Silicon Valley's Dazzling Holiday Light Displays

Nancy Dinshaw
December 2, 2023
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Exploring holiday light displays is one of our favorite seasonal activities, and the Bay Area is full of dazzling options. From twinkling neighborhoods to immersive light experiences, these destinations promise a brilliant holiday adventure for all ages. Imagine walking or driving through a wonderland of millions of lights, riding a train surrounded by festive decorations, marveling at Christmas lights amidst a snowy scene, or joining a menorah lighting ceremony.

Beyond the lights, you'll find tasty treats (including hot chocolate!), entertainment, and even opportunities to meet Santa. We've included areas renowned for homes decked out in holiday splendor. Whether you love sophisticated displays or vibrant LED extravaganzas, these are our top picks for savoring the holiday spirit and soaking in the joyous atmosphere!

Check out my blog post Silicon Valley's Best Christmas Tree Farms and my upcoming events page for more holiday fun!

Santa Claus is coming to town!

Santa will be making his annual visit to the Bay Area at a number of different locations this season. Save your spot here.

Fairmont San Francisco Christmas Gingerbread House

Every year, the lobby of the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill is beautifully lit with a giant Christmas tree and life-sized Gingerbread House on display from Thanksgiving through the New Year. With hundreds of bricks of real gingerbread baked by their pastry team and many pounds of See’s Candies, their Gingerbread House display is a sight to behold! For a truly unique experience, consider booking a private dining session inside the Gingerbread House, accommodating up to 8 guests. Immerse yourself in the rich aromas and festive sounds of the holiday season.

Embark on a new holiday tradition with the Fairmont San Francisco’s Holiday Tea. Revel in the elegant ambiance of Laurel Court, savoring steaming pots of exquisite loose-leaf tea, freshly baked scones, delightful tea sandwiches, and an array of sumptuous pastries and sweets (see their menu) with your family and friends. Visit OpenTable to reserve a table.

  • Address: 950 Mason Street, San Francisco, CA 94108
  • Date: Thanksgiving to Jan 1st, 2024
  • Price: Free to look around the lobby. Fairmont Holiday Tea is $169/adults and $95/kids under 12 plus of 20% service charge and 8.625% tax. Special buffets on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Eve.

Holidays at Filoli

Begin a delightful new holiday tradition with Holidays at Filoli! Experience the wonder of the House, beautifully adorned in holiday cheer, and meander through the enchanting winter garden, aglow with twinkling festive lights and decorations.

On the Dining Room Terrace, cozy up around the firepit and savor warm hot cider or aromatic mulled wine. With daily seatings at 3 pm, 5 pm, and 7 pm, this exclusive service provides a magical ambiance perfect for making memories with friends and family.

Delight in the Holiday Tea at Filoli's Garden House, a serene retreat where elegance and nature blend harmoniously. Enjoy a range of delicate finger sandwiches, freshly baked scones, and exquisite patisseries, all paired beautifully with fine tea and champagne in this tranquil and elegant setting.

On select dates, Santa will be making special appearances in the charming Woodland Garden Court. Guests have a unique opportunity to capture a memorable photo with Santa on his festive golden throne. Complete your visit with a delightful hot drink and a holiday treat!

To secure your magical moment, reserve your spot in advance on the Filoli website, as spaces are limited.

  • Address: 86 Cañada Road, Woodside, CA
  • Date: November 18, 2023 – January 7, 2024 from 10am – 9pm
  • Price: $39-43 (adult), $29-33 (child 5-17 yrs old), Free (under 5 yrs old); members receive 20% off

Christmas Tree Lane

Christmas Tree Lane celebrates its 82nd lighting this year! Get into the spirit of the season with a leisurely walk or drive through the Christmas displays, with the carolers, vintage lawn displays, and thousands of holiday lights. Open to both pedestrians and car traffic.

Los Altos Festival of Lights Parade

A cherished annual tradition in Los Altos, the parade features local school marching bands, an array of floats including the Teddy Bear, Mother Goose, and Ferris Wheel, alongside dancing elves, and, of course, Santa Claus. If you can't attend this year, be sure to catch the replay here.

Holiday Carriage Rides

Embrace the holiday spirit with a carriage ride through downtown Los Gatos' beautifully decorated streets This annual event invites you and your loved ones to enjoy the holiday lights and cheer from the cozy comfort of a horse-drawn carriage. This delightful journey comes with homemade cookies and hot chocolate. Be sure to make advanced reservations, as this popular event tends to book up quickly. Don’t miss the chance to be part of this cherished annual tradition!

