Thanksgiving in California

Things to Do for Thanksgiving Weekend in California

Mother Goose Parade in El Cajon
The Mother Goose Parade in El Cajon is a California Thanksgiving Tradition. WireImage / Getty Images

If your Thanksgiving plans include a California getaway over the four-day weekend, these are some ideas and some things to do that happen then.

Family Get-Togethers for Thanksgiving in California

Thanksgiving weekend is a great time to rent a vacation home. Get the whole clan together, whether they're related to you by blood or just your closest friends. It's best to reserve ahead of time, but these ideas may help you find a place to go if the obvious ones are filled up.

If you want to get together in the mountains, get busy looking for a place now. Otherwise, it may be impossible to find a place that fits your whole family in ski areas like Lake Tahoe, Mammoth Mountain, or LA skiing areas. Instead, try Pine Mountain Lake near Groveland and Yosemite National Park. You can find vacation rentals there and other places to stay near in the Yosemite lodging guide.

For a family break at the seashore, try a vacation rental at Irish Beach just south of Mendocino, Dillon Beach north of San Francisco. For a vacation rental, try HomeAway or Airbnb.

You and your family could also plan a trip to any other top places for California winter getaways.

Thanksgiving in Los Angeles

The best advice anyone could give you about going to LA during Thanksgiving is not a list of places to go, but to avoid. All of the area theme parks will be not just full, but so packed that experienced visitors would tell you to forget about it. Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood will be particularly busy.

Most major attractions will be open, even on the holiday. Museums may not be. Don't set yourself up for disappointment. Check their websites before you plan to go.

These are some of the best things to do over Thanksgiving weekend in LA and Southern California:

Thanksgiving in San Diego

You can enjoy all the best things to do in San Diego during Thanksgiving weekend. Most of the major attractions are open every day, including Thanksgiving.

  • Father Joe's Villages Thanksgiving Day 5K: The charity run starts in Balboa Park and helps provide meals to people who need them. The registration fee is lower than many similar events, and participants include both walkers and runners.
  • Mother Goose Parade: The town of El Cajon has been celebrating Thanksgiving with an adorable parade for more than 60 years. Many locals consider it the unofficial start of the Christmas season. But pay attention to the calendar: It's held the weekend before Thanksgiving.
  • San Diego Jazz Festival: The five-day festival runs the entire Thanksgiving weekend.

Thanksgiving in San Francisco

You can do any of the top things to do in San Francisco over Thanksgiving weekend. The cable cars will be running, and Lombard Street and the Golden Gate Bridge never close. Many stores will be closed, especially around Union Square. Other major attractions may be closed on Thanksgiving Day. Check their websites before you plan to visit.

  • San Francisco Turkey Trot gives you a chance to burn off some calories before you consume them. Register early - they sometimes fill up.
  • The Dickens Fair gets underway at the Cow Palace and runs every weekend through December. It's a festive way to switch gears into the Christmas season, with an old-fashioned holiday spirit that would have had Ebenezer Scrooge shouting "Bah! Humbug!" until he lost his voice.
  • Tree Lighting ceremonies start the shopping season at Union Square and Pier 39.
  • The Embarcadero Center holiday lights go on a week before Thanksgiving, but you can see them any night after that. It's a photo-worthy sight: four buildings outlined with 17,000 holiday lights.
  • Holiday Ice Rinks at Union Square and Embarcadero Center are in full swing for Thanksgiving weekend. Get your tickets ahead of time or risk a long wait (or worse, a sellout).
  • The San Francisco Auto Show runs over Thanksgiving weekend, giving you a chance to salivate over something other than that big plate full of holiday goodies. And an excellent way to walk off some of the calories they contain.

Thanksgiving in Other Parts of California

Thanksgiving often marks the opening of the ski season. Lake Tahoe ski resorts compete to open by the holiday - even if they have to make all their snow to do it.

  • Tioga Pass through Yosemite usually closes because of snow before Thanksgiving, but in some years it stays open through December, providing a chance for a late-year trip across the mountains.
  • Sequoia National Park is home to the nation's Christmas tree, the General Grant. It doesn't get decorated with lights, but when you're 267 feet tall, you don't need lights to be spectacular.
  • In San Jose, Downtown Ice opens, and Christmas in the Park lights up the day after Thanksgiving.
  • The Holiday Lights Train starts running from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk on Thanksgiving weekend. It's a great way to start the holiday season.