Get Festive! Your Guide to the Best 2018 Santa Cruz Holiday Events

Santa Cruz Holiday Events 2018
The holidays are full of cheer in Santa Cruz with unique celebrations, beloved traditions, and a few new events this year that may become holiday traditions.

Things to do in Santa Cruz during the 2018 Holiday Season include tree lightings, train rides, parades by land and sea, and opportunities to see Santa.

Be sure to check back often, as new holiday events are added throughout the season.

Here’s a roundup of some of the best opportunities to celebrate the holidays in Santa Cruz!

2018 Holiday Guides

2018 santa cruz holiday craft fairs and shopping eventsThere are dozens of local craft fairs and shopping events in Santa Cruz County, taking place now through the big day. Get a jumpstart on your holiday shopping with our 2018 Guide to Santa Cruz Holiday Craft Fairs & Shopping Events.

November 23 – 25

Boardwalk Holiday Ice

When: Now through January 6, 2019
Where: Santa Cruz Boardwalk
Cost: $14.95 – $29.95 + tax

Enjoy the best of both worlds this holiday season; ice skating and the sunny beach boardwalk in Santa Cruz! Skate rentals are by the hour and you can count on some snow fall too! Reservations are recommended. Other events include classic Christmas specials and children’s holiday crafts. Runs November 17 – January 6.

Get more info here.

JOY! A Holiday Show

When: November 23 – December 2
Where: UCSC Theater Arts Center Mainstage Theater, Santa Cruz
Cost: $19.50-$55.25, includes box office fees

Wow the kids with a holiday circus! Tandy Beal & Company returns this holiday season with the zany holiday spectacular “JOY! A Holiday Show with Circus, Dance, and Live Music,” featuring world-class acrobats, dancers, and musicians. Runs November 23 through December 2.

Get more info here. 

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. Arrive back at the Boardwalk in style and enjoy arcade games, rides, and even ice skating!

When: November 23 – 24, December 1 – 2, 8 – 9 & 15 – 23
Where: Train Departs from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Cost: Adult $33, Child $28

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 23 – 25, December 1 – 2 & 8 – 9
Where: Roaring Camp Railroads, Felton

Cost: Adult $29, Child $23

Get more info here.

Miracle on 34th Street, the play

When: November 23 – 25; November 30 – December 2; December 7 – 9
Where: Park Hall 
Cost: $20 General $17 Seniors and Students $10 Twelve and Under

Mountain Community Theater presents its very own version of the holiday classic, “Miracle on 34th Street, the Play,” directed by Peter Gelblum. Join MCT for its 10th production, and the first since 2012, of this holiday favorite that will put you in the spirit of the season.

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 antique fire truck rides. Tree lighting at 6pm.

When: November 23 from 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm
Where: Downtown Boulder Creek

Get more info here.

Surfin’ Santa and Community Tree Lighting

Surfin Santa Capitola

Watch Santa and his reindeer arrive on Capitola Beach via outrigger canoe and surfboard. Once settled in his beach chair, Santa will visit with all the children and listen to their holiday wishes. Be sure to bring your camera to capture the memories! Stick around all afternoon for refreshments, face painting, live music, and the community tree lighting ceremony at 5pm.

When: November 24, from 12:00 pm to 5:30 pm
Where: Capitola Village and Beach

Get more info here.

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

Holiday Tree Lighting at the Beach Market

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 24 from 6:00 pm to 8;00 pm
Where: Crow’s Nest Beach Market

Get more info here.

Felton Holiday Tree Lighting and Santa’s Arrival

Come out for some Santa Cruz Mountain holiday festivities at the Felton Tree Lighting ceremony. Enjoy caroling, hot chocolate, holiday cookies, the lighting of the 100′ Heritage Tree, and get your photo taken with Santa Claus.

When: November 24 from 4:30 pm to 7:30 pm
Where: Felton Deck and Felton Firehouse

Get more info here.

Felton Toy Train Days!

Model train displays are a holiday staple and treat for the whole family. Make tracks for Felton during the weekends through December and take in a toy train masterpiece in a festive wintery setting.  Enjoy refreshments, holiday music, a photo booth,  train tables, and more!

When: November 24 – Decemer 30
Where: Felton Presbyterian Church
Cost: Free

Get more info here.

November 26 – December 2

Free Christmas Tree Giveaway

Santa Cruz Baptist Church is giving away free Christmas trees starting Nov. 30 from 5pm-9pm and again on Dec. 1 from 11am-3pm (while supplies last). There will be a free photo booth, raffle drawings, live music, and warm refreshments. Donations will be accepted and will all go to support Ride-A-Wave and Homeless Garden Project.

