Upgrade your browser - Unfortunately, this site has updated features that cannot run on this version of Internet Explorer. Download a free upgrade of Internet Explorer.
Holiday Spirit mobile
Discover Story Ideas Details Back to Story Ideas

California's Holiday Spirit is on Display

The holidays are merry and bright (bright and sunny, that is) in California, where visitors and locals alike can enjoy the ultimate "Hallmark Holiday Experience” via a diverse list of fabulous festivities across the state. From light sandy beaches to white snowy mountains and everywhere in-between, here’s where to enjoy some of the most impressive Yuletide events this holiday season in California. 

Holidays on the Move

Nautical or Nice?
The 50th Annual San Diego Bay Parade of Lights will take place Dec. 12 and 19, promising to dazzle and entertain bayfront crowds with decorations fitting this year’s theme: “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” In Oxnard, catch the Parade of Lights through the Channel Islands Harbor Dec. 11. Dana Point Harbor welcomes the 46th Annual Holiday Lights Cruise Dec. 10, 11 and 12 and Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching even offers a 90-minute holiday cruise experience with up-close views of the carolers and boats in the parade. On Dec. 4 in Morro Bay, the annual boat parade offers locals and visitors alike a chance to experience the festive spirit from a more “nautical” perspective. 

Hoppin’ Holiday Parades
Visalia is hosting the Central Valley’s largest Holiday parade, “The Candy Cane Lane Parade,” which marches down Visalia’s Main Street Nov. 29. Modesto’s annual Celebration of Lights holiday parade, with the theme of “Hometown Traditions,” will take place Dec. 4. Following the parade, visitors can enjoy holiday shopping at Vintage Faire and ice skating downtown. 

Santa on Parade
This December the 45th Annual Harbor Parade of Lights & Fireworks is back in Ventura. The family favorite is bursting with holiday cheer and bright lights designed to get everyone into the seasonal spirit. Boaters dock their boats to the nines, then parade their shimmering creations on Friday and Saturday night. The visual extravaganza is capped each night by fireworks. Just bring a blanket, chairs and maybe some hot chocolate and have a seat along the sidewalk to soak it all in.

Holiday Light Parade
On Dec. 4, Downtown Paso Robles will host its 60th Annual Holiday Light Parade, where visitors can enjoy an illuminated parade featuring an array of light spectacles from local businesses. Join Santa and Mrs. Claus and watch downtown light up with holiday spirit, to the theme of “Country Christmas Memories.” Other events include the 35th Annual Downtown Lighting Ceremony and 35th Annual Vine Street Victorian Showcase.

Towering Trees and Dazzling Holiday Displays

Light Up the Streets

In Oxnard, visitors can stroll down Christmas Tree Lane and take in the elaborately decorated historic homes on "F" and "G" streets before visiting a veritable winter wonderland at Plaza Park. For the entire month of December, visitors can see the historic Oxnard pagoda lit in a dazzling display of lights, adorned with Christmas-themed characters and covered in snow – all set beside the tallest Christmas tree in Ventura County!

Harbor Holidays
This year’s "Happy Harbor Days" event at Dana Point Harbor will feature 700,000-plus LED lights illuminating the Harbor with a wide spectrum of colors and light patterns from Nov. 17 through early January. Themed displays include a giant whale sculpture, lighted palm trees, giant Christmas trees, Candy Cane Lane and the popular “Merry Kiss Me” arch. There’s also complimentary live music, strolling carolers, holiday-themed photo opps and visits with Santa. 

Gardens of Light
Redding’s annual Garden of Lights event runs from Wed – Sunday from Nov. 19-Dec. 31 at Turtle Bay Exploration Park, where visitors are sure to enjoy the magic of the season, with over 1 million lights across 10-plus acres of displays. Every year, the Garden at Filoli in San Mateo County is adorned with thousands of lights, stunning decor and unique experiences for “Holidays at Filoli.” From Nov. 21-Jan. 2 visitors can experience the wonder of the season including more than 3,600 strands of lights that stretch more than 15 miles.

Yuletide Tree Lightings
Get into the holiday spirit at The Outlets at San Clemente where a 100 foot Christmas tree (the tallest Christmas tree in Southern California) will stand twinkling with lights and ornaments for all to see all season long. Union Square's tree will be on display from Nov. 18-Jan. 2. The Bill Graham menorah will light up Union Square Park for the eight nights of Chanukah, with lightings each night Nov. 28-Dec. 6 at 6 p.m. 

“Wild” Holiday Displays
In Palm Springs, The Living Desert's dazzling holiday event, WildLights, returns for visits to Santa, a sparkling tunnel of lights synchronized to music, life-sized, illuminated animal lanterns,  and a holiday-themed G-scale model train display. SeaWorld’s fan-favorite Christmas Celebration is back this year from Nov. 12-Jan. 2 – with an ocean of holiday cheer across the park decked with sparkling lights, decorations, snow, Christmas trees and holiday festivities. To make the season extra merry and bright, SeaWorld will be hosting holiday fireworks on select nights (Dec. 17, 18, 24-31). Tuolumne County is known for its Yosemite adventures, California’s Gold Country and adventures in the High Sierra, but also hosts the ultimate holiday Hallmark experience when visitors climb aboard a horse-drawn stagecoach and tour through Columbia State Historic Park. 

