Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Toddler X's Winter Planner (2014)

Welcome to Toddler X's Second Annual Winter Planner! 

Yes, it's true -- I was going to let the 2014 holiday season pass without putting together a Winter Planner post. I've got a lot on my plate right now, and being a perfectionist, I have a hard time publishing a list of events if I don't feel comfortable that I've researched the heck out of the topic and gotten everything just right. I hate the idea of sharing a list of holiday activities, only to hear, "But you missed this and you missed that." And frankly, I just don't have time to research everything right now.

But after quite a bit of thought, I decided to abide by the credo of one of Mr. X's college roommates: Good enough is good enough. I am going to accept -- in fact, I'm going to declare loudly -- that this is not a complete list of every holiday activity going on in the South Bay -- it's probably not even close. But it's a start, and hopefully it will point you in the direction of some merry winter fun with your toddler.

If you know of other toddler-friendly holiday events, by all means, do share! And if you've got a website link, even better. The more complete this list gets, the happier I will be.

And whether you celebrate Hanukkah or Christmas or just the closing of another year, I wish you and your family much joy in the months to come!

A final note: if you do find this post (or any of the content on SV Toddler) helpful, please consider doing your online shopping, year-round, via my Amazon links -- you can shop for any product at all, at no additional cost to you. Thank you so much!

Holiday Light Displays and Celebrations
  • Christmas in the Park, Downtown San Jose. Admission is free. A great holiday tradition for generations of families in the South Bay (including mine -- I loved visiting as a kid!), Christmas in the Park converts Plaza de Cesar Chavez in Downtown San Jose into a winter wonderland, with lots of fun, community-sponsored displays, animatronic animals and kid-friendly rides. We visited twice last year, and found that hitting the park early in the day (they open at 9:00 a.m.) yielded a very toddler-friendly environment, with room to run, unobstructed views of the displays, and no lines for the rides. Christmas in the Park opens on Friday, November 28th at 5:30 p.m. with the Community Giving Tree Lighting Ceremony, then is open from 9:00 a.m. - midnight every day (including Christmas) through January 1st. I'll post about Santa Visits and special events in the appropriate sections below.
  • Holiday Lights at Gilroy Gardens, Gilroy. December 5-7, 12-14, 19-23 and 26-30 from 3:00-8:00 p.m. Definitely buy your tickets online, and if possible, buy with a group -- at the park, tickets are $39.99 each, but online they're $34.99 each, and if you buy 4 or more together, it goes down to a slightly more palatable $29.99 each. You can also buy event and meal tickets together -- see website for details. There are nightly shows, pictures with Santa available for purchase, and all the normal rides, including special Christmas versions of the train and South County Backroads. Because I haven't been to this event before (but will definitely be going this year!), I plan to ask my readers for feedback on Holiday Lights -- check back here for a link to the post and reader opinions as to whether the event is worth the cost.
  • Fantasy of Lights, Vasona Park, Los Gatos. Monday, December 8 - Wednesday, December 24, 6:00-10:00 p.m.  Each year, the Santa Clara County Parks folks set up an amazing drive-thru light display in Vasona Park, and cars line up for miles to check out the show. Unfortunately, this can mean long lines (and grumpy toddlers), but fortunately, I have readers with great suggestions for actually enjoying your night. There is also a special, one-night-only walk through event on Saturday, December 6th from 5:00-9:00 p.m., and it is $5 per person for ages 3 and up.
  • Neighborhoods with Great Light Displays. Everyone knows a street or area where the residents go all out with their Christmas Lights each year. If you'd like to check out a new one this holiday season, visit this site for a searchable database of great displays.

