The 27 Best Things To Do In California In December (2024)

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Looking for the best things to do in California in December? We’ve got you covered with all of our best recommendations!

There are so many things to do in California in December that you couldn’t possibly do it all in one visit.

The climates throughout the state are vastly different, allowing for just about any type of weather or activity you could imagine.

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Things To Do in California in December

Below are some of our favorite things to do in California in December, from theme parks to seasonal events, and more.

❄️ Visit Theme Parks Transformed For The Holidays

Theme parks go all out for the holidays with their decorations, seasonal entertainment, and even special events.

Though it’s generally a busy time of year to visit, it’s also a very special time of year to visit.

You should see at least one of these theme parks decked out for the holidays this year.

1. Disneyland Resort

Disneyland has so many things to see and do in December.

At Disneyland Park, the It’s A Small World ride gets a holiday light show.

There is also the Christmas Fantasy Parade.

The Haunted Mansion ride also gets a Nightmare Before Christmas layover.

Jungle Cruise turns into Jingle Cruise, and Sleeping Beauty’s Castle gets holiday lights.

Santa does a meet and greet in the park and there is also a special holiday fireworks show.

At California Adventure Park, World of Color has a special show called Season of Light.

There is also the Festival of Holidays with various seasonal food, drinks, and live music to enjoy.

Also at California Adventure Park is Disney’s Viva Navidad celebration, highlighting holiday traditions around Mexico and Brazil.

In Cars Land, Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree becomes Mater’s Jingle Jamboree and Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters becomes Luigi’s Joy to the Whirl.

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Disneyland in December

2. Knott’s Berry Farm

Knott’s Berry Farm transforms into Knott’s Merry Farm.

Not only is the park decorated for the holidays, but they also offer many seasonal activities for kids and families.

They have a Christmas musical revue called Home for the Holidays and an ice show featuring the Peanuts Gang!

Knott’s also has a variety of holiday food options like their fan favorite crispy breaded turkey balls filled with stuffing and cranberry sauce.

Additionally, Knott’s Merry Farm offers a Christmas Crafts Village for gifts, a Snow and Globe holiday dance party, Santa’s Christmas Cabin, and a nightly Christmas tree lighting.

Camp Snoopy also gets it’s own Christmas light show!

Click Here To Book Your One Day Knott’s Berry Farm Ticket!

Knott's Berry Farm in December

3. SeaWorld San Diego

At SeaWorld San Diego Christmas Celebration there are several new events this year.

A Stocking Full of Soul is a new show in Mission Bay Theater and A Joyous Celebration is a new show in the Nautilus Amphitheater.

Mrs. Claus also has her own Christmas Cavalcade throughout the park.

There are also 2 acapella Christmas caroling groups making surprise appearances throughout the park.

Twice a night, enjoy the Donner and Blitzen Lazer Light Show and the week of Christmas enjoy a new Christmas Wish Fireworks Show.

Back from previous celebrations is the Holiday Brass band, Santa’s Village, Santa’s Live Reindeer, Tunnel of Lights, Rudolph’s Christmastown, Holly Jolly Marketplace, and a Reindeer Round-up Scavenger Hunt.

Even more events from previous years are Animal Presentations with a Holiday Twist, The Christmas Shoppe, special holiday food and drinks, a nightly tree lighting, and snowfall throughout the park.

4. Universal Studios Hollywood

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter gets a makeover with seasonal shows and decorations.

Celebrate Grinchmas at the Who-tacular Grinchmas celebration.

Universal also offers holiday themed character meet and greets, treats, and merchandise. The celebration extends out to CityWalk too!

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Universal Studios Hollywood Main Entrance Gate

5. Six Flags Magic Mountain

Six Flags Magic Mountain hosts Holiday in the Park.

Themed areas highlight different aspects of holiday celebrations.

HollyRock celebrates the classic Christmas traditions of the 1950s.

In Santa’s Village you can see Santa, Mrs. Claus, and some elves.

Holiday Square has Christmas lights and snow.

Peppermint Path is a candy cane lined red and white Christmas light path.

Gleampunk District is a steampunk Industrial Revolution era themed area.

At Snowy Nights, you can see a live contemporary holiday show.

For the holidays, Six Flags also has some festive treats like leftover turkey mac n cheese sandwiches, enchilada soup, and traditional tamales.

Enjoy specialty drinks like their Frosty’s Elixir.

6. California’s Great America

Enjoy Winterfest at California’s Great America theme park with over 60 rides, attractions, and things to do for the holiday celebration.

There’s ice skating, Santa’s workshop, baking cookies in Mrs. Claus’ kitchen, sending letters to the North Pole, and more.

Special holiday treats can also be found all throughout the park along with millions of lights, live entertainment, Candy Cane Lane, and holiday shopping.

California's Great America Theme Park in December

7. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom hosts Holidays in the Park just like Six Flags Magic Mountain.

So essentially there’s one version for Southern Californians and another version for Northern Californians.

