November and December are chock full of parades, shows, special events, and beautiful decorations to celebrate holiday season and Christmas in Orange County, California. If you are looking for some holiday fun with your family, check out these great events.
71 Fortune Drive
The HOLIDAY ICE RINK is open daily for family skating fun under the large ferris wheel and sparkling lights between October and February. http://www.shopirvinespectrumcenter.com/Skate
DISNEY MAGICAL HOLIDAY LIGHTS happens nightly from the end of November - January. Each hour from 5:30pm on is a light and music show in the Edwards Courtyard.
reviewed on: June 02 2010
Many young kids are brought by their moms and dads to get wet in the fountains. We have joined in on the fun many times.
"Fountains for water play"
The turtle fountain is outside the food court which is located near the movie theater. This has 3 spouting turtles, an inch of a water pool and spouting water blasts near by.
The bubble fountain is outside of Target near H&M. This has spouting water blasts that come up at irregular intervals and make many kids laugh with glee.
401 Newport Center Drive
Newport Beach, California
A CHRISTMAS TREE LIGHTING happens every night at 5pm through Jan. The tree twinkles to life with Disney music and glittering lights. Located outside of Neiman Marcus in the Bloomingdale's Courtyard.
Visit SANTA Nov - Dec 24 for photos and visits during special holiday hours. (949) 721-2000.
reviewed on: June 08 2010
Christmas is my favorite time to visit this mall with my kids. The largest (or near largest) tree is in the center court and is eye popping. A train ride is great fun, and you can always visit Santa. We like window shopping, riding the train, looking at Santa's house and then stopping at Restoration Hardware for our annual picture frame ornament for our tree. A stop at the cookie shop rounds out our visit, and our tummies.
935 Laguna Canyon Road
Laguna Beach, California
A winter wonderland awaits with exhibitions of original art and a favorite stop for shopping. Complimentary and low-cost art projects for kids and adults, art demonstrations, holiday entertainment and visits with Santa available. Open five weekends November to December from 10 am - 6 pm. See website for details and tickets.
reviewed on: November 30 2013
We spent an afternoon wandering the booths of art at the winter festival, just curious as to what we might discover. None of us are art enthusiasts by definition but we were amazed at the talent of the artists on display. We stopped for quite a while to watch a woman hand draw designs on an egg in the Ukranian art of Pysanka. She took the time to explain to my kids how she draws the design and then dips the egg in stages. Later we watched a man painstakingly place small tiles to create a mosaic designed after ancient art.
The glass blowing demonstrations captured all of our attentions as we watched a husband/wife couple expertly heat, roll, color, and shape glass into a large fish and then at another time into a sculpted shell. Incredible.
Our 5 & 7 year olds especially enjoyed the Art Spot where young kids were invited to make a small craft for $1 a piece. They spent a while rolling white clay into snow people and decorating them with pinecones, red yarn, and markers. Then they went to the Zoomars Petting Zoo booth and fed the guinea pigs and small bunnies. That was a fun delight.
Art projects were offered to kids and adults ages 7 & up during the afternoon. We watched women create poinsettia flowers out of tissue paper (free project) and then later consider joining the acrylic painting class ($5 each).
When we found the ceramic center, we watched kids and adults learn to shape clay on a pottery wheel. My 11 year old was eager to try it but it took some convincing for my 13 year old (who doesn't like to get his hands goopy and wet) to participate. One made a vase and the other a bowl, all with the help of the real pottery artist who told them what to do (and did it with them). We could have taken them home for free but we opted to pay the $8 to have them fired and glazed and we will pick them up in a few weeks ($16 to have it shipped.) Throwing the pottery was the highlight of the day for all of us, especially for my hubby and I when we sipped hot chocolate and watched our kids learning to use a pottery wheel.
Everyone seemed friendly and there were many families enjoying the afternoon. Drinks, live entertainment, and food was available. My young kids enjoyed running through the "snow" that fell and seeing Santa take pictures with kids and dance in the snow himself.
