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Fun holiday activities at 10 hotels and resorts in California

Fondue is part of a prix-fixe holiday menu at The Bar at the Fairmont Century Plaza hotel. Photo courtesy Fairmont Century Plaza

An eco-friendly ice-skating rink in San Diego. Snowfall near the beach in Montecito. An artist-led ornament-painting workshop in Sonoma. These activities are a sampling of seasonal festivities at California hotels and resorts that can boost your holiday mood. Even if you’re not spending the night, most places still welcome you to join in the merrymaking.

Here are 10 hotels and resorts, listed from south to north, where you can find holiday magic and make new memories with loved ones.

1. Paradise Point Resort & Spa, San Diego

Christmas tree at Paradise Point Resort & Spa.

Decorated trees at Paradise Point Resort & Spa add to the property's festive atmosphere. Photo courtesy Paradise Point Resort & Spa

Your mood will lighten as soon as you enter this expansive waterfront property that was opened in 1962 by movie mogul Jack Skirball. “Driving into Paradise Point, you’ll be welcomed by a palm tree–lined drive lit for the holidays,” says Morgan Howitt, assistant director of marketing. “We want our guests to feel that holiday nostalgia we all know and love—but island-style.”

The resort’s location adjacent to SeaWorld San Diego in Mission Bay means guests can also conveniently enjoy off-property holiday events. On December 9, watch the Mission Bay Christmas Boat Parade of Lights from designated spectator spots along the bay. For a private, up-close view, spring for VIP tickets ($15 per seat, sold in sets of 2 or 4).

On December 10 at the resort, hotel guests and visitors can make a paw-print ornament at the pet-friendly Santa Paws event ($10 suggested minimum donation) benefiting Give Kids the World Village.

Room rates start at $229, plus a daily $39 resort fee.

You may also like: Enchanting places to see holiday lights in Southern California

2. Fairmont Grand Del Mar, San Diego

This iconic AAA Five Diamond property celebrates the season with a wreath-making workshop ($35 for a 12-inch wreath; December 10 and 17) and ice-skating on a rink made of eco-friendly synthetic ice, or “Glice” (from November 23 to January 7; adults, $35 for 2 hours; children, $17).

“We always want to feel like a home away from home, and the holiday season should be the most special time of the year,” says Dana Cooper, director of sales and marketing. “No one expects to see an ice-skating rink or a winter chalet in sunny Southern California, so it’s a wonderful surprise for our guests.”

Room rates start at $789, plus a daily $67.50 resort fee.

3. La Quinta Resort & Club, La Quinta

Walkway lined with bougainvillea and palm trees at La Quinta Resort & Club.

Natural reds and greens make the La Quinta Resort & Club look dressed for the holidays year-round. Photo courtesy La Quinta Resort & Club

Bay Area business tycoon Walter H. Morgan opened this resort in 1926. It became the stomping grounds for Hollywood’s elite, including Greta Garbo, Ginger Rogers, and Clark Gable. Located about 25 miles southeast of Palm Springs, the sprawling desert oasis inspired Frank Capra to pen the beloved holiday film It’s A Wonderful Life

The resort will host a tree-lighting ceremony on Sunday, November 26, replete with caroling and complimentary cookies and hot chocolate. On Fridays and Saturdays, try your hand at roasting chestnuts (November 24 to December 23; $5 per bag).

Learn how to prepare a holiday feast with Executive Chef Andrew Cooper and his culinary team. They offer classes for making soup and easy holiday meals on Saturdays from November 25 through December 23 ($35 for resort guests and $45 for non-guests; reservations required).

You can also enjoy classic holiday movies like Home Alone on the lawn along with free popcorn and hot cocoa. Movies are shown at 7 p.m. on Saturdays from November 25 to December 23. 

Room rates start at $255, plus a daily $35 resort fee; AAA discount available.

4. Terranea Resort, Rancho Palos Verdes

Terranea Resort postcard addressed to Santa Claus.

At Terranea Resort, kids can send a postcard to the North Pole. Photo courtesy Terranea Resort

This AAA Four Diamond oceanfront property on the Palos Verdes Peninsula offers unobstructed views of Catalina Island and is a prime location to see migrating gray whales (December through April). Children can send a postcard to the North Pole or try the Ho-Ho-Hole In One—a putting green with slopes and obstacles (December 24–31).

The 3-mile guided Winter Solstice Hike on December 21 (adults, $75; reservations required) takes trekkers to the retired Point Vicente Lighthouse, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (The lighthouse is not open during the hike, but it is open to the public on the second Saturday of every month from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.)

Room rates start at $550, plus a daily $60 resort fee; AAA discount available.

5. Fairmont Century Plaza, Los Angeles

Booths at The Bar at Fairmont Century Plaza dressed with winter decor.

