
  • The holiday light show
  • Fireworks grand finale to Community Day 

And last on that list, but certainly not least…

Get Photos with Santa at Hotel del Coronado

Personal visits and photographs with Santa are a reservation-only activity that starts on Dec. 7th. You don’t have to be a kid, just be a child at heart to enjoy meeting St. Nick. But please don’t pull on his beard, it’s real. 

Hotel del Coronado Santa with helpful elf.
Photo courtesy of Mike Stilwell.

Santa loves your pets too. He told me that he’s taken photos with dogs, cats, parrots, and even an iguana once. 

  • Dec 7, 9, 10, 16, 17, 22, 23, 24
  • 3:00 PM to 8:00 PM 
  • Where? On the Beachfront Paseo Lawn
  • A 3-minute walk from the parking lot 
  • $40

3 Tips for the Jolliest Santa Visits

I got these hints on how to get the best photos with Santa directly from Ol’ St. Nick himself.

First, make your photo reservations early. This event sells out every year. That’s because this is a holiday tradition for many locals who have been doing this for decades. Santa says that he regularly recognizes grown-up kids who are now bringing their kids to meet him.

Second, don’t build up the experience beforehand with your child. Kids can easily get too excited. From there it’s just a short stop to stress city and a total meltdown.

Third, take a bathroom break before your Santa visit. You may be standing in line for more than 30 minutes before your photos. 

There are restrooms inside the hotel by the Carousel Room on the ground floor of the hotel. Head for the left side of the round tower section of the hotel from the Paseo lawn. Once you get inside you’ll see the bathrooms on your left just before the hotel shops. 

What if you can’t get a reservation? Santa told me that he sometimes takes a break and walks around the courtyard to stretch his legs. If you ask politely you may be able to get just one photo with him. Be considerate. He’s likely been there for hours, and he may be on an urgent trip to the ‘little elves’ room’.

If you see Santa on a rocking chair on The Del’s front porch, it’s not a dummy. He’s the real deal. Don’t poke him, just say, “Hi Santa!” Ask nicely and you may get a great photo with him.

Elf Deliveries – Gift Bags from Santa for the Kids

Imagine the wide-eyed surprise on your child’s face when they get a personalized gift bag from Santa delivered by one of his elves. Santa can spare his elves for this special delivery to hotel guests only on the following days:

  • Dec 9, 10, 16, 17, 23, 24 
  • Times: 6:00 PM, 6:30 PM, 7:00 PM, 7:30 PM and 8:00 PM
  • Where: Your hotel room at The Del
  • Cost: $75 per child

Reserve your Elf Deliveries at the hotel’s website starting in mid-September.

Click HERE for special room and package deals for SanDiegoing readers at Hotel del Coronado

Hotel del Coronado elf delivery bag held by Santa Claus.
Photo courtesy of Hotel del Coronado.

Each gift bag is printed with your child’s name. The gift sack’s front states that it was sent from the North Pole post office via reindeer express service with overnight delivery instructions. It’s stuffed with holiday goodies including a plush toy animal, a book signed by Santa, and sweet treats. 

Speaking of sweets, why not make your own along with some great memories?

Jingle Roast on the Beach at Hotel del Coronado

Gather around a roaring open fire and savor the warmth, light, and togetherness as you roast marshmallows to perfection. Jingle Roast is a 1-hour, reservations-only event that includes up to 10 guests per firepit, unlimited s’mores, and water.

Hotel del Coronado Jingle Roast - girl using her own beach stick to roast her marshmallow.
Hotel del Coronado Jingle Roast provides smooth, clean sticks for roasting your marshmallows. But someone just HAD to use beach driftwood!
  • Dec. 17th – 24th
  • Starting times: 5:30 or 7:30 PM
  • Duration: 1 hour
  • Where: Coronado Beach in front of Paseo Lawn
  • It took me 3 minutes to walk there from the parking lot elevators
  • $195 (see HERE for all prices and to make your reservations)

There are no outside food or beverages allowed. However, you can bring any treats or drinks that you’ve purchased at the hotel. Also, the extremely helpful attendants are very willing to bring you tasty edibles and libations for a little extra.

For a Hotel del Coronado holiday activity that’s more hands-on and creative, Santa suggests that you create a unique home decoration for the holidays. 

Decorating Gingerbread Houses at Hotel Del

Share unforgettable holiday memories with your family and invited friends as you decorate holiday Gingerbread houses at Hotel Del. The sometimes frustrating gingerbread house assembly is done for you by their chefs. You get to do the fun, creative decorating that will make it uniquely yours. 

Tell your own story with your gingerbread house. This is my adaptation of the original photograph at the Del’s website.

There’s an extensive Candy Bar full of festive decorations and holiday treats to decorate with. But you can also bring your favorites to add to your creation. 

  • Dec 17, 18, 22, 23, 24
  • 4:00 PM or 6:30 PM
  • Duration: 90 minutes
  • Where? Cornet Room
  • It takes me 3 minutes to walk there from the parking lot 
  • $65 per gingerbread house

Reservations will be available beginning in mid-September. Go to the hotel’s website HERE to reserve your time and the number of houses you want to decorate.

How to Transport and Care for Your Gingerbread House

The Del chefs place your gingerbread house on a sturdy base so you can move it. Take your delicate creation home or to its final destination as soon as possible. During transport is when most damage occurs.

Do not schedule any activities after your gingerbread house reserved time. If your family wants to see the holiday light show, skate, or enjoy a Jingle Roast, do it BEFORE your decorating session. Less time means fewer opportunities for damaging accidents.

