West Coast cities get in the holiday spirit

If you want to get out of town for a Christmas getaway, three big cities on the West Coast have a variety of holiday attractions to make the trip worthwhile.

San Diego holiday

The weather doesn’t have to be frightful for a winter holiday celebration. In San Diego, December daytime temperatures are typically in the 60s, but there’s plenty of Christmas cheer, from holiday lights to ice skating.

Enjoy the outdoor ice rink next to the Horton Plaza shopping center, through Jan. 15. If you prefer pine trees over palm trees, you’ll also find a tall decorated evergreen here.

At the Del Mar Fairgrounds, check out one of the largest animated drive-through light shows on the West Coast, with 350 displays. Lighting displays are also on view at the Wild Animal Park, including a 52-foot lighted train, a giant nutcracker and toy soldiers. The annual festival includes caroling and trucked-in snow for sledding. And SeaWorld’s 320-foot tower is lit sunset to midnight through Jan. 2 with 2,022 light bulbs.

You can see “The Nutcracker” at Dec. 23 and 24 at Copley Symphony Hall. “A Christmas Carol” is staged at the Lyceum Theatre through Dec. 24.

On Dec. 18, from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., the Port of San Diego will host a Bay Parade of Lights with decorated and illuminated boats sailing a 71/2-mile route.

For more information, and for deals on hotel packages and attractions, go to www.sandiego.org or call 619-236-1212.

While you’re in the area, check out some of the activities 20 to 30 miles north of downtown San Diego.

For example, LEGOLAND has a 30-foot-tall tree made of LEGO bricks, and hosts a party with a LEGO Santa and reindeer, Dec. 17-31.

San Francisco diversity

Nothing could be more American than experiencing the holidays through various ethnic and cultural traditions.

And that’s easy to do in San Francisco, where Christmas can be found in many different forms, from performances of holiday favorites like “The Nutcracker” to customs from around the world.

At the ZEUM children’s museum (221 Fourth St.), you’ll find parols – colorful, star-shaped holiday lanterns from the Philippines. Several giant parols can also be seen outdoors on the Esplanade at Yerba Buena Gardens and nearby in St. Patrick’s Church.

The Japan Center presents a holiday “rice-pounding” ceremony at Post and Buchanan streets in Japantown on Dec. 18. Rice in large containers will be pounded into a sweet paste called mochi, which is eaten on holidays.

A menorah will be on display for Hanukkah from Christmas Day to New Year’s Day at Union Square, and a Kwanzaa celebration will take place at the Bay Area Discovery Museum on Dec. 26.

For traditionalists, there are decorated trees at Macy’s Union Square and Ghirardelli Square, and the carousel at Yerba Buena Gardens is lit up for the season. There’s also a cable car tour of holiday lights from Fisherman’s Wharf through Dec. 30.

You can ice skate at the Embarcadero Center through Jan. 1, and a few of Santa’s beasts of burden have been imported for a “Reindeer Romp” at the San Francisco Zoo through Dec. 31.

A gingerbread house display is up through Dec. 22 at the San Francisco Bay Area Discovery Museum. “A Christmas Carol” is being staged through Dec. 24 at the American Conservatory Theatre at 415 Geary St., and at the War Memorial Opera House through Dec. 29, you’ll find a version of “The Nutcracker.”

For more information, visit www.sfholidayfest.com or call 877-665-9673. If you use a Visa card to book two hotel nights or more through the Web site, you’ll get a “VIP Holiday Kit” with more than $50 in coupons and discounts.

Portland festivals

Historic homes decorated for the holidays, a festival with lights and music, and nighttime visits to the zoo are all part of the Christmas celebration in Portland, Ore.

The Pittock Mansion, where Portland pioneers Henry and Georgiana Pittock lived from 1914 to 1919, is decorated on the theme of “A Child’s Christmas,” with vintage toys, trains, dolls, garlands and poinsettias. Tours are offered through Dec. 31.

A huge holiday tree is on display in Pioneer Courthouse Square, and more than 60,000 visitors take in the Christmas Festival of Lights at The Grotto. The festival offers 160 holiday music concerts between Thanksgiving and Dec. 30, along with a walk-through outdoor lighting display, puppet shows and a petting zoo. Details at www.thegrotto.org/events/lights.htm.

Nightly at the Oregon Zoo, visitors can experience the ZooLights Festival, with live music, a train ride, costumed characters and food. (But if you want to visit the animals, come back in the daytime, as most of them will not be on display for the nighttime event.)

Looking ahead to New Year’s Eve, an extravaganza is planned at Mount Hood Skibowl with live music, a beer garden, fireworks and skiing and snowboarding until 2 a.m.; details at 503-222-2695 or www.skibowl.com.

In nearby historic Oregon City, through Dec. 30, you’ll find candlelight tours, afternoon teas with a living history theme, and visits with Father Christmas at the Ermatinger, McLoughlin and Stevens-Crawford historic homes. Other local attractions include a Christmas fantasy trail decorated with thousands of holiday lights, a walk-through tunnel, a castle and a maze, at Wenzel Farms, through Dec. 28, Mondays to Saturdays, 6-9 p.m.

For information about visiting Portland, go to www.travelportland.com or call 877-678-5263. For more information about holiday events in Oregon City and Mount Hood, visit www.mthoodterritory.com or call 888-622-4822.

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