15 Best Winter Activities to Do in California!

California is the perfect place to celebrate the winter months because you can opt for snow or sand. Featuring both mountains and coastal regions, California has something for everyone—whether you prefer your holidays sunny or snowy. Check out some of the best winter activities, events and things that make California unique during the coldest months of the year.

1. Camp and snowshoe in Yosemite

Yosemite is one of the most gorgeous places in the world. During the winter, spend some time camping and snowshoeing through the beautiful valleys and trees. Some areas are closed, but many remain open and beautiful throughout the winter.

2. Whale Watching from San Diego to Monterey

Winter is when whales migrate south, which means that it’s the best time to see the majestic creatures in action. From San Diego, Santa Barbara, Monterey and more, the port cities of California all offer great deals on whale watching during the season.

3. San Diego Bay’s Parade of Lights, San Diego, CA

Although you’ll find plenty of parades through the streets, many of California’s ports have a tradition of lighting up boats to float by in the spirit of the holidays. San Diego Bay’s Parade of Lights has been delighting onlookers for decades, with each spectacular season bringing a new theme.

4. Ice skating under the Sun in Santa Monica

The holiday season brings out the ice rinks throughout California and one of the most celebrated is ICE, a rink in sunny Santa Monica. Skate and shop on the famous Third Street Promenade before heading for the beach.

5. Chinese New Year, San Francisco, CA

Chinese New Year occurs during the winter months, usually January or February. The biggest celebration outside of China is held in San Francisco’s historic Chinatown, with parades, dragons, floats and other special activities.

6. Rose Parade, Pasadena, CA

Each year, households across America tune in to the Rose Parade. Instead of just tuning in, check out the amazing floats for yourself, up close and personal as they make their way down Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena’s main drag. The creativity and detail that goes into each float is amazing to see.

7. Ski and surf in the same day in Wrightwood and Venice

Many people are amazed to discover that you can actually ski and surf in the same day—if you know where to go. Mountain High in Wrightwood is the closest ski spot to Los Angeles and the closest beach is Venice or Santa Monica. For newbies to both sports, it can be fun to take a lesson in each climate.

8. Tamale festivals in Indio and Oxnard

Winter is the most wonderful time of year in Southern California because it brings the holidays and the holiday tradition of tamale making. Throughout California, cornhusks are lovingly stuffed and sold at tamale festivals from Indio to Oxnard and beyond. 

9. Disneyland, Anaheim, CA

During the holiday season, theme parks like Disneyland transform into winter wonderlands, complete with fake snow and twinkling lights. Even better, the crowds are usually shorter so that you can enjoy more rides and catch the parades.

10. Polar Express Train, Sacramento, CA

Each year, the beloved children’s book comes to life with the help of vintage diesel trains pulling cars from the California State Railroad Museum’s collection. Hot cocoa, cookies and Santa all make the adventure a very special treat.

11. Monarch Butterfly Migration, Pacific Grove, CA

Each year thousands of monarch butterflies flock to the city of Pacific Grove to stay for the winter. The event is so spectacular that the monarchs have inspired their own sanctuary in the city, where visitors head each year to watch the monarchs arrive. 

12. Mammoth Mountain, Mammoth, CA

Mammoth Mountain is internationally-renowned for its skiing and snowboarding. If you have the chance, fly into the airport for a snowy, sun-filled adventure.

13. Elephant seals in Cambria

Elephant seals make the rocky beaches of San Simeon, near Hearst Castle their home for much of the year, but the real excitement takes place from November through February as the sea beasts arrive on the shore to mate and multiply.

14. Big Bear Mountain, Big Bear, CA

Snowboarding is quickly becoming a must-try activity. Big Bear is the preferred place to try the sport for the first time as the slopes are relatively gentle and you’ll probably fall down a lot on your first time out.

15. Experience Palm Springs

Palm Springs is a famous desert resort where stars head to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The winter is the best time to visit because you can enjoy all the outdoor activities that the resorts offer, including golfing and hiking, without suffering from heat stroke.

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