15 Festive & Amazing Things To Do In Santa Cruz This Christmas (2023)

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.

Grab the family and check out our favorite things to do in Santa Cruz at Christmas when you want Christmas lights, holiday parades, Christmas trains, and even a performance of the Nutcracker Ballet.

Lighted Boat Parade during Christmas in Santa Cruz California
credit VSCC and Barbara Karleen

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
  • Website

Head out to the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds, where the Santa Cruz Fairground Foundation and the Agricultural History Project presents Holiday Lights.

Starting in mid-Novamber, you can drive half a mile through the fairgrounds to experience Christmas lights and beautiful holiday displays.

The light tunnel is bound to bring some smiles, and since you will stay in your car you will stay toasty and warm.

The event is on weekends from 5:30 pm to 9 pm, and they are open on Christmas Eve and Christmas evening if you need some extra merriment.

Buy tickets in advance on their website.

The Holiday Light Train at Christmas in Santa Cruz California
credit VSCC and Trevor Park of Roaring Camp Railroads

Christmas Train in Santa Cruz

  • Address: 400 Beach Street, Santa Cruz, CA
  • Dates: begins the Friday after Thanksgiving
  • Website

Beginning the Friday after Thanksgiving, 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.

Check out the website to see what days the train is active and at what times so you don’t miss it.

Winter Wonderland at the Boardwalk 

  • Address: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
  • Dates: Friday after Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day
  • Website

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.

Christmas in Santa Cruz CA
Credit VSCC/ Roaring Camp Railroad

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.

Find more Christmas Lights in Santa Cruz

The Santa Cruz Ballet performing the Nutcracker during Christmas in Santa Cruz California
credit VSCC and City of Santa Cruz

The Nutcracker with a Live Orchestra 

  • Address: Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium
  • Dates: 3rd weekend in December
  • Website

The Santa Cruz Ballet Theater presents their annual production of The Nutcracker Ballet. The show will feature a live orchestra with a slew of talented local dancers. The ballet is performed twice a day, once at 1 pm and another at 5 pm, usually in the middle of December.

Head over to their website to score your tickets before they sell out.

Christmas Eve Dinner in Santa Cruz at the View

  • Address: Chaminade Resort and Spa
  • Date: December 24 (Christmas Eve)

If you prefer to have Christmas Eve dinner cooked for you, and you love dressing up for fun, head out to The View in Santa Cruz. For about $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 thing, you can go that route for $45 instead. The Treeside Restaurant prepares food for the event.

Lighted Boat Parade during Christmas in Santa Cruz California
credit VSCC and Barbara Karleen

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
  • Website

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 throughout 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 Movie Nights at Roaring Camp Railroads

  • Address: Roaring Camp Railroads
  • Website

The Roaring Camp Railroads holds Drive-In Movie Nights in the Redwoods throughout December. They show family favorite holiday movies, which is pretty darn special while you are 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 in order to hear the audio of the movie. Refreshments will be available for purchase, and you can visit their website to see what movies will be played on which nights.

Surfing Santa during Christmas in Santa Cruz California
credit VSCC and Paul Schraub

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

Your family will love spending time during Christmas in Santa Cruz. During 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.

And remember, do NOT skip a hike through the redwoods during the holiday season. It’s our favorite time to do a little forest bathing.

Christmas in Pacific Grove CA

Want more Christmas Activities in California? Check these posts!

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