Visitors take photos inside a giant Christmas tree ornament during Winter Fest OC at the OC Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa on Thursday evening. On New Year’s Eve, Winter Fest will feature a ball drop and a countdown to fireworks at both 6 p.m. and midnight(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)
Spectators enjoy a fireworks show during Winter Fest OC at the OC Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa. The annual event continues through Jan. 6 at the fairgrounds.(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)
Children and adults ride the Snow Flake Summit Ice Slide during Winter Fest OC at the fairgrounds in Costa Mesa. The event seeks to bring a wintertime experience to sunny Orange County.(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)
Visitors take photos outside a giant Christmas tree ornament during Winter Fest OC at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa. The event features rides, games, man-made snow and plenty of photo opportunities.(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)
Though temperatures were well above freezing, adults and children skate Thursday evening at Winter Fest OC, an annual holiday event at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)
Friends O’Mara Hartwich, right, and Quinn Jacobs, left, both 3, play around during Winter Fest OC at the OC Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa.(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)
Santa Claus flies by on his slay as the Christmas tree lights illuminate Winter Fest OC at the OC Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa on Thursday. The event, which includes a New Year’s eve party, concludes Jan. 6.(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)
I asked my 4-year-old recently if she knows what snow is.
She nodded with certainty, as if to say: Of course I know what snow is. You know, like in the cartoon “Ni Hao, Kai-lan,” when Kai-lan not only goes snow sledding, but also builds a snow coaster (a roller coaster made of snow) with her animal friends.
Or “Paw Patrol’s” Everett, the grayish-lavender husky with the rescue snowmobile who loves “‘belly-bogganing.”
Not to mention “Frozen.” There is a lot of snow in that movie.
But the only time she’s ever seen snow was when she was a year old. We drove 90 miles east to Palm Springs and took the aerial tramway to Mt. San Jacinto State Park. For most of the trip, she stayed snugly in my Ergobaby carrier, while we hiked a slippery trail. We sat her down in the snow for just one minute for photos, so we could always remember that puffy, white-and-pink teddy bear snowsuit that we never used again.
Such is the life of an Orange County family. Sure, you can go to the beach any day of the year, but a Christmas with snow and frost is something you only see in movies and TV.
So Winter Fest OC sounded fun.
“Daddy’s excited too,” my husband told her as we walked toward the entrance of the Orange County Fair & Event Center. “Daddy’s never been to a winter festival either.”
Though this was our first time, it’s Winter Fest OC’s fourth year. The 18-day festival returned Dec. 20 and runs through Jan. 6.
Since we have two kids under 5, we skipped the sections of the festival that looked fun for older kids (and adults) 42 inches and over — the ice-skating rink, the ice-tube racing and the roller coasters — and went straight for the Paw Patrol meet-and-greet, only available at certain times during the day. It was the first time I’d seen cartoon characters mobbed to the point that they needed to be separated from the crowd to control the kids (and their camera-happy parents). Chase and Marshall of “Paw Patrol” will be available until Christmas Day, and throughout the festival there are scheduled meet-and-greets with Hatchimals, PJ Masks, Octonauts and Peppa Pig.
But what my daughter, who’s never really been impressed with adults dressed as animals, really wanted to see was snow.
So we headed to Penny’s Snow Play, the tented area geared toward younger kids. Fresh snow is brought in daily, and there are multiple areas where kids are free to play. Plus, there’s a smaller sledding area that kids as young as 2 or 3 can go down safely — as long as they’re not too scared to go by themselves — because the littler ones lie on their backs on the sled on their way down, and there’s someone on the bottom to catch them.
After they’re done with snow, there are all the other fair staples: the petting zoo, the carnival games, the bounce houses, the mazes, the pony rides — and the craft booths where kids can use markers, small wooden snowflakes and pipe cleaners to make foam ornaments shaped like snowmen, balls and Christmas trees. And Santa and Mrs. Claus are hanging out at SoCal Dicken’s Village (a new attraction), which is basically a holiday shopping bazaar where everyone is cosplaying as a character from the 19th century — though they also have Christmas cookie decorating and storytelling time.
But if you can brave that 65-degree weather with some light down jackets, Winter Fest OC gets extra beautiful at night, when all the giant walk-through ornaments made of lights really dazzle and there’s an outdoor walkway with 2 million lights of animated displays that you can take a train ride through if your kid likes trains. Who doesn’t love trains?
Plus, every day at 5:30 p.m., there’s a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony with fireworks and a flying Santa with reindeer up in the sky.
All for a $10 entrance free. But the memories — like watching my daughter walk around everywhere with her hands out in front of her face, because she’s never worn mittens before and she doesn’t seem to know what to do with her hands — are priceless.
Winter Fest OC takes place through Jan. 6 at The OC Fair & Event Center, 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa. For more information, visit winterfestoc.com.
Ada Tseng is the entertainment editor for Times Community News.