Christmas & New Year in Santa Cruz

Grab a steaming cup of hot cocoa, and let’s get festive! If you’re planning a wintertime vacation to Santa Cruz over the holiday season, you’re in the right place. There are plenty of ways to get in the holiday spirit, even in sunny California. Because no, it’s no snowy wonderland. But that doesn’t mean that Santa doesn’t come to visit!

Here is everything you need to know before you plan the perfect holiday getaway at Beachnest Vacation Rental in Santa Cruz.

About Santa Cruz During the Holidays

Where to Stay During the Holidays in Santa Cruz

Choosing where to stay in Santa Cruz over the holidays is more important than any other time of year. For starters, you’ll probably want a place to set up a little Christmas Tree or cook yourself a nice Christmas dinner. Holiday rentals book out further in advance than you would think. Be sure to browse our vacation rentals ahead of time to scout out the perfect place for you and the family.

Weather in Santa Cruz Over the Holiday Season

This is the coldest time of year in Santa Cruz. The good news is that you’ll still get that crisp, cool winter air that feels like Christmas. However, it’s not cold enough for snow. 

Temperatures usually creep down to about 40 degrees overnight and only hit about 60 degrees during the sunniest moments of the day. Fortunately, rain only happens about 7-8 days in the entire month, so odds are you’ll still get to enjoy the outdoors if you plan your holiday season in California.

Getting to Santa Cruz

Just north of the famous Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz sits at the crux of two scenic highways— Coastal Route 1 and Highway 17 through the Santa Cruz mountains. Several major airports are nearby, including San Jose, Oakland, and San Francisco.

Getting Around Santa Cruz

The easiest way to get around the area in any season, especially during the coldest months of December and January. For more information on getting around Santa Cruz by public transportation, check out our guide to travel in Santa Cruz during the Wintertime.

What To Do in Santa Cruz During Christmas

Many of the themed Christmas events in Santa Cruz, such as the sleigh-filled downtown holiday parade and the lighted boat parade, happen in early December rather than over the holiday season. These events happen around Christmas and New Year’s in Santa Cruz.

Enjoy a Winter Wonderland at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Photo Credit: Nick Fox

The iconic boardwalk is transformed into a Winter Wonderland themed space brimming with holiday cheer. You can take the kids for photos with Santa, enjoy fireside s’mores and treats, marvel at the hand-crafted decorations and colorful lights, or just enjoy the traditional boardwalk things like arcade games and rollercoasters.

Drive Through 1/2 Mile of the Best Christmas Lights Around!

The Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds is hosting its annual “Holiday Lights” extravaganza during weekends in November and December, thanks to the Agricultural History Project. Drive through massive displays of dizzying color and Christmas cheer. Expect to see Santa, Snowmen, Light tunnels, and more. Don’t forget to pack yourself a thermos of hot cocoa.

Ride the Redwood Forest Steam Train!

Photo Credit: yhelfman

This is the best time of year to head on over to frosted redwoods near Bear Mountain and ride the Roaring Camp Railroads Holiday Tree Walk train. This is fun for the whole family! Roaring Camp also offers a Chanukah Train ride and a Santa Cruz Holiday Lights Train, showcasing the best Christmas lights in the city streets from inside vintage train cars.

The Christmas Lights Train departs from Neptune’s Kingdom on the Santa Cruz Boardwalk at 5 PM, 6:30 PM, and 8 PM. Be sure to book your tickets in advance!

Check Out Winter on the Wharf

Winter on the Wharf is another can’t miss festive event. Come with the whole family to watch Santa roll into town aboard a vintage fire engine. (In November, Surfin’ Santa hangs ten onto the shores of Santa Cruz).

Visit the Museum of Art & History for a Special Exhibit

Photo Credit: Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History via Flickr CC2.0

On select December dates, the MAH welcomes winter with Toy Trains. The pop-up exhibit is informative, interesting, and a sight to behold. Even better, it’s free to the public!

Experience “The Nutcracker”

Both the Santa Cruz Dance Guild and the Santa Cruz Ballet Theatre put on an excellent performance of this classic Christmas show. The Ballet Theatre performance has a live orchestra and is held in the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium downtown each year. The Dance Guild puts on a simpler production with performers of all ages at Cabrillo’s Crocker Theater the following weekend.

Pick Up Your Last Minute Holiday Gifts

Photo Credit: Tyler Olson

There are lots of local shops and small businesses in Santa Cruz where you can find excellent holiday shopping and stocking stuffers for anyone on your list. Downtown Felton has loads of shopping and incentives for those who fill out their “holiday passport” during the month of December. 

Capitola Village and Downtown Santa Cruz are two of the favored places to knock out some serious shopping. On the afternoon of Dec. 17th, you can also head to the Holiday DreamInn Marketplace for some last-minute gifts from more than 20 local vendors.

Go Caroling

Take to the streets and let your song be heard. Organized caroling around Santa Cruz can be a great way to spend Christmas Eve with the family in Santa Cruz.

What To Do in Santa Cruz During New Years

Spend New Year’s Eve on the Town

Photo Credit: Corri Seizinger

There are many bars and restaurants to ring in the new year according to your tastes. Casual celebrations can be found at restaurants like Bruno’s Bar & Grill, Cantine Winepub, Rosie McCann’s, Red Restaurant & Bar, and more. More upbeat celebrations will be happening all over town at venues with live music like the Paradox.

Go Bowling

Photo Credit: George Rudy

Head to Boardwalk Bowl for a unique New Year’s Eve-themed event complete with a champagne toast at midnight.

Start the New Year Off Right With a State Park Hike

Better known as the annual “First Day Hikes,” you can venture over to one of the nearby state parks and start achieving your health and fitness goals. Here are a few of the best hikes in winter.

You can find a full list of holiday events and their dates of operation at Santa Cruz Tourism.

Come Spend the Holidays With Us!

Spend your Christmas and New Year’s season in Santa Cruz! Beachnest has heaps of vacation rentals from Watsonville to Scotts Valley across the greater Santa Cruz area. Centrally located for all your Santa visits, Pacific Avenue strolls, and each with ample room for celebrations and holiday crafts. 

Beachnest has many vacation rentals from Watsonville to Scotts Valley across the greater Santa Cruz area. Book your stay today!