From the glistening snow-capped peaks of Lake Tahoe to the historic charm of Gold Rush towns, California transforms into a tapestry of holiday splendor during Christmas.

The state’s vast expanse offers a unique yuletide celebration, where one can bask in the sunny glow of beach towns adorned with festive lights or wrap up in a cozy blanket in a quaint mountain retreat.

As the chill of December descends, the air is filled with the scent of gingerbread and the sound of carols, inviting travelers and locals alike to partake in a Christmas festivity that is as varied as it is vibrant.

Join me on a journey through the 28 best places in California, where Christmas is not just a season but an experience.

From the iconic festivities in the heart of San Francisco to the hidden gems in the serenity of Yosemite National Park, each destination weaves its own holiday story.

Whether you’re drawn to the nostalgic allure of sledding down Lake Arrowhead or the modern-day fairy tale of Disneyland aglow with lights, California’s Christmas spirit is both a reflection of its storied past and an embrace of joyful present moments.

So, pack your bags, and don’t forget your sense of wonder—we’re about to embark on a magical Californian Christmas adventure that promises new memories, heartwarming traditions, and a mosaic of holiday cheer that spans from the seaside to the snowline.

For those eager to delve deeper into the festive celebrations of California, don’t miss these posts.

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Discover the magic of Christmas in California with 28 spectacular destinations! From snowy mountains to vibrant cities, find your perfect holiday spot 🎄✨ #California #Christmas #Travel Click To Tweet

Map of 28 Best Places to Spend Christmas in California

Snowy Mountain Retreats

Experience the magic of a white Christmas in California’s snowy mountain retreats.

These destinations offer a winter wonderland of sparkling snow, cozy fireside moments, and exhilarating outdoor adventures.

From skiing down pristine slopes to enjoying the serene beauty of snow-covered landscapes, a mountain getaway is perfect for those seeking a traditional and enchanting holiday season

1. Lake Tahoe: A Winter Wonderland

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Nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains, Lake Tahoe is a vision of wintery perfection, making it one of the best places to experience a White Christmas.

The pristine snow-covered landscapes create a winter wonderland that beckons families to make lifelong memories.

Christmas in Lake Tahoe: Top Things To Do

Enjoy the holiday season with a variety of Christmas activities. From ice skating to sleigh rides, Tahoe offers a plethora of festive options.

  • Heavenly Holidays Family Festival (November 24 – December 31, 2023):

A festive celebration for all ages at Heavenly Village featuring daily tree lighting, ice sculptures, breakfast with Santa, Disney character meetings, and a grand New Year’s Eve celebration with fireworks and live music

  • Noel Nights at Northstar ( December 3 – December 17)

Experience the joy of Noel Nights at Northstar, a perfect après-ski destination for the whole family. Enjoy ice skating around the picturesque rink.

Kids will love roasting s’mores over a fire pit and getting their faces painted. Meanwhile, parents can unwind and relax with a craft beer or cocktail, embracing the festive ambiance

  • Heavenly’s Giant Ferris Wheel ( December 26 – December 31)

Experience breathtaking views of Tahoe’s winter wonderland from the Ferris wheel.

  • Ritz Carlton, Lake Tahoe Experiences

Gingerbread-Making Classes: Engage in the delightful art of gingerbread house crafting. Daily Live Music and Santa Visits: Enjoy the festive melodies and meet Santa. Special Celebrations: Book your spots for the Menorah Lighting Ceremony, Christmas and New Year’s Eve dinners, and a New Year’s Day brunch.

Where to Stay in Lake Tahoe

2. Mammoth Lakes: A Snow-Capped Christmas Paradise

Nestled in the Eastern Sierra, Mammoth Lakes is a winter wonderland, ideal for a Christmas filled with snowy adventures and scenic beauty.

Known for its stunning landscapes and outdoor activities, this destination offers a picture-perfect Christmas setting.

Christmas in Mammoth Lakes: Top Things To Do

  • Skiing and Snowboarding: As one of California’s premier ski destinations, Mammoth Mountain provides an exhilarating experience for skiers and snowboarders of all levels. The mountain’s extensive trails and parks become a playground for winter sports enthusiasts during the holiday season.
  • Scenic Gondola Rides: For breathtaking views of the snow-covered peaks, take a scenic gondola ride to the summit of Mammoth Mountain. At the top, you can enjoy panoramic views and maybe even catch a glimpse of the stunning Minarets.
  • Village at Mammoth: The heart of Mammoth Lakes’ festive activities, the Village at Mammoth is adorned with lights and decorations. It’s a hub for holiday shopping, dining, and seasonal events, including live music, tree lighting ceremonies, and visits from Santa Claus.
  • Snowshoeing and Cross-Country Skiing: Explore the quieter side of Mammoth Lakes with snowshoeing or cross-country skiing through serene forests and meadows. The Tamarack Cross Country Ski Center offers trails for all skill levels, surrounded by the beauty of the Sierra Nevada.
  • Hot Springs Soak: After a day in the snow, relax in one of the many natural hot springs around Mammoth Lakes. The geothermal waters provide a unique and soothing experience amidst the winter landscape.
  • Holiday Events and Festivities: Check out the local holiday events, including festive parades, Christmas markets, and special celebrations that bring the community and visitors together in a joyful and merry atmosphere.

Mammoth Lakes during Christmas is a blend of thrilling outdoor activities and cozy mountain charm.

Whether you’re hitting the slopes, enjoying the festive ambiance of the village, or simply relaxing in a hot spring, Mammoth Lakes offers a memorable and picturesque setting for a holiday getaway.

Where to Stay in Mammoth Lakes

3. Big Bear Lake: A Winter Wonderland in the Mountains

Big Bear Lake, nestled in the heart of the San Bernardino Mountains, is a picturesque destination for a quintessential winter holiday.

This charming mountain town transforms into a snowy paradise during Christmas, offering a cozy and festive retreat.

Christmas in Big Bear Lake: Top Things To Do

  • Skiing and Snowboarding at Big Bear Mountain Resort: For winter sports enthusiasts, Big Bear Mountain Resort is a dream come true. With slopes for all skill levels, the resort becomes a hub of skiing and snowboarding activity, set against a backdrop of stunning mountain scenery.
  • Village Holiday Decorations and Shopping: The Big Bear Lake Village is adorned with twinkling lights and holiday decorations, creating a festive ambiance perfect for holiday shopping and dining. Wander through the quaint streets, visit local shops, and enjoy seasonal treats at cozy cafes.
  • Snowshoeing and Snow Play: Explore the winter landscape of Big Bear Lake with snowshoeing adventures or enjoy snow play areas perfect for building snowmen or engaging in a friendly snowball fight.
  • Santa’s Village at SkyPark: A short drive from Big Bear Lake, SkyPark at Santa’s Village is a Christmas-themed adventure park offering a variety of activities, including ice skating, mountain biking, and festive entertainment. It’s a magical experience for families and visitors of all ages.
  • Holiday Boat Tours on Big Bear Lake: Take a holiday boat tour on Big Bear Lake to see the snow-capped mountains and forested shores from a different perspective. These tours often include holiday music and hot cocoa, adding to the festive experience.
  • Big Bear Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony: The annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Big Bear Village is a beloved tradition. The event includes live entertainment, a visit from Santa Claus, and the magical moment when the village lights up with holiday cheer.
  • New Year’s Eve Torchlight Parade: Ring in the New Year with the spectacular Torchlight Parade at Big Bear Mountain Resort, where skiers and snowboarders descend the slopes with torches in hand, creating a mesmerizing river of light.

Big Bear Lake during Christmas offers a blend of winter activities, festive events, and mountain charm.

Whether you’re hitting the slopes, exploring the village, or enjoying a serene moment by the lake, Big Bear Lake provides an idyllic setting for a memorable Christmas getaway.

Where to Stay in Big Bear Lake

4. Yosemite National Park: A Majestic Winter Escape

Yosemite National Park, renowned for its awe-inspiring natural beauty, offers a truly magical setting for Christmas.

During winter, the park is transformed into a serene wonderland, with its iconic cliffs and valleys blanketed in snow.

This majestic backdrop provides a unique and tranquil setting for a holiday experience unlike any other.

