December is full of cheer in Santa Cruz with unique celebrations, beloved traditions, and a few new events this year that may become your holiday faves.
Celebrate the holidays in Santa Cruz with tree lightings, train rides, parades by land and sea, Nutcracker ballets, 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!
Scroll down to see all the events, or use the links below to jump to specific dates…
2019 Holiday Shopping Events & Craft Fairs
‘Tis the season to shop unique, handmade, and most of all, local. Here’s a roundup of some of the best opportunities to buy some awesome gifts and help support the local economy and arts culture at the same time. Check out our 2019 Guide to Santa Cruz Holiday Shopping Events & Craft Fairs.
Boardwalk Holiday Ice
When: Now through January 5, 2020
Where: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Enjoy the best of both worlds this holiday season: ice skating and the beach! You can rent skates for an hour, or make a day of it with the Boardwalk combo. To add to the festive air, there is a magical snowfall every hour, festive food, arts and crafts, old favorite holiday movies and more. Reservations are recommended for skating.
Santa Cruz Holiday Lights Train
When: 11/29 & 11/30, 12/7 & 12/8, 12/14 – 12/23
Where: Departs from Beach Boardwalk
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!
Holiday Tree Walk
When: 11/29 – 11/30, 12/1, 12/7 – 12/8
Where: Roaring Camp Railroads
Start your adventure at Roaring Camp, where you’ll board the 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.
Farley’s Winter Wonderland – 13th Annual Holiday Lights Walk Through
When: Now – New Year’s Day; Check website for daily hours and cancellations
Where: Farley’s Winter Wonderland, 108 Seaview Avenue, Santa Cruz
The Christmas Spirit is alive and flourishing at this Seabright neighborhood home. Park your car and walk in; fantastical winter scenes await you, including miniature villages, fairy houses and giant nutcrackers. With a forest of 30 evergreen trees and lights throughout, this display has won the hearts of thousands over the years. Although it’s been known to snow at this address, rain will cancel the show.
Felton Toy Train Days
When: Weekends through December 22
Where: Felton Presbyterian Church
Make tracks for Felton during December weekends and take in a toy train masterpiece in a festive wintery setting. Enjoy refreshments, holiday music, a photo booth, train tables, and more!
Horse-drawn Wagon Rides
When: December 8, 14, 15, 20, 21 & 22 from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm
Where: Downtown Santa Cruz Info Kiosk
Hop aboard a 12-seater horse-drawn carriage for a ride through Downtown Santa Cruz. It’s the perfect way to round out a date night or family visit downtown. You can grab your tickets at the Downtown Information Kiosk on a first-come first-served basis. Tickets are $12 for adults, $8 for kids 3-11, and kids 2 and under are free if they’re on a lap!
Visits with Santa at Buttercup Cakes
When: December 7, 8, 14, 15, 20, 21 & 22
Where: Buttercup Cakes, 1411 Pacific Ave.
Santa has a new home this year and it’s pretty sweet! Buttercup Cakes is welcoming families to visit with Santa three weekends in December. Bring your cameras to capture the “Santa” Cruz magic!
Toy Trains at the MAH
When: 12/20 – 12/29 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
Where: Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (The MAH)
All aboard! Bring the whole crew down to MAHvel at these mighty mini machines, speak with experts, master the controls, and even bring your own toy train to put on the track! Toy Trains is free and open to the public Friday, December 20th through Sunday, December 29th (some exceptions and early closures apply).
December 2 – 8
Frosty Fun Fest
When: 12/6 from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm
Where: Louden Nelson Community Center
A holiday party for the whole community, Frosty Fun Fest provides crafts and games and hot cocoa while you bring the fun. Make a snowflake for the art wall and some potato print cards or wrapping paper. Help decorate the grinch themed parade float, and partake in the graham cracker gingerbread house competition (advance team registration required).
Anthony Arya’s Home for the Holidays
When: 12/7 at 7:30 pm
Where: Kuumbwa Jazz Center
For some charming winter cheer, head to the Kuumbwa for an evening of holiday music performed by local phenom Anthony Arya and his band. Young and down-to-earth, Arya is an award-winning rising star in the music world who hasn’t forgotten his Santa Cruz roots.
