It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas here in Southern California! There may not be snow on the ground, and the shining sun may make it feel like the perfect 75 degrees, but decorations are popping up at every corner and special holiday events are being held almost daily. There are so many special activities to enjoy with your family that we’ve tried to pare down the list to just 10. If you live or vacation in Southern California this December, we hope you enjoy one of these events! If you call another part of the country “home”, check out this list of activities in the Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego areas. Enjoy the season, and Merry Christmas!

Bring the whole family and stay at these family-friendly hotels in Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego.

Holiday Shows and The Nutcracker for Kids

Nutcracker for Kids Trekaroo

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll sing – and then you’ll boo and hiss the evil queen! Sounds like a strange way to enjoy a holiday play but our friends in Great Britain have enjoyed the tradition of Panto for many years, and now thanks to the Lythgoe family, we can enjoy this family-friendly introduction to the theatre here in SoCal. Panto is basically an interactive musical theatre production using classic fairy tale stories with modern scripts and twisting in pop songs, dancing, and interaction with the audience, and then tying it up with a big red Christmas bow. Enjoy performances of “Aladdin and His Winter Wish” at the Laguna Playhouse, “Beauty and the Beast: A Christmas Rose” at the Pasadena Playhouse, or “Peter Pan & Tinker Bell: A Pirate’s Christmas” at the Balboa Theatre in San Diego.

Dancing Sugar Plum Fairies and sword battles with monkey kings will delight many children, but really only those who can sit still for long periods of time. If you have young boys like me who like to blurt out loud, “those tight pants look funny” in a quiet theater, you may enjoy one of these special Nutcracker performances for kids. The 45 minute narrated ballet with an audience of young children is a great way to enjoy this delightful holiday tradition. Many of these companies also perform full-length versions of Tchaikovsky’s Christmas ballet.

In 2017, The Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa will be performing the Nutcracker for kids on Dec 2. The Festival Ballet Theatre will host abridged performances for schools and groups on Thursday, Dec 7 at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. The San Diego Civic Youth Ballet presents the Nutcracker at the historic Casa Del Prado Theatre in Balboa Park on Dec 6-17. All ages will be enchanted by the children performers of the Red Chair Children’s Production of the Nutcracker at the Alex Theatre in Glendale on Dec 3. Also at the Alex Theatre, the Los Angeles Ballet is presenting a 2-hour performance of The Nutcracker on Dec 9 & 10 and the LA Youth Ballet, suitable for all ages, on Dec 22 & 23.

Please check websites for ticket and show times.

Outdoor Ice Skating

Hotel del Coronado Ice Skating Trekaroo

Gliding over the ice, or rather, inching along with your clinging son at your side, can be a great event that creates memories through laughter and exercise. Skating outside is twice as fun with sparkling holiday lights and music. If you are in the Los Angeles area, don’t miss skating by the beach at Ice at Santa Monica or the extravagant winter wonderland of CHILL, presented by the Queen Mary. Explore holiday traditions from around the globe and, as in previous years, there is ice-skating, ice tubing, a holiday village, and visits with Santa. Check out the life-size Mrs. Claus’ Gingerbread Kitchen and then skate outside under the lights of L.A. LIVE. For families in San Diego, what could be a more beautiful picture of winter in California than ice-skating next to the beach at the picturesque Hotel Del Coronado with its red peaked roofs and white sandy beach. Ice skating under the stars and the lights of the Giant Wheel at the Irvine Spectrum Center in Orange County combines the fun of ice skating with beautiful light displays – and even Dickens carolers who will entertain guests on weekends. Don’t forget to wear gloves even if it is 70 degrees outside!

Check websites for details on times and ticket prices for the following outdoor ice rinks in Los Angeles, Orange County, the Inland Empire, and San Diego: Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles, Ice Skating on the Square in Temecula, and Fantasy on Ice at Liberty Station in San Diego.

Explore more places to ice skate in Southern California.

Special Light Displays

All during December I hear my little 3- and 5-year-olds shouting in the back seat of the car, “Christmas Lights!!!” at the top of their lungs, just to make sure I see any and all of the twinkling lights that delight them. We often enjoy driving around neighborhoods with hot chocolate or walking the streets with sticky candy canes to enjoy the lights of the season. Here are some extra special places to visit this year.

The Festival of Lights is held at the Mission Inn Hotel and Spa in Riverside and is free and open to the public nightly from November 24 – January 6 to enjoy thousands of lights and decorations, visits to Santa, carolers, horse-drawn carriage rides and live reindeer. The San Diego Botanic Gardens host the Garden of Lights from December 2 – 23, 26 – 30 and invite people to enjoy a stroll through the wonderland of lights in the garden, live music, horse-drawn wagon rides, Santa, and hot beverages. Enjoy the animals during the day at the LA Zoo and then celebrate at dark with LA Zoo Lights, visits with Santa, and live reindeer viewing from Nov 17 – Jan 7. Book a ticket on the Santa Barbara Trolley and ride down State Street to see the holiday light displays on this 90-minute tour that sells out every year. A towering LED-lit Christmas tree outside the Edwards Theatre of the Irvine Spectrum in Orange County will come alive with a choreographed light and music show every 30 minutes, from 5 pm until 11 pm starting November 24 through December 24. Kids will love to dance across lily pads of lights at the Enchanted Forest of Light at Descanso Gardens from Nov 19 – Jan 7. Buy your timed ticket in advance. Seasonal festivities for the whole family along with beautiful lighting makes Balboa Park shine at December Nights – Dec 1 & 2 from noon til 11pm.

Explore this list of Where to Enjoy Holiday Lights in Los Angeles.

Train Rides to Visit Santa

Santa on Train Irvine Park Railroad Trekaroo

Visiting Santa is often at the top of most family’s checklist for the season. How much more fun to visit him on a farm or at the end of a train ride! Bates Nut Farm in Valley Center, north of San Diego, is hosting Christmas in the Valley on Dec 8 & 9. Take a Polar Express Hay Ride to visit Santa and then enjoy live entertainment, crafts, a living nativity, and more. Hop aboard the Christmas Train on the Irvine Park Railroad to visit Santa from December 1- 23; kids will be delighted to find  Santa at the North Pole after their nighttime ride on the train through the park. Near Santa Clarita, take the North Pole Express to Santa’s Village on the Fillmore & Western Railway Co or the Christmas Tree Holiday Train to pick out your perfect tree. Get onboard with Santa and enjoy a special dinner on a Fillmore & Western Train. Down south in Campo, reserve a ticket on the Santa Train North Pole Limited and bring kids dressed in jammies for a trip to see Santa at the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum. Take the train to Santa’s Workshop at the Orange Empire Railway Museum in the Inland Empire from Dec 2-18. Kids can enjoy singing songs on the train, visiting Santa and Mrs. Claus, making crafts at Santa’s Workshop, and so much more.

Make reservations for a train ride to Santa today as many of these events book up in advance.


About Michelle McCoy

Michelle McCoy is Trekaroo’s Lead Travel Expert. She and her husband love traveling to National Parks and going camping, but when life with 4 young kids keeps them home - especially now with a high schooler - they find their fun in traveling to the local beaches in Orange County, CA and hiking in the wilderness areas nearby.