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Southern California Christmas Events

Decorated boats light up Dana Point Harbor during annual Boat Parade

Feeling a bit like a fish out of water when it comes to what to do for the upcoming holiday season? From dolphin and whale watching safari’s, premiere Southern California Christmas boat parades, holiday light shows, and more, keep reading to find out our list of the top 20 “best places see and do” as you begin to plan your Southern California Christmas events list!

#1 Dana Point Harbor Boat Parade

Do you have someone on your holiday shopping list that is tricky to buy for? What about someone who already has everything? Whale, the world is your oyster this holiday season because one thing we know for certain is, giving the gift of incredible experiences isn’t only enjoyable, they are also unforgettable! We have you covered for all of your Christmas activity fun in the Southern California sun this holiday season with a trip out at sea! Experiences make one of the most perfect Christmas gift ideas and a trip during the Dana Point Harbor Boat Parade is a fabulous opportunity to sail right into the festive holiday spirit before Christmas day arrives.

The 46th annual fiesta of lights Christmas boat parade commences on December 10th -12th with parades beginning at 7:30 pm, PST on both Friday and Saturday night, and 6:00 pm PST on Sunday. Our nightly outing trips will leave Capt. Dave’s docks promptly at 7 pm to have plenty of time to get into perfect position inside the harbor to see all of the incredible sights from the best seat in the harbor. This is one of those Southern California Christmas events you DO NOT want to miss. Boats of all sizes will be lit with thousands of twinkling lights as they cruise around the harbor making this event a local’s top choice for holiday fun and a tried and true family favorite. Book a trip with Capt. Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari and join one of the best Southern California Christmas boat parades that will have everyone oohing and awing while you and your guests enjoy VIP seating and, seeing all of the lights as close up as you can get without getting wet. If you are looking to get into the holiday spirit, this festival is for you! The competition is fierce with awards given out this year for Best Theme, Best Use of Lights, Best Animation, and Most Colorful light displays. Doheny State Beach offers to park nearby and you can catch their admission-free trolley straight to the harbor. Easy peasy! Trolleys will be running during this famous Southern California Christmas event from the designated parking areas to the viewing areas each night from 3:30 pm -10:30 pm.

If an excursion on one of our zippy adventure zodiac’s or a trip down into one of our high-tech underwater viewing pod’s aboard our state of the art catamaran, Manute’a sounds like the perfect gift for an out of towner or someone you won’t see until after the holidays, you are still in luck! If you cannot attend the Dana Point Harbor Fiesta on the water because your calendar is already full during the weekend of the Southern California Christmas boat parades, that is ok! We ‘whaley‘ do go out on the water 7 days a week and our amazing Southern California weather allows us to be out on the water all year for incredible year-round dolphin and whale watching!

#2 Dana Point Harbor Holiday lights

Christmas comes early to the Dana Point Harbor this year as the light show spectacular turns on their lights beginning November 17th! After you enjoy the best Southern California Christmas boat parade around, be sure to wander through the Dana Point Harbor for some picture-sharing-worthy photo opportunities. Of course, our favorite exhibit is the giant walk-through whale made out of twinkling holiday lights pizazz and the Happy Harbordays lit up sign lighting the entrance to the Dana Point Harbor. Southern California Christmas events require hot cocoa and lots of holiday pictures too. Head straight to the water down the steps located at the roundabout towards the Merry Kiss Me photo walk and backdrop near the water’s edge, just in front of Coffee Importers. Be sure to pick up award-winning hot cocoa while you are there too – they serve up the absolute best hot cocoa, coffee, and treats around town.

#3 Magic of Lights at Angels Stadium

Looking for more holiday light extravaganza after the southern California Christmas boat parades but prefer to enjoy them from the comfort of your car? For the first time, the Magic of Lights opens at Angels Stadium. This is anticipated to be one of the southern California Christmas events of the season and is planned to be packed with holiday cheer and dazzling lights the whole family will enjoy. Utilizing the latest LED technology and digital animations this rain, snow, or shine Southern California Christmas event is sure to dazzle your eyes and fill your cup with yuletide Christmas cheer. This year tickets for the show are being sold online only and begin this year as early as Nov. 19th – Dec. 26th, 2021 from 5-10 pm nightly. One price for one full car, now that is a good deal for the whole family to enjoy!

