This year, celebrate the season with a new family tradition: taking a vacation that makes the holidays feel like a vacation again. That means a holiday—whether it’s Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, or New Year’s Eve— at a hotel where the cooking, light-hanging, or sometimes even the package-wrapping are done for you. Have enough time to build a gingerbread house (and someone else to clean up afterward), take the kids to meet Santa, and then step outside to ski—or, depending on your destination, even stroll on the beach. Start planning a blissful holiday at one of these California hotels, listed north to south:
Holidays at Montage, Healdsburg
Nosh on holiday cookies in the lobby. Let the kids build gingerbread houses, while grownups sample cheese platters or sip mulled wine. The Montage resort in Sonoma County celebrates with a wide range of activities from Thanksgiving through New Year’s—such as decorating dreidels, writing letters to Santa, and ringing in the new year with yoga, meditation, or oysters with bubbly. Down in Laguna Beach, the Montage Laguna Beach celebrates, too, with a variety of special dinners, brunches, and a life-scale gingerbread house that you can explore.
The Gingerbread Mansion at the Fairmont San Francisco
During the holiday season, San Francisco’s stately Fairmont San Francisco embraces Victorian architecture—and an edible form at that. Inside the lobby, the hotel’s pastry and engineering teams create a two-story Victorian gingerbread house: 22 feet high and 23 feet wide, made with roughly 7,000 house-made gingerbread bricks covered with royal icing and candy. To get an up-close look, book a private dinner inside the house. This time of year, you can also partake in one of the daily Holiday Teas, or book the Santa Suite package, which includes a stay in a decked-out two-bedroom suite.
Teddy Bear Tea at the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco
Bring your tea party fans plus their stuffed-bear friends to this grand tradition at the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco in Nob Hill. A special kids’ menu offers hot chocolate, assorted sandwiches, scones, and sweets, while adults can enjoy traditional tea cuisine and adult beverages. Everyone can enjoy the afternoon show starring an elf and his giant teddy bear sidekick, then take a picture with the bear afterward.
Après Village and Skating at Four Seasons Silicon Valley, East Palo Alto
Stay at this Four Seasons on the San Francisco Peninsula for a ski chalet experience without any chilly weather. Skate on the outdoor skating rink on weekend evenings, pose for pictures on the winter sleigh with a snow globe backdrop, and dine from the menu inspired by world-famous ski destinations, including Gruyère cheese and Champagne fondue, poutine, and warming cocktails. The holiday lasts a delightfully long time too, running through Feb. 25.
Thanksgiving at The Ahwahnee, Yosemite National Park
With snowy Yosemite Valley as the backdrop, a holiday stay at the 1920s masterpiece The Ahwahnee is a serious treat. Spend Thanksgiving at the stone-and-timber hotel for a five-course feast of free-range turkey, vegetarian options, and Yosemite-inspired desserts like the Chocolate Dome, topped with cappuccino mousse and raspberry sauce.
Note: The hotel’s famed Bracebridge Dinners will not return until the holiday season of 2023, due to the hotel’s upcoming renovations, requiring that the hotel be closed beginning Jan. 2, 2023.
Gingerbread Glamping at the Langham Huntington, Pasadena
The sprawling Langham Huntington Pasadena, which first opened in the early 1900s, is the picture of traditional elegance—which, combined with Los Angeles County’s balmy weather, makes for sunny holiday bliss. For big feast days, choose from luxurious dining options such as the resort’s Thanksgiving buffet or December’s Teddy Bear Teas. Kids will especially love the Gingerbread Glamping experience: an in-room tent stocked with holiday goodies, a storybook, and a gingerbread house kit.
The Pasadena resort is also a prime spot to stay for the Rose Bowl and Rose Parade, if you plan to stay through New Year’s.
Terranea Traditions, Rancho Palos Verdes
This Rancho Palos Verdes resort, tucked into the bluffs of Los Angeles’ South Bay, celebrates the holidays with menorah lightings and a giant Christmas tree on the grounds. The family-friendly hotel offers lots of activities in November and December, including cider-pressing, holiday shopping that benefits charities, and a daily search for the resort’s Elf on a Shelf. Grown-ups, meanwhile, will love holiday activities and specials including the Turkey Day Hike, the Lighting of the Menorah, and holiday movie screenings.
Festival of Lights at the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa, Riverside
If you seek out light displays during this time of year, Riverside’s Mission Inn Hotel & Spa is your dream holiday hotel. The registered National Historic California Landmark, which dates to 1876, exudes old-world grandeur with its turrets, domes, and flying buttresses. But this time of year, the ambience goes up a few notches, thanks to roughly four million lights and 400 animated figures. The hotel also offers holiday specials for weeknight stays, so you can get the pageantry to yourself and bundle in perks like a bottle of wine and sweets.
The Holidays at La Quinta Resort, Greater Palm Springs
Frank Capra is rumored to have written It’s a Wonderful Life during one of his many stays at this Greater Palm Springs resort. So every year, the Spanish-style La Quinta Resort & Club morphs, as best it can, into a cactus-dotted version of Bedford Falls, the fictional town where Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey has his holiday awakening. Carolers often stroll the grounds and revelers can roast chestnuts at fire pits, look at the decorated windows, and listen for the occasional bell ringing. On some nights you might even get to watch the 1946 classic or other holiday movies on the resort lawn.
Holidays at the Disneyland Resort Hotels, Anaheim
During the holiday season, the theme parks at Disneyland Resort are festooned with lights, baubles, and a wealth of holiday goodies. The Anaheim resort’s three hotels—the Disneyland Hotel, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel—offer their own holiday ambience, plus a 15 percent-off holiday rate. Check out the ocean-themed Christmas tree at the Paradise Pier, the enormous Arts-and-Crafts–style gingerbread house at the Grand Californian, and the kitschy decor and drinks (like the Mele Kaliki-Mocha) at Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar inside the Disneyland Hotel. At Thanksgiving, many of the hotels’ restaurants do their own feasts, too, often with a buffet and strolling characters.
Holidays at the Balboa Bay Resort, Newport Beach
Don’t want winter weather for the holidays? This Forbes Four-Star, AAA Four-Diamond resort in Newport Beach offers holiday fun for people who like twinkling lights but also enjoy paddleboards, Duffy boats, and an Olympic-sized pool. Feast on turkey at the Thanksgiving Buffet on the Bay in November, or enjoy the resort’s carolers and holiday brunches during December. From Dec. 14–19, stay here to get a prime viewing location for the famed Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade. Or, plan a trip around New Year’s Eve, when the resort celebrates with both a four-course dinner and a “Studio 54” party.
Holidays at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar, San Diego
This luxury resort in San Diego’s North County pulls out all the stops for the season. Start with two options for a sumptuous Thanksgiving feast, or build a holiday trip out of the outdoor ice rink, afternoon teas, on-site Nutcracker performances, and a Holiday Market offering gifts from San Diego small businesses,
Holidays at the Del, Coronado Island
San Diego’s Queen Anne–style Hotel Del Coronado boasts of having the first electrically lit outdoor Christmas tree, back in 1904. These days, the Coronado hotel’s two-story evergreen goes up in late November and becomes the focal point for nightly light shows. The beach becomes its own winter wonderland: Make “jingle s’mores” in the fire pits, watch outdoor movie screenings, or glide around the beachside ice-skating rink, only available this time of year (and accompanied by the requisite coffee and cocoa stand). Indoors, take part in the Victorian-style teas and Gingerbread House building, or have elves bring goodie bags to your room for the kids.