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Travel BLOG
November 30, 2016

Get Holly Jolly at These Festive and Fun Holiday Events

Photo by Barbara Karleen

Santa Cruz may sport more surfboards than sleighs, but we’ve got no shortage of yuletide cheer. During the holidays, dazzling light-strung boats illuminate the Monterey Bay and local artisans fill in for elves with beautiful, handmade gifts. Here’s a roundup of festive and fun events for all ages to add a little seaside sparkle to your holidays.

Photos courtesy of Roaring Camp Railroads

Holiday Lights Trains & Holiday Tree Walk
All aboard this magical train ride that’s become a beloved Santa Cruz tradition. Vintage cars adorned with thousands of twinkling lights roll through Santa Cruz as passengers delight in hot cider, holiday carols, and a visit from Santa. Afterward, the merriment continues at the Boardwalk which has been transformed into Santa's Kingdom. There’s also an evening Chanukah Train that starts with the lighting of a menorah before chugging through Santa Cruz with Chanukah stories, dreidel games, and kosher snacks. During the day, revelers also can hop aboard a steam train ride to the summit of Bear Mountain and enjoy decorated trees along the Holiday Tree Walk at Roaring Camp. Find ticket and scheduling information for all excursions at

Photo courtesy of Santa Cruz Polar Express

New at the Boardwalk this year, the Santa Cruz Polar Express whisks PJ-clad children and their families to the North Pole where they’re met by Santa and his elves. Just like the popular book and movie, passengers are entertained by singing elves, dancing chefs who serve cookies and hot cocoa, and a gift from Santa.


Photo courtesy of Santa Cruz Downtown Association

Downtown Holiday Parade
Downtown Santa Cruz kicks off the holiday season with this annual event that fills Pacific Avenue with jubilant bands, dancers, and a plenty of local eccentricity. Afterward, grab a map and enjoy a holiday scavenger hunt to find hidden reindeer at local shops for an assortment of prizes. // Saturday, December 3, 10:00 a.m.

Photo courtesy of Arts council Santa Cruz County

Winter Art Market
Shop local at The Tannery Arts Center’s annual Winter Art Market with a selection of handmade ceramics, jewelry, apparel and artwork direct from over 50 artists. Guests can craft ornaments and stockings while enjoying live music and caroling.
Thursday, December 1, 5:00 - 8:00 p.m.
Friday, December 2, 7:00 - 10:00 p.m.
Saturday, December 3, 1:00 - 6:00 p.m.
Sunday, December 4, 1:00 - 6:00 p.m.
Plus on Dec. 1, celebrate the lighting ceremony of Griswoldia, a laser light art installation by Tannery artist Geoffrey Nelson that will illuminate the Tannery Arts Center campus throughout December.

Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History Winter Open House + Sale
Enjoy free admission to the museum for cookies, hot cider, and winter-themed crafts at this family friendly event. Pop in to the museum store to take advantage of its annual Holiday Sale throughout the weekend. // December 2-4, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Watsonville Factory Sale
Shop local at this popular annual event which brings together notable Watsonville stores and factories for one huge holiday sale. Shoppers choose from a variety of locally made or grown products including handcrafted jewelry, apothecary products, wines and home goods. Vendors include Annieglass, Head’n Home, S. Martinelli & Co., Wargin Wines, and others. // Saturday, December 3, 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Capitola Village Winter Festival
Enjoy the magic of the holidays in the Capitola Village! An afternoon of kid-friendly activities, complimentary snacks, caroling, gift certificate giveaways, and a window display contest that leads up to the tree lighting and grand prize drawings at 5:30 PM. // Saturday, December 3, 2:00 – 5:30 p.m.

Photo courtesy of the Scotts Valley Chamber

Light Up the Night!
Santa arrives via fire truck to illuminate the Christmas tree at this tree-lighting festival in Scotts Valley. The winter themed celebration includes carriage and hayrides, food trucks, stage performances, Mrs. Claus’ Workshop, and photos with the big guy himself. // December 3, 4:00 - 8:00 p.m.

Photo by Tom Manheim

Lighted Boat Parade
The Santa Cruz Harbor makes things merry and bright with the 30th Annual Lighted Boat Parade, featuring fifty boats strung with lights parading through the waters. Revelers can enjoy hot drinks and nibbles at various locations along the south harbor. // December 3. Parade begins at 5:30 p.m.

Free, Family-Friendly Opera of Hansel & Gretel
The UCSC Music Department brings this holiday fairy tale to life via two, free performances at the campus’ Music Center Recital Hall. The opera is sung in English and geared toward children. // Sunday, December 4. Two shows: 10:00 a.m. & 12:00 p.m.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Holiday Bash
The Boardwalk throws its annual party for small groups who want all of the holiday fun with none of the holiday hassle. Partygoers can expect a buffet dinner, no host bar, and a variety of entertainment including DJs, photo booth, airbrush tattoos, and free game play at the Boardwalk’s arcade. // Friday, December 9, 2016, 6:00 – 11:00 p.m. Tickets: $45.99 +tax (per person)

Photo by Rachel Leonard

Jingle Shells Arts & Crafts Festival
Local artists and makers display ocean and nature-inspired gifts at this holiday celebration at the Seymour Marine Discovery Museum. Enjoy refreshments, musical performances and children’s crafts as you meander the exhibit hall brimming with marine exhibits. At dusk, the party moves outside to light up Ms. Blue, the world’s largest Blue Whale skeleton. $6 adults, $4 kids, Children 2 and under free. // December 11, 12:00 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.

Photo by Garrick Ramirez

Holidays on the Ranch
Enjoy the holidays as they were celebrated 100 years ago at this fun event at historic Wilder Ranch State Park. Join costumed docents for Victorian era games, crafts, and sing-a-longs. Guests can make wreaths, create ornaments, and enjoy a draft-horse carriage ride around the beautiful grounds. There’ll be plenty of hot spiced cider and Mexican chocolate to keep you warm! // December 17, 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Free Family Movie at Del Mar Theatre: The Polar Express
The gorgeous Del Mar Theatre welcomes families to this free screening of The Polar Express that benefit Second Harvest Food Bank’s holiday food drive. Guests who bring a food or cash donation can enjoy this holiday classic on the big screen. // December 17, 10:00 a.m.

Plus Ring in the New Year with a 1980's Rockin' NYE Party
Join the countdown to 2017 and experience an unforgettable “1980’s Rockin’ NYE” party at Chaminade Resort. The flashback starts with appetizers and includes a complete NYE beverage package of beer, wine, champagne and select NYE cocktails. Enjoy a themed strolling dinner experience, then dance the night away until the clock strikes midnight. Click here to book now. // December 31, 7:00 p.m.

Visit our website Events Page for even more holiday-inspired events!

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