Get Festive! Your Guide to the Best 2015 Santa Cruz Holiday Events


Judging by the sheer variety of events throughout the county, there’s no shortage of holiday spirit in Santa Cruz.

Celebrate the season with tree lightings, train rides, parades by land and by sea, and of course, surfin’ Santa. Bonus for parents: Scroll down to see where to drop the kids while you get in some last minute shopping or a date night!

If you enjoy playful, thoughtful, and unique family traditions, check out our picks for fabulous and festive ways to celebrate the holidays in Santa Cruz!

The Last Noel

If you head straight to the mystery section when you visit Bookshop Santa Cruz or Logos, then The Last Noel is the perfect holiday show for you.  It’s part Grisham, part Dickens, and a whole lot of fun.

Get more info here.

When: November 20 – December 13
Where: Mountain Community Theater, Ben Lomond

Tandy Beal’s Nutz RE-Mixed!

Tandy Beal is once again putting her own modern spin on the beloved Nutcracker, complete with folklorico dancing, hip hop, and even a bit of juggling.  This is a great new holiday tradition for old and young viewers alike.

Get more info here.

When: November 20 thru December 6
Where: UCSC Theater Arts Mainstage Theater

Boulder Creek Tree Lighting and Santa StrollBoulder Creek Tree Lighting

You’ll find plenty of good old-fashioned holiday cheer at Boulder Creek’s Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony, along with live music, Black Friday shopping deals, and photos with Santa.

Get more info here.

When: November 27, 2:00 pm to 8:00 pm
Where: Downtown Boulder Creek

Surfin’ Santa

Surfin Santa Capitola

Surfin’ Santa and his reindeer will arrive via outrigger canoe and surfboard on Saturday, November 28 at 12:00 pm.

Surfin SantaCome join the crowds of cheering kids and families on the Capitola Beach to greet Santa.  Once on the beach Santa will visit with all the kids, so be sure to bring your Christmas list!

Get more info here.

When: November 28, from noon – 3:00 pm
Where: Capitola Beach

Surfin’ Santa Photo Credit: Capitola-Soquel Chamber of Commerce

Small Business Saturday

America Express’ annual answer to the large chain consumerism of Black Friday is back, and as always, a large number Santa Cruz’s independent businesses will be participating. Show your love for small businesses by saving your holiday deal shopping for Saturday.

Get more info here.

When: November 28
Where: Your Favorite Locally Owned Businesses

Felton Holiday Tree Lighting with Santa Claus

felton tree lighting 2015Come out for some Santa Cruz mountain holiday festivities at the Felton Tree Lighting ceremony. Located in the middle of Felton, the Heritage Tree will be the gathering spot for this event. Enjoy caroling, hot chocolate, holiday cookies, and get your photo taken with Santa Claus.

Get more info here.

When: November 28, from 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm
Where: Felton

Holiday Tree Walk

Start your adventure at Roaring Camp, where you’ll board the daytime steam train to Bear Mountain.  Once you make it to the summit, you’ll be treated to hot cider as you walk through the beautifully decorated trees.

Guests are encouraged to bring new toys to benefit Santa Cruz County’s Toys for Tots program.  For each toy donated, guests will receive $2.00 off the price of their train ticket.

Get more info here..

When: November 27 – 29, December 5- 6, 12-13
Where: Roaring Camp Railroads, 5401 Graham Hill Road, Felton

The Train to Christmas Town

Enjoy a train ride to the magical ‘Christmas Town.’  This adventure is based on the book, The Train to Christmas Town, and characters from the story accompany you on the train.  Expect plenty of holiday festivities, including caroling, cookies and hot cocoa, and naturally, a visit with Santa Claus.

Get more info here.

When: November 27 – December 27
Where: 765 Ohlone Pkwy, Watsonville

Santa Cruz Holiday Lights Train

Santa Cruz Holiday Light Train

The Santa Cruz Holiday Lights Train is your chance to enjoy some old fashioned holiday cheer aboard vintage train cars.