Holiday Trains

No toddler holiday would be complete without a train ride (that's totally untrue, but seemed like a good way to start this section), so here is a list of several local options for hitting the rails, holiday style:
  • Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad Holiday Train, Oak Meadow Park, Los Gatos. Wednesdays - Sundays, December 10th-22nd, 6:00-9:00 p.m. $5/person ages 3 and up; kids 2 and under are free. Price includes unlimited carousel rides. Friends have reported great things about this ride, which takes in a section (but not all) of the Vasona Fantasy of Lights Display, but there's been one word of caution from everyone who's done this: WEAR WARM CLOTHES. It gets chilly out there. For more details, check out the link.
  • Roaring Camp Railroad Chanukah Train, Roaring Camp Railroad, Santa Cruz, December 18th. Gather in Santa Cruz for the lighting of the menorah, then set off on a train ride for stories, games, food and fun.
  • Holiday Tree Walk, Roaring Camp Railroad, Felton. November 28-30, December 6-7, 13-14. Ride a steam train to a mountain summit, where you'll sip cider and wander amongst decorated trees.
  • Santa Cruz Holiday Lights Train, Roaring Camp Railroad, Santa Cruz. November 28-29, December 6-7, 13-14, 20-23. This popular train departs from Santa Cruz and chugs around town while the passengers enjoy cider, sing Christmas carols, and visit with an on-board Santa.
  • Niles Canyon Railway Train of Lights, Sunol/Niles, every Wednesday and Friday-Sunday "during the holiday season." An hour-long ride through Niles Canyon filled with music, refreshments and cheer aboard decorated vintage train cars. Prices vary depending on what seating option you choose, but infants and children 2 and under are free if they sit on your lap and don't occupy a seat.
  • Gilroy Gardens. The fun little train that circles the park is transformed into the Polar Express during the Holiday Lights celebration, described above. 
  • Christmas in the Park. This one isn't a guarantee, but last year there was a fun little train ride inside the Christmas in the Park setup (not on the outside with the big carnival rides) that was a perfect toddler adventure. We rode multiple times for just a few tickets each.
  • Ardenwood Farm, Fremont. The little train at Ardenwood will be chugging during Ardenwood's Christmas at Ardenwood Event on December 6th and 7th, with rides available between 10:15 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. (cost included with park admission -- see Miscellaneous Events category below). This is just their normal train with no special Christmas features, but it doesn't run often in the fall and winter -- it's operating this one weekend due to the Christmas at Ardenwood event, so I'm calling it a Christmas Train.

Holiday Carriage Rides, Trolleys and Cable Cars
  • Saratoga Holiday Tree Lighting and Wine Stroll, Big Basin Way in Saratoga, November 28th, 5:00-8:00 p.m. (tree lighting at 5:30). Holiday music and caroling, kid zone, and horse-drawn carriage rides.
  • Los Gatos Horse-Drawn Carriage Rides, Downtown Los Gatos. November 28-29, December 5-6, 12-13, 18-23, 5:00 - 9:30 p.m. A 15 minute ride that starts in Town Plaza, visits one of Los Gatos' beautiful neighborhoods, and cruises down North Santa Cruz. See site for prices; kids under 3 are free on a lap.
  • Los Altos
  • Willow Glen Cable Car Rides, Downtown Willow Glen, evenings on December 12, 14, 19, 20 and 21. $20 for adults, $12 for children.
  • Holiday Carriage Rides, Downtown Los Altos, December 12-14, 19-21, 22-23, 26. $110 per carriage ride (up to 4 adults and 2 children).
  • Historic Trolley Rides, Downtown San Jose (between Diridon and Civic Center Light Rail stations), November 28-December 27, 6:30-10:00 p.m. on Fridays, 2:30-10:00 p.m. on weekends. Free! 

Tree and Menorah Lighting Ceremonies

A couple of tree lighting ceremonies have already taken place (it's too soon, I say -- way too soon!), but many local cities and venues are waiting until after Thanksgiving. Here are some still to come:

Week of November 24th
Week of December 1st
Week of December 8th
Week of December 15th

The Perfect Tree

While many people rave about the experience of chopping their own Christmas trees in a pristine mountain setting, our recent tree-chopping adventures have more closely resembled the Clark Griswald Christmas Vacation scenario, so we actually stick to -- no joke -- Whole Foods these days. (They have gorgeous trees, excellent car-strapping service, reasonable prices, and you can pick up lots of yummy treats for a tree-decorating celebration during the same trip!)

