Sunday, November 22, 2015

SV Toddler's Winter Planner (2015)

Welcome to my Third Annual Winter Planner! 

Having closed out my Fall Planner two weeks ago, it's time to move right on into winter! Yes, I know winter doesn't technically begin until late December, but with Costco selling Christmas decorations in September and mall Santas arriving just a few days after Halloween, I figure I'd better publish the planner now, or the whole season will pass me (and the toddlers of the South Bay!) by entirely.

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 affiliate links -- you can shop for any product at all, at no additional cost to you. Thank you so much!

Ongoing Holiday Displays and Celebrations
  • Christmas in the Park, Downtown San Jose. Opens on Friday, November 27th at 6:00 p.m. with the Community Giving Tree Lighting Ceremony, then is open from 9:00 a.m. - midnight every day (including Christmas) through January 3rd.

    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 once already this year, and we've found that hitting the park early in the day (they open at 9:00 a.m. -- this year we went at about 10:30) yielded a very toddler-friendly environment, with room to run, unobstructed views of the displays, and no lines for the rides.

    Admission is free.
  • Winter Wonderland, Downtown San Jose, November 25-January 3. Hours vary -- check link for details.

    A whole area of carnival rides adjacent to Christmas in the Park, this is one of Toddler X's favorite holiday activities! There are a bunch that are toddler-friendly (they have a list at the ticket stand), and if you're going to be there for a while, a $15 wristband might be a good investment (rides are $3.50 each, so you only need to hit five to get your money's worth). If your toddler isn't tall enough to ride without you, be sure to budget in a few tickets for yourself too. Check the link for open hours before going -- we've dealt with a disappointed toddler in the past, when the rides didn't open until 11:00 and our Christmas in the Park trip was planned for 9:00.
  • Holiday Lights at Gilroy Gardens, Gilroy. December 4-6, 11-13, 18-23 and 26-30 from 3:00-8:00 p.m.

    Holiday Lights is a wonderful event -- we visited for the first time last year, and returned twice more before the season was over (we got the full value of our 2015 Premium Passes before 2015 even began!). The entire park is festively lit, Christmas carols are playing on the loudspeakers, and there's an air of merriment about. Visiting GG at night is fun in and of itself, as that's not an option the rest of the year. There are nightly Peanuts shows, pictures with Santa available for purchase, and all the normal rides, including special Christmas versions of the train and South County Backroads (all year long, Toddler X has been asking when the 12 Days of Christmas are going to be back). The turkey dinner is surprisingly tasty as well -- we enjoyed it on two separate occasions.

    All this fun, however, comes at a hefty price. I don't think they've released the details for 2015 yet, but last year tickets were $39.99 per person (ages 3 and up), with a discount if you buy online ($34.99 each), or if you buy 4 or more together ($29.99 each). There is a deal if you buy admission and the meal ticket together. Admission to this year's Holiday Lights is not included with your 2015 park pass, regardless of the level, but if you buy a 2016 pass now, you get unlimited Holiday Lights visits for this year, as well as free parking and admission for all of 2016's regular season (this is what we plan to do again).
  • Fantasy of Lights, Vasona Park, Los Gatos. Sunday, December 6 - Thursday, December 31, 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. Historically, this has meant long waits (and grumpy toddlers), but this year they're shaking everything up by requiring a prepaid ticket for a specific time slot -- no more showing up and sitting in line. You can buy your ticket online (see the link above) or at the Parks Department office, and you must commit to a specific time in advance. While I love the idea of eliminating long waits, I also liked spontaneous visits, and I'll certainly feel badly for those whose prepaid times end up being in the midst of a winter storm. I'll keep you posted as I hear reader feedback about the new system. Cost is $20 per car, with up to 12 people.

    There is also a special, one-night-only walk through event on Saturday, December 5th from 5:00-9:00 p.m. As of this writing, the walk-through event is completely sold out.
  • Santa's Wonderland at Bass Pro Shops, San Jose. Opens Saturday, November 14th at 5:00 p.m. and runs through December 24th. Check the link for a detailed schedule.

    A new addition to the South Bay scene this winter, Bass Pro is offering a Santa's Wonderland, featuring free photos with Santa, crafts, games and activities, as well as cool Christmas displays. Schedules differ by day of the week, and hours are extended as Christmas approaches, so check out the link for details. We visited the Bass Pro Santa's Wonderland in South Carolina a few years ago, and they really did a great job creating a festive atmosphere -- hopefully they nail it here in San Jose as well!

    Tips from friends and readers: the line to see Santa is apparently crazy, so plan to use the option where you pick up a pass when you arrive, then return for your picture at a designated time. There is plenty in the store to occupy you until that point.

Tree Lighting Ceremonies

Menorah Lighting Ceremonies

Ice Skating
  • Downtown Ice, San Jose. November 13th - February 7th. Open daily -- see link for schedule, special events, and fees.
  • Santa Clara on Ice, Santa Clara's Central Park. Saturday, November 21st to January 18th Open daily -- see link for schedule, special holiday hours, and fees (kids 3 and under are free with paying adult!).