  • Address: Downtown Los Gatos, Los Gatos, CA
  • Date: Select dates from December 7th - 23rd from 5pm to after 9pm
  • Price: Regular carriage is $130, max 6 people (up to 4 adults + 2 children under 8 years old); large carriage is $160 for up to six adults.

Fantasy of Lights

Fantasy of Lights, now celebrating its 25th year, has become a beloved part of the community's holiday celebrations for a quarter of a century. This enchanting event invites you to a magical evening either from the comfort of your vehicle or on a leisurely walk through the park. As you drive, tune into holiday music on your car radio to accompany the large animated displays, or enjoy the festive lights on a stroll with family and friends. Highlights include the thrilling Dinosaur Den with an erupting volcano, Santa playing basketball, playful penguins, blazing pirate cannons, and tunnels of moving lights. With over 50 themed displays and a magnificent 90-foot twinkling tree, you’re sure to be captivated at every turn during this festive adventure. You must purchase your ticket online in advance.

  • Address: Vasona Lake County Park, Los Gatos, CA
  • Date: Walk-through: December 2nd & 3rd from 4pm - 9pm; drive-through December 5th – 30th, 6pm – 10pm (closed Christmas day)
  • Price: $30 per vehicle, $50 for oversized vehicles (capacity 13+)

California's Great America WINTERFEST

WinterFest at California’s Great America returns, shining brighter than ever as the park transforms into a festive winter wonderland. Guests at WinterFest can ice-skate on Snow Flake Lake, stroll down festive Candy Cane Lane, and be dazzled by stunning lights while enjoying crafted hot chocolate and spectacular live shows. With over 60 rides and attractions, there's plenty to do, from writing letters to the North Pole and exploring Santa’s workshop to baking cookies in Mrs. Claus’ kitchen. The event also features live entertainment and a delicious holiday menu, offering savory mains, delectable desserts, and tempting snacks. The highlight is one of the Bay Area’s tallest Christmas trees, glowing with thousands of lights and flanked by giant toy soldiers. This captivating event, with its millions of lights, promises a memorable family Christmas experience.

Enchant Christmas

Enchant Christmas, billed as the World’s Most Magical Christmas Light Maze & Village, is set to illuminate PayPal Park, home of the San Jose Earthquakes, once again. From trees that sparkle 80 ft. in the air, to enormous Christmas ornaments, a narrative-driven maze adventure and millions of shimmering lights, Enchant offers an array of holiday activities, ensuring a memorable experience for all:

  • All New Light Maze: Embark on a fully-immersive sensory journey with Santa’s Magic Timepiece, where you'll hunt for eight missing star fragments to save Christmas.
  • The Village: Sample seasonal delights while shopping for holiday gifts from dozens of local vendors, showcasing home décor, jewelry, gourmet foods, and more.
  • Santa's Landing: Stop by Santa’s Landing in the Enchant Village to meet Santa and discover if you're on the naughty or nice list! Don't miss the chance for your annual photo with Santa, with professional photography options available.
  • Ice-Skating Trail: Glide through a sparkling forest of Christmas lights on real ice. Skates are provided for a memorable ice skating experience.
  • Little Elves Play Space: Enchant offers a special area for families, away from the main festivities. Included with any admission ticket, this area is designed for children aged 0-7 years old, offering a variety of fun activities tailored to their enjoyment.

Enjoy holiday-themed food and beverages that are sure to surprise and delight the foodies in your family. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit Enchant Christmas.

Santana Row Holiday Events

Explore the unique holiday decorations while enjoying all that Santana Row has to offer this holiday season:

  • Meet the Grinch: Meet the Grinch for a photo opportunity in Park Valencia (in front of Maggiano's) on Nov 24th from 2-4 PM. If you miss him at Santana Row, try to catch him at one of his other stops during his San Jose Thanksgiving Weekend Takeover!
  • Santana Snow Showers: It’s snowing on The Row every Tuesday & Saturday from 6pm to 8 pm in December! Santana Row brings the North Pole to San Jose for a festive, holiday celebration.
  • Spirit of the Row: Get into the Spirit of The Row, every Tuesday in December leading up to Christmas from 6 pm to 8 pm. Enjoy performances by local community groups on the main stage in Santana Row Park. During the shows, Left Bank will offer Hot Cocoa to-go for a warm treat!
  • Makers Market in The Park: Celebrate the holiday season by supporting local businesses at Santana Row on Saturday, December 9th, from 11 am to 5 pm! Enjoy live music, explore unique offerings from local artisans, and savor delicious food and drinks at the area's excellent eateries. Be sure to visit Makers Market's physical store for more American-made finds. It's a perfect day out for the whole family, including kids and pets, filled with shopping, dining, and entertainment.

For more information, see the Santana Row Holiday Events or contact the Santana Row Concierge at 408-551-4611.

