Orange County Christmas Events
Orange County is a beautiful coastal county in Southern California known for its beach communities as well as Disneyland. Due to this, the holidays may not be what automatically comes to mind when thinking about the OC. However, there are many fun activities and Orange County Christmas events to attend. Let’s get to them!
Starting with the obvious. I mean these classics are just givens…
Located in Anaheim, Disneyland is the popular choice, the famous choice, and the touristy choice. There’s a reason it’s at the forefront of these choices, right? It’s Disney!
During the holidays, the magic truly does come alive and it is (in my opinion) the best time to go. I have been to Disneyland (and Disney World to be fair) in all seasons but Christmas is my absolute favorite time.
I highly recommend checking out the holiday food specials. Some of my all-time favorites are the Chocolate-Mint Macaron (think white peppermint cream filling and chocolate ganache), the Lobster Mac N Cheese, and the Peppermint Mickey Mouse Beignets…just to name a few!
TIP: Purchase tickets or passes as soon as you know your dates. Disney parks still require reservations along with ticket/pass purchases. Check the reservations calendar BEFORE you purchase your ticket or pass to be sure your chosen dates are available.
Disney California Adventure
While you’re checking out Disneyland hop over to Disney California Adventure. Ride the rides decked out in their holiday best and marvel at the decorations.
DCA also has fantastic food and doesn’t disappoint with the holiday special edition menus. Check out the amazing foodie guide for the Festival of Holidays to not miss out on things like Boozy Peppermint Hot Chocolate, Holiday Ham Sliders, Hot Buttered Rum, Loaded Latkes, Hot Chocolate Churros, Fruity Pebbles Milk Tea, Mistletoe Mules, and more!
TIP: Selections change annually. Get the Festival of Holidays Tasting Passport that will show you what and where the current offerings are. Don’t forget to get it stamped!
Knotts Merry Farm
Disneyland and DCA aren’t the only “kids” in town when it comes to theme parks. Admittedly, Disneyland is my favorite but in nearby Buena Park, there is Knotts Merry Farm! Most of the year, the park operates under its normal name, Knotts Berry Farm.
During October, it becomes Knotts Scary Farm and for the holidays it’s Knotts Merry Farm! Typically running from mid-November to mid-January, Knotts Merry Farm is a winter wonderland full of lights, treats, and fun for everyone!
TIP: Parking, pick-up, and drop-off can be quite chaotic and time-consuming. From experience, it’s much better (depending on where you’re staying) to take an Uber to and from. Have them drop you off and pick you up a couple of blocks away. I can’t tell you how much time this saves!
These are common events you might find anywhere in the United States; however, Orange County does step up its game with these traditional activities.
If you are a botanical garden fan, South Coast Botanic Garden is where you should be during the holidays. And yes, before the protest starts, I am well aware that this location is in LA County vs Orange County. However, it is so deep into LA County that it isn’t TOO far from the Orange County line and worth it. So, I’ve included it in these Orange County Christmas events. 🤷🏻♀️
In previous years, SCBG has hosted GLOW which stands for “Garden Lights & Ocean Waters”. It is a beautiful wave of striking colors that move in a calming matter across the garden’s landscape. It’s a walk-through and I thoroughly enjoyed the stunning lights, themed decorations, and even interactive experiences.
This year for the holidays of 2022 into mid-winter 2023, the SCBG is hosting Astra Lumina which has received rave reviews from major publications and networks. While I imagine they may return to GLOW next holiday season, we won’t know until closer to time.
Both Orange County Christmas events occur at night after the sun goes to bed and are walk-through experiences for the entire family.
TIP: Whatever event is running during the holidays typically goes into January or even February. So, be sure to get your tickets even if the holidays are over!
Angel Stadium Christmas Events
Angel Stadium of Anaheim is home to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (yes, it’s confusing…politics and document requirements to blame). During the holidays, it will often host different Orange County Christmas events. One of the best it hosted in recent times was the Magic of Lights in 2021.
The Magic of Lights was a drive-through light show that cost one price per carload. It was a super convenient way for families with small children to enjoy a holiday activity without getting them out of the car. Adults enjoyed it as well, especially on colder (for SoCal) nights.
TIP: Events for Angel Stadium do rotate and there are years where there are no events. Check the calendar to plan your visit. You might even be surprised to find Christmas in June?
You might also like: CHRISTMAS IN NYC: THE PERFECT HOLIDAY GUIDE
Those different and unique one-of-a-kinds you can only find in Orange County.
Commonly (and originally) known as Crystal Cathedral, this gorgeous landmark looks like something from a movie set. Honestly, that wouldn’t be a far stretch considering its proximity to both Disneyland and Hollywood.
Located in Orange County’s Garden Grove, Christ Cathedral is open year-round to visitors. It is a working cathedral holding mass and other regular events. Constructed in 1980, the then Crystal Cathedral began as a Protestant Church and is believed to be the first one to convert to a Catholic church.
The Cathedral, while stunning all of the time, is absolutely gorgeous during Christmas. I have seen it in all seasons and my all-time favorite is at Christmas. Be sure to check out the exterior and the interior. Both are nothing short of amazing. Definitely, a unique Orange County Christmas activity that should make your list!