Diners enjoy a cozy meal at The Bar at the Fairmont Century Plaza hotel. Photo courtesy Fairmont Century Plaza

During the holiday season, this lauded hotel transports diners to the snowcapped "Alps" with an aprés-ski dining experience at The Bar ($105 per person; reservations required). A nod to alpine ski chalets, each of the 5 outdoor structures is appointed with a private, 6-person dining table and benches lined with cozy furry throws and an antler chandelier.

Dinner is a prix-fixe menu that includes a sweet and savory fondue, charcuterie boards, and winter holiday cocktails, such as an Espresski martini and eggnog.

Room rates start at $650; AAA discount available.

You may also like: Los Angeles neighborhoods where you should eat

6. Beverly Wilshire, Beverly Hills

Exterior of the Beverly Wilshire. Hot chocolate bar at the Beverly Wilshire.

Holiday treats await guests during Christmas and Hanukkah events at the Beverly Wilshire. Photo courtesy Beverly Wilshire; A Four Seasons Hotel

Since it opened in 1928, this AAA Four Diamond hotel has been a mainstay for celebrities, dignitaries, and other visitors for its opulence and its proximity to Rodeo Drive. The holiday season kicks off on November 16 with a hot air balloon–themed lighting ceremony on Rodeo Drive including music, treats, and a fireworks display. A local children’s choir will sing carols in the hotel lobby.

In addition, Hanukkah is celebrated nightly December 7–15 in the main lobby with complimentary kosher cookies, hot beverages, and a menorah lighting.

Room rates start at $795.

You may also like: Top brunch places with views in Southern California

7. Rosewood Miramar Beach, Montecito

Rosewood Miramar Beach lobby bedecked with a Christmas tree, garland, and presents.

A festive tree greets guests in the lobby of the Rosewood Miramar Beach. Photo courtesy Rosewood Miramar Beach

This beachfront gem is the epitome of Central Coast elegance. Holiday cheer begins with a tree lighting and a visit from Santa on December 1. The tree is typically a standout: Past evergreens have included a 17-foot noble fir from Silverton, Oregon, bedecked with about 500 handmade ornaments and baubles. 

Santa greeting children beside a snowman.

A "snowfall" creates a winter wonderland at Rosewood Miramar Beach. Photo courtesy Rosewood Miramar Beach

A weekly “snowfall” event for snowman-building puts everyone in a winter wonderland mood.

Room rates start at $1,695, plus a daily $75 resort fee.

You may also like: Charming Central Coast towns where you can relax and recharge

8. Carmel Valley Ranch, Carmel

Three glasses of hot cocoa topped with whipped cream.

Hot cocoa warms guests at Carmel Valley Ranch. Photo courtesy Carmel Valley Ranch

Framed by the Santa Lucia Mountains, this AAA Four Diamond hideaway is adjacent to Garland Ranch Regional Park. To kick off the holidays, join hotel guests and locals on November 25 for the lighting of the property’s oak tree, along with hot cocoa, candy canes, and stocking decorating. Other offerings include gingerbread cookie decorating ($45 per person) and wreath-making ($95 per person) with greenery harvested from gardens on the property.

Room rates start at $479, plus a daily $60 resort fee; AAA discount available.

You may also like: Carmel Valley's country chic

9. MacArthur Place, Sonoma

Guest lounging in the MacArthur Place lobby.

MacArthur Place is a fun gathering place, as well as a short stroll from Downtown Plaza. Photo courtesy McArthur Place

This AAA Four Diamond property—situated 4 blocks from downtown Sonoma—recently completed a 4-year enhancement project. The 12 Nights of Marvel (select days November 25 through December 18) delights visitors with free experiences such as a candlelit tour of the property’s 7 sculptures with Aerena Galleries, a hand-painted ornament workshop with Alex Cole, and other artist-led workshops.

Tray of cookies in gingerbread, Christmas tree, stocking, and other holiday shapes.

Decorated cookies sweeten the holiday mood at MacArthur Place. Photo courtesy McArthur Place

“Thanks to our local partnerships, our guests and the community can enjoy the best of Sonoma with complimentary experiences,” says Dare Sturges, director of marketing and communications. “We are delighted that this event has become a beloved annual tradition and gathering space to celebrate the season.”

Room rates start at $629, plus a daily $59.90 resort fee; AAA discount available.

You may also like: 3 amazing days in Sonoma County

10. Stanly Ranch, Napa Valley

Stanly Ranch

Twinkling lights add a magical touch to dinners at Stanly Ranch. Photo courtesy Stanly Ranch

Situated on 712 acres with views of the Mayacamas Mountains, this bucolic property, which opened in April 2022, shines with culinary holiday happenings. On New Year’s Eve, join the resort’s second annual soirée with an 8-course prix-fixe dinner and wine pairing. Afterward, ring in the new year with live entertainment, a champagne tower and toast, a balloon drop, and late-night snacks.

Room rates start at $995, plus a daily $70 resort fee.

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