Get Festive! Your Guide to the Best 2016 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.

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!

November 25-27

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. 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:

When: November 25 – 26, December 3- 4, 10 – 11, 17 – 23
Where: Train Departs from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Get more info here.

Holiday Lights Train Photo Credit: Native Santa Cruz

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.

When: November 25 – 27, December 3 – 4, 10 – 11
Where: Roaring Camp Railroads, Felton

Get more info here..

Santa Comes to Town – Boulder 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, photos with Santa, and horse-drawn carriage rides. The fun continues on Saturday with the Boulder Bucks shopping challenge and another opportunity to visit with Santa.

When: November 25 from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm
Where: Boulder Creek Hardware

Get more info here.

Surfin’ Santa

Surfin Santa Capitola

Surfin’ Santa and his reindeer will arrive at Capitola Beach via outrigger canoe and surfboard. Once on the beach Santa will visit with all the kids, so be sure to bring your wish list and a camera. Don’t miss the annual Palm Tree Lighting at 5pm.

When: November 26, from 12:00 pm to 3:00 pm
Where: Capitola Beach

Get more info here.

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

Crow’s Nest Tree Lighting Party

Extra Large provides the tunes, Santa and Mrs. Claus the photo opps, and Crow’s Nest Beach Market the festive tree lighting. The store will be open for food, bevs, and holiday shopping.

When: November 26 from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm
Where: Crow’s Nest Beach Market

Get more info here.

Felton Holiday Tree Lighting with Santa Claus

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Come out for some Santa Cruz Mountain holiday festivities at the Felton Tree Lighting ceremony. Enjoy caroling, hot chocolate, holiday cookies, and get your photo taken with Santa Claus.

When: November 26, from 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm
Where: Felton Deck and Firehouse

Get more info here.

December 2-4

Frosty Fun Fest

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Get festive, get creative, and maybe even get your team together for the Graham Cracker House Contest. Enjoy family-friendly fun including a Snowflake Creation Station and hot cocoa. Festive sweaters encouraged!

When: December 2 from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm
Where: Louden Nelson Community Center

Get more info here.

Alladin’s 12th Annual Christmas Open House

Enjoy live music, wine, homemade pastries and more during this 3-day event which also features a craft fair and donation collection for Second Harvest Food Bank.

When: December 2 – 4, from 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm
Where: Alladin Nursery & Gift Shop

Get more info here.

Music of the Season plus Sing-Along Traditional Carols

Join the Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus, as they bring you music of the season and traditional sing-along Christmas carols. This is a wonderful way to kick off the holidays!

Get more info here.

When: December 2 – 4
Where: Holy Cross Church

Santa at Marini’s Candies

Marini’s is magical year-round, but during the holidays they kick it up a notch with Santa visits (bring your camera), gingerbread house workshops, and of course, a wide selection of ornaments to peruse while picking out treats.

When: December 3-4, 10-11, 17-18, 21-23
Where: Marini’s Candies in Downtown Santa Cruz

Get more info here.

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.

When: December 3, from 9:00 am – 11:00 am
Where: Chaminade Resort & Spa

Get more info here.

Downtown Santa Cruz Holiday Parade

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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.

When: December 3, from 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Where: Downtown Santa Cruz

Get more info here.

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.

When: December 3, from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm
Where: Boys & Girls Club of Santa Cruz

Get more info here.

Capitola Village Winter Festival

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Celebrate holiday magic in Capitola Village! Enjoy an afternoon of kid-friendly activities, complimentary snacks, caroling, gift certificate giveaways, and a window display contest leading up to the tree lighting and grand prize drawings at 5:30pm.

When: December 3, from 2:00 pm – 5:30 pm
Where: Capitola Village

Get more info here.

31st Annual 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 3, from 5:30 pm – 9:00 pm
Where: Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor

Get more info here.

Scotts Valley Christmas Tree Lighting Festival

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Gather at the Scotts Valley Community Center for the annual Light Up the Night Tree Lighting Celebration. Lots of entertainment is in store from two stages, Mrs. Claus’ Workshop for kids, carriage and hay rides, and of course, the main event: Santa’s arrival via fire truck to light the tree.

When: December 3, from 4:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Where: Scotts Valley Community Center

Get more info here..

Aptos Village Holiday Craft Fair & Tree Lighting

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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.

When: December 3, from 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm
Where: Aptos Village Park Tree (corner of Soquel Drive and Aptos Creek Road)

Get more info here.

Holiday Carnival (Benefitting Save Our Shores)

A bounce house, face painting, exotic petting zoo, and cookie decorating…yeah, we’d say this event is kid-friendly. There will also be food trucks, a gift wrapping station, live music, and a raffle. In case of rain, the event will be moved indoors, so mark your calendar rain or shine.

When: December 4 from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm
Where: Garfield Park Community Church

Get more info here.

Multicultural Celebration & Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony

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Head 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 4:30 PM!

When: December 4, from 1:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Where: Downtown Watsonville

Get more info here..

Old-Fashioned Christmas Tea

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Step back in time and enjoy an old-fashioned Christmas tea while taking in the history of the diverse cultures that shaped California. The house will be filled with sweet treats, beautiful clothing and objects of art, and there will be a wonderful slide show to enjoy.

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

Get more info here.

 43rd 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.

When: December 4, from 11:30 am to 1:00 pm
Where: Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium

Get more info here.

Annual Family Holiday Craft Event

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Help decorate the SLV Museum! Cookies, juice, and craft supplies provided to create holiday ornaments and table displays.

