(Credit: Irvine Spectrum)

(Credit: Irvine Spectrum)


December is hands down one of the most exciting months of the year. Although we live in Orange County and aren’t in for a flurry of snow storms like some other parts of the country, we are sure to get some chilly weather — at least by California’s standards. Make it really feel like winter with a spin around an ice rink or a trip to a tree lighting ceremony, Christmas festival or holiday gift bazaar. With boat parades, stage shows and wreath-making workshops, you can round out your holiday season with numerous fun-filled events. Before the year is over, celebrate New Year’s Eve with a bang.

December 1 – 3, 2016
(Credit: Pacific Symphony)

(Credit: Pacific Symphony)


Strauss’ Vienna
Segerstrom Center for the Arts
600 Town Center Drive
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 755-5799
www.pacificsymphony.org

Award-winning pianist Jeremy Denk will be performing Brahms’ First Piano Concerto each night in celebration of Vienna’s past. The performance will center on the atmosphere and history of Vienna, a city that remained a cultural treasure throughout the 1800s. Also included in the show are Richard Strauss’ Suite from “Der Rosenkavalier” and Johann Strauss Jr.’s “On the Beautiful Blue Danube.” Strauss’ Vienna will be conducted by symphony director Carl St.Clair. While the performance itself starts at 8 p.m., host Alan Chapman will lead a preview talk at 7 p.m. With three performances three nights in a row, you can’t miss this classical evening.

December 1 – 23, 2016
(Credit: Irvine Park Railroad)

(Credit: Irvine Park Railroad)


Christmas Train
Irvine Park Railroad
1 Irvine Park Road
Orange, CA 92869
(714) 997-3968
www.irvineparkrailroad.com

Ride the enchanting Christmas Train through Irvine Park for a magical holiday experience, young or old. The stunning landscapes are gorgeous in the cool fall air and the ride dead ends at the North Pole, where little ones can stop to talk with Santa Claus and get their picture taken. The ride back winds through a tunnel of lights, arriving at the original debarking location: Santa’s Village. Village activities, which you must buy tickets to partake in, include ice fishing, cookie decorating, carnival games and rides in Rudolph Racers. But, there are a variety of free activities as well, including Frosty’s Maze, story time with Mrs. Claus and a coloring corner filled with Christmas coloring pages.

December 3, 2016
(Credit: Mission San Juan Capistrano)

(Credit: Mission San Juan Capistrano)


Christmas at the Mission
Mission San Juan Capistrano
26801 Ortega Highway
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
(949) 234-1300
www.missionsjc.com

The only mission in Orange County will host Christmas at the Mission, celebrating the spirit of the season alongside the rest of the community. The event is held the same night as the city’s annual tree lighting ceremony so many locals come out to soak up some holiday fun. The mission’s event itself will include some unique activities like sledding in a real snow play area, visits with Father Christmas, a gorgeous nativity scene in a historic stone church and cookie decorating. Guests will also be able to enjoy the music of both Dickens carolers and children’s choirs as well as “merry-achi” music. Tamales and spiced cider will also be on sale.

December 3, 2016
(Credit: Downtown Anaheim Association)

(Credit: Downtown Anaheim Association)


22nd Annual Nutcracker Christmas Tree Lighting
Center Street Promenade
201 Center Street Promenade
Anaheim, CA 92805
(714) 956-3586
www.downtownanaheim.com

With activities going on from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., it won’t be difficult to spend your entire Saturday at Anaheim’s 22nd Annual Nutcracker Christmas Tree Lighting. Early in the day, the festival offers up free train rides, snow play, a family music show and plenty of crafts for the kids to complete. There will also be an International Food Fair and a Holiday Shopping Village for visitors to purchase holiday gifts. Starting at 2 p.m., guests may also get a free photo with Santa Claus. Everyone will come together at Feldhaus Circle at 5:45 p.m. for the start of the tree lighting ceremony — one that includes the lighting of a 50-foot Christmas tree and plenty of music as well.

