(Image via Getty)

Mix it up on the merriment with our list of super local seasonal events.

If we’ve learned anything about the holidays over the years, it’s that you gotta navigate all the candy-striped absurdity of the season on your own terms. Otherwise, it can quickly feel like you’re being dragged along through shopping malls, grocery stores and your mother-in-law’s insane expectations…leaving both you and your checking account exhausted by New Year’s Day.

So in the spirit of defying that jolly fat man’s heavy-handed marching orders, we curated this list of wonderfully offbeat local event from around the Peninsula to put your holiday back on a newly festive footing. Take a look….

(Image via the Roaring Camp Railroad website)

Christmas cheer for the kiddos

Let your little ones live out The Polar Express by hopping aboard Roaring Camp’s Santa Cruz Holiday Lights Train. It’s bound to be a magical experience as its vintage cars, aglow with colorful Christmas lights, coasts the tracks beneath the stars. Spiced cider, spirited carols, and a visit from Santa also awaits.

Make some finned friends at the Marine Science Institute’s Holiday Shark Party where you’ll feed leopard sharks and make shark-themed treats. Meanwhile, Mountain View hosts their very first Jingle Ball dance party for the kids (ages 5–14). Jingle all the way with crafts, games, and an appearance by Santa and Mrs. Claus. (Register in advance)

Attend Santa Saturdays at Filoli Gardens for a special hangout with the jolly man himself. Your visit will also include story-time with Mrs. Claus, a sing-a-long and a dance-a-long, arts and crafts, as well as a visit from a pair of adorable Christmas ponies. You can also hunt down Saint Nick at any of the Redwood City Public Libraries.

A scene from Filoli’s “Santa Saturdays,” all month until Christmas. (Image courtesy of Gretchine Nievarez/Filoli)

Christmas classics

Travel back to 1860s London at The Great Dickens Christmas Fair, a make-believe city erected within the wide-expanse of the Cow Palace. As you wander its streets, you’ll encounter everyone from historical inhabitants (like sooty chimney sweeps and period Christmas carolers) to fictional folks (like Scrooge and Oliver Twist).

Over at Vasona Lake, the Fantasy of Lights drive-thru offers 1.5 miles of holiday lights in a glowing kaleidoscope of colors. Tune into the accompanying music station to set the festive mood, before cruising by radiant rainbow tunnels, dazzling deer, and glowing evergreen trees. If you’d prefer a free music choreographed light show, there’s a decked out residence on Valota Road in Redwood City you’ve got to check out. The homeowners have incorporated 20-foot mega trees, a light tunnel and digital fireworks.

Dancers descend on downtown for the Night of Lights, along Main Street in Half Moon Bay. (Image by Charles Russo)

At Night of Lights in downtown Half Moon Bay enjoy an evening of carolers, carriage rides, roasted chestnuts, boutiques (open late to accommodate your holiday shopping needs), a tree lighting ceremony at Mac Dutra Plaza and, the event’s crowning glory, the magical Parade of Lights down Main Street. Redwood City’s Winter Wonderland provides families with opportunities to decorate cookies, make ornaments, and walk around a life-size Candyland.

If you celebrate Hannukkah, attend LatkePalooza for interactive art, live music, crafts, bounce houses, candle lighting, and lots of latkes. There will also be a Shababa Tot Zone as well as storytime and singing with Rabbi Lavey’s Joyous Table.

(Image via San Jose Made website)

Find the perfect present

At the San Jose Craft Holiday Fair, find emerging creative small businesses as well as DIY workshops. Over 275 makers, artists, designers, food vendors, and other local brands bring a collection of unique gift ideas from upcycled jewelry and watercolor illustrations to wine bottle candles and hand-painted chocolates. Many of them also have adorably alliterative names (like Traced in Timber and Sea Senorita Studios).

A plethora of pastas. (Image via Bay Area Italian Events Instagram Page)

Pacifica Winter Art Faire fills three galleries with handcrafted jewelry, ceramics, skincare products, and other items as well as offers the chance to meet the artists and create a little something yourself.