Holiday Tree Lighting and Craft Fair
When: 12/7 from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm
Where: Aptos New Leaf Community Market
Santa is coming to Aptos, so you better be good! Get your picture taken with the jolly man himself at the big Christmas tree lighting. Enjoy coffee or cocoa and cookies while you shop locally-made crafts and the carolers croon your favorite songs and performers jazz up your holiday spirit.
Breakfast with Santa
When: 12/7 from 9:00 am to 11:00 am
Where: Chaminade Resort & Spa
Serving up a delicious breakfast buffet with champagne and sparkling cider, the Chaminade also offers a beautiful view. Kids can get their picture taken with Santa and take home a cute stuffed animal. Plus, there’s a letter writing station so kids who didn’t bring their lists can mail them off to the North Pole.
DOWNTOWN SANTA CRUZ HOLIDAY PARADE
When: 12/7 at 10:00 am
Where: Downtown Santa Cruz
Our town really knows how to put on a show, with singers, dancers and performers, classic cars and floats of all kinds, the Downtown Holiday Parade always delivers a fun-filled morning to bring the community together.
LIGHTED BOAT PARADE
When: 12/7 at 5:30 pm
Where: Santa Cruz Harbor
Grab some hot cocoa and bring the family to the harbor for a perennial favorite, the Lighted Boat Parade. Keeping Santa Cruz salty and fun, mariners of all stripes decorate their vessels and cruise around lighting up the night.
Life on the Ranch: Holiday Traditions
When: 12/7 from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm
Where: Wilder Ranch State Park
Bringing history to life, Wilder Ranch is throwing an old-timey party. Ride in on a wagon driven by draft horses, play games, sing songs and make an ornament for your Christmas tree like they used to when the Wilder family lived here in the early 20th century.
Holiday Cookie Walk
When: 12/7 from 12:00 pm to 5:00 pm and 12/8 from 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm
Where: Capitola Village
Munch on some holiday goodies as you stroll through the unique shops of Capitola Village. Your $20 cookie pass gets you a holiday bag to hold the sweets you choose at each location (if you don’t eat them all as you shop). All proceeds benefit Angel Tree, so your purchase will spread some Christmas joy to children in need.
Scotts Valley Tree Lighting Festival
When: 12/7 from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm
Where: Scotts Valley Community Center
Gather at the Scotts Valley Community Center for the annual Light Up the Night Tree Lighting Celebration. There will be refreshments, live performances, 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.
JINGLE BELL ROCK 1K- 5K – 10K
Where: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk – Jingle Rock Start
Put the sweat in that ugly sweater! This race encourages participants to show their spirit with holiday themed costumes and apparel. Prizes will be awarded for the fastest, and the best dressed individuals and teams. Please bring a toy for the Toys for Tots collection for local kids.
December 9 – 15
Nutcracker: Experience the Magic
When: 12/14 & 12/15; two shows per day
Where: Cabrillo Crocker Theater
Santa Cruz City Ballet presents their premier holiday performance of the Nutcracker: Experience the Magic 2019. Take in the magic of this timeless holiday classic featuring gorgeous costumes, dazzling sets, and exquisite dancing. Two delightful, full-length performances each day!
Free Family Movie at the Del Mar with Second Harvest Food Bank
When: 12/14 at 10:00 am
Where: The Del Mar, Downtown Santa Cruz
Take the family out for a jolly good time and holiday tradition with a free family movie at the Del Mar. This holiday movie benefit screening of Elf supports Second Harvest Food Bank. Bring a non-perishable food donation for free admission.
Downtown Santa Cruise
When: 12/14 from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm
Where: Throughout Downtown Santa Cruz
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+
December 16 – 25
Holiday Tea with Santa
When: 12/21 from 11:00 am to 1:30 pm
Where: Seascape Beach Resort
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!
The Nutcracker @ The Civic
When: 12/21 – 12/22
Where: Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium
For many, the holiday season just isn’t complete without seeing The Nutcracker at the Civic. This classic holiday ballet features a full professional orchestra and over 70 local performers. Sweet Treattickets are available for the matinee shows and include a free cookie from Pacific Cookie Company, a commemorative ornament, and photo opportunities with the Nutcracker characters prior to the performance.
The Nutcracker @ Cabrillo
When: 12/20 – 12/22
Where: Cabrillo Crocker Theater
Agape Dance Academy returns for another season of The Nutcracker Suite Ballet, with both a full-length Grande Nutcracker Show as well as a “petite” production for the youngest dancers and audience members.
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.