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Snow-tubing Santa at Big Bear Lake.
Visit Santa at Big Bear Snow Play near Big Bear Village in the San Bernardino Mountains. Free visits and photos. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, Snow Play makes the white stuff. Courtesy photo
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Who says Southern California doesn’t have winter holiday fun?

Who says Southern California doesn’t have fun winter holiday activities?

Drive between 45 minutes and two hours and you’ve got snow in the mountains, spectacular poinsettia displays, whales cruising off the coast, snow-tubing Santas and holiday fun with the fishes. Here are the details:

Poinsettias in the Park, San Diego

Bring your family, friends and definitely your camera to the Botanical Building in Balboa Park to see this historic edifice filled to the brim with spectacular poinsettias. (It’s a great backdrop for that family photo.) This is the 35th year for the Annual Holiday Poinsettia Display and it is dedicated to the memory of Ansen Caires, former City of San Diego Nursery Supervisor.

The free exhibit runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Sunday through Dec. 31. Closed Thursdays. The display is presented by Forever Balboa Park, the City of San Diego Parks and Recreation Department, and the Rodger & Mary Lindsay Poinsettia Fund at The San Diego Foundation.  Note: The Botanical Building will close in January for long-needed renovations.

Poinsettia display at Balboa Park
This year marks the 35th Annual Holiday Poinsettia Display in the Balboa Park Botanical Building. The free exhibit runs 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Sunday through Dec. 31. Closed Thursdays. Courtesy photo

Seas ‘n’ Greetings

The magic of the holidays meets the magic of the underwater world at Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. Seas ‘n’ Greetings is a celebration with activities for all ages that runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Dec. 31. (Closed Christmas and New Year’s Day.) The aquarium has been transformed into a winter wonderland. There are photo opportunities throughout, prizes for the little visitors, an interactive scavenger hunt and holiday music.

On Dec. 21, the aquarium relaunches its popular Behind-the-Scenes Seahorse Tours. The hour-long private tour takes groups of up to six behind the scenes to check out seahorse babies, learn about the breeding program, and experience what it takes to care for these unique fish — including an opportunity to feed them.

Big Bear Lake

“Weather” or not, Big Bear Snow Play, three miles east of Big Bear Village in San Bernardino County, always has plenty of the white stuff to make snow-tubing fun and thrilling for the whole family. Even Santa will make a few runs December 18, and also be available in the park’s lodge for visits and photos (free) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Entry to Snow Play is $40 and includes inner tubes and rides on the Magic Carpet lift, which means no uphill trek.

Harbor Lights and Whales Ahoy

Dana Point Harbor celebrates the season with 700,000 lights illuminating the area; the display is free and open to all. Sidewalks and walkways are accessible. Want to see the harbor and the light show from the water? Bundle up and hop aboard a sightseeing boat operated by Dana Wharf Whale Watching and Sportfishing, which offers special one-hour harbor cruises with holiday music. Adults $25; children ages 3-12 – $15; ages 2 and under – $5. Check the website for the schedule.

December also is the start of the annual gray whale migration. The leviathans make the trek each year from Arctic waters to the warm waters of Baja California from December through the end of March, giving Southern Californians a close look at some of nature’s largest animals. Dana Wharf offers whale-watching cruises, and during this month, kids ride free with two paid adults.

More “Hit the Road” columns here.

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