There’s nothing wrong with a mall Santa photo (and if that’s your thing, scroll to the bottom for the best mall bets), but sometimes it’s nice to hang with the Jolly Guy in a place that doesn’t judge you for all the shopping (and wrapping) you still need to do. Santa trains aren’t the only Kris-Kringle experience beyond the retail centers. Read on for the best unique Santa experiences in the DMV.

photo: Norma Fayak Photogrphay 

Story Time with Santa

Norma Fayak Photography
Snuggle up with the man-in-the-suit for a special story time. Let your little one enjoy a Christmas tale while Fayak, a Virginia-based photographer, snaps the perfect picture. This photo sessions goes beyond the Christmas List mall experience; your Nice List nominee can crack the spine of his or her favorite Christmas tale while sharing some giggles with Santa himself.

When: Select dates
125 Mill St, Occoquan, VA

Hooray for Books! Visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus
Tisara Photography will be on hand to capture your little one spending quality time with Santa and his better half. Advanced reservations are required; secure your time slot with a donation to Alexandria Domestic Violence Program (no donation is too small).

When: 12-3 p.m. on Dec. 14
1555 King St, Alexandria, VA


photo: Nick Eckert via Visit Alexandria 

Unique Photo Ops

Old Town Alexandria
For over thirty years, Santa has skied the open waters of the Potomac River. Santa’s elves, Frosty the Snowman, and even the Grinch get in on the Christmas fun. For a good view, head to the Old Town’s waterfront directly in front of the Torpedo Factory. Following the performance, enjoy a holiday sing-along and some hot chocolate with Ol’ Nick himself. Be sure to bring your camera for selfies.

When: December 24, 1 p.m.
1A Prince St., Alexanrdia, VA

Holley TrolleyFest
Train crazy kids will go bananas for the National Capital Trolley Museum’s annual Holly TrolleyFest where they can ride the rails with Santa Claus, and check out a trolley themed holiday village. Mini-conductors will get a charge out of the marriage between Christmas and trains, and will probably beg to go ‘round and ‘round again.

When: 12:30-4:30 p.m. on Dec. 7-8, 14-15, 21-22
1313 Bonifant Rd., Colesville, MD

National Harbor
When a simple Santa meet-and-greet with won’t due, check out the Christmas Village at the Gaylord National. In addition to photo ops with the guy in the red suit, you’l find an indoor carousel, a miniature train, gingerbread decorating, story time with Mrs. Clause and more. The Gaylord is also host to the Grinch-themed ice sculpture exhibit, ICE! (tickets start at $25).

201 Waterfront Street, National Harbor, MD

Broadland Village Center
Dash through the snow in a horse-drawn carriage with Kris Kringle himself! Kids can cozy up to the jolly gift giver while enjoying an old-fashioned drive. This free event also features holiday music, food, crafts and door prizes. Boarding will take place in front of Parallel Wine and Whiskey Bar.

When: 6-8 p.m on Nov. 30
43150 Broadlands Center Plaza, Ashburn, VA

photo: Mike Arney via Unsplash 

Santa on the Farm

Hillsborough Vineyards and Brewery
There is nothing wrong with cozying up to a mall Santa, but if you’re looking for a total immersion experience, head an hour west to this hillside winery. Santa isn’t the only one coming to town. Special winter-themed guests also make appearances at this annual fundraiser. The entrance fee is a new, unwrapped toy donation to Toys for Tots. Guests are free to snap pictures; professional images are being offered for $10.

When: 11 a.m.- 5 p.m. on Dec. 8
36716 Charles Town Pike, Purcellville, VA

Cox Farms
The fun at Cox Farms doesn’t end in the fall—Santa visits Cox Farms’ Corner Market a few times a year. The staff (or “friendly elves”) will even take photos and email them to you, free of charge! While you’re there, make sure to pick up a live tree.

When: 11 a.m-1 p.m on Nov. 30, Dec. 1, 7 & 8
15621 Braddock Rd., Centreville, VA


photo: Hiller Aviation Museum 


College Park Aviation Museum
If your child happens to prefer planes over trains, we’ve got you covered: head over to the historic College Park Airport to watch Santa fly in with some help from the Prince George’s County Police Aviation Unit! All ages are welcome to make holiday arts and crafts before having their picture taken with Santa. Admission is $5 and includes admission to the museum.

