Drive-through holiday lights return to Del Mar Fairgrounds

Holiday of Lights ran at the Del Mar Fairgrounds from 1995-2012.
Guests pass through a tunnel of lights at Holiday of Light, which was held annually at the Del Mar Fairgrounds until 2012. A new drive-through holiday lighting event will begin at the fairgrounds on Dec. 5.
(The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Eight years after Holiday of Lights concluded its 18-year run, a new, pandemic-friendly show will open Dec. 5


After an eight-year absence, a drive-through holiday lights and music experience will return to the Del Mar Fairgrounds on Dec. 5.

Holidays in Your Car will feature a 1.5-mile drive-by display of more than 1 million LED lights, holograms, projection mapping, a laser light show, scenery up to 40 feet tall and holiday music.

Holidays in Your Car is being produced by CBF Productions, the same company that has been presenting pandemic-friendly, drive-in Concerts in Your Car in the fairgrounds’ main parking lot since September. CBF is an events producer that has presented music, food and wine festivals in Southern California over the past 12 years. This is the first year the company has presented Holidays in Your Car.

A promotional image for Holidays in Your Car.
A promotional image for “Holidays in Your Car,” a new drive-through holiday display at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, opening Dec. 5.
(Courtesy photo)

Holidays in Your Car may conjure up fond memories for San Diegans who loved Holiday of Lights, a similar drive-through experience that was held at the fairgrounds every holiday season from 1995 to 2012. Up to 20,000 cars with a combined 78,000 or more spectators would drive around the perimeter of the main racetrack to admire up to 400 lighted and animated displays each holiday season.

The fairgrounds canceled Holiday of Lights in 2013 to make room for a $5 million racetrack-widening project that was undertaken to accommodate the fall horse-racing season that was inaugurated in November 2014. This year’s horse-racing meets are still taking place, but because of social distancing orders, no spectators are allowed onsite.

Holiday of Lights fans hoping to see some of the more famous elements from the old display — like the tunnel of lights, the giant castle and the “elves playing volleyball” tableau — will be disappointed. Most of those items were retired, sold, tossed or given away to other area venues many years ago.

But in their place, Concerts in Your Car founder and producer Vincenzo Giammanco is promising a state-of-the-art visitor experience.

“When we talked about bringing in a light activation, the fairgrounds did inform us there used to be a Holiday of Lights and the word ‘beloved’ was used about a million times,” he said. “We want to make this a great community event. When we do something, we want to blow people’s minds.”

Giammanco said the queue for Holidays in Your Car will begin in the fairgrounds’ main parking lot at 2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd. Then it will wind through the fairgrounds buildings in a serpentine fashion. Cars will be instructed to drive through at 3 to 5 miles per hour, which would cover the 1.5-mile path in 18 to 30 minutes.

“It’s all about discovery,” he said. “It will be like a lazy river meets a discovery of holiday excitement.”

The light show was created by CBF to pair with two live holiday programs that are being presented in December in the Concerts in Your Car series at Del Mar. Although the dates have not been announced, there will be a drive-in performance of San Diego Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” and a stage musical called “Santa Saves Christmas” on the parking lot stage.

Tickets to Holidays in Your Car, sold only online and in advance, are $49 for a car with up to four passengers and $64 for a vehicle with five or more passengers, limited to the number of seatbelts in the vehicle. Timed ticket entry will be limited to a 45-minute window between 5 and 9 p.m. on weekdays and 5 and 10 p.m. weekends, Dec. 5 through Jan. 2.

If Holidays in Your Car is anywhere near as successful as the fairgrounds’ drive-through version of its haunted attraction Scream Zone last month, tickets are likely to go fast. Scream Zone sold out every single timed slot for that monthlong attraction, in some cases up to two weeks in advance.

For details, visit

— Pam Kragen is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune