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—where the cooking, light-hanging, or sometimes even the package-wrapping are done for you. Having enough time to build a gingerbread house (and someone else cleans 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 that blissful holiday at one of these California hotels:
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-high 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.
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.
The Bracebridge Dinner 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—especially if you come for The Bracebridge Dinner, which has been around as long as the stone-and-timber hotel itself. The event turns the dining room into an 18th-century blowout, helmed by the fictional character Lord Neville, first created by Washington Irving. (Fun fact: That role was played for years by photographer Ansel Adams.) The menu includes classics like duck confit, beef Bordelaise, and plum pudding, accented by carolers and Renaissance performers. (Editor’s note: The Bracebridge Dinner is scheduled to return in 2022.)
Spend Thanksgiving at The Ahwahnee for a five-course feast of free-range turkey, vegetarian options, and Yosemite-inspired desserts like the Chocolate Dome, with cappuccino mousse and raspberry sauce. Ring in the New Year and you typically get a six-course dinner, live music, and dancing in the Ahwahnee Dining Room, with its cathedral windows looking out onto the snowy mountains.
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 a Christmas morning brunch. Kids, though, will love the Gingerbread Glamping experience: an in-room tent stocked with holiday goodies, a storybook, and a gingerbread house kit.
Traditions at Terranea, Rancho Palos Verdes
This Rancho Palos Verdes resort, tucked into the bluffs of L.A.’s South Bay, celebrates the holidays with menorah lightings and a giant Christmas tree on the grounds. The family-friendly hotel offers lots of activities, too, including gingerbread-house kits, ornament-making activities, and a daily search for the resort’s Elf on a Shelf. Grown-ups, meanwhile, will love the coastal Turkey Day Hike or the Winter Solstice Hike. Throughout the season, the resort’s acclaimed restaurants do their own takes on holiday cuisine.
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 back 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. Typically, the hotel 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.
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 Grand Californian Resort & Spa, the Disneyland Hotel and the Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel—offer their own holiday ambience, and sometimes discounts on stays from Sunday through Thursday. 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.
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 projected on an outside wall. To stay in the filmmaker’s favorite suite at the resort, ask for the Capra (once known as the San Anselmo), which now features a vintage typewriter.
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.