“What does Santa do?” I used to ask my daughters when they were tiny tots. The answer was always the same: “RUN!”
In those days, the extent of my girls’ knowledge of Santa started and finished with a series of running t-shirts I wore around the house. The large central logo showed a trim, fit Santa Claus, decked out in red, huffing and puffing as he ran between palm trees. It’s the logo of my all-time favourite race, Santa to the Sea, in Oxnard, California.
How it became my favourite running race has become something of a story of legend in my world. The Coles notes version is that I made a race goal, trained my butt off all Fall, then shattered my expectations on a magical day that felt easy and painless. It probably wasn’t, but that day I set a personal record, won my age group, and launched a love affair with not only the race but the community of Oxnard itself.
The adventure started months earlier when my friend Stephanie declared she had found a fast, flat race in California just before Christmas. We could take an easy, direct flight into LAX, pick up a rental car, and drive an hour up the coast to a beautiful, seaside hotel that was a short walk from the race finish line. The nearby marina held a Christmas Parade of Lights the night before the race. Heck, the race started at a giant Santa Claus statue. It just didn’t get more festive than this. I was on board.
Our hotel looked like it was straight off the cover of the Eagles’ “Hotel California” album. The beautiful, Spanish-styled Embassy Suites Mandalay Beach, just steps away from the ocean, with a pool, two hot tubs, even bike rentals, and a fantastic green space and playground less than a block away. Having kids of my own wasn’t even in the cards yet, but I knew this would be a beautiful place to bring a family one day.
Fast forward to December 2018. My twin daughters celebrated their fourth birthday, and we promptly hopped a plane to LAX and made the trek to the city of Oxnard. My girls oohed and aahed over the impressive entryway into the Embassy Suites, with its grand staircase, oversized art, and of course, Christmas greenery adorned with, what else but, seashells.
They collected pounds of pebbles on the beach, chased gulls and sandpipers, visited the pool and hot tubs at least twice per day, and enjoyed the freedom of a being at a playground without a jacket in December.
While my fifth running of the Santa to the Sea race wasn’t quite the fairy tale of the first, my fifth visit to Oxnard recaptured the magic of that inaugural trip. From enjoying the Parade of Lights in the marina to eating fresh California strawberries with my girls at the farmers’ market to visiting the beautiful lights of Oxnard’s historic Christmas Tree Lane, it was a wonderful getaway that won’t be soon forgotten.
“I don’t want to go to another hotel!” one daughter wailed as we packed our bags to head south for the second half of our trip. Despite knowing we were on our way to Legoland, she had no desire to leave the hotel, beach, pool and marina she’d fallen in love with.
It’s a sentiment I understand completely – and I have a sneaky suspicion it’s Santa’s fitness motivation, too!
What to do in Oxnard:
Holiday Run!: The Santa to the Sea half marathon, relay and 5 km is held the second week of December.
Where to stay: Embassy Suites Mandalay Beach
Dining: The Waterside Restaurant and Wine Bar, or any of the other great spots along Channel Island Harbor. If you book early enough, you can get a table for the Parade of Lights!
Playground: In Oxnard Beach Park, next to the Embassy Suites.