Christmas in Yosemite National Park: Top Things To Do

  • Winter Sports at Badger Pass Ski Area: Yosemite’s Badger Pass Ski Area is a haven for winter sports enthusiasts. It offers a range of activities from downhill skiing and snowboarding to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, all amidst the breathtaking scenery of Yosemite.
  • Ice Skating at Curry Village: The Curry Village ice skating rink is a Yosemite tradition, offering a chance to skate with a view of Half Dome and Glacier Point. The rink typically features a cozy fire pit nearby, perfect for warming up with hot cocoa.
  • Holiday Dining in the Park: Indulge in a festive meal at The Ahwahnee Dining Room, known for its stunning interior and exceptional cuisine. Their special holiday dinners provide a luxurious culinary experience in a grand setting.
  • Guided Winter Tours: Explore the park’s winter landscape with a guided tour. Ranger-led snowshoe walks are a popular way to learn about Yosemite’s winter ecology while experiencing the park’s quiet beauty.
  • Photography and Wildlife Watching: Yosemite’s winter landscape offers unique photographic opportunities, with snow-covered cliffs and frozen waterfalls. It’s also a great time for wildlife watching, as animals like deer and coyotes are more visible against the snowy backdrop.
  • The Bracebridge Dinner at The Ahwahnee: Experience the magic of The Bracebridge Dinner, a Yosemite holiday tradition. This theatrical banquet transforms The Ahwahnee into a 17th-century English manor for a feast of food, song, and mirth.
  • Stargazing: The clear winter nights in Yosemite are ideal for stargazing. The crisp mountain air provides spectacular views of the night sky, unimpeded by city lights, offering a peaceful end to a day of exploration.

Yosemite National Park during Christmas is a place of tranquil beauty and majestic winter landscapes.

It offers a unique holiday experience, combining outdoor adventure with festive traditions, making it an ideal destination for those seeking a serene yet awe-inspiring Christmas getaway.

Where to Stay in Yosemite National Park

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Coastal and Beachside Escapes

Nothing says Christmas in California like a Christmas tree on a beach

Celebrate the holidays with a unique twist at California’s coastal and beachside escapes. These destinations blend the festive cheer of Christmas with the relaxed ambiance of the sea.

Imagine strolling on sandy beaches under twinkling lights, enjoying mild winter weather, and experiencing holiday festivities with the soothing sound of ocean waves in the background.

A beachside Christmas is ideal for a serene yet joyous celebration

5. Monterey: Coastal Christmas Charm

A candlelit Christmas feast awaits in the rustic warmth of an adobe dining room, where history and holiday cheer meet in Monterey.

Monterey, a gem on California’s central coast, offers a magical Christmas experience with its stunning ocean views and quaint streets.

During the festive season, Monterey becomes a hub of holiday activities, embracing its coastal charm and historical significance.

Christmas in Monterey: Top Things To Do

  • Cannery Row Holiday Tree Lighting: Start the season with the Cannery Row Holiday Tree Lighting on November 24. The festivities include a free Red Engine Ride around Cannery Row, carolers, tree lighting, and a visit from Santa Claus in Steinbeck Plaza. Capture a memorable photo with Santa in this historic setting​​.
  • Christmas on the Wharf: From December 1 to December 24, experience the holiday splendor at Christmas on the Wharf. This event is marked by festive decorations, live musical and dance performances, and the perfect coastal backdrop for holiday photos​​​​.
  • Christmas in the Adobes: Step back in time on December 8-9 with Christmas in the Adobes. Wander through 15 historic adobes, meet staff and volunteers in period attire, and enjoy music and entertainment that bring the past to life​​.
  • Del Monte Shopping Center Christmas Tree Lighting: Kick off the holiday season on November 18 at the Del Monte Shopping Center. Join Santa & Mrs. Claus for the tree lighting and enjoy free refreshments in a family-friendly atmosphere​​.
  • Pacific Grove Christmas Tree Lighting and Parade of Lights: Join the festivities at Pacific Grove with the Christmas Tree Lighting on November 27 and the Holiday Parade of Lights on November 30. These events feature school bands, choirs, holiday floats, and dance teams, adding a unique sparkle to the season​​​​​​.
  • Downtown Monterey Tree Lighting Celebration: Don’t miss the traditional Community Christmas Tree Lighting in Downtown Monterey on December 1. Enjoy an evening of carols and candles on the lawn in front of historic Colton Hall​​.
  • Annual Stillwell’s Fun in the Park: For a day of family fun, head to Caledonia Park in Pacific Grove on December 2 for Stillwell’s Fun in the Park. Expect lots of wintry fun, including a visit from Santa, at this festive holiday party​​.

Monterey’s Christmas celebrations offer a blend of coastal beauty, historical charm, and family-friendly events, making it a perfect destination for those seeking a holiday experience with a difference.

Where to Stay in Monterey

6. Newport Beach: A Coastal Holiday Extravaganza

Newport Beach, with its stunning coastline and luxurious ambiance, transforms into a dazzling holiday destination during Christmas.

This Southern California gem is renowned for its festive spirit, combining the charm of a seaside town with upscale holiday events.

Christmas in Newport Beach: Top Things To Do

  • Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade: This world-famous boat parade is a highlight of the holiday season in Newport Beach. Watch beautifully decorated yachts, boats, kayaks, and canoes sail along the harbor, creating a mesmerizing display of lights and reflections on the water.
  • Ring of Lights: Accompanying the boat parade, the Ring of Lights competition sees waterfront homes, docks, and landscapes elaborately decorated, turning the harbor into a magical circle of lights. This spectacular sight is a must-see for visitors.
  • Fashion Island’s Holiday Festivities: Visit Fashion Island for upscale holiday shopping and festivities. The beautifully decorated outdoor shopping center hosts a towering Christmas tree, live entertainment, and a visit from Santa Claus.
  • Holiday Cruises: Experience the magic of the season from the water with a holiday-themed cruise. These cruises offer a unique perspective of the boat parade and Ring of Lights, along with festive food and drinks.
  • Corona del Mar’s Christmas Walk & Festival: This annual event in the charming village of Corona del Mar, part of Newport Beach, features live entertainment, food, prizes, and a visit from Santa, making it a fun-filled day for the whole family.
  • Balboa Island Holiday Home Walking Tour: Stroll around Balboa Island to see homes and docks decked out in their holiday best. The island exudes a quaint, small-town charm, with a festive atmosphere that is palpable throughout the neighborhood.
  • Winter Fest OC: For a fun-filled family experience, head to Winter Fest OC. This annual event features ice skating, a snow play area, carnival rides, and festive entertainment, creating a winter wonderland in the heart of Southern California.

Newport Beach during Christmas offers a perfect blend of seaside beauty and holiday cheer.

From the twinkling lights of the boat parade to the festive atmosphere in its neighborhoods and shopping areas, Newport Beach provides an unforgettable holiday experience.

Where to Stay in Newport Beach

7. Santa Monica: A Beachside Holiday Wonderland

Santa Monica, with its iconic pier and beautiful coastline, offers a unique holiday experience where the charm of a beach town meets festive cheer.

This vibrant city by the sea becomes a hub of holiday activities, blending the relaxed atmosphere of the beach with the excitement of the season.

Christmas in Santa Monica: Top Things To Do

  • Ice Skating at ICE at Santa Monica: Embrace the holiday spirit with a twist at ICE at Santa Monica, an outdoor ice-skating rink just blocks from the beach. Skating by the Pacific Ocean is a unique experience that combines winter fun with coastal charm.
  • Santa Monica Pier and Pacific Park: Visit the Santa Monica Pier and Pacific Park for festive fun with a view. The park and pier are adorned with holiday lights, offering a picturesque setting for family fun and seasonal photo ops.
  • Third Street Promenade Holiday Lights: Stroll down the Third Street Promenade, beautifully decorated with holiday lights and displays. This open-air shopping area is perfect for holiday shopping, dining, and enjoying street performers.
  • Montana Avenue Holiday Walk: Enjoy the Montana Avenue Holiday Walk, an annual event featuring local shops and restaurants. This charming street comes alive with festive lights, holiday treats, and special promotions, making it a delightful shopping experience.
  • Main Street Holiday Parties: Main Street in Santa Monica hosts festive holiday parties with live music, late-night shopping, and special events. The street’s eclectic mix of shops and eateries creates a lively and welcoming atmosphere.
  • Santa Monica Holiday Market: Explore the Santa Monica Holiday Market for unique gifts and artisanal goods. This market is a great place to find handcrafted items and enjoy the festive ambiance.
  • Menorah Lightings: Celebrate Hanukkah with menorah lightings in various locations around Santa Monica. These community gatherings are a testament to the city’s inclusive and diverse spirit during the holiday season.

