From the moment Santa makes his grand entrance at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Santa season is officially in full swing. There are many places around town to give Santa your wish list, from iconic department store wonderlands to special events at restaurants and even a zoo. Here are the best places to see Santa in New York City.
Macy’s is the standard bearer for Santa experiences in the city. Visiting the Herald Square flagship’s Santaland can involve a long wait and being herded through a line that snakes through the store’s eighth floor. But the payoff is worth it: The journey to Santa’s workshop takes visitors through a train “ride” (the floor vibrates along with bells clanging) and into the 13,000 square foot Christmas village. Santaland is open daily from Nov. 28 to Dec. 24 until 9pm. Opening times vary between 7am and 9am; go to the Santaland website to see the full schedule. Should you not want to wait on line for longer than it would take to actually watch Miracle on 34th Street, make an advance reservation via kiosks in the cellar or on the 9th floor (only 20 are allowed per hour). Advance reservations are also available online 30 minutes to 48 hours in advance, beginning Nov. 26. 151 W 34th St., visitmacysnewyork.com
The eighth-floor children’s department at the Bloomingdale’s on 59th Street (at Lexington Ave.) is another popular place to see Santa, Nov. 28–Dec. 23 (11am-6pm weekdays, 10am-6pm weekends). Though the scene at the department store’s flagship location isn’t as elaborate as the one at Macy’s, fewer frills mean shorter lines — which can be the difference between Johnny smiling and crying by the time he poses for a picture with the world’s most popular reindeer driver. 1000 Third Ave., bloomingdales.com
If you want something more elaborate than just snapping a picture, two of the restaurants at Rockefeller Center host a Breakfast with Santa during the holiday season: The Sea Grill and Rock Center Café. Both packages include breakfast with Santa and carolers and ice skating on the famed Rockefeller Center ice skating rink, plus keepsakes like an ornament, photo frame and gifts for the kids. In 2014, the breakfasts will be held Nov. 28-30, Dec. 7, 13-14 and daily Dec. 19-24. Breakfast at the Sea Grill is $110 for adults and $75 for children, while the Rock Center Café packages start at $80 for adults and $50 for children. Be sure to make reservations in advance — the breakfasts do sell out. rockefellercenter.com
ABC Carpet & Home
As has been a holiday tradition for more than 20 years, the Santa at ABC Carpet & Home is available for photo opportunities in the Union Square neighborhood 11am–3pm Nov. 28–30 and Dec. 6, 13 and 20. The scene is apropos of a home-furnishings store, featuring an elaborate Victorian-style sitting area draped in velvet and filled with housewares. The wait here is also shorter than almost any other place you’ll visit in the city. 888 Broadway; abchome.com
World Financial Center
Santa, elves and reindeer are on hand at Santa’s Winter Garden in the World Financial Center. A professional photographer is on hand for photos (packages start at $20), and all proceeds go to the New York Theatre Ballet. The Battery Park City garden hosts Santa Dec. 5-7 9am-1:30pm and 3-6pm. Lines can be long, and are capped if staff thinks not everyone will be accommodated, so be sure to arrive early. 220 Vesey St.
New York City Fire Museum
Visit the New York City Fire Museum on Dec. 7 at 11:30am for an unusual Santa-sighting. The museum’s annual Santa Rescue is more theater than a traditional visit, but it’s worth the watching: Saint Nick gets stuck on the roof and firefighters get out their hook-and-ladder to save him from peril. After families watch the rescue, they can head inside to sip hot cocoa at a holiday party and enjoy music from John Clacher’s Firehouse Band. Buy tickets in advance ($8 adults, $5 kids under 12) to ensure you’ll get in (tickets guarantee you’ll be sitting inside with Santa); as it is, the event is crowded every year, so in any case you’ll need to brace yourself for some jostling. 278 Spring St; nycfiremuseum.org
Click here to read more about great ways to celebrate the holidays in New York City.