The price for entering the festival is very reasonable at $6 per adult and $3 for children (ages 6 - 12) (free - 5 and under) especially considering all the free opportunities to watch art or participate in making it. We will definitely come back again!
Disclosure: We received complimentary admission to the Festival in order to share this event with Trekaroo readers. We were not asked to express a particular point of view and all opinions are my own.
2500 North Main Street
Santa Ana, California
Visit during late Nov - Jan, for THE SCIENCE OF GINGERBREAD. Enjoy gingerbread houses on display, kitchen science activities, and decorating demos. Visit Santa and make cookies on the weekends. (714) 542-2823 http://www.discoverycube.org/oc/exhibits/science-of-gingerbread/
reviewed on: June 12 2010
Update for June 2015-
There is a whole new expansion at the Discovery Cube and it is pretty awesome! They have doubled their display area and added a whole "theater" floor where traveling exhibits can be featured. Until September 7 - An international exhibit- Sherlock Holmes - will be available and it's pretty awesome for older kids. See my other review.
Our favorite new exhibit was the Helicopter Tours of Orange County. Inside the tiny theater are "helicopter seats" and a mini IMAX shaped screen that shows scenery from Orange County. I loved seeing the natural canyons, beaches, and Newport Bay all from an aerial view. It felt a bit like flying and the kids were engrossed.
The Water Lab section will soon hold many exhibits on the functions and features of water. We went into the Aquavator to see what was buried underground - including pipes and the water table. The kids like puffing clouds out of the condenser unit (there is a duplicate one in the main section of the center) and then playing with the new land shape creator (not sure of the real name). On that table the kids moved sand and shaped it into mountains and valleys and then the digital display over the sand showed the terrain and water flowing from the high levels to the low levels.
From June 2009 -
My kids and I have passed this cube on the freeway many times but haven't stopped until today. We all had a blast. My 1 year old and my 9 year old both equally enjoyed the hands on exhibits, demonstrations, videos and slides. We adults liked the many places to sit down and rest our aching feet while the kids kept discovering more things. My 3 year old appreciated the little details, such as the stepping stools up to the exhibit tables and to the sink in the bathroom. He played with the tinker toys, marble track, and the submarine slide.
16881 Bastanchury Rd.
Yorba Linda, California
Unknown if this event is occurring in 2015- check website for details - Come for the SCANDINAVIAN JULEMARKED CHRISTMAS MART. Handmade and imported items for sale along with Danish specialties such as aebleskiver and glogg. $2 donation entrance. (714) 993-6362 Check dates for this one day event.
Irvine Regional Park
Take a train ride with your kids to Santa's Village to visit Santa, story time with Mrs. Claus, cooke decorating, games, bounce houses, food and drink. Weekends and many other dates lat Nov-Dec. Check website for times and tickets. http://www.irvineparkrailroad.com/content/irvine-park-railroad-christmas-train
CHRISTMAS TREE RANCH - purchase your tree from a wide variety of fir trees.
reviewed on: December 01 2014
The whole area around the Christmas train at the Irvine Park Railroad was like a magical lit up forest. The surrounding area (the park) is completely dark and so seeing ancient (some 100 years old!) trees lit up all of their tall branches was incredible. The train depot, picnic areas, and activity center all had lit up trees and it was so fun to explore the area and enjoy a fun Christmas-y night with my 6 and 8 year olds.
"Magical with thousands of lights"
Just telling my kids that they could jump on a bounce house and decorate cookies had them jumping up and down for excitement. Most of the activities in the area behind the train depot cost 1 ticket ($5 per ticket) and are quite fun for kids. Cookie decorating, ice fishing (get a small prize at the end), 10 minutes in the bounce house, and carnival games (win inflatable toys), all cost one ticket.
Free activities were available as well, which is a relief to parents! My kids ran like banshees through the "ice maze" which was a bunch of hay bales stacked up (higher than their heads) in a good sized maze. The entrance and exit were right next to each other so I enjoyed letting them run in and then wait for them at the exit. There were coloring sheets at a station for kids to spend some creative time. We spied Mrs. Claus across the train tracks in a beautifully lit up area reading to a group of kids. This is free too! My kids had stranger anxiety though and so they didn't want to stay for story time.