Santa Monica offers a holiday experience that combines the laid-back vibe of a beachside community with the excitement of holiday festivities.

Whether you’re ice skating near the ocean, shopping under twinkling lights, or enjoying the festive atmosphere at the pier, Santa Monica provides a memorable and unique setting for a California Christmas.

Where to Stay in Santa Monica

8. Pismo Beach: A Classic California Christmas by the Sea

Pismo Beach’s Enchanting Christmas Tree Twinkling under the Stars! Photo by Amy Joseph

Pismo Beach, with its stunning coastline and classic beach town vibe, offers a delightful and laid-back setting for Christmas.

This charming Central Coast destination combines the beauty of the Pacific Ocean with festive holiday activities, making it an ideal spot for a relaxed and sunny Christmas in California.

Christmas in Pismo Beach: Top Things To Do

  • Holiday Harmony & Tree Lighting Ceremony: Kick off the holiday season with Pismo Beach’s annual Holiday Harmony event. Enjoy the festive tree lighting ceremony, along with music, snow, and activities for kids. This family-friendly event brings the community and visitors together in a cheerful celebration.
  • Beach Winter Walks: Take advantage of Pismo Beach’s mild winter weather with a stroll along the beach. The winter season offers a quieter and more serene beach experience, perfect for peaceful walks and sunset views.
  • Pismo Pier and Downtown Decorations: Visit the iconic Pismo Pier and downtown area, which are adorned with holiday lights and decorations. The festive ambiance, combined with ocean views, makes for a unique holiday experience.
  • Wine Tasting at Local Wineries: The Pismo Beach area is surrounded by renowned wineries, many of which offer special holiday tastings and events. Enjoy the region’s excellent wines while soaking in the festive cheer.
  • Shopping in Pismo Beach: Explore the shops in downtown Pismo Beach for unique holiday gifts. The area’s boutiques and outlets offer a variety of shopping options, from beachwear to artisanal products.
  • Clam Festival and Chowder Cook-Off: While not a Christmas event, Pismo Beach’s famous Clam Festival and Chowder Cook-Off, held earlier in the season, are worth mentioning for those visiting in the lead-up to the holidays.
  • New Year’s Eve Celebrations: Ring in the New Year with celebrations and events in and around Pismo Beach. The city’s laid-back style makes for a relaxed and enjoyable New Year’s Eve experience.

Christmas in Pismo Beach offers a chance to enjoy the holiday season in a quintessentially Californian way – by the sea, under the sun, and surrounded by a welcoming community.

It’s an ideal destination for those looking to combine traditional holiday festivities with the charm of a beachside getaway.

Where to Stay in Pismo Beach

9. Cambria: A Coastal Christmas Haven

Cambria, a picturesque seaside village on California’s Central Coast, offers a charming and tranquil setting for Christmas.

Renowned for its natural beauty, artistic community, and historic architecture, Cambria becomes a festive haven during the holiday season, with its unique blend of coastal charm and small-town warmth.

Christmas in Cambria: Top Things To Do

  • Cambria Christmas Market: The Cambria Christmas Market is a must-visit, inspired by traditional German Christmas markets. It features an array of lights, local artisans selling unique crafts, and delicious food and drink. This event is a highlight of the season, offering a magical experience with its light displays and festive atmosphere.
  • Moonstone Beach Walks: Take a leisurely walk along Moonstone Beach to enjoy the serene ocean views and crisp coastal air. The beach, with its picturesque boardwalk, is especially peaceful during the winter months and offers a quiet retreat from the holiday bustle.
  • Hearst Castle at Christmas: A short drive from Cambria, Hearst Castle offers special holiday tours. See the historic mansion adorned with Christmas decorations, just as it might have been during the time of William Randolph Hearst, adding a touch of grandeur to your holiday experience.
  • Olallieberry Inn’s Holiday Decor: Stay or visit the Olallieberry Inn, a renowned bed and breakfast in Cambria known for its festive decorations during the holiday season. The inn, set in a historic home, provides a cozy, quaint atmosphere that is quintessentially Cambria.
  • Downtown Cambria Shopping and Dining: Explore downtown Cambria’s unique shops and restaurants, which often feature holiday decorations and special offerings. The town’s artistic flair is on full display, making it a delightful destination for holiday shopping and dining.
  • Fiscalini Ranch Preserve Hikes: For nature enthusiasts, the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve offers beautiful hiking trails with stunning ocean views and a chance to enjoy the natural beauty of the Central Coast amidst the crisp winter air.
  • Lighted Boat Parade in Morro Bay: Nearby Morro Bay hosts a Lighted Boat Parade (weather permitting), where boats adorned with holiday lights sail through the harbor, creating a festive spectacle against the backdrop of the ocean and Morro Rock.

Cambria during Christmas is a blend of coastal beauty, festive events, and a peaceful, small-town atmosphere.

Whether you’re exploring its charming streets, enjoying the natural surroundings, or experiencing the enchantment of the Christmas Market, Cambria offers a serene and picturesque setting for a holiday getaway.

Where to Stay in Cambria

10. Mendocino: A Victorian Coastal Christmas Experience

Mendocino, perched on the rugged Northern California coast, is a picturesque village known for its Victorian architecture and stunning ocean views.

During Christmas, this quaint town is transformed into a festive wonderland, offering a serene and charming holiday retreat.

Christmas in Mendocino: Top Things To Do

  • Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens Festival of Lights: Delight in the annual Festival of Lights at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. Wander through beautifully illuminated gardens, enjoy live music, and savor local wines and brews, creating a magical holiday experience.
  • Holiday Shopping in Historic Downtown: Explore the historic downtown area, adorned with festive decorations. The town’s unique shops offer artisan crafts, local artwork, and one-of-a-kind gifts, perfect for holiday shopping.
  • Mendocino Art Center’s Winter Fair: Visit the Mendocino Art Center’s Winter Fair, where local artists and craftspeople showcase their work. It’s an ideal place to find handmade gifts and decorations while supporting the local arts community.
  • Whale Watching: Winter in Mendocino is also the start of the whale-watching season. Enjoy the breathtaking sight of migrating gray whales from the Mendocino Headlands, a truly unique way to experience the holiday season.
  • Victorian Christmas at the Kelley House Museum: Step back in time with a Victorian Christmas at the Kelley House Museum. Experience the holiday traditions of the late 19th century in this historic setting, complete with period decorations.
  • Enjoy Coastal Cuisine: Savor the flavors of the season with Mendocino’s renowned coastal cuisine. Many local restaurants offer special holiday menus featuring fresh, locally-sourced ingredients.
  • Candlelit Inn Tours: Participate in candlelit tours of Mendocino’s historic inns, beautifully decorated for the holidays. This festive event provides a glimpse into the charming bed and breakfasts that dot the village.
  • Christmas Concerts and Performances: Attend holiday concerts and performances by local choirs and musicians. These events often take place in historic venues, adding to their charm and warmth.

Christmas in Mendocino offers a peaceful and picturesque setting, ideal for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.

The combination of Victorian charm, stunning coastal scenery, and a tight-knit community creates a cozy and enchanting holiday experience.

Where to Stay in Mendocino

11. Santa Cruz: A Coastal Wonderland of Holiday Cheer

Santa Cruz, with its picturesque coastal setting, offers a delightful array of holiday events that capture the festive spirit of Christmas in a uniquely Californian way.

From traditional tree lighting to beachside festivities, Santa Cruz is a fantastic destination for those seeking both holiday cheer and coastal charm.

