There are so many places to see Santa this time of year, and the Bay Area has some special ones, from longtime traditions to unique and offbeat appearances. Check out some of our favorite places to spot the big man in red and snap a photo, too.
Christmas Tree Lane, Alameda – An East Bay tradition for decades, enjoy the beautifully decorated homes on this popular street, and then stop by to see Santa and his elves in the tree-lined median. Drop your list in his special mailbox by the deadline and receive a free reply by mail. Nightly in Dec. See website for Santa’s visiting times. FREE. 3200 block of Thompson Ave.
Fairy Winterland – Children’s Fairyland celebrates the winter holidays of many cultures, and daily visits by Santa are among the highlights of this annual celebration. There are also puppet performances, a nightly Festival of Lights Parade at 6:15pm, holiday storytelling, crafts and more. Dec. 13-23. 12-7pm. $12, under 2 FREE. Children’s Fairyland, 699 Bellevue Ave., Oakland. 510-452-2259.
Holidays at McConaghy House – This furnished Victorian home gets decked out for the holidays with garlands, ornaments and more. Visit on December weekends, with special visits from Santa likely on Saturdays, and keep an eye out for the nutcracker dolls and ballet slippers tucked among the décor as part of this year’s Nutcracker theme. Dec. 7, 8, 14, 15, 21 and 22. 11am-4pm. $5 general admission, $3 students and seniors. 18701 Hesperian Blvd., Hayward.
Marin and North Bay
Nick’s Cove – Santa will arrive in Tomales Bay by "water sleigh" in this ninth annual event at Nick’s Cove and Cottages. Children, families and pets can take complimentary photos with Santa in the scenic and festive Boat Shack, and Nick’s Cove will donate 10 percent of restaurant sales from the entire day to the Marin Food Bank. Dec. 8. 3-5pm. FREE. 23240 Highway 1, Marshall.
San Rafael Parade of Lights and Winter Wonderland – Following the annual parade, Santa, Mrs. Claus and friends arrive with the mayor to light the town’s Holiday Tree, and then stay for a meet and greet. Nov. 29. Parade at 5:30pm. FREE. Fourth Street from B Street to Lootens Place, San Rafael.
Santa Fly-In – Enjoy free admission to the Pacific Coast Air Museum’s Open Cockpit Day, when Santa will arrive by helicopter to hear kids’ wishes. Enjoy holiday festivities and climb aboard historic aircraft. Dec. 14. 10am-2pm. FREE. Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport, One Air Museum Way, Santa Rosa.
Santa at BADM – Santa stops by the Bay Area Discovery Museum for photos and holiday fun. Dec. 14 and Dec. 15. Check website for times and details. 557 McReynolds Road, Sausalito.
Sensitive Santa – Families with children with special needs and their siblings can visit with Santa in a safe and soothing environment with a sensory-friendly playground, storytime and therapy dogs to snuggle. No need to wait in line. Sign up online in advance; spaces fill up early. Dec. 7. 9am-12pm. FREE. All Children Academics, 1665 Grand Ave., San Rafael.
Macy’s Santaland Union Square – Taking a photo with Santa at Macy’s seventh-floor Holiday Lane is an annual tradition for many Bay Area families. You can peruse the decorated windows, see the big tree outside on Union Square or even take a spin at the outdoor ice rink for a day of holiday fun. Nov. 29-Dec. 24. Check website for times. FREE, photos extra. Macy’s Union Square, Level 7, 170 O’Farrell St. 415-397-3333.
Swedish Christmas Fair – Meet Santa and go fishing for surprise goodies at the Fiskdammen (fish pond). Kids can also decorate gingerbread figures, and families can enjoy a craft fair, folk dancing and regional Swedish costumes and delicacies. Dec. 7. 9am-4pm. FREE. Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, 1111 Gough St.
Great Dickens Christmas Fair – Visit with Father Christmas, one of more than 800 costumed characters at the center of this festive event in which the Cow Palace is transformed into Charles Dickens’ London circa 1860. Weekends Nov. 23-Dec. 23. $32 adults, $14 ages 5-12, under 5 FREE (early bird and online discounts available). Cow Palace Exhibition Halls, 2600 Geneva Ave., Daly City. 800-510-1558.
Santa Arrives by Helicopter – Santa makes his dramatic entrance, rain or shine, as The West Bay Community Band performs carols. Dec. 7. 9:30am-12pm; Santa arrives at 10:30am and will be available to listen to wishes until 12pm. No charge for Santa’s arrival; museum admission: $18 adults, $11 ages 5-17, under 5 FREE with paid adult. Hiller Aviation Museum, 601 Skyway Road, San Carlos. 650-654-0200.
Santa Saturdays at Filoli – Meet Santa in the Garden House of this historic estate and garden from 10:30am-3:30pm and take your own photo, read stories with Mrs. Claus in the reception room every half hour, sing along to holiday tunes at 11am and 1pm and dance along at 12 and 2pm in the ballroom. Plus, make seasonal crafts in the Visitor Center and visit festively attired mini ponies outside the house, also from 10:30am-3:30pm. All activities are included with admission. Dec. 7, 14 and 21. $25 adults, $12 children, under 5 FREE. 86 Cañada Road, Woodside. 650-364-8300.
Silicon Valley and South
Christmas in the Park – Take your picture with Santa and then tour 40 musical and animated exhibits, glittering lights and a 60-foot Giving Tree. There’s also food, entertainment and a nearby carnival and ice skating rink. Nov. 29-Jan. 5. 9am-12am. FREE, professional photos available for purchase. 408-200-3800.
Santa Run Silicon Valley – Dress up like Santa or your favorite Christmas character and run a 5K or kids’ fun run. The fastest male and female runners in full Santa suits win a prize and all finishers receive a Christmas ornament medal. There’s a costume contest, too. Proceeds benefit Christmas in the Park and Downtown Ice. Dec. 15. Kids Reindeer Dash at 2pm; 5K at 3pm. $35 for 5K, $12 kids fun run. Starts at Santa Clara Street at Almaden Boulevard and ends at Christmas in the Park with milk and cookies.
Surfin’ Santa – St. Nick arrives by surfboard or kayak to kick off the holiday season in style. Bring your camera to make a memorable Christmas card photo. Nov. 30. 12pm. FREE. Main Beach in Capitola Village. 831-475-6522.
Yuletide Family Tea – Visit with Santa while enjoying tea sandwiches, scones, sweets and kid-friendly fare in a historic villa. There’s also a Yuletide Marketplace from Fri.-Sun. Nov. 17. 10:30am-12:30pm. (Reservation deadline Nov. 7.) $38 per person. Montalvo Arts Center, 15400 Montalvo Road, Saratoga.
Check your local mall for times and dates for Santa visits and photos. Broadway Plaza in Walnut Creek, Northgate Mall in San Rafael, Serramonte Center in Daly City, Stonestown Galleria in San Francisco, Westfield Valley Fair Mall in Santa Clara and many others have lots of opportunities for Santa sightings.
Janine DeFao is an associate editor at Bay Area Parent.