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Garden of Lights at San Diego Botanic Garden

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Nature and simple pleasures are the focus of Garden of Lights, as are all things at the San Diego Botanic Garden. I was expecting twinkling lights, holiday treats, live music, and maybe a craft project or two…which is exactly what I found. But somehow, it exceeded my expectations.

Garden of Lights at San Diego Botanic Garden

Over 100,000 lights make San Diego Botanic Garden sparkle during the holidays

Twinkling Lights
Each December over 100,000 lights make the already beautiful San Diego Botanic Garden sparkle. What is it about a bunch of Christmas lights that get us so excited? It’s the 21st century, yet there is something undeniably magical about seeing a bunch of lights strung up for the holidays. As a San Diego Botanic Garden member, I’ve visited these grounds more times than I can count but the garden had a special feel during our recent first Garden of Lights visit.

Roasting marshmallows at San Diego Botanic Garden

Keep warm by roasting marshmallows at Garden of Lights

Special Treats
Our first stop? The Coffee Hut for cozy servings of hot cider. Also available for purchase: hot cocoa, coffee, and other beverages and snacks like the cold apple juice and bag of Cheetos my three-year-old requested. (I obliged, it is the holidays after all!)

If you’re looking for something more substantial, you can buy fast Mexican food from El Pollo Loco at the Lawn House Garden. If you’d like an adult beverage, the Lawn House is the place to be. Go here to purchase little cups of mulled wine. I’d never had mulled wine before and gave it a shot; it was okay but tasted medicinal after my cinnamon-laced apple cider. There are tables surrounded with heat lamps in this area as well.

For the best treat of all, look for the firepit to roast marshmallows on the Main Gazebo Lawn. For $3 you can purchase s’mores packs with graham crackers and chocolate but the marshmallows are free. There’s something so neighborly and warm about gathering around a roaring fire to toast up some sugary white puffs.

Children singing at Garden of Lights

The River Rim Children’s Choir sang Christmas carols the night of our visit

Live Music
While spinning your marshmallow on a wooden skewer, you will be serenaded by the sounds of some live holiday music. Each night a different group performs, offering up holiday Cuban, Klezmer, Celtic music, and more.

Santa Claus
What Christmastime event would be complete without a visit from Santa Claus? Photos with the jolly old elf (on the Main Gazebo Lawn) are just $3 apiece at this event.

Crafts at San Diego Botanic Garden holiday festival

My daughter crafting a puppy ornament

Easy Crafts
At no extra charge, sweet volunteers patiently assist children in making crafts like puppy or kitty ornaments and candycane pencils in the Ecke Building. It costs an extra buck to make a spin-art, if you’re so inclined.

Nutcracker Collection at San Diego Botanic Garden Christmas event

Over 50 Nutcrackers on display

Nutcracker Collection
While kids create their crafts, parents can take a peek at a collection of over 50 Nutcrackers on display in the Ecke Building. (Simple pleasures, people!)

Snow sledding at San Diego Botanic Garden of Lights

Kids from SoCal and beyond get a kick out of sledding on real snow at this San Diego event

Real Snow
The piece de resistence for beach-going San Diegans like my children is the SNOW in the Eucalyptus Grove. There’s a wee area where kids can waddle around and lob snowballs at their parents. If you’ve got gloves or mittens, bring ’em! While the air temperature may not be too cold, the snow will chill children’s hands. There’s even a small hill for sledding, a joyous treat for us Southern California folks!

There is nothing over-the-top at Garden of Lights. It’s pure, simple holiday fun. And I purely, simply love it.

Garden of Lights at San Diego Botanic Garden admission: members $6; non-members: adults $12; seniors, active military, and students $8. All children ages 3-12, $4. Most activities are free, besides those for which a cost is listed above.

What is your favorite simple holiday event? Let us know in the comments!

A Note from The Travel Mama: My family and I are annual members of the San Diego Botanic Garden but we received complimentary media passes to experience the Garden of Lights.

About Colleen Lanin

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show,, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

  1. I’m a big fan of the Zoolights that go on at the zoos all over the place, but you could talk me in to the Botanical Gardens just based on them having smores. That’s enough to get my kids to go anywhere.
    You can keep the snow though. I’m tired of shoveling.

  2. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

    Steve – Thankfully they don’t make you shovel the snow at San Diego Botanic Garden! 😉

  3. We loved this place when we visited this summer. I imagine it must be one sweet spot to celebrate the season.

  4. They really did a nice job. I think you capture the experience perfectly in your post…the place is simple, nothing over the top, and just what the doctor ordered.

  5. It looks like great fun! I love how excited kids (and grownups) get about snow in places where it isn’t cold enough for the real thing. Here we get tired of it pretty quick!

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