For the vintage treasure hunter and the discerning decorator, Half Moon Bay Antiques & Collectibles Show is not to be missed with its collection of furniture, sterling silverware, Asian antiquities, vintage clothing, and other valuables. In attendance will be Steven Yvaska (a celebrity appraiser called “The Antiques Adviser” whose delivered programs on subjects like ocean liner memorabilia, sterling silver, and postcards) who will offer his services identifying and evaluating family heirlooms and garage sale finds.

Embrace the Peninsula’s vibrant multi-culturalism with the Bay Area’s Natale (Italian Christmas Market) in Palo Alto. With about 30 vendors with Italian-themed food and artsy gifts, it’s your chance to stock up on olive oil, Venetian masks, and gelato.

Another option is the German Holiday Market with even more handcrafted items (plus live entertainment, carnival games, photos with Santa, and all the glühwein and würste you can consume).

Now in it’s 15th year at Devil’s Canyon in San Carlos. (Image via the DC Website)

Festive Feasts (…and drinks!!)

Ready to make merry? Devil’s Canyon is hosting its 15th annual Holiday Hootenanny, a big holiday hoedown for the whole family. Order up one of their many fine microbrews and enjoy music from the likes of the Wildcat Mountain Ramblers and the Brookdale Bluegrass Band. If you’ve never been…we’re telling ya.

Speaking of great local traditions — Shoreline Lake is hosting its annual Winter Chestnut Festival. Watch them roasting on an open fire and then take home a fresh bag still piping hot! (Various times throughout the month…check ahead).

Need to take a break from shopping and have a drink? Armstrong Brewery is releasing it’s new barrel-aged coffee stout AND hosting a toy drive too. Bring a gift and have a pint.

The Circle of St Paul’s Church in Burlingame will be hosting their annual Christmas Tea (and Boutique). Enjoy the slower pace of tea time and shop for some gifts too. And it’s an Ugly Sweater Party (+ white elephant and potluck) with the Peninsula Empty Nesters.

Little elves, ages five through twelve, line up to go onstage during Western Ballet’s production of the Nutcracker at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts on Dec. 2, 2018. (Photo by Magali Gauthier)

Merry music and Nutcracker’s galore

The Holiday Heist with Jazz Mafia tops our list of what not-to-miss. The popular Bay Area jazz outfit plays Bing Studio for a hip holiday-themed shindig with drink specials and lots of festive atmosphere. (Multiple performances 12/12–12/14).

Over at Club Fox in Redwood City it’s gonna be a Grateful Dead Xmas (really though…aren’t they all) with an entire night devoted to the music of Palo Alto icon Jerry Garcia. Melvin Seals and JGB will provide the sounds for a Merry Jerry! Prefer something on the twangier side? Out on the Coastside, Old Princeton Landing is hosting A Country Christmas on the Saturday before the holiday. Expect a rowdy one!

Let it goooo….the Ice Queen at MVCPA. (Image via the MVCPA website)

On the stage side of things, the Los Altos Stage Company is performing their version of the Christmas classic “Miracle on 34th Street.” Meanwhile, the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts is staging a ballet production of Hans Christian Anderson’s Snow Queen (which your daughter likely knows as Frozen). Or, head to Woodside for “Twas the Night Before Christmas” by the Dancers Repertory Theatre. How about a Christmas Cabaret? Broadway by the Bay’s “Jingle All the Way” is your ticket.

And wait…don’t forget Nutcracker Mania!! If you prefer a traditional version of the holiday classic consider the ambitious productions over at Palo Alto Children’s Theatre or Peninsula Youth Ballet. And don’t forget the elaborately-staged production by Peninsula Ballet. Prefer a more modern take? There’s the Hip Hop Nutcracker at the Fox Theatre or (just up the block) you can check out the Nutcracker Circus Show at the Dragon Theatre. And last but certainly not least, the Menlowe Ballet returns with their very popular “It’s a Wonderful Nutcracker.

And speaking of…the Stanford Theatre will have two Christmas Eve showings of It’s a Wonderful Life. Merry Christmas old movie house!!

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Sometimes our work is a collaborative effort, hence the "staff" byline. The best of what to eat, see and do on the SF Peninsula.

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