How to Celebrate the Holidays in Southern California
Family holiday travel By Michelle Rae Uy
Snoopy’s Merriest Tree Lighting at Knott's Berry Farm (Courtesy Knott's Berry Farm)
Looking for some family-friendly activities in SoCal to take the kids this holiday season? Locals and visitors alike will be happy to know that despite the lack of snow in this sunny destination, there are still plenty of merry offerings to make your Christmas as festive as ever. Whether you’re in the mood for dining with Santa or watching a holiday ice show or simply watching a tree lighting ceremony, here are some of Southern California’s most festive events.
Theme Park Holidays
Knott’s Merry Farm at Knott’s Berry Farm. While Knott’s Berry Farm is one of SoCal’s most popular theme parks, it’s also one of the most affordable, making it a fantastic option for families on the budget. This holiday season, the park lights up with holiday offerings and that old-fashioned, small-town twist. Do some shopping at the Christmas Crafts Village, sample some holiday goodies and warm up with a cup of hot chocolate at Santa’s Christmas Cabin before lining up for a photo opportunity with Santa, ride the Christmas on Engine 41 train, and share a quiet moment during Snow and Glow in Ghost Town. Holiday shows are also on the menu – A Christmas Carol, The Gift of the Magi, Calico Saloon Christmas Show, kid-favorite Christmas Time is Here, Charlie Brown, and the splendid Merry Christmas, Snoopy! Ice Show that feature Charlie Brown, Snoopy and their friends. And make sure to pause every now and then, and watch carolers perform around the park. From now through January 3, 2016.
Where to Stay: The Knott’s Berry Farm Resort Hotel next to the park features an outdoor heated pool, a Snoopy-theme wing, and a children’s activity area.
Grinchmas at Universal Studios Hollywood (Courtesy Universal Studios Hollywood)
Grinchmas and CityWalk Holidays, Universal Studios Hollywood. This time around, the Grinch isn’t up to his old, naughty tricks. Instead, he’s helping families usher in the holiday season at LA’s favorite theme park. From December 5, 2015 through January 3, 2016, Universal Studios Hollywood is celebrating Grinchmas with a 60-foot Christmas tree, photo opportunities with The Grinch and Max, cookie Dec-Who-rating, and Grinchmas ornament decorating. Kids can sit down for story time with Cindy-Lou Who, while carolers and the Who Dolls keep the holiday spirit alive with carol singing and musical shows. At CityWalk, kids will adore the photo opportunities with Santa and evening snow falls, even at 50F. Last but not least, families will also get a chance to pay it forward to a child in need through the “Grow Your Heart 3 Sizes” campaign. Christmas, after all, is a time of giving.
Haunted Mansion Holiday at Disneyland (Courtesy Disneyland)
Disneyland Holidays at Disneyland. The happiest place on Earth is merrier and more dazzling than ever this Christmas. On top of Disneyland’s ongoing Diamond Celebration, Mickey and friends also have a plethora of wondrous attractions and events, from glittering parades to Christmas-themed rides and a Frozen snow slide. Ride the quite impressiveHaunted Mansion Holiday showcase and the kid-favorite“it’s a small world” Holiday to start. Then see the “A Christmas Fantasy” parade, and let the kids play in the snow at “Olaf’s Snow Fest.” And in preparation for the latest Star Wars installation and the forthcoming Star Wars Land, Star Wars fans young and old will also have a chance to visit the Star Wars Launch Bay where guests can meet their favorite characters from the movies and play interactive video games, get caught in a space battle on Hyperspace Mountain, and bring home a loot of Star Wars merchandise! Don’t miss out on the Diamond Celebration offerings as well – “Paint the Night” Parade and the “Disneyland Forever” fireworks are the particular crowd favorites.
Where to stay: If the onsite hotels are too pricey for your family, there are many family-friendly hotels near the park for every budget.
Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade (Courtesy Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade)
Holiday Electric Duffy Boat Ride around Newport Harbor. Don’t be intimidated by the fact that you have to drive the boat yourself. An electric duffy boat is actually small and quite easy to handle (so easy that even your teenager can do it!), not to mention very comfortable. Plus, you get to enjoy some privacy! If you’re looking for a unique holiday activity for the family this Christmas, this is the way to go. Take the family on a relaxing, one to three-hour scenic cruise around Newport Harbor at twilight, and feast your eyes on the waterfront houses’ and establishments’ lovely displays of Christmas lights and decorations. Then find a quiet spot, put that boat on neutral and have a nice family picnic on the water. Everyone in the family will love the experience.
Christmas Boat Parade, Newport Beach. Going on its 107th year (the longest in the country), the annual Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade attracts thousands of spectators to Newport Harbor to witness a dazzling display. Every year during the holiday season, boats of all sizes – from yachts to canoes and kayaks – light up and parade around the Harbor in an amazing and merry display. This year, the 3-hour event will run every night from December 16 through December 20, 2015, but securing a parking spot might be a tad difficult so grab a cab or see if your hotel can provide transportation.
Where to stay: The vibrant and hip Hotel Irvine, located only 15 minutes from the harbor, is not only kid-friendly – babysitting, borrow-a-bike program, airport shuttle service and complimentary WiFi are among the available amenities, its friendly staff can also arrange an electric duffy boat excursion for you and your family. Book the hotel’s Holiday Cruisin’ around Newport Harbor package, and you’ll enjoy round-trip transportation to and from the harbor, an hour-long boat ride and a $50 credit to spend on the onsite Marketplace for your boat picnic.
Christmas at the Resorts
Breakfast with Santa + S’mores and Stories at Laguna Cliffs Resort & Spa. At the Laguna Cliffs Resort & Spa, the holidays are all about the family… and the kids. From December 12 through December 25, 2015, several yuletide events are available for families staying at the Dana Point resort. Meet, have breakfast and take photos with Santa on December 12 at Breakfast with Santa, where arts and crafts, face painting, cookie decorating and a holiday movie are also on the menu ($55 for adults, $35 for kids 5 through 12). The complimentary S’mores and Stories are also on hand on December 12 and December 19 for families who want to enjoy a holiday movie in their pajamas (popcorn, drinks and breakfast the day after are included). There’s also the Christmas Eve dinner and the four-course Christmas Day dinner ($95 per person) that include a children’s menu for families looking to dine at the resort.
Build your own sand snowman at St. Regis Monarch Beach (Courtesy St. Regis Monarch Beach)
Winter Sandy-land at St. Regis Monarch Beach. Celebrate the holidays, Southern California-style, at the elegant St. Regis Monarch Beach, arguably one of the most beautiful and kid-friendly resorts in California. With the resort’s Winter Sandy-land Package, which starts at $245 ppn, you’ll enjoy a sunny Christmas getaway at the resort’s private beach where you and your kids can build your own sand snowman using the kit included in your merry package. Also included are accommodations in a lovely Signature Guestroom, recently renovated to now feature bright and beachy hues, nightly milk-and-cookies turndown amenity delivered by your very own St. Regis butler, complimentary daily breakfast for two adults, and complimentary daily meals for the kids. This package is available through December 30, 2015.
Tree Lighting + Teddy Bear Tea at L’Auberge Del Mar. The intimate, waterfront resort in Del Mar will be hosting a couple of complimentary festive, family-friendly events on December 6, 2015 to usher in the holiday season, starting with the Teddy Bear Tea in the Living Room, which invites guests (and their teddies) to attend the resort’s L’Tea by the Sea program where they can enjoy hot cocoa, cookies and specialty tea from 3 to 5 pm. The collected teddy bears will be donated to Rady’s Children’s Hospital. The L’Tea by the Sea program is available on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and every Saturday and Sunday in December. The second event, “Santa by the Sea” Del Mar Tree Lighting, runs from 3 through 6 pm and will offer families photo opportunities with Santa, carol singing, tree lighting at 5 pm, arts and crafts, and mulled cider, holiday cake pops and squash soup shooters prepared by Executive Chef Nathan Lingle. The resort’s Naughty & Nice Hot Cocoa and S’more Station is also available at the onsite Bleu Bar every weekend from 3 to 7 pm.
Michelle Rae Uy contributed this to MiniTime. She is a travel writer based in Los Angeles and MiniTime's Head of Content, who spends her free time on adventures and film photography.