Contra Costa: Special Santas for Special Kids

Contra Costa: Special Santas for Special Kids

A visit to Santa can be a wonderful, magical experience for a child.  But it can also be a horror show for some kids.  Crowded malls, long wait times, a big furry stranger, bright lights, and pressure can overwhelm a kid. When a child is especially anxious, bashful, or has special needs, a visit to Santa can be traumatic for the parent, child, AND Santa.

Below are many of the factors that contribute to a scary tearful Santa visit can be avoided:

  • Large crowds
  • Long wait times
  • Loud noises
  • Rushed Santa visit
  • Impersonal approach
  • Anxiety over talking to Santa
  • An inexperienced staff

With a little planning, and a few tips, it is possible to avoid the above factors and to optimize your Santa visit.

Local Santa expert Bruce Campbell of Martinez has this advice to share: “I think the common factor to having success with special needs children is knowledge of their issues, and time to work through them. This benefits the children AND their parents. The child gets to have an experience like their peers and the parents are reminded that Christmas is a magical time for ALL children.”

The Sun Valley Mall in Concord has a beautiful set and top-notch Santas. But the crowds during the Holidays, and the long queue of Santa’s visitors, are not ideal for all kids. Fortunately, there are a few excellent local options for parents to visit Santa and have the time and attention to allow a child to warm up at their own pace. The keys are to find a less busy time and setting, and talking to Santa and his helpers about the child’s challenges so they can best accommodate them.

Here are a few great Santas in Contra Costa County that can help make your child’s Santa visit more enjoyable, and provide happy Holiday photos.


Santa House MartinezLocated on the central plaza on the quaint Main Street in historic Martinez, Santa has setup a workshop to visit kids and to take high quality professional photos.  There can be long lines for this real-beard Santa in his cute house, but by planning ahead, parents can find a time that is not busy. Since the house is in the plaza and the queue is outdoors, early on an rainy day will be ideal for avoiding crowds.Call ahead for the best time to come, and let the staff know your needs so they are able to provide an excellent Santa experience for your child.

For Martinez Santa hours and contact info, visit their website. Nicole DiGiorgio is the Head Elf and the photographer downtown. She is a professional photographer and can be booked for private sessions at your home, scenic location, or other requests.  You can reach Nicole at Sweetness & Light Photography. If you want to book a private shoot with Nicole AND Santa, plan well ahead and make arrangements in late Summer or early Fall.


The mall in Antioch off HWY4 at Somersville and Delta Fair is a good choice for families that want time and attention away from crowds. The mall is not as big or busy as Sun Valley Mall, and Santa there is approachable and friendly.  There is rarely a line to see Santa, and there is time and space to introduce your little one to Santa and to get acquainted. Walking the mall is a good way to familiarize your child with the scene. Santa sits in the center court, and kids can walk and wave from many angles. Waving and saying HI to Santa can break the ice, and set-up a successful visit and photo. The Santa is available 10am -8pm Monday through Saturday, and 11am-6pm Sundays.  Feel free to ask to greet Santa and see how things go, and then snap a pic or try again later. You can visit the Somersville Town Center page here.


Martinez Santa Marty OchoaMeeting Santa in a safe, familiar place might be the best way to introduce your child to the Big Guy.  Parents can make arrangements to hire a Santa for a private event or family visit. In the home setting, you can take your time and get many casual shots with no pressure.  Take time to get a lots of photos. Remember that Santa gets busy making toys and booked up in December, so it is always a good idea to plan ahead.  You can reach Martinez local

Santa Marty via his Facebook page to inquire about availability and booking.


  • Talk about Santa, read Santa books, and share stories your childhood visits
  • Build excitement and enthusiasm
  • Defuse worries and anxiety
  • For really busy kids, have them burn off some energy beforehand.
  • Plan ahead, after nap time, before cranky times.
  • Bring a favorite toy or doll to accompany and comfort the child.
  • Let the photo staff know any special needs they should be aware of
  • Don’t push it, take your time
  • Say HI, and introduce your self and the child to Santa
  • Not every kid will run up to Santa with hugs. A handshake, high-five, or fist bump is a good ice breaker
  • Bring a list of the child’s favorite things to share with Santa
  • Have the photo staff take lots of pictures (everything is digital, after all). Choose the best.
  • Remind the child that Santa will have a gift for them after the visit. (usually a candy cane or coloring book)
  • Take your time, relax, have fun, and don’t push things!

screamingsantavisitIf the child’s challenges are with fear or anxiety, spend some extra time helping the child to get comfortable in Santa’s presence. He or she can get time hearing Santa’s voice, relating to him, then getting closer, standing near, then maybe sitting closer. Then do some pictures in case that’s as far as things get. Often, though, Santa can build on that and get to a point where the child can actually sit in Santa’s lap for a relaxed visit.

At the end of the day, read the situation roll with how the child is doing. If they are freaked out, there is no need to push it. If a great photo with Santa is not going to happen, make the best of it.  Let the child know they don’t have to see Santa and that you can come back when they are ready. Or, make lemonade and take the best photo they snapped and you might have a fond, funny memory of that Santa visit for posterity. Be sure to send the best funny Santa pics to The Ellen Show.

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Merry Christmas from all of us at SF Bay Appraisal! Martinez native and East Bay property appraiser Mario Mazzamuto is an author, real estate investor, and Certified High Performance Coach who lives in Martinez, California with his wife Jessica and two kids. He owns San Francisco Bay Appraisal, which does property valuations and sales-prep consultations around the East Bay. Follow SF Bay Appraisal on Facebook here










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