newport beach holidays - Christmas Boat Parade
Credit: Newport Beach & Co

12 Ways to Celebrate the Holidays in Orange County

Join in on All Things Merry and Bright With Immersive Winter Festivals and Holly Jolly Happenings!

Call it girl math, but let’s be real: we’re 10 months into the year, so it’s officially Christmas. Let the countdown begin! And we may be biased, but SoCal is the ultimate destination for the holidays. What’s better than the sun and Santa? There are merry moments happening every day! From festive makers markets to brilliant light displays and boat parades, there’s a mix of festive fun for everyone—whether you are on the naughty or nice list. Add these 11 holiday happenings to your best-time-of-year bucket list.

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Holiday Festivities at Bella Terra

Bella Terra in Huntington Beach is buzzing with festive cheer this holiday season, offering a delightful array of activities for families and friends. A highlight of the season is the opportunity to capture holiday photos with Santa and his elf in a photo booth! No RSVP is required for these walk-up, complimentary photo sessions, making it a convenient and spontaneous addition to your holiday plans. The dates for Santa photos are Nov. 22, Nov. 24-26, Dec. 2-3, Dec.9-10, Dec. 16-17 and Dec. 22-23.

In addition to pics with St. Nick, don’t miss Bella Terra’s Winterfest—a spectacular seasonal event to kick off the holiday season. Set to take place on Dec. 9 from 4-9 p.m., Winterfest promises a family-friendly evening filled with holiday activities, entertainment and fun for all. This event is perfect for those looking to immerse themselves in the holiday spirit with various activities to enjoy, including live holiday caroling, kids activities, holiday photo ops, character meet-and-greets and more! Don’t miss out on this year’s festivities in Surf City, USA!


Enjoy a Holiday Staycation at Avenue of the Arts Costa Mesa, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel 

Credit: Avenue of the Arts

Treat yourself to a holiday staycation at Avenue of the Arts Costa Mesa, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel! Christmas comes early with a $100 South Coast Plaza gift card and complimentary breakfast and cocktails for two with the hotel’s Light Up Your Holidays package. Cozy up in a deluxe suite as the countdown to the holiday season begins. Silver Trumpet Restaurant and Bar, Avenue of the Arts Hotel’s theater-inspired restaurant, is celebrating all the holidays this season! DVR the Macy’s Day parade and ditch the cooking mayhem. While your kitchen stays sparkling, head to Silver Trumpet for the ultimate Thanksgiving Day Brunch Buffet. When finished at the cornucopia of carving stations, walk off the turkey coma and get a head start on Black Friday shopping at South Coast Plaza. Silver Trumpet is also open on Christmas Eve, and mark your calendars for the Lunar New Year on Feb. 10 to try the New Year’s Pearished Dragon Cocktail. Its brilliant bright-pink hue is made with Grey Goose La Poire and dragon fruit and was inspired by Segerstrom Center for the Arts’ classical Chinese Dance Company.


Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade

newport beach holidays - Christmas Boat Parade
Credit: Newport Beach & Co

If you are local to OC, you know it’s not the holiday season without the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade. This time-honored waterfront show signifies the holiday season with a lineup of lit-up yachts filling the harbor with jolly good cheer! Head down to the Balboa Peninsula, Balboa Island or dine at one of the city’s bayfront restaurants to view this spectacle for the 115th annual parade running Dec 13-17. Or better yet, cruise on one of the sleigh-like sail boats yourself with a Holiday Lights Cruise.


Winter Fest OC

Walk in a winter wonderland at Winter Fest OC! This immersive experience brings the North Pole’s magic to Orange County with over a million lights and a 150-foot ice tubing slide! Add being a certified elf to your resume after embarking on the North Pole Journey and going snow tubing in Costa Mesa—a Christmas miracle! It’s truly a scene out of a Hallmark movie. Look out for elves walking around the fairgrounds, and follow them to the stage for nightly live entertainment! Winter Fest is open on select dates from Nov. 24 to Jan 7.



Night of 1,000 Lights

Holiday Happenings Orange County
Credit: Sherman Library & Gardens

Trade in a white Christmas for a light Christmas! Gingerbread houses become life-size at Sherman Library and Gardens this December. Follow the Rainbow Trail past Buddy the Elf’s swirly twirly Gumdrop Mountains until you make it to the Candy Heart Carnival for carnival games as nostalgic as Candy Land itself. If your feet get stuck in the Molasses Swamp, hop aboard the Candy Land Express all the way to Santa’s workshop! S’mores are roasting over the open fire and Christmas wish lists come true at the Wishing Tree and the Garden Shop boutique! Members can enjoy two exclusive nights on Dec. 6 and 8 before opening nights on Dec. 9-10. It’s then open nightly from Dec. 14-22. 



