While we may not have snow on the ground and lights in our palm trees, Christmas in Orange County is still something to get excited about! There are lots of great Christmas events in Orange County in 2023, from train rides to see Santa to boat parades and more! Use this guide to plan your perfect holiday seaosn.
You also won’t want to miss our guide to 30 fun things to do in Orange County with kids.
Christmas Events in Orange County 2023
Orange County Boat Parades
So much of life in Orange County revolves around its proxmity to the coast, and Christmas boat parades are an important tradition to those of us living in OC.
In South County, Dana Point Harbor plays host to the 48th Annual Boat Parade of Lights on December 8, 9, and 10, 2023 at 6:30pm. This year’s theme is “Candy Land”.
Beginning November 15, you also won’t want to miss the annual light display at Dana Point Harbor which features over 700,000 lights, including the popular “Merry Kiss Me” arch and a giant lighted whale sculpture.
Up in Huntington Beach, the 60th annual Huntington Harbour Boat Parade will take place December 9 and 10, 2023 at 6pm and this year’s theme is “The Power of Music”.
The granddaddy of them all is the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade, now in its 115th year. The parade winds around Newport Harbor, and the parks and shoreline around Lido Park, Balboa Island, and the harbor side of Newport penninsula are always packed with people.
This year’s parade will be held Wednesday through Sunday, December 13-17, 2023 and begins around 6:30pm each night. You can purchase tickets to view the parade from aboard one of the lighted boats and even rent out an entire yacht if you want! There are several restaurants that offer “dine and watch” packages and reserved seating is available at Newport Sea Base.
Irvine Park Railroad Christmas Train
If you have young children, the one Orange County Christmas event you won’t want to miss is the Irvine Park Railroad Christmas Train. This event sells out fast, so book your ticket early! It runs November 24 – December 23, 2023.
Families will board the train and take a ride to the “North Pole” where kids get off the train to tell Santa what they want for Christmas and take a photo. Then they will get back on the train and pass by Christmas lights and displays, as well as the tunnel of lights, until they make their way back to Santa’s Village.
At Santa’s Village there will be more lights to enjoy, as well as cookie decorating, ice fishing, moon bounce, carnival games, and Rudolph racers.
Lighting of the Bay at Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort
This year the Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort is hosting the Fire and Ice Festival November 24, 2023 – January 1, 2024. They will host one of the largest outdoor skating rinks in all of Orange County, have an Igloo-style bar serving festive drinks, fire dancers on Friday and Saturday nights,live entertainment, and fire tables and S’mores kits available daily.
The resort’s nightly bay lighting will continue through New Year’s Day. Througout the season there will also be a holiday tree lot.
Winter Fest OC
Winter Fest OC is back for another year at the Orange County Fair & Event Center from November 24, 2023 to January 7, 2024. Tickets should be purchased in advance online.
Winter Fest OC is home to the only outdoor ice skating trail in Orange County, nine lanes of ice tubing slides, a snow play area, ice bumper cars, carnival rides and games, character meet and greets, and seasonal food for purchase.
There will also be seasonal cocktails, wine, and beer in the all-new holiday lounge, a holiday market, live performances, a nightly tree lighting with snow flurries, and plenty of festive photo opportunities throughout the light-filled experience.
This year’s event features the all-new “North Pole Journey” immersive walk-through experience, ice skating, a nine-lane 150-foot-long ice tubing slide, ice bumper cars, carnival rides and games, character meetand greets, and seasonal food for purchase.
Holidays at the Cube at Discovery Cube Orange County
Holidays at the Cube is a brand-new seasonal event happening at Discovery Cube, a hands-on children’s science museum just off the 5 freeway in Santa Ana.
They will have The Science of Gingerbread through December 31, 2023. Locals are invited to test their baking and crafting skills and submit their most festive Gingerbread creation at this year’s Science of Gingerbread. The event also includes several holiday activities like a cookie decorating station, a holiday building block station, weekend visits with Santa, holiday photo stations, and more.
Their Winter Lights Holiday Show and Festival will take place select dates between December 15, 2023 – January 7, 2024. The winter-themed festival celebrates the science of the season with the sparkle of a million lights, interactive exhibits, and Jean Luc’s Snowbulb Workshop where you can make and take home your own light bulb snow globe. The holiday musical has original songs and plenty of holiday spirit.
Christmas Tree Lighting and Holiday Bazaar
My favorite Christmas tree in all of Orange County is the Christmas Tree on the sand at the Crystal Cove Historic District. This year there will be a tree lighting and holiday bazaar on December 2nd.
Visitors can shop for gifts from local artisans during the Holiday Bazaar, take pictures with Santa at 4pm, enjoy cookies and cocoa via The Beachcomber, make a holiday craft, and enjoy holiday tunes courtesy of the Corona del Mar High School Madrigal Singers. The tree lighting will happen at sunset.
