Error message

Lingotek profile ID 4 not found.
A Surfboard-Toting Santa
Courtesy of Seaport Village

Cool California Santa Sightings

Cool California Santa Sightings
Skip the mall and find the man in red at these fun locations 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 dramatic entrances 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.


The Santa Train

Napa Valley Wine Train

Mid-November through late December

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 seasonally-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 in a few months for the Valentine’s Day Train, which features a multi-course dinner and a welcome taste of local sparkling wine.


Surfin’ Santa Arrival

Seaport Village, San Diego

Late November

In 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, 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

Late November

In 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 Beach on a well-staffed outrigger canoe. Then, he’ll hear kids’ wish lists while relaxing in his beach chair.


Solvang JuleFest

Saturdays in December

The charming Central Coast town of Solvang embraces its Scandinavian heritage at the month-long JuleFest, which kicks off on the first Saturday of December with a VIP Candlelight Tour of Solvang, led by costumed, caroling-leading tour guides. Afterward, the red-clad dude with his own Nordic heritage greets the kids at Solvang Park. The third Saturday of festivities includes a nativity scene with live animals, musical accompaniment, and narration, along with the Solvang Wine and Beer Walk that visits more than a dozen 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 Snowmen

Cornerstone Gardens, Sonoma

Early December

In 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 music, crafts, local cuisine, and wine and beer tastings. A live Santa reigns from his orange chair, listening to wishes and perhaps pardoning the embattled snowmen.


SantaCon Pub Crawl

Santa Cruz, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and more 

Throughout December

This 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). There’s nothing like streaming into a bar with all your Santa brethren and sistren, then, just as abruptly, quitting it for the next libation destination, united in your quest to bring holiday cheer to the world. See the SantaCon site for more cities and dates. If you decide to join in, just remember to adhere to the SantaCon code to be especially kind to kids, police, and bartenders.


Night of Lights



Just 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 Nights

Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows


Santa 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, even a Santa Brunch. For another holiday treat, go on one of the resort’s Ski, Ride & Après with Jonny ski tours, on a few holiday dates this year with Olympic gold medalist Jonny Moseley.


Santas Ski Free Day

Mountain High Ski resort

Late December

Santas 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 organization, 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.


Cool California Santa Sightings VCW_TI_5_BayLoop_Hero_Manley_1280x642_sized
Erica Davis/Getty Images

Northern California

Discover the San Francisco Bay Area

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. 

Cool California Santa Sightings vc_spotlightpointreyesnationalseashore_hero_rf_523060254_1280x640
Y Helfman/Getty Images

Spotlight: Point Reyes National Seashore

Map of the San Francisco Bay Area
Explore a brackish wonderland just north of San Francisco teeming with wildlife, filled with flowering plants, and dotted with hidden beaches.

Jutting dramatically out into the Pacific, the West Coast’s only national seashore extends across 70,000 acres of a large triangular peninsula...

Cool California Santa Sightings vc_halfmoonbay_st_rf_586994572_1280x640
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...

Cool California Santa Sightings VC_Sausalito_Hero_Stock_RF_508260845_1280x640
Eiojo Torpe/Getty Images


Explore this quaint town that’s just over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco

Just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, a steep hillside covered in chaparral and eucalyptus drops from Highway 101 to a flat, sunny shoreline, two...

Cool California Santa Sightings vc_ca101_resorts_winecountry_aubergedusoleil_videostill_1280x640

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” amid decadent surroundings? Reserve your spot at one of these spectacular Wine Country resorts.


Cool California Santa Sightings VC_SpotlightBerkeley_Hero_Stock_RF_149303390_1280x640
Chao Kusollerscharlya/Shutterstock

Spotlight: Berkeley

Cool California Santa Sightings vca_maps_sfbayarea_2
See a stunning museum, shop, and feast in the Bay Area’s most outspoken city

A haven for backyard artists and coffee-shop philosophers, Berkeley has deep roots in the Flower Power movement of the 1960s and ’70s. But...

Cool California Santa Sightings vc_spotlightoakland_hero_oakland_rf_895763984_1280x640
Diane Bentley Raymond/Getty Images

Spotlight: Oakland

Cool California Santa Sightings vca_maps_sfbayarea
Follow ace chefs and sip your way along an urban wine trail in the “other” city by the bay

No wonder it’s been called “San Francisco’s Brooklyn.” Located just across San Francisco Bay,...

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...

Cool California Santa Sightings Carmel_BeachDog_Farnum_preview_686x885
Alex Farnum
Cool California Santa Sightings VC_Questionnaire_NatalieCilurzo_RussianRiverBrewingCompany_NC5-060117_1280x640
Russian River Brewing Company


Cool California Santa Sightings vca_maps_sfbayarea_1
The co-owner of the wildly popular Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa shares her story, along with a few Golden State favorites

Natalie Cilurzo will never forget the day everything changed for the Russian River Brewing Company. It was February 5, 2010—the first Friday in...

Cool California Santa Sightings VCW_D_SFcity_CableCarWharf_1280x642_0
San Francisco's cable cars are the country's only mobile National Historic Landmark.
Taste the delicious dishes from these amazing California chefs

From a candy-colored 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...

Cool California Santa Sightings VCW_SI_T10_Milliken&Feniger_Portrait_preview_686x885
San Francisco has only one drawback - 'tis hard to leave.
Rudyard Kipling
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...

Cool California Santa Sightings VCW_SI_T5_John_preview_686x885
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...

Cool California Santa Sightings PalaceHotel_LynGateley_preview_686x885
Lynn Gately/Flickr
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
Farm-fresh produce, culinary adventures

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

Cool California Santa Sightings VCW_SI_FarmersMarket_T4_CV_DavisFrmMkt1_Flippen_preview_686x885
Laura Flippen
From Gold Rush history to the 8th wonder 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...

Cool California Santa Sightings McWayFalls_JPB_SP_preview_686x885
Amy Meredith/Flickr
Cool California Santa Sightings VCW_D_SF_T7_AKLB_1280x642_sized
Courtesy of Alonzo King LINES Ballet

Performing Arts

Museums, music, and a hint of bohemia

Nested near the city’s cupola-topped City Hall, impressive performance spaces in San Francisco present some of California’s—and the world’s—...

Cool California Santa Sightings Livermore_TaiPowerSeeff_1280x642_sized
Tai Power Seeff


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...

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
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
Tai Power Seeff
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...

Cool California Santa Sightings Shopping_SpecialFeature_preview_686x885_0
Cool California Santa Sightings FF_NCA3429_sh
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.
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 rain forest or learn about the night sky, there’s a bumper...

Cool California Santa Sightings T8_TurtleBay_PeterAlfredHess_preview_686x885
Peter Alfred Hess/Flickr

San Francisco Bay Loop

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-...

Cool California Santa Sightings VCW_SI_VIP_T1_MichaelSaechang_preview_686x885
Michael Saechang/Flickr