Christmas in Orange County: 25 BEST Things To Do [2024]

Reviewed by Suneel Jain
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If you’re wondering where to go for Christmas in Orange County, you won’t be disappointed with our list of festivities happening throughout the holiday season.

Orange County is one of the most festive places in California

From classic holiday shows to tree lighting ceremonies, craft beers, and parades, there’s something to get everyone into the holiday spirit.

And if you’re wondering about the weather in Orange County at Christmas, don’t worry. 

While the temperature in Orange County at Christmas definitely drops, it doesn’t get anywhere near as low as northern cities. 

Orange County ranges from 65°F (18°C) to a low of 49°F (9°C) during Christmas time. 

You’ll definitely want to bundle up when heading to the outdoor events, especially the ones on the coast. But you’ll never be trudging through snow. 

The crisp air makes holiday treats that much more tasty and the cozy indoor events even more special. 

So grab yourself a warm beverage and a Santa hat, and come out to spread holiday cheer in the OC this Christmas.

An enormous Christmas tree, every inch of it loaded with red and gold baubles, situated in a town square surrounded by palm trees on a sunny day.

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What is There to Do in Orange County at Christmas Time?

Nutcracker Tree Lighting & Holiday Village – Downtown Anaheim

When: 2023 dates TBD
Where: Center Street Promenade (at Lemon Street) Anaheim, CA
Cost: Free admission

The Nutcracker Tree Lighting & Holiday Village is an Anaheim holiday tradition that kicks the season off with holiday cheer around the Center Street Promenade Tree and all of the beautiful holiday decorations in front of Anaheim Ice. 

There will be lots of food vendors, holiday drinks and treats, live music and entertainment, and, of course, the magnificent holiday tree lighting ceremony. 

If you’re seeking holiday things to do in Orange County with the whole family, this will kick off your holiday season on a cheery note. 

There is also a wonderful production of The Nutcracker put on by the Anaheim Ballet later in the season. 

Capistrano Lights: Mission in Lights

When: Select nights starting December 2
Where: 26801 Old Mission Road, San Juan Capistrano, CA
Cost: Starting at $125

Orange County’s only Mission goes all out for the holidays with the Capistrano Lights event!

You can explore the Mission during the day and then enjoy Christmas festivities during the evening. Celebrate with beautiful lights, carolers, crafts, treats, and more! The lights and energy here are truly incredible.

It wouldn’t be a Mission without a nod to the religious aspects of Christmas as well, so you’ll find a nativity scene, prayer candles, and can listen to gospel if you’d like, too.

Although it’s fun to celebrate the holidays, the sad story of California’s Missions is often untold but you can learn about it here.

A Christmas Play at Your Local Theater

When: Most nights through December
Where: Your local playhouse!
Cost: Typically $5-$25

If you’re seeking classic Christmas plays in Orange County, you can support your local playhouse and see some great shows!

Especially here, where we’re lucky to have no shortage of amazing, Hollywood-level entertainers to watch, checking out holiday plays and musicals is a real treat.

There are lots of options, including A Charlie Brown Christmas in La Habra, How the Grinch Stole Christmas in Costa Mesa, and The Holiday GEM in Garden Grove

This holiday fun is easy to schedule, too, with shows on most weeknights and weekends.

Christmas Movies Under The Stars – Brea

When: Select nights through December
Where: Brea Civic and Cultural Center Plaza
Cost: Free admission 

The city of Brea offers Movies Under The Stars all through the year. During the holidays, they bring your favorite holiday films to the screen with this free event at the Civic & Cultural Center Plaza. 

Classic stories such as How The Grinch Stole Christmas, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and several more are shown on select nights in December. 

Be sure to check the calendar on their website.

Knotts Merry Farm

The front entrance sign for Knott's Merry Farm, with a clear blue sky behind it.

When: November 17th – January 7th
Where: Knott’s Berry Farm, 8039 Beach Boulevard, Buena Park, CA
Cost: Starting at $59.99

There is always something going on at Knott’s Berry Farm, and the Christmas season is definitely no exception. 

The holiday activities at Knotts’ Merry Farm are a favorite holiday event each year. 

Live holiday entertainment and ice shows with renditions of your favorite holiday stories run throughout the season. 

There’s food, a tree lighting ceremony, and a festive crafts sale with unique holiday gifts.

Kids can even visit Santa’s Village to meet Santa Claus.

Christmas Tree Lighting Buena Park

When: December 1st
Where: Buena Park City Hall, 6650 Beach Blvd. Buena Park, CA
Cost: Free admission

Buena Park holds its annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in the park to celebrate the holiday season. 

There’s live entertainment, activities, food and hot treats, and even Santa Claus himself. Make sure to stay for the annual tree lighting ceremony with the Buena Park community. 