When: November 30 & December 1
Where: Santa Cruz Baptist Church, Aptos

Get more info here.

Senderos Presents December in Mexico

Take in dinner and a show at Harbor High. Senderos presents its winter dance performance, Colores de mi Tierra, featuring Centeotl Danza y Baile dance troupe and Ensamble Musical youth band. Arrive early to enjoy delicious Mexican food. This fundraiser helps support Senderos, an all-volunteer nonprofit that provides free after school dance and music classes, tutoring, and scholarships for Latino youth.

When: November 30 & December 1 at 7:00 pm
Where: Harbor High Theater
Cost: $10 General; $5 Students/Seniors

Get more info here.

Holidays in the Plaza

Watsonville caps off its 150th anniversary year with festive celebrations throughout the month. This weekend’s headliners are a multicultural celebration and tree lighting ceremony on Saturday, followed by snow on Sunday. Hope on the Children’s Holiday Train, meet Santa, and enjoy hot chocolate and cookies! Admission to the snow is one non-perishable food item or a small monetary donation to the Second Harvest Food Bank.

When: December 1 & 2
Where: Watsonville City Plaza
Cost: Free

Get more info here.

Downtown Santa Cruz Holiday 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. The parade takes place rain or shine.

When: December 1, from 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Where: Downtown Santa Cruz

Get more info here.

33rd Annual Lighted Boat Parade

The Lighted Boat Parade is a Santa Cruz tradition and is always one of the most anticipated events of the season. Dress warm, grab some hot chocolate, and find a spot to take in 50 boats decked out in holiday lights as they parade through the yacht harbor.

When: December 1, at 5:30 pm
Where: Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor

Get more info here.

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 and performances, sip hot chocolate, and visit with Santa Claus.

When: December 1, from 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm (rain check date 12/8)
Where: Aptos Village Park Tree (corner of Soquel Drive and Aptos Creek Road)

Get more info here.

Gabriella’s Snow Day

The 6th annual Gabriella’s Snow Day charity event benefits Team G Childhood Cancer Foundation’s mission of supporting newly diagnosed families of childhood cancer. Enjoy a fun day in the snow with your family while raising funds for research and awareness for pediatric cancer. Snow play, games, crafts, bounce houses, live music, and a visit with Santa are all included with your ticket. Event will be held rain or shine.

When: December 1 from 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm
Where: Skypark, Scotts Valley
Cost: $15 – $75

Get more info here.

Scotts Valley Tree Lighting Festival

Gather at the Scotts Valley Community Center for the annual Light Up the Night Tree Lighting Celebration. There will be refreshments, live performances, a bounce house, and of course, the main event: Santa’s arrival via fire truck to light the tree. Everyone is encouraged to bring canned goods and/or unwrapped toys in support of Valley Churches united to help local families in need.

When: December 1 from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm
Where: Scotts Valley Community Center

Get more info here.

Visit with 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 1 – 2, 8 – 9, 15 – 16, 22 – 23 from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm
Where: Marini’s Candies in Downtown Santa Cruz

 44th Annual Grey Bears Holiday Dinner

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

When: December 2 from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm
Where: Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium

Get more info here.

Free Gift Making Workshop

Enjoy Sunday Funday with a holiday twist! Mountain Arts Center is hosting a free, drop-in holiday craft workshop for the whole family. Crafts are tailored to a wide age range and kids may attend with an adult chaperone.

When: 12/2 from 12:30 pm to 3:00 pm
Where: Santa Cruz Mountains Art Center, Ben Lomond
Cost: FREE

Get more info here.

December 3 – 9

Chanukah Train

Experience Chanukah in a brand new way aboard Roaring Camp Railroad’s Chanukah Train. The festivities will begin 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 3 @ 6:15 pm
Where: Train Departs from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Cost: $33 Adult, $27 Child

Get more info here.

Breakfast with Santa at the Chaminade

‘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 8, from 9:00 am – 11:00 am
Where: Chaminade Resort & Spa

Cost: $36.95 Adults, $17.95 Children 6-12, $11.95 Children Under 6 Years Old

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 8, from 11:00 am – 3:00 pm
Where: Wilder Ranch State Park

Get more info here.

