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A Surfboard-Toting Santa
Courtesy of Seaport Village

Cool California Santa Sightings

Cool California Santa Sightings
The man in red knows how to live it up while also meeting fans around the Golden State

If you’re spending any time in California with the kids during the holiday season, you need not rely on malls alone for meet-and-greets with Santa Claus. Across the Golden State, Saint Nick is known to make his dramatic entrance as Surfing Santa—wearing board shorts and shades—or as Skiing Santa, zooming down the side of a mountain on skis or even a snowboard. Other Santa meet-and-greets connect you with local festivals, parades, and even an army of light-up snowmen in wine country. Check out these California-style Santas who bring an extra heaping of jolly to the holiday.

Surfing Santa CompetitionRitz-Carlton Laguna Niguel November 19What does Santa do on the Saturday before the holiday season kicks off? He catches a few waves outside The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel in Orange County. The one-day surf contest on Salt Creek Beach—always held on the weekend before Thanksgiving—invites competitors of all ages to dress like Santa, elves, reindeer, or other holiday characters. Levelling the playing field nicely, prizes are awarded for both surfing and costumes. Proceeds benefit Surfers Healing, an organization that exposes autistic kids to surfing experiences.

The Santa Train

Napa Valley Wine Train

November 18 through December 29

For most of the year, the Napa Valley Wine Train offers a scenic ride and tasting experience through this famous stretch of wine country. During the holidays, though, a holiday-festooned train takes kids and their parents on daily rides to Santa’s workshop, to uncover some Teddy bears that Saint Nick apparently misplaced. Rather than Cabernets, the onboard tastings focus on cookies, hot cocoa, and other treats. Parents, meanwhile, might want to come back at the end of the season for the New Year’s Eve Train, which features a four-course dinner and plenty of local sparkling wine.

Surfin’ Santa ArrivalSeaport Village, San DiegoNovember 25In a city where flip-flops are year-round footwear, Santa can’t be weighed down by his heavy black boots. So when he arrives on a watercraft at this annual event at San Diego’s Seaport Village, this Surfing Santa is rocking board shorts, flip-flops, and an all-season Hawaiian shirt. Give him your wish list or just pose with him next to his surfboard. The afternoon party at this festive shopping zone near downtown also includes a parade, kids crafts, and live street performers.

Capitola Surfing Santa November 25In Santa Cruz County, flying reindeer may be hard to come by, so Santa gets his horsepower, as it were, from reindeer with good rowing arms. At this event, on the weekend after Thanksgiving, Saint Nicholas comes ashore at Capitola’s Main Beach on a well-staffed outrigger canoe. Then, he’ll hear kids’ wish lists while relaxing in his beach chair. A week later, Capitola Village hosts its tree lighting ceremony with cookie-decorating, face painting, and a window-display contest; look for Santa in the crowds here again, this time with his pal, the Christmas Fairy.

Solvang JuleFestDecember 1–2 and 9–11This charming Central Coast town embraces its Scandinavian heritage at the two-weekend-long JuleFest, which kicks off with a parade of Danish dancers, horses and carriages, and vintage cars. Afterward, the red-clad dude with his own Nordic heritage greets the kids at Solvang Park. The second weekend of festivities includes a Nativity Scene with live animals, along with the Solvang Wine and Beer Walk at 13 local tasting rooms. On either weekend, indulge your sugar cravings along Solvang’s Sweet Treats Trail: an array of bakeries, wine stores, coffeehouses, and sweet shops where you can find chocolates, wines, and plenty of local Danish kringle and stollen. 

Lighting of the SnowmenCornerstone Gardens, Sonoma December 2In 2004, the owner of Cornerstone Gardens—a collection of boutique wineries, shops, and tasting rooms in the town of Sonoma—bought a small army of decorative snowmen from a soon-to-close factory in Boston. Once he’d brought them back to Sonoma, he created a funny display that made it appear as if they’d been thrown across a road into a vineyard. (No worries: The plastic snowmen were not injured.) A holiday tradition was born, and now each year, the lit-up snowmen get arranged in a creative new formation. This year, will they be stacked vertically, lined up along a ski jump, or in some other intriguing configuration? Come find out at this free festival, which also features live music, crafts, local cuisine, and wine and beer tastings. A live Santa reigns from his blue chair, listening to wishes and perhaps pardoning the embattled snowmen. 

