9 Best Places in California at Christmas


best places in california at christmas

There is always something fun going on in California. Even in December! I thought it would be fun to go over some of the best places in California at Christmas. 

Since California has relatively mild winters it makes it easy to travel to almost anywhere in the state to make some Christmas memories. 

Best Places in California at Christmas 

Every year it seems like we have the exact same Christmas traditions and routines.

While these are fun, it would be nice to add some new traditions and memories. 

To help give you some ideas, I have made this list of the best places you can go in California at Christmas. 

California Christmas Destinations

  1. Riverside
  2. Lake Tahoe
  3. San Francisco
  4. San Diego
  5. Santa Cruz
  6. Santa Monica
  7. Los Angeles
  8. Santa Barbara
  9. Newport Beach

All of these locations have fun Christmas events and activities that will make your Christmas even more memorable.

I hope it helps you and that you have the best Christmas ever!

1. Riverside 

This would be a great California Christmas destination if you want to see some amazing Christmas lights and really get into the holiday spirit. 

Riverside is know for their annual Mission Inn Festival of The Lights. The event and display begins the day after Thanksgiving and lasts until early January. 

The Festival of the Lights is located at Mission Inn in Riverside. The Mission Inn is a historic hotel that they cover in over 5 million lights. 

It has even been voted as one of the best Christmas Lights display in the US. 

It’s free to see the lights and there are also fun activities nearby. You can even pay to take a horse carriage ride around to see the lights.

They also have a nearby ferris wheel and a carousel. Click here to visit the Festival of the Lights website to get more information. 

Here is a great video that gives you a better idea of the lights and to help you plan your trip.

I am sure they are even more beautiful in person. Doing this one year for Christmas is on my bucket list for sure! 

2. Lake Tahoe

If you want to experience a true white Christmas then you might want to visit Lake Tahoe. 

I added this to my list of the best places in California at Christmas because I think it would be so fun to have a cozy Christmas in the snow.

It would be fun to just play in the snow, and explore, but there are also many fun holiday festivals and events in Lake Tahoe in November and December. 

One popular Christmas activity is the Heavenly Holidays event.

Located in South Lake Tahoe it offers sleigh rides, beautiful Christmas lights, holiday ice sculptors and holiday music. 

The kids can even get their photo taken inside the 16-foot life sized snow globe with Santa. Click here to get more information about Heavenly Holidays. 

Something fun to do with the kids for a Lake Tahoe Christmas would be the Noel Nights event.

This holiday tradition is from 5-8pm for the first four weeks in December at The Village at Northstar. 

They have ice skating, photos with Santa, s’mores, horse-drawn sleigh rides, letter writing to Santa and even hot cocoa by fire pits.

How much fun would this be! Click here to learn more about Noel Nights. 

More holiday fun can be had at the Merry Days and Holly Nights events in Squaw Valley.

They during the winter months they offer fun family and Christmas events.

Including a giant siding Christmas tree, a Grinch look-alike contest for kids (judged by Santa himself), moonlight snowshoe tours, ice skating, mini snowmobiles, and more.

Click here to visit the Merry Days and Holly Nights website to get more information. 

Here is a video of the event so you can see what it looks like. This would be fun!

3. San Francisco

The holidays in San Francisco can be so magical. They are many different events and things to do see in November and December celebrate. 

If you want to see some amazing holiday decorations then you must visit Union Square.

You can even go ice skating. Click here to check out Union Square during the holidays. 

Also checkout nearby Macy’s window displays to see Santa and the annual SPCA holiday window that features real pets in cute holiday scenes.

Here is more information about the SPCA holiday event. 

Don’t forget about Pier 39 & Fisherman’s Warf holiday events. They both feature Christmas decorations that will get you in the holiday spirts. 

Pier 39 even has a nightly light show synchronized to holiday music.

Make sure you check the event calendar for Fishermans Warf lighted boat parade that is held once per year in December. 

Click here to learn more about Pier 39 holiday events and click here to visit the Fishermans Wharf holiday events website. 

4. San Diego

If you want a warmer Christmas then you might want to visit San Diego.

With an average December temperature of about 70 degrees you will be enjoying Christmas and staying warm this winter! 

The weather is good and so are all these fun Holiday events in this California Christmas destination. 

One of the most popular San Diego holiday attractions is Hotel Del Coronado.

The tree in the hotel lobby is a massive 20-feet and the entire hotel is decorated so beautiful for the Holidays. 

Near the hotel they have a ice skating rink that is right on the beach where you can ice skate with the view of the ocean and palm trees in the background. How cool is this! 

The hotel also has other fun activities in the holiday season such as roasting marshmallows, and even holiday movies on the beach. 

Experiencing the magic of Hotel Del Coronado during the holidays and ice skating on the beach is on my Christmas bucket list for sure!

Click here visit The Hotel Del Coronado Holiday website. 

Also, here is a video so that you can see how beautiful it is during the holidays.

Another very popular and fun event is the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights. Click here to check the exact dates and information on the website. 

The Parade of Lights is held 2 days a year in December.

The parade is free and features 80 boats decorating in Christmas lights that float through the parade route. This sounds like so much fun. 

Another popular San Diego event is Balboa Park December Nights. This holiday celebrations happens a couple days a year in December. 

Balboa park is decorated in beautiful holiday decor and they have fun activities for the whole family. 

Some of the activities included food, music, free admission to nearby museums, Christmas carols, and a they even have an entire carnival with rides. 

Click here for more information about Balboa Park December Nights. 

If you are visiting San Diego for Christmas make sure you don’t forget about the San Diego Zoo.

They put on a yearly holiday event where they transform the zoo to a wild wonderland. 

They decorate the park with lights, feature Christmas performances, light shows, and even festive foods.

