Load your family into the sleigh and enjoy the holiday time in Santa Cruz. Besides the boardwalk, Santa Cruz offers fun and unique holiday events that will bring cheer to your entire family. Get the family prepared for the festive holidays in Santa Cruz with these events that we promise you won’t want to miss.
Always remember to double-check dates, opening times, and weather conditions before traveling.
Top Things to Do During Christmas in Santa Cruz CA
Holiday Lights at the Fairgrounds
- Address: Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds
- Dates: Friday before Thanksgiving through the day after Christmas
Head out to the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds, where the Santa Cruz Fairground Foundation and the Agricultural History Project presents Holiday Lights. Starting on November 19, you can drive half a mile through the fairgrounds to experience lights and holiday displays.
There is a lighted tunnel that will bring magical moments, and the entire time you can keep warm in your car. The event is at weekends from 5:30 pm to 9 pm, and they are open on Christmas eve and Christmas evening. You can buy tickets for the event on their website.
Christmas Train in Santa Cruz
- Address: 400 Beach Street, Santa Cruz, CA
- Dates: begins the Friday after Thanksgiving
Beginning November 26, you can witness a seasonal tradition of Santa Cruz’s vintage train decked out in holiday lights. The vintage cars are adorned with thousands of lights that will roll through the city and past numerous homes in Santa Cruz. You can check out their website to see what days the train is active and at what times.
Winter Wonderland at the Boardwalk
- Address: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
- Dates: Friday after Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day
Head to the beach to get into the holiday spirit, where the entire family can enjoy rides, games, and the arcade. The boardwalk will be decked out in festive decorations and lights, including a 3-story tall Christmas Tree. You can snap photos with Santa, enjoy holiday treats, plus holiday shopping and classic Christmas movies. Their hours and date are constantly changing, so check the website to plan your perfect trip out.
Holiday Train in Santa Cruz
- Address: 5401 Graham Hill Rd, Santa Cruz, CA
- Dates: Saturday after Thanksgiving
Riding a train through the Santa Cruz mountains is fun on its own, but when you add holiday cheer, what more do you need? Pop on the train to adventure through the Redwood Forest and Bear Mountain while sipping hot cocoa and meeting Santa. There is a plethora of winter-themed activities the entire family can enjoy in town.
Find more Christmas Lights in Santa Cruz
The Nutcracker with a Live Orchestra
- Address: Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium
- Dates: 3rd weekend in December
The Santa Cruz Ballet Theater presents the 19th annual production of The Nutcracker. The show will feature a live orchestra with a talented local dancer. The show will be performed twice a day, once at 1 pm and another at 5 pm, the weekend of the 18th and 19th. Head over to their website to score your tickets before they sell out.
Christmas Dinner in Santa Cruz
- Address: Chaminade Resort and Spa
- Date: December 24
If you prefer to have Christmas Eve dinner cooked for you and dressing up for fun, head out to The View. For $80 per person, you will be served a pre-fix Christmas Eve menu while enjoying the beautiful view of Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay. If family style is more your style, you can go that route for $45 instead. The Treeside Restaurant prepares food for the event.
Santa Cruz Lighted Boat Parade
- Address: South Harbor between Murray Street bridge and the gas dock.
- Date: After sunset (5:30pm) on the First Saturday in December
Pop down to the South Harbor for one of the most magical events of the season. The Lighted Boat Parade, presented by the Santa Cruz Yacht Club, features 50 beautifully-decorated sailboats and powerboats parading through the Santa Cruz Harbor.Kids are most definitely welcome to the event. There will be hot drinks and snacks available at various locations through the south harbor. Remember to bring a reusable mug for hot cocoa and some non-perishable food items to donate to Second Harvest Food Bank.Check the website for more information.
Drive-In Movies, A classic during Christmas in Santa Cruz!
- Address: Roaring Camp Railroads
The Roaring Camp Railroads holds Drive-In Movie Nights in the Redwoods throughout December. They show family favorite holiday movies while being surrounded by the beautiful redwood forest. Dress warmly if you’re attending one of these movies, and make sure you have a car with a radio that can be tuned to a specific station. Refreshments will be available for purchase, and you can visit their website to see what movies will be played.
Your family will love spending time during Christmas in Santa Cruz. In the the holiday season, there is a little sprinkle of something for everyone to do, and we promise you will love every moment you’re there. Don’t skip on the redwoods in you can!
More things to do in Santa Cruz at Christmas
- Downtown Santa Cruz Holiday Parade, First Saturday in December (10am-12pm)
- Winterfest, Second Sunday in December, Downtown Santa Cruz
- Holidays on the Ranch, Wilder Ranch State Park
- Santa Cruz MAH Toy Trains, Museum of Art and History, 705 Front St, Santa Cruz
- Winter on the Wharf, Third Sunday in December (3pm – 5pm)
- Surfin’ Santa in Capitola Village, Saturday after Thanksgiving (12pm-3pm)
Santa Cruz Christmas Markets
- West Cliff Holiday Outdoor Market, Thanksgiving weekend
- Small Business Saturday, Saturday after Thanksgiving
- Annual SCM Holiday Makers Market, First Saturday after Thanksgiving (10am-5pm), Felton Community Hall
- Downtown Santa Cruz Makers Market Holiday Pop-Up, First Saturday in December (11am – 4pm), Lincoln Street at Pacific Avenue
Looking for a Santa Cruz Hotel?
- Dream Inn Santa Cruz
- Hotel Paradox
- Beach Street Inn and Suites
- Babbling Brook Inn
- La Quinta Inn & Suites by Wyndham Santa Cruz
Need a car? Get the best rental car rates HERE.