TIP: Please be respectful of this working place of worship. Due to mass or other events, the Cathedral might not always be open to the public. Plan your visit accordingly.
The ARTIC is perhaps one of the coolest transit stations I’ve ever seen, architecturally speaking. That says a lot since I’m a huge fan of Santiago Calatrava and have seen a number of his projects all over the world. While the ARTIC is more of a modest design, it still packs an impressive punch visually.
ARTIC stands for Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center. Yes, it’s a mouthful, right? Not only does it pack a punch visually but it also packs a lot into its relatively small structure. ARTIC offers train, bus, and taxi services daily for all types of commuters and travelers.
Admittedly, this one you can see year-round just as it looks in December. However, the first time I saw it was in the month of December and it just added to my overall Christmas feel-good spirit!
TIP: Go later at night (but be safe) when it’s lit up in multi-colored lights and very few people are there. It lights up nightly year-round and is stunning outside as a backdrop for the palm trees and inside from the top of the escalator.
Although not actually located in the OC, these road trips are short distances from Orange County and can all be done as day trips. I know because I had a blast doing all of them as such. Therefore, I am including them in these Orange County Christmas events!
Mission Inn Festival of Lights
The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa is a national historic landmark located in Riverside County. For reference, it’s an easy hour’s drive from Anaheim. Beginning the day after Thanksgiving, the hotel hosts its Annual Festival of Lights and it is simply amazing.
It isn’t just the exterior that is decorated. Go inside to find elegant decorations along with one of the prettiest Christmas trees I have ever seen. That’s saying a lot as a traveler who is always somewhere and often multiple somewheres in the month of December!
The 30+-year-old tradition has won several accolades including “Best Public Lights Display” by USA Today. It makes the perfect Christmas outing with family, friends, or your significant other.
TIP: Give yourself plenty of time to get there and find parking. There will likely be traffic as it’s a very popular attraction. There’s no admission charge but don’t be surprised if the line is around the block. It moves quickly but you will want to dress warmly.
Have you always wanted to travel to Europe? How about Europe at Christmastime to see the famous Christmas markets you’ve heard so much about? Now, what if I said you could largely experience Europe right here without leaving the country?
Well, it’s true! This can be done right here in Solvang, often voted the best town to visit in California for Christmas. In full disclosure, Solvang is about a three-hour drive from Anaheim so you will need a full day into the evening to make this a day trip. I’ve done it twice and it was worth it both times!
While in the Danish Capital of America, browse the many Christmas stores, watch candy making, taste Danish dishes like aebleskivers, snag unique artisan crafts, and marvel at the giant windmill!
TIP: If you have the time to spend a night in Solvang, do it. However, due to its popularity during the holidays, accommodations are expensive. It isn’t a big place so you can easily do it in a day and enjoy the drive up the coast as a bonus!
In Los Angeles, you know…that “town” to the north bearing the same name as the county where it’s located, there are all kinds of holiday activities worth seeing and doing. Everything from outdoor shopping centers to drives, private clubs, and landmarks gets quite festive during the holidays.
Some of my favorites to check out are the Glendale Galleria…
The Grove and Farmers Market in the Melrose area…
The Citadel (I was NOT the driver)
and other locations such as the Alpine Market in Torrance, Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, and the Magic Castle in Hollywood. Also, don’t miss seeing The Citadel decked out as a giant gift with nighttime lights galore if you are traveling on the 5 southeast of DTLA (downtown Los Angeles).
TIP: Always be on the lookout, especially if driving around or through the downtown Los Angeles area. Many of the towering buildings will have holiday lighting and there are always displays scattered all over. It’s almost a game to see what is new for the year or what I will find next!
The following Orange County Christmas events are bonus ideas because they are either a new-to-you concept or possibly only one-off or short-time occurrences not lasting throughout the month of December.
Holiday Boat Parades
Orange County Christmas events will always include holiday boat parades. Endless choices including Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Dana Point, and more have boat parades featuring lights, fireworks, cruises, cash prizes, and more!
TIP: These boat parades are typically on a certain day or certain weekend so check ahead of time so you don’t miss out on the one(s) you want to see!
Christmas Escape Rooms
Want a new and different idea for a fun time together with friends or family? Why not an escape room? During the holidays, many companies will have Christmas-themed escape rooms. It’s a great way to get into the Christmas spirit, have fun with friends and family and even boost communication skills and teamwork at the same time!
My favorite Christmas-themed escape room in Orange County is Santa Clause 2 at Exodus Escape Room in Irvine. There are so many I haven’t yet had a chance to do (like The Office Xmas Party and Elf-evator also from Exodus) but I love the feel of stepping into a room overflowing with Christmas and having to follow a themed storyline to get out!
TIP: With the exception of a couple of Christmas-themed rooms open year-round, most are only open during the holidays. Daytime rooms booked earlier in the week (Monday-Wednesday) are typically cheaper than weekend nights.
So, there you have it! All of these Orange County Christmas events are absolutely worth doing and all are things I’ve done personally with the exception of the boat parades. Hopefully, this inspires visitors to check out more of Orange County (than just Disney) and residents to get out and explore more of their backyards and surrounding areas!
Have you done any of these? If not, which of these Orange County Christmas events would you want to do most? Is there anything you’ve done that I need to know about or add to the list? You know the drill…let me know below!
‘Til next time…