If you live near Sacramento and drive down Business 80 at night, I’m sure you’ve seen the bright Christmas lights at Cal Expo as you pass by. Maybe you’ve wondered what the heck are those giant structures all lit up? Or maybe you have even thought to yourself, “Oh, that’s that Winter Wonderland thing happening at CalExpo.”
But have you checked it out for yourself yet? If not, it’s time to get some tickets, bundle up the family, and get ready for some holiday fun this Christmas!
Global Winter Wonderland is a multi-cultural celebration and holiday lantern festival. The festival features awesome holiday lantern and light displays, as well as attractions, including an ice skating rink, international food court, carnival rides and midway games, holiday shopping, and shows by Global Winter Wonderland’s Circus of Light.
This is the third year that Global Winter Wonderland has come to Sacramento’s CalExpo, and it’s our third year attending!
In 2014, we saw the giant wonders of the world lit up from the freeway and knew we had to bring the kids to this incredible Sacramento Christmas Lights display. After only a few minutes, as we walked from country to country, we were completely in awe of the light displays and totally hooked with the theme Travel The World In One Night.
In 2015, Global Winter Wonderland returned to Sacramento for a second holiday season. The theme was Magic Of The Seasons, and again we were mesmerized by the holiday light display as we moved from winter to spring to summer to fall.
Global Winter Wonderland — Sacramento 2016
This year, in 2016, we were excited to check out the event for the third time, this time with Grandma! We arrived early, just after dark, and were able to park close to the entrance and walk right in. Getting there early also meant no lines for food and no crowds in front of the light displays. We immediately made a beeline for the amazing hot pretzels we had at last year’s event — and this time we weren’t sharing — they are hot, soft, buttery, and soooo good! Then we walked the lights to check out the new displays for 2016, and before heading to dinner, checked out the vendors inside the buildings.
This is the first year we have actually gone inside the buildings! Usually we’re already done with our Christmas shopping or we only have a few specific things left when we visit this lantern festival and multi-cultural celebration at Sacramento’s CalExpo, so we don’t need to do any shopping. The same was true this time, but we walked through the buildings anyway and ended up getting some sour candies and a dozen mini doughnuts (YUM!).
We also skip the entire Midway and Carnival. Natalie is the only person in our family that likes crazy, spinning, carnival rides, but it’s not very fun to ride alone. Also, we just don’t do traveling carnival rides. We also don’t need to pay $3.75-$7.50 per ride for one person — that’s crazy — or spend money on games designed for you to lose and the chance to win more stuffed animals to clean up at home.
Visiting Global Winter Wonderland, even if you only grab a yummy snack and walk the amazing light displays, is still totally worth admission. If you go early in the night, right at dark, it’s a relaxing, fun, Christmas family activity — and you’re back home, snuggled in bed to read some Christmas stories before bed.
Christmas Lights And Lantern Displays
The Global Winter Wonderland theme for 2016 is Holiday Fun For Everyone, and while it is still a pretty spectacular holiday light display, we all agreed that it was the weakest of the three years. The displays weren’t quite as immersive and as awe-inspiring as in years past, when we saw giant jungle animals, enormous dragons, huge dinosaurs, and pirate ships, or felt like we were transported to another part of the world.
This year the displays were mostly Santa and holiday themed:
- Santa’s Village: Visit Santa’s village and see Santa’s elves relaxing at the Elf’s Clubhouse. Watch elves work in Santa’s Workshop and deliver a letter to Santa at the North Pole Post Office.
- Toy Land: Walk through a giant toy box and see giant teddy bears, toy soldiers, and building blocks.
- Candy Land: Walk through the Candy Tunnel into a land filled with gingerbread men, candy canes, lollipops, and gumdrops. Visit the candy factory and the candy castle.
- Snow Land: Watch penguins and polar bears play in a snowy wonderland, and wander through a snow maze with snowmen and sparkling snowflakes.
- Fantasy Land: View giant flowers, walk past magnificent peacocks, and visit the fairy castle.
- Under the Sea: Go underwater with jellyfish, mermaids, turtles, sharks, fish, and whales in Global Winter Wonderland’s first-ever indoor exhibit and glowing activity center.
Global Winter Wonderland Activities
The Global Winter Wonderland holiday festival is also a multi-cultural celebration, with vendors and performers from around the world participating. Activities include:
- Holiday Ice Rink: Open to the public every night of the event for skaters of all ages and skill levels.
- Circus of Light: Returning to the Cal Expo stage, Circus of Light delivers five unique death-defying, fire-dazzling, high-action performances by international performers every night. (Free with admission.)
- Carnival Rides And Midway: Rides and attractions are not included with general admission. Individual ride tickets are $1.25 EACH, and with all rides requiring 3-6 tickets, it can get pricey fast! Unlimited ride wristbands are available online for $25 or onsite for $35, but they will not be accepted after 9:00 PM in the carnival area.
- Food: Global Winter Wonderland features international cuisine and traditional fair favorites, including candy, kettle corn, hot dogs and corn dogs, BBQ, hot pretzels, fries, Chinese food, Mexican food, Greek food, French Beignets, mini donuts, fudge, and pizza.
Santa Visits Global Winter Wonderland
November 21st through December 24th, Santa visits Global Winter Wonderland to greet children, hear Christmas wishes, and take photos. Part of the reason we walked through the building was to check out Santa, but don’t plan on snapping a quick photo with your own phone or camera. Visiting Santa is not included with your paid admission. A variety of photo packages will be offered to you and the available upsells include things like prints, keychains, magnets, ornaments, and frames. They even try to sell you mail order merchandise with your Global Winter Wonderland Photo printed on it!
Know Before You Go
- Global Winter Wonderland is located at CalExpo, 1600 Exposition Blvd, Sacramento, CA 95815 off Business 80. It runs from November 19, 2016 to January 8, 2017.
- No pets are allowed. Service animals only.
- Open Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day.
- Parking is $10.00 for cars and $5.00 for motorcycles.
- Not all rides, attractions, character visits, and shows are available at all times, check the event calendar for times and schedules.
- No outside food, beverages, or coolers allowed. Exceptions are made for those with special dietary needs, including food allergies and baby food/formula.
- Global Winter Wonderland is smoke-free. Smoking of any kind — even e-cigarettes — is permitted in designated areas only.
- Tickets can be purchased online, onsite, or at participating Walgreen’s Stores.