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10 Best Christmas Towns in California You Need to Visit

Christmas towns are a unique and charming way to experience the holiday season. In California, there are several quaint towns that go all-out for Christmas. Every year, you can find several Christmas towns in California that transform into winter wonderlands, with twinkling lights, and holiday decorations adorning every street.

Visitors can enjoy festive activities like horse-drawn carriage rides, visits with Santa Claus, and Christmas caroling. There’s also no shortage of delicious food, from roasted chestnuts to apple cider. If you’re looking for a truly magical Christmas experience, be sure to check out one of California’s charming Christmas towns.

looking up to sky with christmas tree and palm trees

Keep in mind that I’m mentioning these as Christmas towns, but many of them are inclusive of other winter holidays and truly can be magical places to visit even if you don’t celebrate Christmas.

And if you’re looking to explore beyond California, check out some of these other fabulous west coast Christmas destinations!

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What’s the weather like at Christmas in California?

When you think of California weather, many think of palm trees and sunny weather, right? While that’s true in some areas, like Southern California, did you know that there are also some charming snowy Christmas towns sprinkled throughout the Golden State?

The weather will depend heavily on where in the state you’re going. Northern coastal towns will have cool and rainy weather, while mountain regions and towns will give you snow and skiing, and finally, heading down south will likely give you warmth and sunshine.

1. Solvang, California

solvang christmas town in california tree

Solvang is a Danish-inspired city in Santa Barbara County, California. The city is renowned for its many bakeries and restaurants, as well as its unique architecture. Solvang is a great place to visit during the Christmas season and is on every list of the best California Christmas towns.

One popular event is the Solvang Julefest, which includes a traditional Danish Jul banquet, live music, dance performances, and more. If you’re looking for something more low-key, you can simply enjoy Solvang’s quaint atmosphere and lovely Christmas decorations. No matter what you’re looking for, Solvang is sure to have something to offer during the holiday season.

Where to Stay:
Hotel Corque
Mirabelle Inn (adults-only)

2. Big Bear Lake, California 

welcome town holiday sign at big bear lake california

Big Bear Lake is a beautiful place to visit during the Christmas season. The lake is surrounded by snow-capped mountains, and there are plenty of activities to enjoy, including skiing, sledding, and ice skating. 

Visitors can also take a scenic sleigh ride or go on a horse-drawn carriage ride around the lake. There are also several festive events held in Big Bear Lake each year, such as the Big Bear Lake Winter Festival. These events feature live music, ice sculpting, and other fun activities for the whole family. 

So, whether you’re looking for a place to escape the cold weather or just want to enjoy some festive fun, Big Bear Lake is the perfect destination.

Where to Stay:
Bay Meadows Resort
Grey Squirrel Resort

3. Nevada City, California

nevada city california street at victoria christmas event
© Nevada City Chamber | Photographer Faye White

Nevada City is a small town in California that comes alive during the Christmas season. One of the most popular attractions is the Nevada City Victorian Christmas, which features a parade, carolers, horse-drawn carriage rides, and market booths.

The whole town is decorated with Victorian-style lights and there are also a number of holiday-themed events, including a gingerbread house competition and an elf scavenger hunt. 

If you’re looking for something a little more low-key, you can take a stroll through Nevada City’s historic downtown district and admire the festive window displays. No matter what you’re looking for, Nevada City is the perfect place to celebrate Christmas.

Where to Stay:
The National Exchange Hotel
Broad Street Inn

4. Newport Beach, California

newport beach california christmas boat parade
source: Visit Newport Beach

Newport Beach is a beautiful place to spend Christmas. The weather is usually sunny and mild, the beaches are open, and there are plenty of things to do. One popular activity is to take a Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade Cruise

This includes holiday music, hot cocoa, and of course, seeing the decorated boats as they make their way through Newport Harbor. Another festive activity is ice skating at Newport Beach Ice Rink. This outdoor rink is open from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day and has a picturesque view of the ocean. 

If you’re looking for something more low-key, you can always take a stroll along Newport’s boardwalk or Balboa Island and do some window shopping or people-watching. No matter what you choose to do, Newport Beach is a great place to enjoy the Christmas season.

Where to Stay:
Balboa Bay Resort
Dorymans Oceanfront Inn

5. Palm Springs, California

palm springs holidays on el paseo
photo credit: Visit Greater Palm Springs

Who would have guessed that the desert would be a Christmas hot spot? But Palm Springs, California celebrates the Christmas holidays with style! They have a massive Magic of Lights display that features over a mile of drive-thru light displays you can enjoy from your car.

The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens has a WildLights display where you’ll be surrounded by twinkling lights as you wander around the zoo. Plus, they have a massive model train display with over 3,300 feet of track that gets decorated for the holidays.

