On the scenic Rim of the World Highway, is the newly reopened SkyPark at Santa’s Village in the community of Skyforest near Big Bear. Santa’s Village opened Memorial Day weekend 1955 (one month before Disneyland). After 43 years, the theme park closed in the spring of 1998. Having sat vacant for almost 20 years, visitors can once again experience the year-round holiday spirit in the crisp, clean mountain air. Current owners Bill and Michelle Johnson have and tastefully restored the buildings on property. While some of the classic attractions are gone, new ones have been added, and others will open in 2017. The iconic feel of the 15-acre park has been preserved, rekindling nostalgia for those that visited years ago. With your admission ticket, guests may stroll the grounds and wander through the many gift shops and eateries. Attractions include a visit to Santa’s House, a bouldering room, a climbing tower, a bike track for kids, crafts, a train ride and various other experiences. “Arrow’s Adventure” offers a pedal car ride though a magical tunnel and around Castle Pond… think “people-powered ATVs.” This was a ton of fun! The narrated mini train ride utilizes midways and offers a narrated tour of the park. You can also ice skate to your hearts content on the giant rink. Don’t leave until you get a photo with Santa and Mrs. Claus!
In terms of entertainment, various performances and storybook readings take place throughout the day. When the sun sets, characters gather for a parade and tree lighting. This was definitely a highlight! The characters you see roaming the grounds during your visit join others that come out just for the cavalcade. The “parade” stops at the Christmas tree, where everyone gathers to see the lights turn on. This was really cute and a perfect end to our visit.
“Gatherings,” a beautifully designed sit-down restaurant serves up contemporary cuisine in a cozy, rustic setting. Make sure to visit the Gingerbread House bakery! The mint chocolate cookie was to die for! For quick service meals, St. Nick’s offers the standard sandwiches and burgers. A whimsically decorated candy shop offers a variety of sweets. The merchandise department has done an amazing job stocking the numerous shops. The selection is top notch with a variety of items to choose from. One location offers shoes and other outdoor clothing that rival the department stores. Logoed merchandise is also high quality. Custom-made collectibles are unique and not the mass-produced junk you find at other places. A must-have item is the “Arrow” stuffed plush. He is the park’s mascot (which bares an amazing resemblance to the owners’ own pooch)! A large Christmas store in the center of the park will have you wanting to buy everything (including a standing plush elf character). The staff is incredibly friendly and go out of their way to ensure you are having a great time. Employees remember you throughout the day and never failed to ask if we were enjoying ourselves. This was truly the most welcoming crew ever experienced, even more so than Disneyland.
Details are everywhere. Buildings have been renovated with the highest level of attention. The decorations are impeccably hung and the interior décor is stunning. The restroom inside of the Gatherings restaurant is hands-down the prettiest bathroom I have ever had the “pleasure” to use. It truly is gorgeous. The inside of the chapel (with working bell) is breathtaking.
SkyPark at Santa’s Village is low capacity, outdoorsy and hands-on, and is not Disneyland… don’t expect it to be. Comparing it to Knott’s, or Universal is not fair. Clearly, those parks offer significantly more attractions. What SkyPark offers is an intimate experience in a beautiful outdoor setting. You can show up five minutes prior to the parade without a crowd, and if you want a photo with a character, there isn’t an outrageous line. If there are people waiting for an attraction, move on to the next and come back. This makes for a customer experience worth the admission price.
Having visited on their second weekend, there were a few noticeable area that needed fixing, and/or needed to be added. For example, the food service department appeared to be a bit overwhelmed, but considering they had been open less than a week, everyone seemed properly trained, and there were only minor hiccups. If you are quick to judge the park for minor snafus, let’s not forget opening day at Disneyland… An oddly large “No Smoking” sign was placed in the plaza outside the main gate where a welcoming “SkyPark” sign should be. This ruined any attractive photo you could take upon entering. One couple turned the sign around so they could take a selfie. (It's all about the selfie, you know...)
Like all new venues, it is a work in progress. Future attractions include the reopening of the classic Bumble Bee Monorail, which will be pedal powered. A zip line, and hiking/mountain bike trails are being added, utilizing a portion of the property’s additional 200+ acres.
Right now, the park is a charming Christmas village that offers enough to do for a day's visit. It is a perfect spot for families with small children, those looking for a bit of nostalgia, or adults that want a unique romantic outing. As additional outdoor adventure opportunities open, the demographic should expand a bit. As for the owners, Bill’s first job was at the original Santa’s Village. Both Bill and Michelle poured their heart and soul into reopening the park. What they have created should leave lasting memories for guests who visit… and that is something you cannot put a price on. This is locally owned and family run, with staff coming from neighboring communities. The owners work in the park (and even drive parade vehicles). Your money is not going to a faceless corporation.
A visit is highly recommended, when you go in with the proper mindset and do not expect Disneyland. Check SkyPark’s website for hours, tickets, attractions and road conditions, as the park is situated at nearly 6,000 feet in elevation! Note: Tickets must be purchased in advance! SkyPark at Santa’s Village 28950 CA-18, Skyforest, CA
View the editors note below the photo gallery.
Editors Note: theFUNnelCakeBlog visited SkyPark Saturday. We arrived at noon and left at 5pm, and would have stayed longer, but had to be in Van Nuys by 7:00. There has been much talk about the ticket price. While the attractions are limited, the max capacity and personal interaction make the admission cost worth every penny. The parade and tree lighting were charming. Not being pushed and shoved through the park (think… Disneyland), makes for a pleasant experience. If you saw a character to take a photo with, you simply waited your turn. Santa did have a line, but guests were in NO RUSH to speed up the process. Visitors of all ages genuinely looked like they were having fun. We had no problem spending 5 hours there (without children). Our visit to SkyPark was entertaining, intimate, charming and relaxing. We had the opportunity to speak directly with the owner, Michelle. She and Bill put a lot of effort into restoring the weathered historic park. Attractions will be added as approvals come in, and the projects can be completed. Personally, I cannot wait to go back. An annual pass is available, and discounts are offered for mountain community residents.