When it comes to celebrating the holidays, the North Pole has nothing on Florida, where Santa gets to wear swim trunks and his reindeer frolic in the sand. Here are some of jolliest holiday happenings in the Sunshine State
Can it get any better than the annual Surfing Santas event on the Space Coast? Every year Cocoa Beach welcomes thousands of surfing Santas, from Rastafarian Santas, to Batman Santas, Grinch Santas and, of course, plenty of traditionally-dressed Santas (maybe in shorts instead of pants).
The big event happens on Christmas Eve morning along the beach near 2 Minutemen Causeway. It all began as a family tradition nearly a decade ago, when George Trosset went surfing dressed as Santa with his son and daughter-in-law who were dressed as elves. In the true spirit of the season, the event is free.
2 of 20 Photo courtesy of Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau
Hop on The Polar Express, an experiential train ride departing from Brightline’s Fort Lauderdale station. Riders on festive train can meet Santa and his helpers and relive the classic story in the form of special performances, surprises, hot chocolate, cookies and more.
Dubbed as “The Greatest Show on H20,” the annual Seminole Hard Rock Winterfest Boat Parade is truly a sight to behold. Brightly lit boats of all sizes, including mega yachts, cruise along the 12-mile parade route on the Intracoastal Waterway.
It’s also a great opportunity to experience the fanfare along Fort Lauderdale’s iconic Las Olas Boulevard, which transforms into a picturesque Christmas village lined with plenty of bustling shops and outdoor cafes.
3 of 20 Photo courtesy of Florida’s Historic Coast
America’s oldest city is aglow every year during their annual Nights of Lights of celebration. The festival starts with a countdown before Thanksgiving with a flip of a switch from the Plaza de la Constitucion. All of the city’s most important landmarks like the Bridge of Lions and St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum collectively feature more than three million Christmas lights. See the sights aboard Old Town Trolley’s Famous Nights of Lights Tour, or aboard the 76-foot Schooner Freedom. The festival continues through the New Year.
4 of 20 Photo courtesy of Franklin County TDC
In Florida’s oyster capital, Santa’s preferred method of transportation is via shrimp boat! Every year, the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce hosts an old-fashioned Christmas celebration in the streets of the downtown historic district. As tradition dictates, Santa shows up on a shrimp boat at the City Dock on Water Street.
Downtown merchants host a Holiday Fresh Market featuring local art, wood carvings, pottery, and plenty of home-baked pastries. And don’t miss Carrabelle’s Holiday on the Harbor event along Marine Street on Saturday, December 8 with a festive boat parade.
5 of 20 Photo courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island
Stroll through historic downtown Fernandina Beach during the annual Dickens on Centreevent, and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to Victoria-era Britain. In true Charles Dickens-inspired fashion, the event features carolers, period vendors, festive lights, holiday décor and horse-drawn carriages.
Be sure to check out the 17-foot gingerbread pirate ship at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island.Inspired by 19th century pirates, it took a crew of eight pastry chefs and 350 hours to prepare 600+ pieces of baked gingerbread!
6 of 20 Photo courtesy of Santa’s Enchanted Forest/Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau
7 of 20 Photo courtesy of Visit South Walton
With their small-town appeal, the beach destination like Seaside in South Walton offer lots to do this holiday season. Kick off the celebration with an annual Christmas Parade in Seagrove Beach, then see Santa again with a lively countdown to “turn on the town” holiday lights event.
The Village of Baytowne Warf is hosting its annual Sparkling Wine & Holiday Lights Festivalfeaturing 30 kinds of Champagne, the first tree lighting of the season and a choreographed light show. Head over to Grand Boulevard to see their annual Festival of Trees, a Christmas tree decorating contest in which local non-profits compete to win cash prizes for the best dressed tree.
8 of 20 Photo courtesy of Aaron Lurie, VMA Studios/Discover the Palm Beaches
Kick off the holidays in Delray Beach and their mammoth 100-foot Christmas tree. Standing 10 stories high, holding 39,500 ornaments and twinkling with 15,000+ LED lights, this tremendous structure is one you’ve got to see to believe.
The best part? Santa will arrive by helicopter for the 25th anniversary of the lighting of the tree. The lighting ceremony is followed by more festive events like carols by candlelight, “cookie cruises” with Santa on a yacht, classic storytelling and not one, but two parades: one on Atlantic Avenue and a boat parade on the Intercoastal Waterway with the neighboring town of Boynton Beach.
9 of 20 Photo courtesy of New Smyrna Beach Area Visitors Bureau
New Smyrna Beach
The season commences over on Canal Street, New Smyrna Beach’s charming historic downtown. The district comes alive with brightly lit palm trees, and special holiday happenings dot the calendar as part of the Christmas on Canal series of events.
Be sure to pop over to Santa’s Work Hub and check out the twinkling lights and decorations. More than 90 local vendors line Canal Street for the Coastal Christmas Market, selling beautiful gifts and handcrafted holiday décor. And don’t miss the New Smyrna Beach Christmas parade, holiday boat parade or the always festive bed and breakfast tour.
