What to Do on Your Vacation this Christmas in San Luis Obispo 2023

December 6, 2023

Spend the most wonderful time of the year in the happiest place in America — San Luis Obispo! There are plenty of things to do this Christmas in SLO, so whether you’re looking for some family fun or just want to soak up some of that Christmas magic, there’s something for everyone.


Here are our top picks for the best Christmas events in San Luis Obispo this season:

47th Annual SLO Holiday Parade

How to get here – 5 minutes away from Sands Inn Suites

Kickstart the holidays on December 1, and join downtown SLO’s 47th annual holiday parade. Themed “Out of This World!”, get ready and settled by 7pm to watch this two-hour event featuring beautiful floats, marching bands, dancers, and more. With nearly 90 float entries participating in the parade, it will be the most exciting yet! 

The San Luis Obispo Christmas event attracts thousands of spectators each year, so carpooling, walking, and biking to the event is highly encouraged. There is a free bike parking valet at Mission Park. All three car parks will be open to the public. There will be porta-potties available along with local businesses that have restrooms available for the public. Help out SLO’s local economy and buy from restaurants and cafes in the neighborhood. For more information about parade street closures, click here.

Lights, Sights, and Santa at the Holiday Plaza

Santa's House at the Holiday Plaza

How to get there – 5 minutes away from Sands Inn Suites

Celebrate Christmas in SLO and head downtown to Mission Plaza for one of the best displays of Christmas lights in San Luis Obispo at the Holiday Plaza. There will also be a carousel, photo ops, light tunnels, musical light shows, and a plethora of warm, seasonal beverages and food!

Bring your kids, godchildren, or grandchildren for a meet and greet with Santa at the Holiday Plaza. Or come alone and enjoy the holiday spirit filling the cool winter air. Take delightful photos on his front lawn, get fun holiday photo packages, and get free gift bags. Children can even send Santa letters by dropping them off in his mailbox on his front lawn. They can expect a handwritten response from Santa too!

Morro Bay Lighted Boat Parade

How to get there – 19 minutes from Sands Inns & Suites

Get ready to be amazed by Morro Bay’s fishing and yachting community as they parade down the waterways along the Embarcadero in their beautifully lit boats during the city’s annual Lighted Boat Parade on December 2, 2023 from 6pm to 8pm. Morro Bay goes all out for the holidays, honoring both the season and the city’s thriving maritime heritage with dazzling lights and holiday cheers.

You can also visit Santa at his home in Morro Bay on December 1, 2, 3, 9, 10, 16, 2023 at the Giant Chess Board at the Embarcadero and get a cup of hot chocolate or coffee along with some cookies.

Christmas Dinner at Madonna Inn

How to get there – 4 minutes from Sands Inns & Suites

A lovely Christmas Eve dinner at home with the family is nice, but do it differently this year and book a delightful feast at Madonna Inn instead. All your favorite holiday dishes without having to lift a finger at a beautifully decorated restaurant. Christmas Eve dinner will be on December 24th from 3pm to 10pm, and the Christmas Day feast is on December 25th from 12pm to 10pm. For reservations, give them a call at (805) 784-2469. You may also check Madona Inn’s full Christmas Eve and Christmas Day menus on their website. 

Holiday Magic At The Charles Paddock Zoo

Holiday Magic At The Charles Paddock Zoo

How to get here – 18 minutes from Sands Inn and Suites

The animals at Charles Paddock Zoo are getting Christmas presents and you can help deliver them to the animals on December 16, starting 10am to 1pm. All decked out for the holidays. the zoo will also be holding special activities for the whole family, including a strolling magician with sleight-of-hand tricks. The zoo is home to over 300 animals, come watch them tear into their gifts and enjoy their special holiday presents.

Cambria Christmas Market

How to get here – 37 minutes from Sands Inn and Suites

Christmas in SLO won’t be complete without dropping by the annual Cambria Christmas Market. Although it’s a bit of a drive from downtown, you just can’t miss it! Enjoy the sights and sounds of the holiday season with over 2 million lights, an artisan vendors market, train rides, live music, food and drink, fire pits, and more at the Cambria Christmas Market.

Nature Nights at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

For more Christmas light shows in SLO, visit the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden for Nature Nights, a new immersive outdoor holiday light, art, and music experience set amidst 8 acres of the beautiful Garden. Every Friday and Saturday evening from November 17 through December 30, guests can enjoy live music performances, light art installations, local food and drink, and get into the holiday spirit surrounded by nature.

Atascadero Light Up The Downtown, First Friday Holiday Sip & Shop, and Winter Wonderland

Head to the City of Atascadero for this festive holiday event on December 1st. The merrymaking kicks off at 5:30 PM in the festively decorated Sunken Gardens before spilling out into the Downtown area. Here folks can enjoy an array of complimentary seasonal entertainments like Santa visits and hayrides alongside wine and craft beer tastings at local shops. 

On December 8, watch as Atascadero transforms Sunken Gardens and its vibrant downtown into a magical snowy paradise with over 75 tons of snow. With a snow slide, bungee jumps, Santa and Mrs. Claus visits, and more, this event promises a merry time for all. Don’t forget to indulge in shopping and savory treats from over 50 vendors. This festive spectacle is free for all to attend!

Holiday at the Farmsteads

The first annual Holiday at the Farmsteads kicks off on December 2, 2023, from 3pm to 6pm. This delightful event, presented by ONX Wines, invites you to bask in the yuletide glow and experience the holiday magic at the Farmsteads.