December 3, 2016
(Credit: Run for a Claus)

(Credit: Run for a Claus)


Run For A Claus
University of California, Irvine
East Peltason and Campus Drive
Irvine, CA 92629
(949) 222-3327
www.runforaclaus.com

With both a one-mile race and a 5K, Run for a Claus provides options for getting active in early December. Presented by the OC Marathon, the 5K is the best choice for those wanting to get their run on, but the one-miler is perfect for families with smaller children or those who can’t make it very far. Every runner will get their very on Santa hat coupled with a beard as well as a finisher’s medal and a mug for warming up over the holidays. Costumes are encouraged and everyone is welcome to run for a cause during Run for a Claus; participants can make donations of money, food or toys before the race as well. Donations will benefit the Salvation Army, Toys for Tots and the Kids Run the OC Foundation.

December 3, 2016
(Credit: Guy Buffet)

(Credit: Guy Buffet)


Gift of Art Show
Lahaina Galleries
1173 Newport Center Drive
Newport Beach, CA 92660
(949) 721-9117
www.lahainagalleries.com

For one night only, Fashion Island’s Lahaina Galleries will present their Gift of Art Show. Wine and hors d’oeuvres will be served as shoppers peruse some extremely unique holiday gifts. These passionate pieces will be on display during the event, from 3 to 7 p.m., in an effort to showcase some of the best of the season. The show will also feature specials and incentives that are only valid for the evening. Gift-wrapping is available as well so all your holiday needs can be knocked out at once. Artists Guy Buffet, Aldo Luongo, Larissa Morais and Lori Wylie—all featured artists at Lahaina Galleries—will be making appearances at the event as well.

December 3 – 31, 2016
(Credit: Newport Bay Conservancy)

(Credit: Newport Bay Conservancy)


Kayak Tour
Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve
2301 University Drive
Newport Beach, CA 92660
(949) 923-2296
www.letsgooutside.org

Each Saturday and Sunday, Newport Bay Conservancy hosts two-hour kayak tours through the Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve. Getting out on the water can be a wonderful way to explore this hidden environment and the tour guide will teach you about the surrounding reserve as you go. Keep your eyes peeled for local animals or simply soak up the sunshine as you go. Best of all, the tour provides a fair amount of exercise, but you won’t even realize you’re getting any during this fun exploration. These kayak tours are held from December 3rd through the end of the year and will continue into 2017.

December 4, 2016
(Credit: Corona del Mar Chamber of Commerce)

(Credit: Corona del Mar Chamber of Commerce)


Corona del Mar Christmas Walk
Corona del Mar Village
Coast Highway
Newport Beach, CA 92625
(949) 673-4050,
www.cdmchamber.com

The charming village of Corona del Mar is a breezy seaside oasis that offers gorgeous beaches and a quality community to boot. Their annual Christmas Walk, now in its 38th year, is full of festivities for the entire family in celebration of the Christmas season. Local small businesses are heavily represented at the walk, providing guests with a chance to purchase some gifts while supporting the community. There will also be live entertainment from 12 different acts, placed at different points along the event path. Another popular component each year is the Fireman’s Grill barbeque, where the Newport fire department grills up some food to sell. Kids can also meet Santa, play in a bounce house or visit the petting zoo.

Now Through December 4, 2016
 (Credit: Isaac Richter)

(Credit: Isaac Richter)


Sugar Plum Festival
Buena Park Downtown
8320 On the Mall
Buena Park, CA 90620
(562) 598-0857
www.sugarplumfestivals.com

Forego shopping at commercial malls this holiday season and, instead, look for unique gifts at Buena Park’s Sugar Plum Festival. With over 150 vendors on site, you’ll find incredible handcrafted pieces from artists and bakers. Aside from paintings, arts & crafts and baked goods, the festival is home to vintage antiques, special collectibles, clothing, handmade jewelry, holiday home décor, Christmas ornaments, garden flags, lotions, candles and more. The Sugar Plum Festival is also a spectacular place to find tamales, fudge, holiday dips, candied apples, teas and coffee. While it’s a family-friendly event, the interior is often crowded so leave your strollers at home and put your walking shoes on for a day of walking.

