Santa Claus waving from the back of a silver convertible driven by a chauffeur

Countdown to Christmas: 22 Ways to Celebrate the Holidays Sonoma County-Style

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Say hello to Santa: Santa sure knows how to make an entrance. In Wine Country, he likes to arrive by different modes of transportation: tractor, boat, train—even helicopter. This year, due to the pandemic, Santa has had to cancel a few appearances, but you can still see him over breakfast at Costeaux's Bakery in Healdsburg (Dec. 11 and 18). 

A young man and woman serving food at a shelter Spread holiday cheer: 'Tis the season for eating lots of food, exchanging gifts and getting together with friends and family. But the holiday season can also be a difficult time for many, including those who are homeless, alone or struggling to make ends meet. This year, spend some time helping those in need: feed the hungry at the Redwood Empire Food Bank, volunteer at Committee on the Shelterless (COTS), support seniors in Sonoma County through the Council on Aging. More volunteer opportunities here

Posada Navidena by Calidanza

Be dazzled by a Mexican posada: Celebrate the culture and traditions of Mexico with Posada Navideña by Calidanza (Dec. 10-12), held virtually this year via the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts (viewing is free). Las Posadas are traditionally celebrated over nine nights, ending on Christmas Eve; they tell the biblical story of Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter during the first Christmas. Sacramento-based Calidanza’s interpretation of Las Posadas, with artistic director Steven Valencia, tells the story in a single night’s program. The members of the group, nearly two dozen strong, bring youthful wit and vibrancy to Mexican storytelling and dance. 

Petaluma Lighted Boat Parade Watch a lighted boat parade: Put on a parka, gather the family and pick your spot on the Petaluma River for one of the most charming holiday parades you’re ever likely to see. A flotilla of decorated, lighted vessels—from canoes to stately yachts—gathers at Petaluma Turning Basin at around 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 11 for a graceful glide at 6 p.m. into Petaluma’s historical downtown district. The lighted boats remain docked downtown throughout the night behind the Great Petaluma Mill. This year, stand-up paddleboards are welcome, too. More info here

Buche de NoelSay feliz navidad, god jul or joyeux noël: Nothing tugs at our heartstrings like the foods of Christmas past. Whether it's mom's pecan pie, abuela's tamales, Swedish pickled herring or a bûche de Noël, we all crave a little taste of our heritage during the holidays. Find holiday foods from around the world at Sonoma County's restaurants and bakeries: Tamales Mana makes our favorite steamed corn cakes, Sarmentine Artisan Boulanger in Santa Rosa will have bûche de Noël, Stockhome restaurant in Petaluma serves a traditional Swedish julbord and glögg (Dec. 12 and 19) and 9 Islands Bakery in Rohnert Park has Portuguese pastéis de nata. 

Saint Teresa de Avila Church in Bodega See a Christmas card church: Bodega's Saint Teresa of Avila, a white New England-style church with a tall steeple, looks like something out of an old-fashioned Christmas card. And just before Christmas, it is lit up around the door and decorated inside with garlands. The great photographer Ansel Adams immortalized the church in a photograph that became one of his favorites and it was famously featured in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds.

Acrobat with La Cirque de BohemeEnjoy an old-fashioned French holiday spectacle: Michel Michelis's Le Cirque de Bohème has enthralled children and adults during a series of sold-out annual performances. Echoing the style of 1920s nouveau-cirque and the French Christmastime circus tradition, it blends circus acts — clowns, mimes, trapeze artists, tightrope walkers, contortionists and jugglers — with a captivating storyline and live music. This year's show, "Behind the Mirror," will treat the audience to a "magical moment of entertaining" at Cornerstone Sonoma (Dec. 11, 12, 18, 19, 25 and 26). 

Gingerbread house competition at Hotel PetalumaSee upscale gingerbread houses: Some might say it's not officially the holiday season until you've had your first gingersnap. But for some, a cookie is not enough. At Hotel Petaluma's 5th annual gingerbread house showcase and competition (Dec. 17), you'll see creations that would lure any modern-day Hansel and Gretel right into the witch's cauldron. Some gingerbread houses even replicate historic Petaluma mansions. 

Winter Lights Santa Rosa holiday skating rinkLace up those skates: There may not be snow, but icy winter fun has arrived in downtown Santa Rosa with a newly installed synthetic ice skating rink at Old Courthouse Square. The attraction is a project of the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber and is the first of its kind for downtown. Skates are available for rent and the rink will be open most weekdays and weekends during the afternoon and early evening until Jan. 9. Tickets are $8.50 and include skate rental. For a larger rink indoors, head to Snoopy's Home Ice. Morning, midday and evening public skating sessions are available. 

Holigays are Here by the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus Make the yuletide gay: The acclaimed San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus returns to Sonoma County with “Holigays Are Here” (Dec. 18), a rollicking performance of zany holiday antics, traditional carols and new surprises. The holiday extravaganza features a choir of over 150 voices, special guests, and live musicians. The concert at the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park benefits Face 2 Face, ending HIV in Sonoma County. 

Fireplace at Stark's Steak & Seafood in Santa RosaHear the fireplace roar: Contrary to popular belief, it can get cold in Sonoma County. While we've all pretty much mastered the art of layering, there's nothing like a fireplace to warm you up after a day spent outdoors — or freezing in your office cubicle. Several local restaurants serve up ember-enhanced meals and drinks sure to get you into the holiday spirit; a few favorites include Catelli's in Geyserville, John Ash Front Room and Stark's Steak & Seafood in Santa Rosa and El Dorado Kitchen in Sonoma. 