When: 12-4 p.m. on Dec. 7
1985 Corporal Frank Scott Dr., College Park, MD

Leesburg Executive Airport
You may not catch Santa in his sleigh, but you can greet him on the tarmac at this airport open house. Forget touch-a-truck; this free event lets young and old get up-close to the equipment that keeps the second largest general aviation airport running. Be sure to bring an unwrapped gift to support the Toys for Tots collection.

When: 12-3 p.m. on Dec. 8 (Santa arrives at 1 p.m.)
1001 Sycolin Rd., Leesburg VA


Breakfast in Winter Wonderland
Start the day off with a cozy fireside breakfast with Santa at this annual fundraiser. In addition to pictures with the Ho-Ho-Holiday maker (8-10:30 a.m.), kids can decorate their own cookies. Be sure to stick around for the Middleburg Christmas Parade later in the day.

When: 7:45-10:30 a.m. on Dec. 7
101 N. Madison Street, Middleburg, VA

Breakfast with Santa
Families looking for an extra special visit with Santa should check out Breakfast with Santa at the Del Ray United Methodist Church in Alexandria. The whole fam can munch on French toast casserole and a delicious egg bake (this church has amazing cooks) with friends and neighbors while waiting on the big guy himself. Candy canes, Christmas carols, and a few surprises or two await little ones anxious to tell Santa their hopes and dreams (or maybe just about their favorite toys!). When you hear the reindeer tap, tap, tap on the roof you’ll know Santa’s about to light up the room. Tip: The event is free, but a canned good donation for Rising Hope Food Bank is encouraged.

When: 9 a.m-12 p.m on Dec. 7
100 E. Windsor Ave., Alexandria, VA

Brunch with Santa at Winter WonderLansdowne
Indulge in a Sat. brunch at this NOVA resort where Kris Kringle makes the rounds character-meal style. This is a BYOC event (bring your own camera). The best part: children under 4 are free.

When: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Dec. 7, 14 & 21
44050 Woodridge Pkwy, Leesburg, VA

photo: Courtesy of Delianny Brammer


Tysons Galleria
The great thing about visiting Santa at Tyson’s II (aside from indulging your window shopping at Neiman Marcus, Gucci, and Ferragamo) is that you can reserve your space in line…online! Now your little ones will shine bright like the Christmas star instead of acting like wild stallions who’ve been waiting for hours. When you book your spot to see Santa, you can also save up to 30% off your photo package. Reserve before December 9th and save an extra $5! It’s a Merry Christmas indeed.

2001 International Dr., McLean, VA

Mazza Gallerie
Mini-fashionistas will adore Mazza’s own version of a Winter Wonderland with its fancy Santa chair, perfect for holding multiple siblings who’ve waited patiently for their turn to whisper their dreams into Santa’s ear, oodles of snow (!) and Santa’s elves who busy themselves entertaining kiddos and working hard making toys for the big day.

5300 Wisconsin Ave. NW

Mall at Prince Georges
Santa comes in all colors. Having trouble finding one that looks like your family? Check out this app. Or you can simply head to Prince Georges, which hosts the closest black Santa to the DMV. The Mall of PG has been celebrating Christmas with a black Santa for over a decade. Be sure to reserve a FastPass; people travel 100’s of miles to visit with this St. Nick and there are limited spots available this season. Want to include your four-legged friends in the pic? Be sure to visit on a Monday when the big guy himself will wrap your family in his arms – with your furbaby on his lap – and smile for the camera.

3500 East West Hwy., Hyattsville, MD

Dulles Town Center
Families who want a picture with Jolly Ole’ Saint Nick, but don’t have a lot of free time should check Santa’s Dulles Town Center schedule…stat. There are more times to get your little elves’ pictures with Santa than presents will fit on his sleigh. So whether you’re pressed for time, and need to get your pictures done ASAP, or want to wait a few more weeks for the Christmas Spirit to descend upon you, you’ll have the pick of the times when you visit Santa at Dulles Town Center.

21100 Dulles Town Cir., Dulles, VA

–Meghan Meyers and Katie Brown

featured photo: Westfield UTC


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