New for 2014 is the Christmas Tree Ranch with fresh cut varieties of fir and pine for purchase. We played hide and seek in them and stopped to take in the delicious scent. The prices seemed pretty good, ranging from $30 - $75 from the few that I noticed.
Most people come for the train ride to the North Pole and to visit Santa and this was definitely the highlight of the evening for my kids (besides gorging themselves on icing covered cookies.) Tickets are sold for an hour block and you can wait in the line for the train (arrives every 10 minutes or so) and ride it any time during that hour.
We loved riding the lit up train through the dark park and then arriving to the lit up area of the North Pole. We spied lit up peacocks which made us think of the gorgeous peacocks we have seen at this park many times during the day. This area has oak trees that are over 100 years old and they were all encircled with lights to show off their huge size and unique shapes.
The line to see Santa was quite long, but I suppose it was no longer than a typical wait at a mall - and the scenery and experience made it all that much better. There were tent awnings for rain and hay bales that marked the waiting queue which provided seats for us. Hot chocolate, water, popcorn, and cookies were for sale at about $2 each. We waited for about 45 minutes - watching others visit Santa and take a million photos in different combinations of kids and family groups. It was funny and painful at the same time. There are restrooms - but they are a bit of a walk away from the area and in the dark - although they have lights strung up on the roof.
Santa himself (and all the staff) were incredibly nice and still had smiles and warm greetings at the end of the night. My kids liked saying hi to him, telling him what they wanted for Christmas, taking a photo, and getting a candy cane. We saw our photos at the digital booth directly after our visit and purchased one ($10 each).
The experience is quite unique and magical. The cumulative cost is on the high side at $12 a train ride and $5 per ticket. But if visiting Santa and having a beautiful light display and unique experience is what you are looking for - this is PERFECT and worth the cost, in my opinion!
* Entrance to the park and parking is free after 5pm.
* Activities end at 8 pm so be sure to enjoy all of them before you board the train (if you have a train scheduled between 6 pm and 8pm.)
* Use the restroom before boarding the train.
* Bring your camera/phone with a full battery because you will want to take lots of photos!
* Bring a bag to hold all the stuff you collect. I had tickets, a free calendar, cookies that were decorated, jackets, and more to carry and forgot to bring something to carry them in!
Disclosure: I received free train tickets and activity tickets in order to enjoy the festivities at the Christmas Train and for this review. All opinions are my own.
26801 Ortega Hwy
San Juan Capistrano, California
CHRISTMAS AT THE MISSION will take place on an early Saturday in December with a Christmas tree lighting, live nativity, local music, Santa and kids' crafts. http://www.missionsjc.com/events-venue/signature-events/christmas-at-the-mission/
reviewed on: September 29 2012
To visit an historic building that was constructed at the time of the American Revolution, yet actually be on the west coast, is very special thing. Not many buildings in California are old, unless you consider a house built in the 1950's as "old". The San Juan Capistrano Mission was founded in 1776, and has been beautifully preserved and is actually a kid-friendly place to visit.
"Kid-friendly interaction with history"
The most noticeable kid-friendly feature were the hand held audio recordings that tell the history of the different sections of the mission. I enjoyed the adult version, which included stories and even songs about the courtyard, the swallows nests, and the church bells. The kid-version only had 10 narratives, but my kids were held captivated as stories were told through the eyes of children. I was relieved to not have to read interpretive signs, or try to get my kids to stay focused on what we were looking at.
We visited on a weekday (Thursday) with 2 moms and 10 kids, ages 1-12, and it was fairly quiet and empty, unlike the usual crowds on a weekend. The hand-held audios were complimentary. We had a choice between those and a small handbook that asked questions, and had puzzles and games to complete. It was good that all our kids got audios so we didn't have to help them read or answer questions.