#4 Mission Capistrano Lights

Just a few minutes from one of the most brilliant Southern California Christmas boat parades is where history meets holiday. All month long, Mission Capistrano grounds will be decked out in lights and feature a 10-foot wreath along with several community Christmas trees. Mission Capistrano is located in the picturesque quaint and historical small town of San Juan Capistrano, CA. Select evenings will also feature the lighting of the Ruins of the Great Stone Church. Conveniently located close to the 5 freeway and John Wayne airport, and within walking distance from the train depot, this is one of those southern California Christmas events you can see, then afterward, grab a tasty bite to eat at one of San Juan’s many palate-pleasing award-winning eateries. Mission Capistrano will be open for their holiday spectacular beginning December 4, 2021, through December 30, 2021.

#5 Garden Lights + Ocean Waters Presents…GLOW

South Coast Botanic Garden is hosting its 2nd annual GLOW (or Garden Lights & Ocean Waters). Boasting a brighter experience than last year, this is an event that is truly reimagined for its comeback debut. This year’s lighting exhibits will also include several interactive experiences and various themed nights. And, if you find yourself feeling hungry for something yummy while you are there, this year’s food, drinks, music, and a transformative garden featuring thousands of lights will have you hanging on the beach, drinking cocktails on the bayou, and chasing waterfalls. Don’t forget to check out the stunning kelp forest that will take your breath away and further spark your interest in the stunning beauty of what’s beneath the sea right here in stunning Southern California. Southern California Christmas events are guaranteed with tickets and this is no exception. This year, tickets are being sold online only, so be sure to visit their official website for the most up-to-date details and calendar of changing nightly themes.

# 6 Los Angeles Lightscape Journey of Wonder & Light

Do you like Southern California Christmas events that are imaginative as much as they are decorative? The L.A. Arboretum night comes alive this holiday with a transformative night of wonder for both family and friends. Stroll through the glittering Winter Cathedral and experience the breathtaking Fire Garden and more. This event is slated to be one of the brightest events of the year. Shown weekly Wednesdays to Sundays and is opening in mid-November through January 16th. Three available entrance options allow for flexibility during the holidays this year too. Entrance time begins at 5:30 pm with 15-minute rotating entries until 8:45pm. Admission ranges from $20-32 per person however prices are subject to changes. Be sure to check their website for official details.

#7 Disneyland Park’s Merriest Nites

What holiday in Southern California is complete without including the magic of Disney. Every street and lamppost will be smothered with holiday décor throughout Disneyland Park, plus Mickey and his friends are hosting 6-holiday parties on select nights in November and December. General admission prices vary and start at $165 per person. Be sure to visit their website for all the holiday details. Southern California Christmas events are always better with a visit from Mickey and the gang at Disney!

#8 The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel

The most wonderful time of the year is even better when Santa Claus arrives at the Ritz-Carlton. Starting the season with their annual tree lighting ceremony on Sunday, November 21, 2021, Santa himself kicks off the holiday sea-sun at the beach as he lights the 40 plus foot decorated holiday tree. Tis’ the season to be giving and The Ritz-Carlton is the place to go to drop off all of your goodies for those in need this year. Miracles for Kids will be accepting unwrapped toys; representatives from Orange County Rescue Mission will have a location for your canned goods and non-perishable food items and pet toys and treats for local pet shelters can also be donated. Southern California Christmas events are even better with food and drinks. Complimentary holiday Christmas cookies and hot chocolate are also provided.

From November 2, 2021 through January 2, 2022 you can also enjoy SANDsational Extravaganza, the unveiling of a large-scale sand sculpture by local sand architects Archisand Professional Sand Sculptors, Inc. If you are looking for more holiday fun, this year the Ritz will also offer a gingerbread house and holiday cookie decorating on December 5 & 12, 2021 from 2 to 4 p.m. To reserve, guests can call guest services at 949-240-2000 or online via OpenTable.

Lastly, the famous timeless holiday tradition of serving afternoon tea at RAYA, featuring an array of tea, savory canapés, and sweet bites in an elegant ocean view setting. Available Monday through Thursday, November 29 – December 16, 2021, with seating from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Check their website for more details and to reserve all of your spots for these upscale holiday experiences.

#9 Universal Studios Hollywood,  Grinchmas & The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Located at 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608, Universal Studios Hollywood has decorated its sets and scenes and brought Christmas to life at “Christmas in “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” and “Grinchmas.” This is a fun event the whole family will enjoy. Access to both areas is included with the price of admission. Be sure to bring your camera when you arrive because these pictures are guaranteed to be holiday card-worthy!! Holiday festivities will begin Friday, November 26, and run daily through Sunday, January 2, 2022.