SantaCon Pub CrawlNewport Beach, Santa Barbara, and TemeculaDecember 9 and 16This annual pub crawl—in which participants must dress as Santa—happens in select cities all over the world, but the versions in California promise to be some of the biggest (and perhaps balmiest). The Newport Beach crawl will occur on Dec. 9, while the next weekend will bring out the Santas in wine-tasting friendly Santa Barbara and Temecula.  If you decide to join in, just remember to adhere to the SantaCon code to be kind to kids, police, and bartenders.

Night of LightsMammothDecember 16Just a few nights before the winter solstice, the high season at Mammoth kicks off with this annual (and free) evening at Canyon Lodge. Certainly, the risk of a dark sky runs very low: Besides the live music, kids’ activities, and snowmobile rides, there will be a torchlight parade and fireworks. Cap it off by letting the kids meet Santa as well as Wooly, Mammoth’s lovably prehistoric mascot.

Merry Days & Holly NightsSquaw Valley/Alpine MeadowsDecember 17-31Santa doesn’t just sit on a big chair in Squaw Village— he likes to schuss down the mountain with the other skiers and snowboarders. During two weeks of festivities around Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, Santa makes regular appearances on the slopes; in between, there are horse-drawn carriage rides, ice sculpture demonstrations, and even a Santa Brunch. For another holiday treat, go on one of the resort’s Dawn Patrol ski tours, hosted on a few days this year by Olympic gold medalist Jonny Moseley. 

Santa Ski Free DayMountain High Ski resortDecember 17Santas likely outnumber the elves at this now-annual event at Mountain High, about 90 minutes from Los Angeles and Orange County. You can ski for free on this day when you make a small donation (of at least $20) to the eco-minded Protect Our Winters organisation, founded by Olympic snowboarder Jeremy Jones. The only hitch: You also have to don a full Santa suit with beard and hat. Even if you don’t go as Santa yourself, you’d be hard-pressed not to get in the holiday spirit surrounded by freestyling St. Nicks.

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Harriot Manley/ Sunset Publishing

Northern California

Discover the San Francisco Bay Area

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10
December
Average (°C)
Dec - Feb
16°
High
5°
Low
Mar - May
23°
High
8°
Low
June - Aug
27°
High
14°
Low
Sept - Nov
26°
High
7°
Low

A crimson bridge, cable cars, a sparkling bay, and streets lined with elegant Victorian homes—San Francisco is undeniably one of the world’s great cities. Located along the Northern California at the state’s distinctive bend in the coast, the region has an alluring magic that stretches beyond the bay to diverse cities with nightlife and trend-setting cuisine.

"I left my heart in San Francisco, High on a hill, it calls to me."  –singer Tony Bennett

The Bay Area is also home to some of the world’s finest wine country, including Napa Valley and Sonoma, plus waterfront towns, dramatic beaches, and the tech-savvy southern end of the bay known as the Silicon Valley, where lunchtime ideas at Google, Facebook, and Apple, turn into the next brilliant innovation. 

Plan your California getaway via San Francisco with these great deals!

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Schofield Images/Getty Images

Benicia

Immerse yourself in the Golden State lifestyle by seeking out fashion-forward independent retailers and local brands

Amid the hustle and bustle of San Francisco’s North Bay, the quiet waterside burg of Benicia...

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Courtesy of NPS Photo

Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial

Tour this military memorial that honors soldiers killed on the World War II home front and pays tribute to Concord’s role in civil rights history

California’s smallest national park service outlet covers a mere 2000 sqm in Concord on San Francisco Bay’s east shore—but it tells a very big...

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Erica Davis/Getty Images

Half Moon Bay

This delightful little beach town possesses serious surf DNA and is just a short drive from San Francisco

Half Moon Bay is situated 45 minutes south of San Francisco on Highway 1, but it might as well be half a world away. Home to the world-famous...

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Vacationland

4 Awesome Wine Country Resorts

Luxurious spas, farm-to-table dining, and easy access to dozens of wineries—these Napa and Sonoma resorts offer the indulgent getaway you need

Ready for some “me time” in Wine Country? Reserve your spot at one of these spectacular Napa and Sonoma resorts.

Farmhouse Inn,...

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San Francisco's cable cars are the only mobile National Monuments.
San Francisco itself is art, above all literary art. Every block is a short story, every hill a novel. Every home a poem, every dweller within immortal. That is the whole truth.
William Saroyan
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Thomas H. Story/ Sunset Publishing

Golden Gate Bridge

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See one of the world’s most famous landmarks, spanning an elegant bay

With towers soaring 746 feet/227 metres into the sky, its span arcing across the mouth of San Francisco Bay, and all of it painted bright red-...