But since I know many of my readers do want to chop down their own trees, here are some options (just watch out for hitchhiking squirrels):
  • Battaglia Farm, Morgan Hill.
  • Los Gatos Mountains farms
  • Lemos Farm, Half Moon Bay.
Other popular area lots (with pre-cut trees) include:
  • Giordano Farm, San Jose.
(Obviously this section needs some work! Suggestions, websites and details are welcome.)

    Santa Visits

    While I can't get to every mall or Santa hangout in the South Bay, I have some wonderful readers who have been happy to share their photos and experiences with local Santas. Below is a list of non-mall Santa photo ops, then a link to a FB post with reader impressions and favorites among mall Santas.

    Non-Mall Options:
    • Lunch with Santa and the Peanuts characters at Gilroy Gardens, November 29-30, 12-1 or 1-2 p.m. Next weekend is Gilroy Gardens' last weekend of normal operations for the year, and in addition to their standard hours (11 a.m. - 5 p.m.) and offerings, they're also hosting a lunch with Santa and the Peanuts characters both days, with two seatings. I'm assuming that this includes a chance to meet and be photographed with Santa, but I haven't confirmed -- please contact Gilroy Gardens to ask if you plan to go. You can buy a special lunch + admission ticket, or if you have a season pass and already get in free, you can just pay separately for lunch. It looks like kids 2 and under are free (both for entry and the lunch). 
    • Santa's Workshop during Holiday Lights at Gilroy Gardens. Pictures with Santa available for purchase (no personal photography), and obviously you have to pay admission for Holiday Lights as well. Open during Holiday Lights operating hours (see Holiday Lights Displays section above for details).
    • Santa's Photo Booth at Christmas at the Park. The hours aren't up on the website yet, but check back for details.
    • Santa Claus at the Granada Theater, Morgan Hill. December 6th, 10 a.m. - 1 p.m. $5 fee. Santa available for photos.
    • Santa at the Garden Theater, Willow Glen, San Jose. November 29 and December 7, 13, 14, 20, 21, 2:00-4:00 p.m.

    Mall Options:
    For a reader report on experiences with local mall Santas, check out this Facebook post.

    Miscellaneous Events

    In addition to the events mentioned above, there are lots of random fun activities going on over the holiday season. This is one section I haven't even started to research yet, so by all means, please make suggestions!


    • Winter Wonderland, Downtown San Jose, November 26-January 4. Carnival rides adjacent to Christmas in the Park.
    Week of December 1st
    Week of December 8th
    • Westgate Mall Mommy & Me, San Jose, December 10th, 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. Holiday theme.
    • Children's Holiday Festival, History San Jose, History Park. December 13th, 12:00 -4:00 p.m. Children 2 and under are free; others are $5. Crafts, storytime, and Santa arriving on a historic trolley.
    • Cookies and Books with Santa, Bascom Branch Library, San Jose, December 13th, 11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. Free.
    • Santa Visits Seven Trees, Seven Trees Branch Library, San Jose, December 13th, 11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. (Santa visits and photos), with crafts, music, games and activities continuing until 2:30 p.m.
    • Visit Santa and Winter Storytime, Hillview Branch Library, San Jose, December 13th, 2:00 - 4:00 p.m. (crafts and music continue until 5:00 p.m.). Free. 

    Week of December 15th

    Wishing you and your family very happy toddling this holiday season! And, again, if you find this post helpful, I would greatly appreciate you doing your online shopping, now and year-round, via my Amazon links -- you can shop for any product at all, at no additional cost to you. Thank you so much!


    1. Not sure if this qualifies as Holiday Lights or Holiday Trains, as you can't actually ride the train: http://www.holiday-train.org/.

    2. Thank you so much for this beautiful share dear. Anyway, I am planning for a party and in deadly in need of help to search out best venues in Chicago. Can you help me please?


    Hmm...what to do today?