But what happens if your gingerbread house falls or is damaged?

How to Repair a Gingerbread House

You can easily fix your gingerbread house if decorations fall off or even if it’s dropped. Just ‘glue’ it together with more icing. Make your own using this royal icing recipe from 

You can also melt sugar and spread it on the back side of the gingerbread to cement pieces together. When it cools it will be edible but strong. 

For major repairs use supports like cardboard or styrofoam on the inside of the gingerbread house where they won’t be seen.

How to Make Your Gingerbread House Last

A gingerbread house makes a great Christmas/holidays tabletop or window decoration. It will last 3 to 4 weeks if refrigerated. If you don’t have room in your refrigerator, cover it with a plastic bag. Then store it out of the sunlight and away from moisture. 

To preserve your gingerbread house for future holidays, spray it with a craft varnish that works on wood, fabrics, paper mache, and other organic materials. Krylon Clear Varnish Coating in a satin finish works well. Give your gingerbread house a light spray. After it dries, put it in a plastic bag, then in a box. Store your house in a cool, dark place until needed. 

Next year, go back to the Hotel del Coronado and decorate another gingerbread house. Repeat annually. Soon you’ll have a spectacular gingerbread neighborhood.

Another annual event that Santa says will satisfy your sweet tooth is the…

Victorian Tea at Hotel del Coronado

Santa said that he personally hasn’t gone to Victorian Tea. But Mrs. Claus loves it. The annual tea features live music, finger sandwiches, sweets, and a variety of tea options. There’s also a children’s plate so that your young ladies and gentlemen can join in the festivities. 

Hotel del Coronado Victorian Tea in the Crown Room - young woman choosing a sweet treat.
  • Dec 15-18
  • Location: Crown Room
  • 3:30 minutes walking time from parking elevators

Reservation times and costs will be available HERE on the hotel’s website in mid-October.

Gilded age Gibson Girl costumes are not required. But if you’ve got one, by all means, wear it! More common at this event are ladies sporting fancy hats and a few wearing gloves.

Christmas Eve Buffet at The Hotel del Coronado

The Christmas Eve Buffet at Hotel del Coronado is a culinary experience that always sells out quickly. The glittering decorations in the Crown and Coronet rooms highlight the lavish food spread that features succulent beef, ham, and potatoes, among other all-time holiday favorites. 

Santa said that he’s always been tempted by this feast. But, he’s a bit busy at that time.

Hotel del Coronado Christmas Eve Buffet with roast turkey

Do you want to eat Christmas dinner with a view of snow falling outside? Get a late reservation as close to 6:00 PM as possible. The Del’s spectacular holiday light shows start at 5:00 PM on Founders Lawn just outside the dining room windows. During the finale, snow flurries fall from the branches of the huge lighted pine trees. The show repeats every 30 minutes.

  • Dec. 24
  • Duration: Noon – 6:00 PM
  • Location: Crown and Coronet Rooms
  • 3:30 minutes walking time from the parking elevators
  • Prices start at $185 for hotel guests and early registrants. There are special rates for various aged children. 

See HERE for all prices and to register starting in mid-October. The listed prices do not include taxes, set gratuity, and a historic preservation fund charge. See the registration page for more details.

Christmas Day Brunch at Hotel del Coronado

The Christmas Day Brunch at The Del is gastronomic nirvana. It’s an extravagant buffet that includes your favorite holiday foods like traditional turkey, beef, ham, potatoes, and succulent vegetables. The chefs always come up with some unexpected, but tasty, gourmet surprises.  And of course, they have spectacular desserts with a delicious selection of pies. 

Don’t expect to see Santa there. He’s recovering from a VERY long night. But a few of his elves always make reservations for themselves. Don’t strain your eyes looking for them, they’re in disguise.

  • Dec. 25
  • Duration: 9:30 AM – 3:30 PM
  • Location: Crown and Coronet Rooms
  • 3:30 minutes walking time from the parking elevators
  • Prices start at $185 for hotel guests and early registrants. There are special rates for various aged children. 

See HERE for all prices and registration starting in mid-October. The listed prices do not include taxes, set gratuity, and a historic preservation fund charge. See the registration page for more details.

Easier Christmas Transportation & Parking at Hotel Del 

Take a rideshare service to save parking time. 

If you do drive, there’s plenty of parking in their new secure, underground parking structure off RH Dana Place road. The handy elevators take you to a location very close to the hotel’s north entrance. Check their website HERE for up-to-date parking rates. 

You’ll pay for free parking with your time.

There is free parking nearby. But add at least 30 minutes to your travel time for finding a spot and extra walking. Beach parking is always scarce. 

Look for spots on Ocean Blvd between Isabella and Flora Avenues, and also on nearby residential streets. If you park on Ocean Blvd. you’ll enjoy views of the Coronado Beach dunes as you stroll to your event.

Click HERE for special room and package deals for SanDiegoing readers at Hotel del Coronado

Santa’s Final Tip for Enjoying The Del at The Holidays

Santa’s last bit of advice to anyone visiting this iconic hotel is, “Don’t rush through the Hotel Del Coronado during the holidays. Relax and enjoy the lights and magic of the season with those you love.” 

Nancy Ulrich

I'm nuts...about animals, polymer clay, mixed media art & husband Bob. Happily planted in San Diego among good friends, family that I would have chosen if given the choice and optimism for a bountiful future for us all.

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