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California Towns with Holiday Spirit

Many of California’s towns go above-and-beyond for the holidays, and this year they have worked extra hard to make these magical experiences still come to life, but in a safe and responsible way. From festive town squares to decked out neighborhood drives, the below experiences are just a sampling of the holiday events and experiences throughout the Golden State this winter. Be sure to check individual websites for safety measures, and follow the California Responsible Travel Code while traveling throughout the state.

NEW OR INNOVATIVE EVENTS

New Redding Garden of Lights
Begin a whole new tradition of lights and festivities at the immersive Redding Garden of Lights at Turtle Bay's McConnell Botanical Gardens. Open November 27-December 27, this attraction will feature winding paths leading through 10 acres of artfully illuminated and immersive displays exhibiting world-class design. Festivities will include holiday-themed drinks, gifts and food along with s'mores by the fire and holiday songs.

North Lake Tahoe Offers Winter Magic
Plan a holiday getaway to one of the charming mountain villages or luxury lakeside retreats surrounding North Lake Tahoe. New this year is a tree lighting celebration in the heart of Tahoe City, complete with festive lights and holiday-themed windows that line downtown corridors all the way to Kings Beach. Shop and dine across five districts and experience unique artisan connections, handcrafted cocktails and stunning alpenglow sunsets. Ice skate underneath the stars at Northstar California and discover an abundance of outdoor family fun at the Village at Squaw Valley. Marquee winter events like the Tahoe Film Fest and WinterWonderGrass are continuing with modifications.

Caravan-style San Francisco Holiday Lights Tours
Live the magic of the Christmas season through San Francisco Love Tours’ Holiday Lights Tours, running the day after Thanksgiving through December. View the best holiday lights and Christmas displays from a unique VW Hippie bus, while wearing a festive santa hat and singing along to holiday-themed songs. Each bus fits up to six people, but larger groups can participate in a caravan through the city.

Private “Lights of Livermore” Holiday Tours Aboard the Livermore Wine Trolley
Bundle up and board the Livermore Wine Trolley to experience one of the Tri-Valley's favorite holiday traditions. “Lights of Livermore” Holiday Tours include a two-hour private Trolley ride for up to 34 people (18 recommended for social distancing) through the festive towns of Livermore and Pleasanton along with four bottles of Livermore wine. Advanced reservations are required.

Holidays in Your Car Drive-through Event in Ventura County and San Diego County
Enjoy an unforgettable holiday spectacle featuring one million animated lights and holograms from the comfort and safety of your own vehicle with Holidays in Your Car
, a CBF Production presented by Subaru. The drive-through holiday light show is occurring at the Del Mar Fairgrounds in San Diego from Dec. 5, 2020 through Jan. 2, 2021 and at the Ventura County Fairgrounds from Nov. 22, 2020 through Jan. 2, 2021. There will also be a special “Santa Saves Christmas!” live stage show event on December 12 and 13 at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, and on December 19 and 20 at the Ventura County Fairgrounds. Additional details and tickets for both events available online.

Drive-thru The Elf on the Shelf’s Magical Holiday Journey in Pomona
Join in on The Elf on the Shelf’s Magical Holiday Journey to help repair Santa’s sleigh at the Fairplex in Pomona now through Jan. 3, 2021. Enjoy the dazzling light spectacle with toy-repair workshops, gingerbread villages, and all the sights and sounds of the holidays, blended with a touch of high-spirited fun. Tickets for the one-of-a-kind, immersive drive-thru experience are available online or by calling (213) 267-8786.


MODIFIED ANNUAL FAVORITES

Magical Christmas Train Rides in Sacramento

Step aboard a Magical Christmas Train with River Fox Train, a historic railroad attraction in Sacramento offering authentic train and railbike excursions. This enchanting holiday experience is suitable for ages and features a visit from Santa along with other themed activities. Magical Christmas Train rides will run Friday-Sunday from November 27 through December 23, with additional weekday rides December 21-23. Select one of four departure times when purchasing tickets online.