  • Festival of Lights, Los Altos. Sunday, November 29th at 6:00 p.m. A popular lighted parade through Downtown Los Altos.
  • Los Gatos Children's Parade, Downtown Los Gatos. Saturday, December 5th, 11:00 a.m. Lots of fun, but gets crowded -- arrive early to find parking.
  • Morgan Hill Holiday Parade, Downtown Morgan Hill. Saturday, December 5th, 5:30 - 7:30 p.m. Culminates with the city's tree lighting.
  • Gilroy Holiday Parade, Downtown Gilroy. Saturday, December 5th, 5:30 p.m. (followed by tree lighting at 6:30 p.m.).
  • Lighted Boat Parade, Santa Cruz Harbor. Saturday, December 5th, 5:30 p.m. Boats of all sizes, brightly illuminated, cruise through the Santa Cruz harbor channel, as onlookers marvel from land. I've never been, but it's supposedly quite a spectacle!

Holiday Trains
  • Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad Holiday Train, Oak Meadow Park, Los Gatos. Opens on Sunday, December 6th, then runs various dates (Thursday - Sunday, except Christmas week, when it's Monday - Wednesday) until December 23rd from 6:00-9:00 p.m. $6/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.
  • Holiday Tree Walk, Roaring Camp Railroad, Felton. November 27-29, December 5-6, 12-13. Ride a steam train to a mountain summit, where you'll sip cider and wander amongst decorated trees. Discount with a donation to Toys for Tots.
  • Santa Cruz Holiday Lights Train, Roaring Camp Railroad, Santa Cruz. November 27-28, December 5-6, 12-13, 18-23. 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.
  • Caltrain Holiday Train, Various South Bay and Peninsula Caltrain stations, December 5th and 6th. Check link for specific times. This is an awesome outing for a family! We had a blast last year at the Santa Clara station. (Note: this is a train you watch, not ride.)
  • Chaunukah Train, Roaring Camp Railroad, Santa Cruz, December 9. A one-hour lighted train ride, along with a Menorah-lighting, traditional games, foods and stories.
  • 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 North Pole Express during the Holiday Lights celebration, described above. 
  • Christmas in the Park. There's a fun little train ride inside the Christmas in the Park setup (not on the outside with the big carnival rides) that that Toddler X and his pals have enjoyed the past two years. The ride-alone height is pretty low, meaning the kiddos get to chug around on their own while mom and dad wave.

Holiday Carriage Rides, Trolleys and Cable Cars

  • Saratoga Holiday Tree Lighting and Wine Stroll, Big Basin Way in Saratoga, Friday, November 27th, 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. Various dates between Friday, December 4th and Wednesday, December 23rd, 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.
  • Willow Glen Cable Car Rides, Downtown Willow Glen, evenings on December 12, 13, 19, 20 and 21. $25 for adults, $12 for children.
  • Holiday Carriage Rides, Downtown Los Altos, December 18-26. Can't find specific information beyond the date this year.
  • Historic Trolley Rides, Downtown San Jose (between Diridon and Civic Center Light Rail stations), November 27-December 27, 6:30-10:00 p.m. on Fridays, 2:30-10:00 p.m. on weekends. Free! 

Santa Photos and Greetings
(for additional Santa encounters, see various tree lighting ceremonies listed above and special events listed below)
  • Photos with Santa at the Ainsley House, Campbell. Saturday, November 28th, 10:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. Photos, crafts, hot cocoa and holiday movies.
  • Selfies with Santa, Bella Carta Studio, Downtown Willow Glen, San Jose. Saturday, December 5, 2:00 - 5:00 p.m.; Sunday, December 13, from 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m., and Sunday, December 20, from 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. For $5 charge, you take your child's picture with Santa.
  • Professional Photos with Santa by La Luce Photo, Bella Carta Studio, Downtown Willow Glen. Sunday, December 6th, 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.; Saturday, December 12th from 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.; and Saturday, December 19th from 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. See link for more details.
  • Sensitive Santa (a quiet Santa experience for children with special needs), Barrett Elementary School Library, Morgan Hill. Thursday, December 10th, 6:30 - 8:00 p.m. Bring your own camera for pictures.