December 7, 14 and 21, 2016
(Credit: Pacific City)

(Credit: Pacific City)


Holiday Movie Nights
Pacific City
21010 Pacific Coast Highway
Huntington Beach, CA 92648
www.gopacificcity.com

We may not get December snowfall in Orange County, but the weather does get chilly. Bundle up and head to Pacific City to watch some Christmas favorites. Catch “Elf” on December 7, “A Christmas Story” on December 14 and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” on December 21. The mall’s eateries offer specials for moviegoers. Lemonade offers includes a lunch box for $12 that includes a sandwich, a salad or potato chips and a cookie for dessert. Similarly, you can make your own picnic at Saint Marc; just grab a cooler and fill it with cheese, bacon or other to-go menu goodies. The event is free and movies start at 7 p.m.

December 9-18, 2016
(Credit: Doug Gifford)

(Credit: Doug Gifford)


“The Nutcracker”
Segerstrom Center for the Arts
600 Town Center Drive
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 556-2787
www.scfta.org

As possibly the most beloved Christmas ballet of all time, “The Nutcracker” at Segerstrom has become a tradition for many local families. Presented each year by American Ballet Theatre, a cast of more than 100 dancers takes visitors on an enchanted adventure. The show tells the story of a little girl whose favorite nutcracker takes her on a magical expedition through a land of toys. Along the way, they encounter toy soldiers, snowflakes, mice and more. The Pacific Symphony will perform Peter Tchaikovsky’s enthralling, world-famous score and, with choreography by Alexei Ratmansky and costumes by Richard Hudson, each performance is sure to be a hit—as it is every year!

December 10, 2016
(Credit: Courtesy of Centennial Farm)

(Credit: Courtesy of Centennial Farm)


Make It, Take It, Winter Wreath
Centennial Farm
88 Fair Drive
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 708-1619
www.ocfair.com

This festive two-hour class gives participants the chance to create their own winter wreaths. Master Gardener Nancy Claxton, an expert in gardening and a regular volunteer at the farm, will lead the workshop, which includes all of the fresh greenery necessary to create an adorable wreath that can be hung on your front door or in your home this holiday season. All tools and materials will be provided for the workshop fee of $20. The class will meet in the farm’s silo building at 9:30 a.m.

December 14-18, 2016
(Credit: Visit Newport Beach)

(Credit: Visit Newport Beach)


Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade
Newport Harbor
Newport Beach, CA 92625
(949) 729-4400
www.christmasboatparade.com

Another O.C. holiday tradition is the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade. Over the last 108 years, this stunning custom has transformed from a gondola adorned with Japanese lanterns to a parade including nearly 100 boats decorated with colorful Christmas lights and holiday décor. With five nights of festivities, the Grand Marshal line-up is rather spectacular, kicking things off with Mickey Mouse, an Electrical Parade-themed boat and pre-parade fireworks. The four remaining nights will feature local Olympians, contestants from “The Voice”, a salute to hometown heroes and the USC Trojan marching band. The parade has become one of the most premiere holiday events in the country, hosted by the city’s Chamber of Commerce and the Commodores Club.

December 16 – January 1, 2017
(Credit: Winter Fest)

(Credit: Winter Fest)


Winter Fest
OC Fair & Event Center
88 Fair Drive
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 855-1187
www.winterfestoc.com

Though Winter Fest has only been around for a couple of years, it is quickly becoming one of the most popular spots for winter experiences in Southern California. The festival, which is open every day from December 16 through New Year’s Day, offers real snow play each day along with ice skating, tubing and a snowboard simulator. But it doesn’t end there. Orange County’s largest Christmas light display can be found at Winter Fest, and the organizers host a nightly tree lighting ceremony complete with fireworks and snowfall. Other activities include story time, crafts in Santa’s workshop, a petting zoo, arcade games, a train exhibit and photos with the Big Guy himself.

