Things to do in San Jose

Christmas Events in San Jose: A Guide to Festive Delights

We're celebrating the holidays: 'Tis the season for twinkling lights, merry musicals, and carols in San Jose.

There are always plenty of things to do in San Jose year-round. A simple trip to SCVAS Christmas Hill Park for a soccer match, picnic, and visit to the drop-in birding station comes to mind.

But being in San Jose for the holidays means having access to some of the most interesting, memorable, and festive winter events in the Bay Area. Whether you're coming in from San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, or Santa Cruz, you'll find yourself — and your holiday spirit — at these Christmas events in San Jose.

Family-Friendly Festivities

Like many other cities, San Jose has a whole host of family-friendly holiday attractions that make winter infinitely more festive.

1. Enchant Christmas: Santa's Magic Timepiece

Enchant Christmas is a holiday phenomenon that turns PayPal Park into a winter wonderland sure to thrill even the pickiest little elves. Gone are any vestiges of Major League Soccer. Instead of goalies and carefully trimmed sod, there's a glittering array of seasonal decor.

From the glistening ice skating rink to a winding winter maze, this immersive experience is full of majestic charm. You can build your own evening by adding a visit with Santa, indulging in hot cocoa or other tasty treats, and taking photos in front of one of the many social media-worthy backdrops.

To enhance your fully interactive adventure, look for fun side quests, such as scavenger hunts inside the maze. You and the kids might need to find all six stamps hidden around the maze or the missing star fragments to help rebuild Santa's timepiece.

2. Christmas in the Park

This event transforms one of San Jose's many parks into a magical display that's been thrilling locals for over four decades. Originally launched by Don Lima of Lima Family Mortuary in the 1950s, Christmas in the Park is now an integral part of the holiday season in downtown San Jose.

Slap on your Santa hat and meander through two acres of animated exhibits, punctuated by twinkling lights and tinkling music. Schools, community groups, and local businesses take charge of decorating the forest of Christmas trees, and there are refreshments and special appearances by the Jolly Old Elf himself.

3. Winter Wonderland

Theme park excitement meets holiday whimsy at San Jose's Winter Wonderland extravaganza. The 60-foot Ferris wheel and classic carousel are just two of the can't-miss attractions sure to delight the young and young at heart.

Add in other adrenaline-boosting rides, such as the Squadron and Dizzy Dragon, and everyone will be hoping for an unlimited ride wristband in their stocking.

Stretch out your day at the park with lunch or dessert at a local restaurant. Hot spots such as Snowman Hot Chocolate and Morton's The Steakhouse are nearby. Add on tickets to The Nutcracker or one of our performances, and your evening is pretty close to perfect.

Photographer: Kushagra Jain

Cultural Celebrations

All season long, events celebrating cultural traditions and holiday fun bring together San Jose residents and intrepid tourists. From plays to ballets and so much more, these exploits go above and beyond a simple roll in the snow.

4. How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical

The San Jose theater scene springs to life with a bit of help from a tall, grumpy green guy and his hard-working puppy pal. How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical is a touring version of the Broadway spectacular.

It's thrilled more than 2.1 million theatergoers across the nation, embodying all the hallmark eccentricity of Whoville with a heartwarming message every guest can appreciate.

5. The Nutcracker by San Jose Dance Theatre

The San Jose Center for the Performing Arts production of The Nutcracker has been on stage for nearly 60 years. That's six whole decades of mystery, Mouse Kings, and lessons about the power of imagination, all backed by music from the Cambrian Symphony.

Everything from the spectacular costumes to the world-class dancers and unforgettable storyline comes together for a brilliant ballet that never goes out of style. Look out for special abbreviated productions geared toward younger crowds. That way, your toddler or elementary-aged kiddos can root for the Nutcracker, too.

Photographer: Kazuo ota

Unique Holiday Experiences

Pair classic holiday experiences with more unique happenings that bring some history and extra sparkle to the season. These San Jose Christmas events are all about history, heart, and cool decorations, and that's why we love them.

6. Drive-Thru Light Show at History Park

One of the most nostalgic parks in San Jose got a pandemic-era addition: a drive-thru light show that allowed everyone to experience the wonder of the holiday season without sacrificing social distancing.

Though the six-foot rule is no longer in effect, San Jose's love for giant light-up candy canes and glowing arched tunnels is still on. To participate, just hop in the car and head to History Park San Jose.

You'll navigate the path while enjoying holiday music sequenced to the light displays. You can visit the walk-through portion of Christmas at the Park before or after your drive, or go on a separate day to maximize the fun.

7. Holiday Candlelight Tour at Winchester Mystery House

Once upon a time, the Winchester Mystery House was home to Sarah Lockwood Pardee Winchester, heiress to the Winchester Repeating Arms fortune.

The sprawling mansion is an architectural marvel, with a whopping 160 rooms, 52 skylights, and 17 chimneys. Those features help bring a sense of grandeur to the home's Victorian Christmas celebration. The big draw is the Holiday Candlelight Tour, which allows visitors to tiptoe through room after room, all lit up by an array of candles.

Is there a ghost behind that evergreen swag? It could be the specter of Christmas past or a guide leading you toward the highly lauded annual Menagerie Oddities & Curiosities Holiday Market (a can't-miss for anyone who loves strange and interesting stocking stuffers).

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8. Christmas Concerts at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph

Every year, Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph hosts a series of performances rolled into an event they call Season of Hope.

The series includes collaborations involving church members and performers from the San Jose Jazz, San Jose Chamber Youth Orchestra, San Jose Ballet, San Jose Youth Symphony, San Jose Opera, and the San Jose State University Choraliers.

