Chimney Sweep

Victorian Christmas Celebration in Nevada Metropolis, CA

It's Christmas time in the city, but if all the bright lights and busy streets (or maybe that marathon series of “It's a Wonderful Life” you couldn't pass up) have you yearning for a small-town Christmas, there's no better destination than Nevada City, California, and its annual Victorian Christmas celebration. This gingerbread-decorated hamlet in the Sierra foothills, about a 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.

Before Christmas, two WednesdayFor the three Sundays in December, most of downtown is closed to through traffic and opened to a bustling activity. Carolers, wandering minstrels, jugglers, costumed characters, horse-drawn carriage rides, local musicians, including many children, and other local talent perform in the streets while families stroll from vendor to vendor sampling, sipping, snacking and purchasing their wares. The atmosphere is warm and inviting as locals and tourists alike are there.

At the bottom of Broad Street (the main drag), Santa will be available for photo ops. For $5, children and groups can have their picture taken with Santa. The money goes to a local charity – and photos are not required. If your little ones are camera shy or want to cross seeing Santa twice off their list, any child can chat with old Santa.

Bonus: There's also balloon art and a bouncy castle for the kids. Also, keep an eye out for jugglers and magicians.

Roasting chestnuts over an open fire
In addition to spiced cider, mulled wine and barbecued food, there will be chestnuts roasted over a real open fire every night. Cecil Snow, the city's favourite Victorian chimney sweep, will be stoking the fire and selling the chestnuts. This is not to be missed.

Decorate the halls
In addition to the unique gifts sold throughout the streets by local artists and artisans, the United Methodist Church at the top of Broad Street hosts an open house and craft market. It's the perfect place to escape the cold, enjoy the festive atmosphere with Santa, apple cider, cookies and music, beautiful decorations, and use the restroom! Or visit the Nevada City Craft Fair on Sunday, December 11 In the historic Miners Foundry you will find a wide selection of artisan gifts.

Photo by Erin Thiem,

Park your car
Parking is very limited and it can be frustrating when a whole troupe of carolers is ready to hit the road, so drop them off and park your car at the Nevada County Government Center, then take the shuttle back to town. There is a $5 fee on the ride into town, but it's free on the way back to the car! Check out the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce website for more information.

Good night everyone
There are many bed and breakfasts, hotels and motels in this area. The Outside Inn is a family and pet friendly motel style accommodation that is within walking distance of all of downtown Nevada City. Or if you'If you're looking for something unique, rent an RV and try the new Inn Town Campground, less than two miles from downtown Nevada City.

The Northern Queen Inn offers reasonable rates and its own Christmas lights – plus you can choose between traditional rooms or little cabins in the pines! It's a little further away than the Outside Inn, but it's still within walking distance of downtown.

What to wear
Dress for the occasion, but wear your warmest clothes. It's not unusual for snow to fall this time of year! Wool coats and capes and top hats are also appropriate! Bring gloves, hats and scarves for the kids, and wear good walking shoes. Most activities are outdoors, and Nevada City is hilly. The main street, Broad Street, is a long, rolling hill, so wear comfortable shoes.

When: Sundays, December 411th and 18th of 1:30 p.m.–6:00 p.m. and Wednesdays 14 and 21 December out of 5pm-9pm

A fairy tale about two cities
The neighboring town of Grass Valley, which is equally charming, celebrates a similar Cornish Christmas that begins the Friday after Thanksgiving and runs through December 20th. Mill Street and Main Street are closed off and the cool mountain air is filled with the scent of roasted chestnuts, kettle corn and pasties. Make it a weekend of super-retro Christmas celebrations and have the best time – experience both events in one weekend. For more information on Cornish Christmas, visit the Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce website.

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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