Click here to visit the park website to learn more about this holiday event. 

5. Santa Cruz

If you are looking for a California Beach side Christmas then you might want to go to Santa Cruz. 

This is one of the best places in California at Christmas because it has all the holiday and beach vibes at the same time!

Did you know that they actually have a Santa that arrives by Surf Board and his reindeer come in on the beach?

How fun would this be! Click here to see the exact date and information for Surfing Santa. 

Start a new holiday tradition by visiting the Santa Cruz boardwalk. They transform the boardwalk into a winter wonderland.

They even have ice taking, festive foods, rides, and games. Click here to see more info. 

They even have holiday train rides that depart from the boardwalk. Click here to see the holiday train rides. 

Santa Cruz also has their own lighted boat parade that features about 50 boats decorated in Christmas lights. 

The lighted boat parade happens one day a year in December and you can get the exact dates and information by clicking here

If you have an RV or Trailer it would be fun to visit the KOA campground in Santa Cruz.

While this isn’t the biggest event, it looks like it would be so much fun and could be a new fun family tradition. 

They call it the KOA campground Christmas Village the event occurs each Saturday for 3 weeks in December.

Please click here to check the website for exact dates. 

Campers can enjoy S’mores & coco, Christmas crafts, a Christamas sing along train, snow, outdoor Christmas movies and even a chance to meet Santa. 

You can also participate in the site decorating content by decorating your campsite for Christmas (1st and 2nd place winners win free accommodations)

This would be so fun for kids! 

6. Santa Monica

There is something so fun about going ice skating in beach towns! Even Santa Monica sets up a ice skating rink in the middle of town for the holidays. 

One of the coolest things about Santa Monica as a California Christmas Destination is that they have actually have a Christmas celebration right on the beach. 

Click here for more information about where to Ice Skate in Santa Monica. 

Each year they decorate the Santa Monica Pier and have different events.

Such as holiday story and craft time for the kids, see the 80 foot tall snow man that they make out of lights on the feris wheel and one day a year Surfer Santa visits and you can get a selfie with him. 

If that doesn’t all sound like enough Christmas fun they also have a few dates during the holiday season where you can see Bob Bakers Marionettes a fun Christmas puppet show. 

They also have some amazing and unique holiday decor in the windows of the pier carousel building that you will not want to miss. 

Click here to get more information about dates and events for Christmas in Santa Monica. 

7. Los Angeles

LA is a popular destination in California for the Holidays because they have so many fun events and decorations. 

best places in california at christmas

One popular spot for Christmas is Disneyland.

Disneyland is always pretty fun but during Christmas it is so pretty. They completely decorated the entire park in Christmas. 

The rides are decorated, you can find cute Christmas photo places around the park and it is just so pretty and magical. 

We went one year for Christmas and it was so pretty. It was also very busy since we visited right on Christmas day but I am so glad that we went.

You don’t have to go right on Christmas to see the decor. 

They normally start decorating in early November and leave the Christmas decor up until January.

Click here to go to the Disneyland website to learn more about visiting at Christmas. 

Another popular park in LA during the holidays is Universal Studios. They also go all out on transforming the park for Christmas with beautiful lights and decorations.

If you want to learn more just click here to visit the Universal Studios Christmas section of their website. 

You also won’t want to miss out on Snow Wonder and The Holiday Boat Parade that is held in Marina Del Rey, CA once per year in December. 

They put on a Snow Wonder holiday festival during that day where they have actual snow that you can play in, snow sleding, face painting, a DJ and Christmas crafts. 

Then they have a fire work show and start the lighted holiday boat parade in the harbor.

This sounds like a fun day full of holiday fun! Click here to visit the event website to get more information and exact dates. 

8. Santa Barbra 

A popular Santa Barbara event in the month of December is The Trolley of Lights Tour.

You can buy tickets to take you on a trolley ride around town to see all the places and houses that are decorated with all the best lights. 

Here is the link to the Santa Barbara Trolley of Lights website for prices and tour times. 

If you are in Santa Barbara during the holiday season make sure you check out the Let It Snow nightly snowfall event. 

During the holidays they transform Center Court into a winter wonderland with a beautiful Christmas tree, carolers and lights. 

The snowfall shows take part most nights after Thanksgiving untill the end of the December.

Twice per night set to the carolers singing snow falls in the court.

Make sure you check out the event website for exact times and dates since there are a few days that they don’t do the snowfall. 

9. Newport Beach

Newport Beach at Christmas is popular for its Christmas Boat Parade.

This is the largest boat parade in the State and it viewed by over 1.5 million people each year. 

Newport beach is one of the best places in California at Christmas for many reasons but this boat parade is something you won’t want to miss.

You can view the holiday parade from the shore, nearby restaurants lining the harbor or by purchasing tickets to to ride on a boat in the parade or to watch from a stationary boat in the bay. 

There are about 200 boats in this parade and nearby homes and estate are also beautiful decorated for the holidays.

Click here to visit the event website for more information, dates and ticket prices. 

Here is a video for you to get an idea of what the boats look like 🙂 and for more info.

Another popular Christmas event in Newport Beach is a festival called Christmas on the Beach.

It is held once per year in December and is located in the Balboa Village. 

At the event you can decorate Christmas cookies, take a horse drawn wagon ride, kids can build wooden boats, see Santa, listen to live music, and even watch holiday movies.

Click here to visit the event website to see specific times and dates. 

There are so many amazing and unique things to do in California at Christmas.

I think that any of these places would be great Christmas destinations to make some new holidays and memories. 

Make your Christmas one to remember!

I hope that this list of all the best places in California at Christmas helps you to plan your holiday celebration. 

Wherever you end up spending the holidays this year I hope you do something fun and enjoy your time with family and friends.

Merry Christmas!! 

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