The cathedral's leaders refer to the series as a “gift of music and culture,” and all performances are free. They envision the concerts as part of the larger Downtown San Jose Christmas experience. Go ice-skating, grab dinner, and attend a concert brimming with hope and faith.

Community and Shopping Events

Tis the season to give some gifts — but you'll have to purchase them first. These Christmas events in San Jose are ideal for finding unique presents while supporting small businesses. It's a major bonus that there's lots to do and see while you browse and buy.

9. The Village at Enchant Christmas

The Village at Enchant Christmas is a modern take on a Christmas market. There are stalls galore, and the lineup of vendors changes each year. The vendors offer a mix of mass-marketed goods and smaller artisanal finds. Each vendor is tucked into an adorable market hut that looks like it was imported straight from the North Pole.

You can buy bubble wands and light-up Santa hats at one booth, and handmade ornaments and tasty edibles at another. The wands and hats can be worn and played with while you're on site. The rest of the goodies are just what you need to surprise your kid's teachers or bring into the office for that Secret Santa swap.

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10. Santana Row Holiday Events

Santana Row is one of the premier live, work, and play spaces in Northern California. It has stellar restaurants, tons of shops, salons, and spa services. There’s even a Spanish-influenced boutique hotel. That makes it easy for locals and tourists to take part in Spirit of the Row.

Every holiday season, Spirit of the Row invites everyone from professional performers to local community and school groups to cheer, sing, and dance in front of Santana Row's holiday tree.

Adults can grab a glass of vino from the Vintage Wine Bar, while kiddos can ward off the chill with the bar's child-friendly hot apple cider. Exhibitions such as the San Jose Dance Theatre's excerpt of The Nutcracker and songs from the Willow Glen Middle School Choir are just a hint of the seasonal wonder on tap.

Santana Row's events change often, so check in to see where you can eat, shop, or even get your hair done before your night on the town.

Outdoor and Nature-Inspired Events

Outdoor enthusiasts feel right at home in this city, where nature-focused excursions, such as hikes in San Jose, are woven into the local fabric. Christmas events in San Jose are often outside. It's a way to take advantage of the balmy California weather and enjoy lights, music, and fresh air to your heart's content.

11. Little Elves Play Place at Enchant Christmas

Enchant Christmas is the gift that keeps on giving. This time, it's back with a place made expressly for Santa's tiniest elves — and it's a swell surprise for those elves' tired parents, too.

Enchant's Little Elves Play Place is its version of an in-house playground. There are oodles of holiday-themed activities, all intended for children aged 0-7. Let the kids color, play, and soak up the seasonal vibes while you kick back with a spiked cocoa or bucket full of kettle corn.

Photographer: Fallon Michael

12. Willow Glen's Festive Light Extravaganza

If you're curious about where you can find the best Christmas lights in the South Bay area, look no further. Locals have crowned Willow Glen in central San Jose as the neighborhood with the best holiday displays. It's a glorious showcase of vintage props, stringed lights, and inflatables that covers an approximate five-block radius.

Participating homes stick to one central decor idea. They all have a small, uniquely decorated tree situated in the front yard near the sidewalk. Some streets choose an overarching theme. Others go all out with glow sticks hanging from trees and DIY structures made from PVC pipe and lights.

We suggest parking nearby on Glen Echo Avenue or Glen Eyrie Avenue to skirt heavy traffic. You can then walk both sides of Willow Avenue before strolling over to the adjacent streets.

Some decorations are up in late November or early December. Still, it's best to wait until the second Saturday in December if you want to see Willow Glen at its finest.

13. Christmas Lights at Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph

Much of what Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph does during the holiday season focuses on events happening inside the church. The faithful come here to worship, take in free performances, and lead in charitable giving for the less fortunate.

But the outside of the Cathedral offers a more modern spin on holiday cheer, courtesy of an animated light project cast on the building's columns and front facade. The projections, called video mapping, are pretty on point for a city in Silicon Valley.

Art and science come together as design pros leverage special software and processes already used to transform the Sydney Opera House and Cinderella's Castle at Walt Disney World. The team at Estioko Design spent weeks creating an installation that changes weekly and runs from just past dusk until about 9:30 pm.

Seasonal Specials

From patriotic parades to fall festivals and Halloween events with costumes galore, San Jose is never short on seasonal specials. The winter months are no exception, with quirky get-togethers celebrating this vibrant, progress-driven city.

14. Santa Run Silicon Valley

Wishing for a San Jose Christmas event that will help you burn off those sugar cookies and peppermint brownies? Hundreds of other would-be St. Nicks feel the same way. That's why the Santa Run Silicon Valley is such a popular event.

Every year, people from San Jose and beyond gather to run or walk a full five kilometers. Kids can take part in a shorter Reindeer Dash, and there are virtual options for anyone who wants to participate but can't make it to the actual event.

Race organizers encourage everyone to dress their best. Santa Claus' suit has traditionally been the default costume, but other options, such as Mrs. Claus, elves, reindeer, dreidels, Christmas trees, and the Grinch, also abound.

Celebrate the Season With San Jose's Holiday Highlights

The slate of Christmas events in San Jose is so vast and varied you could make a weekend out of it. Come by train, plane, or car, and take part in the city's laundry list of holiday activities.

While you're here, you can add the perfect finishing touch to your itinerary by swapping out theme park wristbands for theater tickets. Mystique, merriment, and an overflowing abundance of spirit epitomize both Christmas and the surreal and joyful experience of seeing our shows in San Jose.

Watch in awe as our performers take the stage, leaping and soaring with otherworldly precision. Our compelling storylines will transport you to another world where the unimaginable becomes reality and the possibilities are limitless. Make every season a celebration of artistry and excitement.

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