‘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.

Gilroy Gardens

This December, Gilroy Gardens dons its gayest apparel and shines its brightest lights for Holiday@Night. Visits with Santa, skating under the stars, live entertainments and twinkling holiday lights are sure to put a twinkle in your little elves' eyes and keep them glowing through the New Year.

Seasonal Sights

Gilroy Gardens has truly decked their halls in style. The lush surroundings are filled with holiday decorations that enhance, rather than replace, the park's natural beauty. The giant candy canes at Candy Cane Lane (also known as the bridge leading up to the park entrance) and the bright red poinsettias at the Monarch Garden greenhouse add a splash of holiday color to an already beautiful landscape. The decor forms the perfect backdrop for a host of holiday activities, including ice skating, Santa visits, a Charlie Brown Christmas performance and make-your-own s'mores stations. Don't miss the 12 Days of Christmas ride. Hop on a 1920's roadster or a 50's Chevy and cruise through three acres of holiday scenes based on the classic Christmas carol. Then climb aboard the North Pole Express and chug around the park as you take in the holiday sights.

Merry & Bright

However festive Gilroy Gardens may be during the daytime, it's at night when the park truly comes alive. All the trees—and there are a lot of them—are draped with millions of twinkling lights, including palm trees, 40 foot-tall Gilroy Gardens' famous Circus Trees. The lights transform these elaborately grafted trees into glimmering, shimmering sculptures that twist and turn in wondrous ways. Lighted holiday displays can be found all over the park, including some fun animated ones across Coyote Lake. Head to Bonfante Waterfalls for the Illumination show, an enchanting light and water display set to classic Christmas carols and take another ride on the 12 Days of Christmas to see those calling birds and turtle doves all lit up.

Holiday@Night runs Dec. 1-30. Hours vary; check the Gilroy Gardens website for daily schedules.

3050 Hecker Pass Highway
Gilroy, CA
408-840-7100
Online: gilroygardens.org

photo: Gilroy Gardens

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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