Where to Go for Thanksgiving Break in California

Yosemite is a fun place to visit for Thanksgiving.
Yosemite is a fun place to visit for Thanksgiving. Photo courtesy of Guy Francis.

In Southern California, Thanksgiving is usually too early for powder skiing but too late for swimming at the beach, so where does one go for a local Thanksgiving break? Of course, I aksed my very opinionated kids – Disneyland. “But it’s crowded,” I said. “We will only go on one ride,” they answered. “Ya, right,” I thought.

I love Disneyland, and I love the magic in my kids’ eyes when they go there. It is, after all, the penultimate weekend getaway for families with kids in Southern California. In fact, fall is one of my favorite times to visit Disneyland. But if Disneyland isn’t in the cards or you want to avoid crowded amusement parks, here are a few magical alternatives.


While the falls might not be raging, Yosemite can still be an awesome place to visit in November. It’s ideal for families looking for smaller crowds and more isolated hiking paths. Especially if you are a California native, a weekend in Yosemite during Thanksgiving break can offer the brood a brisk adventure – and if you live in the San Fernando Valley, like me, it can offer some much-needed chillier weather. That being said, the weather is somewhat unpredictable – it could be snowy or it could be fairly dry – so be prepared for any type of adventure.

And for those who don’t plan on cooking at home, there are several options for Thanksgiving meals at The Awahnee, Yosemite Lodge and the Wawona Dining Room.

Tenaya Lodge, located just outside the park, also offers Thanksgiving dining as well as holiday activities such as gingerbread house decorating, a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony and sleigh rides, weather permitting.

www.yosemitepark.com; www.tenayalodge.com

San Luis Obispo

I love the historic charm of downtown San Luis Obispo and nothing gets me in the holiday spirit more than the cozy weather of California’s Central Coast (obviously, I must be a Cali native). So, heading to SLO for a few days to escape the L.A. smog and bask in the crisp coastal air is my idea of heaven. It also doesn’t hurt that there are some cool local events nearby to go along with the visit such as the Holiday Craft Bazaar in downtown Paso Robles on Nov. 28 as well as a tree-lighing ceremony with Mrs. Claus herself at the bandstand at 5:30 p.m.


Mammoth Mountain

With the drought in California, who knows if Thanksgiving will be a banner year an Mammoth Mountain for skiers. But it’s never a bad idea to beat the holiday heat in L.A. with a trip to the Eastern Sierra. And who knows, maybe those desperate to hit the slopes can get in some turns before Black Friday and also take advantage of early-season booking rates.


Taking the Train to Christmas Town

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas…well, it’s still 100 degrees, but it’s almost chilly at night. So, it’s time to start thinking about booking tickets to Christmas Town on the train in Watsonville, Calif. The Train to Christmas Town will begin departing this holiday season on Nov. 28-30, Dec. 3-7, Dec. 10-14, Dec. 16-23 and after Christmas, Dec. 26-28.

Train to Christmastown in Watsonville, Calif.
Train to Christmastown in Watsonville, Calif.

The Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (SCCRTC) approved the Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway (SCMB) for a 2-year operational plan for the Train to Christmas Town holiday train ride from Watsonville.

“We are very pleased with the outcome of this vote,” stated Jeff Weeks, General Manager of the SCMB. “Having a passenger train operation in Santa Cruz County will complement the positive economic impact freight service has had and, we believe, will be a huge asset to the community’s tourism landscape.”

The Train to Christmas Town event is based on the book of the same name written by Peggy Ellis. It is accompanied by whimsical illustrations of the lively characters including Janice and Bumble Bee the Polar Bear. The book is a holiday saga that highlights timeless and meaningful Christmas themes as readers follow Janice’s annual journey to Christmas Town. It all comes to life aboard vintage passenger rail cars decorated for the holidays. The cheerful Conductor punches each passenger’s ticket while elves travel through cars serving hot chocolate and cookies. The book is read aloud, and there is merry holiday fun and fabulous music by Grammy winning singers/songwriters Trout Fishing in America.

Train to Christmas Town tickets are now on sale at www.traintochristmastown.com or by phone at 888-978-5562. Tickets start at $17 for kids and $22 for adults. New this year, group discounts are available in Standard Class seating for parties of 25 or more paying guests. Tickets for high demand dates like weekends and dates closest to Christmas sell very quickly.