Me at my favorite holiday event, the Winter Fantasy at the Sawdust grounds. This is the last weekend! On, Dasher!

I’ve said many times in past blogs that I wait for the Winter Sawdust Festival to do my Christmas shopping. I’m also quite sure that if I were to ever think of leaving Laguna Beach, my closest friends – who are repeated recipients of gifts from the Winter Sawdust – would hold an emergency meeting, cobble money together and buy me a $4 million beachfront home just to ensure that the Winter Sawdust gifts would keep coming.

There’s simply nothing like the Winter Sawdust Festival anywhere. Although I dearly love the summer Sawdust Festival, too, there’s just something cozier and magical about our weekend-only winter addition. Aside from the 150 artists in residence at their individually-crafted booths, the Winter Fantasy has a petting zoo, craft-making for kids, live music almost every hour in two locations, plenty of food, beer and hot cider, wandering carolers and, of course, a most outstanding Santa Claus ready for last minute wishes.

This weekend is the last weekend of the Festival, Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 18th and Dec. 19th, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. If you haven’t gotten in yet, it’s time to make room in your schedule. Admission tickets are only $7 for seniors, $10 for all the rest of the adults, $5 for kids between the ages of 5 and 12, and free for children under the age of 5.

I can guarantee you will eventually exit with a big, sloppy Grinch grin on your face. My only warning to you: Don’t be surprised if you buy more gifts for yourself than you do for that deserving holiday list of friends and relatives. With 150 artists in residence producing truly magnificent, one-of-a-kind art, you simply have to treat yourself, too. 



Personalities and talent galore

Because her stock of knitted treasures move so quickly, Suzi White just keeps knitting through the day. Her Santa hats are the hit of the show. Her beanies and scarves clear out nearly as soon as the last stitch is tied off, so get to her booth early for your own treasure.

After many years of visiting both of the Sawdust Festivals, I’ve come to know many of the artists and they’ve become friends to me. It’s always a happy surprise, though, to stumble across someone new. I find artists always have the most compelling and interesting stories, and our accomplished Laguna-based artists are simply magnetic. Take a few minutes to chat with them and your life will never be the same.

Last weekend, I took photos of just the few I purchased more gifts from. (If any of my friends are reading this, there are no spoiler alerts here. You’re simply going to have to wait to see what’s under your tree.) Be assured that every artist deserves a cameo spotlight, and I welcome you to send me photos of your favorite Winter Fantasy artists at my social media platforms @bestoflagunabeach

Soft goods to cuddle your loved ones

Suzi White may be one of my most favorite people on the planet. While she’s struggled through a very difficult year, she continues to knit absolute treasures, including her famous Santa hats. She is always grateful and buoyant, even noting that our dear shared friend, Kaj Garmshausen created her booth and all its shelving this season.

Michelle Burt’s scarves and “empowered woman” series paintings just add more heart to her already popular seascape and dancer paintings.

Michelle Burt is better known for her glorious seascape paintings, but I always make a beeline to her booth in search of the scarves she never advertises. These are gorgeous batique pieces that take hours of effort and time. She also features an “empowered woman” series of paintings and prints with inspirational sayings that had me buying batches in one sitting.

Not able to travel this year?

Artist Krishman Iyer explains a new “side hobby” to my buddy, Ali North, at the Winter Fantasy.

Several artists invite you to travel in your mind with stunning paintings and photography of their own travels. While I’ve talked with Krishman Iyer on several occasions about his beautiful photography from all points of the world, a new “side hobby” attracted my eye this year, and it starts with a Home Depot slate! I can’t properly explain the process he dreamed up to create these multi-layer tile masterpieces, but you’ll love the story (and his enthusiasm).

Gold and silver galore

One day, I will devote an entire day to only perusing every jewelry making booth at the Winter Fantasy. There is so much creativity here that every single person on your list could be handled with something that perfectly suits his or her style.

Kirk Milette’s stunning black pearl and opal pieces are something I return to every year.

Kirk Milette, one of the longest-standing Sawdust artists, has become one of my best buddies. I’m lucky to own a couple pieces of his distinctive black pearl jewelry, but every jewel and metal he works with is a memorable piece. This summer, he jumped into a side business of toe rings, hand-making a variety of options, and it proved quite popular. You’ll find those, too, and just in time for those New Year’s Eve parties. 

My newest jewelry friend is Baruch Kaufman. I discovered his work this summer and splurged on an incredible (very large) raw fire opal necklace for myself. It is such a distinctive piece that strangers everywhere, from security police at the airport to people in the coffee line at Laguna Coffee will stop everything they’re doing to exclaim over it. I walked into the Drake Laguna Beach a couple months ago, and a server bustling by, with a full load of cocktails in his hands, stopped in his tracks to ask me if this was “a Baruch piece.” He owns something from this designer, too, and we gabbled happily about Baruch’s insane talent as the cocktails weeped a bit of their ice.

Nestled by the east food court, Baruch Kaufman grins over his crafted masterpieces.

When I returned to the Winter Fantasy a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Baruch in person and, of course, in a matter of minutes, he had me buying another piece for myself, this time an emerald cut blue topaz necklace for myself.

Oh right. All those other people I’m shopping for. Well, yes, I did purchase additional gifts from Baruch and I’ll have to say it’s been a waging war of the will to package them up and send them away.

On my second Winter Fantasy visit, he created a new, custom jewelry piece for one of my friends right in front of my eyes. He finished the entire piece it in about four minutes, all while kibbitzing with shoppers about where he found this particular gem or why he uses the treble clef in all of his designs (turns out he’s a musician and a band member, too).  

Winter whimsy

Nicolai Erngren carves and sheers for the fun of it, which makes his art all the better.

Then there are the whimsical artists who find their way to every heart. Nikolai Erngren is one such elfish entry, with Grinch-like Christmas trees, Whoville hearts and every sort of goofy, lovable animal and bird. This time, it was purchases for myself as I simply couldn’t live without the good-hearted love in my home.

The master of the glass

And, finally, the Sawdust (and for that matter, all of Laguna Beach) would be lacking were it not for the great John Barber’s glass-blown masterpieces. The Obi Wan of them all, Barber’s international renown is a trifle to the friendly man who shrugs off the acclaim.

You know why John Barber is so renowned when you study one of his intricate glass-blown ornaments for your tree.

Over the years, I’ve given away more of his glassware collection than I’ve saved for myself, but I always purchase at least two Christmas ornaments each year for my tree. There’s just nothing like a John Barber glass piece, even if it’s a bauble for your tree. This year, look for his clear glass angel pieces, too.


As noted, this weekend is the Winter Fantasy’s last weekend. Give yourself a boost of holiday cheer, and be sure to wave at Santa at least once as you make your rounds through this memorable festival.

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