Buena Park Candy-Cane Land & Craft Faire

When: Saturday, December 9th 10:00am-4:00pm
Where: Ehlers Event Center, 8150 Knott Ave. Buena Park, CA
Cost: Free admission

Another of Buena Park’s annual winter holiday events, the Candy-Cane Land & Craft Faire is a free event with activities for the whole family.

They have holiday entertainment, food trucks, carnival games, a free raffle draw, and the most popular – the giant Snow Slide.

You can also find unique gifts for your loved ones at the holiday craft boutique, where they have an excellent arts and crafts sale.

This classic holiday festival feels like being right in Santa’s Village.

Fullerton Winter Market

When: 2023 dates TBD
Where: Downtown Fullerton Plaza, 125 E Wilshire Ave, Fullerton, CA
Cost: Free admission

Join the community of Fullerton for their annual Fullerton Winter Holiday Market at the Fullerton Plaza downtown. 

This is another great place to do holiday shopping. Artisans set up holiday crafts and art for sale at the Fullerton Plaza. 

With activities for all ages, kids get to take photos with Santa and dance to holiday music. Adults can get a drink at the Beer & Wine Garden inside the plaza and watch holiday performances.

Huntington Harbour Boat Parade & Cruise of Lights

When: December 9-10 (Boat Parade), 16-18 & 21-23 (Cruise of Lights)
Where: Huntington Harbour, Huntington Beach, CA
Cost: Free viewing of Boat Parade; Cruise tickets start at $29

The annual Boat Parade and Cruise of Lights are both fundraiser celebrations of light in the Huntington Harbour and absolute favorites of the Huntington Beach community each year.

The Boat Parade kicks off the annual fundraiser, The Cruise of Lights, and is themed each year. 

Ticket money from the Cruise of Lights helps fund music education for Orange County school children. 

The Cruise of Light is a chance to ride aboard a beautifully decorated holiday boat with a guide. 

You get to experience breathtaking views of festive floating holiday lights from the water. 

As you look back toward the city of Huntington Beach from out in the Huntington Harbour, you’ll see elaborately decorated docks, decks, boats, and homes. What a unique holiday parade! 

Surf City Winter Wonderland – Huntington

When: Throughout December
Where: The Huntington Beach Pier,  Huntington Beach CA
Cost: $22 [based on last year]

Huntington Beach has quite a list of epic winter events, and the Surf City Winter Wonderland on the Huntington Beach Pier is one of the biggest.

The holiday festivities on the pier center around an ice skating rink (yes, a skating rink on the beach) open to the public through the month of December.

It feels like being at the North Pole and simultaneously on a surf trip!

This is a great idea for Christmas in Orange County for families.

OC Great Park: Holidayz at the Park – Irvine

When: Throughout December
Where: Orange County Great Park, Irvine, CA
Cost: Free admission

Great Park transforms into a winter wonderland straight from late November through to January 1st for Holidayz at the Park

If you’re looking for things to do in Orange County around Christmas with the family, there will be lots of festive activities in store here. 

Holiday lights, displays, ornament making and other crafts, food trucks, and “Air Santa” will all be waiting for you. 

Also, on one special night, guests can join in on the pajama party movie night to view a Christmas movie drive-in style in the park.

Newport Beach SantaCon

When: Saturday, December 9
Where: Baja Sharkeez and various bars, Newport Beach, CA
Cost: Free until November 2, then prices can go as high as $15

The annual SantaCon pub crawl is full of holiday fun as large crowds dress up as Santa (or reindeer, Christmas trees, in ugly sweaters… you get the point) and hop from bar to bar for drinking, dancing, and holiday merriment.

With thousands of people joining in and dressed up, it’s a large, frenzied environment full of fun.

With Orange County Brew Ho Ho no more, sadly, SantaCon is the 21+ event to go to for anyone looking to go out and celebrate while getting a little tipsy.

Annual Surfing Santa & Stand Up Paddle Board Contest 

When: 2023 dates TBD
Where: The Salt Creek Beach, Dana Point, CA
Cost: Free to view, $60 per contestant 

The Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel hosts an annual Surfin’ Santa Fundraiser for the non-profit Surfers Healing.

Proceeds ensure that Surfers Healing summer camps are free so that children with Autism can experience the joy of surfing.

Whether you’re looking to participate in the contest or you’d just like to hang out with sporty Santas, the contest makes for a fun morning on the beach. 

This event is quite unique, thanks to the Orange County Christmas weather being relatively warm and surfable.

There’s even a costume contest for the best Christmas get-up on the water. 

The Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel really knows how to do Christmas Cali style!

Winter Fest OC – Costa Mesa

When: November 24, 2023 – January 7, 2024
Where: OC Fair and Events Center, 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa, CA
Cost: Free admission

Each year, Orange County gets to experience a Winter Festival that turns the OC Fair and Events Center into a winter wonderland.

