Finding Old-Fashioned Holiday Fun in Ferndale

by Cheri March

Remember the way Christmas felt as a kid? There’s a place where you can still find that holiday magic. A visit to Ferndale is like stepping back in time to childhood, when the holidays still held a sense of joy, excitement and wonder. That’s because Ferndale, California might just be the very best Christmas town.

With scenery straight out of a vintage holiday card, old-fashioned fun from ice skating to the lighting of America’s tallest living Christmas tree, and authentic small-town good cheer that’s tough to come by these days, this historic town near the Redwoods has become a holiday travel destination for shopping, day trips and family vacations. If you’re thinking of visiting the Victorian Village this holiday, these Ferndale attractions, events and activities are sure to rekindle the Christmas spirit.

Lace up your skates at Humboldt Ice Rink

It’s not everywhere in California that you can go ice skating, and the Humboldt Ice Rink - soon to open at the historic Humboldt County Fairgrounds - happens to be located in one of the most postcard-perfect holiday destinations in the Golden State. Step onto the ice and into a winter wonderland in Ferndale’s newest attraction, where you’ll join skaters of all ages and, depending on the day, a cast of Disney characters and Santa Claus himself. The Humboldt Ice Rink opens Nov. 30 and stays open daily through Jan. 6. 

Take in the lighting of Ferndale’s famous Christmas Tree

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Nostalgia abounds at Ferndale’s annual Christmas tree lighting, a tradition since 1934. It’s only fitting that a town known for its close proximity to the California Redwoods would be home to America’s tallest living Christmas tree. Ferndale volunteer firefighters string colored lights up the approximately 165-foot spruce at the end of Main Street the first Sunday each December and by 5:30 p.m. the whole town turns out to mingle, sing carols and countdown in unison to the spectacular tree lighting before gathering over festive conversation, cocoa, and homemade cookies of all kinds. Make sure to come early to browse shops and fill up on the hearty fare at the nearby Portuguese Hall Association’s annual Linguica and Beans Dinner.

Holiday shopping on historic Main Street

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Rustic Chic Vintage Holiday Decor at This Old Birdhouse in Ferndale CA.jpeg
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It doesn’t get more festive than Ferndale’s Main Street, where shoppers are greeted with old-fashioned window displays and sidewalk Christmas trees bedecked with ornaments charmingly handmade by Ferndale schoolkids. Holiday shopping here is less about checking off your list and more about enjoying an experience - so plan to bring friends and family.

The season kicks off with Hospitality Night (Friday, Nov. 30), an annual event in which merchants stay open late to serve up holiday cheer along with free beverages, goodies, live music and more. It’s the first in a series holiday-themed Friday night street fairs on historic Main Street, known collectively as Victorian Holidays. Victorian Holidays: Old-Fashioned Christmas is Dec. 7, followed by Cowboy/Cowgirl Christmas on Dec. 14 and Hawaiian Christmas on Dec. 21. Take a break from Amazon and the mall this year and discover why Ferndale is a favorite holiday shopping destination.

Country Charm at the Christmas Lighted Tractor Parade

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Ferndale celebrates its dairy-town heritage with the spectacular and udder-ly charming Christmas Lighted Tractor Parade (Dec. 16). Stake out a spot on Main Street and cheer on “Cream City” farmers and ranchers as they parade fancifully decorated tractors and tractor-drawn wagons depicting holiday scenes past Ferndale’s painted ladies. Come early or stay late for holiday shopping and a stroll through neighborhoods of quaint historic homes aglow with Christmas lights.

Snap a festive family photo

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Find the perfect backdrop for your family’s holiday card in charming historic Ferndale. Join Santa Claus and his jolly elf for a festive photo on historic Main Street when they arrive (via fire truck!) on Saturday Dec. 1 or on Sundays at the Humboldt Ice Rink, where Sandi Petersen Photography will be on hand to capture smiles with Santa from 12-5 p.m. Other favorite locations for pictures include historic Main Street lined with Christmas trees and glowing lights, Firemen’s Park, and Centerville Beach County Park.

Warm up with a cup of good cheer

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There’s nothing like a steaming cup of cocoa or coffee to warm your hands and your spirit during the holiday season. Swing into Mind’s Eye Coffee Lounge for a house-made chai, festive latte or strong pour-over in a setting that’s equal parts cozy and hip. La Purisima also brews coffee, along with fresh-made small plates that often include rustic soups and salads. At Sweetness and Light, order and enjoy your espresso drink right on the sidewalk from the convenient coffee window.

Enjoy live entertainment

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Make memories with family and friends while enjoying holiday entertainment the old-fashioned way - with live theater and music in the Victorian Village. Ferndale Repertory Theatre, the oldest and largest of the North Coast's resident community theaters and a vital part of the Humboldt County arts scene, is beloved for its annual holiday plays. This year’s offering: “A Christmas Story, the Musical,” based on the favorite holiday movie about bespectacled boy Ralphie, who dreams of getting a BB gun for Christmas. A newer Ferndale icon, The Old Steeple is a grand historic church converted to a live concert venue with unbeatable sound and ambiance. This season, The Old Steeple will feature a performance by legendary slack key guitar player Led Kaapana during Victorian Holidays: Hawaiian Christmas event on Dec. 21.

Splurge on sweet holiday treats

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It wouldn’t be Christmas without indulging in sugary treats and Ferndale is the place to do it. Lost Coast Baking Company whips up pastries that could compete with Grandma’s kitchen, from cream pies to old-fashioned zucchini bread. The candy counter at the Golden Gait Mercantile is straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting, with shelf upon shelf of nostalgic goodies from gumdrops and licorice to peppermint and jelly beans. Chocolate lovers will want to check out the Mercantile’s selection of bars by artisan chocolatiers Dick Taylor Chocolate and Humboldt Chocolate, as well as the array of cocoa-laden confections at Sweetness and Light, a family-owned candy kitchen known for its salted caramel truffles and colossal-sized Moo Bars.

Get back to nature with a holiday hike

When a break from the holiday madness is what you’re really after, Ferndale’s scenic and secluded hiking trails hit the spot. Russ Park, located just behind historic Ferndale Cemetery, is a shady, steep forest trek through towering mature conifers of chattering birds. Points of interest include Zipporah pond and several vistas, including a breathtaking overlook at the peak. Several miles west of town, you’ll find Centerville Beach County Park and just beyond it, Guthrie Creek and Fleener Creek trailheads. Both offer beautiful hiking, bird watching and other wildlife viewing, and vistas of rugged coastline and remote farms. Ferndale area trails are moderate in difficulty; be sure to layer up with jackets and bring appropriate footwear, as they can be muddy in winter.

Credits: Special thanks to KIEM News Channel 3 for the video, and to Humboldt Ice Rink, Carl Neeley, Leon Villagomez and Sandi Petersen Photography for the photos.