2020 has definitely been a challenging and dark year on so many fronts that anything that brightens and lightens it up is welcomed. During the holiday season, that can be a literal one via Christmas lights and decorations, always my favorite part of the holidays. This year may look different as many of my go-to’s - Around the Bay and Away: Christmas By the Bay are understandably not available to avoid crowds especially indoors like the Fairmont Gingerbread House and Westin Sugar Castles. Unfortunately, with the tree lighting ceremonies and festivities cancelled and financial burdens, sadly Pier 39 and Ghirardelli Square also did not have their usual trees up so Macy's Union Square is the only one up.
Not one to give up, I still intended to make the best of it but as safely as possible. A couple of them are paid events but surprisingly discovered some new free ones as well.
With the cancellation of the Embarcadero Building Lighting, my annual kickoff to the holiday event the Friday before Thanksgiving did not happen. Instead, Filoli Holidays the Monday before Thanksgiving was the perfect place to kick off my holiday season this year. The last time I was at Filoli during the holidays was 15 years ago so returning this year was especially appropriate since I got a membership back in March pre-pandemic. Tickets with advanced reservations are required, with discounts for members.
With that early reservation date, I was lucky enough to walk through the historic house all decked out before it had to close again for the 3rd time less than a week later due to tighter restrictions.
However, in anticipation of ever-changing restrictions, Filoli has done an amazing job in decorating their gardens and outside space like a Winter Wonderland.
With limited admission, it
never felt crowded and their outdoor fire pits at multiple spots like their
tennis courts spaced 15 feet apart allows visitors to take a break, relax and warm up with a hot
Open daily this holiday for day and evening admission but I recommend evening to get the full light experience and give yourself at least 2 hours to fully enjoy it.
Santa Cruz Boardwalk/Farley’s Christmas Wonderland
The weekend before Bay Area went back into lockdown, I made the most of it with one last hurrah. While most were in line at the grocery stores and Costco trying to stock up on more toilet paper and groceries, I was stocking up on Model Bakery English Muffins via curbside pickup and Gayle’s Bakery croissants when I found myself down in Santa Cruz County for someone to squeeze in one more haircut.
An after-lunch stroll along the very quiet Santa Cruz Boardwalk to some Christmas music and decorations
and with most walk-thrus (Deacon Dave’s and Widmer’s World) around the Bay Area closed this year, I was pleasantly surprised to discover Farley’s Christmas Wonderland. We arrived right before it opened at 5:30 so it was not yet crowded.
Do note that since not all their displays are waterproof, they are not open if it rains and new rule of look but do not touch since sanitizing everything is impossible. But what a beautiful sight and was a great “last day of freedom” for the year.
Christmas in the Park
I had discovered Christmas in the Park just 4 years ago - Around the Bay and Away: Christmas In the Park but loved it so much I have returned every year since and sometimes, even twice a year. Fortunately, even though they could not proceed as usual, they reimagined it this year into a paid drive thru event. Different setup and location but with some of our favorite displays and even more lights including the new Tunnel of Lights synchronized to Christmas music, I’ll take it! Advanced tickets are required and use the restroom beforehand as be prepared for an hour wait just to drive into the park if you arrive after 6:30 but as long as you are in the car line by 9PM, you will get in.
Christmas Tree Lanes
Surprisingly the Christmas Tree Lanes - Around the Bay and Away: Christmas Tree Lanes Bay Area are up as I thought it would be cancelled to limit crowds. Since the Chestnut Lit Houses last year only had about half participating, this year I skipped it to explore a new one in Palo Alto. To stay safe, I did choose to enjoy them from the car this year as a drive thru vs. a walk thru so pictures are limited. Since Alameda is within half an hour from me, I chose to see it on a weeknight and San Carlos and Palo Alto’s I arrived right when it got dark on Saturday so was able to drive thru after only a 5-minute wait in line. Otherwise, be prepared for long lines to get in via car as Palo Alto is a drive thru only this year for 2 weeks only due to county health guidelines.
Willow Glen Holiday Lights
If you missed out on getting tickets to Christmas in the Park or financially not able to afford it this year, the Willow Glen Holiday Lights is a wonderful alternative. This is another new one for me so I was seeing it through the eyes of a child and what I love about this one is, it’s not just one or two blocks like the Christmas Tree Lanes but an entire neighborhood so it took us an hour just to leisurely drive thru.
Some of the blocks were even themed with lighted arches, regular and Christmas Tree shaped, lighted candy canes, reindeer driven sleigh that spanned 4-5 houses.
Note: maybe because it was more spread out but this one had the most unmasked viewers walking.
Since many of these I experienced as a drive-thru, I took some videos vs. pictures this year so hop over to my IG: around_the_bay_and_away and look under Holiday 2020 to experience what I have so far including inside Filoli’s Historic House before the recent closure. Either in person or virtually through my eyes, I hope this will brighten and lighten up your 2020 and put a smile on your face this holiday season. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and an even Brighter 2021 from Around the Bay and Away!!
Please note that restrictions are constantly changing so confirm before going that it is still open.
Filoli Holidays – Advanced Paid Ticketed Event
86 Canada Road
Woodside, CA 94062
650-364-8300 - Holidays at Filoli | Filoli
Farley Christmas Wonderland - Free
108 Sea View Avenue
Santa Cruz, CA
Christmas in the Park – Advanced Paid Ticketed Event
635 Phelan Avenue
San Jose, CA 95112
408-809-XMAS - Christmas in the Park
Christmas Tree Lane Palo Alto – car based only - Free
1700-1800 block of Fulton Street
Palo Alto, CA
Willow Glen Holiday Lights - Free
(whole neighborhood) Willow Street between Cherry and Glen Eyrie
San Jose, CA