They have rides, real (well, maybe not real-real) snow, ice skating, ice tubing, a whole carnival, performances, and tons of food and drinks.

This is a huge fair full of holiday fun for the whole family. We highly recommend it!

Holidays at the Harbour – Dana Point Harbor

When: Throughout November & December
Where: The Dana Point Harbour, Dana Point, CA
Cost: Free admission

The holiday events at Dana Point Harbor are an OC tradition during Christmas time. 

Over 700,000 Christmas lights illuminate the harbor, including giant whale sculptures, lighted palm trees, and the iconic “Merry Kiss Me” sign. 

And make sure to stop for a photo with Santa Claus! 

The Pet Project Foundation operates a “Santa Paws” photobooth for pet photos with Santa on select dates. 

Keep an eye on the calendar and align your visit with the Dana Point Boat Parade of Lights, which takes over the harbor. 

Prizes are donated by local businesses for the best boat decorations. 

Santa’s Village By The Sea – San Clemente

When: Saturday, December 2nd, 2023 from 4pm–8:30pm
Where: Avenida Del Mar, San Clemente CA
Cost: Free admission

If you’re in San Clemente for Christmas, don’t miss Santa’s Village by the Sea

This community festival is a collaboration between Puttin’ on the Glitz and Holly Jolly Hoopla.  

In addition to the usual holiday craft and food vendors, there’s a silent concert, sledding hill, and carolers.

Make sure to check the schedule so you don’t miss Santa’s visit or the Christmas tree lighting. 

Last year, they also had a gingerbread house contest – keep an eye on the city calendar so you don’t miss out.

Home for the Holidays Pet Adoption Fair & Fundraiser

When: Sunday, December 10th
Where: Irvine Animal Care Center, 6443 Oak Canyon, Irvine, CA
Cost: Suggested donation of $2

For almost two decades, the Animal Care Center has hosted its annual Pet Adoption Fair and Fundraiser with hopes of providing pets with loving homes for the holidays. 

Animals available for adoption will be there waiting to meet you.

Each year, this event raises thousands of dollars for Enhanced Care and Foster Care programs for pets. 

There are snacks and drinks, a community Christmas tree, and pet-related vendors. 

If you can’t make this one, plenty of local animal shelters have adoption fairs and events at this time, so find one local to you!

Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade & Ring of Lights

A yacht decorated with multicolored Christmas lights seen at night docked in a harbor.

When: December 13-17
Where: The Newport Harbour
Cost: Free to view, starting at $32 to take a cruise

The annual Newport Beach Boat Parade and Ring of Lights is one of the largest holiday boat parades in the country. 

It features hundreds of boats decorated to participate and spread light throughout Newport Harbour. 

It’s common for boat owners to spend thousands of dollars decorating their boats with millions of lights and ornaments. 

This is all part of the Lighting of the Bay, hosted by Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort, which runs all through the holiday season. 

Definitely some of the best Christmas lights in Orange County.

Looking for a place to eat after the parade? Read our guide to the best restaurants in Newport Beach.

Christmas Train at Irvine Regional Park

When: Friday November 24th – Saturday December 23rd
Where: The Historic Irvine Regional Park, Irvine, CA
Cost: Starting at $7

The Christmas Train at Irvine Regional Park is a family tradition that spreads holiday joy like no other train rides in Orange County. 

These festive train rides through the park’s winter-themed train route bring guests to the North Pole and Santa’s Village. 

Kids can take photos with Santa Claus, try ice fishing, burn off energy in the moon bounce, decorate cookies, and play carnival games. 

And note that the train ends on Saturday, December 23rd, not the 24th.

Christmas at the Orange County Zoo

When: 2023 dates TBD
Where: The OC Zoo, Irvine Regional Park, CA
Cost: $2

If you’re all about combining furry creatures with holiday festivities, then you’ll love what the OC Zoo has in store for the Christmas season. 

Come witness zoo animals receive holiday gifts of Christmas trees with surprises hidden inside. 

There will also be lots of games, holiday crafts, and story time with Santa. The Orange County Zoo is only a 10-minute drive from the Villa Park Town Center. 

Sawdust Art Festival Winter Fantasy 

A view from above of people browsing Sawdust Art Festival Winter Fantasy at early dusk.

When: Friday, Saturday & Sunday November 17th – December 17th
Where: 935 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, CA
Cost: $10 adults, $5 children

This annual arts festival is a Laguna Beach winter tradition of over 60 years. 

The winter wonderland atmosphere has unique artisan holiday gifts by over 100 artists.

There are three stages for live performances, carolers, art classes, puppeteers, and daily visits from Santa Claus. 

