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Winter Fest O.C. returns to the fairgrounds in Costa Mesa after 2 years of drive-through events

 Haylee Hanks, Lacy Duckwitz, Ava Williams and Lily Duckwitz ride down a snow slide at a sneak preview of Winter Fest O.C.
Haylee Hanks, from left, Lacy Duckwitz, Ava Williams and Lily Duckwitz glide down a snow slide Wednesday during a sneak preview of Winter Fest O.C. at the county fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Locals seeking wintertime fun during the pandemic had to revel from the safety of their vehicles, as drive-through experiences replaced in-person events. But starting on Friday, Winter Fest O.C. at the Costa Mesa fairgrounds is back and bigger than ever.

The festival makes its full return for the first time since 2019 — after which organizers were forced to reformat the event into the vehicle-centric Night of Lights O.C. — and combines some of the classic features of the longtime festival with fan favorites from the drive-through version.

For the record:

10:07 a.m. Nov. 29, 2022An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Winter Fest O.C. Executive Producer Mark Entner.

Mark Entner, executive producer of the event, said while Winter Fest O.C. has grown and changed since its introduction to the fairgrounds in 2015, the spirit behind the festival remains the same.

A revamped Winter Fest O.C. returns to the O.C. fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, with in-person attractions and 2 million lights.
The revamped Winter Fest O.C., a combination of the classic festival and the drive-through Night of Lights O.C., opens Friday and runs through Jan. 1.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

“We wanted to bring winter to the O.C.,” Entner said in an interview Monday. “The event has definitely become an annual tradition for Southern California families looking to escape and celebrate the holidays in a winter wonderland experience.”

Visitors can come and stay to watch some two million lights on display, walk along a “North Pole Journey” through immersive pavilions that each tell part of a progressive story, from Festival of Lights to Winter Wonderland to Holiday Town to Toyland Circus and ending in the Santa Sendoff.

“Each one really engages our guests, from a visual standpoint,” Entner said. “There are a lot of Instagram moments for people to enjoy, including a 360-degree video selfie experience.”

Lacy Duckwitz, left, Haylee Hanks, right, and Lily Duckwitz, center, with characters at a sneak preview of Winter Fest O.C.
Lacy Duckwitz, left, Haylee Hanks, right, and Lily Duckwitz, center, are greeted Wednesday by Princess Crystal, Steam Engine Sam and Yowie the Yeti during a sneak preview of Winter Fest O.C.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Attendees may also enjoy outdoor ice skating, ice bumper cars and live performances, careen down a 150-foot ice slide on an innertube and play mini golf or go on carnival rides, though some of the activities cost extra.

While Night of Lights O.C. took visitors through a massive display in 30-minute intervals, the revamped Winter Fest O.C. allows guests to take their time enjoying as many of the offerings as they want.

Live entertainers, including the event’s mascot, Yowie the Yeti, have been rehearsing in the weeks leading up to opening day, preparing for a tree lighting celebration that takes place each day at 5:30 p.m. and features dancers, music and snow flurries along with lots and lots of lights.

Winter Fest O.C., runs through Jan. 1 at the Orange County Fairgrounds, 88 Fair Drive, in Costa Mesa. Hours of operation are Thursdays and Fridays, from 4 to 10 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays, from noon to 10 p.m. with special New Year’s Eve hours on Dec. 31 (noon to 12:30 a.m.)

General admission is $19.95 for adults and $14.95 for children ages 3 to 12. Ice skating sessions, carnival rides, bumper cars and mini golf cost extra, and VIP add-ons, including a cabana experience for up to eight people, are available. For more, visit winterfestoc.com.

Orange County youths pose for photos with Santa Claus Wednesday during a sneak preview of Winter Fest O.C.
Orange County youths pose for photos with Santa Claus Wednesday during a sneak preview of Winter Fest O.C. The event runs Friday through Jan. 1 at the O.C. fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

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