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Sawdust Festival Winter Fantasy

Winter is Coming… and Boy is it Fun!

Who says you need to have snow to have the perfect holiday experience? In Laguna Beach, Southern California does winter and the Christmas season its own way.

Sawdust Festival Winter Fantasy

The Winter Fantasy Festival is where you’ll find amazing hand-crafted art that will fit every budget and cater to every whimsy… gorgeous blown glass, quirky hand-sewn stuffed monsters, meticulously crafted ceramics, tile art, one-of-a-kind wearables and more. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know to enjoy the Winter Fantasy Festival in Laguna Beach, California.

What is the Winter Fantasy Festival?

When the long, hot days of summer end, the Sawdust Art Festival grounds are transformed into three acres of winter wonderland, complete with gorgeously decorated Christmas trees, garlands, lights, roaming Victorian carolers, puppets, and even the occasional sprinkle of snow (who says it never snows at the beach?).

Did we mention Santa? No? Well, the Chief Elf Himself is here, too.

Piggybacking off the ridiculously popular Sawdust Art Festival (July through to September), the Winter Fantasy Festival at the festival grounds on Laguna Canyon Road provides Victorian holiday cheer, fabulous handmade art, and a rollicking holiday time, all set against the gorgeous hills framing Laguna Beach. Whether you’re a novice or a longtime lover of all things artistic, there’s definitely something for you at the Winter Fantasy festival.

Did You Know? While the Sawdust Festival was created to feature local Laguna Beach artists, the Winter Fantasy Festival happily accepts non-resident artists. If you’re not lucky enough to live in Laguna Beach, you’re not out of the running for showing off your stuff at the next Winter Fantasy.

Shopping at the Winter Fantasy Festival

Like it or hate it, a large part of the holiday season is about shopping. Shopping at big stores has its place, and there’s always the no-fuss online option, but there’s just something about the hunt for the perfect present… actually being able to see it and touch it, to make sure it’s just right for your giftee… the personal angle plays a big part in gift giving.

That’s where the Winter Fantasy Festival comes in.

Shop Local. Real Local.

Local, unique, and personal, the Winter Fantasy festival offers instant shopping gratification for most of your shopping needs. If you’re looking for gifts that nobody else is going to think of, much less duplicate, this is where you want to go.

Buying from a local Southern California artisan means that you won’t have to worry about shipping times and whether or not that perfect gift will arrive on time. Besides, where else will you be able to find the perfect present and talk to the artisan who made it?

Pro-Tip: The Winter Fantasy festival isn’t just great for shopping. It makes for a unique holiday-themed date night or girls’ night out, too.

So what kind of art will you find at Winter Fantasy?

Anything from mosaic art to handmade knitwear, the fabulously eco-friendly gourd dolls at Gourdy Girls to hand-sewn friendly monsters, jewelry, photographic and mixed media art, gorgeous hand-blown glass, and more.

With over a hundred excellent artists in residence at the Winter Fantasy Festival (150 at the last count), it’s impossible to list them all. For an up to the minute and searchable vendor listing click here.

Fun Fact: There’s a shop with a fun name selling cat themed merchandise. Can you find the palindrome?

No matter what kind of art you like, every artist is friendly, informative, and thrilled to talk to you about their creations… that’s half the fun and a major part of the draw of going to the art festival. Who wouldn’t want to chat with the person who thought up quirky blown-glass rasta squid sculptures?

Free Fun at the Winter Fantasy Festival

Purchases aren’t necessary but if you can make it through all the artist booths without buying something, you’ve got more willpower than we do. That being said, there are several free activities for you to enjoy.

On-site Art Classes

If watching the artists do their thing in their beautifully decorated booths has you itching to try creating something yourself, there are complimentary art classes for everyone.

Studio One has complimentary classes in painting, mixed media and more, while the Ceramic Center lets you throw clay like a pro (with a little help). Explore your creative side with these all-ages classes (classes are separated into two categories: kids from 2-12 and all ages from 7 to adult.)

Pro-tip: Did you know that the Sawdust Art Festival offers year-round art classes? Well, now you do! Class offerings range from prerecorded online tutorials to live zoom sessions and cover everyone from Beginner to Advanced. 

Other free activities include:

  • Get your squeak on! Pet guinea pigs and bunnies in the free petting zoo by Zoomars.
  • A roaming balloon artist is on hand to make puffy art pieces by request. The balloon critters are free, but feel free to offer a tip for all her hard work!
  • Photos with Santa are free! Skip the mall lines and the stressful atmosphere that might unnerve small children or sensory kids and have a relaxed chat with Santa Claus in his cottage.
  • Music! There are three stages scattered throughout the festival, playing a wide variety of live music. Get up and dance!
  • Free glassblowing demonstrations are intermittent throughout the day. Just follow the roar of the furnace to the glassed-in workshop in the heart of the festival grounds.

Even the Food is Art

After you’ve hiked around the most artistic three acres in Southern California for a bit, you’re going to have worked up an appetite. Lucky for you, the Winter Fantasy Festival has a whole range of options for you to choose from.

Sensory tip: there’s live music at the stage close by, so be aware that this area might pose problems for those on the spectrum or who deal with noise sensitivity.