When: December 4, from 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm
Where: San Lorenzo Valley Museum

Get more info here.

Happy Holiday Eggnog Festive Frolic

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The goal is to “fill West Cliff path with the craziest, costume clad, holiday spirited, world changing, eggnog brigade ever!” and collect food donations for Second Harvest.

When: December 4 from 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm
Where: Parade begins at Garfield Park Community Church toward West Cliff Drive

December 9-11

Festivos en el Rancho (Holidays on the Ranch)

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

When: December 10, froom 11:00 am to 3:00 pm
Where: Castro Adobe State Historic Park

Get more info here.

2nd Annual Downtown SANTA Cruise

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This evening involves team work, a text based scavenger hunt, drink specials and prizes. Santa hats included!

When: December 10, from 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Where: Downtown Santa Cruz

Cost: $20

Get more info here.

Santa & The Banana Slug String Band

Families can rock out to the Banana Slug String Band and take part in the kids craft activity (last year it was mini-succulent planters). Special treats from Mission Hill Creamery, local hot cider, free gift-wrapping, and pictures with Santa using your own camera round out this free event. Plus, you can choose a live or cut Christmas tree to bring home!

When: December 10 from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm
Where: Mountain Feed & Farm Supply

Get more info here.

Jingle Bell Rock 5K

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This is your chance to burn off some of those holiday calories while supporting a great cause.  The Jingle Bell Rock 5K run benefits Toys for Tots. There will be prizes awarded for best dressed runner, best dressed team, best dressed canine, and best decorated stroller.

When: December 11 at 9:00 am
Where: San Lorenzo Park

Get more info here.

Jingle Shells Arts and Crafts Festival

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You’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.

When: December 11, from 12:00 pm to 5:30 pm, followed by whale lighting
Where: Seymour Marine Discovery Center

Get more info here.

December 16-18

Winterpalooza and Toy Trains at the MAH

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Every family has a toy train lover young or old, and often both! Bring the whole crew down for the opening of the Toy Trains exhibit, hands-on crafts, gift shopping at the Teen Art Market, and a performance by the multigenerational choir Hark, the Family of Carolers.

When: December 16, 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm
Where: Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History

Get more info here.

The Nutcracker

Santa Cruz Ballet Theatre presents the Nutcracker at the Civic Auditorium.  This classic holiday show features a full professional orchestra and over 70 local performers.

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.

When: December 16 – 18
Where: Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium

Get more info here.

Holidays on the Ranch

Holidays on the Ranch at Wilder Ranch

Enjoy an old-fashioned holiday celebration at Wilder Ranch.  The Holidays on the Ranch Festival takes you back to a simpler time with crafts, games, and music from the early 20th century. Get in the spirit and dress in your best turn-of-the-century costume and hop on a draft-horse carriage ride!

When: December 17, from 11:00 am – 3:00 pm
Where: Wilder Ranch State Park

Get more info here.

Free Family Movie: Polar Express

Support Second Harvest Food Bank and catch a holiday classic on the big screen.

When: December 17 from 10:00 am to 11:45 am
Where: Del Mar Theatre
Cost: Free; Food or Cash Donation

Get more info here.

Victorian Horse Drawn Carriage Rides

Reserve a traditional horse-drawn carriage ride in advance for your family, a group of friends, or romantic date.

When: December 17 – 23
Where: Downtown Santa Cruz
Cost: $50

Get more info here.

Additional Events

Holiday Craft Fairs & Shopping Events

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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.

December 21+

Gifts for Groms 3-Day Play

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Come out for one or all three shows and help Animo collect toys and food donations for the Boys and Girls Club of Santa Cruz. Here’s what to expect: “More community party style than shows, we’ll be family friendly at The Reef, keeping it barely classy at the Nest and letting loose at Zeldas.”

When: December 21-23
Where: 12/21 The Reef Bar & Pono Hawaiian Grill; 12/22 The Crow’s Nest; 12/23 Zelda’s

Get more info here.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Dinner

Sunday Brunch at the Chaminade is always a special occasion, so imagine a Christmas buffet complete with fresh salads, a seafood display, hot appetizers, soup, a carving station, entrees, a pasta display, traditional holiday accompaniments, a kids’ buffet, and a lavish dessert selection! Treat your family to a holiday meal they won’t soon forget.

When: December 24, 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm & December 25, 12:00 pm to 6:00 pm
Where: Chaminade Resort & Spa

Get more info here.

Chanukah Train

Experience Chanukah in a brand new way aboard Roaring Camp Railroad’s Chanukah Train. The festivities will begin, on the 5th 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.

When: December 29 @ 6:15 pm
Where: Train Departs from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Get more info here.

Additional Holiday Fun:

  • Friday & Saturday night holiday performances at Kianti’s Pizza and Pasta Bar include pizza spinners, dancing servers, and a flame-raising kitchen. Shows start at approximately 6:00 pm and 8:00 pm.
  • Griswoldia, a laser light art installation, will illuminate the Tannery Arts Center every evening in December from 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm.
  • Take a Twinkle Tour and zip line through a redwood forest at night at Mount Hermon Adventures.
  • If you’re looking for a uniquely local Christmas experience to share with family then consider stopping by Farley’s Christmas Wonderland.

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About Christine Candelaria

Christine Candelaria is a local mom of four who enjoys sharing her Santa Cruz adventures. You can follow her #santacruzlife on Instagram at @theaumsmama.

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