Considering wintering out on the West Coast? Christmastime, while known as the most wonderful time of year, is also a fantastic occasion to sightsee through the states—with city streets shimmering in holiday lights, communities coming together for festivals and events, and magic in abundance.
We’ve gathered together the best destinations for a West Coast Christmas holiday, each with unique traditions and family-friendly holiday activities, like train rides, boat parades, light shows, and even a Surfing Santa Claus. Whether you’re bringing your little ones along for the ride or plan to spend the winter with friends or a special someone, it’ll be impossible not to feel the holiday spirit at the following destinations:
Find the perfect home base for your holiday season and choose from festive celebrations on white-sand beaches or a white Christmas in cheery mountain towns. Add to your getaway with special touches like beach access, mountain views, ski-in/ski-out access, hot tubs, or a crackling fireplace. Happy holidays from Vacasa.
As the snow starts to fall, this all-season escape becomes a bustling ski destination. Heavenly Mountain Resort at Lake Tahoe’s southern tip, in particular, makes a great home base to enjoy a snowy December in California. The state’s largest ski resort offers 97 runs and 30 lifts spread along its peaks, with 20% of its terrain set out for beginners.
If skiing isn’t your deal, there’s nearby shopping, lounges, spas, and Himmel Haus offers excellent German cuisine and live events. Lake Tahoe holds its Heavenly Holidays celebration the whole month of December, with a tree lighting, fireworks, live music, train rides, and more. Kids will love a ride on the Heavenly Ferris wheel and adults can don their best Santa outfit for the Santa Pub Crawl, as part of Tahoe’s SantaCon.
If you’re set on a winter in Southern California, San Diego packs something for the whole family to enjoy. Of course, there are the usual hot spots to check out, like the San Diego Zoo, Belmont Park, Old Town, and Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, but the coastal city offers a few ways to celebrate the winter season as well. The fun begins in November, as Santa Claus arrives in San Diego for the Surfin’ Santa event.
Kick off December with Balboa Park’s December Nights, a two-day event and the largest free holiday event in the city, where you can enjoy food, festive decor, and free admission to the museums. Families can watch the Port of San Diego Holiday Bowl Parade as balloons and floats make their way down the street, but if you’re a sports fan, be sure to grab tickets to the Holiday Bowl, held at Petco Park.
From San Diego, you can plan trips to see several holiday parades and tree lightings, including:
For some truly unique holiday activities, swing by the Victorian Tea Party at the Hotel del Coronado or enjoy ice skating by the ocean at the hotel’s beachfront ice rink. Enjoy a tropic take to your winter holiday and make one-of-a-kind memories.
We all know Disneyland is one of the happiest places on Earth, and that excitement only translates to more fun for the holiday season. Disney’s Festival of Holidays runs from November to January and features food, music, and activities paying tribute to the diverse cultures and holidays celebrated around the world. Watch beautiful dance performances for Navidad, snack on holiday treats, and catch the Christmas Fantasy Parade—which runs from November to January.
In the surrounding area, you’ll find photo ops with Santa Claus at Knotts Berry Farm (or Knotts Merry Farm), the Anaheim Tree Lighting and Nutcracker Holiday Village, and the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade. It’s no surprise the theme park is one of the best places to visit at Christmas—between coasters, rides, and meeting Mickey, you’ll have your pick of light shows and holiday activities.
If a green Christmas is more up your alley, Palm Springs might make the perfect winter getaway. The Coachella Valley boasts a plethora of holiday activities and events, so you’ll be able to find light shows, parades, or live music concerts no matter where you’re staying.
Find plenty of Christmastime cheer under decked-out palm trees, starting in November with three-time Grammy-award-winning artist Pentatonix as they stop in town on their Most Wonderful Tour of the Year, playing their holiday greatest hits. Next, join in on tree lighting ceremonies in La Quinta, Palm Desert, and at Indian Wells’s Winterfest.