Christmas in the Park

Christmas in the Park is an annual holiday tradition that takes place in the heart of Downtown San Jose at the Plaza de Cesar Chavez. Each year, the two-acre park is transformed into a holiday wonderland with over 40 musical and animated exhibits, glittering lights and a 50-foot illuminated Christmas Tree. Enjoy a winter wonderland of lights, songs and daily local entertainment while strolling through an enchanted forest of trees decorated by the community.

After a long summer at the North Pole, Santa is back at Christmas in the Park from November 25th to December 24th. Bring your camera and take pictures with jolly Old Nick himself!

"Christmas in the Park" Drive Thru Light Show

Experience a spectacular light show synchronized to music in the 2023 drive-through event, sure to create lasting memories. Your ticket purchase supports Christmas in the Park, a nonprofit organization. For more information and to book your timeslot, visit the Christmas in the Park website.

Dave's Christmas Lights Benefiting Make-a-Wish

For almost 20 years, this Willow Glen house at 1851 Cherry Ave has been displaying Christmas Lights to raise money to support sick children. You're invited to see the Christmas display, and leave a tax-deductible donation at one of the curbside bins or online at Make-a-Wish Foundation. Mr. and Mrs. Claus usually make an appearance!

Plan to make a night of it! Willow Glen is known for its holiday light displays and Christmas trees so take some time to tour this San Jose neighborhood.

Roaring Camp Railroads Holiday Lights Trains

Holiday Tree Walk: Get into the holiday spirit by taking the family on a 75-minute roundtrip ride on the Redwood Forest Steam Train. The trip starts at Roaring Camp depot in Felton, California and runs through Redwood forests to the top of nearby Bear Mountain, a distance of 3.25 miles. Greet Santa Claus while sipping hot cocoa. Enjoy winter themed activities while in town. See complete schedule and purchase tickets online.

  • Address: 5401 Graham Hill Rd, Felton, CA
  • Date: Departs Daily
  • Price: $39.95 adult (13 and up), $24.95 child (2-12 yrs old). Special Event Rates: $44.95 adult, $29.95 child; group tickets available.

Holiday Lights Train: Alternatively ride the Santa Cruz Beach Train from the Santa Cruz boardwalk. Enjoy train cars adorned with thousands of colorful lights, while rolling past Santa Cruz homes. There will be a visit by Santa, hot-spiced cider, live music and a holiday sing-along. See schedule and purchase tickets online.

  • Address: Santa Cruz Boardwalk, Santa Cruz, CA
  • Date: November 24-26, December 2-3, 9-10 and 16-23
  • Price: Standard Class Canopy Cars: $49.95 adult (13 and up), $35.95 children (2-12 yrs old); First Class Coach Cars: $64.95 adult, $45.95 child; group tickets available

Chanukah Train: Share in a new Chanukah tradition with a train ride through Santa Cruz, where you'll enjoy Chanukah stories, play dreidel, and savor kosher refreshments provided by Chabad by the Sea. There will be a lighting of the Menorah 15 mins before departure.

Holiday Lights | Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds

Create a new family tradition at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds this holiday season! Imagine over a half-mile of dazzling holiday displays: towering Christmas trees adorned with twinkling lights, Santa, reindeer, snowmen, illuminated tunnels, and other enchanting sights. Experience this wonderland from the comfort of your car, accompanied by holiday carols on your radio. Following your journey through the magical lights, visit the Holiday Food Stands for your favorite fair treats. Tickets for Holiday Lights are available now on Eventbrite.

Find the perfect gift for your loved ones at the 2023 Heritage Holiday Craft and Gift Fair. Adult admission is $10, children aged 6 to 11 are $5, and it's free for those 6 & under, including access to the Holiday Lights Walk-Thru. This exclusive two-day event is on Friday, Dec 1st, and Saturday, Dec 2nd, from noon to 9 pm.

Gilroy Gardens Holiday

The magic returns to Gilroy Gardens in the form of North Pole Nights where the entire park is transformed into the North Pole, with new friends and new adventures throughout. Explore Santa's Workshop, write a letter to Santa, and take a stroll through the animated musical Light Tunnel. Enhance your visit with ice-skating, cookie baking in Mrs. Claus' Cookie Corner, or savor a holiday feast.

North Pole Nights at Gilroy Gardens features the musical show "The Magic of Santa," featuring delightful characters such as Rudy the polar bear, Skitter the mouse, and Tinsel the dancing Christmas tree. Keep an eye out for a special appearance by Santa himself! This vibrant, family-oriented performance is included with park admission and occurs multiple times each evening. Join in the singing and dancing to help the characters convey their wishes to Santa, creating holiday magic in the process!

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