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While sun-drenched Orange County may not seem like a festive spot, The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel makes it a wintertime destination with a slew of holiday events. Every Sunday before Thanksgiving, the luxury hotel holds its annual tree-lighting ceremony where its 50-foot Christmas tree lights up, live holiday music is performed and Santa makes an appearance.
There’s also an elaborate gingerbread display each year that revolves around an ocean or beach theme. In 2011, there was a replica of a tall ship docked at Dana Point that used 254 pounds of gingerbread, 625 pounds of candy, 350 pounds of icing, 20 pounds of gingerbread sand, 100 pounds of white chocolate, 35 boxes of cereal and 1,600 man hours from the pastry team. The 2012 display is dubbed the Holiday Fanta-Sea-Land Gingerbread Spectacular, with Santa lounging on the beach, Rapunzel, Cinderella, the seven dwarves and a Godzilla-like creature emerging from the sea carrying presents. The sugary beach scene is made with doughnuts, waffles, pretzels, cream puffs, rolls, cookies, crackers, cereal, macaroons, dried fruit, chocolate shavings and lots more.
A holiday event that is uniquely Southern California is the annual Surfing Santa weekend. The hotel holds a Surfing Santa contest, where you’re asked to wear a red hat while riding waves. There’s also a surfboard auction, where you can bid on autographed boards from big names like Laird Hamilton and celebs like Flea and Anthony Kiedis from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Proceeds from both events help Surfers Healing, an organization that teaches autistic children to surf and the sport’s therapeutic benefits.
The Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel also offers free holiday storytelling sessions, a teddy bear tea with hot chocolate “tea” and a grown-up seasonal tea, a Christmas Day buffet at the oceanfront Pavilions and holiday menus at Raya and enoSTEAK.
You also can celebrate New Year’s Eve at the Orange County hotel; Raya and enoSTEAK will serve multicourse à la carte menus.