If the idea of another gaudy Christmas sweater from crazy Aunt Merna, trying to chisel through rock hard fruit cake, or dressing in adult-sized gift boxes for your mother-in-law’s yearly calendar project have you longing for some simpler (and more pleasing) holiday traditions, look no further than North Bay’s Sonoma County.  With many quaint downtown areas and fresh Christmas tree lots in abundance, it’s worth the drive (at least 45 minutes north of the city) where you’re likely to find some new holiday customs for the whole family to enjoy.

Yountville’s 25th Annual Festival of Lights along Washington Street kicks off their month-long Winterfest with visits from Santa, old fashioned carriage rides, foodie-approved noshing, treats for the kiddos and for the grown-ups—wine (it is Napa Valley, after all).  During the evening of the festival, the main strip comes alive with thousands of twinkling lights, perfect for a little jingle bell walk.

Yountville’s Festival of Lights
November 25, 2:00pm – 6:00pm
Along Washington St.

Downtown Petaluma hosts its annual Holiday Open House, a perfect place for an old fashioned Christmas feeling with yummy food all day long, shopping, carriage rides, face painting, balloon art and of course, shopping.  The Holiday Open House is followed by a lighted boat parade starting at 6:00pm.  Bonus: on December 21st more than 25 Petaluma Downtown merchants on Kentucky and Western Streets and Petaluma Boulevard will be open until 9 pm, while local caroling groups spread holiday cheer (and cheer you on as you get through your shopping.  The complimentary cookies, hot spiced cider, and a roasted chestnuts cart are also good motivators!).

Downtown Petaluma Holiday Open House
December 7, all day.  A good place to start is at Petaluma Plaza
N. McDowell Blvd. & E. Washington St.

Pick (and Cut)
Sure, Home Depot’s an easy place to find your family’s yearly Christmas tree but what’s missing is the full holiday effect: a drive through bucolic scenery, the smell of freshly cut trees, and green landscape as far as the eye can see.  Head to Petaluma or Sebastopol where the Christmas Tree lots—and the candy canes—are aplenty.  Grandma Buddy’s Christmas Trees in Sebastopol has an array of “choose and cut” trees, not to mention a beautiful setting of old barns to capture some special moments on film—no filter required.

Grandma Buddy’s Christmas Trees
8575 Graton Rd.
Sebastopol 95472

Charlie Brown has helped many kiddos over the years discover the true meaning of Christmas.  Why not surprise your family with a day of Peanuts nostalgia, winter ice skating and mugs of steaming goodness (with marshmallows on top) all rolled into one?  The Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa will spark happy memories of Schulz’s beloved characters while right next door is Snoopy’s Home Ice, an arena that offers a full range of skating activities.  Top off your visit at Warm Puppy Café for everything from hot chocolate and snacks to a full meal.

Charles M. Schulz Museum
2301 Hardies Ln.
Santa Rosa 95403

Snoopy’s Home Ice
1667 W. Steele Ln.
Santa Rosa 95403

What are some of your favorite, local holiday traditions?

-Mae Respicio

Photo credits:  Image 2 courtesy of Yountville Chamber of Commerce (Jason Tinacci Photography); image 5 courtesy of Charles M. Schulz Museum.  All others courtesy of Mae Respicio.