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Magical Christmas Towns In California

California is a gorgeous state and admired around the globe for its breathtaking beaches and majestic mountains. But something wonderous happens during the Christmas season in California, perhaps even magical. Suddenly, laidback SoCal beach towns and charming little cities quickly transform into amazing winter wonderlands decorated with thousands of twinkling lights. Vintage downtowns host beautiful parades along Main Street and shop owners adorn storefronts with their holiday best.

Every town is unique, filled with community traditions, visits from Santa, and of course you’ll find plenty of seasonal favorites to eat. If you’re looking for an unforgettable destination this holiday season, visit one of these magical Christmas towns in California.

Magical Christmas Towns In California

Best Christmas Towns in California

Anaheim

Disneyland is Anaheim’s main attraction, and the entire park is lit up with millions of festive lights. You just can’t beat the mouse. It’s a Christmas wonderland throughout the park and the atmosphere is electric.

Come for the incredible Christmas parade with Santa, enjoy the sparkling snow showers with a gingerbread scent along Main Street, and take pictures with Mickey and gang in their Christmas best. If you don’t make it into the park, Downtown Disney is beautifully decorated and there’s plenty of holiday fun for the whole family. 

Big Bear Lake

Big Bear is a small, winter town that celebrates Christmas in a big way. The Village at Big Bear Lake is decorated with bright red bows and county charm, just as you’d expect. During Christmas, the gourmet holiday market is loaded with artisan goods, hand-made jewelry, and loaded with delicious from-scratch goodies. And Christkindlmarkt celebrates the holidays with German traditions.

You can dress up the little ones for pictures with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Hop on the sleigh rides with the family, and there’s plenty of snow activities for the kids. Big Bear Lake is a magical Christmas town approximately 90 minutes from Orange County.

Lake Tahoe

If you’ve dreamed of having a white Christmas, make your way to Lake Tahoe. If your idea of a perfect Christmas is sleigh rides, ice skating, and snowcapped backdrops; you’ve found the perfect city. Lake Tahoe has everything you need for a perfect Christmas destination, including having meals with Santa. Lake Tahoe has resorts that offer gingerbread workshops, live music events and evening fireworks. 

Lake Tahoe Area Holiday Event Highlights:

  • Merry Days & Holly Nights at Squaw Valley | Alpine Meadows
  • Noel Nights at Northstar California
  • The Northern Lights Fest
  • SnowGlobe

South Lake Tahoe

With a winter wonderland backdrop, South Lake Tahoe is a first choice for those looking to experience California’s incredible outdoors during Christmas. The town is decorated with rustic Christmas decorations and the Heavenly Holidays Family Festival hosts a month-long festival with a very special breakfast with Santa, fireworks, live music, special performances, train rides, and more.

South Lake Tahoe has plenty of winter activities for visitors. Try sledding, ice skating, snowman and igloo building, and more. Don’t miss the romantic scenic sleigh ride with a perfect view of the 70 ft. lighted Christmas Tree. 

Mammoth Lakes

There’s not much needed to transform this popular California town into a perfect holiday location. Come for the world class skiing and stay for the Torchlight Holiday Parade and firework show. Downtown has Christmas karaoke fun for the whole family. Santa is at Mammoth Lakes ready to hear if you’ve been naughty or nice.

Mammoth Area Holiday Event Highlights:

  • Wooly’s Dance Party
  • Night of Lights at Canyon Lodge
  • SantaVille

San Diego

The weather in San Diego is perfect and you can wear your Christmas shorts, too. Downtown is decorated beautifully and there are so many special things to do and see during Christmas time. 

You can visit the San Diego Zoo or take an exciting ride on the San Diego Trolley. Balboa Park has marvelous museums and lovely gardens. Visit nearby Coronado and stop by the world famous Hotel Del’s gorgeous Christmas tree. 

San Diego Area Holiday Event Highlights:

  • Balboa Park December Nights
  • San Diego Bay Parade Of Lights
  • Mission Bay Christmas Boat Parade Of Lights
  • Winter Wonder at Belmont Park
  • Chula Vista Starlight Parade
  • La Jolla Christmas Parade & Holiday Festival
  • Encinitas Holiday Parade
  • Ocean Beach Holiday Parade

Palm Springs

Let there be light! There is something special about being in Palm Springs during Christmas time. Palm Springs has a massive Magic of Lights display that boasts over a mile of drive-thru displays along Candy Cane Lane at the Empire Polo Club. 

