Create Holiday Traditions in Monterey County, California

Monterey County Christmas | I-5 Exit Guide

The holidays are a time for family traditions and celebrations. This holiday season, California’s most breathtaking central coast destination, Monterey County, invites visitors to create new traditions and memories by joining its charming and festive communities with traditional tree lightings, unique holiday parades and plenty of opportunities to meet the big man himself – Santa Claus!

With so many festivities happening throughout this world-class destination, here are a few events that are sure to get travelers in the holiday spirit:

There’s a Tree in the Grand Hotel and One in the Park as Well

The traditional lighting of a Christmas tree marks the official start of the holiday season for many cities, including Monterey. On Friday, Nov. 29, the historic coastal city hosts its annual Holiday Tree Lighting on Cannery Row. The entire family is invited to join Santa, his reindeer and carolers at Steinbeck Plaza for this free and festive event. The city also celebrates at Colton Hall with a tree lighting, carols, candles, cookies and cheer on Friday, Dec. 6.

America’s last hometown, Pacific Grove, welcomes the holidays with an old-fashioned Christmas Tree Lighting at Jewell Park on Monday, Dec. 2. Jolly Old Saint Nick will be across the street at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History to meet and greet the little ones after the ceremony.

On Friday, Dec. 6, charming Carmel-by-the-Sea hosts its annual City Holiday Tree Lighting Celebration. Its towering 33-foot tree becomes the village’s welcoming beacon throughout the holiday season. The ceremony is followed by Carmel Plaza’s annual Holiday Open House featuring live music, an appearance by Santa and holiday savings at boutique shops.

The coastal city of Seaside will transform into the North Pole on Friday, Dec. 13, during its annual Winter Wonderland and Tree Lighting event at Seaside City Hall. Visitors are encouraged to pack their mittens as there will be real snow!

Historical Holiday Celebrations in Monterey County

Visitors can take a step back in time to visit bed and breakfast inns decorated in Victorian-era splendor at Christmas at the Inns and Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove. The innkeepers will open their doors Dec. 3 and 4, offering live entertainment and refreshments. Guests also can tour Asilomar Conference Grounds to learn about the work of celebrated architect Julia Morgan.

The Carmel Heritage Society is dedicated to protecting, preserving and promoting the history of Carmel-by-the-Sea, and every holiday season the non-profit group hosts the Inns of Distinction Tour. On Sunday, Dec. 8, participants will have the opportunity to tour Carmel’s finest inns and hotels decorated for the holiday season while enjoying light bites and local Monterey County wines.

Stroll through Historic Downtown Monterey for Christmas in the Adobes on Dec. 13 and 14. The annual evening event includes exploring 19th century adobes and Old Fisherman’s Wharf, while enjoying festive music, a variety of entertainment, tasty refreshments and more. Proceeds from this family-favorite event benefit the Monterey State Historic Park Association.

Monterey County Parades and Twinkling Lights

Get in the Christmas spirit during the Holiday Parade of Lights in Salinas on Sunday, Dec. 1. Marching bands, floats, classic cars and more travel up South Main Street and through Oldtown Salinas to the National Steinbeck Center for this family-friendly event.

On Thursday, Dec. 5, Santa and Mrs. Claus travel all the way from the North Pole to celebrate the 18th annual Holiday Pacific Grove Parade of Lights on Lighthouse Avenue. The parade will feature local marching bands, dance teams, holiday floats, equestrian groups and of course, Santa Claus.

Brighten the Harbor Lighted Boat Parade, sponsored by the Monterey Peninsula Yacht Club, has become a county-wide favorite holiday event. Illuminated boats will cruise along scenic Monterey Bay on Sunday, Dec. 8, competing for the “Best Decorated Boat” award.

Additional Holiday Fun

Instead of a sleigh and reindeer, Kris Kringle and Mrs. Claus will make their grand entrance in Carmel Valley by helicopter! The 61st annual Carmel Valley Santa’s Fly-In will happen at Carmel Valley Airfield on Saturday, Dec. 14. Families can then enjoy a community parade featuring the Carmel Valley Kiwanis Club famous train and Santa’s workshop.

Visitors can don their Santa hat and sneakers to run or walk along Pacific Grove’s stunning coastline during the Jingle Bell Run on Saturday, Dec. 14. This 5K race benefits the Arthritis Foundation and begins at Lovers Point Park. Plus, Santa will be present on this holiday-inspired race!

For more information on holiday happenings in Monterey County and to plan and book a holiday getaway, visit

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