Looking for more to do in the area? Read our guides to the best beaches and hikes in Laguna Beach.

Irvine Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony

When: 2023 dates TBD
Where: Irvine Civic Center, 1 Civic Center Plaza Irvine, CA
Cost: Free admission

Lighting the Civic Center holiday tree in the Civic Center Plaza is one of the biggest tree-lighting events in Orange County and one of the most popular free Christmas events in Orange County each year. 

Though the Christmas tree lighting is a spectacle itself, the holiday events at the Civic Center will also feature live holiday music and a holiday train ride. 

The Marine Adoption Committee runs its annual Holiday Toy Drive in conjunction with this event. 

Visit Crown Valley Community Park if you’re looking for more Christmas tree lighting ceremonies

Casa Lumina Holiday Walk

When: Throughout December
Where: Casa Romantica Cultural Center & Gardens, San Clemente, CA
Cost: Adults $15, Children $10

The beautiful gardens at Casa Romantica transform into a winter wonderland each holiday season for their annual Casa Lumina Holiday Walk

Stroll among thousands of holiday lights throughout the garden with the whole family. 

There will also be live entertainment, hot cocoa, local artist vendors, crafts, and festive spirit. 

This one is open until December 24th, perfect for a new tradition.

What to Do in Orange County on Christmas Day?

Visit Disneyland 

The facade of a light green Victorian building decorated with Christmas wreaths and garlands, with white and green striped awnings.

When: Christmas Day (and throughout December)
Where: Disneyland, Anaheim, CA
Cost: Starting at $149

If you’re seeking things to do on Christmas in Orange County, Disneyland has got you covered. 

December is the most magical time of year at Disneyland. And Christmas Day is actually one of their busiest days of the year. 

From live performances to your favorite characters dressed for holiday photo ops, Disney is a dream on Christmas.

All of the attractions have something a little special for the holidays. Plus, they offer festive feasting, games, and contests. 

Looking for more Disneyland tips? Read our guides to the closest airports to Disneyland, the Disneyland Magic Key, and the best backpacks and shoes for Disneyland.

Holidays at Universal Studios Hollywood

A nighttime scene of people performing a Christmas show on a brightly-lit stage set featuring a whimsical, crooked Christmas tree.

When: Throughout December, including Christmas Day
Where: Universal Studios Hollywood, CA
Cost: Adults $159, kids $153

The holidays at Universal Studios Hollywood are some of the busiest times of year for the park, and Christmas Day is the best time of all. 

Universal Studios focuses on two major attractions throughout the holiday season: Grinchmas, and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Both are included in your regular park admission. 

There are live shows, holiday treats, shopping, and movie characters dressed up for special family photos.

Note: Universal Studios is technically in Los Angeles, but not too far from Orange County, and it’s definitely worth the trip to see the park at Christmas.  

FAQs about Christmas in Orange County

A ferris wheel seen at night sporting a  round, red, Christmas-themed light display on its side, and surrounded by palm trees decorated with Christmas lights.

What is open on Christmas Day in Orange County?

There are lots of attractions open on Christmas Day in Orange County. If none of the above options suit your taste, you may want to check out these options as well:

Where can I visit Santa in Orange County?

You can meet Santa at many of the holiday festivals listed above. But Santa also visits many of the nearby shopping centers. 

Where to eat on Christmas in Orange County?

Try some local restaurants, such as Nova Kitchen & Bar, Buca Di Beppo, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., or Nobu.

Where can I take Christmas photos in Orange County?

Some of the best photo ops in OC are at outdoor festivals and events, such as the Christmas Train in Irvine Regional Park. 

You may like to check out a Christmas tree farm in Orange County for some nature photos. 

South Coast Plaza in Costa Messa, Knott’s Merry Farm, The North Pole at Pacific City, Disneyland, and Universal Studios are all great places for holiday photos. 

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Taylor Neal

Taylor is a multi-disciplinary artist, writer, yoga instructor, and frontline worker who spends most of her time in her van (Vannigan) winding through the coastal and mountain roads of California where she feels most at home. From navigating the realities of van life to the fluctuations in diverse climates and landscapes, Taylor is excited to bring everything she’s learned about California to fellow wanderers seeking beauty and adventure.

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Hi, I'm Mimi! I'm an outdoorsy Californian who has spent over 28 years immersed in the incredible natural beauty that California has to offer. My goal is to inspire others to get out and find their next adventure in California. Whether it’s escaping to an alpine lake in the Sierras, finding peace among the giant redwoods, or road tripping down the PCH, there’s always more to explore in this beautiful state.


1 thought on “Christmas in Orange County: 25 BEST Things To Do [2024]”

  1. Visiting Disney Land on Christmas Day has become a family tradition for us. It’s quieter than most days. I hesitate to post this though because I don’t want people to know.


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