Yes, you can find Santa Claus in every mall in America. But if you want the real Santa Claus experience, you need to visit him where he lives – the North Pole.
Not the geographical North Pole, of course. St. Nick doesn’t want a bunch of tourists traipsing through his workshop and interfering with the industry of his elves. But there are several designated “North Poles” in the United States that keep the mystique alive for both children and adults. In these special places, it’s Christmas all year long.
Santa’s Workshop: North Pole, Colorado
Consider Santa’s Workshop and the North Pole/Santa’s Workshop on Pikes Peak, just west of Colorado Springs, Colorado.
This 25-acre theme park lies on the side of America’s Mountain, complete with the nation’s highest Ferris wheel, a Christmas tree ride, aerial sky-ride and a carousel with reindeer.
They used to have live reindeer, but “they don’t domesticate really well,” says owner Tom Haggard, whose parents built the attraction in 1955. “Now we have English fallow deer and the kids can pet them and feed them through the fence.” Fallow deer are small and non-threatening even for toddlers.
The park, which opens in late spring and closes on Christmas Day each year, is situated at 7,500 feet on the side of Pikes Peak in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. The North Pole/Santa’s Workshop has 27 rides, including a Candy Cane Coaster. Anchoring the park is the “North Pole” which is kept below freezing even in July.
And, naturally, the white-bearded guy who lives here and makes every visit worthwhile has his own little house. He’s as authentic-looking as they come, gentle with shy ones, firm with boisterous ones, and you can pull his beard (gently) if you want: It’s real.
In fact, Santa Claus, an old school chum of Haggard’s, was born and raised in Cascade, Colorado, a tiny town just down the mountain from the park.
“Children who are too shy to go sit on his lap can leave him a letter in the mailbox right outside his house,” Haggard says.
The park is busy from the time it opens at 10 a.m. every day. And it’s a good idea to get there early because afternoon showers (in summer) or the disappearing sun (about 2:30 p.m. in winter) make mornings the best time to visit.
“We’ve been very lucky,” to be so busy even in a down economy, Haggard says. “I think it’s because we have stuck to our original intent – to provide safe fun for families with small children.” There’s no video arcade or acquiescence to teen interests.
“We’re really all about the little ones,” Haggard says.
A few years ago, USA Today voted it one of the top 10 places for grandparents to take grandkids, he says. The fact that grandparents (60-plu) get in free all the time “is a big plus,” he adds.
Every year, the U.S. Postal Service delivers thousands of letters to the park. Many are marked simply “Santa Claus” on the envelope – no stamp or return address.
“They know where to bring them,” Haggarad says, laughing.
If there’s a return address, the sender gets a post-card reply (if received by the first week in December). If a letter reveals a child in distress or danger, the staff tries to track them down and get help. “And that does happen from time to time,” Haggard says.
For hours and prices on the North Pole/Santa’s Workshop on Pikes Peak, visit http://santas-colo.com/.
There are other, similar sites places to find Santa Claus and the North Pile around the United States, including:
North Pole, Alaska
If you happen to be in Alaska, you’ll find not just an attraction, but an entire town called North Pole. There are Christmas decorations up all year long in town, and you can drive down Santa Claus Lane and similarly named streets. Street lights are shaped like giant candy canes.
You can visit Santa Claus House, which is really a gift shop, and buy all sorts of holiday-themed gifts any day of the year. The “World’s Largest Santa” is a 42-foot, 900-pound version of the jolly old man himself that stands just outside the store. You can have your picture taken in Santa’s sleigh.
For more information on this holiday village, visit http://www.northpolealaska.com/.
Santa Claus, Indiana
A statue of the Jolly Old Elf welcomes visitors to the town of Santa Claus, Indiana. Established in 1852, the town was named during a local meeting called for that purpose on Christmas Eve. Everyone got into the Christmas spirit, and even today, the town follows the Christmas motif everywhere you look. Visit Santa’s Candy Castle and a holiday-themed amusement park. For more information, visit http://www.townofsantaclaus.com/.
North Pole, New York
Santa Claus is at your beck and call summer, fall and winter at his home in North Pole, New York. This amusement park was the inspiration for the one in Colorado. Like the one on Pikes Peak, it is geared to the four-foot-and-under crowd. It, too, has rides, shows (a live nativity pageant) and a storybook village full of shops. To learn more, visit http://www.northpoleny.com/.
Linda DuVal is a former travel editor, now a freelance writer and co-author of “Insider’s Guide to Colorado Springs.”