Under-the-Radar Spots to See Santa

If you are looking for a spot to get some quality time with Santa Claus that doesn’t include a trip to the mall, then this list is for you! We gathered up a slew of our favorite Bay Area spots to see Santa where he arrives by helicopter, visits on a train and hits the beach via outrigger canoe. The photos are guaranteed to be unlike last year’s mall version, that’s for sure!

San Francisco

photo: Kathryn Whitney © California Academy of Sciences

SCUBA Santa at the California Academy of Sciences—San Francisco

Come get merry with some marine science! Watch as a diver dressed as Santa plunges into the Philippine Coral Reef—the world’s deepest indoor coral reef—to answer all of your reef-related questions.

55 Music Concourse Dr.
San Francisco, CA

Dates: Dec. 12-25, 11:30 a.m.
Online: redtri.com

East Bay

photo: Maria Rodriguez/Children's Fairyland

Children’s Fairyland—Oakland

Fairyland transforms into Fairy Winterland throughout the month of December and celebrates the holidays of the season, including Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Las Posadas, Diwali and Chinese New Year. Every day includes special holiday story time and a parade of lights, so Santa is the icing on the gingerbread house. Black Santa is there two weekends in December so plan your visit accordingly! 

699 Bellevue Ave.
Oakland, CA
When:  Daily visits with Black Santa on Dec. 13-15, 20-23
Cost:  $12 for adults and kids over age 1, $6 for members

Christmas Tree Lane—Alameda

Readers choice, this Alameda neighborhood has been in the Christmas spirit every year since 1938! Beginning on Dec. 1 Santa will be appearing nightly and you can bring your own camera to get that perfect shot. The lights stay on until 10 p.m., so after you’ve said hello to Santa you can check out amazing displays of holiday cheer.

3200 block of Thompson Ave.
Between High & Fernside
Alameda, CA
Online: facebook.com/christmastreelane

Black Santa and Mrs. C at Jack London Square—Oakland

Visit Baron Davis’ Black Santa Company pop-up store in Jack London Square to purchase official Black Santa merchandise and take a family photo with Black Santa and Mrs. C. The store is open Fridays 4-7 p.m. and Saturdays-Sundays 11 a.m.-6 p.m. See below for photo hours.

Dates: Photos with Black Santa and Mrs. C available Sat.-Sun. 12-4 p.m. through Dec. 24
Online: redtri.com 

South Bay/Peninsula

Surfing Santa—Capitola Village

By outrigger canoe and surfboard, Surfin’ Santa and the Reindeer will make their way to the shores of Capitola for their annual visit. Head to the beach to welcome Santa’s wave-riding arrival. Once Santa lands on shore, he’ll joyfully greet the crowd before settling in his beach chair for a nice long visit with all the kids. Be sure to bring your camera to capture a memorable day in Capitola. Enjoy refreshments and face painting while waiting to visit with Santa.

Capitola Beach
Date: Nov. 30 at noon
Online: redtri.com

photo: Hiller Aviation Museum

Santa Arrives via Helicopter at the Hiller—San Carlos

Join in Christmas carols by the West Bay Community Band as you watch for Santa to arrive via helicopter at 10:30 a.m.! There's no charge for Santa's arrival and the museum opens for the day at 9:30 a.m.

Hiller Aviation Museum
601 Skyway Rd.
San Carlos, CA
Date: Dec. 7, 9:30 a.m.-12 p.m.
Online: redtri.com

Santa Saturdays at Filoli—Woodside

Get the family dressed in their holiday best for a visit to the Filoli Historic House and Garden in Woodside. Bring the kids to Santa Saturdays where you can hear Mrs. Claus read holiday stories and visit the festively-attired ponies in front of the house. There's DIY crafting in the visitor center, as well as dancing and singing along to holiday tunes in the ballroom.

86 Canada Rd.
Woodside, CA
When: Dec. 7, 14 and 21, 10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

Christmas in the Park—San Jose

Santa’s home away from home during the holidays, Christmas in the Park in San Jose’s Plaza de Cesar Chavez, is the heart of downtown San Jose’s holiday celebrations. Santa’s Photo den is located at the north end of the park  A nice touch, the photos are free and folks are encouraged to bring their own cameras, instead of trying to hide behind a present to snap the moment (we’ve all been there). Or, make it easy on yourself and choose the profession option. After visiting Old Saint Nick, be sure to ride Blinky’s Express Train and check out the Reindeer Barn!

101 West Santa Clara St.
San Jose, CA
Dates: Through Dec. 24. Check here for exact times.
Cost: Free
Online: christmasinthepark.com

photo: Santa Cruz Holiday Lights Train

Santa Cruz Holiday Lights Train

It’s a true Californian Christmas when Santa is at the beach! St. Nick will join your family aboard this vintage train decorated with thousands of lights. Once you embark on this 60 minute round trip, your family can enjoy refreshments, a holiday sing along, and, of course, a visit from Santa. And the fun doesn’t stop when the train pulls back into the station. For just $6 you can purchase a pass to take advantage of the attractions and arcade at Neptune’s Kingdom.

Find more Santa trains here

Dates: Nov. 29-30, Dec. 7-8, 14-23, 26-31
Times: 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. (varies by date)
Where: Santa Cruz Holiday Light trains depart and return in front of Neptune’s Kingdom on the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. 400 Beach Street in Santa Cruz
Cost: $33/adults; $27/children ages 2-12. Parking in lot across the street is $10.
Online: roaringcamp.com

Marin/North Bay

photo: Bay Area Discovery Museum

Snacks with Santa at the Bay Area Discovery Museum—Sausalito

Families can sign up to get some devoted time with Santa at this fun event at the Bay Area Discovery Museum. 30-minute time slots are available and include a festive snack.

Dates: Dec. 14-15, 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Online: bayareadiscoverymuseum.org

photo: Kellie Delario

Santa at Nick’s Cove—Marshall

Santa Claus arrives at Nick’s Cove by way of his trusty water sleigh (i.e. boat). He’ll set up shop in the Boat Shack with hot chocolate, treats and a free professional photographer so children and adults alike can pose for a photo with Santa overlooking Tomales Bay. Share the holiday cheer and bring a toy for their toy drive while you're there.

23240 Highway 1
Marshall, CA
When: Sun., Dec. 8, 3-5 p.m.
Cost: Free
Online: facebook.com/nickscove

photo: Robert J. Schroeder/West End Nursery

West End Nursery—San Rafael

A hidden gem, this family run nursery, which started in 1909, keeps up a holiday tradition with their annual Santa Cop photo shoot. A professional photographer snaps pics of your little ones (pets welcome too!) and prints a free copy for your scrapbooks. Held on the grounds of the West End Nursery, you’ll likely find a gift or two for your own bedecked halls. This event is free, but a toy or small donation for the Santa Cop program is encouraged. 

1938 Fifth Ave.
San Rafael, CA
When: Dec. 7, 1-3 p.m.
Cost: Free
Online: westendnursery.com

—Kate Loweth


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