Seasonal Spirit in Northern California's Tuolumne County
Explore Columbia State Historic Park, an 1850s Goldrush town, for an authentic holiday experience. Don’t miss a sweet highlight - watching old-fashioned giant candy canes being made through the shop window of fifth-generation family-owned Nelson’s Columbia Candy Kitchen every Saturday and Sunday at noon and 1 p.m. from the end of November through the weekend before Christmas. Escape the holiday shopping crowds in historic Downtown Sonora, where the shops are filled with holiday spirit and unique gifts. The store-front windows are painted with Christmas images and the street lamps are adorned in wreaths.

Get in the Holiday Spirit in Sonoma Valley
Enjoy Sonoma Valley’s annual Holiday Lights on the Sonoma Plaza, including the traditional holiday palm tree, from Nov. 26, 2020 through Jan. 9, 2021. The Plaza is home to local shops featuring unique gifts and Sonoma-made products, and is surrounded by more than 30 tasting rooms and two dozen restaurants. Cornerstone Sonoma will also be decked out in its holiday best with a special pop-up shop, décor, and special food and drink offerings.

Christmas in Petaluma
Come greet Santa and Mrs. Claus at River Plaza Shopping Center on November 28, after their journey up the Petaluma River. Santa’s Riverboat Arrival is an annual tradition that kicks off Christmas in Petaluma. Next is The Festival of Trees on December 4 and 5, where local businesses decorate trees that visitors can bid on to support charitable causes. Admission is free and activities include raffles, a holiday marketplace, a sweet shop and photos with Santa. Finally, McEvoy Ranch is hosting a Wreath Making Workshop on December 5 that will be set up with COVID safety in mind.

Charlie Brown Christmas Tree Grove in Windsor
Get in the holiday spirit at The Charlie Brown Christmas Tree Grove, an annual event in Old Downtown Windsor open through New Year’s Eve. The event features 200 lighted, individually decorated trees lining the walkways of the Windsor Town Green, designed by students, families, groups and local businesses. The Charlie Brown Christmas Tree Grove also includes streaming holiday music, lighting displays and nightly snowfall at 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Charles Dickens-inspired Wonderland in Carmel-by-the-Sea
Travel to the one-square-mile village of Carmel-by-the-Sea and to find a Charles Dickens-inspired holiday wonderland. The village’s stone-paved alleyways and curlicue-roofed shops provide a backdrop to the holiday tree, Ocean Avenue and Devendorf Park - all lit up with some holiday magic. From independent family-owned boutiques to the Carmel Plaza shopping center, the village is home to eclectic fashion finds and specialty national brands perfect for finding holiday gifts.

Sleepy Hollow Holiday Lights Extravaganza in Torrance
Participate in a Torrance tradition of more than 40 years at the Sleepy Hollow Holiday Lights Extravaganza. Drive through the Sleepy Hollow Neighborhood and revel in the wildly extravagant decorations from December 1 through January 1 from about 6 to 10 p.m. Visitors are cautioned to drive safely and watch for pedestrians. Torrance Police will have bike patrols in the area and extra signage will help with traffic direction in and out of the area. Visitors also can park along Pacific Coast Highway and walk the blocks of this winter wonderland.

Visit Visalia and Candy Cane Lane for a Charming Holiday Celebration
Take a walk down “Candy Cane Lane” in downtown Visalia this December and marvel at Main Street’s transformation into a holiday wonderland, including festive garland stretching across the street, lights twinkling in sidewalk trees and shop windows decorated for the holidays. Letter and Grain, Joshua Tree, and Pacific Treasures are just a few of the shops offering locally made goods perfect for holiday gifts. Visitors may even run into a “Secret Santa” distributing presents to those strolling Main Street.