10 of 20 Photo courtesy of Visit Pensacola
One of the coolest holiday events ever, the famous Flora-Bama hosts an annual Santa Drop,when the big guy in red skydives onto the beach in front of the bar.
Downtown Pensacola rolls out the red carpet for Santa every year with their extensive line-up of holiday events. It all starts with the annual Elf Parade when kids in costumes strut along side a brass band. During Winterfest there’s a trolley tour featuring 16 magical performances along the route with scenes from A Christmas Story. And there’s a free Winterfest Reindeer Games event with a snow machine, gourmet hot cocoa, and actual reindeer games with Santa’s Reindeer.
11 of 20 Photo courtesy of Indian River County
Offering lots of good old-fashioned holiday cheer, Vero Beach’s annual Christmas Parade gets bigger and better every year. This hometown style parade features floats, bands, and an appearance by Santa himself.
While retaining all the whimsy and magic of the original, the Ballet Vero Beach is performing a special edition of The Nutcracker with a unique Florida spin on the story. Additionally, McKee Botanical Garden is all dressed up for the holidays with thousands of twinkling lights and a model train display.
12 of 20 Photo courtesy of Kim Seng/Discover the Palm Beaches
West Palm Beach
Merriment and mistletoe abound on the waterfront in West Palm Beach, including the world’s only 35-foot-tall holiday tree sculpted from sand. Deemed Sandi Land, the 700-ton tree strung more than 5,000 real lights is a beloved holiday tradition, including nightly entertainment complete with an awe-inspiring light show.
Head out west to Lion Country Safari, Florida’s only drive through safari adventure, where for more than 30 years, Santa Claus has arrived bearing wrapped gifts for the chimps. This is the only opportunity throughout the entire year that visitors can get out of their vehicles to watch the chimps receive presents.
13 of 20 Photo courtesy of Visit Jacksonville
Time to follow Santa and fly south for the winter. Featuring a 56-foot-tall energy efficient tree, the nightly Christmas on the river celebration at the Jacksonville Landing is truly sight to behold, and the Jacksonville Light Boat Parade is always a fun affair.
Head to Jacksonville Beach for Deck The Chairs, and check out more than 20 American Red Cross life guard chairs decorated in coastal-themed designs and lights. Listen to the sounds of the season at a concert by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.
14 of 20 Photo courtesy of Discover Martin County
Escape the snow, and check out Stuart’s Historic Main Street as it glows with holiday merriment. Attend the tree lighting festival, the annual Christmas parade featuring acapella music by the Celebration Singers, and a host of family friendly activities like photos with Santa and a petting zoo with animals from the manger.
The 37th annual Stuart Christmas Boat Parade starts at the Jensen Beach Causeway and ends at the Twisted Tuna. An annual holiday tradition, The Taste of Jensen offers plenty of local eats, live music and holiday shopping.
15 of 20 Photo courtesy of Visit St. Lucie
Port St. Lucie
Sing a song for the season! Every year the Port St. Lucie Community Band performs its “Holiday Spectacular” concert—a great event for the whole family. And join the Holly Jolly Beach Party for the city’s annual Festival of Lights, including a parade and Christmas tree lighting. Nearby, Historic Downtown Fort Pierce transforms into a Christmas village with their Joy to the World street festival, parade, light show and live music. Be sure to check out the dancing palm trees in the Marina Square.
16 of 20 Photo courtesy of Visit Sarasota
17 of 20 Photo courtesy of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater
Whether you’ve been naughty or nice, the City of St. Petersburg features a fun lineup of holiday events. Light up the waterfront at the annual St. Pete Santa Parade & Tree Lighting in North Straub Park, the same destination for the annual Snowfest celebration with a toboggan slide. Go ice-skating in Albert Whitted Park and enjoy holiday-themed movies in Vinoy Park. From the stunning Holiday Lights in The Gardens to a whopping six holiday boat parades in the area, there’s no shortage of ways to celebrate the season in St. Pete and Clearwater.
18 of 20 Photo courtesy of Emerald Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau
19 of 20 Photo courtesy of Seminole County
Go off the beaten path this holiday season. Little known Wekiva Island, located north of Orlando, gets decked out in holiday spirit with snow slides, Christmas movies, train rides and visits from Santa. This year, they’re hosting Wekiva River Sleigh Rides from 6 to 8:30 p.m. and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends. The 35-minute ride will include history, wildlife, and environmental facts.
Nearby, share family traditions and deck the halls at the annual Festival of Trees at the Lake Mary Museum, where you can vote on the most creative Christmas tree.
20 of 20 TriggerPhoto/Getty Images
It just might be Santa’s favorite beach! Join community members and visitors alike in Captiva Island for the annual Luminary Festival & Holiday Stroll. Enjoy the sights and sounds of the season including a live nativity scene and photos with jolly old St. Nick.
The annual Captiva Holiday Village features a funky golf cart parade down Captiva Drive hosted by South Seas Island Resort. And check out the lively Sunset Tree Lighting Celebration at ‘Tween Waters Island Resort & Spa.