Sawdust Art Festival Winter Fantasy
A tradition in Laguna Beach year after year, the Sawdust Art Festival Winter Fantasy is an Orange County Christmas event that art lovers will not want to miss. This year it runs from November 17 – December 17, 2023 on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 10am – 7pm.
Enjoy thousands of lights and decorations, purchase handcrafted gifts designed by over 100 artists, listen to live music and carolers, enjoy puppet shows and visits with Santa.
There are fun crafts, art demonstrations, and beautiful displays that kids and parents enjoy, but what we enjoyed the most is getting to throw clay on a pottery wheel and watch the glass blowing demonstrations.
Mission San Juan Capistrano will host Capistrano Lights on select days December 2- 30, 2023. There will be perfomances by carolers, visits and pictures with Santa, community Christmas trees throughout the grounds, and extended evening hours to enjoy the mission bathed in lights.
At 5:05pm there will be a nightly Christmas tree lighting and music program as well as community trees, kids crafts, and sweet treats for sale. Tickets can be booked online.
Christmas comes to Heritage Hill Historical Park in Lake Forest with the annual Candlelight Walk for two weekends December 8 – 10, 2023 from 5 – 9pm. There will be more than 1,000 luminarias lighting the park’s pathways. Strolling carolers and musicians help set the holiday scene. There will also be holiday crafts for kids, refreshments, and a visit with Santa Claus!
Holiday Lights will also take place at Heritage Hill December 15 – 17, 2023 from 5 – 9pm. This is an opportunity to wander throught the lights and take holiday photos. Well-behaved, leashed dogs are welcome.
Hikari- A Festival of Lights at Tanaka Farms
Tanaka Farms in Irvine is hosting an after-dark wagon ride and walk-through event called Hikari: A Festival of Lights, November 24 – December 30, 2023. This farm is well known for its u-pick strawberries, melons, veggies and pumpkins throughtout the year, but come Christmas, they have set up a trail of lanterns and lights to explore.
There will be crafts, games, a petting zoo, a produce stand, a holiday market, and plenty of photo opps. They also have a Christmas tree stand. The Tanaka Grill will be open as well if you would like to grab dinner and there will be live music on the weekends.
Ticket prices vary by time selected, and military (active duty or retired) are admitted for free. Tanaka Farms made our list of the best pumpkin patches in Orange County.
Holidayz at the Great Park
The Great Park in Irvine was slow to come into its own, but in the past couple years it has become a great Orange County destination for families. This year it will host Holidayz at the Park from December 2, 2023 to January 7, 2024.
There will be holiday-themed events, displays, and lights. Palm Court will be a great place to take holiday photos complete with holiday lights and an airplane taken over by the Grinch, a nod to El Toro Marine Base which previously occupied the space.
The Artist Studio will be a pop-up museum with various winter themed backdrops perfect for picture taking. It is open Fridays from 5 – 9pm and weekends from 12 – 8pm.
Illuminate Irvine takes place December 2nd from 3 – 7pm and includes holiday activities and music. Attendees are encouraged to donate a new, unwrapped toy. There will also be a holiday market during this event and the next day from 10am – 7pm in Great Park Hangar 244.
There will also be various holiday-themed class to sign up for, and a pajama party drive-in movie night on December 10, 2022.
Holidays at Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens in San Clemente
Throughout December, Casa Romantica, the home of the founder of the city of San Clemente, has several activities and experiences for all ages, and plenty of marvelous ocean views.
Casa Nutcracker will be performed December 7th and 8th by the Orange County Ballet Theater. It is an abridged version with a runtime of one hour and twenty minutes, making it great for children. Casa Kids Cookies and Cocoa with Mrs. Claus takes place on the 9th at 10:15am.
Casa Romantica will be hosting Christmas at the Casa December 15 – 21, 2023 which will include crafts for the kids, lots of lights, and S’mores. Check the event calendar for more details.
Orange County Christmas Events at Theme Parks
Chistmas at the Disneyland Resort is probably the largest of all Orange County Christmas events. From fabulous seasonal food to vibrant holiday decor and spectacular shows, it simply can’t be beat. The official Disneyland Christmas 2023 season runs November 10- January 7.
More than 126,000 sparkling lights drip down Sleeping Beauty’s Castle like icicles, and vibrant holiday decorations trim nearly every nook and cranny of the park. The ever-popular “Christmas Fantasy” Parade starring Santa Claus puts us all in the Christmas spirit. Disney traditions continue with Disneyland’s “Believe… in Holiday Magic” fireworks show which is capped off with a snowfall finale.