#10 The Nutcracker, Presented by the American Ballet Theatre

The timeless tale of Clara dancing her way through her dreamlike journey with magical toy soldiers, mischievous mice, sparkling snowflakes, and a glittering Christmas tree is one of the most time-honored Southern California Christmas events many families to enjoy. The Nutcracker presented by the American Ballet Company is back again in Costa Mesa this year with over 100 performers gracing the stage again this year! Set and costumes designed by Richard Hudson (Tony Award winner, The Lion King), with choreography by ABT Artist in Residence Alexei Ratmansky. The Orange County Register praised the ballet as a “… colorful, cinematic creation filled with spectacle, humor, and eye-popping costumes while the New York Post raved “ This Nutcracker is cracking good!” at the ballet’s premiere. Performances begin December 10th and will run through December 19th. Visit the American Theatre Ballet company website for tickets and showtimes.

Ballet Dancers

#11 Ice Skating overlooking the Beach in San Diego

Made famous by the academy award-winning film featuring Golden Globe winners Marilyn Monore and Jack Lemon, the famous Hotel Del Coronado is bringing the wonder of the ice back to the beach again this year. This is one of those Southern California Christmas events that combine the relaxing ambiance of the waves crashing onto a brilliant, picturesque beach setting with the holiday magic of ice skating. This year’s ice rink will run from November 22, 2021 – to January 2, 2022. Don’t forget to head into the lobby of the hotel to check out the upside-down Christmas tree hanging from the ceiling too!

A person ice skating outdoors

#12 Knott’s MerryFarm

Starting November 19th extending into the start of the new year, the holiday spirit is filling the air as Knott’s Berry Farm turns its holiday decor on high and turns into Knott’s Merry Farm. This classic winter wonderland features thousands of twinkling lights, miles of themed garland, jumbo snowflakes, and a variety of picturesque seasonal settings. Featuring world-class performers, this year’s musical revue Home for the Holidays will wow family members of all ages with exquisite holiday lights, magical dancing toys, and dazzling snow all set on an elaborate, transforming wintertime stage. Snoopy, everyone’s favorite Beagle, along with his entire Peanuts gang return to the ice in Merry Christmas Snoopy. Christmas Crafts Village on Calico street with one-of-a-kind gift ideas, Santa’s Christmas Cabin, a nightly Christmas tree lighting ceremony, the enchanting Snow and Glow experience, a Christmas light show throughout Camp Snoopy, plus so much more are all part of the fun at Knott’s Merry Farm.

#13 Snowfest at Pittsford Park, Lake Forest

Snow in sunny southern California? That is right! Grab your waterproof snow gear and frolic in the freshly fallen snow, with $7 rentals for sleds and saucers available for sledding down Mount Pittsford. There will also be a free snowy winter wonderland play area for kids under 10 plus guest appearances by special characters, games, and activities available to purchase, and food and drinks. To maintain COVID guidelines and limit overcrowding on the slopes, a limited number of wristbands will be sold for each session. This year, all sledding wristbands must be purchased in person at the Lake Forest Recreation Center.

Child riding a sled in snow

# 14 Holiday Orchestra “I Played My Best For Him” at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall

Millennial® Choirs & Orchestras (MCO®) and Segerstrom Center For The Arts proudly presents “I Played My Best for Him.” On December 9, 2021 hundreds of musicians come together including astounding youth choirs and the elaborate sounds of the melodious and harmonizing Grand Chorus, and the superb Symphony Orchestra. The magic of this Southern California Christmas event is sure to warm your heart and fill your cup joy. Over 3500 participants from California, Arizona, Texas, Utah, Idaho, and virtually across the world will grace stages with accomplished volunteer and professional singers and instrumentalists alike. MCO® was founded in 2007 to teach and encourage excellence in quality sacred and classical music. Its primary purpose is to fulfill the need for more refined music education and performance in our communities, with a focus on God and country.

#15 The Live Nativity at First Christian Church of Huntington Beach

For over 5 decades, the live nativity at First Christian Church of Huntington Beach has recreated the true magic of Christmas with the story of Jesus in a manger. This admission-free, drive-thru, or walk event is designed with nine lavish backdrop scenes plus actors with live animals recreating the story of Jesus’ birth. Come for the live nativity and stay for Christmas carols in the chapel, photo opportunities for the family and, enjoy all of the fun crafts for the kids! This family experience is sure to remind you and your entire family about the true meaning of Christmas.