Christmas in Santa Cruz: Top Things To Do

  • Watsonville Plaza Holiday Tree Lighting: On November 17, join the festive tradition in Watsonville with the holiday tree lighting, complete with musical performances, a welcome by the mayor, and a visit from Santa​​.
  • Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Winter Wonderland: From November 23 to December 31, celebrate the season at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Enjoy rides, games, a 3-story tall Christmas tree, photos with Santa, fire pit rentals for s’mores, and holiday shopping​​.
  • Roaring Camp Railroads Holiday Tree Walk: Ride the Redwood Forest Steam Train to Bear Mountain and enjoy winter-themed activities, including hot cocoa and a greeting from Santa Claus, from November 24-25, December 2-3, and December 9-10​​.
  • Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds Holiday Lights: Starting November 24, experience a half-mile drive-through holiday light display, featuring twinkling trees, Santa, reindeer, and lighted tunnels. This year, enjoy a walk-thru Holiday Lights event on December 2nd & 3rd​​.
  • West Cliff Holiday Outdoor Market: On November 24-25, explore an outdoor market with unique artisans and food trucks along West Cliff Drive, offering handcrafted gifts and holiday shopping opportunities​​.
  • Santa Cruz Holiday Lights Train: Board the Santa Cruz Holiday Lights Train adorned with colorful lights, running various dates from November 25 to December 23, for a round-trip excursion through the city​​.
  • Santa Cruz Mountains Holiday Makers Market: On November 25, shop at the SCM Holiday Makers Market in Felton Community Hall, featuring over 35 local artists and makers​​.
  • Surfin’ Santa’s Visit to Capitola: Witness Santa riding the waves to Capitola Beach on November 25, for a unique coastal twist on a holiday visit​​.
  • Farley’s Christmas Wonderland: Explore a walk-in Christmas display in midtown Santa Cruz from November 25-31, featuring traditional decorations like Christmas trees, an elf village, and a fairy grotto​​.
  • Annieglass Holiday Ornament Making Workshop: On November 25, December 9, and December 16, decorate holiday-shaped ornaments at a workshop for a personalized touch to your holiday decor​​.
  • Abbott Square Holiday Market Popup: On November 26, enjoy shopping from 20 local makers and artists at this vibrant market, complemented by live music​​.
  • Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds Holiday Craft Fair: On December 1-2, attend the Heritage Holiday Craft and Gift Fair for crafts, gifts, antiques, collectibles, and more, enhanced by holiday lights throughout the fairgrounds​

Where to Stay in Santa Cruz

12. San Diego: A Sunny and Festive Holiday Destination

San Diego, known for its beautiful beaches and year-round sunshine, offers a unique Christmas experience that combines festive cheer with a laid-back coastal vibe.

This vibrant city transforms into a holiday haven, with a wide array of events and activities that cater to all ages and interests.

Christmas in San Diego: Top Things To Do

  • San Diego Bay Parade of Lights: Marvel at the spectacular boat parade on San Diego Bay, where vessels are adorned with dazzling holiday lights. This annual event is a local favorite and offers a unique twist on traditional holiday parades.
  • Balboa Park December Nights: Join the largest free holiday festival in San Diego at Balboa Park. Enjoy festive lights, music, dance performances, delicious food, and free admission to Balboa Park museums during this two-day extravaganza.
  • Holiday Beach Celebrations: Embrace San Diego’s coastal charm with a Christmas beach day. Whether it’s building a sandman or enjoying a bonfire, the beaches offer a distinctive way to celebrate the festive season.
  • Hotel Del Coronado Skating by the Sea: Experience the magic of ice skating by the ocean at the iconic Hotel Del Coronado. The beachfront ice rink offers stunning views and a memorable skating experience.
  • The Old Globe’s Production of ‘Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas!’: A San Diego holiday tradition, this whimsical production at The Old Globe theatre is perfect for families and Dr. Seuss fans of all ages.
  • Garden of Lights at San Diego Botanic Garden: Wander through over 125,000 sparkling lights in the San Diego Botanic Garden. Enjoy the dazzling displays, live music, and festive activities like marshmallow roasting and horse-drawn wagon rides.
  • Julian’s Country Christmas: Just a short drive from San Diego, the historic town of Julian offers a charming old-fashioned Christmas experience. Enjoy the quaint shops, warm apple cider, and the town’s festive decorations.

San Diego’s Christmas celebrations offer a unique blend of traditional holiday activities and its signature sunny charm.

From beachside festivities to cultural events, San Diego provides a diverse and vibrant holiday experience, making it a must-visit destination for a California Christmas.

Where to Stay in San Diego

13. Carmel-by-the-Sea: A Coastal Christmas Fairy Tale

Carmel-by-the-Sea, a picturesque and quaint village on the California coast, offers a unique and enchanting Christmas experience.

With its charming streets, fairy-tale cottages, and stunning ocean views, Carmel-by-the-Sea becomes a festive paradise during the holiday season.

Christmas in Carmel-by-the-Sea: Top Things To Do

  • Carmel Plaza Tree Lighting Celebration: The holiday season in Carmel-by-the-Sea begins with the Carmel Plaza Tree Lighting Celebration on December 1. This event marks the start of the festive season in this enchanting town, bringing together locals and visitors alike in a spectacle of lights​​​​.
  • Holidays in the Park: Also on December 1, Holidays in the Park offers a festive experience with holiday decorations, entertainment, and an opportunity to soak in the seasonal spirit in a unique setting​​.
  • Smuin’s The Christmas Ballet: On December 1-2, enjoy the captivating performance of Smuin’s The Christmas Ballet. This delightful show combines classical ballet and contemporary dance, set against the backdrop of Carmel’s scenic beauty​​.
  • Annual Inns of Distinction Tour: On December 3, take part in the Annual Inns of Distinction Tour. This event allows visitors to explore some of Carmel’s most charming inns, beautifully decorated for the holiday season, offering a glimpse into the town’s unique architecture and hospitality​​.
  • The Nutcracker at Sunset Center: From December 8-10, experience the magic of The Nutcracker at the Sunset Center. This classic Christmas ballet is a must-see, with its enchanting story and beautiful dance performances enhancing the holiday atmosphere​​.

Carmel-by-the-Sea during Christmas is a blend of coastal charm, artistic flair, and holiday cheer. The town’s unique character and festive events create a perfect backdrop for a memorable holiday experience.

Where to Stay in Carmel-by-the-Sea

14. Long Beach: A Vibrant Coastal Christmas Celebration

Long Beach, a dynamic coastal city in Southern California, offers a vibrant and diverse Christmas experience.

Known for its picturesque waterfront, lively arts scene, and eclectic culture, Long Beach comes alive during the holiday season with a blend of traditional festivities and unique local flair.

Christmas in Long Beach: Top Things To Do

  1. Queen Mary Christmas: The historic Queen Mary ship decks its halls with festive splendor, offering a unique holiday experience. Enjoy ice skating, holiday performances, and encounters with Santa, all set against the backdrop of this iconic ocean liner.
  2. Naples Island Christmas Lights: Embark on a magical journey through Naples Island, renowned for its spectacular Christmas lights display. Residents adorn their homes and boats with dazzling lights and decorations, creating a festive wonderland best enjoyed by walking or on a boat tour.
  3. Belmont Shore Christmas Parade: Join the festive fun at the Belmont Shore Christmas Parade. This popular event features elaborate floats, marching bands, and entertainers, bringing holiday cheer to the streets of Long Beach.
  4. Naples Island Boat Parade: Witness the enchanting Naples Island Boat Parade, where boats illuminated with holiday lights glide gracefully through the canals. This aquatic parade is a cherished Long Beach tradition.
  5. Holiday Shopping and Dining: Explore Long Beach’s diverse shopping and dining scene, with many local businesses and restaurants offering holiday-themed products and special seasonal menus.
  6. The Nutcracker Ballet: Experience the timeless tradition of “The Nutcracker” ballet, performed by local dance companies. This classic holiday performance is a treat for audiences of all ages.
  7. Waterfront Celebrations: Long Beach’s picturesque waterfront provides the perfect setting for holiday celebrations, with festive decorations, light displays, and outdoor activities adding to the coastal holiday atmosphere.

Christmas in Long Beach is a delightful mix of seaside charm and festive celebrations.

Whether it’s experiencing the unique holiday festivities aboard the Queen Mary, marveling at the illuminated displays on Naples Island, or enjoying the cultural offerings of the city, Long Beach provides a memorable and lively setting for a California Christmas by the sea.

Where to Stay in Long Beach

Urban and City Celebrations

Immerse yourself in the vibrant energy of urban and city celebrations during Christmas in California.

