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November 7, 2018
There's a lot to do beyond San Francisco this holiday season

Things to Do Beyond San Francisco This Holiday Season

With the holidays approaching, there is plenty of fun to be had in San Francisco, but don’t restrict yourself to city limits. Beyond San Francisco, you will find a rich variety of events and activities that are sure to put you in the holiday spirit.

Napa Valley

Creating special holiday memories is easy in Napa Valley, where seasonal events are paired with the flavors of California’s best vineyards. The night before Thanksgiving (Nov. 22, 2017), kick off the celebration at Napa’s annual Christmas Tree Lighting. Enjoy hot chocolate and cupcakes courtesy of local bakers as the mayor lights the 29’ tree. Kicking off Dec. 9, 2017, light becomes art in the unique lighted art walk that is the Napa Lighted Art Festival. Ten to 15 original artworks will be installed throughout downtown Napa and the Oxbow District. The festival supports innovative techniques using light and light technologies as a growing art medium. Find a hotel.

Sonoma County

Sonoma Valley is home to more than 400 wineries. While you can’t visit them all this holiday season, you can enjoy tastings at 17 locations during the Sonoma Valley Holiday Open House. Meet winemakers and tour the cellars and caves where the magic happens. This event takes place on Friday, Nov. 25 and Saturday, Nov. 26 from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. If lights are your fancy, head straight to the heart of Sonoma County and experience Sonoma Valley during the Lighting of the Historic Sonoma Plaza on No v. 18, 2017. Visitors, families and locals will enjoy this free event that includes a surprise lighting of over 150,000-holiday lights, Broadway performance, live jazz band, beer garden, food trucks (the fig rig and Tri-Tip Trolley), complimentary hot cocoa, cider and cookies! Who could ask for anything more? Find a hotel.

Monterey County

Though many visit Monterey County for its magnificent coastline, ocean views aren’t the area’s only attraction. Christmas at the Inns is one of the season’s highlights, as 10 of Pacific Grove’s loveliest Victorian-style inns open their doors to visitors. Enjoy holiday décor and live music on Tuesday, Nov. 28 and Wednesday, Nov. 29, 6 – 9 p.m. Ring in the New Year at a celebration of the arts when you join the 24th annual First Night Monterey. Performances range from theater to dance, and you can look forward to a sampling of music that ranges from reggae to hip-hop. Find a hotel.

Tuolumne County

Tuolumne County’s historic role in the California Gold Rush isn’t its only claim to fame. This area hosts a wide variety of holiday events that bring visitors back every year. The 43rd annual Sonora Christmas Festival takes place over Thanksgiving weekend. Holiday shoppers can choose one-of-a-kind gifts from more than 150 local artists. Music, carolers, baked goods and home-style cooking turn this craft fair into an all-day excursion. Sonora’s Downtown Christmas Parade is a can’t-miss tradition (now in its 34th year), taking place on Friday, Nov. 24 at 5:30 p.m. From floats to antique cars, there is something for everyone. Dancers and marching bands keep the mood lively, and local merchants open their shops to serve hot apple cider.

Railfans can relive the magical journey of The Polar Express™ on an hour-long train ride to the North Pole at Jamestown's Railtown 1897 State Historic Park. Hot chocolate and yummy cookies add to the festivities as riders journey north. Upon arrival, Santa will give each passenger a silver sleigh bell, the “first gift of Christmas.” Rides will be offered Friday-Saturday, Nov. 25-26, Dec.1-3, 8-10 and 15-17, 2017.

 Find a hotel.


Looking to explore small-town America? The picturesque town of Sausalito holds annual Winterfest (now in its 30th year), Dec. 9. Make sure to catch the centerpiece of Winterfest, the Lighted Boat Parade and Fireworks, which starts at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 9..

The whole family can head to San Rafael in Marin County to join author Charles Dickens at a Victorian-era party. Save the date for Friday, Dec. 1 to play parlor games, meet Father Christmas, and keep an eye out for Ebenezer Scrooge.  Find a hotel.

Shasta Cascade

The mountainous vistas of the Shasta Cascade region provide plenty of outdoor adventures for the entire family. Strap on your sneakers and participate in a winter-themed scavenger hunt, one of the many events during Chico's annual Museum Family Holiday Festival on Dec. 9, 2017 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. You can also look for local crafts, face painting, and Chinese drum crafts that honor the Chinese immigrants who once populated this town.  Find a hotel.

Beach Communities

From Nov. 24 to Dec. 23, experience Santa Cruz's very own "Holiday Lights Train." This is a first for the beachside community, which has created an event modeled after the movie. It's sure to be a blockbuster with the whole family. All aboard!  Find a hotel.

East Bay

Looking to add some culture to your holiday activities? Check out the Nutcracker, running from Dec. 23 to Dec. 24, 2017, performing at Oakland's historic Paramount Theater. This variety of dance genres mixed with holiday traditions from around the world is a holiday treat for your eyes, ears, and spirit. Find a hotel.

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe evokes images of walking through a pristine winter wonderland, and the town certainly obliges with a plethora of holiday events. Indulge in a winter-themed gala where the who's who of the region will be showing their support for Barton Hospital at the Festival of Trees and Lights at MontBleu, Nov. 30 - Dec. 3, 2017. You can also celebrate the New Year's ball drop at Heavenly Village, where the fanfare begins well before the stroke of midnight with a week-long party featuring carolers, ice sculptures, and fire dancers. Find a hotel.

SFO Area

Illuminate SF is a gorgeous display of light art that takes a seasonal turn around the holidays. While the installations are year-round, the Illuminate SF Festival of Light takes place from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day. The free event lets you enjoy a walking tour of the city, while experiencing art that reflects holiday themes and the changing seasons. Several of the installations are located at San Francisco International Airport. 

Silicon Valley

Downtown San Jose transforms into a tropical winter paradise with several events that evoke the magic of the season. Strap on your skates and be prepared to glide under palm trees when you visit "Christmas in the Park," which also has animated musical displays and a chance to meet Santa. The ice rink is open Nov. 24. After you've had some hot cocoa, swing over to the Fairmont to see the opulent trees that have been decorated for Trees of Hope, which benefits local charities.

This holiday season, take a break from the city and enjoy the many exciting events taking place in the surrounding area. From wineries to crafts to fireworks, come experience Northern California's winter wonderland! Find a hotel.

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