A celebration of New Year’s at 4 different times throughout the day as the clock strikes midnight in other countries. Confetti and noise makers make this a party to ring in the new year!
What We Did:
I have a membership (C and my husband don’t) so we went to the member’s only time which was the first one of the day. The countdown was happening at 11 AM and they opened at 10. We got there a little bit after 10 and there weren’t too many people there yet, but numbers sure increased around 11! The toddler area was completely taken down so there would be more room for the confetti drop and there was a screen up for the countdown.
After checking in and paying, we were given some noise makers for the countdown and told about all the activities set up. There was a face painting station where you could draw on yourself (or your child.) It looked really fun and the kids really got into it! We were also told about the 2 different arts and crafts areas. One area was making 2018 crowns. From everyone else’s creations, it looked like there were markers, crayons, stickers, and glittery stickers. C would not have worn his so we went to the other area which was noise makers! They had pre-made noise makers (paper plates glued closed with something rattle-y inside.) Each kid could color and decorate with stickers as they pleased. C actually colored on his own for the first time!
That was about it for C’s attention span so he ran around for the next 30ish minutes. We played in the Trader’s Joes area where C tried to put back all of the other kids’ groceries. Then we looked at the chicks in the farm area. He actually got on the stage where other kids were playing with instruments. An older boy gave him an instrument and C was thrilled. It was really cute. And of course, C’s favorite – sitting in the various cars.
At about 10:45, we were called over to the countdown area. The staff was really good during this little show. They had kids teach them the countdown, talked about Bangladesh (which was the countdown we were doing), and did various other interesting things. During this time they were also handing out more noise makers.
Then it was time for the countdown and confetti! There were 2 different confetti shooters, one on each side of the plaza we were in. We weren’t in the area that it actually fell on, but it worked for us because C was a little unsure. They shot them off at least 3 times and the kids loved it!
There was so much confetti that kids were playing and dancing in it even after it had all fallen. We let C walk around in it and did our own little confetti drop with him. He was unimpressed. But the other kids were having a blast and it was really cute to watch.
So many activities to do.
Arts and crafts!
Lots of teaching content for kids that are a little bit older.
Not So Good:
It can get a bit crowded.
Depending on the age (and temperament) of the older kids there it can be hard for a really small one to have fun.
$12.50 for anyone over 1.
We had a good time. C loves Pretend City anyway. Now that he is old enough to start enjoying the events we will be there a lot! He didn’t really understand lots of the content yet, but that just means that he will keep learning every year.
Special decorations for the holidays around the aquarium. Both Christmas and Chanukah (even Kwanzaa) decorations are out. Plus gingerbread house displays, characters in holiday outfits, and a Santa diver.
**I know this isn’t in Orange County, but I thought it was really fun for kids so I figured I would write about it!
What We Did:
We went the 23rd, so we knew it was either going to be super packed or pretty empty. It really could have gone either way but we lucked out and it was pretty good. It wasn’t empty, but nothing was crazy packed. I think that other weekends were more hectic though.
Side note: we missed the Penguin Walk so I don’t really know what that was. I wanted to make it there in time for this, but it just didn’t work out.
Outside the aquarium they had a small snow area set up. You needed aquarium entry to be able to play there so they suggested that you go in and get your hand stamped to be able to access it. It looked like they kept the number of kids in it pretty low and there wasn’t really a line when we went by it both times, but we decided not to go in since we knew it would make C cold.
Once inside we noticed that Santa was doing pictures. We waited in line for less than 5 minutes and got a picture with Santa. They let us take our own pictures and did take professional pictures too. This worked out really well since in the same area there was supposed to be “snow fall.” So we kind of hung around until the time that was supposed to happen.
While we were waiting, the otter character came out to take pictures with everyone. We took our pictures and then they started the “snow” so everyone after us in line has pictures with the otter while the snow is falling on them. C was happy either way and we were in a great spot to let him see all the “snow.” (Which was a guy with the soap bubble machine spraying it off the second floor.)
They were also doing holiday crafts and a holiday film (The Grinch That Stole Christmas) but we knew C wouldn’t be in to that stuff so we walked around for a bit and then grabbed lunch. Santa was on a break before his next activity and so he was walking around the little restaurant saying hi to the kids which was really nice.