#16 Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Christmas Eve and Other Stories

Are you looking for something with a little more rock and a whole lot of roll this holiday season? On December 4th the Toyota Arena hosts the multi-platinum, progressive rock group Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) in a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the group’s landmark album “Christmas Eve And Other Stories”. Known as one of the best-selling Christmas albums of all time, with mega-hit “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24”, this album has been heard by over 17 million fans all across the nation. Parking is available for pre-purchase and VIP passes are available for the event. Please check their website for more details on COVID guidelines for the event.

Guitar with Christmas Lights

#17 Repeat The Sounding Joy! Orchestra at Concordia University in Irvine

If you are headed to Dana Point’s sparkling Southern California Boat Parade and are looking for a second or third Christmas event for the family to enjoy with a musical celebration, then the voices and instruments of Concordia University Irvine will be one of the best Southern California Christmas events of the season! Located in the heart of Orange County, this year the venue is new and will be held for the first time at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. “Repeat the Sounding Joy” showcases more than 200 performers from eight vocal and instrumental performing ensembles under the masterful direction of Dr. Michael Busch and Dr. Jeff Held. Festive carols, Christmas favorites both old and new will take center stage this year to accompany Concordia’s critically-acclaimed choirs, handbells, and orchestra. This Southern California Christmas event sells out quickly so be sure and reserve your concert tickets today.

#18 Santa Claus Run for a Cause 5K/10K and Ho Ho Ho Kids Dash, Irvine CA

Whether you chose to wear a Santa Claus suit or your favorite ugly holiday sweater, the Santa Claus Run for a Cause is one of those extra festive Southern California Christmas events that will get your heart pumping and give back to the community at the same time. Offering both a 5k and 10k event as well as a virtual run, you can enjoy this event from the comfort of your neighborhood if you can’t make it to race day in Irvine. Registration includes your choice of a Santa suit or a custom Santa t-shirt. Race time begins at 9:00 am PST concluding by 11:00 AM PST with prices starting at $40 if registration is processed by December 12th. Age division awards and fancy Santa medals will be awarded to top finishers. After the event keep your eyes out for Santa himself!! This event is meant to get you in the spirit of Christmas. And it GIFTS back! Santa Claus with a Cause uses its proceeds to gift those who otherwise would not experience a Christmas and sincerely need staple goods. This year, more than ever. If your situation allows, hit the donate button and help us help those that do not have a gifted situation this CHRISTMAS.

#19 Cut Your Own Christmas Tree at Richfield Christmas Tree Farm

Located at 5392 Richfield Road, Yorba Linda, CA 9288, Richfield Pines has been one of the most fragrant Southern California Christmas events for generations of families since 1977. Boasting nearly 10 acres of live, fresh, fragrant Monterey Pines in all sizes, they are also the only Christmas tree farm in Orange County that has trees in the 15 feet – 26 feet size range. Their friendly and knowledgeable staff is happily awaiting your arrival and will cut down the tree of your choice on the spot, or you can reserve one in advance and pick it up at your convenience. As a bonus this year, Richfield Pines will be handing out free boughs and other fresh green trim with the purchase of any tree of your choosing.

A man cutting a Christmas tree

#20 Pictures With Santa, Of Course!

Last but certainly not least, pictures with Santa and letterboxes to the North Pole are the merriest Southern California Christmas events of the season. While the elves are up at the North Pole feverishly making toys and reindeer are getting ready for their annual journey to your house, Santa and his helpers are bringing the magic of Christmas to malls and local spots near you. Some of our favorite places to meet Santa and check some holiday shopping off your list include Fashion Island Mall, South Coast Plaza, Irvine Spectrum, The Outlets of San Clemente, and more! Check your local listings on where Santa is heading next and don’t miss the opportunity to snap a photo with the jolliest of all the elves in town.

Whatever Southern California Christmas events you decide to take part in, we wish you a very merry, safe, and healthy holiday season. We look forward to seeing you wearing your best ugly sweater and Santa hat aboard one of our trips to the Southern California Boat Parade and all merry season long too!

Until Next Time,

Jess Wright

First Mate and Marine Naturalist

Capt. Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari

Gift an unforgettable dolphin and whale watching experience! With year-round whales, dolphins, sea lions, sharks, and more, any time is a great time for your recipient to enjoy their gift.

“Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods…” – Dr. Thomas Gilovich