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

November 19 through December 29

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 at the end of the season for the New Year’s Eve Train, which features a four-course dinner and plenty of local sparkling wine.


Surfin’ Santa Arrival

Seaport Village, San Diego

November 26

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

November 26

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’s Main Beach on a well-staffed outrigger canoe. Then, he’ll hear kids’ wish lists while relaxing in his beach chair. A week later, Capitola Village hosts its tree lighting ceremony with cookie-decorating, face painting, and a window-display contest; look for Santa in the crowds here again, this time with his pal, the Christmas Fairy.


Solvang JuleFest

December 2–4 and 9–11

This charming Central Coast town embraces its Scandinavian heritage at the two-weekend-long JuleFest, which kicks off with a parade of Danish dancers, horses and carriages, and vintage cars. Afterward, the red-clad dude with his own Nordic heritage greets the kids at Solvang Park. The second weekend of festivities includes a Nativity Scene with live animals, along with the Solvang Wine and Beer Walk at 13 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

December 3

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 live 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

San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Capitola

December 10

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. The San Francisco crawl will begin at noon with a striking rendezvous in Union Square; if you decide to join them, just remember to adhere to the SantaCon code to be kind to kids, police, and bartenders. There are also SantaCon options before and after the 10th: December 3 in the Bay Area towns of Hayward and Windsor, and in Cupertino on December 16.


Night of Lights


December 17

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

December 17-31

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, and Grinch look-alike contests. For another holiday treat, go on one of the resort’s Dawn Patrol ski tours, hosted on a few days this year by Olympic gold medalist Jonny Moseley.


2nd Annual Santa Day

Mountain High Ski resort

December 20 

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.

Harriot Manley/ Sunset Publishing

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. 

Russian River Brewing Company


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...

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...

Chao Kusollerscharlya/Shutterstock

Spotlight: Berkeley

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...

San Francisco's cable cars are the country's only mobile National Historic Landmark.
Thomas H. Story/ Sunset Publishing

Golden Gate Bridge

See one of the world’s most famous landmarks, spanning an elegant bay

With towers soaring 746 feet/227 meters into the sky, its span arcing across the mouth of San Francisco Bay, and all of it painted bright red-...

San Francisco has only one drawback - 'tis hard to leave.
Rudyard Kipling
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...

Mathew Spolin/Getty Images

Spotlight: Napa Valley

Explore ultimate wine country luxury in the land where Cabernet is king

Napa Valley reigns as the land of grand estates, expansive tasting rooms, quaint towns, and elegant lodgings, many of which edge up to the...

Atelier Crenn
Courtesy of MasterChef Australia

Atelier Crenn

Two Michelin stars sparkle at this minimalist gem

For a visual feast that also happens to taste amazing, book a table at Atelier Crenn, where gifted chef Dominique Crenn creates visually stunning...

Vicki Jauron/Getty Images

Spotlight: Sonoma County

Escape to wine country with secret vineyards, cozy inns, and rich history

Spanning more than one million acres from the Pacific Ocean to the rugged Coast Range, this slice of wine-country bliss defies typecasting. Yes,...

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...

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...

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
Harriot Manley/Sunset Publishing

Trip 8-10 days 10 stops

Ultimate Northern California

Explore the best of Northern California's Great Outdoors
San Francisco

It may measure less than 50 square miles/130 square kilometers, but San Francisco justly ranks as one of the greatest cities in the world. Famous for grand-dame Victorians, classic cable cars, dynamic diversity, a beautiful waterfront, and a soaring crimson bridge, the  “City by the Bay” is the...

Muir Woods National Monument

Tucked into an ocean-facing fold of Mount Tamalpais, the signature peak just north of the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County, Muir Woods National Monument protects the last stand of uncut old-growth coast redwoods in the Bay Area, where loggers had all but denuded the region by the late 1800s....

Farm-fresh produce, culinary adventures

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

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...

Amy Meredith/Flickr
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...

Alex Farnum
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—...

Courtesy of San Jose International Airport

Spotlight: San Jose

Tech savvy, international flair

The first hit of this city’s unmistakable techy-ness starts right off the bat—if you get here by plane. Meet Space Observer, a 26-foot/7.9-meter-...

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
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...

Peter Alfred Hess/Flickr

Trip 3-5 days 10 stops

San Francisco Bay Loop

Discover this something-for-everything loop tour around an iconic bay
Golden Gate Bridge

Start your trip with a visit to one of the most iconic spans in the world. With towers soaring 746 feet/227 meters into the sky, its span arcing across the mouth of San Francisco Bay, and all of it painted fire-engine red, the Golden Gate Bridge makes a dramatic destination, and a great way to...

San Francisco

End your road trip by exploring one of the world’s great cities. Famous for grand-dame Victorians, classic cable cars, dynamic diversity, a beautiful waterfront, and a soaring crimson bridge, the “City by the Bay” truly has it all. Trend-defining cuisine ranging from Michelin-starred dining to...

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-...

Michael Saechang/Flickr
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...

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...