I especially enjoyed exploring the "work" section where there were excavated furnaces for smelting ore, ovens, gardens, irrigation pipes, brick making, and large empty vats for making wine. The kids enjoyed exploring the paths on their own and enjoying the gardens. We sat at the picnic benches near-by and enjoyed a snack afterwards.
Overall, it was a great mission to visit with kids. The hand-held audios, and interactive musical instruments kept them engaged. The gardens in the courtyard were beautiful.
25151 Serrano Road
Lake Forest, California
Enjoy the Annual VICTORIAN CHRISTMAS with children's crafts, handicraft vendors, festive holiday entertainment, historical exhibits, tours through decorated historic buildings staffed by our docents, refreshements and visits with Santa. 1 weekend early in Dec.
Come to The CANDLELIGHT TOUR where the park is transformed as it is aglow with holiday lighting. Stroll through restored historical buildings adorned in period décor and staffed by our docents, Victorian carolers, live entertainment in each building, storytellers, visits with Santa, and refreshments. 1 early weekend in December.
Check website for specific dates, times, and prices.
reviewed on: June 15 2010
The old schoolhouse and the hand water pump outside were the highlight of our half day trip to this slice of history in Orange County. My little boys peered over the wall into the school house and saw desks and an old stove and a blackboard. It was a little frustrating to not get to see inside any closer, so that's why they enjoyed pumping water by hand.
The boys crawled through some old tepees, looked through the bars of the post office box, and ran around while I gaped at the beautiful old kitchen in the Bennet Ranch House. An old church, the serrano Adobe and beautiful grounds are also here to see and enjoy.
1313 Harbor Boulevard
The Happiest Place on Earth is decked out for the holidays with an amazing Christmas Tree on Main Street, Sleeping Beauty Castle covered in snow, and attractions such as It's a Small World and the Haunted Mansion have holiday themes. Holidays-themed Phineas and Ferb show is a great new attraction and visitors will be in awe during the new segment of “World of Color" in Disney's California Adventure including Olaf, Elsa, and Anna from FROZEN.
Ride the decked out JIngle Cruise or view the new World of Color Holiday edition featuring Frozen. Cars Land and Buena Vista St. are decked out for the holidays. Disney ¡Viva Navidad! Street Party celebrates Latin culture with food, entertainment, and fun.
reviewed on: June 16 2010
As a pass holder I had the privilege of going to this magical park often with my preschoolers. One of our favorite things to do would be to walk slowly around Main Street Plaza, smell the flowers and wait for the morning band to come marching down the street. It was magical to see them come marching down, smiles playing at the sides of their mouths as they watched my little boy's eyes light up. Then we would see Mickey Mouse come out and greet all the little kids and we would just watch him and smile.
"Stop to smell the roses"
My boys are too old now to take it slow on Main Street, but I'm thankful I took it slow when they were young and just wanted to hold their bag of goldfish and watch the carousel spin around and around.
Corona del Mar
Corona del Mar, California
Enjoy live entertainment, food, prizes, bounce houses, visits from Santa, and more. 1 date early in Dec. Check website for date and time. https://www.cdmchamber.com/events/christmas_walk.asp
600 Town Center Drive
Costa Mesa, California
Enjoy the NUTCRACKER FOR KIDS on a Saturday matinee performance on Dec. 5, 2015 at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. The delightful Christmas ballet will be performed in a 45 minute version created for kids. See website for information and tickets. HANDEL'S MESSIAH will be performed Dec. 6, 2015. A CIRQUE CHRISTMAS - delightful for all ages, will take place Dec. 18-19, 2015. Sing with favorite Christmas carols at the HOLIDAY ORGAN SPECTACULAR on Dec. 22, 2015.
655 Town Center Drive
Costa Mesa, California
"A Christmas Carol" will be performed from late Nov through Dec. No children under 6 will be admitted to "A Christmas Carol" and parents must be aware that the ghosts may scare some children.