But then he had to get ready for his dive. That’s right, there was a Santa dive! He talked to everyone while he was doing his SCUBA inside one of the large tanks. There were also 2 elves and a “reindeer” helping him out. What we saw of the show was really cute. C lost interest so we walked around a bit more, but it was actually a really engaging show for older kids and adults. I was pretty impressed.
Fun little activities that don’t take a ton of time.
Big open spaces so crowds don’t feel like a huge issue.
Not So Good:
Parking. I hate that you have to pay to park there, but keep an eye on the price and make sure to validate at the aquarium only if you spent enough time there to make that price worth it!
Adults: $29.95 and kids (3-11): $17.95.
C loves the aquarium so this was fun to him. I liked that it wasn’t crazy packed. The Santa diver show was well done. I think this was totally worth the drive. We will absolutely go again next year!
Winterfest aims to bring winter to Orange County. They have all sorts of winter activities including ice skating, tubing, snow, and nightly tree lighting and fireworks.
*Many of my pictures did not really turn out or had a large amount of kids in them, so I don’t have much!
What We Did:
I have to start off by saying that I was really excited for this. I have been wanting to go for years because it sounded fun and I love wintery stuff. I finally convinced my husband we should go this year.
We bought tickets online before the run of Winterfest started because they were a bit cheaper this way. We ended up picking the day after Christmas because it started December 21 and that just didn’t leave a ton of time before the holidays came about. After looking at their schedule, we planned to get there around 4:30ish so that we could be there for the parade, tree lighting, “snow fall,”and fireworks show at 5:30.
Since we already had our tickets we waited in line for check in. Despite the fact that they had about 8 people to check tickets, there was no way to get to the ones in the back since they were blocked by the people getting checked in at the front. Apparently it was taking so long since if you bought upgraded tickets you got a wristband. We had general tickets and there was no one that could just scan our tickets and let us in. A minor thing, but I think this could be done better.
After checking in there were a bunch of photographers with green screens set up. We took a picture, but my husband was wearing a green jacket and C was wearing a green onesie so they were both see through in the picture. It was amusing and I would have bought it if it didn’t cost $30! In case you go, don’t wear green if you want this picture!
Once inside we wanted to get the lay of the land. We found where the tree lighting and “snow fall” area were so we knew where to go for that. On one side they had some rides and carnival games. Very similar to things you’d see at a fair. We stopped by the tubing hill was and talked about if we wanted to wait in line for one of us to do it. (Answer was no.) The tubing looked fun and people looked like the enjoyed it.
We had some time before the parade so we went to check out the snow play area. They bring in fresh snow everyday since it melts so fast. We passed the petting zoo which had a HUGE line. I wanted to take C in, but it was so not worth the wait since there was no time limit once you were in there. There were some bounce houses and ropes course things for older kids and a stage where an unenthusiastic Rusty Rivets thing was happening. Whether he was unenthusiastic because of the small audience or if the small audience was because of the quality, I will never know.
Then came the snow area. It is all under a tent. There are probably 3 different little snow sections and a snow hill for kids. It was advertised and labeled on the map that there was a specific toddler snow play area. We didn’t see anything labeled in the tent as to which area was which and there were no employees watching the play areas (they were only at the snow hill) so we had no idea. And neither did any kids. Older kids were in all of them. Having intense snowball fights. There was one section that adults with littler ones seemed to gravitate towards, so we went there. In order to get in you have to step up the 1 1/2 foot step into the snow area. It was a little rough, especially while holding a kid. C walked around a little bit, but moved on quickly. Getting out was even harder than getting in and we ended up having to get one of us out to take C so the other person could get out. It was super slippery and a big step.
Around that time we headed back for the parade and all that. We got a nice spot right around the tree and discussed food options since we had about 10 minutes before everything was supposed to stop. At this point we knew we weren’t going to stay too long so even though there were really good food options, we decided against it. 5:30 (the parade start time) came and went. And nothing. No announcement, no parade. Around 5:45 they made an announcement that things would start soon. Now as you can imagine kids were MELTING down. They’d all been sitting there for at least 20 minutes and many longer than that. It was not good. 5:50 is when things finally started. There wasn’t a parade like they make it seem. It was more an announcer and a few people dressed up walking into the tree lighting area. Disappointed.