Decking the Halls with Boughs of Block Parties
Downtown Santa Monica will be hosting its annual Tree Lighting Ceremony on Nov. 19 and Menorah Lightings from Nov. 28-Dec. 5. Sonoma Valley’s annual Lighting of the Sonoma Plaza will kick off the holiday season Saturday, Nov. 20, as residents and visitors fill the square to enjoy Broadway performances and live music, food trucks, beer and wine, as well as hot cocoa and cookies. Hallmark-worthy Carmel-by-the-Sea will be hosting the annual Holiday Open House directly following the Carmel Tree Lighting Ceremony at Carmel Plaza on Friday, Dec. 3. Highlights include a singing Santa, holiday treats and refreshments and festive entertainment. Merry Healdsburg Weekend will take place Dec. 3-5, ringing in the holiday season with a ceremonial lighting of the popular Healdsburg Light Archway, a new Sound Stage that will light up the gazebo with a constantly evolving, interactive light display, and more.

Christmas Market Magic
In Cambria, more than 2-million lights decorate the picturesque Cambria Pines Lodge for the annual Cambria Christmas Market. New 2021 displays even include a magical train ride experience. The magic of the holiday season is back at Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park, starting on Thanksgiving weekend and running on select evenings through December. The entire park will be transformed into a shimmering winter wonderland where guests can enjoy visits with Santa, a grand holiday feast with all the trimmings, ice skating under the stars and dazzling light displays. 

Julefest Jubilee
Solvang’s Julefest is a quintessential annual celebration of all things “jolly.” Beginning Nov. 27 and running through Jan. 1, the return of the Julefest will feature a parade and tree lighting, candlelight tours, Nisse (elf) searches, meetings with Santa and all things festive. 

Shop ‘Til You Drop
Catalina Island's 28th annual "Shop Catalina'' will feature a gingerbread house decorating contest, tree lighting, Santa Claus fire truck drive about, in-store discounts for holiday gifts and a home and business decorating contest. Home to the largest shopping destination on the West Coast, Costa Mesa takes the holidays seriously. Beginning Nov. 22, South Coast Plaza transforms into a winter wonderland, bringing in joyous holiday decor to fill the 2.8 million-square-foot center.

Spectacular Skating Spots
From Nov. 22-Jan. 2 Skating by the Sea in Coronado returns to Hotel Del as a spectacular beachfront ice rink with stunning views of the Pacific in a beachfront skating rink setting. Residents and visitors throughout the Bay Area can enjoy the favorite holiday tradition of outdoor ice skating at The Winter Ice Rink Downtown Sunnyvale, set under the redwood trees downtown. The Safeway Holiday Ice Rink in Union Square lights up this iconic plaza surrounded by festive decor and the sights and sounds of the season underneath the towering Union Square Christmas tree.

Hotel Holiday Happenings

Seaside Holiday Happenings

Terranea Resort invites guests to celebrate with its annual holiday traditions such as Gingerbread Decorating, Postcards to the North Pole, Turkey Day and Winter Solstice Coastal Hikes and children Club Family Gratitude Boxes.

A Very Carlsbad Christmas
It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year in Carlsbad where the jolliest place to stay and play might just be The Park Hyatt Aviara – full of holiday cheer and Gingerbread making classes. Meanwhile, at the Sheraton Carlsbad, Santa will be making an appearance for fireside stories Dec. 9 and 16. And for a quintessential seaside rendezvous with Santa, call the Beach Genies, a new local company that sets up luxe beachside picnics and bonfires. For holiday, they’ll bring Santa from the North Pole right to a customized holiday beach bonfire, complete with frosty s’mores (with peppermint patty's subbed for chocolate).

Gingerbread Ho(tel)
Rancho Bernardo Inn in San Diego County is especially sweet during the holiday season, with its annual life-size gingerbread house built and baked in-house during the holidays. The outstanding life-size gingerbread house is on display in the hotel lobby after months of baking and building with over 4,000 pounds of delicious ingredients including 1 ton of powdered sugar, 750lbs. of granulated sugar, 750lbs. of cake flour and 2,160 eggs.

12 Nights of Marvel at MacArthur
MacArthur Place Hotel & Spa in Sonoma, CA is hosting a wonderment-filled moment “12 Nights of Marvel'' series, launching Nov. 26. Visitors can look forward to activities such as a meet-and-greet with Santa, candle-lit sculpture tour with AERENA Galleries, wreath making class with Marion Moss Floral and a creative workshop led by MacArthur's December artist-in-residence Lisa Hunt.

Festival of Lights Takes over the Night
The Festival of Lights event at The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa has been a SoCal holiday bucket-list item for nearly three decades, drawing crowds in the 100,000s to this Riverside destination resort property. It’s a fabulous show including more than 5 million lights, an impressive collection of towering Christmas trees, and an army of animated characters including elves, toy soldiers, nutcrackers and angels adorning seemingly every ledge and balcony of the hotel.  

Go Nuts for the Holidays at El Capitan
El Capitan, a JdV by Hyatt hotel in Merced is going “Nuts for the Holidays” – literally! Since Merced is in the heart of the state’s nut farms, over the holiday season El Capitan is embracing their distinct location by celebrating nuts and nutcrackers in a BIG way. The celebration includes an over-the-top “Nuttiest Holiday Ever Suite” decorated with nutcrackers and local nuts from top-to-bottom. The hotel is also offering nutcracker decorating, special nut-inspired treats at the property's food and beverage outlets and a nutcracker decorated lobby featuring oversized nutcrackers.