These bustling metropolises transform into dazzling holiday hubs, complete with twinkling lights, festive markets, and cultural events.

From iconic parades to grand tree lightings, the cities offer a dynamic and spirited atmosphere, perfect for those who love an urban holiday buzz.

15. San Francisco: A Festive Cityscape

San Francisco, the iconic city by the bay, offers a Christmas season as vibrant and varied as its famous skyline.

The air, crisp and inviting, welcomes visitors and locals alike to bask in the city’s seasonal glow, adorned with festive lights and echoes of holiday merriment.

Christmas in San Francisco: Top Things To Do

  • SF Ballet’s Nutcracker (12/13 – 12/30):
    • Location: War Memorial Opera House.
    • Experience: Enjoy the SF Ballet’s performance of the Nutcracker, a holiday tradition since 1944. The event includes regular and family performances at the War Memorial Opera House in the Civic Center District​​.
  • A Christmas Carol (12/6 – 12/24):
    • Location: American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.).
    • Details: Witness the classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge’s transformation in this beloved Christmas show​​.
  • SF Symphony Performances:
    • Dates: Various days in December.
    • Location: Davies Symphony Hall.
    • Highlights: Enjoy Christmas shows such as The Night Before Christmas, Deck the Halls, Cirque Nutcracker, Handel’s Messiah, A Merry-Achi Christmas, The Colors of Christmas, and A Charlie Brown Christmas – LIVE!​​.
  • Holiday and Christmas Tree Lighting:
    • Throughout the Season: Attend various tree lighting ceremonies and holiday events across the city, including the Union Square Christmas tree, Pier 39 Christmas Tree, and the lighting of City Hall​​.
    • Other Displays: Visit the Sugar Castle at the Westin St. Francis, the Gingerbread house at the Fairmont on Nob Hill, and Tom & Jerry’s display in the Castro​​.
  • Great Dickens Christmas Fair:
    • When: Weekends from Thanksgiving to Christmas, plus the day after Thanksgiving.
    • Details: A Victorian London-themed fair with shopping, holiday treats, and entertainment​​.
  • Ice Skating:
    • Popular Spot: Union Square.
    • Experience: Glide on the ice at several rinks in SF and the Bay Area during the holiday season​​.
  • Macy’s Windows and Shopping:
    • Enjoy: The festive display at Macy’s and explore shopping destinations like Union Square, the San Francisco Center, Pier 39, and Chinatown​​.
  • Santa Visits:
    • Locations: Macy’s, Japantown, Ghirardelli Square, and the SF Zoo.
    • Meet Santa: Santa will be greeting visitors at various locations across SF​​.
  • Elegant Holiday Dining at the Fairmont Hotel: Experience the holiday season with a touch of elegance at the Fairmont Hotel. Book a holiday tea or Christmas dinner under the grand glass dome for a festive dining experience. Don’t miss the magnificent two-story Victorian gingerbread house in the lobby, a highlight throughout December.

San Francisco offers a wide array of Christmas activities, from classic performances to unique local events, ensuring a festive experience for visitors and locals alike.

Where to Stay in San Francisco

16. Los Angeles: City of Holiday Lights

Los Angeles, known for its glitz and glamour, lights up with festive cheer during the Christmas season, offering a myriad of activities and events that capture the holiday spirit.

Christmas in Los Angeles: Top Things To Do

  • Holiday Walk-Thru Events:
    • Holiday Road at King Gillette Ranch, Calabasas (Nov 24 – Dec 27): A fully festive walking trail.
    • Lightscape at the LA Arboretum (Nov 17 – Jan 2): A winter walk with new sights and sounds along the Serpent Trail and Forest Path.
    • Enchanted Forest of Light at Descanso Gardens, La Cañada Flintridge (Nov 19 – Jan 7): A garden of illuminated wonder.
    • L.A. Zoo Lights (Nov 17 – Jan 7): Explore an immersive landscape with new lantern sculptures.
    • Astra Lumina at South Coast Botanic Garden, Palos Verdes (Nov 9 – Dec 31): An enchanted night walk​​.
  • Holidays at Los Angeles Amusement Parks:
    • Holidays at the Disneyland Resort, Anaheim (Nov 10 – Jan 7): Celebrate the most magical time of year at Disneyland.
    • Grinchmas at Universal Studios Hollywood (Nov 25 – Jan 1): Enjoy Grinchmas™, a Who-tacular celebration.
    • Knott’s Merry Farm, Buena Park (Nov 17 – Jan 7): A winter wonderland-inspired holiday festival.
    • Six Flags Holiday in the Park, Valencia (Nov 24 – Jan 1): Make merry memories with luminous lights, festive treats, and visits with Santa​​.
  • Performing Arts Holiday Events:
    • Mariah Carey Merry Christmas One and All! at Hollywood Bowl (Nov 17 & 19): Celebrate the holidays with Mariah Carey.
    • Hot Chocolate Nutcracker at Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center (Dec 7 – 10): A Debbie Allen Dance Academy presentation.
    • Holiday Sing-a-Long at Walt Disney Concert Hall, DTLA (Dec 16): Enjoy seasonal favorites led by a massive pipe organ, a choir, and a jazz combo​​.

These events provide a blend of traditional holiday experiences and unique Los Angeles-style celebrations, making the city a vibrant destination for Christmas festivities.

Where to Stay in Los Angeles

17. Sacramento: A Historic Holiday Charm

Sacramento, California’s capital city, shines with a unique blend of historic charm and festive spirit during Christmas.

It’s rich history and vibrant cultural scene make it an exceptional destination for those seeking to blend traditional and contemporary holiday experiences.

Christmas in Sacramento: Top Things To Do

  • Theatre of Lights (November to December)

Witness the Old Sacramento Waterfront transform into a stage for the Theatre of Lights.

This annual tradition brings the classic holiday story “The Night Before Christmas” to life with a stunning light show, live performances, and festive music.

It’s a magical experience that combines Sacramento’s rich history with holiday cheer.

  • Global Winter Wonderland (December)

Step into the Global Winter Wonderland at Cal Expo, where you’ll be greeted by large-scale illuminated lanterns depicting scenes from around the world.

This multicultural celebration features holiday displays, carnival rides, international cuisine, and live entertainment, making it a perfect outing for families and friends.

  • Sacramento Santa Run (December)

Join the festive fun at the Sacramento Santa Run, where participants dress in Santa suits and run through the city’s most iconic landmarks.

The run culminates in a grand finish at the State Capitol, followed by an after-party with hot chocolate and holiday treats.

  • Victorian Christmas at the Governor’s Mansion (December)

Travel back in time with a visit to the Governor’s Mansion, decorated in full Victorian Christmas splendor.

Guided tours offer a glimpse into California’s history and how Christmas was celebrated in the 19th century.

  • Holiday Shopping in Midtown

idtown Sacramento is the place to be for unique holiday shopping. Stroll through its charming streets lined with boutiques, artisan shops, and galleries.

Find one-of-a-kind gifts while enjoying the festive window displays and decorations.

  • Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting (December)B

Be part of a California tradition at the Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony.

This event brings together community members to witness the lighting of the towering tree, adorned with thousands of hand-crafted ornaments and LED lights, symbolizing hope and unity.

Where to Stay in Sacramento

18. San Jose: A Silicon Valley Holiday Spectacle

San Jose, the heart of Silicon Valley, offers a festive and lively atmosphere during the Christmas season. It’s an ideal blend of modernity and tradition, making it a special destination for holiday festivities.

Christmas in San Jose: Top Things To Do

  • Enchant Christmas: This dazzling event, based on the theme of Santa’s Magic Timepiece, features an ice skating trail, a holiday market, and an intricate light maze.
  • Christmas in the Park: An iconic event at Plaza de Cesar Chavez, known for hot chocolate, Christmas tree shopping, and beautiful decorations.
  • Willow Glen Holiday Lights: Explore the local neighborhood of Willow Glen, beautifully adorned with holiday decorations.
  • Downtown Ice Skating and Performances: Enjoy the downtown ice rink and catch performances such as The Nutcracker.
  • Museum Visits: Combine holiday fun with learning by visiting San Jose’s diverse museums.
  • Polar Play Days: Engage in holiday-themed activities at The Tech Interactive.
  • Theatrical Productions: Experience holiday classics like “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” at various theaters in San Jose.
  • Nutcracker Performances: Multiple versions of the Nutcracker, including “Once Upon A Nutcracker” and “The San Jose Nutcracker,” are available for viewing.
  • Holiday Concerts: Enjoy festive music with events like “Christmas at the California” and “Dave Koz and Friends Christmas Tour.”
  • Roller Skating Under Palms: Experience the unique charm of roller skating under California palm trees in downtown San Jose​

These activities highlight the vibrant and diverse ways San Jose celebrates the holiday season, offering something special for every visitor.

