If you’re seeking twinkling lights, holiday goodies, and serious cheer this time of year, you can’t go wrong heading to a theme park.
California theme parks are celebrating the season with gusto this month, whether your holiday treat of choice is a tamale, a latke, or anything with peppermint. To make the most of your visit, plan to stay after dark to experience the light tunnels, fireworks, and possibly a “snowfall” of bubbles. While some parks offer culinary or entertainment add-ons, most festivities are included with regular admission—and you might even score a deal on your ticket if you also buy a pass for 2022.
Plan a trip around one of these one-stop holiday celebrations, listed north to south.
Holiday in the Park, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom
This time of year, the Vallejo theme park is home to a Victorian Christmas Village populated with costumed characters, a Christmas Tree Forest, and a Toy Land lined with giant toys. For a twist on the usual Santa pic, pose with a penguin, or take a selfie in front of the 30-foot Christmas tree decked out with poinsettias. Upgrade your ticket (for a little less than the cost of one added day) to add a 2022 season pass. Through Jan. 2.
Winterfest, California’s Great America
This Santa Clara theme park morphs into its own winter wonderland during the holidays. Ice skate in front of the park’s iconic Carousel Columbia, see live shows, and shop for locally made gifts in the Artisan Alley. Check out the Instagram-worthy array of vintage billboard reproductions in the Coca-Cola Polar Bear Plaza, and don’t miss the maze of trees at Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tree Lot. The park’s Cocina de Navidad serves up holiday tamales, pozole, and Mexican hot chocolate, as well as Bay Area specialties like sourdough bread bowls with clam and poblano corn chowder. Through Jan. 9.
Holiday Fun at Gilroy Gardens
On select nights, the Gilroy amusement park stays open late for ice skating, a falling “snow” of bubbles, plus meet-and-greets with Santa. As an add-on, you can enjoy a holiday feast of turkey and trimmings. Take note: Admission is free for the holiday and New Year’s Eve celebrations when you buy a 2022 premium annual pass now. Through Dec. 31.
Holiday in the Park, Six Flags Magic Mountain
Bask in the roughly two million lights at this Six Flags park in Santa Clarita: You’ll see them twinkling along the Peppermint Path, on the century-old tree known as the Wishing Oak, and in the HollyRock tunnel, which also features 1950s rockabilly music and classic cars. The park’s seasonal treats include Holiday Turkey Poutine, enchilada soup, and traditional tamales. Keep an eye out for Santa and his reindeer as you ride the park’s thrillers CraZanity and X2. Upgrade your ticket to add a 2022 season pass. Through Jan. 2.
Holidays at Universal Studios Hollywood
The Los Angeles theme park has brought back two classic holiday attractions. Start with Grinchmas, featuring The Grinch and his canine sidekick Max. After that, take in the lights, decorations, and music of The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle, complete with Harry Potter’s peers singing in the Holiday Frog Choir. Enjoy seasonal treats like their “chocolate-cake-in-a-jar” hot chocolate inside the park, or the holiday goodies at Voodoo Doughnut on Universal CityWalk. Through Jan. 9.
Knott’s Merry Farm
The Buena Park theme park does its own version of a country Christmas: Stroll through the Christmas Crafts Village in the park’s Old West-style Ghost Town, catch the nightly Christmas tree lighting ceremony, and enjoy the falling bubbles of the evening Snow and Glow Show. The park’s creative culinary streak shows with seasonal dishes such as Turkey Tetrazzini, Prancer’s Pickle-and-Bacon Pizza, and chocolate-cranberry macarons. Choose from live shows such as the ice skaters of Merry Christmas, Snoopy! and a musical sequel to the Christmas Carol, Marley’s Wings, at the park’s old-school Birdcage Theater. Through Jan. 2.
Holidays at the Disneyland Resort
The Anaheim parks cover every corner of the holiday season. Disney California Adventure Park celebrates all of December’s big events in its Disney Festival of Holidays—with observances of Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Navidad, Diwali, and Christmas. Also keep an eye out for Mirabel, the star of the new Disney movie Encanto. Consider purchasing the Sip and Savor Pass, which is good for eight small-plate-style treats at participating kiosks—like Hot Nashville Turkey Sliders or Gingerbread Mickeys. Come from Jan. 3–9 to celebrate Three Kings’ Day with its own decor and photo ops.
In Disneyland Park, be sure to get pics of the gleaming Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, watch A Christmas Fantasy Parade, and enjoy the decked-out Haunted Mansion Holiday. Evenings end with a colorful sky and bubble snow during the Believe in…Holiday Magic Fireworks. Through Jan. 9.
Holidays at LEGOLAND California
This year the Carlsbad resort offers a new holiday show, Mrs. Claus’ Gingerbread Bakery, as well as meet-and-greets with characters such as a LEGO Toy Soldier and LEGO Gingerbread Man. Take a family pic at the sleigh manned by a life-size LEGO Santa, or in front of the 30-foot-tall LEGO tree. On New Year’s Eve, come for the kid-friendly party and ball-drop at 6 pm. Through Jan. 2.
SeaWorld Christmas Celebration
Sesame Street fans will love the San Diego park’s holiday party this year: Attractions include Elmo's Christmas Wish Show and the twinkle lights of the Sesame Street Christmas Village. Then, check out the acrobatics of Santa's Circus Show, the tunnel of more than 5,000 lights, and, on select nights, the evening bubble “snowfall” and fireworks. Holiday add-ons include reserved seating for shows, or a Holiday Brunch with Elmo & Friends. Upgrade your ticket (for about the cost of one more day) to score a 2022 season pass. Through Jan. 2.