Dana Point Harbor
Dana Point, California
HOLIDAY IN THE HARBOR features visits with Santa, balloon art, holiday craft tables, live music, puppet shows, carolers and more.
The BOAT PARADE OF LIGHTS will feature fantastically decorated boats as they travel Dana Point Harbor on 2 weekends in Dec. View free from many points on the harbor, or make a reservation at many of the restaurants.
TAKE A BOAT RIDE WITH SANTA 2 dates in Dec from 10am-2pm. See website for many other holiday mini-events in the Dana Point Harbor and for dates and times. http://www.danapointharbor.com/
NOTE- NO ILLUMINOCEAN in 2015.
Newport Beach Harbor
Newport Beach, California
During the evenings of 5 nights in Dec find a spot around the large harbor of Newport Beach to view the annual parade of excellently decorated and lighted boats. See website for parade route and approximate times for different areas of the harbor. Parade starts at 6:30 at Bay Island and ends at 9pm at Bay Island. http://www.christmasboatparade.com/
reviewed on: December 19 2012
This is one of the best Christmas boat parades in SoCal. It's spectacular with huge crafts and tiny ones fully decked out with the theme, lights, singers, and decorations. Because of the small waterways, the boats come close to the shore which makes it feel like a grand and intimate parade.
This year we watched the parade from the balcony of the Newport Sea Base and had a grand view. We knew the parade was starting when the harbor patrol came by with a loud horn and spouting water. It lasted about 30 minutes or so with some great decorated boats in the rock and roll theme.
Last year was our first time (after living here many years) seeing the parade. We bundled up the kids with jackets and even took towels (to sit on) and blankets to snuggle in. We parked in a residential neighborhood on the mainland side of Balboa Island (Jamboree Road to the island was closed with traffic by 6:30) and found a way down to the docks to watch the parade. We held on tight to the kids (so they didn't fall in the water) and found a place to sit and watch the parade float by.
The best part was shouting "Merry Christmas" to the passing boats and hear them echo back to us. We were surprised with some of the really decked out boats that seemed huge to us and were very impressive, but even the small boats with little lights were great too. We actually got there late and caught the tail end of the parade (the last 20 minutes) but we still had a great time.
* Check the website and print the map of the parade route so that you know when the parade starts where you are going.
* Reserve a dinner spot on restaurant row on PCH and watch the parade when it floats by.
* Cross over to Balboa Island early in the afternoon/evening and park in the neighborhood. Bring dinner or eat at one of the restaurants on Balboa. Walk the path around the island to see the Ring of Lights: all the houses lit up. Then catch the parade when it passes by (check the map for the schedule).
* Drive down the peninsula and watch the parade from the Balboa Funzone and enjoy all that is there.
* Fireworks take place the first and last night of the parade off Balboa Pier.
16889 Algonquin St
Huntington Beach, California
Take a tour boat ride in Huntington Harbor to see decorated homes, boats, and decks with thousands of lights. See website for dates and ticket information. http://www.cruiseoflights.org/
Huntington Beach, California
2 nights in Dec enjoy viewing a holiday lighted boat parade through the waters of Huntington Harbor. The best viewing spots are on walkways and bridges along the harbor channels.
1131 BACK BAY DRIVE
Newport Beach, California
Visit Santa at the X-mas tree lot from After Thanksgiving - Dec 24
will visit every day from 4 – 8 p.m. and pose for photos. Visitors will enjoy the LIGHTING OF THE BAY when Santa Claus will
officially kick off the holiday season by flipping a giant switch to illuminate more than 50 electric Christmas trees situated throughout the bay. This is a free event for the public starting at 6 pm and includes live music and crafts for the whole family. Ride a SHUTTLE TO THE NEWPORT BEACH CHRISTMAS BOAT PARADE for $5 per person. Shuttle will run every 15 minutes starting at 5:30pm. Reservations are required. Check website for dates and more information.
Special event days for the holidays will take place at Pretend City during the month of December. 12 days of CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN events. Check event calendar for details. http://pretendcity.org/visit/events/
CHOC TOY DRIVE Pick up by Orange Coast Harley Owners Group.