Holiday Special Events

In addition to the events mentioned above, there are lots of random fun activities going on over the holiday season. Please make suggestions if you know of any others!
  • Toddler Time with a Park Ranger, Almaden Quicksilver Park, Casa Grande -- Quicksilver Mining Museum, San Jose. Friday, November 27 and Saturday, November 28, 10:00-11:00 a.m. An hour of turkey talk with a Santa Clara County Parks ranger -- appropriate for ages 1-6.
  • Carol of Lights, Downtown Campbell. Saturday, December 5th, 5:00 - 8:00 p.m. Snow play area, petting zoo, bounce houses, and more family fun at this free event.
  • Free Family Winter Open House, Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History. Saturday, December 5th, 11:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. Hot cider and cookies, activities and nature crafts.
  • Children's Holiday Festival, History San Jose, History Park. Saturday, December 5th, 12:00 -4:00 p.m. Children 2 and under are free; others are $5. Crafts, storytime, carolers, and Santa arriving on a historic trolley.
  • Evergreen Village Square Holiday Event, San Jose. Saturday, December 5th, 11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. Free Santa photos, entertainment and more.
  • Hometown Holidays, Downtown Redwood City. Saturday, December 5th, 10:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. Parade, entertainment, snow, Santa Claus, and a grand finale at this free holiday party.
  • Caltrain Holiday Train, Various South Bay and Peninsula Caltrain stations, December 5th and 6th. Check link for specific times. This is an awesome outing for a family! We had a blast last year at the Santa Clara station. (Note: this is a train you watch, not ride.)
  • Celebrate the Holidays Event, Rivermark Village, Santa Clara. Sunday, December 6th, 1:00 - 3:00 p.m. Not sure quite what this entails, but apparently Santa will be there, there will be letter-writing for kids, and an Elf on the Shelf scavenger hunt. See link for more details.
  • Hooray for Hanukkah, Children's Discovery Museum, San Jose. Sunday, December 6th, 12:00 - 5:00 p.m. Activities, crafts, food and performances. Included with museum admission.
  • Chanukah Festival, Courthouse Square, Redwood City. Sunday, December 6th, 4:00-6:00 p.m. Menorah lighting, entertainment, food and more.
  • Westgate Mall Mommy & Me, San Jose, December 9th, 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. A holiday theme for Westgate's monthly parent-kid event.
  • Santa's Storytime Puppet Show, The Garden Theater, Downtown Willow Glen, San Jose. Saturday, December 12th, 3:00 p.m. Santa tells the story of the Three Little Pigs, but with a Christmas twist. Free.
  • Celebrate Chanukah at Santana Row, San Jose. Sunday, December 13, 3:00 - 5:00 p.m. Food, entertainment, crafts, activities, and storytime.
  • Jingle Shells Arts and Crafts Festival, Seymour Marine Discovery Center, Santa Cruz. Sunday, December 13th, 12:00 - 5:30 p.m. Arts and crafts from local artisans, crafts for kids, refreshments, entertainment, and a chance to check out the exhibit hall. $6 adults, $4 kids, 2 and under are free.
  • Willow Glen Christmas Cruise, Lincoln Avenue, San Jose. Saturday, December 19th, 6:00 p.m. (holiday lights cruise begins at 7:00 p.m.). If you have a cool car, decorate it and join a vehicle parade around Willow Glen to check out the Christmas lights -- or just show up and watch the decorated vehicles cruise by!
Library Events (Updated 12/22/15)

In addition to being a great place to stock up on holiday books (ask a children's librarian for the holiday section -- most libraries have them), our local library systems feature lots of holiday fun. Here are some upcoming activities. (I'll be adding other library systems' calendars as time permits.)

San Jose Public Library System (all activities can be found via this link)
  • Holiday STEAM for Kids (Ages 3+): Science, technology, engineering, art and math activities for kids with a holiday twist.
    • Location: Educational park Branch Library, Tuesday, December 22nd, 3:00 p.m.
    • Biblioteca Latinoamericana Branch Library, Tuesday, December 22nd, 5:30 p.m.
  • New Years Celebrations throughout the World: Craft and learning
    • Location: East San Jose Carnegie Branch Library, Wednesday, December 30th, 1:00 p.m.
    • Location: Bascom Branch Library, Wednesday, December 30th, 3:30 p.m.
  • Fratello Marionettes: North Pole Review: An exciting holiday puppet show.
    • Location: Almaden Branch Library, Saturday, December 26th, 2:30 p.m.
    • Location: East San Jose Carnegie Branch Library, Tuesday, December 29th, 1:00 p.m.
Santa Clara County Library System (all activities can be found via this link)
  • Snowflakes and Salsa, Cupertino Library. Children of all ages and their caregivers can dance the winter blues away with this interactive musical program. Program is from 10:15 - 11:00 a.m. on the following dates:
    • December 22, 23 and 24
    • December 28, 29, 30 and 31
  • Holiday Rock, Rhythm and Roll, Campbell Library. Lively musical program for kids 1-5 and their grown ups. Wednesday, December 23, 10:30-11:00 a.m.
  • Drop In Seasonal Crafts, Campbell Library. For ages 3+. Wednesday, December 23rd, 1:00-3:00 p.m.
  • Children's Seasonal Movie, Cupertino Library. Thursday, December 24th, 2:00 p.m.
(Please note that the foregoing just reflects the libraries' holiday activities -- there are still plenty of normal storytimes, crafts, etc. going on too. Check the calendars linked above for the full list.)

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 affiliate links -- you can shop for any product at all, at no additional cost to you. Thank you so much!

1 comment:

  1. Just went to Snowflakes and Salsa and the program is only 15 min. Just a heads up!!


Hmm...what to do today?