Drive through the dazzling light display in Indio’s Magic of Lights Coachella Valley, enjoy kid-friendly crafts and parades at the Palm Springs Festival of Lights Parade, and take photos with Santa Claus at Cathedral City’s SnowFest. If you’re traveling with kids, make sure to stop by the Living Desert Zoo Wild Lights, where they’ll be enchanted by over a million holiday lights and snack on the s’mores station. After this much Christmas celebration, you’ll be happy you swapped out a snowy winter for endlessly sunny days.
Spend Christmas in Central Oregon and get ready for a holiday of epic proportions. This snowy region promises winter fun for all ages, from ski resorts to sleigh rides. Welcome in the holiday spirit with tickets to the Nutcracker Magical Christmas Ballet and start a new tradition by cutting your own Christmas tree in the Deschutes National Forest. Stop by the Sisters Tree Lighting, the community tree lighting in downtown Bend, or the magic of Sunriver’s Holiday Light Show, each featuring activities and hot chocolate to keep you toasty warm.
If you’re looking to kick your holiday plans up a notch with an adventure, head to Bend and carve your way through Mt. Bachelor’s expertly groomed ski slopes. Kids are sure to love ice skating at Sunriver or a festive horse-drawn sleigh ride.
For parents, holiday spirits of a different variety await at the Winter Market at the Distillery. Skip the stress of cooking a big feast—Sunriver Resort hosts a grand Christmas dinner, so all you have to do is show up and enjoy.
Relax on a Christmas vacation with fun for all ages in Portland. Downtown, Pioneer Square sparkles with Christmas markets, carolers, and of course, a massive Christmas tree.
Watch Santa Claus flip the switch to the holiday lights at the Tree Lighting Ceremony, which typically kicks off the day after Thanksgiving. Get some last-minute shopping done at the iconic Powell’s Bookstore, catch the festive Christmas Ships and Boat Parade, book a magical train ride experience on the Holiday Express, and bring your youngsters to Portland’s Zoo Lights or the mesmerizing Winter Wonderland Drive-Thru at Portland’s International Raceway, distinguished as “the largest holiday light show west of the Mississippi.”
Parents and adults looking for child-free holiday fun, be sure to pack your best Santa Claus costume for the city’s SantaCon celebration or sample delicious craft brews at the Portland Zoo’s Brew Lights festival.
Dreaming of a white Christmas? The treelined vistas, cozy cabin rentals, and fresh-powdered slopes of Mt. Hood make it one of the best Christmas getaways. Many veteran skiers are well aware of the area’s winter sports offerings, but the mountain fun doesn’t stop there. Hunt down (and cut) the perfect tree for your Christmas holiday, bring the kids to enjoy one-of-a-kind cosmic tubing at the Ski Bowl, and stop by Timberline Lodge as they light their impressive 30-foot Christmas tree. For a unique holiday experience, board the Christmas train for a trip up to the North Pole.
Festive activities aside, one scenic drive through the area’s stunning, snow-covered natural landscape is bound to stir the holiday spirit. If you’re looking to ski through the new year, be sure to stay for Timberline Lodge’s New Years Celebration—featuring night skiing, fireworks, and a grand feast.
There are a few things you can count on in the winter: cold weather, Santa’s arrival, and having a magical Christmas holiday in Leavenworth, Washington. When it comes to Christmas towns, this alpine city (just two hours from Seattle) is considered the Christmas destination.
Fit with quaint Bavarian architecture, piping hot authentic German food, holiday events, and views of the Cascade Mountains, you’ll believe you’ve stepped into a Hallmark movie or a festive snow globe. The fun begins with the highly-anticipated Village of Lights Festival, which typically draws around 100,000 visitors who come to watch the city-wide light show and delight in carolers, Christmas decorations, story corners, photo ops, and roasted chestnuts.
