Taking your kids to visit Santa Claus isn’t only about getting those classic keepsake photos of your little ones on Kris Kringle’s lap. It’s also a chance to create a memorable family experience – and preferably one that’s not tarnished by long lines, crazy crowds or a Santa who doesn’t look quite as authentic as you hoped. Fortunately, southeast Michigan moms and dads can be a bit choosy in their quest for the perfect Santa experience. Your kids will feel like they’ve been transported to the North Pole at these eight local destinations that set the bar high for your family’s annual holiday trek.
Santa’s Magic Forest in Taylor
Times vary, Fridays-Saturdays Dec. 5-20, plus Dec. 21-22
- Address: Heritage Park Activities Building, 12111 Pardee Road
- Phone: 313-571-0413
- Prices: $3/general, free/3 and under, $8/photo with Santa
This hidden treasure features hundreds of animated characters, 23 magic forest scenes with themes like “Santa’s Toy Shop” and “Snowman Factory” and a chance to visit with Santa in a low-key environment. Proceeds benefit Fish and Loaves Community Food Pantry, which last year donated 2 million pounds of food in the area.
“It’s a magical winter wonderland that features many of the animatronics that we saw as children at the J.L. Hudson store on Woodward in Detroit,” says Karen Salomone, executive director of Fish and Loaves. “It is meticulously assembled over a six- to eight-week period by volunteers who have shared their talents, time and treasures to bring smiles and delight to children while raising funds to alleviate hunger.”
Santa House in Birmingham
Times vary, Dec. 4-6, 12-13, 19-20 and 24
- Address: Shain Park, Merrill Street, Birmingham
- Phone: 248-530-1200
Nestled under the pavilion at Shain Park downtown, this charming little red house is adorably decorated and provides a cozy vibe for your child’s visit. Kids can give Santa their wish list and parents can snap their own photos – or have one taken by the Lions Club for a $5 donation to benefit local charities.
“It’s been a tradition in Birmingham for many, many years,” says Lori Rondello, events manager for the Birmingham Principal Shopping District. “And we have the real Santa. He’s the real deal.”
Blake’s Family Christmas in Armada
Typically 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays, Dec. 5-20 (check ahead)
- Address: 17985 Armada Center Road, Armada
- Phone: 586-784-5343
Cutting your own Christmas tree is a special tradition for many families. Make it more memorable this year with a fully immersive holiday outing at Blake’s, complete with pre-cut or u-cut trees, a gourmet hot chocolate bar, fresh cider and doughnuts, bonfires and hayrides, a greenery market and, best of all, lunch with the big guy. You can take your own photos during your child’s Santa visit.
“Families come back year after year. It’s a great atmosphere for Christmas,” says manager Dave Blake. “It’s a good place to start a family tradition.”
Kerrytown Market and Shops in Ann Arbor
10 a.m.-2 p.m. Dec. 5, 12 and 19
- Address: 407 N. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor
- Phone: 734-662-5008
Santa has his elves, of course, but we wouldn’t be surprised if he picked up a few cool things at Kerrytown’s unique shops while he’s there to find out who’s been naughty or nice. Susan K, creator of the Humans of Ann Arbor Project, takes photos during your child’s meet-and-greet or you’re welcome to bring your own camera. Come back the following week for your free print.
The Village in Downtown Grosse Pointe
10 a.m.-2 p.m. Dec. 5, 12 and 19
- Address: Kercheval between St. Clair and Neff streets, Grosse Pointe (across from the CVS)
- Phone: 313-886-7474
The jolly fellow is here to hear wishes in “Santa’s Workshop.” Bring your camera to capture the moment. Kids can also enjoy story time with local authors and make holiday cards for children at St. John Hospital & Medical Center.
“They get to see Santa – they love that – and then they’re giving back,” says Melissa Bunker, event coordinator for the Grosse Pointe Village Downtown Development Authority.
Also look for Paws with Claus on Dec. 5 (3-5 p.m.), giving the whole family – including Fido – a chance to meet St. Nick. “It’s all family oriented and family, of course, means pets,” she adds. “It’s really fun.”
Somerset Collection in Troy
Begins 8 a.m. daily, Dec. 1-24
- Address: 2800 W. Big Beaver Road, Troy
- Phone: 248-643-6360
- Prices: $22-$48/photo packages
Just the sight of the elaborate holiday scene at Somerset is enough to wow little ones anxious to share their Christmas wishes with Santa. Plus, parents will love checking in at Santa’s “castle” Monday-Friday for a same-day pass and getting some time to shop instead of waiting in line (the case on Saturdays and Sundays).
Olde World Canterbury Village
9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Dec. 5, 13, 20
- Address: 2325 Joslyn Court, Lake Orion
- Phone: 248-391-1900
- Prices: $15.95/adults, $10.95/under 11, free/2 and under; $25 deposit reserves your spot (applied toward bill)
Explore the brightly decorated village before your breakfast with Santa at King’s Court Castle (be sure to register in advance!). The jolly elf strolls around and interacts with the children. Bring your own camera to take pictures. Then stop by Aldridge’s Always Christmas, which offers a large selection of holiday decorations and collectibles from around the world.
Briarwood Mall in Ann Arbor
Times vary, Dec. 1-24
- Address: 100 Briarwood Circle, Ann Arbor
- Phone: 734-769-9610
- Prices: $19.99-plus/photo packages
We give this mall major props for its Caring Santa program on Dec. 6 (8:30-10 a.m.), which offers a chance for guests with special needs and their families to visit with Santa before mall hours in a more sensory-friendly environment with treats, sensory bins and no lines.
“There’s a big need for it. It’s just a very special event,” said Denise Murray, director of marketing and business development at Briarwood. “It means a lot to a lot of people.”
The man in red will also visit with four-legged friends on select dates, and Breakfast with Santa is offered 8-10 a.m. Dec. 12.
Illustrations by Mino Watanabe