The host guy pulled a few kids in to help get the tree lit. It probably took about 5 minutes. He then said to make sure to say hi to all the characters and I thought it would be fun to get pictures with them after, but I have no idea where they disappeared to. They seem to have left VERY quickly. There was a short fireworks show loosely set to music that was over the building the tubing was in. That was kind of fun to watch. It wasn’t anything spectacular but it was good. The fake snow fall was limited to a few areas but it seemed to fly around nicely. If you want to be near the snow fall though, pick a spot close the the edges of the ice skating rink. Then it was over. We waited 40 minutes for that. More disappointment.
Then came the best part. We bought a hot cocoa. It was $3 and a nice size for the price. It tasted really good. I got to drink it on our walk through the Festival of Lights. I love Christmas lights and decorations so I was kind of looking forward to it. It was okay. There were quite a few lights that were out so the decorations weren’t complete, but it was cute.
On the way out we stopped at the World’s Largest Ornament. You can walk through it and take pictures. It was a quick stop and we got our picture taken by a nice family. We did have to wait a few minutes to get in because there was a large group blocking each entrance taking pictures, but that isn’t surprising.
And that was it. We spent about 2 hours there and most of it was waiting to the parade/tree lighting/fireworks/”snow fall.” Other than the tubing, we did everything that we could do without buying more experience tickets. I felt bad that I dragged us to this. There are so many other holiday activities out there that we could have gone to!
The hot chocolate was good and a really good size.
Not So Good:
There wasn’t the parade that they show online.
The tree lighting and firework show didn’t start anywhere near on time.
The supposed toddler snow area was not patrolled so there was no actual toddler area.
You get nearly nothing with just the cost of admission.
They advertise that a lot of things are included, but those things aren’t really anything at all.
General admission for kids: $12-17 (depending on if you buy online or there) and for adults: $17-$22 (depending on if you buy online or there.)
Ice skating, rides, games, and many of the attractions all cost extra.
Parking is an additional $8.
So obviously I was not impressed. This was not what I wanted it to be and I felt that we paid for way more than we got. Because we bought early we paid $15 for each adult. Including parking we spent $38 (hot cocoa not included!) for less than 2 hours. Sure we got some cute pictures by the giant ornament and it was a way to get out of the house, but we thought it was a massive disappointment. We will probably never go again unless I hear that it has changed quite a bit and only when C is old enough to be able to do ANYTHING. If you have older kids that can play carnival games and rides, then this would be a lot more fun.
A ride on the Irvine Park Railroad to see Santa Claus. There are also a bunch of decorations, games, activities, and a bounce house.
What We Did:
Our train tickets were from 7-8 PM so we figured we would get there a little early and walk around the village and activities they had set up. The parking lot has no lights so it is REALLY dark. Make sure you have some sort of light you can use!
There were a bunch of photo areas set up in the village and none had any lines. People were really nice abut helping to take family pictures too! Lots of lights and fun things to look at which I really liked. There was even an area with Christmas trees set up that you could take pictures around.
When we were there none of the games or activities had any lines. They looked pretty fun, but there was nothing for C to do so we just enjoyed the lights and let him run around for a bit. They had cookie decorating, an ice fishing game, little car rides, a bounce house, and a few other carnival type games.
Around 6:45 we figured we should out where to line up for our 7 PM train. That is when we found out that people were already lining up. We were not even close to the front of the line. No big deal. I’d rather not spend all night waiting in line. They checked tickets and I really liked that they required your entire party to be there when you checked in since you were getting in line for the train. We didn’t make the first train which wasn’t an issue with us. Until one of the employees loading the train found a lost kid. They couldn’t let the first train go until the little girl was reunited with her family (totally understandable!) But it look 15 minutes because her family didn’t know she was missing. We were in line for probably about 30-40 minutes, after checking in which means you can’t get out of line, before we got on the train. So bring snacks and/or something to amuse the kids in case this happens to you!
The train stops halfway through the normal route to see Santa. They have a huge area set up where Santa is and everything is decorated amazingly. What we didn’t know is that people run off the train to get in line for Santa. It honestly didn’t take that long in line though so I don’t know why people ran. Maybe other times were longer wait times. They also have a small snack booth set up. The great part about Santa pictures is that they take some, but they also allow you to take some with your camera and will take group ones with your camera too!
