It’s Christmas time in the city, but if all the bright lights and bustling streets (or maybe the marathon of It’s a Wonderful Life you couldn’t resist watching) have you hankering for a small town Christmas, there is no better destination than Nevada City, California and its annual Victorian Christmas celebration. This gingerbread-trimmed hamlet in the Sierra foothills, about 2 ½ hour drive from San Francisco, is like a portal back in time. Read on to find out where to stay, eat and play.

Leading up to Christmas, two Wednesdays and the three Sundays in December, the better part of the downtown area is closed to through traffic and open to a bevy of activity. Carolers, roving minstrels, jugglers, costumed characters, horse-drawn carriage rides, local musicians including many children, and other local talent perform throughout the streets, while families wander from vendor to vendor sampling, sipping, noshing, and buying their wares. Equally attended by locals and tourists alike, the atmosphere is warm and welcoming.

Santa Baby
On the lower end of Broad Street (the main drag) Santa will be available for photo ops. For $5 kids and groups can take their photo with Santa. The money goes to local charity—and photos are not a requirement. If your little ones are camera-shy, or want to check Santa sighting off their list twice, any child can chat it up with Ol’ Saint Nick.

Bonus: There will also balloon art and a bouncy house for the kids, plus keep your eyes out for jugglers and magicians.

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire
In addition to the spiced cider, mulled wine, and grilled delights, each night features chestnuts roasted over a real open fire. Cecil Snow, the town’s favorite Victorian chimney sweep, will tend the fire and vend the chestnuts. Not to be missed.

Deck the Halls
In addition to one-of-a-kind gifts for sale by local artists and crafters throughout the streets, at the top of Broad Street the United Methodist Church will host an open house which includes a Craft Faire. It’s the perfect place to come in from the cold, enjoy the festive atmosphere with Santa, cider, cookies, and music plus beautiful decorations, and use the restroom! Or stop by the Nevada City Craft Fair on Sunday, December 11th in the historic Miners Foundry for a great selection of artisans gifts.

Photo by Erin Thiem,

Park Your Carriage
Parking can is very limited and can be frustrating with a crew full of carolers ready to hit the streets, so drop them off and then park your car at the Nevada County Government Center, then hop the shuttle back into town. There is a $5 fee when going into town, but free for all heading back to the car! Visit the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce website for more details.

To All a Good Night’s Sleep
This area is rife with bed and breakfasts, hotels, and motels. Family and pet-friendly, The Outside Inn is a motel-style lodging within easy walking distance to all of Nevada City’s downtown.  Or if youre looking for something unique, rent a RV and try the new Inn Town Campground, less then 2 miles from downtown Nevada City.

The Northern Queen Inn has reasonable rates and their own show of holiday lights—plus you can choose from traditional rooms or little cabins in the pines! Though it’s a little farther afield that The Outside Inn, it is still reasonable walking distance to downtown.

What to Don
Dress festive, but don your warmest of apparel. It is not unusual for snow to fall this time of year!  Woolen cloaks and capes and top-hats are appropriate, too! Do bring mittens, hats, and scarves for the kids and wear good walking shoes. Most of the activities are outside, and Nevada City is hilly. The main street, Broad Street, is one long gradual hill so wear comfy shoes.

When:  Sundays, December 4th, 11th, & 18th from 1:30-6 p.m. and Wednesdays December 14th & 21st from 5–9 p.m.

A Tale of Two Cities
The neighboring town of Grass Valley which is equally charming has a similar Cornish Christmas celebration, beginning the Friday after Thanksgiving and continuing through the 20th of December. Mill and Main Streets are closed off and the chilly mountain air is filled with the smell of roasting chestnuts, kettle corn, and pasties. Make it a weekend of uber-retro Christmas celebrations and enjoy the best of times–take in both events over a weekend. Check out the Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce website for more details on Cornish Christmas.

Have you ever celebrated the season in Nevada City? Tell us about it in the comments below!

–Erin Thiem and Amber Guetebier

All photos courtesy of Nevada City Chamber of Commerce unless otherwise noted

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