Skip to main content

It's a Winter Wonderland: California's Top Festivals in December
Entertain

It's a Winter Wonderland: California's Top Festivals in December

The holiday season is too festive to miss a thing, so we found California’s top events to keep the holly-jolly holidays going all month long

Share

5 min read

December 02, 2021

The holiday season is in full swing. Between the ugly Christmas sweater party you’ve been planning, the tree lightings throughout the state, the Disney Christmas Parade you can’t miss, and the Christmas activities (for kids) you’ve been adding to your Pinterest boards since April, there hardly seems to be time for all the festivals happening in December. But the Christmas season is far too festive to miss a thing, so we sought out California’s best events to keep the holly-jolly holidays going all month long. 

Queen Mary is where the holidays set sail. The iconic ship transforms into a winter wonderland, decking out every facet with Christmas decor.

Queen Mary Christmas

Long Beach

Experience the magic of the holiday season at the Queen Mary, one of California’s most haunted destinations. Start your Christmas activities on land at the holiday ice rink before checking out the Christmas crafts, including gingerbread house–making and stocking decorating. After grabbing a sweet treat, it’s time to board the Queen Mary to see it in all of its holiday glory. This unique Christmas event comes complete with storytime with Mrs. Claus, photo ops with Santa himself in the Captain’s Quarters, and a 4-D version of The Polar Express that features the scents of hot chocolate and beautiful swirls of snow. The Christmas festival begins on Friday, November 29, and continues through Sunday, December 22, on select days; but between December 23 and January 1, the Queen Mary Christmas activities are available daily. Grab your tickets to the movie screenings, reserve your spot for breakfast with Santa, and get ready for all the holiday spirit you can handle. 

The Dickens Fair

Daly City

Formally known as The Great Dickens Fair and Victorian Holiday Party, The Dickens Christmas Fair is a truly unique way to celebrate Christmas in the city. Wander down the streets of Victorian London; view the Historic Exhibition Halls’ representation of Covent Garden; take photos of the characters from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol; shop for handmade goods; and eat as much French onion soup, English bangers, or fish and chips as you can—but for goodness sake, don’t eat the chestnuts. Sing, dance, and have a happy Christmas in London without leaving the San Francisco Bay Area. Stop by for a single afternoon, or wander through every weekend until December 22 with a season pass.  

The Mission Inn Hotel and Spa's Annual Festival of Lights accents the holidays in a very special way. Photo courtesy of The Mission Inn.

Festival of Lights at Mission Inn Hotel and Spa

Riverside

You can stop your endless searches for “Christmas lights near me,” because the Mission Inn Hotel and Spa’s Festival of Lights is returning for its 27th annual event, and you won’t want to miss it. Featuring one of the country’s largest Christmas light collections, this free, five-week celebration offers plenty of fun Christmas activities for the whole family. Check out the largest man-made mistletoe in the world, 200 animated figures, horse-drawn carriage rides, a life-sized gingerbread house, and holiday treats that commemorate this festive season.

For more than 40 years, the San Diego community has welcomed in the holiday season by celebrating the annual December Nights at Balboa Park.

Balboa Park December Nights

San Diego

The December Nights holiday festival turns Balboa Park into a winter wonderland and starts the joyous season off right. Make your way over to Balboa Park on December 6 and 7 for dozens of food vendors, live music, light displays, carnival rides, and more. Munch on funnel cake, kettle corn, loaded tots, or soft-serve as you peruse the endless booths serving food from around the world. While it’s easy to enjoy the fun once you’re there, parking can prove challenging, so consider carpooling or taking a rideshare to the event. 

The annual Oceanside Harbor Parade of Lights is a fun spectacle with boats of all shapes and sizes decorated in their finest holiday attire.

Oceanside Harbor Parade of Lights

Oceanside 

Christmas is approaching, and there’s a variety of Oceanside celebrations underway. And this holiday season, mark your calendars for the annual Oceanside Harbor Parade of Lights—a merry spectacle with boats of all shapes and sizes adorned in the finest holiday attire. Lights, ornaments, holiday trimmings; you’re really in for a treat. You’ll get to see many of the captains and boat crews all dressed up in their holiday best, with a few jolly Santas joining in on all the fun. After the best decorated powerboat award is given, sailboat and small-craft boats are awarded all sorts of prizes and bragging rights. As far as things to do in Oceanside during the holidays go, this one is a must for sure.

Christmas In the Park is a family-oriented Christmas tradition of lights, trees, and exhibits at Plaza de Cesar Chavez.

Christmas in the Park

San Jose

If you’re the kind of person who always has holidays on their mind, this lovely Christmas festival is right up your alley and it’s coming back even bigger and better this year. Starting November 26 to December 12, there’s going to be a return of the walk-through at Downtown San Jose’s Plaza de Cesar Chavez and a separate drive-through event at Lake Cunningham Park. According to Christmas in the Park’s Executive Director, people are going to have two very distinct experiences—there will be light show elements in downtown, and the drive-through will have more of a chill, wholesome kind of vibe. Plans for the free downtown event include a 65-foot-high walk-through Christmas tree, two new rides, and jolly visits from Santa.

L.A. Zoo Lights is a not-to-be-missed holiday light experience and has glowed brighter each year since its debut in 2014.

LA Zoo Lights

Los Angeles 

The L.A. Zoo is staying open after dark every night through January during this light-up holiday season. Many of the lighting displays are inspired by the zoo’s wild residents—think elephant statues with whimsical projections, mosaic-like multicolor giraffes, and twinkling butterflies. And if you think that an event this big would lose its handmade, kitsch kind of quality, you’d have to think again. With the addition of a flickering tunnel of lights, Chinese lanterns, and a shimmering wall, this quirky walking event will stay imprinted in your memory for a while to come.

Over 65 tons of snow on the Central Coast is on its way! Winter Wonderland is back for another exciting snow driven event in Downtown Atascadero.

Winter Wonderland 

Atascadero

Every year on the 10th of December, Atascadero’s Sunken Gardens and the entire downtown district transform into a magical snowy paradise. 65 tons of snow make-up offer larger play areas and help make way for a massive snow slide built by the Kiwanis Club of Atascadero. This year’s snow-themed events also include Joe’s Little Train operated by the Elks Club of Atascadero, two Euro bungee jumps, obstacle courses, gladiator joust, bounce houses, face painting, caricature art, and—of course, the main event—Santa and Mrs. Claus.

If you’re looking to check off a couple of items from your holiday shopping list, this event offers ample opportunity. Start from downtown merchants that boast over 50 craft and food vendors and make your way to Historic City Hall, where other cool trinkets await.

Recomended businesses

Show me California.com
Recommended Businesses near

Discover the best of California. Our recommended businesses are top-quality and are committed to their communities.
California voices

JOIN OUR COMMUNITY OF CONTRIBUTORS

Have a great story to tell? A unique experience to write about? We’d love to hear it.

Learn more



RELATED Articles

Discover More

fueled by the power of California love
We’re committed to helping you discover the places, people and businesses that make our state Golden. Our online publication, updated daily, brings you all the content you need to live your California dreams. And that’s just the beginning…
LEARN MORE ABOUT US
Purpose section
Purpose section