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California Holiday Events

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Welcome to the Holiday Edition! Below you will find a sampling of what’s happening in different areas of the Golden State during the 2011 holiday season.

If you’re looking for events in a different season, please see the “Related Posts” links at the bottom of this article.

You may also want to check out dates for California Restaurant Week events around the state or contact California tourism authority in the region to which your are traveling.

If you’re planning ahead for a 2012 California holiday trip, you may want to check the website noted in parentheses to see if the date for this year’s event has been set.

North Coast

The Thanksgiving Arts and Crafts Fair in Mendocino is a great way to get in the holiday spirit and make an artful dent on your holiday shopping list. This year the fair runs November 25 and 26, 2011, and will be held at the Mendocino Art Center. (

You also may want to make plans now to enjoy the North Coast area’s Whale Festival during March 2012, held in three different North Coast cities on three different weekends. The respective dates are:

Mendocino on March 3 & 4, 2012
Little River on March 10 & 11, 2012
Fort Bragg on March 17 & 18, 2012

Events at each venue differ, but you can expect whale watching, games for kids, informative presentations, wine, beer and chowder tastings and more. As California events go, this one is a whopper! ( Check it out in this video from last year’s festivities:

Shasta & Cascades

If you plan to be in this area sometime before December 31, 2011, you might want to head to Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding to enjoy a very special exhibit — Age of Wonder — which brings together creations by 13 contemporary Bay Area artists who are concerned with the natural world and hope to inform and inspire others to cherish and protect its wonders.  (

Wine Country

Yountville’s 23rd annual Festival of Lights kicks off on November 25th and transforms the town into a winter wonderland with elves, horse-drawn carriage rides, Santa and more. (

Napa on Ice — open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. November 26 through January 16, 2012 — allows you to enjoy skating on an outdoor rink.  The $12 admission includes skate rental.  (

If you’re going to be in Napa on December 3, check out the Napa B&B Holiday Tour and Taste Event, 3-7 p.m.  The event will include tours of 12 historic and holiday-decorated Napa bed-and-breakfast inns, food and wine pairings, live music, choral ensembles, pastry demonstrations and more.  The $55 admission includes transportation shuttles between the participating inns. (

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San Francisco Bay Area

There are lighting events, ballet and orchestra performances and outdoor skating rinks galore in San Francisco during the holiday season.  You could probably fill every day between Thanksgiving and New Year’s with comfort, joy and fun!  (

The San Jose Fairmont hosts a Holiday Train Exhibit with electric trains traversing scenic landscapes. Across the street from the hotel, you can revel in the city’s “Christmas in the Park” display November 25th through January 1, 2012, and enjoy animated displays, hundreds of decorated trees, nightly entertainment, visits with Santa and more. (

Central Coast

This year’s Solvang Julefest (Winterfest) Celebration has some fun additions.  To commemorate Solvang’s centennial, 100 local businesses will sponsor 100 live fir trees that can be decorated and entered for eligibility in the city’s first-ever tree-decorating contest.  The festivities kick off with a tree-lighting ceremony on December 2 and a parade at 11 a.m. the following day.  The next weekend (December 10) brings the Nativity Pageant, and the weekend after that (December 17 & 18) will usher in another new event:  the Solvang Holiday Wine About.  Twelve tasting rooms within walking distance of one another will pour their vintages from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.  A two-day passport is only $40/person and can be purchased by phone at 800-719-9106; securing advance tickets is strongly recommended.  (

Central Valley

The Mountain Mandarin Festival in Auburn on November 18-20, 2011, celebrates the harvest of  locally grown Owari Satsuma Mandarin oranges which are only available from late November through January. There will be cooking demonstrations in which professional chefs will use the favored fruit in a variety of dishes plus live entertainment, an array of craft booths and activities for children. (

Charles E. Lee of the tiny town of Sanger successfully petitioned President Coolidge to have the giant sequoia in the Grant Grove area of Kings Canyon designated “the nation’s Christmas tree,” and every year since Sanger residents have led hundreds of people on a winter trek to the tree. The 2000-year old tree has no tinsel or lights. How would you decorate a tree that is large enough to produce enough lumber to construct 35 5-bedroom homes?  The 86th Annual Trek to the Tree is on December 11 this year (the trek is always held on the second Sunday in December). You can drive to Grant Grove or take a chartered bus from Sanger; check the website for details. (