Paséa Hotel & Spa Ice Rink

Holiday Happenings Orange County
Credit: @ashley

It doesn’t get more SoCal than ice-skating by the ocean. Experience the wonders of the holiday season without the compromise of sunshine. Call us biased, but there is no better setting for an ice rink than Paséa Hotel & Spa’s oceanfront lawn. Skate the day away, and when the sun goes down, cozy up around a glowing fire pit under the stars. Pasea’s limited-time holiday menu delights with Reindeer cocktails and Santa’s Hot Chocolate. Follow along on Instagram for themed nights (Hint: Mariah Carey tribute night is one of them!)



Nutcracker Tree Lighting & Holiday Village in Anaheim

Credit: Zuoqi Liu

It’s Christmas on Clementine Street! Anaheim’s annual holiday tree lighting is taking place in the most picturesque holiday village. Comforting festive foods, boutique shopping and photos with Santa are all happening outside city hall. Your pup is even invited to join the party with Prancer and Vixen! Just be sure to bring furry friends dressed up in their ugliest sweater for the puppy costume contest. The village opens at noon on Dec. 3 with the tree lighting up the night at 6 p.m. 


Capistrano Lights: Mission in Lights

Who needs the Rockettes when you have dancing swallows? Church bells chime and carols of Dickens characters fill the streets of San Juan all the way from the mission. This historical landmark lights up at the stroke of 5 p.m. with thousands of lights. Walk the grounds with hot cocoa in hand or a glass of wine on Saturday evenings. Prayer candles, crafts for kids and sweet treats for all can be found throughout the mission grounds.

Local Insight: Look for Sullivan, the Mission’s Elf on the Shelf, in a different spot each day of December! 


Buena Park Candy Caneland and Craft Fair

Take a trip down candy cane lane with the locals of Buena Park on Saturday, Dec. 9! Buena Park’s Candy Caneland and Craft Fair is celebrating its 70th year and is known for festive food and thrills! Kids gleefully sled down snow slides and can meet furry friends at the petting zoo, and for the first time, fair shoppers can glide around Buena Park’s pop-up ice rink. Don’t let all the fun distract you from the fair itself; it’s like Santa’s workshop with over 100 artisans for stocking-stuffer shopping. Santa Claus is even coming to town to spread holiday cheer!  


Fullerton Museum Center’s Winter Market

It’s not Christmas without a market! The elves of Fullerton have been prepping all fall for Fullerton Museum Center’s Winter Market. On Saturday, Dec 2 from 2-6 p.m., sip on wine and beer in the plaza garden while shopping for goodies from local artisans. Grab lunch from food trucks and snap pics worthy of your Christmas card at festive photo ops. The littles can share their wish list with Santa and watch holiday performances with glee while you do some Christmas shopping. Grab something for yourself too—we won’t tell! 


Annual SantaCon Pub Crawl

Credit: krakenimages

Naughty or Nice? Maybe decide after the SantaCon Pub Crawl. On the ninth day of December, dust off your Santa hat and polish your black boots to hop around the 12 bars of Newport Beach’s North Pole. Jolly drinkers from all corners of the city come together for a day of holiday cheer. Expect holiday-themed drinks and the company of local Santas. There will be charitable opportunities and toy drives along the way. From one cozy dive bar to the next, spirits are sure to be high! 


Sawdust Art Festival Winter Fantasy

Holiday Happenings Orange County
Credit: Sawdust Art Festival

Get into the Christmas Spirit at the Winter Fantasy Sawdust Art Festival in Laguna Beach, where the iconic Sawdust Festival transforms into the most merry market! Winter Fantasy is an outdoor holiday art celebration, complete with thousands of lights, peppermint lanes and handcrafted gifts from over 160 local artists! Meet the makers and enjoy live music, learn how to make ornaments like an artist, and taste your way through the holidays with hot beverages, libations and tasty treats! The festival is open Friday through Sunday from Nov. 17 through Dec. 17 and features daily appearances from Santa himself!



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Lover of the beach, food and fitness, Emily enjoys exploring all sunny Southern California has to offer! She has a passion for sharing about her favorite local gems and began writing for Locale in 2022. On the weekends, find her creating recipes for her food blog or out in Laguna!




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