Unless you live in an alpine region of the state, impromptu snowball fights and toboggan rides through the neighborhood probably aren’t among your everyday winter experiences as a California resident. But if you’ve yet to explore many of the end-of-year festivities and spectacular holiday events popping up in areas near you, you may be surprised at the extent to which your local hotspots may go to create a winter wonderland of Yuletide fun. Then again, sometimes creating your own winter traditions right at home can make for some of the most amazing memories. We’ve drawn from a mix of both to provide a few suggestions on ways to let the holiday spirit move you this winter:
Take in a holiday attraction near you: Spectacular thrills and seasonal enchantments continue through December and into early January at established venues and pop-ups in communities throughout California. Just a few of these include Riverside’s magnificent, nationally-acclaimed Festival of Lights at the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa, the Central Coast’s Nordic-inspired Julefest in Solvang, and whimsical extravaganzas held at the San Francisco Zoo and California Academy of Sciences. If you plan to be in San Francisco over the holiday break, the life-size, two-story edible Victorian Gingerbread House and 23- foot tall Christmas tree at the Fairmont San Francisco is a great reason to stop in for a festive drink at the iconic hotel’s Cirque Bar (limited hours through Dec. 31). For those up to a visit to a local theme park, holiday magic abounds at events like Gardens@Night at Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park, WinterFest at Great America and Knott’s Merry Farm. Interested in exploring regional destinations that do holiday charm on a grand scale? Check out “California Towns With Holiday Spirit,” before planning next year’s winter travel plans.
Create a winter culinary tradition: The cooler months are a great time to get your household together to cook, and you don’t have to make it a complicated process involving multiple steps to enjoy many of the most beloved winter dishes. Consider pulling out your slow cooker for a convenient (and inexpensive) way to make your favorite stews, soup, chili, homemade bread and more. Not only can you leave a slow cooker unattended for hours, but the extended cooking time allows for better distribution of flavors and more tenderized meats. Feeling a bit more ambitious in the kitchen? Consider creating a ritual around a cherished cultural tradition. For inspiration, think holiday fare such as tamales and carne adovada, pierogies and barszcz, or even fondue. Prefer to get your gang together for dessert? Consider throwing a s’mores party with holiday-themed cocktails and/or hot cocoa.
Take in some holiday movies: Even when you don’t have an entire evening to unwind in front of the TV with spiked eggnog in hand, throwing on a holiday flick as a backdrop can be a nice way to create a wintry ambiance and diversion from a rainy weather forecast. Looking for some new titles to add to your family’s go-to selection of holiday movies? Take a look at the New York Times’ list of “Netflix’s 2019 Holiday Movies, Reviewed and Ranked.”
Get out to a winter performance: Even in late December, holiday shows are still going strong, and if you act fast, you can get them for a great deal on a site like Goldstar, which sells half-price and deeply discounted tickets to the performing arts, museums and attractions, nightlife activities, sporting events, etc. With a quick perusal of the site, we found great deals on local productions of The Nutcracker, Cirque de Soleil, New Year’s celebrations and more.
Go ice skating: While winter sports like alpine skiing tend to involve a decent amount of travel unless you live in a region like the Sierra Nevada or Big Bear, it’s fairly easy to arrange an afternoon or evening that involves ice skating without venturing far from home. In the Bay Area alone, you may be amazed at the wide variety of venues that offer ice skating during the winter months. From theme parks decked out in all of their holiday glitz, to beach boardwalks transformed into a winter wonderland, you’ll also have your pick of your preferred settings. Find a great list of recommendations at “Where to Skate in the Bay Area” and “A Guide to Holiday Ice Skating in SoCal.”
Plan a volunteer night: Finally, one great way to combat holiday stress and lift your spirits is to find a simple way to volunteer your time to an important cause or nonprofit making a positive impact in your community. Keep in mind that this doesn’t need to involve a huge commitment—even spending an evening building care packages for soldiers overseas or helping out at an assisted living facility can provide you with a greater sense of purpose and well-being. For those of us who might need a bit of a nudge in this area, check out “5 Reasons You Should Volunteer,” from Psychology Today.