The train is fully decked out in holiday lights, and guests are oozing with holiday cheer.  Sip hot spiced cider as you listen to holiday music, partake in carols, and visit with Santa Claus.

Once aboard, your experience will go a little something like this:

Get more info here.

When: November 27 – 28, December 5- 6, 12 – 13, 18 – 23
Where: Train Departs from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Holiday Lights Train Photo Credit: Native Santa Cruz

Santa’s Reindeer Round-Up

Play along in this holiday scavenger hunt to help Santa find his reindeer.  Scavenger Hunt maps are available at the Downtown Information Kiosk.

Find Santa’s reindeer and you’ll be entered into a drawing for some great prizes.

Get more info here..

When: November 27 – December 20
Where: Downtown Santa Cruz

First Friday Frosty Fun Fest

First Friday and holiday festivities collide in this Frosty Fun Fest at Louden Nelson.  Enjoy crafts and cookie decorating, and help transform the Community Art Gallery into a winter wonderland by creating your own unique snowflakes.

There will also be a holiday card and wrapping paper making station, and a gingerbread house contest.

Get more info here.

When: December 4, from 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm
Where: Louden Nelson Community Center

Toy Trains at the MAH

Every family has a toy train lover young or old, and often both! Bring the whole crew down to see toy trains from the 1920s to the 21st century in action and inquire about being a Volunteer Train Conductor.

Get more info here.

When: December 4 – 27, 11:00 am to 5:00 pm
Where: Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History

Holiday Craft Fairs & Shopping Events

santa cruz holiday craft fairs 2015

There are so many craft fairs and shopping events coming up that we had to create a separate post to list all of them.

Click here to read the post.

Capitola Village Holiday Open House & Tree Lighting

capitola village tree lighting 2015Ring in the holiday season in the Capitola Village with this Holiday Tree Lighting event.  Spend the afternoon shopping in the village, and top it off with the tree lighting at 5:30.

The tree lighting ceremony takes place in front of Quality Market, at the intersection of Capitola and Stockton Avenues.

Get more info here..

When: December 5, from 2:00 pm – 5:30 pm
Where: Capitola Village

Downtown Santa Cruz Holiday Parade

Santa Cruz Christmas Parade

The Annual Downtown Holiday Parade has everything you would hope for.  There will be floats, marching bands, classic cars, horses, crowd favorites like the Santa Cruz Public Library Precision Book Truck Drill Team, and naturally, Santa Claus.

Get more info here.

When: December 5, from 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Where: Downtown Santa Cruz

Downtown Santa Cruz Holiday Parade Photo Credit: Native Santa Cruz

Annual Children’s Holiday Craft & Food Fair

After the Downtown Santa Cruz Holiday Parade, mosey on down to the Boys & Girls Club and support young entrepreneurs as they sell their arts & crafts, baked goods, and wares.

Get more info here.

When: December 5, from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm
Where: Boys & Girls Club of Santa Cruz

Holidays on the Rancho & Open House

Come for a tour of our new state historic park, stay for the hot, handmade tortillas and a celebration of Holidays on the Rancho.

Get more info here.

When: December 5, froom 11 am to 3 pm
Where: Castro Adobe State Historic Park

Lighted Boat Parade

The harbor is one of the most picturesque locations in Santa Cruz on a regular day.  But this isn’t just a regular day.  The Lighted Boat Parade is your chance to see 50 boats decked out in holiday lights as they parade through the yacht harbor.

The Lighted Boat Parade is a Santa Cruz tradition and is always one of the most anticipated events of the season.

When: December 5, from 5:30 pm – 9:00 pm
Where: Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor

Scotts Valley Christmas Tree Lighting Festival

Gather at the Scotts Valley Community Center on December 5th for the Scotts Valley Christmas Tree Lighting Festival.

Get more info here..