This year’s “Holidays at the State Capitol” festivities in Sacramento run from December 1st through the 23rd, with live musical performances, holiday decorations and more. Events take place 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Mondays-Fridays, and at various times on Saturdays and Sundays. (  In addition, Old Sacramento offers some unique holiday fun with the Polar Express and Raley’s Theatre of Lights shows running nightly through Christmas Eve and the closing out with two showings on New Year’s Eve.   (

Sierras & Gold Country

The 30th annual Vintners’ Holidays will be offered this year at Yosemite’s Ahwahnee Hotel on select dates in November and through December 8, 2011. This celebration gives attendees access to an impressive roster of 32 acclaimed California wineries and includes seminars, panel discussions and wine tastings.  Each session concludes with a five-course Gala Vintners’ Dinner to showcase wines from the participating wineries paired with a custom gourmet menu by Ahwahnee Executive Chef Terry Sheehan. Hotel packages are available for this and other California holiday events at the park. (

Orange County

On three Saturdays in December (December 6, 13 and 20), the Ritz Carlton in Laguna Nigel plays host to children and families for their annual Teddy Bear Tea events.  The event includes a magic show performance, and young ones are served hot chocolate “tea,” PB&J finger sandwiches and seasonal cookies.  There are two seatings on each date (at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.), and reservations are required.  Guests are also encouraged to bring a new unwrapped teddy bear (or other toy) to be donated to Children’s Hospital of Orange County. Call the hotel at (949) 240-2000 for ticket availability and pricing.

Los Angeles

Hop aboard for Fillmore’s “North Pole Express” train rides, offered on Wednesdays through Sundays November 26 and December 3-26 at Ventura County’s picturesque Heritage Valley from 6-7 and 7:30-8:30pm, . Tickets are $19-$29, and reservations can be made by calling 800-773-TRAIN (800-773-8724). (

Each night during December you can sail the waters of Ventura Keys and Ventura Harbor to enjoy the sparkling Christmas lights of shoreline homes and holiday refreshments. These California-style “Sleigh Rides” are offered 6-7:30 and 8-9:30pm nightly, and tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for children. For reservations, call 805-642-7753. (

The area has another contribution to California holiday events, as well. Ventura Harbor’s Holiday Parade of Lights includes a fireworks display, a family carnival and lighted boats, of course! The theme for 2011 is “California Dreamin'” and the festivities take place on December 16 & 17.  (

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Inland Empire & Deserts

Riley’s at Los Rio Rancho is hosting the Oak Glen (Yucaipa) Apple Butter Festival on November 25-27 (Thanksgiving weekend). Saturday’s festivities include the “Lighting of the Ranch” at dusk (when the giant pines at the entrance are illuminated to welcome in the Christmas season) and an old-fashioned hoedown with a Pumpkin Bread and Harvest Soup supper and music by the Riley’s Mountaineer Band. Admission to the ranch is free, although there is a small fee for some activities and tickets are required for the hoedown. (

If you’re going to be near the Coachella Valley city of Indio on December 3 and 4, 2011, you’ll want to check out the decidedly untraditional offerings at the International Tamale Festival. Come and feast on “gourmet tamales” with flavors like lobster, smoked salmon, mahi-mahi with teriyaki sauce, spinach, sweet potato, strawberry, chocolate, pumpkin and Belgian chocolate with raspberries and caramelized walnut tamales. (

San Diego

The San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival runs November 16-20 and will feature cooking classes by local and celebrity chefs (including some at the San Diego Wine & Culinary Center), an olive oil competition and special wine-paired dinners at some of the city’s finest restaurants. This is Southern California’s largest wine and culinary event of the year. (

You may want to send an email to the visitor’s bureau where you plan to spend your California vacation, holiday or weekend getaway. Follow the link below to a list of the convention and visitor’s bureaus for some of the state’s major tourist destinations. This is a great way to learn what local California holiday events might be occurring during your visit.

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Related posts:

California Current Events – Winter

California Current Events – Spring

California Culinary Events – Summer Food Festivals

California Current Events – Fall

Misc. Travel Resources

Note: Information in this article was accurate
when it was published, but hours, prices, etc.
change constantly. Please confirm details
with local contacts before traveling.

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