Holidays in San Luis Obispo County
Discover holiday spirit throughout San Luis Obispo County. Local businesses and shops in San Luis Obispo’s downtown core are uniting to “Light Up Downtown” in a walkable event that’s fun and safe for the whole family. Participating business’ window displays will feature holiday themed-scapes brought to life by countless lights, both inside and out. The unique and photo-worthy Madonna Inn will bring back its traditional Christmas décor starting November 1. Guests are encouraged to safely explore during their visit, including the beautiful steakhouse, world-famous restrooms and gift shops. Lights at Cambria Pines will be on display from Nov. 27, 2020 through Jan. 2, 2021, incorporating many of the beloved collections from the Cambria Christmas Market. The display will be accessible to guests staying or dining at any of Cambria’s Moonstone Hotel Properties. Details are available online.

Solvang Julefest Festivities
Take part in this year’s rendition of Solvang Julefest from Nov. 28, 2020 through Jan. 1, 2021. One of the nation's most Christmas-y towns, Solvang will present a modified line-up of Julefest offerings and extra holiday cheer in the form of enhanced, village-wide illumination and Instagrammable holiday vignettes. The village will host the now-annual Nisse Adventure citywide hunt for Solvang Nisse (Danish Christmas elves), along with an open-air JuleFEAST on Copenhagen Drive on December 12. Experts at Eat This, Shoot That! will lead town-wide Solvang Food Tours each Saturday, and Julefest’s evening Candlelight Tours will return on select nights. More than 100 Christmas trees will line Solvang’s lanes as the town’s businesses hold a tree decorating contest, and many of the town’s merchants will offer after-hours shopping and dining in a European night market setting.

Enjoy Oxnard’s Holiday Events
Kick off the holiday season with a series of events and festivities in Oxnard. The Oxnard Tamale Festival-to-Go invites locals and visitors to taste their way through an array of tamales from November 5 through December 3. The Sip, Taste & Tour at Christmas Tree Lane event on December 18 will offer a guided tour of one of Ventura County’s largest holiday light displays. Ticket pre-sales start December 1 at $50. The Collection at RiverPark is offering no-contact photos with Santa by reservation only from November 27 through December 24. Heritage Square is slated to welcome back its “Holly Trolley Tours” along with the annual Gingerbread Festival in the month of December. Downtown Oxnard’s annual tree lighting ceremony, featuring the county’s tallest Christmas tree at 110 feet high, is slated to return this year for its 70th anniversary.

Holiday Festivities in The Dolphin and Whale Watching Capital of the World
Experience holiday cheer at Dana Point Harbor, which illuminates the night sky with a magnificent light display each night from Nov. 11, 2020 through Jan. 3, 2021. Themed light exhibits will include Candy Cane Lane, and the popular “Merry Kiss Me” arch. On December 5, take a boat ride with Santa aboard a Dana Wharf Whale Watching vessel. Tickets are $5 a person with limited capacity from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., with sales going to charity. Reservations are required.

Holiday Traditions on the Southern California Coast at Terranea Resort
Embark on a holiday getaway to Terranea Resort, a 102-acre oasis on the Southern California coast. The annual Terranea Traditions provide guests with festive holiday events, adventures and experiences, beginning with Thanksgiving and continuing through New Year’s Day. Additional offerings include custom festive holiday décor for private Villas and Casita guests, s’mores by one of the resort’s 228 fireplaces and fire pits, swapping snow angels for sand castles, gourmet holiday meals to-go, and more.

Temecula Chilled in Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country
Take part in Temecula Chilled holiday fun throughout December in Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country. Enjoy a holiday lighting competition in Old Town Temecula and Temecula Valley Wine Country as well as outdoor ice skating rinks and themed "chilled" drinks, eats and treats, all with thoughtful modifications to ensure health and safety. Unique holiday gifts can be found in Old Town Temecula, including made-in-Temecula olive oils, lavender bath and body products, spice blends, and more.

Note: As communities re-open after COVID-19-related closures, some parks, businesses and attractions may still be closed or have new protocols in place. Please verify local guidelines and regulations for all destinations and hours and availability of individual businesses before publishing. Check out Visit California’s Responsible Travel Hub for guidance on how visitors can travel within California safely.

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