Both parks obviously each have their own unique experiences, so it isn’t exactly the same holiday event.

❄️ Hit the Slopes at California’s Iconic Ski Towns

California is known for it’s ski resorts all throughout the state.

So no matter what area you’re in, there’s a ski resort just a few hours away.

If skiing isn’t your thing, these resort towns are still worth a visit to check out the villages and to get cozy by a fireplace with some hot chocolate.

These places have other fun winter activities too like snowtubing and snowboarding.

8. Big Bear Lake

Big Bear is an amazing area to visit in December.

Rent a cozy cabin or stay in a rustic lodge and enjoy all the amenities like fireplaces, hot tubs, and close proximity to Big Bear Village.

The Village has beautiful holiday lights, many shops, restaurants, and entertainment activities.

We recommend grabbing a hot chocolate or hot apple cider from The Copper Q while you stroll through the Village at night admiring the atmosphere.

Unique to a December visit to Big Bear, enjoy visiting with Santa and Mrs. Claus and enjoy the Christinkindlmarkt.

Snow Summit and Bear Mountain are the resorts you’ll want to visit if you’re interested in skiing. Enjoy snow tubing at Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain and Big Bear Snow Play.

They also offer nighttime glow tubing in December!

Even in December you can enjoy off road tours, zipline tours, Segway tours, snowshoe tours, horseback tours, and helicopter tours.

Click Here To Check Out Big Bear December Tours Today!

Big Bear Lake in December

9. Mammoth Lakes

Mammoth Mountain is home to California’s highest chairlift-serviced peak.

Here you can enjoy skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiles, sledding, snowball fights and more.

Additionally there is ice skating and Snowcat tours.

You’ll want to pay attention to road and weather conditions as your visit approaches, because the Winter weather here can be wild.

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10. Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is a very popular Winter sports area with resorts like Heavenly Mountain Resort, Kirkwood Mountain Resort, and Sierra-at-Tahoe.

Heavenly Village has a nightly tree lighting, plenty of shops and restaurants, and even a Ferris wheel.

There is also an ice skating rink here and at Edgewood Tahoe Resort.

The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino offers plenty of shows to see throughout the month of December if you’re looking for more indoor activities.

Click Here To Browse Tours and Rentals in Lake Tahoe Today!

11. Mt Shasta

Mt Shasta Ski Park is an amazing destination in Northern California away from more touristy areas.

At the time of writing this they are undergoing a major update, so there are not too many details yet about the upcoming Winter season.

12. San Gabriel Mountains

Mt. Baldy and the Mountain High Resorts are just a short drive from LA and Orange County.

From Downtown LA it’s only about an hour and a half away.

In these destinations you can enjoy scenic chair lift rides, snowboarding, tubing, snow play, and so many more options.

By December, these destinations are well into their Winter season.

❄️ Visit The Historic California Missions

California’s Mission Trail really shines during the holidays.

Each mission still standing has various degrees of how they’re able to go all out for the holidays, but I’ll share the most iconic ones that were the most well preserved and are worth a visit in December.

13. California Missions Trail

The California Missions Trail consists of 21 missions that roughly follow Highway 101 from San Diego to North of San Francisco.

So no matter where you are in California, you’re probably pretty close to one of these missions.

We personally have visited San Luis Rey, San Juan Capistrano, San Buenaventura, Santa Barbara, and Santa Inez.

We highly recommend any of these if you’re in Southern California.

Here is the complete list of the California Missions Trail to see which ones are nearest to you!

Mission San Buenaventura

❄️ Seasonal Special Events Around California

Outside of theme parks and ski resorts, there are plenty of other smaller events sprinkled throughout California’s towns all December long.

These are some of our favorites that we look forward to every year.

14. Winter Fest OC

Winter Fest OC is back after a pandemic hiatus.

Check out all the details in our other blog post solely discussing Winter Fest OC.

Winter Fest OC Banner
Image Courtesy of Winter Fest OC

15. Enchanted Forest of Light at Descanso Gardens

Descanso Gardens has been well known for years for their Enchanted Forest of Light winter event.

This year it is back in full force for the first time in awhile.

During the month of December, Enchanted Forest of Light runs nightly from 5:30 pm-10 pm, except for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Entry times go every 30 minutes and tickets must be purchased in advance.

Tickets run anywhere from $22-$40 usually depending on membership and dates and times.

16. LA Zoo Lights

LA Zoo Lights is back for another year!

Check out all the details in our other blog post solely discussing LA Zoo Lights.

LA Zoo Lights

17. December Nights at San Diego’s Balboa Park

December Nights takes place in Balboa Park Friday December 2nd from 3 pm -11 pm and Saturday December 3rd from 11 am – 11 pm.

This family friendly festival is completely free to attend.

Enjoy plenty of holiday lights, attractions, and food while you’re here.

18. Parade of Lights in San Diego Bay

Another yearly event in San Diego is the boat parade in San Diego Bay called Parade of Lights.

This year it will take place December 11th and December 18th.