Some of our favorite places to eat include:

Deb’s Deli is the place to find hearty American food like hot dogs (try the Great Dane), sandwiches (the Tuna Laguna is famous), and a wide variety of shakes and malts, including the famous date shake.  Food is made to order, so a little patience will serve you well. We’d recommend keeping an eye on the time so you can get there before the lunch rush.  Orders are called out, so make sure you stick close enough to hear your name!

Pappou’s Mediterranean Grille, where you can find authentic, made-to-order Greek food at a reasonable price. Order at the window and they’ll call your number when your salad, soup, or entrée is ready (oh, and they offer appetizers, too… We recommend the eggplant dip and the pita. You can’t go wrong with their Greek fries, either.)

Sallie’s Funnel Cakes is where you go if you want to put a little extra something Southern in Southern California. Owner Sallie offers fresh-fried funnel cakes and tops them with anything from powdered sugar to fresh fruit to M&Ms. Sallie’s batter is a secret family recipe that you won’t find anywhere else. It’s a must-try!

Craft beers, wines and more are available at the famous Sawdust Saloon.

Pro-Tip: Seating in the open-air food court is limited. It might be worth scouting out a table early.

Now that you’ve had a taste of just how much fun the Winter Fantasy festival can be, let us give you all the information you need to get there.

When to Go and How to Get to the Winter Fantasy Festival

The Winter Fantasy Festival is located on the permanent, delightfully quirky Sawdust Art Festival grounds at 935 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach CA 92651. Running from mid to late November to mid to late December), the festival is open from 10AM to 7PM every weekend. Check here for updated dates and times.

Pro-Tip: If you can’t get through the day without a cigarette, cigar, or e-cigarette, make sure you finish your smoke break before entering the festival grounds. It’s a no-smoking zone.

Admission

The only thing easier than deciding to go to the Winter Fantasy festival is getting tickets.

You’ve got a couple of easy options, but the fastest method is going to be an online purchase. Grab your admissions before you go or while you’re driving down on your smartphone (but only if you’re the passenger!). The official Sawdust Art and Craft Festival website is easy to navigate.

Pro-tip: Going solo isn’t your only option! If you know a lot of art-minded friends who want to explore the Winter Fantasy Festival, it might be worth going in a group. Parties numbering 15 and up get a discounted rate!

Once your purchase is complete, your tickets will be zipped over to your email in-box (check your spam folder if you don’t see them in a few minutes). Just show the QR code at the gate and you’re in!

Daily admission rates are super reasonable for this unique local event:

  • $10 for adults, $7 for seniors (ages 65 and up), $5 for children (ages 6-12).
  •  Military members, veterans, and kids aged 5 and under are free.

Pro-tip: A season pass is a much better bargain if you want to go more than once.  $20 gets you access to the festival for the full five weeks.

Parking

It’s always good to have options when it comes to parking, and Laguna Beach has several for you to use when you’re headed to the Winter Fantasy Festival.

Metered parking is available on Frontage Road and Laguna Canyon Road ($2.50/hour, and the meters will accept credit cards if you find yourself short of quarters), but a better bet is taking advantage of the free parking in Lot 16 at 1900 Laguna Canyon Road and taking Laguna Beach’s free trolley service to and from the festival grounds. Trolley service runs from 9am to 7:30pm with multiple transit routes. Go here for a map.

Accessibility Tip: Designated handicap parking is available in front of the festival grounds if you need it. Please be aware that while the streets are wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs and foot traffic, the sawdust might make the going tough.

If the free parking is full (and if you don’t mind the walk) you can still use the public paid lots and metered parking areas in the downtown area. Try Lot 10 (635 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, CA).

Pro-tip: Parking can be tricky, but luckily, there’s an app for that! (go here for Google Play and here for the Apple store). Before you go to the Winter Fantasy Festival, you’ll want to download the Laguna Beach Parking app. It’s the easiest way to find – and pay for – a parking spot during those high-demand times.

Extra Pro-Tip: Go here for a comprehensive list of Laguna Beach’s twenty-one public parking lots, including their rates, times, and number of spaces available.

Accessibility at the Winter Fantasy Festival

Autism/Sensory Awareness Issues

The Winter Festival is an outdoor venue, so harsh fluorescent lighting isn’t a concern (bright sun is, though). However, as an art festival, it has a massive variety of visual stimuli.  The unexpected traffic flows and sheer volume of colors, shapes, and sounds can make overload a very real concern.

The festival grounds aren’t very large, and they are packed with booths, so there isn’t necessarily a quiet spot to regroup in should you need it. It might be worth your while to scope out the grounds quickly to see if there’s a spot you can go to if things get too intense.

Noise cancelling headphones or other ear protection is definitely a must.

Service Dogs

Service animals are welcome at the Winter Fantasy Festival, but if your favorite fur baby isn’t ADA certified, you’ll have to leave them at home.

Wheelchair Accessibility

Complimentary wheelchairs are available from the festival staff but because there are a finite number available, make sure you reserve one ahead of time (call 949-494-3030), so you don’t have to worry about missing out. The Winter Fantasy Festival is a wonderful piece of holiday tradition that’s unique to Laguna Beach. With reasonable entry, accessible parking, and shopping you literally can’t get anywhere else, you’ve got every reason to make a visit part of your personal holiday traditions.


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Kelly Smith is a freelance writer living in Southern California with one dog, two cats, two guinea pigs… and the rest of her family. She writes about Orange County, faith, family, special needs and tea, and world-builds science fiction universes on the side. Find her at www.bluerosecopywriting.com.