Santa Cruise

After a day of listening to children tell him what they want for Christmas, Santa is ready to cruise the streets of Downtown Santa Cruz! This evening involves team work, a text based scavenger hunt, drink specials and prizes. Custom “Suessean” Santa hats included! 21+

When: December 8 from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm
Where: Throughout Downtown Santa Cruz
Cost: $20 in advance / $25 day of the event

Get more info here.

Jingle Bell Rock 5K


This is your chance to burn off some of those holiday calories while supporting a great cause—Toys for Tots. The 10th Annual Jingle Bell Rock 5K, now has a new 10K course option, and as always, the Kids 1K Fun Run. There will be prizes awarded for best dressed runner, best dressed team, ugliest holiday sweater, and best decorated stroller. This year’s goal is 1,000 toy donations, and all collected toys stay in our community.

When: December 9 at 9:00 am
Where: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Get more info here.

Jingle Shells Arts and Crafts Festival

Enjoy an afternoon of shopping ocean and nature-inspired gifts with 40+ local artisans and craftspeople. At 3:30 PM, gather ’round Ms. Blue, the largest whale skeleton in the world, for a group sing-along with Patti Maxine. That’s about as Santa Cruzy as it gets.

When: December 9, from 12:00 pm to 5:30 pm
Where: Seymour Marine Discovery Center

Get more info here.

December 10 – 16

Nutcracker: Experience the Magic

When: December 15 & 16
Where: Cabrillo Crocker Theater
Cost: $30/$35/$40

Santa Cruz City Ballet presents their premier holiday performance with two delightful shows each day. Experience the magic of this favorite holiday classic with your family, friends, and out of town guests. Full length performances!

Get more info here.

Mac Powell and The Family Reunion

When: 12/15 from 8:00 pm to 10:30 pm (Doors open at 7:30)
Where: Rio Theatre 
Cost: $25 – $100

Enjoy this special holiday concert and Christmas party combined. Relax with a night of singing along to your favorite Christmas tunes as well as your favorite radio hits and newest works from the band. Purchase exclusive tickets to join in the actual Christmas party following the show.

Get more info here.

Winter Magic with Mike Della Penna

When: 12/15 at 10:00 am, 12:30 pm, and 3:00 pm
Where: Downtown, Scotts Valley, and Aptos Branch Libraries
Cost: Free

Light up the darkness of the short winter day with this special magic show celebrating the most enchanting season. Come prepared to wonder and laugh at this all-ages magical performance.

Get more info here.

Free Family Movie at the Del Mar with Second Harvest Food Bank

When: 12/15 at 10:00 am 
Where: The Del Mar, Downtown Santa Cruz
Cost: Free

Take the family out for a jolly good time and holiday tradition with a showing of “Polar Express. Bring food or a cash donation for Second Harvest Food Bank and support our local community members in need.

Get more info here.

Holiday Tea with Santa

When: 12/16 from 12:00 pm to 3:00 pm
Where: Seascape Beach Resort
Cost: $45++

Take the family out for a fun afternoon with Santa. Hot Chocolate, assorted sandwiches and refreshments will be served. There’s even a Mimosa bar for the adults! Make some ornaments, decorate cookies, enjoy balloon twisting and face painting, too! Bring a new and unwrapped toy to donate to Toys for Tots.

Get more info here.

December 17 – 25

Toy Trains at the MAH

All aboard! Bring the whole crew down to MAHvel at these mighty mini machines, speak with experts, and even master the controls. Toy Trains is up from December 21 through January 6.

When: December 21 – January 6 (Closed 12/25)
Where: Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History

Get more info here.

The Nutcracker @ The Civic

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 a free cookie from Pacific Cookie Company, a commemorative ornament, and photo opportunities with the Nutcracker characters  prior to the performance.

When: December 21 – 23
Where: Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium
Cost: $20.50 – $96.50

Get more info here.

Nutcracker Ballet @ Cabrillo

Agape Dance Academy is back for another season of The Nutcracker Ballet, with both a full-length Grande Nutcracker Show as well as a brilliant miniature production for the youngest dancers and audience members, lovingly known as Petite Nutcracker.

When: December 22 – 23
Where: Cabrillo Crocker Theater
Cost: $18 – $31

Get more info here.

Additional Holiday Fun:

  • If you’re looking for a unique, local Christmas tradition to share with family, a visit to Farley’s Christmas Wonderland is a must. This walk-in Christmas display is located in the Seabright neighborhood of Santa Cruz, open Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve (be sure to check website before planning your visit).

More Holiday Events Coming Soon!

Submit your holiday event here and be sure to check back often, as new events are added throughout the holiday season.

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.