Where to Stay in San Jose

19. Oakland: A Bay Area Christmas Delight

Oakland, with its vibrant culture and diverse community, offers a unique Christmas experience in the Bay Area.

From traditional events to unique local festivities, Oakland provides a blend of holiday activities that cater to all ages and interests.

Christmas in Oakland: Top Things To Do

  • Oakland Temple Christmas Lights

Experience the tranquility of the holiday season at the Oakland Temple with its stunning display of over 100,000 lights.

This enchanting setting, against the backdrop of the temple’s white granite, features lights from dusk to 9:00 PM daily, starting from November 26 to January 3.

The official lighting ceremony, a highlight of the season, occurs on the Friday evening following Thanksgiving.

This event also includes various performances and activities, most of which are free and open to the public.

  • Holiday Tea at the Claremont Club & Spa (December 3-17): A sophisticated celebration with a seasonal tea experience.
  • Winterland for Grown Ups at Children’s Fairyland (December 15): A whimsical and festive event specifically tailored for adults.
  • Happy Holidays at Rockridge District: Enjoy the festive atmosphere with special events on weekends in November and December.
  • Free Selfies with Santa (December 2022): A family-friendly activity for capturing holiday memories.
  • Five Palms Ice at the Claremont Club & Spa: Ice skating through February 2023, adding a winter wonderland feel to the holiday season.
  • Christmas Tree Lane and Autumn Lights Festival: Explore Oakland’s beautifully lit lanes and gardens.
  • Zoo Lights and The Great Dickens Christmas Fair: Enjoy the festive lights at the zoo and a Victorian-era themed fair.
  • Paramount Theatre-Oakland and Telegraph Avenue Holiday Street Fair: Experience cultural events and holiday shopping.
  • Christmas Tree at Jack London Square: Marvel at the over 50-foot tree lighting up Oakland’s historic waterfront.
  • Temple Hill Christmas Activities: Immerse in festive lights and holiday spirit with free activities and performances.
  • Jenny Oaks Baker & Family Four Concert (December 22): A Christ-centered concert featuring sacred carols and exhilarating performances at Temple Hill Auditorium.
  • Santa’s Big Day 1M 5K 10K 13.1 26.2: Participate in a festive race throughout December, benefiting needy children.
  • ALBACORE and The Phantom Surfers Concert (December 9): A night of diverse music genres at Thee Stork Club.
  • Joyeux Noël: A French Christmas (November 26): A cultural event featuring French carols at Lake Merritt United Methodist Church.

Where to Stay in Oakland

Unique and Quirky Destinations

Discover the charm and whimsy of Christmas in California’s unique and quirky destinations. These spots offer one-of-a-kind holiday experiences, from enchanting light festivals to historic Victorian celebrations.

Whether it’s exploring a Danish-inspired village or reveling in the nostalgia of a classic amusement park, these destinations promise a holiday season filled with wonder, delight, and unforgettable memories

20. Disneyland Resort: A Magical Christmas Kingdom

Disneyland Resort in Anaheim transforms into a magical Christmas kingdom during the holiday season, offering an enchanting experience for visitors of all ages.

Celebrating Christmas at Disneyland is not just about the rides and characters; it’s a complete immersion into a festive wonderland.

Christmas in Disneyland Resort: Enchanting Decorations and Atmosphere:

  • Main Street, U.S.A.: This iconic thoroughfare becomes a dazzling display of holiday spirit, decked out with festive decorations and twinkling lights, creating a backdrop straight out of a fairytale.
  • Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle: Witness the transformation of the castle into a breathtaking winter spectacle, complete with snow-capped turrets and sparkling lights.

Special Holiday Attractions and Entertainment:

  • “A Christmas Fantasy” Parade: Marvel at the festive parade featuring beloved Disney characters in their holiday best, accompanied by lively music and dance.
  • “Believe… In Holiday Magic” Fireworks Show: A spectacular fireworks display that lights up the night sky, often culminating in a magical snowfall experience.
  • Seasonal Rides and Attractions: Enjoy the holiday-themed versions of popular rides like “it’s a small world” Holiday and Haunted Mansion Holiday.

Festive Food and Merchandise:

  • Seasonal Treats: Indulge in a variety of holiday-themed treats and beverages available throughout the park.
  • Holiday Shopping: Discover exclusive Christmas merchandise, perfect for gifts or keepsakes, in the many shops around Disneyland.

Disney California Adventure Park Celebrations:

  • Festival of Holidays: Explore diverse cultural festivities with special entertainment, food, and activities.
  • Cars Land: Experience the holiday makeover of Cars Land, where the beloved characters and attractions get a festive twist.

Visiting Disneyland Resort during Christmas is a truly unforgettable experience, filled with joy, wonder, and the timeless magic of Disney.

The combination of classic Disney charm and festive holiday cheer makes it an essential destination for anyone looking to celebrate the season in a truly special way.

Where to Stay in Disneyland

21. Nevada City: Enjoy A Victorian Christmas

Nevada City, located just an hour north of Sacramento in Northern California, fully embraces the festive spirit throughout December.

The Victorian architecture provides a picturesque backdrop for holiday celebrations, giving visitors a taste of Northern California’s past.

Christmas in Nevada City: Top Things To Do

  • Victorian Christmas: Roam the hilly streets adorned with authentic gas lamps and enjoy the festive atmosphere with live entertainment, yuletide treats, and the presence of Father Christmas​​.
  • Artisan Vendors & Boutique Shops: Explore over 100 artisan vendors or visit boutique shops for unique Christmas treasures​​.
  • Roasted Chestnuts: Savor the tradition of chestnuts roasted on an open fire at the Food Court​​.
  • Dickens Village Display: Admire the extensive collection of Dickens Village collectible town models on display in the windows of the Alpha Building​​.
  • Santa Visits: Children can meet Santa and capture the moment with a picture​​.
  • Walking Christmas Tree & Toy Soldier: Take a festive photo with the walking Christmas Tree and Toy Soldier as they wander the event​​.
  • Town Christmas Tree and Decorations: Behold the 25-foot red fir tree and the beautifully decorated downtown with glowing string lights and fresh cedar garland​​.
  • Festive Food and Drinks: Enjoy hot buttered rum or mulled wine as you stroll, and indulge in the delicious offerings from street vendors​​.
  • Children’s Activities: Kids can get balloon animals, visit toy stores, and enjoy magic and juggling shows on the corner of Broad & Pine​​.

These activities promise a nostalgic and immersive Christmas experience, inviting visitors to step back in time and enjoy the holidays in a setting that’s reminiscent of a classic Christmas card scene.

Where to Stay in Nevada City

22. Solvang: A Danish Christmas Treat

Solvang, known as the Danish Capital of America, offers a unique Christmas experience with its windmills and half-timbered buildings.

This Southern California treasure provides a European escape during the holiday season.

Christmas in Solvang: Top Things To Do

  • Tree Lighting Ceremony: The festive season in Solvang kicks off with the tree lighting ceremony, filled with dance, music, and the communal joy of lighting the city tree​​.
  • Christmas Lights and Trees in Solvang: The Danish village of Solvang sparkles under thousands of lights, with hundreds of small Christmas trees adorning local businesses. Prime locations for viewing these festive decorations include Copenhagen Drive, Alisal Road, and Solvang Park.
  • Julefest Candlelight Tours: Experience the Danish charm of Solvang through candlelit walking tours, complete with hot chocolate, caroling, and visits from Santa Claus​​.
  • Julefest Parade: A vibrant parade showcasing the town’s festive spirit with dancers, floats, and marching bands, embodying Danish hygge​​.
  • Solvang Nisse Adventures: A family-friendly scavenger hunt for the elusive Danish gnomes, or Nisse, hidden throughout the city, promising fun and a special prize for those who find them all​​.

