Take part in breaking the longest shot world record at the Ullr Fest in Breckenridge, Colorado — Photo courtesy of Breckenridge Tourism Office
The season holidays are full of festive cheer at every turn, from holiday markets to holiday parades. But when you want something a bit more off the beaten path, there are plenty of holiday happenings around the country that celebrate the season a little differently.
Here are five of the quirkiest holiday events and attractions worth checking out.
Surfing Santa & Stand-up Paddle Board Contest, Dana Point, California
Watch a lot of Santas hang 10 in Dana Point, California — Photo courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel
What’s a blur of red, white, and blue? That would be dozens of decked-out Santas legit shredding on the ocean! For some fun in the sun this holiday season, catch the annual Surfing Santa & Stand-Up Paddle Board Contest at The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel in Dana Point, California. (The contest is open to the public.)
Surf culture rules around Salt Creek Beach Park, where a reef creates some of the most impressive swells along the Cali coastline. Contestants pay an entry fee that benefits Surfers Healing, a nonprofit that provides free surfing camps around the globe for kids living with autism.
The resort also hosts its annual holiday tree-lighting celebration with holiday performances, seasonal fare, and Santa lighting the 40-foot tree. The 2023 event goes down on November 18, so all those surfing Santas have plenty of time to hang 10 before the big night on Christmas Eve.
Castle Noel, Medina, Ohio
Check out movie memorabilia and stunning vintage Christmas displays at Castle Noel — Photo courtesy of Castle Noel
What would the holiday season be like without “A Christmas Story,” “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” and other Christmas movie classics? Now you can have in-real-life experiences with your favorite holiday flicks at Castle Noel in Medina, Ohio, home of one of the largest privately owned collections of Christmas movie props and costumes.
This magical attraction that’s open year-round has paraphernalia from beloved Christmas movies, including “The Grinch,” “Elf,” “Jingle All The Way,” “Deck the Halls,” and a sleigh-full of others.
You’ll also find artifacts from famous animated holiday store window displays, from Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s, and Macy’s in New York City. Kids of all ages will delight in displays featuring toys from the 1950s through the 2000s.
Don’t miss a photo op with the colossal Nutcracker and Mouse King statues that owner Mark Klaus (yep, that’s his real name) sculpted for the Cleveland Ballet.
Plan ahead: Reservations are required before visiting.
Christmas at The House on the Rock, Spring Green, Wisconsin
Visit more than 6,000 collectible Santas at the House on the Rock — Photo courtesy of The House on the Rock
The House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin, is a tchotchke-lovers’ fever dream during the holiday season when Santa Claus visits the famous house that teeters on a 60-foot rock face in a big way.
From mid-November through December, this house displays more than 6,000 collectible Santas of all sizes and types — huge, tiny, intricate, and rustic — while Christmas songs fill the air and festive decorations cover almost every inch of the place.
While you’re there, take a two-hour, self-guided tour through other mind-bending and entertaining rooms like the Infinity Room, Streets of Yesterday, Tribute to Nostalgia, Music of Yesterday, and the Carousel.
Note: The house is closed Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas.
Christmas Underwater, Camden, New Jersey
Santa makes his list with waterproof ink during the annual Christmas Underwater celebration in New Jersey — Photo courtesy of Adventure Aquarium
Who says Christmas should only be celebrated on land? Kris Kringle himself takes a “fishmas” plunge at the Christmas Underwater celebration at Adventure Aquarium in Camden, New Jersey, from late November through December 24.
Scuba Santa dives daily in the Ocean Realm to swim among sea turtles, sharks, and stingrays. He might even drop a few presents around what the aquarium claims to be the world’s tallest underwater Christmas tree. (The aquarium is also home to the largest collection of sharks in the Northeast, plus the longest shark tunnel in New Jersey.)
Additional events for holiday revelers include puppet shows, dazzling decorations, and opportunities to write and send letters to Santa.
Race of the Santas and Ullr Fest, Breckenridge, Colorado
Honor the Norse god of winter, Ullr, in Breckenridge, Colorado — Photo courtesy of Breckenridge Tourism Office
With its snow-capped mountains and charming towns, most of Colorado looks like a winter scene from a Hallmark holiday movie. But when you want to get in the holiday spirit, Breckenridge has plenty to offer.
Things kick off at the beginning of December with Race of the Santas, in which hundreds of Santas run down main street and end at the lighting ceremony that sets the town aglow with thousands of twinkle lights. The event also features a children’s Moose March, carolers, and a dog parade.
For something slightly more eccentric, revelers prove their devotion to winter at the long-running Ullr Fest, also in December, when ski bums and snow lovers don Viking hats and horns to parade down Main Street and celebrate Ullr, the Norse god of snow.
To commemorate the event’s long history (it started in 1963), the Breckenridge Distillery aims to unofficially break the world record for the longest shot. Skol! It’s one cool homage to winter when spirits are high, both in your glass and in your heart.