December 17, 2016
(Credit: Cirque Musica)

(Credit: Cirque Musica)


Cirque Musica Holiday Spectacular
Honda Center
2695 Katella Avenue
Anaheim, CA 92806
(714) 704-2400
www.cirquemusica.com

The Cirque Musica Holiday Spectacular is one of the four touring shows put on by TCG Entertainment. Their holiday show is full of sounds of the season and unique stunt adventures that make the show a stunning musical and visual experience. A live orchestra will perform a variety of Christmas classics, but it is the stunts that will captivate viewers’ eyes. Acrobats and aerialists will fly overhead, daredevils will perform death-defying stunts and the cast will sneaky in some silly moments as well. Overall, the show is fun for the whole family this holiday season—and a unique change to the typical Christmas show.

December 18, 2016
(Credit: Children’s Hospital of Orange County)

(Credit: Children’s Hospital of Orange County)


Harley Toy Drive and Ride
Children’s Hospital of Orange County
1201 West La Veta Avenue
Orange, CA 92868
(949) 727-4464
www.choc.org

The Orange Coast Chapter of the Harley Owner’s Group will host their annual toy drive and ride on December 18. New and unwrapped toys may be brought the day of or dropped off ahead of time; the hospital is asking for monetary donations as well as toys, movies, video games and gift cards. The chapter will leave the Irvine Harley-Davidson location and ride to CHOC at 9 a.m., where the first 350 riders will receive pins commemorating the day. Costumes and holiday cheer are encouraged and all proceeds go to the hospital, to be used where they are needed most.

Through December 18, 2016
(Credit: Sawdust Art Festival)

(Credit: Sawdust Art Festival)


Winter Fantasy
Sawdust Art Festival
935 Laguna Canyon Road
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
(949) 494-3030
www.sawdustartfestival.org

For five weekends through December 18, Laguna Beach is home to Winter Fantasy, the Sawdust Art Festival’s winter counterpart. Holiday décor, carolers, hot chocolate and appearances by Santa add to the spirit of the festival. In addition, over 170 artists will set up shop to display original creations and sell some stellar artwork—unique gifts for the upcoming holidays. Artists will be showcasing more than just paintings and photography; expect to also find homemade clothing, sculptures, ceramics, woodwork, metals, blown glass and more. The festival grounds are also home to artistic classes, lectures and workshops as well as some tasty local foods to snack on.

December 20, 2016
(Credit: Courtesy of Irvine Ranch Conservancy Volunteer Bill Braly)

(Credit: Courtesy of Irvine Ranch Conservancy Volunteer Bill Braly)


Habitat Restoration
Quail Hill Trailhead
34 Shady Canyon Drive
Irvine, CA 92603
(714) 508-4757
www.letsgooutside.org

Normally held the fourth Tuesday of each month, habitat restoration at Quail Hill is a week earlier in December. The activity is a pivotal part of maintaining our natural surroundings and a great way to get in touch with nature before the holidays. Leaders will provide participants with training and the necessary tools to get the job done. Clearing dead brush and planting native plants can help improve the natural habitat necessary for local wildlife to survive and thrive. In an area that is filled with homes and businesses, it’s important to protect some of the only natural land left in Orange County.

December 20-January 1, 2017
(Credit: Jeremy Daniel)

(Credit: Jeremy Daniel)


“Elf the Musical”
Segerstrom Center for the Arts
600 Town Center Drive
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 556-2787
www.scfta.org

Though “Elf” is a semi-recent Christmas movie, it has quickly gained popularity as a charmingly funny holiday tale—both on the screen and the stage. It follows Buddy, a human child raised in the North Pole. His horrible toy making skills and significant size difference from the other elves makes him think he belongs elsewhere so he heads off to New York to find his real parents. The musical is suitable for children, making it the perfect stage show for a family outing this holiday season. It will show every day except Mondays through New Year’s Day.

