’Tis the season of lights – and celebrating the holidays with family.
Just as menorahs were being lit in homes and synagogues throughout the region Wednesday evening to mark the first day of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, Sacramento flipped the switch on more than 50,000 lights that adorn the city’s official Christmas tree in Old Sacramento.
The tree-lighting ceremony served as the kickoff to the city’s fifth annual “Theater of Lights,” a nighttime multimedia light and sound show featuring an actor playing Mark Twain who reads stories from 19th-century Sacramento and recites “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Jack Frost is a new character in this year’s production, which is free to the public.
Running until Dec. 31 in Old Sacramento, the “Theater of Lights” starts at 6:15 and 7:45 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. There’s a special 6:15 p.m. performance on Christmas Eve and two shows on New Year’s Eve at 7 and 8:30 p.m.
Looking for more to do with family and friends? Here are nine other ways to enjoy the Thanksgiving weekend that are unique to the Sacramento region.
• Elk Grove hosts its annual Dickens Street Fair, with entertainers and merchants appearing in mid-19th century costumes, in the city’s Old Town on Saturday. Stroll along the shops, and craft and vendor booths of Elk Grove Boulevard, from Derr Street to Walnut Avenue, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The free holiday fair is capped with Elk Grove’s Parade of Lights and Christmas tree lighting ceremony, featuring Santa, at 6 p.m.
• The Folsom Zoo Sanctuary’s annual Thanksgiving Feast for the Animals takes place from 11 a.m. to noon today. Watch as the animals devour special holiday treats. The zoo at 403 Stafford St. in Folsom is open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for children 12 and younger, and seniors 65 and older.
• Take a drive or hike through the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area and see millions of waterfowl that winter there from all over the world. The 16,800-acre wildlife sanctuary lies between Davis and Sacramento. To get there from Sacramento, take Interstate 80 west across the Yolo Causeway. Exit on frontage road at west side of causeway. Turn right on Road 32A. Go half a mile under the freeway to the west levee gate on left side of road. From I-80 eastbound, exit on east Chiles Road/County Road 32B. Turn left at the stop sign. Upon reaching the Yolo Bypass levee, turn right to the entrance.
• On Friday and Saturday, the California State Railroad Museum is offering a special Small Train Holiday exhibit featuring hundreds of feet of toy train layouts and miniature towns. The exhibit comes courtesy of local organizations and individuals to set up shop in the museum’s Roundhouse for just two days during the holidays. This year, the Sacramento Brick Builders (Lego Club) has identified “A White Christmas” as its display theme. Access to the exhibit is included with the cost of museum admission ($10 adults, $5 youths ages 6 to 17 and free for children 5 and younger). Check out more museum options at www.sacmuseums.org.
• The chinook salmon are jumping at the Nimbus F ish Hatchery on the American River. The hatchery’s fish ladder offers great views of the salmon as they make a mad dash to their spawning grounds. While the ladder is opened only on an as-needed basis, the giant fish can be seen in the river all along hatchery grounds. The hatchery is at 2001 Nimbus Road, Gold River, just off the Hazel Avenue exit on Highway 50. Hours are 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays (including Thanksgiving) and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. For more information, call (916) 358-2884 or go to www.dfg.ca.gov/fish/Hatcheries/Nimbus.
• Bike riding along the American River Parkway is a good option this time of year for bird watching and the aforementioned salmon migration. One option is to take your bike with you on a light-rail train to Folsom and ride the length of the parkway home.
• Fairytale Town in Sacramento’s Land Park is offering free admission to visitors who bring in a canned good to donate Friday. All goods will be donated to Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services. Open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the day also includes free arts and crafts activities.
• Hike through the Bobelaine Audubon Sanctuary, a 430-acre wildlife area on the Feather River about 18 miles north of Sacramento near Yuba City. Managed by volunteers with the Sacramento Audubon Society, the sanctuary offers 5 miles of signed, grassy trails that run through an oak forest and open grassland. More than 190 species of birds have been observed. From Sacramento, take Highway 99 north and cross the Feather River bridge. Turn right at the second signed street after crossing the bridge, Laurel Avenue. Stay on Laurel until you reach an “End” sign. At this point the road turns to dirt and gravel. Slow to 5 mph until you reach the parking area of the Bobelaine Audubon Sanctuary sign, parking lot, kiosk and metal barn.
• Learn about Hmong food, culture and dance at the Hmong New Year celebration at Cal Expo from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. today through Sunday. The region’s 26,000 Hmong celebrate their new year with numerous performers, dancers and musical acts over the four days. Admission is $4; children 4 and younger, and seniors 65 and older, get in free.