From parades of yachts adorned with holiday lights to charming villages with Old World charm, California offers a plethora of towns and cities perfect for a Christmas getaway. Book a stay at one of many California vacation rentals today. Whether you prefer high-end shopping or skiing from dusk ’til dawn, these seven vacation destinations in California have it all.
1. Newport Beach
While most people associate pine trees with Christmas, don’t overlook the delight that palm trees can bring to the holiday. Consider Christmas at the beach – Newport Beach, in particular. The highlight of the season in this oceanfront city is the Newport Beach Christmas Light Parade, a charming festival that brings hundreds of decorated boats, ranging from magnificent yachts to tiny kayaks, streaming through all of Newport Bay. The festivities run for five nights in the middle of each December, with Dine & Watch and Dine & Walk packages available. If you choose a bayfront vacation rental, you may even be able to enjoy this spectacular parade from your own balcony or deck. Newport Beach is also home to the fabulous shopping mecca of Fashion Island, which welcomes shoppers to visit Santa, admire its gigantic decorated tree, and get all their shopping done beginning in late November. While you’re in Orange County, plan a trip to Disneyland as well for the special Christmas pageants and the re-imagined holiday-themed rides.
2. Yosemite National Park
Christmastime in Yosemite brings a delightful combination of vintage traditions and spectacular winter scenery. Head to Yosemite National Park’s Ahwahnee Hotel to enjoy the Bracebridge Dinners, a 90-year-old tradition built around author Washington Irving’s description of a traditional celebration from the early 18th century. Performers entertain with everything from heart-stirring carols to rowdy sketches, and the menu features classic dishes, such as roasted chestnuts and pheasant. When you step outside, you’re likely to find a dusting of snow embracing the beautiful Yosemite scenery to make your visit even more Christmasy. Book for the Bracebridge Dinners well in advance, and choose a vacation rental near the Yosemite entrance gates to provide easy access to the park.
Head north of San Francisco to the hamlet of Mendocino to enjoy an old-fashioned Christmas vacation that still manages to be supremely Californian in style. This charming town doesn’t contain any chain stores, so you can indulge in some truly one-of-a-kind shopping as you wander in and out of the beautifully decorated historic buildings on the main street. Hop on the Christmas Train (known as the Skunk Train the rest of the year) to enjoy a holiday trip through the redwoods. The Festival of Lights at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens treats you to the beauty of nature as well as a fun seasonal model train show.
4. Mammoth Mountain
If your idea of a great Christmas vacation involves lots of skiing, book your vacation rental in Mammoth. Here in the High Sierras, you can spend your days snowboarding and skiing on the mountain, then relax during the evenings by singing karaoke carols or letting your kids visit Santa at The Village at Mammoth. Don’t miss the Night of Lights, an extravaganza in which the whole town takes the gondola up to Canyon Lodge at the top of the mountain to enjoy a torchlight parade and fireworks to celebrate the start of the holidays.
In the heart of Santa Barbara’s wine country lies the town of Solvang, which is patterned after classic villages found in Denmark, complete with windmills and plenty of Danish sweet treats in every bakery and coffee shop. Enjoy Old World Christmas during Solvang’s Julefest, a month-long celebration of the season. The Julefest tree gets lit on December 1, followed by parades, the community’s nativity pageant, and the two-day Wine & Beer Walk, which takes you through some of the best tasting rooms in town, including Casa Cassara, Dascomb Cellars, and Lions Peak Vineyards. Take a Holiday Lights Tour to explore the Santa Ynez Valley, and don’t forget to take your kids to visit Santa.
6. Big Bear Lake
Big Bear Lake’s charming village is patterned after an old-fashioned German town, so it becomes the height of Christmas when it’s decorated for the holidays. Take the kids to visit Santa in the village or at the Christmas tree lot, or go sailing with Santa on a lake cruise aboard Miss Liberty, Big Bear’s own paddlewheeler. Skiing awaits you at Snow Summit, and Bear Mountain is a snowboarder’s paradise, so you can enjoy lots of fun and spectacular views during the days before cuddling up in your vacation rental at night. Plenty of local restaurants, including Nottingham’s and Stillwells, serve a Christmas feast if you want to take it easy.
7. San Francisco
San Francisco swaths itself in Christmas lights to celebrate the season, with City Hall and other municipal and port buildings turning red and green for the holiday. Head to Union Square for ice skating under the stars and next to one of the most festive Christmas trees you’ve ever seen, then do your shopping at magnificently decorated stores, including Neiman-Marcus and Tiffany, before you wander back to your vacation rental to finish your wrapping. The city is filled with holiday markets and pop-up shops, and you don’t have to look far to find a performance of “The Nutcracker.”
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