Then the train ride back to the starting area! The tunnel they go through is lined with lights and looks really cool. The older kids on the train really loved it. It was really well done!
Very nice set up. They know how to keep things moving!
The decorations. There are so many lights and it looks really good!
Lots of activities before or after the train ride. (Or even if you don’t have train tickets!)
Not So Good:
Long lines which can mean long wait times.
Lines were way more competitive than I thought!
Not a ton for those that can’t play carnival games.
$15 per person over age 2 for the train. Activity tickets cost $5 each. And parking costs $3 on weekdays and $5 on weekends, but after 5 PM is free.
This was fun. I knew that we wouldn’t be able to do much with C so we mostly paid for the train ride. And that is exactly what we did. I think that this is a fun family activity and we were surrounded by people that did this every year. It seems like something great to do with kids that are a little older. It is pretty hard to get tickets to the time you want so you have to be ready to buy and fairly open with your schedule! If we can get tickets again, we will go!
Snoopy House is a tradition in Costa Mesa. It used to be held at a residential house (starting in 1966) and they set up holiday decorations featuring the Peanuts characters. Once they were unable to keep it at their home, the city stepped in and started hosting it at city hall.
**I have pictures from both this year (2017) and last year (2016.) I try not to include pictures of other people’s kids so I included some (okay, a lot) pictures of last year since it was a lot less crowded and you can see some of the decorations.
What We Did:
We went totally spur of the moment and found a great parking spot so we were feeling pretty good! I have gone to the Snoopy House for many years so it is a tradition for me and I’m glad that we can take C.
They had a snow area set up with real snow and it was super packed. Kids were getting a little wild and crazily throwing snowballs. A friend of mine went a different night and her 1 year old got pelted in the face. So we let C touch the snow and then got out of there pretty quickly. It was so crazy that I wasn’t able to get any pictures in that area..
They also have a “snow” fall that happens every so often. We were there for it twice this year and C though it was really fun. They have it come down in 2 different spots and once it starts everyone kind of runs to that area. We tried to time it, but it didn’t follow any pattern that we noticed.
They have a small train ride that is free as well. The line is normally pretty short and goes fairly quickly. I really wanted C to try it but I didn’t trust him alone on it since there aren’t really seat belts and it is kids only. I think next year will be perfect! There was some live entertainment going on around this time which was a local band playing Christmas carols. I’m sure the quality of entertainment varies as the different acts switch out. Local groups also sell various items as a fundraiser. A local high school was selling hot cocoa the night we went, but this varies as well.
The main attraction is all the decorations. There are some really cool decorations set up around the area. There are a bunch of different scenes set up featuring the Peanuts characters. Some of theme move and some of them are store fronts. There is even one that is a small building that you can go inside and write letters to Santa in.
This year I noticed that they had a Snoopy dog house set up that was super popular to take pictures in front of. We tried to wait in line for it, but it wasn’t going to happen. Kids were going inside of it and hanging out in it. It was really cute. There was also Lucy’s psychiatric booth to take pictures in. C loved this. I don’t know why, but works for me!
Santa comes every night at 7 and does free pictures in a cute little set up. We missed him last year and this year there was already a line starting before 7 so we figured it wasn’t worth it. If you want pictures, I suggest having someone hold a place in line while the kids have fun!
It is a free event. Even photos with Santa!
It is generally pretty laid back.
The snow, “snow fall”, and train rides are really fun for the kids.
Not So Good:
Parking is fairly limited right at city hall. You can park in the area though and spots turn over pretty quickly.
There isn’t a ton to do so it is a pretty quick event.
It can get crowded!
They line the ground with hay so if you have a hay allergy (like my husband) make sure to take an allergy pill before you go!
Since this is really local to us, we will keep going. It is a tradition for me and since it is free I don’t have to worry if we leave pretty quickly. I think it is amazing that this all used to be at someone’s house. I actually found an old picture I took from 2004 when it was still at the family’s house! Plus you can see a little more of the type of decoration that is up!
Holiday decorations, music, free photos with Santa (Santa is only there on certain days), and train rides.
Snoopy House is a tradition in Costa Mesa. It used to be held at a residential house and they set up holiday decorations featuring the Peanuts characters. Once they were unable to keep it at their home, the city stepped in.
Costa Mesa City Hall (77 Fair Dr, Costa Mesa, CA 92626)