December 21-25, 2016
(Credit: Feld Entertainment)

(Credit: Feld Entertainment)


Disney on Ice: Worlds of Enchantment
Honda Center
2695 Katella Avenue
Anaheim, CA 92806
(714) 704-2400
www.disneyonice.com

One of Disney on Ice’s most popular shows, Worlds of Enchantment returns to the Honda Center this December. The dazzling, action-packed show features plenty of famous characters that are sure to excite both children and parents. Prior to the show, dance along with Mickey and friends then get ready for a world of adventure. The kingdom of Arendelle comes to life with Anna, Elsa and friends from “Frozen” while Sunnyside Daycare from “Toy Story 3” provides quite an adventure as well, as Buzz and Woody use their wits and stunts to try to escape. Other enchanting worlds include the Little Mermaid’s undersea paradise and the racetrack from “Cars”.

December 22, 2016
(Credit: Courtesy of the Irvine Ranch Conservancy)

(Credit: Courtesy of the Irvine Ranch Conservancy)


Equestrian Ride
Limestone Canyon Nature Preserve
Santiago Canyon Road
Silverado, CA 92676
(714) 973-6865
www.letsgooutside.org

With grasslands, coastal sage and woodlands full of oak trees, the varied landscapes at Limestone Canyon Regional Park make it a lovely spot for a pre-Christmas equestrian ride. Participants will meet at the Augustine staging area with their horses, ready to embark on a leisurely three-hour ride through the beautiful park. Bundle up and prepare to adventure through the “Grand Canyon of Orange County.” During the ride, expect to see sandstone formations, native wildflowers and signs of old ranching days. Riders will travel around eight miles in total and must have their own horses to take part in the activity.

Through December 24, 2016
(credit: South Coast Repertory

(credit: South Coast Repertory


“A Christmas Carol”
South Coast Repertory
655 Town Center Drive
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 708-5555
www.scr.org

“A Christmas Carol” remains a Christmas stage show staple, presented every year in Orange County to viewers looking to get into the holiday spirit. The play tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, portrayed here by Hal Landon Jr., who is seriously lacking holiday cheer. Visits from the Ghosts of Christmas past, present and future help recapture his youth, spirit and belief in the holiday season. Based on Charles Dickens’ classic novel of the same name, the play continues to impress local audiences each December. “A Christmas Carol” serves as South Coast Repertory’s December show, running through Christmas Eve.

Through December 24, 2016
(Credit: Irvine Spectrum)

(Credit: Irvine Spectrum)


Holiday Tree Light Show
Irvine Spectrum
670 Spectrum Center Drive
Irvine, CA 92618
(949) 753-5180
www.shopirvinespectrumcenter.com

As Christmas draws closer, the trees and lights start to pop up all over. While there are plenty of Christmas tree lighting ceremonies all over Orange County, one that is particularly special is the nightly holiday tree light show at the Irvine Spectrum. Their tree is 50 feet tall, covered in LED lights that dance along to six different festive songs. Color-changing lights will dazzle onlookers as they put on their own colorful show every half hour, combining the digital choreography of the lights with a show that is great for the whole family.

December 31, 2016
(Credit: Irvine Spectrum)

(Credit: Irvine Spectrum)


New Year’s Eve Cruise
Hornblower Cruises
2431 West Coast Highway
Newport Beach, CA 92663
(949) 646-0155
www.hornblower.com

Celebrate New Year’s Eve in style — the Orange County way! Get out on the water with Hornblower Cruises. There are three different types of cruises to choose from on the last day of the year. The Brunch Cruise kicks off at noon, offering a brunch buffet with free-flowing champagne. The other cruises both start at night, also offering plenty of champagne as well as live DJ entertainment. The Nautical Gala New Year’s Eve Dinner Cruise includes a seated, four-course meal while the Nautical New Year’s Eve Dessert Cocktail Cruise offers a variety of desserts throughout the evening. Both will last until after midnight, giving guests the chance to toast at midnight—and possibly find a New Year’s kiss.