When: December 5, from 4:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Where: Scotts Valley Community Center, 360 Kings Village Road, Scotts Valley

Aptos Village Holiday Craft Fair & Tree Lighting

Enjoy some holiday cheer in Aptos with the Holiday Craft Fair and Tree Lighting.  Local vendors will be selling their goods while you listen to holiday music, sip hot chocolate, and visit with Santa Claus.

Get more info here.

When: December 5, from 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm
Where: Aptos Village Tree (corner of Soquel Drive and Aptos Creek Road)

Watsonville Holiday in the Plaza

Watsonville Tree Lighting CeremonyHead to Downtown Watsonville for a Multicultural Celebration throughout the afternoon and a Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony in the evening. Don’t miss a visit from Santa Claus at 4 PM!

Click her for more information.

When: December 6, from 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Where: Downtown Watsonville

Jingle Bell Rock 5K

This is your chance to work off some of those holiday pounds while supporting a great cause.  The Jingle Bell Rock 5K run benefits Toys for Tots.

There will be prizes awarded for best dressed runner (holiday themed), best dressed team, best dressed canine, and best decorated stroller.

Get more info here..

When: December 6, start time: 9:00 am
Where: San Lorenzo Park

Music for the Feast of Christmas

Join the Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus, as they bring you Music of the season and traditional sing-along Christmas carols.

Get more info here..

When: December 4 – 6
Where: Holy Cross Church, 126 High St., Santa Cruz

Santa at Marini’s Candies

You can take home prints and grab a digital copy of your youngster’s photo with Santa at the Capitola Mall for $25.  Alternatively, you can visit with Santa and snap some photos for free at Marini’s…often without the line you’d have to wait through at the mall.

Get more info here.

When: December 5-6, 12-13, 19-23
Where: Marini’s Candies in Downtown Santa Cruz

Christmas Tea

You are cordially invited to an old-fashioned Christmas Tea. Everyone welcome!

Get more info here.

When: December 6, from 1:00pm to 4:00pm
Where: Pajaro Valley Historical Association

39th Annual Grey Bears Holiday Dinner

A delicious home-cooked holiday dinner, an exciting lineup of local entertainment, and an awards presentation are in store for our local seniors.

Get more info here.

When: December 6, from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm
Where: Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium

Kids Gift Making Workshop

What better way to teach kids the gift of giving than a gift making workshop? Santa Cruz Mountains Art Center will provide festive snacks and supplies for a variety of beautiful holiday gifts. Fun for the whole family!

Get more info here.

When: December 6, from 12 pm to 3 pm
Where: Santa Cruz Mountains Arts Center

Aptos Chamber of Commerce Holiday Mixer

The Aptos Chamber of Commerce will be hosting a holiday mixer at Seascape Beach Resort.  The mixer will have food and drink, a raffle, and plenty of networking opportunities.

Get more information here.

When: December 8, from 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm
Where: Seascape Beach Resort, Aptos

WinterFest & Downtown SANTA Cruise

Downtown Santa Cruz will become a winter festival compete with carolers and musicians along Pacific Avenue. Visit local merchants for Open House activities, including crafts and treats, then stick around for the inaugural Downtown SANTA Cruise to participate in real-time fun-and-games throughout the evening.

Get more info here.

When: December 12, from 4:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Where: Downtown Santa Cruz

Breakfast with Santa

‘Tis the season for time-honored traditions! Enjoy a holiday breakfast buffet at the Chaminade, and top it off with a visit with Santa Claus.

Get more info here.

When: December 5 & 12, from 9:00 am – 11:00 am
Where: Chaminade Resort & Spa

Holidays on the Ranch

Enjoy an old-fashioned holiday celebration at Wilder Ranch.  The Holidays on the Ranch Festival takes you back to a simpler time with activities such as wreath and candle making, cookie decorating, and strolling Victorian carolers. Get in the spirit and dress in your best turn-of-the-century costume!

