There are five weekends from December 1 to January 1, and hundreds of ways to fill them. Overwhelmed by the possibilities? If you’re looking for fun activities the kids will love that don’t cost an arm and a leg, look no further than our list of the best family outings worth adding to your busy December to-do list. From holiday light shows to breakfast with Santa, we’ve compiled 12 great memory-making activities for this month.
Check out our full calendar of events and our holiday guide for more options.
Decorate a gingerbread house at Liberty Hall Museum's annual holiday event. Photo by Ben Gancsos/courtesy of the museum.
Liberty Hall Museum Gingerbread House Workshop – Union
Making a gingerbread house is super fun, but... they collapse, they’re sticky, and more candy ends up on the floor than stuck on the house. Don’t go it alone this year. Take your candy- and craft-loving crew to the gingerbread house workshop at The Liberty Hall Museum in Union. Kids can make their own gingerbread house with the candy and icing that are provided. Sessions are at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Reservations suggested.
Turtle Back Zoo Holiday Lights Spectacular – West Orange
Fridays–Sundays through December 10; Nightly December 11 – January 2 (closed December 24-25)
NJ families have another reason to love Turtle Back Zoo: a free evening holiday light show. More than 50 animal-shaped displays will illuminate the zoo, with several animal exhibits remaining open. Bring non-perishable foods, new/gently used winter coats, and unwrapped toys for donation. If it’s chilly and you want to enjoy holiday lights from the warmth of your car, pack up the kids and a thermos of hot chocolate and drive by some of these amazing light displays. FREE
RELATED: Best Nutcrackers and Holiday Shows for New Jersey Kids
Go for a spin on the ice at Bergen County’s Winter Wonderland at Van Saun Park. Photo courtesy of the organizers.
Bergen County’s Winter Wonderland at Van Saun Park – Paramus
Thursdays–Sundays through January 1
Throughout December, Van Saun Park transforms into a Winter Wonderland. For the price of one general admission ticket ($16, including skate rentals), visitors can enjoy open-air ice skating, fun activities, the Bergen Express Train Ride around the zoo, Santa visits, admission to the zoo, unlimited carousel rides, and more. There's also a synthetic skating rink for kids, which is great for beginners because it has more friction than regular ice. Kids 3 and under are free.
New Jersey Ballet’s The Nutcracker – Morristown
Weekends, December 9–24 in various locations
Who doesn’t love watching Clara’s adventures in the Land of the Sweets this time of year? There are several productions of The Nutcracker in New Jersey, from traditional stagings to a hip-hop version. One especially good production is that of the New Jersey Ballet, which boasts gorgeous costumes and exciting special effects. Children will be able to identify with the cast of amateur and semi-professional student dancers, and kids and parents alike will be wowed by seasoned professionals from the NJ Ballet. Accompanied by a live orchestra, the ballet is performed in four venues throughout the state, including the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown.
Breakfast with Santa, Camden Children’s Garden – Camden
December 9, 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. seatings
You can find breakfasts with Santa everywhere, from farms to the YMCA to Applebee’s. But if you’re looking for a day trip/Santa visit combo event, check out what’s planned at the Camden Children’s Garden. For $26 per person (or $20/person for members), enjoy a catered lunch with Santa and craft. Tickets includes admission to the garden, a ride on the Garden Carousel, and a ride on the Arrow River Train. Reservations must be made in advance.
Holiday-Themed Train Ride – Flemington
Fridays–Sundays through December 23
The magic of Christmas comes alive in a special way on a holiday train, and one popular option departs from Flemington on the Black River & Western Railroad. The North Pole Express (120 minutes) takes passengers on a journey for a visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus and includes complimentary cookies, hot chocolate, and a digital photo on Santa's sleigh. Half of the train will visit with Santa and Mrs Claus en route to the North Pole, and teh other half of the train will visit with them on the return trip. (No long lines for a visit!) Bonus: the station is in the Liberty Village Outlets, so if you’re still shopping for holiday gifts and outfits, you can kill two birds with one stone on this trip! Reservations required. Fans of the Polar Express, buy tickets early for this great themed ride that leaves from Whippany.
RELATED: Polar Express and Christmas Trains for New Jersey Kids
Johnson’s Corner Farm holiday festivities include the Light Show on the Lake. Photo courtesy of the farm.
Johnson’s Corner Farm – Medford
November 24 Through December 30
Pick-your-own season may be over, but there are still a bunch of great reasons to plan an outing to the farm. Johnson’s Corner Farm, for instance, has several holiday activities geared toward families. First, there are musical light show hay rides nightly beginning at 5 p.m. Each hay wagon is outfitted with a canopy of lights that dance to the sounds of Christmas tunes. The farm also hosts a light show on its lake every evening starting at 5 p.m. Families can purchase tickets to enjoy cookie decorating or s’mores roasted over an open pit, and you can catch Santa for an awesome photo op as he sits atop an antique red tractor with visiting children. It’s a perfect Christmas keepsake, and there is no charge to visit Santa. Don’t forget your camera! The farm has a large selection of fresh Christmas trees to choose from, too.
Smithville Light Show – Smithville
Through December 31
Every weekend, Historic Smithville Village treats families to holiday activities, many of which are free. You can take a train ride around the beautifully decorated village, and after dark on Thursdays–Sundays, watch Christmas trees constructed from more than 50,000 lights float on Lake Meone as holiday music plays in the background. This show can be seen from either side of the village as well as the bridge. In addition, catch Mrs. Claus in her Christmas Cottage from 1:30–4:30 for storytime, or chat with the Magical Talking Tree from 12–5 p.m.
Sea of Lights – Point Pleasant
December 18, 19, 26, 27, 28, 6–9 p.m.
We love Jenkinson’s Boardwalk for unforgettable summer fun, but don’t miss what’s happening at the aquarium in December. Jenkinson’s Sea of Lights boasts beautiful light displays as well as crafts, holiday treats, and more. The arcade and sweet shop will be open for even more fun.
RVCC Planetarium – Branchburg
December 2, 9 16
Treat your family to an out-of-this-world show at The Raritan Valley Community College Planetarium. In December, young kids will love following Santa on a trip through outer space in a viewing of The Alien Who Stole Christmas. Simple cartoon images are projected onto the dome as the story unfolds. The 5 p.m. showing on December 3 is a sensory-friendly performance. Or, listen to familiar seasonal music as laser lights dance across the planetarium dome in Winter Wonder Lights.
First Night – Seaside Heights
If you're looking for a special way to ring in the New Year as a family, try spending New Year's Eve 2017 at a First Night event. If you've never been to one, these events are usually alcohol-free, family-friendly evenings that feature several performances and activities of all kinds situated around town (many with shuttles provided). The bedtime-friendly 2017 event in Seaside Heights, for instance, has fun and games for the entire family, ending with fireworks at 5 p.m. For a later option, try First Night in Ocean City. The festivities go from 4 p.m. – midnight and include inflatables, ice skating, music, jugglers, a puppet show, indoor swimming, a magic show, and more.
RELATED: Where To Have Breakfast with Santa in New Jersey
Drive through a display of more than two million lights at Skylands Stadium. Photo courtesy of Skylands.
Skylands – Augusta
November 17 Through December 30
Drive through this large light show featuring several light displays set to holiday music. More than two million lights will be shining for your viewing pleasure. New this year are an outdoor ice skating rink and a Walk-Thru Lightfest to benefit the American Heart Association of NJ. Head to the indoor Christmas Village for photos with Santa, hot chocolate, snacks, crafts, shopping, and more. Admission is $20 per carload, and donations will be collected for Toys for Tots. Snacks available for purchase.
Updated for 2017.