December 31, 2016
(Credit: Monarch Beach Resort)

(Credit: Monarch Beach Resort)


Toast on the Coast
Monarch Beach Resort
1 Monarch Beach Resort
Dana Point, CA 92629
(949) 234-3900
www.monarchbeachresort.com

Another great spot to ring in the New Year is at the Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point, home to Toast on the Coast. The resort’s soirée will be won’t you can’t forget—despite all of the ever-flowing Moet & Chandon. A large dance floor is the perfect place to spend the night, dancing to the music of both a live band and a DJ. Taste some gourmet canapés, sip delicious bubbly and count down to midnight in one of the event’s VIP cabanas. Dine at the resort’s Stonehill Tavern or AVEO before the party for discounted tickets, and don’t forget to look into overnight packages.

Now Through January 8, 2017
(Credit: Dan Harper)

(Credit: Dan Harper)


Cavalia Odysseo
The Big White Top
16720 Laguna Canyon Road
Irvine, CA 92603
(866) 999-8111
www.cavalia.net

An oversized big top is erected behind the Irvine Spectrum, specifically for this specular touring show. Odysseo is a live performance that wows on a different level than your standard stage show. With a blend of equestrian arts, live horses and theatrical effects, audiences are drawn into the show. It races through some of the most stunning landscapes on earth, showcasing nature while also revealing the nuances of the relationships between human and horse. While 70 horses are a part of the show, many fewer actors take the stage. Those who love horses will be especially enthralled with this exciting show.

Now Through January 8, 2017
(credit: Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort)

(credit: Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort)


Holidays at the Disneyland Resort
Disneyland Resort
1313 Disneyland Drive
Anaheim, CA 92802
(714) 781-4636
www.disneyland.com

While any holiday is magical at the Disneyland Resort, Christmas is extra special. The park is decked out with every piece of garland and strand of lights that will fit, and the castle glows with sparkling icicles. Buena Vista Street in the California Adventure park has its own tree lighting ceremony each afternoon while it’s a small world is transformed into a yuletide masterpiece. Other rides, like the Haunted Mansion and the Jungle Cruise, are also decorated for the season and there is a unique firework show for the event as well. Enjoy the Christmas Fantasy Parade while you snack on the many Disney holiday treats—all the way up until January 8th.
 
Related: Guide To Disneyland During The Holidays

Now Through January 8, 2017
(Credit: Knott’s Berry Farm)

(Credit: Knott’s Berry Farm)


Knott’s Merry Farm
Knott’s Berry Farm
8039 Beach Boulevard
Buena Park, CA 90620
(714) 220-5200
www.knotts.com

Further north, stop by Knott’s Merry Farm at Knott’s Berry Farm, which is their alternative during the seasons for holiday magic. The highlight of their annual Christmas festival is the “Merry Christmas, Snoopy!” ice show, filled with spectacular skaters, impressive stunts and endless holiday décor. The Calico Mine Stage offers another show—a stage show called “It’s The Merriest Christmas Show Ever, Charlie Brown” that offers a chance to see a show within a show. Don’t forget to stop by the tree lighting ceremony at the Calico stage and Ghost Town’s Snow and Glow show, which features live snowfall and plenty of Christmas music to put everyone in the spirit. Camp Snoopy is also filled with seasonal fun for little ones.

Now Through January 16, 2017
(Credit: Irvine Spectrum)

(Credit: Irvine Spectrum)


OC Chill Ice Rink
Irvine Spectrum
670 Spectrum Center Drive
Irvine, CA 92618
(949) 753-5180
www.shopirvinespectrumcenter.com

The Irvine Spectrum is home to one of the Orange County’s best ice rinks, the OC Chill rink. Located in the courtyard beneath the mall’s famous Ferris wheel, the setting is big-city enough to make you feel like you’re skating on a pond in New York. Colorful lights and upbeat music really make the skate sessions, which are available to the public for both open skate and single sessions through the day. Adults and children can purchase admission and skate rentals for $20 while toddler rates are discounted. There are also season passes available for those who plan to keep coming back for more—all season long.

Ashley Ryan is an Orange County native that loves traveling, live music and photography. She blogs at Pure Wander and freelances for a variety of publications including Newport Beach Magazine and Laguna Beach Magazine.

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