‘Tis the season for hot cocoa, festive gatherings . . . and theme parks? Believe it or not, taking the family to an amusement park is the perfect way to kick off the holidays. Theme parks around the Bay Area (and beyond) have hauled out the holly and filled up the stockings to bring families the coolest holiday celebrations around. Their special holiday decorations, attractions, and entertainment are sure to warm the coldest grinchy heart. Flip through to see all the holiday happenings at theme parks from Marin to SoCal.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

At the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, surf and sand go hand in hand with Santa and snow. This oceanfront amusement park is celebrating the holidays Santa Cruz style with an ice rink, holiday train rides, holiday movies and more.

Christmas by the coast

The Boardwalk's Main Entrance Plaza gets a seasonal makeover so you can combine the best of the beach with the best of the holidays. Trade your surfboard for skates and glide across the ice at the Boardwalk's new ice skating rink. Win holiday-themed prizes at select arcade games. Write a letter to Santa or hang ten with him in person. Catch a free holiday movie at Neptune's Stage. With classics like A Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty the Snowman and Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer showing every night, you'll soon be making wonderful holiday memories with your family. And should you find yourself wanting a White Christmas, don't worry: you can enjoy a magical snowfall at the Main Entrance Plaza every hour.

Trains to tinseltown

Santa is coming to Santa Cruz, but he's ditching his sleigh and coming by train! Join Santa and a host of holiday merrymakers on the Santa Cruz Holiday Lights Train. This iconic holiday ride begins at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and takes revelers through the streets of Santa Cruz. Visitors board vintage train cars lavishly decorated with holiday lights. They sip hot spiced cider, sing holiday carols and chat with Santa and Mrs. Claus as the train chugs along its merry way. The fun doesn't stop after the train pulls back into the station. Children who ride the Holiday Lights Train can write a letter to Santa and drop it off at a special North Pole mailbox at Neptune's Kingdom arcade. And families can purchase a pass good for attractions at Neptune's Kingdom for just $6.

In addition, families can celebrate Chanukah on a special Santa Cruz Chanukah Train. On December 14th, vintage cars adorned with lights and Chanukah decorations will be spreading the joys of the season on an evening train ride. The celebration begins with a menorah lighting at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Visitors on the hour-long train ride will enjoy Chanukah stories, dreidel games and Kosher refreshments. Afterwards, families can purchase a pass good for attractions at Neptune's Kingdom for just $6. The Chanukah Train runs for one night only, so don't miss it!

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk's holiday activities run Nov. 11-Jan. 7, 2018. Hours vary; check the Boardwalk website for daily schedules.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
400 Beach Street
Santa Cruz, CA
831-423-5590
Online: beachboardwalk.com

photo: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

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Do you plan to visit an amusement park this holiday season? Which one? Tell us about your experience in a comment!

—Ana Picazo