I’m an East Coast transplant who now calls the West Coast home. Now that I think about it, I’ve called California home for more years than I spent growing up in New Jersey. The holidays on the West Coast are definitely different. Not better or worse, just different. For the majority of the West, we have to travel to find snow; we don’t typically wake up and find it in our backyard. We still sing holiday songs like “White Christmas,” but some Californians just get the bonus of caroling in shorts and flip flops, and luckily, the spirit of the season doesn’t get lost in translation. As far as visitors go, it’s rare to hear someone complaining about missing freezing temperatures. If you’re thinking about a trip West for the holidays, there’ll be plenty to keep you busy. And packing light will be easy, because you can leave the mittens at home.
Theme Park Parties
In Southern California, the theme parks pull out all the stops to get into the spirit of the holidays. Disneyland does it up in true Disney style, with thousands of lights, fireworks and snow. The Merriest Place on Earth adds holiday flavor to some of its better-known rides like “It’s a Small World.” But don’t expect small crowds; just like Walt Disney World, the holidays at Disneyland have become a tradition for many families, so be ready to pull out that holiday cheer when you’re waiting in line. Make your Disneyland hotel reservations early.
Holly Jolly Holidays at Legoland are a perfect fit for some busy families looking for that unique picture with Santa. The park spends countless hours snapping together the thousands of LEGO bricks needed to construct old Kris Kringle. Families that have the energy to make it to closing time are treated to fireworks.
Make time during your visit to San Diego to visit SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration, Where The Season Meets the Sea. Shamu’s holiday show can’t help but be merry with a saxophonist and Christmas carolers. The park’s 320-foot Holiday Tree of Lights is a tradition that dates back to 1969. The shows would keep my girls busy for the entire day, but if your kids are bursting with energy, there’s an ice skating rink perfect for tiring them out.
Skating By the Sea
If you’re not in desperate need of the energy release, keep your skates on ice until you get to the Hotel del Coronado. There are plenty of great rinks in the Golden State, but the hotel’s seasonal outdoor rink is the only one that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. If the view weren’t enough, a portion of the skating proceeds go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation® of San Diego.
Let it Snow!
Snow in Los Angeles, compliments of The Grove. It may seem a bit commercial, categorizing shopping as a holiday event, but The Grove knows how to celebrate with pizzazz. Snow falls nightly at 7pm and 8pm. But you might not be able to take your eyes off of the Christmas tree. At an impressive 100 feet tall, the white fir is about 25 feet taller than this year’s tree at Rockefeller Center. Add 15,000 sparkling lights and 10,000 festive ornaments and it’s hard not to be amazed.
Holidays by the Bay
San Francisco’s Union Square is an annual tradition in my family. We start off the evening ice skating. My husband and I usually poop out first, and thoroughly enjoy the feeling of normal shoes, while the girls keep going ‘round and ‘round. When they finally decide to come off the ice, we head straight to Macy’s to ohh and ahh over the adoptable pups and kittens in the store’s Holiday Windows. Folks from the San Francisco SPCA will help you find the perfect match. Over the past six years, nearly 2,000 animals have found new homes thanks to the Macy’s Holiday Windows.
The City of Christmas Lights
Sin City gives you yet another reason to stay up late: Christmas lights at every turn. As you make your way from one hotel to the next, the Christmas trees just seem to keep getting bigger and brighter. A trip to Vegas isn’t complete without a visit to the Bellagio Fountains. During the holidays, the waltzing water dances to a special collection of festive tunes that will leave you dreaming of a wet Christmas (see my article on things to do in Las Vegas with kids).
An Explosive New Year
Seattle’s Space Needle gets decked out for the holidays, but the festivities really get explosive on New Year’s Eve, when the famous landmark hosts the world’s tallest structure launched fireworks show. Thousands of people brave the crowds to watch the display from the base of the Space Needle, while hundreds of thousands more watch from surrounding neighborhoods. Be sure to hang around for a few days after the holiday, as Seattle has its fair share of family-friendly activities.
Wherever you spend the holidays, be sure to save some time to explore. Sometimes not having a plan is the best plan. Because you never know when you might stumble on something magical.
Find great seasonal offers on our special Holiday Travel Deals page.