All winter long, Leavenworth is a snowy playground the whole family will enjoy. Fill your itinerary with holiday activities like touring the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum, shopping downtown’s lively Christkindlmarkt, ice skating, stopping by the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm, and hailing a horse-drawn sleigh or carriage ride. After a day on the Cascade Mountain ski slopes, reward yourself with a sweet treat from the Gingerbread Factory. It might only take one trip to the northwest for a Leavenworth trip to become your new favorite Christmastime tradition.
Winter is a great time to visit Seattle, when both the city lights and blankets of snow sparkle. As one of the most popular travel destinations on the West Coast, Seattle offers plenty of things to do throughout the holiday season. Last-minute Christmas shopping never felt so good when strolling the cute Christmas markets downtown—and there are a few neighborhood stands to choose from, including the European Christmas Village, the United Indians Native Art Market, and Julefest at the Nordic Museum, featuring delicious Scandinavian pastries for sale.
Get festive with the PNW’s famous brewing scene by grabbing tickets to the Winter Beer Fest, or sipping a boozy seasonal cocktail at Queen Mary’s Tea Room. Bellevue, just a quick 30-minute drive from the city, is host to a few kid-friendly holiday events as well, including an ice rink and a phenomenal light display at the Bellevue Botanical Garden’s Garden d’Lights.
Away from the city, there’s a place where you can enjoy a local small-town touch to your holiday spirit. Shelton is another Christmas town that doesn’t disappoint—between a Christmas tree maze and gingerbread house challenges, you’re in for a rockin’ holiday season. After hosting a 797-tree Christmas maze in 2019, Shelton earned the Guinness World Record for “Most Lit Christmas Trees,” as well as the nickname, “Christmas Tree Capital of the World.”
Start the family-friendly celebrations with the annual Gingerbread Challenge, enjoy hot chocolate and cookies at the Holiday Magic Tree Lighting, and save your spot for the Holiday Magic Christmas Town Parade. Feel the holiday spirit and hometown pride at the Shelton Christmas Market, featuring visits from Santa Claus, family craft workshops, and live music.
If you need a change of scenery, nearby Olympia offers plenty to do downtown as well, with a Winter Fest full of dance performances, storytelling, horse-drawn carriage rides, and more.
You don’t need snow to have a magical Christmas vacation—just embrace the island breeze. The Honolulu City Lights tree lighting ceremony isn’t an event to miss, boasting a block party, an electric light parade, outdoor displays and Christmas decorations, and amazing food from local vendors. Browse the Kailua Holiday Markets, grab tickets to the Let It Snow Holiday Show, run for a great cause in the Jingle Rock Run, and treat yourself to a night of amazement with Ballet Hawaii’s The Nutcracker.
Wishing you mele kalikimaka for your tropic Christmas holiday. Waimea makes for a great home base to celebrate the holiday season, with community events like the Twilight Christmas Parade (the second oldest parade in Hawaii) and the vibrant Wimea Light Parade and Christmas concert. Also on the Big Island, you’ll find the Holiday Fair at Keaau’s Volcano Thursday Markets and Holualoa’s Music and Light Festival for more festive holiday activities and family fun.
Season’s greetings from one of the snowiest Christmas vacation destinations. Anchorage isn’t only one of the coolest places to go for Christmas, it’s up there in the coldest, too. Though you may have to bundle up, the warm holiday spirit is in no short supply—especially when you’re this close to the North Pole. Alaska’s largest city comes together for the Holiday Tree Lighting to kick off the celebrations, then keeps the festivities rolling with more holiday events like Bright Nights light display at the Anchorage Botanical Garden, holiday theatrical performances, and the annual Christmas Village Market.
Winter sports enthusiasts will enjoy easy access to snowy terrain and ski slopes in nearby Girdwood at Alyeska Resort. For more fun, bring the family to Zoo Lights at the Alaska Zoo, tour the reindeer farm, or book a special Christmas experience with a thrilling ride on the Holiday Train. Stick around for Anchorage’s exciting New Years Eve celebration and keep your eye out for the Fur Rondy in February.