It's always party time in San Diego

San Diego has its own February Mardi Gras celebration (EnneBi Communications)

Life’s a beach in San Diego — but surf, sand, and Shamu aren’t all this Southern California city has to offer.

With a diverse lineup of fun (and often free) festivals that stretch from late fall to winter, San Diego makes for a quirky cultural destination as well as a prime place for a warm-weather getaway.

Holiday fun
If you plan to visit San Diego in December, a selection of holiday-themed activities will get you in the spirit.

Visit the colorful Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade (Dec. 13), where plenty of furry friends don Santa suits and promenade down Fourth Avenue.

Fans of blues and R&B should check out Blue Christmas on Dec. 10, where 10 venues play host to blues artists such as Eamon Carroll and the Shane Dwight Blues Band (performances are free).

On Dec. 13 and 20, don’t miss the “Parade of Lights,” where more than 100 boats decked out with twinkling lights sail the bay, followed by a fireworks show.

Partying in San Diego
Samba lovers may feel like they’re at San Diego’s version of Carnival on Feb. 13 and 14. Held at 4th&B nightclub (345 B St.; 619-231-4343)‎, the 18th annual San Diego Brazil Carnival offers performances of the Brazilian martial arts-dance form capoeira and non-stop samba and marcha music — along with strong caipirinhas (the national drink) and outrageous costumes.

But the partying doesn’t stop there. On Feb. 16, San Diegans celebrate Mardi Gras in the historic Gaslamp Quarter — hosting the largest festival this side of New Orleans with two parades, an outdoor block party and live music acts. In the LGBT-friendly Hillcrest neighborhood, another street party creates a festive scene with food, beer, and plenty of bead-sporting drag queens.

To eat
In addition to enjoying good music and gorgeous beaches, “San Diegans love to eat,” said resident foodie Calvin Bender. “and Restaurant Week is the best way to check out what’s cooking,” he added.

During Restaurant Week in January (, Jan. 17-22), 180 of the area’s top restaurants offer three-course prix-fixe menus for $20, $30 or $40 per person.

Any time of year, it’s worth going for the fresh fish tacos at San Diego’s oldest bar, the Waterfront (2044 Kettner Blvd; 619-232-9656); or indulge in tender gnocchi and thin crust pizza at Cucina Urbana (505 Laurel St; 619-239-2222), a new Italian hot spot in Bankers Hill, where bottles of wine go for retail prices and customers can take whatever vino they can’t finish to go.

To stay
The historic, elegant US Grant hotel (326 Broadway; 619-232-3121) and modern, Asian-inspired Sé San Diego (1047 Fifth Ave; 619-515-3000) offer luxurious digs in the downtown area. Traveling with pets? Both of these hotels offer plush beds for pooches and water bowls, while the new, pet-friendly Hotel Indigo (509 Ninth Ave.; 619-727-4000) hosts “Canine Cocktails” on Tuesdays from 5-8pm at its ninth-floor lounge.


Tags: San Diego , travel

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