These activities offer a taste of the Danish way of celebrating Christmas, right in the heart of Southern California, and are sure to leave visitors with a sense of wonder and festive delight.

Where to Stay in Solvang

23. Napa Valley: A Christmas Wonderland Among the Vineyards

Napa Valley, renowned for its rolling vineyards and world-class wines, transforms into a Christmas wonderland during the holiday season.

Each town within the valley offers unique festivities, making it an ideal destination for a festive getaway.

Christmas in Napa Valley: Top Things To Do

  • Calistoga Holiday Celebration: Immerse yourself in the joyous atmosphere of Calistoga, adorned with holiday decorations, a Lighted Tractor Parade, and a tree lighting ceremony. Explore the Christmas Faire and the Holiday Village for a full festive experience​​.
  • St. Helena’s Festive Lights: Marvel at the 26-foot lighted snowflake and a 36-foot holiday barrel tree in St. Helena. Don’t miss the Snowfall Spectacular and Tree Lighting Ceremony. This picturesque setting provides perfect holiday photo opportunities and festive family events​​.
  • Holidays in Yountville: Known as the “Brightest Town in Napa Valley”, Yountville lights up with holiday cheer. Enjoy the Town & Tree Lighting, special wine tastings, crafting sessions, cooking classes, and the festive Wine Train’s Santa Train​​.
  • Napa’s Holiday Celebrations: The city of Napa buzzes with holiday activities including the annual tree lighting, ice skating at the Merry Meritage Holiday Rink, and the Christmas Parade featuring Santa Claus. Don’t forget to explore the shops and tasting rooms at Oxbow Public Market and First Street Napa for holiday shopping​​.
  • American Canyon Winter Fun: Experience the magic in American Canyon with its tree lighting ceremony, Lighted Parade, and family activities like snowman sightings, scavenger hunts, and donuts with Santa. Join the Reindeer Run for a unique holiday experience​​.

Napa Valley during Christmas is a blend of traditional holiday charm and the sophistication of wine country, offering a memorable holiday experience for all ages.

Where to Stay in Napa Valley

Also read: 11 Best Bed and Breakfasts in Napa Valley

24. Riverside: Home to the Dazzling Festival of Lights at the Mission Inn

Riverside, California, holds a special charm during the holiday season, primarily due to the spectacular Festival of Lights at the Mission Inn, a nationally recognized holiday display.

This enchanting festival transforms the historic Mission Inn Hotel & Spa into a radiant holiday haven, making Riverside a must-visit destination for Christmas in California.

Christmas in Riverside: Top Things To Do

  • Mission Inn Hotel & Spa Lighting Ceremony: The season in Riverside kicks off with the grand lighting ceremony at the Mission Inn, usually held right after Thanksgiving. This event marks the beginning of the festival, lighting up the hotel and surrounding streets with over five million dazzling lights.
  • Stroll through the Illuminated Displays: Wander around the Mission Inn to admire the intricate light displays and animated figures. The entire hotel, along with several blocks of downtown Riverside, is adorned with stunning lights and decorations, creating a winter wonderland in the heart of the city.
  • Festive Entertainment and Activities: Throughout the festival, enjoy a range of activities including live music, carolers, and horse-drawn carriage rides. The streets of Riverside come alive with the joy and excitement of the holiday season, offering something for visitors of all ages.
  • Unique Shopping and Dining Experiences: Explore the local shops and eateries that participate in the festive spirit, offering holiday-themed goods and seasonal delights. Riverside’s downtown area becomes a hub for holiday shopping and dining, perfect for finding unique gifts and enjoying seasonal treats.
  • Interactive Holiday Attractions: The festival often features additional attractions like an outdoor ice-skating rink, artisan vendors, and opportunities to meet Santa Claus. These interactive experiences add to the festive atmosphere, making it a joyful experience for families and visitors.

The Festival of Lights at the Mission Inn is not just a display; it’s an immersive holiday experience.

With its stunning light displays and festive activities, Riverside becomes a destination that captures the essence of the holiday spirit, inviting visitors to create lasting Christmas memories.

Where to Stay in Riverside

25. Skyforest: A Hidden Gem in the San Bernardino Mountains

Tucked away in the San Bernardino Mountains, Skyforest, California, is a hidden treasure for those seeking a peaceful yet enchanting Christmas getaway.

This quaint mountain village, located just a stone’s throw from the bustling Lake Arrowhead, offers a serene escape into a winter wonderland.

Christmas in Skyforest: Top Things To Do

  • Stroll Through Skyforest: Experience the quiet charm of Skyforest with a leisurely stroll through its scenic streets. The small-town ambiance, combined with the crisp mountain air and the gentle rustle of pine trees, creates a storybook setting perfect for a holiday retreat.
  • Visit Lake Arrowhead Village: Just a short drive from Skyforest, Lake Arrowhead Village transforms into a festive hub during the Christmas season. Enjoy the holiday lights, browse through unique shops for gifts, and partake in the seasonal events and entertainment.
  • Snowy Adventures: For those who love the snow, Skyforest and its surroundings offer ample opportunities for snowshoeing, sledding, and simply enjoying the winter landscape. The nearby San Bernardino National Forest provides the perfect backdrop for these snowy escapades.
  • Local Dining and Warm Drinks: After a day of exploring, unwind in one of the cozy cafes or restaurants in Skyforest and nearby areas. Enjoy a warm drink by the fireplace, savor local cuisine, and relish the small-town hospitality that makes this area so special.
  • Holiday Events and Celebrations: Keep an eye out for local holiday events, including tree lighting ceremonies, Christmas markets, and community gatherings that bring the spirit of the season to life in this mountain community.

Skyforest is ideal for those seeking a Christmas experience that balances tranquility with festive cheer.

Its proximity to Lake Arrowhead adds an extra layer of holiday activities, while its own quiet charm offers a restful haven away from the holiday hustle.

A visit to Skyforest is sure to leave visitors with a sense of peace and a heart full of holiday joy.

Where to Stay in Skyforest

26. Palm Springs: A Desert Oasis of Holiday Cheer

Palm Springs, known for its sunny skies and iconic mid-century modern architecture, offers a warm and vibrant holiday experience.

This desert oasis comes to life during Christmas with a unique blend of festive activities and a relaxed atmosphere, making it an ideal destination for those looking to escape the winter chill.

Christmas in Palm Springs: Top Things To Do

  1. Robolights: A Palm Springs holiday tradition, Robolights is an artistic display of lights and sculptures created by artist Kenny Irwin Jr. This unique attraction transforms a residential property into a luminous wonderland, blending whimsical art with holiday themes.
  2. Festival of Lights Parade: The annual Palm Springs Festival of Lights Parade is a dazzling event, featuring illuminated floats, marching bands, and Santa Claus himself. This beloved community event lights up the streets of downtown Palm Springs, bringing holiday joy to spectators of all ages.
  3. WildLights at The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens: Just a short drive from Palm Springs, WildLights at The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens is a must-see holiday event. The zoo is adorned with thousands of twinkling lights, creating a festive and enchanting atmosphere.
  4. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway: Ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway for spectacular views of the winter landscape. The tramway takes you to the top of San Jacinto Peak, where you can enjoy snow activities and stunning vistas of the Coachella Valley.
  5. Holiday Shopping on Palm Canyon Drive: Explore the shops along Palm Canyon Drive for unique holiday gifts. This lively street is decked out with festive decorations and offers a variety of boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants.
  6. Desert Holiday Dining: Palm Springs boasts an array of dining options for a festive holiday meal. From upscale restaurants to casual eateries, the city’s culinary scene offers something for every palate, often with a view of palm trees and mountain backdrops.
  7. Christmas Tree Lighting and VillageFest: Attend the Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony for a traditional holiday experience. Also, don’t miss VillageFest, a weekly street fair featuring arts, crafts, food, and entertainment, adding a festive touch to your holiday shopping.

Palm Springs offers a Christmas experience filled with warmth, light, and artistic flair.

Its desert landscape, combined with festive events and a laid-back vibe, makes it a unique and appealing destination for a California Christmas.

a memorable and unique setting for a California Christmas.