Take the kids to experience incredible Christmas decorations and witness over a million festive lights at Living Desert’s annual Wildlights Event. Finish your visit at Palm Springs’ most popular Christmas display on Gingerbread Lane. Here the entire family can enjoy great holiday treats like apple cider, gingerbread cookies, and participate in various multi-media crafts. 

Palm Springs Holiday Event Highlights:

  • Festival Of Lights Parade
  • Magic Of Lights
  • Wild Lights at the Living Desert
  • Holiday Parade of Lights & Festival at Desert Hot Springs

Julian

If you’re looking for old world Christmas charm surrounded by snow, then Julian is your perfect place. Everything is magical in Julian during Christmas, especially if you’re having breakfast with Santa at Pine Hills Lodge. The Saturday after Thanksgiving, Julian lights up their 10ft live Christmas tree to commence the town’s Christmas festivities with the Country Christmas event. 

Enjoy the annual holiday craft show filled with locally made Christmas gifts and keep company with Julian’s vintage Christmas carolers. Discover Julian as you ride in a horse-drawn carriage through the old-time roads and admire the beautifully decorated homes along the way. 

Julian Area Holiday Event Highlights:

  • Julian’s Country Christmas
  • Holiday Hayrides
  • Christmas Market at Town Square
  • Victorian Christmas Teas
  • Celebration Of Lights
  • Family Christmas Sing Along

Newport Beach

Newport Beach has been voted SoCal’s top pick for Christmas light displays and hosts the most popular event in Southern California, The Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade. Residents adorn their vessels with fun and creative lights and cruise along Newport Bay. You just can’t miss this incredible night parade with lively Christmas music. Enjoy the fun activities and community Christmas traditions for everyone.

Napa Valley

Known as a California wine region, Napa Valley and nearby quaint towns pull together for the holidays to offer visitors a traditional Christmas town experience. Yountville is considered Napa Valley’s brightest town and every year visitors enjoy an amazing light display as they shop. Riding with Santa on the Napa Valley Wine Train is so much fun. There’s plenty of winter activities like ice skating, wine tasting and an incredible opportunity to dine in an igloo on the rooftop of the Archer Hotel. 

Napa Valley Area Holiday Event Highlights:

  • Downtown Napa Christmas Parade
  • Bright Nights at Cuvaison Estate Wines
  • Santa Train Jolly Journeys with Napa Valley Wine Train
  • Calistoga Holiday Village
  • Calistoga Lighted Tractor Parade
  • Magic of the Season Lighted Parade
  • Old Mill Holidays at Bale Grist Mill
  • Charles Dickens Christmas With Santa

Solvang

Solvang is a magical city in Santa Barbara County. Solvang is also a foodie’s paradise. This Danish inspired city is an incredibly popular destination in California and Solvang is on every list of the best California Christmas towns. Decorated bright and plentiful, this magical Christmas town has something for everyone.

Come to the Julefest which is a traditional event of live music, dance, and more. Simply saunter through this Dutch inspired village and admire all its old-world charm and architecture.

Solvang Area Holiday Event Highlights:

  • Julefest Parade
  • Nisse Adventure
  • Santa’s Village
  • Candlelight Tours
  • Los Olivos Olde Fashioned Christmas
  • Buellton Winter Fest

Nevada City

Start your Christmas visit on a magical carriage ride through Northern California’s best Christmas town. Nevada City is a historic town that hosts a Victorian-style Christmas celebration every year. The Victorian-style architecture adds to the old beauty of this town and streets shine bright with dazzling lights during Christmas. 

Nevada City is known for its Victorian-clad carolers, gourmet holiday treats, and Santa’s energetic presence. Cute shops line the narrow streets and Nevada City makes for a treasured Christmas destination where you can experience magical moments in old traditional ways.

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Cindy is an OC native fond of PCH road trips to places like Santa Rosa or Carmel. She’s a mother of three spending her free time baking apple pies, cooking green enchiladas, and listening to 80s music. She’s a beach girl at heart and Cancun is her go to paradise.