Lastly, you can immerse yourself in the arts community that Palm Springs is known for by visiting Gingerbread Lane. The 3-acre campus of Old Town Artisan Studios is transformed into a Christmas wonderland. You can visit for free on the Saturdays between Thanksgiving and Christmas and enjoy gingerbread cookies and hot cider, cookie decorating and clay ornament painting, and various entertainment performances,

Where to Stay:
La Quinta Resort
JW Marriott

6. San Diego, California

old town san diego christmas decoration flags

San Diego is a beautiful place to be around Christmas time. The weather is perfect if you’re looking for warmth, and there are so many things to do. You can go to the San Diego Zoo, go shopping at Seaport Village, or take a ride on the San Diego Trolley. And let’s not forget the fabulous museums and gardens in Balboa Park.

There are also a lot of great places to eat around Christmas time in San Diego, including plenty of places to grab Christmas dinner. Or perhaps you want to get some seafood at the San Diego Fish Market.

There are also a lot of fun activities for kids at the area theme parks. You can go to SeaWorld San Diego to meet Santa and his reindeer, or go to LEGOLAND and build a gingerbread house. No matter what you’re looking for, you’ll be able to find it in San Diego during Christmas time.

Where to Stay:
Park Hyatt Aviara Resort
Hotel del Coronado

7. Temecula, California 

christmas tree in temecula california

Temecula, California is a beautiful place to escape the cold during the Christmas season. The city comes alive with holiday lights and decorations, and there are plenty of festive activities to enjoy. One popular activity is the Santa’s Electric Light Parade, which features floats, marching bands, and Santa Claus himself.

You can go ice skating at Town Square Park with Temecula on Ice where you can strap on your skates while you glide around with perfect holiday ice skating music playing on the radio.

Lastly, pop in to visit Santa Claus in Old Town Temecula as you wander the streets to enjoy some shopping, winery visits, and plenty of holiday decor.

Where to Stay:
The Inn at Europa Village
Best Western Plus

8. Napa Valley, California

Many know of California’s wine region of Napa Valley which is dotted with some charming towns. And those towns get dressed up for the holidays to offer visitors a California Christmas town experience, perhaps with a glass of wine in their hand!

In the Napa Valley town of Yountville, known as the “Brightest Town in Napa Valley”, visitors can enjoy a beautiful light display while shopping and crafting. Most notably, you can take a ride aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train along with Santa.

Next, head to Napa where you’ll lace up your skates at the Meritage ice rink, complete with a 40-foot tall Christmas tree and on-site wine-tasting room. For a unique experience, head to the Archer Hotel rooftop for a meal in an igloo with a view.

Where to Stay:
Napa River Inn
The Meritage Resort

9. Ferndale, California

lighted tractor parade in ferndale california christmas
source: Ferndale Lighted Tractor Parade facebook

Ferndale, California is a small town located in Northern California Humboldt County. The town is known for its Victorian architecture and its annual Ferndale crazes. Around Christmas, the Ferndale community comes together to celebrate an old-fashioned Victorian holiday. 

Make sure you check out the Tallest Lighted Christmas Tree America at the end of Main Street. The Lighted Tractor Parade in Ferndale is a unique event where local farmers and ranchers parade fancifully decorated tractors, tractor-drawn wagons & horse-drawn floats depicting holiday scenes down Ferndale’s Victorian Village’s Historic Main Street.

And you’ll want to drive around and look at all the houses and businesses that put out their best holiday decorations with the hope of winning Ferndale’s annual light contest. For those looking for a more traditional Christmas experience, Ferndale also offers several churches that host candlelight services on Christmas Eve. 

No matter what your holiday preferences might be, Ferndale has something to offer everyone during the Christmas season.

Where to Stay:
Gingerbread Mansion
Victorian Inn

10. South Lake Tahoe, California

South Lake Tahoe is a breathtakingly beautiful place to spend Christmas. The snow-capped mountains and clear blue skies provide the perfect backdrop for festive holiday activities. Visitors can go sledding or tubing down one of the many slopes, build snowmen or igloos, or take a scenic sleigh ride. 

The Heavenly Holidays Family Festival in Heavenly Village offers the chance to have breakfast with Santa, go ice skating, watch the daily 70-foot tall Christmas tree lighting, and take a ride on a ferris wheel, not to mention all the great shopping, food, and entertainment.