Where to Stay in Palm Springs

27. San Luis Obispo: A Festive Gem on the Central Coast

San Luis Obispo, a charming city nestled in California’s Central Coast, offers a delightful blend of historic beauty, cultural richness, and festive cheer during the Christmas season.

Known for its laid-back vibe and stunning natural surroundings, San Luis Obispo (often referred to as SLO) transforms into a festive hub, combining traditional holiday activities with its unique local character.

Christmas in San Luis Obispo: Top Things To Do

  • Downtown SLO Holiday Parade: Don’t miss the Downtown SLO Holiday Parade, a much-loved tradition drawing thousands to the heart of the city. Held on the first Friday of December, this vibrant parade features decorated floats, marching bands, and community groups, all celebrating under the theme of “Out of This World!”​​.
  • Holiday Shopping in Historic Downtown: Stroll through the historic downtown area, adorned with twinkling lights and festive decorations. The area’s unique boutiques and local artisan shops offer a plethora of gift ideas, from handcrafted jewelry to local wines.
  • Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa: Visit the beautifully decorated Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, a historic landmark and a serene place to reflect during the holiday season. The Mission often hosts concerts and choir performances, adding to the festive atmosphere.
  • Winter Wonderland in Mission Plaza: Experience Winter Wonderland, a festive event held in Mission Plaza. This family-friendly celebration features a snow park for children, Santa’s House, and local food and craft vendors, creating a joyful holiday experience.
  • Vine Street Victorian Showcase: Just a short drive away in Paso Robles, the Vine Street Victorian Showcase is a must-see event. Historic homes along Vine Street light up with thousands of holiday lights, with carolers, live music, and hot chocolate adding to the festive spirit.
  • SLO Craft Beer Festival: For a unique twist, check out the SLO Craft Beer Festival, held in late February. While not a traditional Christmas event, it’s a celebration of local craft beer and cuisine, perfect for extending the holiday cheer.
  • Hiking and Outdoor Activities: For those who enjoy the outdoors, San Luis Obispo offers beautiful hiking trails and natural reserves, perfect for a winter hike. The mild weather allows for comfortable exploration of the scenic landscapes surrounding the city.

Christmas in San Luis Obispo provides a perfect mix of small-town charm, festive events, and beautiful natural settings.

Whether you’re enjoying a parade, shopping in the historic downtown, or exploring the natural beauty of the Central Coast, SLO offers a memorable and joyous holiday experience.

Where to Stay in San Luis Obispo

28. Ferndale: A Victorian Christmas in the Redwoods

Ferndale, nestled in the verdant Redwood forests of Northern California, offers a unique and enchanting Christmas experience.

Known for its well-preserved Victorian architecture and small-town charm, Ferndale turns into a Victorian-era Christmas card come to life during the holiday season.

Christmas in Ferndale: Top Things To Do

  • Victorian Village Christmas Celebration: Immerse yourself in the old-world charm with Ferndale’s Victorian Village Christmas Celebration. The entire town is adorned with festive decorations, including garlands, bows, and lights, reflecting its rich Victorian heritage.
  • Historic Main Street Stroll: Take a leisurely stroll down Ferndale’s historic Main Street, lined with unique shops and galleries. The street, decorated with festive lights and ornaments, provides a perfect backdrop for holiday shopping and dining.
  • Ferndale’s Lighted Tractor Parade: Experience the unique Lighted Tractor Parade, a local holiday tradition. This parade showcases a procession of tractors and farm vehicles decked out in dazzling lights and holiday decorations, creating a festive and fun atmosphere.
  • Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony: Join the community for the annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in the town square. This event marks the official start of the holiday season in Ferndale, complete with music, refreshments, and a visit from Santa Claus.
  • Holiday Performances at Ferndale Repertory Theatre: Catch a holiday-themed play or performance at the Ferndale Repertory Theatre, a local venue known for its high-quality productions that add a touch of culture to the festive season.
  • Fern Cottage Historic House Museum: Visit Fern Cottage, a historic home dressed in Victorian Christmas decor. The house museum offers tours during the holiday season, providing a glimpse into the life and traditions of the Victorian era.
  • Redwood Forest Exploration: For nature enthusiasts, the surrounding Redwood forests offer a majestic winter landscape. Explore the trails and experience the tranquility and beauty of these ancient forests during the cooler, quieter winter months.
  • Ferndale Museum Holiday Exhibits: Discover local history with a festive twist at the Ferndale Museum. Their holiday exhibits often feature historic holiday traditions and decorations, offering insights into the town’s past.

Christmas in Ferndale is a step back in time, offering a quaint and picturesque holiday experience.

The combination of its Victorian architecture, festive events, and the natural beauty of the Redwoods makes Ferndale a unique and charming destination for a traditional Christmas getaway.

Where to Stay in Ferndale

FAQs About Christmas in California

1. Seeking a Snowy Christmas in California – Where to Go? While snowfall isn’t a certainty, your chances are high in Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, Big Bear, and Mammoth Lakes. These destinations are renowned for their picturesque snowy landscapes during the holiday season.

Explore our comprehensive guide on 30 Best Places to See Snow in California for Winter Fun 

2. Christmas Activities in California – What’s on Offer? California’s Christmas offerings are vast and varied. From hitting the ski slopes to beachside surfing, indulging in culinary delights, or exploring nature trails, the state is bustling with activities. In fact, it’s easier to count what you can’t do in California during Christmas!

3. Which Town in California Embodies the Christmas Spirit the Most? Nevada City and Ferndale stand out with their festive flair, radiating a quintessential Christmas vibe through their community-focused celebrations and quaint charm.

4. Visiting California in December – Yay or Nay? December in California caters to all preferences. Whether you’re drawn to sunny beaches or snowy peaks, California’s diverse climate means there’s always something for everyone.

5. California’s Most Spectacular Christmas Lights – Where to Find Them? The Mission Inn in Riverside boasts some of the state’s most dazzling light displays. Additionally, the Newport Beach boat parade and Ferndale’s tractor parade offer unique and festive light experiences.

6. Are There Christmas Markets in California? Absolutely! You’ll find delightful Christmas markets in Nevada City, San Francisco, and Sacramento, each offering a distinct and joyous shopping experience.

Also Read: Christmas Lights in the San Francisco Bay Area

Additional Intriguing Facts About Christmas in California

7. Unique Christmas Experiences: Surfing Santas Witness a unique spectacle of surfing Santas along the coast, a sight that blends California’s surf culture with holiday cheer.

8. Historical Celebrations: Victorian Christmas in Ferndale Step back in time with Ferndale’s Victorian Christmas, where the entire town transforms into a 19th-century festive wonderland.

9. Culinary Delights: Festive Food Tours Indulge in seasonal culinary tours across California, offering a taste of local Christmas specialties and gourmet treats.

10. Theatrical Magic: Nutcracker Performances Experience the magic of ‘The Nutcracker’ ballet, a holiday tradition performed by numerous companies throughout California.

These facts and FAQs provide a comprehensive overview of the festive season in California, highlighting the unique and diverse ways the state celebrates Christmas.

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As the festive lights twinkle and the year draws to a close, these destinations remind us of the joy and wonder that the holiday season, the most wonderful time of the year, brings.

Each locale, be it among the best Christmas towns or a serene hideaway, offers a unique backdrop for unforgettable Christmas getaways.

California, with its endless variety and beauty, truly offers something for every traveler, every dreamer, and every holiday enthusiast.

Whether you’re seeking a classic Christmas vacation or a peaceful retreat, the state’s diverse landscapes cater to every whim during Christmas time.

So, as you plan your holiday adventures, consider the many faces of Christmas in California – a state where the warmth of the holiday spirit shines brightly, inviting you to partake in its festive cheer and timeless traditions.

Let these destinations inspire you to explore, celebrate, and cherish the moments that make this season truly magical and transform your Christmas time into an experience to remember.


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I hope you’ve enjoyed my guide to 28 Best Places to Spend Christmas in California. You may also enjoy these California travel guides.

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Chirasree Banerjee

Hello. My name is Chirasree. I have been traveling for almost 11 years to places all over the world. I enter into a separate reality during my travels and enjoy the allure of escape from the mundane. I seek beauty through nature and human-made creations. Because beauty is powerful. I seek knowledge. I observe, absorb, and write about the places I visit and the profound realizations and inspirations that each place has to offer.