The Warm Puppy Cafe at Snoopy's Home Ice in Santa RosaWarm up with a hot drink: While we're on the topic of staying warm, how about a hot drink with a spoonful of childhood nostalgia? At Snoopy's Home Ice in Santa Rosa, order a Peppermint Patty Hot Chocolate at the The Warm Puppy Café. Then cozy up by the fireplace before you consider putting on those skates. For a more grownup version, try the Aztec Mocha with double espresso, Valrhona chocolate and chilies at Flying Goat Coffee in Healdsburg. 

Holidays Along the Farm Trails in Sonoma CountyShop local: Swap the dreaded mid-December mall experience for a wholesome old-school event. Holidays Along the Farm Trails, a.k.a. the perfect antidote to seasonal anxiety, allow participants to get into the holiday spirit by visiting local farms, creameries and cideries. On the Farm Trails, buy gifts (often in the form of delicious artisan foods) or make your own at DIY workshops. You can also cut your own tree and, best of all, greet the farm animals.

Shaggy white dog in a red Christmas sweater Shop for Fido: If your dog has been a good boy or girl, head to Fideaux in Healdsburg for a sweater, toy or treat. This boutique carries everything from Pendleton dog beds and Molly Mutt duvet covers to collars, leashes, doggie jackets and pet wall art (including Dogs of Duke’s advent calendars). Lots of treats are available, from Kongs to doggie ice cream. And for the discerning Wine Country dog, choose from a fully-stocked bar of stuffed toys, like Woof Clicquot or Pinot Grrr. 

Christmas nutcrackers collection at Costeaux French Bakery in HealdsburgGet cracking in Healdsburg: At Costeaux French Bakery in Healdsburg, see rows of whimsical, militarily-precise nutcrackers stand ready for inspection. Their ranks are arrayed on shelves installed just for the holidays and spill over into every nook and cranny of the bakery. There is even an extra tall version to greet you as you walk through the bakery’s open gates. The nutcracker view is best enjoyed with pain perdu and a Ghirardelli chocolate mocha before holiday shopping on the plaza.

Wreath from flower Casita in PetalumaMake your own wreath: Join local floral designer Tali Bouskila of Flower Casita in Petaluma for a workshop designing artistic holiday wreaths. Bouskila and her team prefer to work with local growers and unique foraged finds. “We’re inspired by what already happens in nature. We find the shape of each stem, we find the colors; we like to look at things for what they really are and emphasize their natural beauty, as opposed to manipulating them into a tight, ball-like design,” she explains. Wreath-making classes are $100 per person; five-person minimum. 

Holidays in Healdsburg tour with Wine Country Walking ToursSip, savor and shop: "Holidays in Healdsburg" (through Dec. 30) is a cherished seasonal tradition in Sonoma County. During a four-hour guided tour, enjoy the Christmas-tree-lit plaza, colorful street decorations, festive window displays and carolers; savor seasonal bites and sip wines at three boutique wineries; or take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage. Tours start at the gazebo in Healdsburg’s central plaza at 10:45 a.m. $119 per person. Book tour online at Wine Country Walking Tours.  

Christmas tree and decorations in the lobby of the Hotel Petaluma Visit hotels for the holidays: If you’ve always wanted an enormous Christmas tree but are perhaps a bit short on ceiling space, make your way to Hotel Petaluma, where a 12-foot evergreen towers in the building’s courtyard. In years past, the hotel has even made it “snow” in the courtyard— fingers crossed for that happening again this year. More local hotels are helping guests and visitors get into the festive spirit with special events, treats and holiday decor. 

Flutes of sparkling wine at Sigh Champagne Bar in SonomaGet sparkling: For celebratory sparkles for the holidays, head to SIGH Champagne bar in Sonoma. No reservations needed, and they offer a flight of three sparklers for $25: Currently, Champagne Monthuys, Simonnet-Febvre Brut Rosé and Chloe Prosecco. If you have teetotalers or beer drinkers in your party, this is a great tasting room option. They also offer draft beer, regular wine and non alcoholic beverages, as well as snack-sized bites, both savory and sweet. 

Holiday lights in the trees of Sonoma PlazaAfter a sip of bubbly, Sonoma Plaza offers holiday cheer and attractions for history buffs, from the Sonoma Mission to the barracks and Toscano Hotel, all within two blocks. There’s a big parking lot behind the barracks on First Street East.

Christmas Miracle holiday pop-up at Brewster's Beer GardenImmerse yourself in holiday decor: Brewsters Beer Garden in Petaluma is transformed into a winter wonderland come Christmastime as it is decorated with thousands of merry tchotchkes. The kitschy decor is paired with holiday dishes like brisket with house-made pickles and cocktails infused with spiced apple cider, cinnamon cognac and other seasonal flavors. Check out the restaurant's Miracle Market, too. Tables are set with holiday gifts like Santa pants mugs and ugly sweaters. Through early 2022. 

stillwater cove redwood trail

Take a quiet winter hike: Shady forest groves are a respite from the flurry of the holiday season. Located just off Highway 1 in Jenner, the entrance to Stillwater Cove Regional Park is easy to miss. This hidden gem features three miles of trails surrounded by lush ferns and towering redwoods and is a popular spot for beach picnics. Parking is available at the day-use lot east of Highway 1.

Written by Sonoma Magazine Staff