CHRISTMAS, CHANUKAH, & KWANZA CELEBRATIONS.
22701 Pelican Hill Road S
Newport Coast, California
CHILDREN'S GINGERBREAD HOUSE DECORATING: Guests can work alongside Pelican Hill’s pastry chef to create a gingerbread house masterpiece to take home. The day session includes lunch and adult/parental supervision is required for children 10 and under. $80 per child; not including tax and gratuity. Takes place Dec. 13 & 19, 2015. NUTCRACKER TEA HOLIDAY PARTY: A family activity that includes an elegant holiday tea complete with tea sandwiches, pastries and scones, and a delightful Nutcracker ballet performance in the Resort’s ballroom. Adult/parental supervision is required. Check website for details. Dec. 20, 2015.
Center Street Promenade
Come to the annual tree lighting and festival from 10am-7pm, Dec 5, 2015. Free snow play, kids crafts, Free pictures with Santa, free train rides and more. Check website for details.
30801 Coast Hwy
Laguna Beach, California
Come to the Holiday Tree Lighting and Community Open House in late Nov and enjoy carolers, children's activities, live music and more. Bring a can of food to donate to the Laguna Food Pantry. Call (949) 715-6608 to RSVP.
1 Ritz Carlton Dr
Dana Point, California
Join or watch the SURFING SANTA COMPETITION on a Saturday in mid Nov starting at 7:30 a.m. Find more information at www.surfingsantacontest.org. Resort guests and the community are invited to the HOLIDAY TREE LIGHTING. Santa will be there! Enjoy the free event of the HOLIDAY "FANTASEALAND" GINGERBREAD DISPLAY mid Nov - Dec 31. Enjoy HOLIDAY TEA Monday - Thursday, Nov - Dec. Check website for details and reservations.
8039 Beach Boulevard
Buena Park, California
Enjoy Christmas entertainment, shows, shopping, and more between November and early January.
Orange County Fair Grounds
Costa Mesa, California
A 3 week festival at the OC Fair Grounds - open during the Winter Holidays. Fun will be had with festive decorations, carnival rides, seasonal food, live reindeer feeding, ice skating, visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus, and much more. Dec 18-Jan 3, 2016.
690 Newport Center Dr
Newport Beach, California
CHILDREN'S GINGERBREAD HOUSE DECORATING Kids can join Pastry Chef Andy De La Cruz on Saturday, December 12, at 1 p.m. Children ages five and older learn the tricks and craft of gingerbread house decorating. Children create their own gingerbread sensations to take home while enjoying holiday treats in the process. Parental supervision is required.
Cost is $75 per child. For reservations, call 888-554-4620 or 949-760-4920.
25135 Park Lantern
Dana Point, California
BREAKFAST WITH SANTA: Saturday, Dec. 12 from 8 a.m. - 11 a.m. $55 for adults and $35 for children ages 5 - 12. Enjoy a lavish breakfast, arts and crafts, a keepsake photo with Santa, and more. S'MORES and STORIES: Saturday, Dec. 12 and 19 at 6 p.m. - 9 p.m. Complimentary for hotel guests only. CHRISTMAS EVE and CHRISTMAS DAY DINNERS served in a festive atmosphere with live entertainment.
100 Aquarium Way
Long Beach, California
Fun holiday celebrations occur daily through December 24.
See a Santa diver, aquarium costumed characters, a gingerbread house display, and a snow fall in the Great Hall. On weekends visit Santa with photos, play on the snow outside, and enjoy penguin walks at 10am.
reviewed on: June 08 2010
We spent a lot of time in the seal tunnel which is near the back of the aquarium. My youngest son at the time was 3 and he was carrying a bag of goldfish in his hand. One seal spotted him and came nose to nose with my son. They stared at each other and then proceeded to play with each other as much as they could with big plate glass separating them. We were all giggling with the fun of the experience.
Lesson is: bring a bag of snacks and spend some time in the seal tunnel!