The Annual Visit to Santa
One of my favorite family traditions was to have the kids meet Santa each year. A photo op. A chance to really learn what they wanted for Christmas (it wasn’t what you’d think!), and an opportunity to have Santa remind them to behave and be kind to each other.
I was never the Elf-on-a-Shelf mom- I was hunting for something more tangible and definitely more real. Besides, that whole elf-is-watching-you thing always seemed a bit like George Orwell’s 1984- Big Brother is Watching You. I wanted the kids to be kind and be nice, not end up with some neurosis over being spied on all the time.
So a yearly visit to Santa and Mrs. Claus became a family tradition-a December ritual and the Florida state parks offered the opportunity for us to have that photo-op, without having to fight the shopping crowds at the mall or inside a store. What they also offered was the chance at seeing some of our favorite state parks adorned with thousands of twinkling lights, Christmas festivities, hot chocolate, and some outdoor fun to celebrate the enchantment of the season. All for the price of an average state park admission or a canned good donation. How can you beat that?
Looking for your family chance to visit with Santa Claus? Here’s a run-down of Santa Spottings in a Florida state park near you:
Spotting Santa in Florida’s State Parks
Santa Claus in the Park at Oleta River State Park
- 3400 NE 163rd Street, North Miami Beach, FL 33160
- Contact: (305) 919-1844
- Saturday & Sundays from December 2nd to 17th
- 10 am to 12 pm at Pelican Pavillion.
- $6 entry fee per vehicle 2-8 people; $2 per Santa photo.
Winter Waterland at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
- 6131 Commercial Way, Weeki Wachee, FL 34606
- Contact: (352) 592-5656
- December 8th-9th & 15th -16th
- 7 pm -11 pm
- $8 adults; $5 kids 6-12
- Mermaids put on Polar Express Show; lights in gardens and Santa.
Celebration of Lights at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs State Park
- 4150 S. Suncoast Blvd- (US 19), Homosassa, FL 34446
- Contact: (352) 628-5343
- December 19th – 24th; December 26th
- 5:30 pm – 9 pm
- Synchronized lights & music in Sebastian’s Winter Wonderland, live music performances nightly.
- Donation suggested $5 adults & $2 kids
Night of Lights at Fort Cooper State Park
- 3100 S. Old Floral City Rd., Inverness, FL 34450
- Contact: (352) 726-0315
- December 8th – 10th
- 6 pm-8:30 pm
- Santa, S’mores, lights & more.
- Entry fee: nonperishable item of food/unwrapped toy
Santa over the Rainbow at Rainbow Springs State Park
- 19158 SW 81st Place Road, Dunnellon, FL 34432
- Contact: (352) 465-8555
- December 8th -10th & 15th-17th. Also, a lights-only event on 26th(non-Santa)
- 6 pm -8:30pm. Santa arrives at 7 by boat!
- $2 per person
- Instead of coming in a sleigh, this Santa arrives on a pontoon boat-on the Rainbow River- Florida style. Lights, hot cocoa
Caroling the Ravines at Ravine Gardens State Park
- 1600 Twigg Street, Palatka, FL 32177
- Contact: (386) 329-3721
- Saturday, December 9th 6 pm-9pm and Friday 16th 6 pm -7 pm
- $2 per persons; kids 6 and under are free. Pay in cash. No ATM on site.
- Luminaries, games, crafts, music, and Santa!
Holidays in the Gardens at Washington Oaks Gardens State Park
- 6400 N. Oceanshore Blvd., Palm Coast, FL, FL 32137
- Contact: (386) 446-6780
- Sunday, December 10th
- 10 am to 4 pm
- Entry fee: canned good item or an unwrapped toy.
- Photos with Santa $5; Tea with Mrs. Claus $10
Festival of Lights at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park
- 11016 Lillian Saunders Drive/ US HWY 41, White Springs, FL 32096
- Contact: (386) 397-4331
- December 1st through Dec 24th
- 4:30pm – 8:30 pm
- Holiday Magic Nights (Weekends)$3 per person, under 3 free; Silent nights (weekday nights) $2 per person
- Train display, lights, music, crafts, popcorn, hot chocolate & Santa!
Before You Go…
- Yes, Florida can can be balmy this time of year, but once the sun sets, it also can be damp and chilly. Wrap up in layers, or take a jacket. You’ll be outside- so dress accordingly.
- A lot of these events are put on by the local volunteers for their community and appreciate donations.
- Some events require cash entry fee. Some require a canned good donation. Know before you go!
Have we missed any? What’s your favorite way to see Santa?
So what are you waiting for? Start your season with a new Santa tradition-and find enchantment and Santa in a Florida State Park near you!
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