Usher in the season with festive food pairings, and sip on warming mulled wine or cocoa as you stroll through the beautifully decorated farm. The event is open to all, and entry is free of charge. In the spirit of giving, don’t forget to bring a toy for the drive!

Holiday Fairs and Markets in SLO

Instead of battling crowds at the mall, support local business and artisans instead! Visit these local holiday markets and fairs to find unique, handmade gifts while celebrating the spirit of the season and immersing yourself in SLO’s community spirit

Handcrafted for the Holidays 

When: November 3 – December 30, 2023
Where: Studios on the Park, Paso Robles
This annual showcase features fine crafts and handmade items from local artisans, including hand-painted clothing, woodwork, jewelry, chocolate, and more. Support small businesses while finding unique gifts for everyone on your list. 

43rd Annual Central Coast Craft Fair 

When: November 24-25, 2023
Where: 801 Grand Avenue, San Luis Obispo 
Browse works from 100% handmade vendors at this juried fair, including quilts, jewelry, art, baked goods, and more. Meet artists and pick up one-of-a-kind treasures for holiday giving while supporting a great cause, the Central Coast Quilts Of Valor Foundation.

Makers at the Market

When: December 2-3, 2023
Where: SLO Public Market, San Luis Obispo
Enjoy live music and festive atmosphere while shopping directly from local artisans selling olive oils, treats, candles, leather goods, photography and more. Kids can enjoy workshops and activities too.

Sip & Shop Holiday Market

When: December 2, 2023

Where: Geneseo Inn, Paso Robles

A festive shopping experience amidst the vineyards, featuring local makers and their beautiful products. Enjoy a glass of wine in hand as you shop for locally made goodies in the holiday-decorated Barrel Room.

Holiday Shows and Concerts in SLO

Nothing gets you into the festive spirit quite like enjoying some holiday shows and concerts during the most wonderful time of the year! Here are a few of the shows and concerts happening in San Luis Obispo this season:


A Christmas Story

When: November 17 to  December 23, 2023, at 7pm on Wednesday to Saturday and at 2pm on Saturday and Sunday

Where: SLO Repertory Theatre

Join SLOcals in this beloved holiday tradition. Written by Philip Grecian, the show is an adaptation of the motion picture and the book “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash” by Jean Shepherd. 


SLO Winds | Deck the Halls With Harmony!

When: December 3

Where: Harold J. Miossi Cultural and Performing Arts Center 

A festive holiday concert featuring the brilliant brass sections and the delightful vocals of Inga Swearingen—perfect for a family sing-along.


Civic Ballet of SLO Presents The Nutcracker

When: December 8-9th

Where: Harold M. Miossi Hall

For over 40 years, this production has been a beloved local tradition. Under the direction of Lori Lee Silvaggio, over 40 professional dancers from the Civic Ballet of San Luis Obispo perform this cherished Christmas story accompanied by the OperaSLO Grand Orchestra. 



When: December 10

Where: Clark Center for the Performing Arts, Arroyo Grande

Flex Performing Arts presents this original dance and theatre show following Imogen’s journey to help her mother rediscover her gift for storytelling.


NOCHEBUENA: A Christmas Spectacular

When: December 13

Where: Performing Arts Center, SLO

Celebrate Mexico’s Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) traditions with performances from Ballet Folklorico de Los Angeles and Mariachi Garibaldi in this fascinating cultural experience.


Ballet Theatre San Luis Obispo Presents: The Snow Queen

When: December 15-16, 7:00pm to 9:00pm 

Where: Performing Arts Center, SLO

Follow Gerda on her journey to rescue her friend Kay from the evil Snow Queen in this Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy tale.


Jane Lynch “A Swingin’ Little Christmas”

When: December 17 at 7:30pm

Where: Cal Poly Arts

Emmy winner Jane Lynch and friends put a jazz twist on your favorite Christmas carols in this holiday musical celebration.


Jake Shimaburkuro: Christmas in Hawai’i

When: December 19 at 7:30pm 

Where: Cal Poly Arts

Ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro transforms beloved carols into Hawaiian delights on this holiday concert.


An Irish Christmas

When: December 22 at 7:00pm

Where: Clark Center for the Performing Arts, Arroyo Grande

Traditional Irish dancing and music take center stage alongside lively carols in this cultural Christmas experience celebrating the traditions of Ireland.


The Sound of Christmas Sing-Along

When: December 23 at 2:00pm

Where: Clark Center for the Performing Arts, Arroyo Grande

Join an orchestra and choir in singing your favorite holiday tunes at this festive afternoon sing-along event.


Opera San Luis Obispo: New Year’s Eve on Broadway

When: December 31 at 7:00pm

Where: Performing Arts Center, SLO

Bid farewell to the year with a night of Broadway hits and a special tribute to the timeless music of Stephen Sondheim.



After a beautiful day of enjoying the refreshing winter weather and participating in the many San Luis Obispo Christmas events and activities, come home to a warm, comfortable bed at the end of the day at Sands Inn and Suites. Only a 5-minute walk away from downtown, you can go to and fro the many holiday events and the long list of things to do in SLO with ease. You can be in the middle of the lively holiday parade and find yourself under your sheets in 5 minutes!


Sands Inn & Suites offers a complimentary fitness center, parking, and WiFi. The hotel is pet-friendly and ADA-inclusive, with accommodations in their ADA Two Queen Room. It also has a heated outdoor pool and a flexible meeting place. Make a reservation by calling (800) 441-4657 or book directly online.


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