California Winter Vacation Ideas

California Winter Vacation Ideas
California Winter Vacation Ideas

Californian’s had 139 million unused vacation days in 2015 alone. 139 million days! That’s more than 380,000 years worth of time. 67 percent of Californians leave time on the table, compared to the 55 percent national average. But with so many great destinations just a drive away, Californians have no excuse for not taking vacation.

With a few weeks left in 2016, and the holidays upon us, there are plenty of reasons to #takeaday (or a week) and travel The Golden State this holiday season:

  • A Glittering Display of Botanical Bliss | Mendocino County
    The Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens transforms into a luminescent winter wonderland for its annual Festival of Lights. From Nov. 25 through Dec. 18, an unbelievable show of glittering color draws people into the Gardens for a stroll along the twinkling pathways lined with inventive displays. The Succulent Garden morphs into a fantastic underwater scene while a visit to Santa’s workshop will delight the little ones. Each night, a beautifully decorated tent offers visitors a place to warm up, featuring hot food, sweet treats, local craft brews and some of the best wine Mendocino County has to offer.

The Village at Squaw Valley will transform into an “Olde World Christmas” with storefronts decorated with vignettes from Christmases past. Opening Ceremonies will include a torch light parade on Exhibition Trail, fire dancers, a 25-foot-tall Singing Christmas Tree, and illuminated ice sculptures in the Ice Garden at Olympic Village Lodge. A full schedule Dec. 17 – 31 will include both free and ticketed events such as holiday parties, horse drawn sleigh rides, storytelling with Santa and farm to table dinners with Olympians and legends.

  • Napa Valley Wine Train’s Santa Trains | Napa Valley

The enchanted Santa Train returns this year, transforming the regular Wine Train experience into a Polar Express-like journey of delight for both kids and grown-ups, holiday trains will run seven days a week from November 19 to December 29.

  • Santa’s Riverboat Arrival | Petaluma

When Santa arrives in Petaluma on November 26, he’ll leave his sleigh at home. Instead, he and Mrs. Claus will make a uniquely Petaluma arrival as they sail up the Petaluma River on a tugboat and dock at River Plaza Shopping Center on E.Washington to the cheers of hundreds of excited children.

On Nov. 25 at 6 p.m. enjoy the 27th Annual Macy’s Great Tree Lighting ceremony at Union Square with live performances from Aloe Blacc, the San Francisco Boy’s Chorus, Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, and the cast of San Francisco Playhouse’s ‘She Loves Me’ as well as a visit from Santa! Be sure to visit the San Francisco’s SPCA holiday windows, celebrating 30 years.

Experience San Francisco as a shining gallery of light during the fourth annual Illuminate SF Festival of Light, from Thanksgiving 2016 through New Year’s Day 2017. Art and technology lovers alike may embrace the power of light and tour San Francisco’s public art installations by a diverse range of local and world renowned light artists.

Starting Dec. 16 experience the wonder of the holiday season with Zoo Lights at the San Franciso Zoo. The 100-acre park, conservation center and zoo set under twinkling lights takes you on a magical trip – with Santa Claus, carolers, reindeer and a holiday marketplace with food and seasonal delights.

  • Holiday Trains at Santa Cruz Boardwalk | Santa Cruz

A festive train ride is a fun way to enjoy the holiday season with family, and this year The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk offers a remarkable variety of train journeys for visitors. Starting Nov. 18 wear PJs for a storybook journey to the North Pole on the cozy POLAR EXPRESS(tm) Train Ride, or sing your way through town on Roaring Camp’s sparkling Holiday Lights Train. If you celebrate Chanukah, on December 29 join friends and family for a festive excursion on Roaring Camp’s Chanukah Train.

Sit around a campfire to hear miners’ tales as they roast chestnuts during a Miner’s Christmas – set in the 1850s – at Columbia State Historic Park. Children can make some favorite crafts of the 1850s and keep an eye out for Father Christmas as he wanders the streets. Two weekends, Dec. 10-11, 17-18.

Visit Railtown 1897 State Historic Park to relive the magical journey of The Polar Express throughout the season with an hour-long train ride to the North Pole.

  • Traditional and Multicultural Holiday Festivities | Los Angeles

Start the holiday cheer by viewing the world’s tallest tree while you also fit in your holiday shopping at the Citadel Outlets.

New this year is Snow! Day LA where 9 acres of Los Angeles is turned into a magical winter wonderland and 10,000 square feet of themed snow tubing. Trees are decorated with icicles, snowcaps and thousands of shimmering lights. The snow tubing park will be open Nov. 17 through Dec. 23.

Visitors can also celebrate the season with LA’s diverse cultural institutions such as the Skirball Cultural Center’s Hanukkah Family Festival; The Japanese American National Museum’s Oshogatsu Family Festival celebrating the Japanese New Year; or Christmas Around the World, which includes 26 exquisitely decorated trees representing 26 different countries at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute.

  • Aquarium’s December Holiday Celebration | Long Beach
    Get into the holiday spirit Dec. 3-23, 2016, at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. Aquarium Holidays features a daily Penguin Walk at 10 a.m., a display of gingerbread houses, and free daily showings of Sleigh Ride 4D. Snow will fall in the Great Hall, the Aquarium will be decked with festive décor, and the Aquarium’s costumed characters will dress in holiday outfits. On weekends the Aquarium will have a snow play area, children’s crafts, photo opportunities with Santa and holiday characters, children’s Hanukkah storytelling, and opportunities to play dreidel.
  • Dana Point Harbor Boat Parade of Lights | Dana Point

On Friday & Saturday, Dec. 9, 10, 16 & 17, 2016, the Holiday spirit parades into the Harbor. Boaters from all around Orange County decorate their boats and vie for the awards of Judges Choice, Best Theme, Best Use of Lights, Best Animation, Most Colorful, Most Original, Best Sailboat, Best Powerboat and the Perpetual Trophy for the Yacht Club with the Most Entries. In celebration of 42 years of lighting up the holiday season, this year’s theme focuses on all the beauty “UNDER THE SEA.”

  • Craft Beer and Cider Festival | Del Mar

On tap Saturday, Nov. 26, is Del Mar’s Craft Fall Beer and Cider Festival offering more than 100 local seasonal brews and ciders to taste along with a Fall Food Truck Festival with more than 30 food trucks from San Diego, Los Angeles and Orange County bringing their best mobile delights – best paired with beer and cider.

  • Theme Park Christmas and New Year’s Eve Celebrations | San Diego

With Shamu®, Santa, sea lions and snow, SeaWorld is the place to be this holiday season! Kicking off Nov. 19, 2016, and continuing through Jan. 1, 2017, with special guests from the North Pole, Snow Hill for the smaller children, Dolphin Island Christmas and more! Festivities are included with park admission.

LEGOLAND California offers New Year’s Eve festivities that won’t have the little ones missing bedtime. Kids’ New Year’s Eve features live music, entertainers and a countdown with a huge LEGO® brick drop at 6 p.m. followed by a spectacular fireworks display. The party goes from 2-7 p.m.

With this complete list of California Winter Vacation ideas, you’ll know where to go to create memories that will last forever. Only California vacations will do.


Jacqueline Maddison is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Beverly Hills Magazine. She believes in shining light on the best of the best in life. She welcomes you into the world of the rich and famous with the ultimate luxury lifestyle.
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