And of course, no trip to South Lake Tahoe would be complete without spending some time in one of the many hot springs

Where to Stay:
Edgewood Tahoe Resort
Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe

11 BONUS. Anaheim, California

disneyland christmas lights on castle at night

Anaheim is home to the Happiest Place on Earth, Disneyland. And the resort can be the perfect place to spend the holiday season with over-the-top decorations, entertainment, and food! It’s one of my happy places and offers visitors the chance to experience a warm-weather Christmas in California. Read my post about all the great things to do during the Disneyland Holidays celebration.

Where to Stay:
Disney Grand Californian
Courtyard Marriott Anaheim Theme Park
– Book a Disneyland Package Deal with Get Away Today

Where can I go for a white Christmas in California?

Some potential options for a white Christmas in California include the mountain towns of Mammoth Lakes and Lake Tahoe, as well as the Sierra Nevada mountains. Keep in mind that snowfall can vary from year to year, so it is important to check weather forecasts before planning your trip. Locations at higher elevations are more likely to have a white Christmas.

Reasons to Visit California During Christmas

With so much to see and do, it’s no wonder that California is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. And what better time to visit than during Christmas? From San Francisco to Los Angeles, there are endless festive activities to take part in. Here are just a few reasons why you should consider spending your Christmas in California.

1. The weather is unbeatable.

If you’re sick of shoveling snow and dealing with frigid temperatures, then a Christmas in California is definitely for you. With an average temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit, you can enjoy all your favorite holiday activities without having to worry about bundling up. So, whether you want to go for a walk on the beach or spend the day exploring one of the many museums, you’ll be able to do so without feeling uncomfortable.

2. There’s something for everyone.

No matter what your interests are, you’re sure to find something to love about California during Christmas. If you’re a fan of the arts, then you can take in a show at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles or go on a tour of the Walt Disney Concert Hall. History buffs will enjoy visiting Alcatraz Island or taking a cable car ride through San Francisco. And let’s not forget about all the delicious food that California has to offer! From world-renowned restaurants to quaint cafes, there’s something for every palate.

3. The holidays are magical in California.

One of the best things about spending Christmas in California is getting to experience all the holiday cheer firsthand. From decorated homes and storefronts to holiday lights and festive displays, there’s no shortage of holiday cheer. 

And if you’re looking for something truly unique, then be sure to check out ICE at Santa Monica Place, an ice skating rink set up right in the middle of a shopping center!

4. You can shop ’til you drop.

Whether you’re looking for unique gifts or just some souvenirs for yourself, California has plenty of great places to go shopping. Los Angeles is home to Rodeo Drive, one of the most famous shopping districts in the world, where you can find everything from high-end designer stores to local boutiques. Or if you’re in San Francisco, be sure to swing by Union Square, a shopper’s paradise with over 200 stores and restaurants.

5. It’s the perfect place to ring in the New Year.

There’s no better way to start off the new year than by experiencing one of California’s world-famous New Year’s Eve celebrations. In San Francisco, you can watch the fireworks display over San Francisco Bay or attend one of the many New Year’s Eve parties happening around town.

Women Christmas shopping


Are there any Christmas towns in California?

There are several towns in California that have a festive atmosphere during the Christmas season, including Solvang, Big Bear Lake, Nevada City, Newport Beach, and San Diego. Each of these towns offer holiday events and activities to enjoy.

Is it usually warm or cold during Christmas in California?

The weather during Christmas time in California can vary greatly, as the state is quite large and has a range of climates. In some areas, such as San Diego, it may be quite warm during Christmas time. 

In other areas, such as Big Bear Lake, it may be cold and snowy. It really depends on where in California you are visiting during the holiday season.

Where is the best place to celebrate Christmas in California?

There is no one “best” place to celebrate Christmas in California, as it really depends on personal preferences and what type of activities and atmosphere you are looking for.

Some popular options include Solvang for a traditional small-town Christmas experience, Newport Beach for a beach-themed celebration, and San Diego for a mix of holiday events and attractions. 

Ultimately, the best place to celebrate Christmas in California will be whatever suits your individual preferences and holiday desires.

Where is the most Christmassy town in the USA?

Many people believe that the most Christmassy town in the USA is Santa Claus, Indiana

This small town, located in the southern part of the state, has fully embraced its holiday theme and features attractions such as Holiday World Theme Park and Santa’s Candy Castle.  

Every December the town hosts its annual Christmas Celebration which includes a parade, live entertainment, and a visit from Santa himself.

Other contenders for the title include Leavenworth, Washington with its Bavarian-themed Christmas lighting displays and North Pole, Alaska which boasts a Santa Claus House year-round. Ultimately, it may be up to personal preference as to which town truly embodies the Christmas spirit.

As you can see, there are plenty of reasons why spending Christmas in California is a great idea! It’s time to start planning to find the perfect Christmas towns in California.

collage christmas towns in california with text overlay

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