Best Things to Do on the Central Coast This December

There will be lights. There will be Christmas music. There will be an occasional reindeer.

That said, the December slate of events around Monterey Bay aren’t limited to holiday cheer, though there’s plenty of it. 

Another seasonal note: Increasingly milder winter weather, combined with smaller tourist crowds during low season for hospitality, presents a great time to visit, whether it involves an event or not.  

Here are our top picks for the month, in chronological order:

Featured Photo: Courtesy of Chardonnay Sailing Charters
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Holiday Lights 2021

December 2 - 26

The Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds Foundation and the Agricultural History Project light things up Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays in December with a unique drive-through experience at the Fairgrounds. Anticipate massive twinkling of big Christmas trees, Santa, reindeer, snowmen, a lighted tunnel and more magical moments, filling up a half mile of holiday miracles all told. 

More info:

An Irish Christmas

December 2

This award-winning tour de force features world champion river dancers, but the real star is, aye, ol’ Ireland. The overall experience navigates a country of rich culture with high-movement and much music, whether that’s a dive into butter-making, illustrating what “drawing down the half door” means or hunting the wren on St. Stephen’s Day. Peak Ireland meets peak festive spirit. 

More info:

Holiday Tree Lighting

December 3

The postcard-perfect holiday tree lighting occupies picturebook Carmel-by-the-Sea’s main crossroads (Junipero and Ocean), elevated by student choirs, special singing guests and appearances by city dignitaries. An open house at Carmel Plaza ensues with refreshments and entertainment.

More info:

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Christmas on the Wharf

December 3 - 19, Weekends

Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays Santa holds court at his Santa House, holiday lights glow, decorations proliferate and a majestic 23-foot Christmas tree towers above. Meanwhile Wharf merchants make sure hot chocolate and hot apple cider flow and holiday cookies aren’t hard to find and live entertainment completes the mood.

More info:

Stillwell's Fun in the Park

December 4

Winter hits Pacific Grove with panache as Santa, Frosty the Snowman and Snow Queen arrive on a shiny red fire truck and kids and parents alike freak out over free carnival rides, bounce houses, petting zoo and live entertainment. 

More info:

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Photo: Courtesy of Emma Gossett

Tree of Life Gathering

December 5

Hospice Giving Foundation’s Tree of Life presents a 30-year tradition in the Monterey Bay community. This special celebration of hope and remembrance features song, story and sentiments of the season; to honor and remember a loved one, make a tribute through the website.

More info:

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Photo: Courtesy of Jakob Owens

Annual Holiday Craft and Fair

December 5

The down-home, homespun and homemade affair brings together a collection of artisan creatives to share their wares at the one and only Monterey Moose Lodge. Participants include G.B. Creations, Paparazzi Jewelry and Accessories, Cotton Splurge and Kamani Designs.

More info: call 831.241.4418 or email

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Christmas in the Adobes

December 10 - 11

The much-adored classic from the Monterey State Historic Park Association marks its 37th installment with a robust assemblage of candle-lit luminaries, storytelling, festive music and a variety of entertainment acts. The heart of the endeavor is historic Monterey and the early buildings that help define it, more than a dozen all told, accessed as part of the choose-your-own-adventure walking tour that includes a healthy dose of docents in period garb helping lead the way. 

More info:

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Jingle Bell Rock Fun Run and 5K

December 12

A classic motivational device drops right between Thanksgiving and holiday smorgasbords to come: This is a chance to work off the gravy and earn the waves of it on the way. A lot of fun elements work their way into the Santa Cruz staple event — beyond the West Cliff Drive views — from the ugly sweater contest to the Salvation Army Toy Drive to the best decorated stroller showdown.

More info:

Lyrics Born — Bay Area Hip-Hop Legend

December 17

For some, Christmas music is a most uplifting sound. For others, the most moving hip-hop in a crowded California landscape for the art form comes from the flow and flavor of Lyrics Born, who Moe’s Alley is appropriately labeling a Bay Area hip-hop legend ahead of this uncommon appearance. Santa Cruz native voice Alwa Gordon joins the show.

More info:

Thievery Corporation: The Outernational Tour

December 19

They’ve played some of the biggest stages out there, but one like The Catalyst’s in Santa Cruz — with tons of great viewing angles and dancing energy but not too many people as far as capacity — represents a great place to take in their unique cocktail of electronic music as it weaves in acid jazz, Brazilian music, reggae, Indian classical, Middle Eastern tunes, hip hop, bossa nova and more.

More info:

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Photo: Guests aboard a Chardonnay cruise, courtesy of Kasia Pawlowska

Chardonnay Sailing Cruise

December 18 - 30

The stately Chardonnay sailboats push away from both sides of the bay, and do so regularly. The pre-NYE options include an affordable “BYO Special Charter,” popular pizza-and-beer expeditions and various sunset floats, offering a fun and different way to see off an eventful year and sail into a new one.

More info:

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First Night Monterey

December 31

Good news: There are dozens of nightlife venues back for New Year’s Eve that weren’t welcoming safe visitors a year ago (see next event listing below). Outstanding news to come with it: Family-friendly First Night is back too, with its annual avalanche of artistic, musical, interactive, you-name-it activities and then some, occupying venues across downtown Monterey. This is a community institution for a reason. Actually, many many reasons, including one of the better local live music lineups of the year, all accessed with a reasonably priced passport.

More info:

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Photo: Courtesy of Ryo Chiba

New Year’s Eve Out in Santa Cruz

December 31

The options are seemingly endless. They include Surf City’s best wine bar/restaurant, legendary properties and arguably the seminal craft beer bottle/tap house by the bay, all doing special dinners, performances or both. So a toast is in order. HNY, y’all. It’s been another doozie. 

More info:

Looking for more things to do in the area?

Visit our What to Do in Northern California page!

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