Ahh, Laguna Beach. Its artsy sophistication, casual ambience and picture-perfect coastline make it a must for spring and summer. But did you know it's equally ideal during the holidays? Come wintertime, the seaside charmer features so many fun and family-friendly events that Travel + Leisure magazine named it one of the top 25 towns in America to spend the holidays in 2014.
So make your holiday getaway list — check it twice — and celebrate in Laguna Beach! Here's a sampling of the merrymaking.
First Thursdays Art Walk
Toast the holidays at more than 40 galleries, many with festive décor, nibbles, drinks and gift ideas. On Nov. 5, Laguna North Gallery features wine, cheese and "Tiny Houses," one-of-a-kind hand-painted houses perfect as gifts. On Nov. 5 and Dec. 3, Kelsey Michaels Fine Art showcases gift-appropriate small art works. And don't miss Cove Gallery and Seven-Degrees while you're making the rounds. Free. www.firstthursdaysartwalk.com
Sawdust Art Festival's 25th Annual Winter Fantasy
Arts and crafts from 175 artists are just the beginning of this seasonal sensation. Live entertainment on three stages, Dickens carolers, food, drink, art classes, Christmas trees, real snow and Santa Claus himself offer something for everyone. Five weekends: Nov. 21 through Dec. 20, open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Paid admission. www.sawdustartfestival.org
The Laguna Playhouse
Laugh out loud at "A Snow White Christmas," Dec. 2 through 27. Audience participation is a must at this slapstick British-style panto musical, which mixes classic fairytales, family-friendly magic and modern pop songs. $50 Golden Tickets can be added on to any children's ticket, allowing the youngster an onstage sing-a-long experience.
Holiday hijinks continue with "Sister's Christmas Catechism: The Mystery of the Magi's Gold," Dec. 14 and 21. It's CSI: Bethlehem as the feisty Sister makes the audience part of her class in this uproarious nativity/crime scene! Ticket details for both shows at www.lagunaplayhouse.com.
Hospitality Night and Santa's arrival!
Santa comes to town Dec. 4, welcomed by Laguna's biggest street party. Enjoy live entertainment, hot chocolate and holiday happenings as Santa and his "reindeer" ride through town in an open air trolley and light the Pepper tree at City Hall. Festivities continue throughout downtown with an ice skating rink, holiday shopping, and food and drink provided by local merchants and nonprofits. Free. www.lagunabeachchamber.org
Close encounters with Santa
Santa settles into town to greet kids and parents at Santa's House on Forest Avenue in downtown, daily from Dec. 5 through 24. Free. www.visitlagunabeach.com
Crystal Cove Alliance tree lighting and Deck the Cove
Get holiday sand in your toes at the Deck the Cove family tree-lighting ceremony Dec. 5 at the Crystal Cove Historic District. A beachfront appearance by Santa, strolling carolers, a holiday bazaar and sunset tree-lighting create a magical evening. Free. www.crystalcovealliance.org
Best holiday hotels
Montage Laguna Beach goes all out with lavish décor, a gingerbread house and pastry-making classes, spirits-tastings and professional holiday storytellers. Treat your younger children to the Santa Claus Tuck-In, with an in-room visit by Santa who reads "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" and brings milk and cookies. If they're older, have a personalized holiday stocking filled with gifts delivered to their room. Christmas Eve features carolers, refreshments, a reading of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," kids writing letters to Santa and tree decorating. Champagne for adults and celebration for all ages rings in the New Year. www.montagehotels.com/lagunabeach
Celebrate on the beach at the Surf & Sand Resort. Delight your kids with the S'mores & Snores package featuring an in-room tent, holiday-themed stuffed animals and a s'mores-making kit for around the fire pits. For romance, the Night to Remember package is the holiday favorite, including a one-night stay and breakfast for two. Pamper yourself on Thanksgiving Weekend with free daily Fitness on the Beach workouts and daily spa treatment specials. Savor up-close ocean views at Splashes Restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas Day or New Year's Eve dinner and celebration. www.surfandsandresort.com
—Barbara Beckley, Tribune Content Solutions