May

Rock rolls into the wine country with this three-day event in Napa that features 2019 headliners Imagine Dragons, Neil Young, and Mumford & Sons. With more than 80 performers in the May 24–26...

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Jessica S./Flickr
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San Francisco has only one drawback - 'tis hard to leave.
Rudyard Kipling
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Kid-friendly fun zones, special kids' menus & amazing wine for the grownups

Sure wine country is romantic, but now it’s a surprisingly great destination for families too, with a growing number of vineyards trading in elegant tasting rooms for kid-friendly fun zones that...

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John/ Flickr
July

Get the Spanish spirit at this colourful event. Stroll the grounds of Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards with a glass of bubbly, and take in a whirl of passionate music, flamenco dancing, and food...

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Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards
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Taste the delicious dishes from these amazing California chefs

From a candy-coloured pastry shop to Michelin-starred dining rooms, top restaurants run by celebrity chefs dot the Golden State. And even if you don’t know these chefs from the TV...

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World-class accommodations in world-class locations

Head to the heart of California’s cities for luxurious stays at world-class accommodations. From San Francisco’s historic hotels to celebrity hot spots in Hollywood and Beverly Hills, California’s...

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Lynn Gately/Flickr
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Farm-fresh produce, culinary adventures

Juicy heirloom tomatoes and just-picked strawberries. Super-sweet peaches shaped like mini UFOs. Artisanal cheeses, emerald-green olive oils, local wildflower honey—California’s farmers’ markets...

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Laura Flippen
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From Gold Rush history to 8th wonders of the world, visit these favorites

If there was ever a box of chocolates—and all of them delicious—it’s the rich collection of natural treasures, fascinating...

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Amy Meredith/Flickr
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Make memories at some of California's family-favorite beaches

Sand, water, and kids—it’s a natural combination for easy family fun. This sandy dozen offers appealing, family-friendly features, such as calm water for new swimmers, tide pools for intrepid...

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Alex Farnum
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Courtesy of San Jose International Airport

Spotlight: San Jose

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Tech savvy, international flair

The first hit of this city’s unmistakable techy-ness starts right off the bat—if you get here by plane. Meet Space Observer, a 26-foot/7.9-metre-...

May 11 - May 20
May

America's largest and most prestigious cycling event brings many of the world’s top riders to the Golden State. The 8-stage race changes it up every year, with new courses connecting cities and...

Amgen Tour of California
Amgen Tour of California
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It's simply a very romantic place. Just one look at any of those streets, and you couldn't be anywhere else -- it's so beautiful, and there's that location, and the sense of the free spirit. ... Who couldn't become ravenous in such a place?
Julia Child
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Sample ultra-fresh, hyper-local, and downright amazing

When you come to California, come hungry. This is a state that seriously knows how to cook. Amazing and innovative chefs sprinkled with Michelin stars work with local farms and artisanal food...

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George's at the Cove
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Old-fashioned fun in the Golden State

Historic oceanfront playgrounds, classic city-park charmers, boisterous adventures—smaller theme parks and attractions offer an array of ways to play. These smaller parks offer old-...

Safari West
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According to legend, Winchester Mystery House's maze of passages and building oddities were designed to confuse the ghosts of those killed by Winchester rifles.
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Kids get an inside look at wildlife, space, and more

From cool ways for your kids to learn about wildlife, to an insider’s look at a space station, to a chance to walk through a rainforest or learn about the night sky, there’s a bumper...

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Peter Alfred Hess/Flickr
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Check these amazing experiences off your bucket list

Kiss a beluga, see cool movie props, and learn about Walt’s secret hideaway on exclusive and behind-the-scenes tours at California’s theme parks and attractions. Here’s a roundup of worth-the-...

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Photo by Michael Saechang/Flickr
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Where to release your inner fashionista

Shopping is an art form in California. Whether you're in search of the perfect cocktail dress or an authentic Mexican piñata, you'll find it here. Want to sample fresh produce? Try our farmers...

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South Coast Plaza
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Tai Power Seeff

Livermore

Ranches, vineyards, and relaxed appeal east of San Francisco

With warm sun and wide open spaces cradling vineyards, ranches, and wine country estates, the Livermore Valley makes an appealing destination just...