Several attractions get holiday makeovers like “it’s a small world” Holiday, Haunted Mansion Holiday, Mater’s Jingle Jamboree, and Luigi’s Joy to the Whirl. World of Color-Season of Light as well as Disney California Adventure’s Festival of Holidays are seasonal experiences you won’t want to miss either.
Read our comprehensive guide to Christmas at Disneyland Resort for all the details.
Knott’s Merry Farm
Orange County’s original theme park is Knott’s Berry Farm. This theme park hosts Knott’s Merry Farm November 17, 2023 – January 7, 2024.
The entire park is transformed into a classic holiday festival, with thousands of twinkling lights, seasonal cuisine and treats, and plenty of holiday entertainment.
There is a Christmas Crafts Village, Santa’s Christmas Cabin, a light show in Camp Snoopy and a nightly tree lighting ceremony.
This event celebrates with the “Home for the Holidays” musical revue, “Merry Christmas, Snoopy” ice show, “Snow and Glow” light show, plus parades and carolers.
Orange County Holiday Shows
“A Cinderella Christmas” at the Laguna Playhouse
Panto theatre is basically an interactive musical theatre production using classic fairy tale stories with modern scripts that twists in pop songs, dancing, and interaction with the audience, tying it up with a big red Christmas bow.
In the 2023 Christmas season, enjoy performances of “A Cinderella Christmas” at the Laguna Playhouse December 7-29, 2023. My daughter and I attend a Panto performance at the Laguna Playhouse every year and have always enjoyed every moment. It is perfect for kids of all ages.
Golden Tickets can be added any child’s ticket for an additional $50 each. This will give children a special onstage sing-along experience during the performance and a gift bag.
Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa will be hosting American Ballet Theatre’s production of The Nutcracker which will take place December 8-17, 2023. There will also be a special performance of Nutcracker for kids on December 2, 2023. All of these shows are popular and will sell out, so book your tickets early.
The Festival Ballet Theatre will also be performing Nutcracker shows at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. There will an abridged version designed with young kids in mind Friday, December 8, 2023 at 9:30am & 11:30am. The full version will be running December 9 – 24, 2023.
There is also a special Nutcracker Tea Party which takes place before the show. Show tickets can be purchased with the tea party add-on for an additional fee. There will be finger sandwiches, sweet treats, tea, lemonade, and champagne. Children will be gathered to listen to the story of The Nutcracker and visited by some of the characters from the ballet. There will be plenty of great photo opps as well.
Outdoor Ice Skating
In 2023, two outdoor ice rinks will be located in Huntington Beach- Oceanfront Ice Rink at Pasea Hotel & Spa and Surf City Ice Rink. Pasea’s Oceanfront Ice Rink features special holiday cocktails, s’mores kits, and even VIP firepits. It will be open December 14, 2023 through Janaury 2, 2024. Tickets can be purchase in advance.
Ever dreamed of ice skating on the beach? The Surf City Rink will be at Plaza Pier at the bease of the Huntington Beach Pier. The rink will be open November 25th – January 8th and tickets can be purchase in advance.
The outdoor ice rink at Irvine Spectrum Center will return for another year. It is located next to the Ferris Wheel and giant Christmas tree. This year the rink will be open November 3, 2023 through January 7, 2024.
Speaking of the giant Christmas tree, it will come alive with a choreographed light and music show every 30 minutes, from 5 pm until 11 pm throughout the Christmas season. There will also be pictures with Santa available November 24 – December 24, 2023 at Santa’s house over by Old Navy.
Remember there is the outdoor ice rink at Winterfest OC as well as the one at Newport Dunes which were both mentioned in separate sections above.
Christmas at Orange County Resorts
Orange County is a major vacation destination and our resorts tend to go all out for the holidays.
Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel hosts a tree lighting ceremony on November 19, at 4pm to kick off their seasonal Christmas on the Coast festivities. Their lobby is fully decorated for the Christmas season with several trees and an impressive gingerbread display.
They have holiday teas Monday through Thursday at 2:30pm November 27 through December 14, 2023 at RAYA. These are very popular and should be reserved in advance. They also host gingerbread building, teddy bear tea, and holiday storytelling.
The Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Coast is another wonderful place to visit during the holidays. It is always decked out in elegant holiday fashion. Look for Santa Storytime and strolling carolers on weekends in December.
You can also book holiday high teas throughout the season at this resort, as well as a special Sparkling Princess Tea & Storytime on December 30, 2023. There are several special experiences schedule throughout the season including ornament making, wreath making, chocolate tastings, painting class, cookie decorating, and Nutcracker tutu school.
At the Great Wolf Lodge of Anaheim, there are several special events and experiences taking place for 2023. Check out our guide to Christmas at Great Wolf Lodge for more information.