The Long-Awaited Return of Santa’s Village | KCET
The Long-Awaited Return of Santa’s Village
A lot of people thought Santa’s Village would never reopen. Others never dared to dream that it could.
It all started on May 28, 1955 with the opening of the original Santa’s Village in Skyforest, CA in the San Bernardino National Forest, widely considered the “Alps” Of Southern California.
It was just six weeks before the opening day of Disneyland in Anaheim, just 75 miles to the southwest.
Santa’s Village then expanded out to Dundee, IL and Scotts Valley, CA, making it the first franchised amusement park in the U.S. Generations of families fell in love with Santa and his village, reindeer, and sleigh. (Not to mention the treats from Mrs. Claus’ Kitchen.)
But after changing hands a couple of times – and subsequently closing and reopening in a struggle to compete with neighboring rollercoasters and high-tech attractions like Six Flags – it finally closed for good in 1998.
Or, so we thought.
Over the last 30 months, new owners of the park have been working to reopen Santa’s Village, renovating and restoring 18 of its historic log buildings, as well as creating some new attractions.
And now, Santa’s Village – rebranded as Skypark at Santa’s Village – has finally reopened to the public.
Let the holiday season begin!
It may not be the Santa’s Village you remember, but Skypark is a fun, family-friendly park that’s full of amusements with a nostalgic flavor – both literally and figuratively.
In the former Good Witch Bakery – now known simply as The Gingerbread House – you can snack on a variety of holiday-themed delectable treats, from cookies to gingerbread (of course). You can also satisfy your holiday cravings at K’s Kandy Shoppe & Creamery (reminiscent of The Candy Kitchen) or Kringle’s Coffee & Gifts. If you’re looking for a heartier chow, visit one of the sit-down restaurants, like St. Nick’s Patio & Grille, The Pedal Pub, or Gatherings.
If you’re wondering whether it’s worth the trek along the Rim of the World, you should know that this version of Santa’s Village is actually expanded, using 230 acres compared to the original 15-acre footprint of the 1955 version. That means there’s a lot to do, and you could easily spend a few hours exploring this winter wonderland.
Start your experience by lining up at the Sky Pavilion to take a ride on the Polar Express Train, which takes you on a nice, scenic loop of the park – a good way to get your bearings.
As you explore, look for a few relics from the defunct monorail ride (which are small yellow cars, painted to look like bees) scattered about the perimeter.
Next, head next door to the Chapel of the Little Shepherd, which was built in 1955 and is one of the original structures of Santa’s Village. It’s a nice place to come in from the cold and admire the nativity scene they’ve set up for the holidays, and it’s a good way to get a “feel” for the original park.
Spend the rest of the day exploring the Silver Bells Skating Pond, the “Frozen Falls” rock-climbing tower, and a pedal car course called “Arrow’s Adventure” (something the park calls its version of Disneyland’s Autopia ride).
Bring toddlers as young as three to pan for gold (or make their own rock candy) at Santa’s Village Mining Co., while kids of all ages can visit Santa’s Workshop to create Christmasy crafts or even mail a letter to the North Pole. The Magic Tree Bouldering Room, an “indoor cave climbing experience,” is also for all ages – and they’ll provide the shoes you’ll need to wear for the climbing.
As much as there is to see and do at Skypark at Santa’s Village now, it’s somewhat of a “soft” opening for the holidays. According to Skypark, some more “adventurous” activities won’t debut until next year.
In addition to “conservation-based recreation,” the website also promises fishing, camping, and archery, as well as a zipline, bike park, dog park, “Santa’s Toy Dumptruck,” and the “SkyPedal Monorail.” The latter may be of particular interest to those who are nostalgic for the old park and its “Bee Monorail.” The monorail track itself (constructed in 1962 by American Crane & Hoist) has been retained and restored for use as the “SkyPedal Monorail,” coming in 2017, although the original “beehive” is nowhere to be seen.
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According to employees, it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like – a monorail that you’ll propel yourself along by pedaling. There’s no sign yet, however, of what kind of vessel or vehicle you’ll be riding in or on.
Fortunately, you can plan your return visit for the spring or summer – because Santa is scheduled to be there all year.
The $59 admission to Skypark (discounted for seniors and kids under 12) gets you through the Welcome House and gives you access to all of the activities. Some amenities will cost a little extra – like stroller and wheelchair rentals, bike and buggy rentals (coming in 2017, though you will be allowed to bring your own bike), and your photo with Santa.
Bring some extra cash or plastic to buy something at the multitude of gift shops, like the Sky Trading Company and an adventure supply store, the Sky Adventure Center, where you can get a variety of swag geared towards campers, bikers, mountaineers, and other outdoorsy types.
If you’re coming from far away – or you find yourself snowed in – consider splurging on an overnight trip and book a room or a cabin somewhere in Lake Arrowhead, like The Bracken Fern Manor (formerly The Arrowhead Club of The Pines) or Arrowhead Pine Rose Cabins.
Skypark at Santa’s Village is now open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., weather permitting, except Christmas Day. Dress for cool to cold temperatures and wind.
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