Hotel del_Coronado_holiday_lights_front_view_courtesy_Hotel_de_CoronadoHoliday parades, festivals, migration of California gray whales along the coast; this and lots more beckon to vacationing families during the winter. A wealth of free, fun and festive experiences are available for road tripping families.

Vacationing families can escape overcast skies and the wintry cold back home for San Diego’s brilliant sunshine and temperate climate and they can enjoy diverse wintertime experiences, many of which are free.

Here are suggestions for free activities and events, all sure to capture the imagination and lift the spirits of visiting families to San Diego during the upcoming winter months.

Whale watch from the shores and cliffs of Point Loma, as California gray whales migrate south to the warm water breeding grounds off the coast of Baja, California. Spectators can catch a spectacular show during December through April when these majestic mammals pass through the waters off San Diego’s coastline.

Enjoy free organ concerts at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park beginning at 2 p.m. each Sunday. The Organ Pavilion features the world’s largest outdoor pipe organ, where organists resound holiday favorites, waltzes and show tunes from the organ’s monstrous 32-foot lead alloy pipes.

Drive to the mountain town of Julian for a warm mug of hot apple cider and a delicious slice of Julian’s legendary homemade apple pie.
On Saturdays, stroll through the quaint neighborhood streets and enjoy the sounds of wandering Christmas carolers and a living nativity scene.

8M 12_Balboa_Park_December_Nights_courtesy_JOanne_DiBonaTake a walk around Balboa Park and discover its beautiful architecture. Take advantage of the park’s variety of free offerings, including touring its spectacular gardens. Be sure not to miss the “Whoville” decorations in the plaza outside of The Old Globe theatre, which are on display November 19 – December 31, to coincide with the theatre’s annual holiday production of Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!”

Take a walk along one of San Diego’s 70 miles of beaches, all free and open to the public, and explore the tide pools in Point Loma, Ocean Beach and La Jolla when the tide is low to see some of the magnificent creatures of the sea.

Take a drive to the top of Mt. Soledad in La Jolla for a panoramic view of the city all spruced up in holiday decoration. Along the way, enjoy at the beautifully decorated homes in this exclusive community.

Drive to the 600,000-acre Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in San Diego’s East County to marvel at wildlife and a kaleidoscope of colorful flowers amidst the desert warmth. Anza-Borrego is located just two hours from San Diego via Highway 78 and Interstate 8.

8K8HolidayBowlParade courtesy_POrt_of_San_DiegoGaze up at the massive balloons during the Big Bay Balloon Parade, the country’s largest balloon parade, on December 28. Floats, balloons and marching bands are just some of the offerings in this colorful holiday parade along San Diego Bay in downtown San Diego.

Enjoy the twinkling waters of San Diego Bay and more than 100 private boats decorated with holiday lights for the 40th Annual Port of San Diego Parade of Lights on December 18. Great views are available on land from Shelter Island, Harbor Island, the Embarcadero, Seaport Village, Marina Park and Coronado’s Ferry Landing.

Experience a white Christmas in San Diego after making the scenic, one-hour drive to the top of Mount Laguna in San Diego’s rustic East County. Sled down mountain slopes, build snowmen and have snowball fights (weather conditions permitting).

Rock out at the Poinsettia Bowl Battle of the Bands in the Gaslamp Quarter on December 19. Held two days prior to the annual Poinsettia Bowl, which is played in San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium, bands representing the two Bowl football teams line up at opposite ends of Fifth Avenue in downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter and face-off in an old fashion battle of the bands.

Family Holiday Happiness Travel is calling in San Diego. For more information on San Diego offerings, including exciting vacation packages and valuable coupons for attractions, restaurants and more, visit the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau’s Web site.

In San Diego, visit the International Visitor Information Center, located along the Embarcadero at the corner of West Broadway and Harbor Drive in downtown; the La Jolla Visitor Center, located at the corner of Herschel Avenue and Prospect Street in La Jolla; or the California Welcome Center, located at the Viejas Outlet Center in Alpine.

Photo credits (in order of appearance): Hotel de Coronado, Joanne DiBona, Port of San Diego