Winter Wonderlands: 6 Christmas Vacations
Whether you’re craving a getaway to the snow, the city, or the sea this season, we suggest venturing to one of these nearby destinations for good food, cozy lodging, and festive events.
Holidays are magical in the City by the Bay, as cable cars get dressed with wreaths, Union Square debuts its giant tree and ice-skating rink, and storefronts dazzle with luxurious gifts.
STAY: The Westin St. Francis, a stunningly historic property (originally built in 1904) sits amid the holiday hustle and bustle of Union Square, and is the primo place to stay at Christmastime—or any time you’re in the city. We suggest staying in the recently renovated Landmark Building for a room with a new look but an old soul. Coupled with the steps-away cable car stop and their “Holiday Hideaway” package—where kids and their parents can enjoy fun surprises like life-sized toy soldiers, in-room miniature Christmas trees, and magical elves—a visit here needs to be added to your wish list.
EAT: With pop-up roots, Eko Kitchen opened in May as the city’s first Nigerian restaurant. The Lagosian comfort food-inspired menu includes stewed smoked goat with fried plantains, pan roasted tilapia, and puff puffs (donut holes).
PLAY: Christmas Eve in 1944 saw the American premier of The Nutcracker at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House, striking a holiday tradition for many families. Fast forward to today, and you won’t want to miss the San Francisco Ballet Nutcracker, which runs from December 11-29.
Mendocino’s crisp seaside air and quaint village shops beckon with unique local crafts—perfect for checking off all the names on your list.
STAY: The Inn & Spa at Schoolhouse Creek offers private cottages and rooms with ocean views, including the romantic Water Tower, which was once an armory and lookout and now houses a hot tub. Leave holiday stress behind with an onsite massage or grab creatively made brunch fare at Circa '62 just steps away.
EAT: Located in an 1893 Victorian farmhouse that’s surrounded by a garden overflowing with antique roses, edible flowers, and unusual plants, Café Beaujolais offers enticing seasonal specials with a California-French flair. Try a Niman Ranch steak paired with bone marrow mashed potatoes and sautéed garlic spinach.
PLAY: In nearby Fort Bragg, hop aboard the Magical Christmas Train (through December 30) for a scenic ride through the redwoods—complete with hot cocoa, Santa, and strolling musicians.
With its walkable Main Street, nearby Christmas tree farms, and wineries, Placerville provides jolly fun for the entire family.
STAY: Ponderosa Ridge is nestled on 11 acres with its own apple orchard, a lounge-worthy wraparound porch, and a window-filled hot tub room. Adding to the season’s satisfaction is a scratch-made morning meal that includes pastries and other stick-to-your-ribs country fare.
EAT: Revamped with a gorgeous mahogany bar and cocktail menu to match, Bene! Ristorante Italiano is known for their Neapolitan pizza and handmade pasta from quality ingredients. Talk about the perfect stop to warm up (and fill up) before bracing the cold weather.
PLAY: Marshall Gold Discovery State Park’s historic buildings dress up for the holidays and are open to the public during Christmas in Coloma (December 7-8), complete with gift vendors, wreath making, carriage rides, live music, and festive treats.
Known as the Zinfandel capital of the world, wineries abound here, yet there’s so much more to see and do, too, like the Lodi Lake Wilderness Area and boutique-filled historical district.
STAY: The Inn at Locke House—with views of the Mokelumne River bluffs and sweeping vineyards—is homey perfection during the holidays. Note: The three-level Water Tower suite is the most secluded and romantic.
EAT: The Dancing Fox bakes handcrafted breads each morning in their wood-fired brick oven from Spain. Winter favorites include the tri tip green chili melt on jalapeño sourdough and house-made wild boar sausage on dark rye roll.
PLAY: The 28th Annual Festival of Trees (December 7-8) features over 60 uniquely decorated Christmas trees to spur holiday glee. Along with Santa visits, you’ll find make-and-take crafts, historical exhibits, and pioneer work demonstrations.
Nevada City provides quintessential Christmas vibes with its jolly historic district that’s sprinkled with unique shops and inviting pubs.
STAY: You’ll feel secluded at the four-story, 1861 Victorian house-turned-hotel, Gold Creek Inn Bed & Breakfast, with its forested outdoor space along tranquil Gold Run Creek. During the holidays it’s particularly inviting; plus, downtown is a mere 10-minute walk away.
EAT: Known for their beer and wood-fired sourdough crust pizzas, Three Forks Bakery & Brewing Co. also serves up delectable pastries, cakes, and sandwiches on their homemade breads baked from organic ingredients.
PLAY: Stroll lamp-lit streets dressed in costume while the aroma of roasted chestnuts fills the air during Victorian Christmas (December 8, 11, 15, 18, and 22). Expect wandering carolers, yuletide treats and libations, and vendors hawking their artistic wares.
Known as one of the top 10 most “Christmassy” towns in America, Solvang—sited off the Central Coast in the Santa Ynez Valley—is a charming Danish village that ignites holiday cheer amongst everyone.
STAY: Wine Valley Inn & Cottages boasts stylish, well-appointed chateaus and private cottages, many with fireplaces. Enjoy complimentary breakfast, an onsite spa, and bicycle rentals.
EAT: You’ll find tempting sandwiches and salads at Paula’s Pancake House, yet their namesake flapjacks are the real stars. Try the savory Danish variety with sliced sausage or sweet with warm cinnamon apples.
PLAY: Old world tradition meets modern wine country during the annual Julefest (through January 3) where you can delight in the parade, tree lighting, wine and beer walk, candlelight tours, nativity pageant, and more.
By Heather L. Nelson