There will also be hot drinks and baked goods for sale.

Get more info here.

When: December 12, from 11:00 am – 3:00 pm
Where: Wilder Ranch State Park

Victorian Carriage Rides

Santa Cruz Victorian carriage ridesHop aboard a Victorian horse-drawn carriage for a ride through Downtown Santa Cruz.  It’s the perfect way to round out date-night, or a family visit to downtown. You can grab tickets online or at the Downtown information kiosk.

Get more info here.

When: December 12-13 & 19-20
Where: Downtown Santa Cruz

Carriage Rides photo credit:

Chanukah Train

Experience Chanukah in a brand new way aboard Roaring Camp Railroad’s Chanukah Train.

The festivities will begin, on the 4th night of Chanukah, with the lighting of the menorah before boarding the train adorned with lights and Chanukah decorations.

Once aboard the train you will enjoy Chanukah traditions while riding through the streets of Santa Cruz.

Get more info here.

When: December 9 @ 6:15 pm
Where: Train Departs from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Holiday Posada

The whole family is invited to participate in this Latin American tradition that will also honor different faiths from around the world. Bring hot chocolate to share and a candle in a paper cup, or a flashlight, and dress warmly to walk and sing around the neighborhood.

Get more info here.

When: December 12 from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm
Where: Live Oak Family Resource Center

Santa & The Banana Slug String Band

Santa and Banana Slug String BandKids can rock out to The Banana Slug String Band and make mini-succulent planters to give as gifts. Special treats from Mission Hill Creamery, local hot cider, and the opportunity to take pictures with Santa using your own camera round out this free event.

Get more info here.

When: December 13 from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm
Where: Mountain Feed & Farm Supply

Jingle Shells Arts and Crafts Festival

Jingle ShellsYou’ve heard of holiday tree lightings, but are you ready for a whale lighting? After an afternoon of shopping ocean and nature-inspired gifts, gather ’round Ms. Blue, the largest displayed whale skeleton in the world, for a group sing along of Jingle Shells.

Get more info here.

When: December 13, from 12 pm to 5:30 pm, followed by whale lighting
Where: Seymour Marine Discovery Center

3rd Friday: Winterpalooza

Baby, it’s not that cold outside…What Santa Cruz lacks during the holidays—real snow—will be made up for at The MAH’s Winterpalooza! Make your own gift wrap and cards, shop for last-minute gifts at the Teen Art Market, and bring the kids (and grandpas) to the opening of the Toy Trains exhibit.

Get more info here.

When: December 18 from 4:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Where: Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History

The Nutcracker

The Santa Cruz Ballet Theatre presents the Nutcracker at the Civic Auditorium.  This classic holiday show features a live orchestra.

Sweet Treat tickets are available for the Saturday and Sunday shows.  These special tickets include photo opportunities with the Nutcracker characters, and free cookies from Pacific Cookie Company prior to the performance.

Get more info here.

When: December 18 – 20
Where: Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, 307 Church St., Santa Cruz

Need some kid-free time? Look no further!

Luma Winter Wonderland Day Camp

This half-day camp will keep your kids busy with yoga, movement, and arts & crafts, while you run last minute errands or just take the afternoon off to breathe.

Get more info here.

When: December 19, from 1:30 pm to 4:30 pm
Where: Luma Yoga & Family Center

Kaiwa Parent Date Night

While you experience the magic of a rare date night, your kids will be playing, learning, and creating art in a magical environment themselves.

Get more info here.

When: Ongoing Thursdays from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm
Where: Kaiwa Art and Play Space

Parents’ Night Out at June Bug’s Gym

Let your littles explore movement and imaginative play while working on gymnastics skills. The best part…dinner is provided and sponsored by Whole Foods Market Capitola.

Get more info here.

When: December 12 (ages 3-8); December 19 (ages crawling to 3yrs.) 5:45 pm to 8:45 pm
Where: June Bug’s Gym

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