Here is the parade route for this year.

No matter where you choose to watch the parade, it’ll last for about an hour to an hour and a half.

  • Shelter Island (start of parade)   5:30 p.m.
  • Harbor Island                               6:00 p.m.
  • The Embarcadero                         6:30 p.m.
  • Seaport Village                             7:00 p.m.
  • The Pier at Cesar Chavez Park    7:15 p.m.
  • Ferry Landing on Coronado         7:30 p.m

19. SantaCon in San Francisco

This year’s SantaCon takes place Saturday December 10th.

Last year our trip to San Francisco happened to coincide with this event, which we had never heard of before.

Basically throughout the entire city you’ll see just about every person dressed as Santa!

It’s not something you need tickets for or need to register for.

You just get to show up in costume (or not) and enjoy a day in the city.

Many choose to bar hop for Santa Con in pretty large groups, but you can be a part of the event however you choose.

20. Lightscape at LA Arboretum & Botanical Gardens

Lightscape is a newly re-imagined light trail through the LA Arboretum & Botanical Gardens.

This event runs from November 17th through January 2nd.

Lightscape at LA Arboretum

Each night there are food trucks, full service bars, and in December you can get complimentary photos with Santa.

21. Roaring Springs Railroad Holiday Light Train in Santa Cruz

This holiday train is at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

The trains depart and return in front of Neptune’s Kingdom at 5:00 pm, 6:30 pm, and 8:00 pm for a 60-minute round-trip excursion.

Extra times may be added as needed.

Standard Class Canopy Cars can be booked for $44.95 for adults and $32.95 for children.

First Class Coach Cars can be booked for $59.95 for adults and $45.95 for children.

December dates include: December 3-4, 10-11, 17-23

22. Hollywood Christmas Parade

This parade is not exactly in December, but it’s pretty close.

This year’s parade is on Sunday, November 26th and they just celebrated their 90th anniversary.

There will be lots of celebrities, lots of floats, and lots of balloons.

The parade starts on Hollywood Blvd at the Chinese Theater, then turns down Vine St, and circles back up Sunset Blvd.

23. JuleFest in Solvang

Solvang is a Danish town just outside of Santa Barbara.

It’s just about the closest to European Christmas Markets that you can get in California.

While it’s an amazing destination all year round, December is an especially interesting time to visit for the holiday decor.

JuleFest runs throughout the entire month and even into January.

Enjoy a 10 minute light show on the hour every hour from 5- 9pm.

Get your photos with Santa on Saturdays and Sundays!

The first weekend of December kicks off the tree lighting and the JuleFest parade.

The tree lighting takes place December 1st-3rd.

Check the schedule for even more special events throughout the season.

Solvang Jule Fest

❄️ Wine Tasting in December in California

Any time is a good time for wine tasting in California.

No matter what part of the state you’re in, there are probably some wineries or wine tasting rooms open and ready for business.

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24. Wine Tasting

We’ve previously enjoyed wine tasting in Napa and in Temecula during the Winter months and both were great experiences.

Many places may even offer mulled wine, which is a warm spiced wine.

Briar Rose Winery in Temecula
Briar Rose Winery in Temecula

❄️ Whale Watching in December in California

December is an amazing time for whale watching all along California’s coast.

Here’s what you can expect to see depending on where you’re visiting.

25. Whale Watching in December in California

From San Diego to Dana Point to Monterey, there are a ton of destinations that offer whale watching tours in December.

In Monterey, expect to see grey whales, dolphins, and orcas throughout the second half of December.

In early December, expect to see humpback whales, blue whales, dolphins, and orcas.

Down in San Diego, expect to see grey whales, blue whales, and fin whales.

Click Here To Check Out The Best Whale Watching Tours in California!

whale watching in december

Weather in December in California

The weather varies greatly by altitude, proximity to the ocean, and proximity to the mountains and deserts.

So you’ll need to check your exact location before you plan your visit.

But here are some general guidelines.

In general, you can expect all the mountain ranges to be covered in snow.

For the most part you’ll also be required to carry tire chains to access these locations in December.

Expect temperatures to be cold, like freezing temperatures cold.

The higher the altitude, the colder the temperatures you should expect.

In Southern California, you can expect the beach towns to still be in the 60s – low 70s range when it’s sunny, but at night temperatures regularly drop into the 40s.

The further north you go along the coast, expect colder temperatures.

Near San Francisco expect temperatures to be in the 40s-50s during the day and at night.

Even the desert areas in December will experience cold temperatures.

In areas like Palm Springs, you can expect the temperature to maybe hit 70 during the day, but drop into the 40s overnight.

San Francisco in December

Explore More With GoCity

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Conclusion: Things To Do in California in December

As you can see, California is thriving in December throughout the entire state.

No matter your interests or your threshold for cold weather, there is something for you to do here.

This list of the best things to do in California in December just barely scratches the surface of what is available, but hopefully it gives you some ideas to run with.

Click Here To Browse All Tours and Rentals in California in December