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Holiday Cheer is Found at this Escondido Landmark

The holiday season has begun in Escondido and the best place to get into the spirit is Canterbury Gardens. From the street, guests can spot a gigantic Santa climbing the rooftop, while at the entrance, two life-sized toy soldiers stand ready to greet all who enter. Once inside, every magical marvel that defines the holiday spirit is on display in this 10,000-square-foot winter wonderland.

Life-size nutcrackers stand on either side of the entrance to Canterbury Gardens

Since 1983 Canterbury Gardens has been a holiday destination for not only Escondido residents but for guests from all over. Owner and operator Dave Hansen said, “We draw from all over the state, even Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, and New Mexico. We’ve done trees all over the country. We are a destination store; buses, big family groups, and parties fill the place from September to the first week of January.”

Hansen’s mother and father opened Canterbury Gardens after they both retired from successful careers – his mother owned a gift shop in La Jolla called Nostalgia Gifts and his father worked for Fotomat Corporation. When Fotomat moved to Connecticut, the family decided not to move with the corporation and instead his parents opened Canterbury Gardens together. They purchased the abandoned Old Brookside Winery landmark, which had been empty for nearly five years. In the first year, they decorated 12 themed trees and ran the plant nursery that was located in the property. Hansen said the winery was famous for its Black Velvet wine and they also offered sacramental wine to the Catholic Church. Hansen said, “After five years, we still had clergy coming to get sacramental wine.” The nursery closed in 1985, and Hansen joined his mother after his father died suddenly two years into the business. Hanson said, “It’s been a fabulous job for all these years. I still like coming to work every day.”

Today, Canterbury Gardens displays 36 themed trees, all imagined and designed by Hansen. One of the highlights this year includes a Champs-Élysées tree that was inspired by a family trip taken 15 years ago. The memories of fresh flowers, the Eiffel Tower and the lovely scenery have stuck with Hanson throughout the years. Hansen said, “It rained every day. There were umbrellas everywhere. The tree represents the colors of the city, its bridges, and landmarks. The beautiful ribbons remind me of the way women dress in France. They dress so perfectly.” This tree is decorated with black and white ribbons, bottles of Chanel No.5, glitter-dipped balls, and a black and white opened umbrella as the topper. 

The Christmas Cheer tree is a wine-themed tree with rich purple grape ornaments placed throughout, wine glass and wine bottle ornaments, deep burgundy glass balls, and grapevines encircle the tree. Beachy Christmas has mermaids and underwater creatures hanging throughout, while rope-twined ornaments, glittering corals, and starfish fill in the gaps. Other themes include both sweet and savory trees standing next to each other – one with donuts, candies, and chocolates, the other with pizza, burgers, and pretzels; a snowman tree filled with snowmen, big and small; an elf tree; a European tree with beautiful, hand-blown glass ornaments in vibrant reds, yellows, blues, and greens; a tree with classic and current fictional characters, and so much more.

A mermaid ornament hangs on a beach-themed Christmas tree

Hanson spends a good deal of time deciding on tree theme every year. “I pick the 20 most popular from the previous year and I come up with 16 new styles.” He said he gets his inspiration from what he sees in the media. “I watch all the runway shows and everything that has to do with style, color trends, and the Pantone color of the year.”

When asked what he thinks the newest trend of the season will be, Hansen said, “Blue is the trend this year. It is really hot.”

His Christmas Dior tree shows off this hot color. It is a flocked tree set up with pearlescent blue and vibrant blue glass ornaments, and chocolate brown glass balls and acorns hanging from the branches, while white peacocks perch on the branches, and a chain of dazzling, interlocked rhinestone circles wrap around the tree. 

All the ornaments and accessories found on every tree can be found in bins and tabletop displays surrounding the trees. In fact, if a customer wants to set up an exact tree at home, the staff at Canterbury Gardens can help them take home all the ornaments and trimmings that day. Hansen added, “Everyone who comes in here wants to make their homes look like a wonderland and we can do that.”

Another thing that makes Canterbury Gardens stand out from other stores that sell Christmas décor is the fact that at Canterbury Gardens, they only sell the very best quality items including Polish glass ornaments, Indian ribbons, and many exclusive items from top designers and artists. With nearly 600 vendors, the store is filled with the finest selection of Christmas décor that will inspire every customer.

A village display sits atop a table at Canterbury Gardens

One artist, Mark Roberts, who is known for his fairy, elf, Santa, and witch characters, has been selling his items at Canterbury Gardens for 21 years. Roberts continues to return to the store every holiday season to meet and sign items for his fans. Hansen said, “He did his first signing here and we have always been good friends. My Mom helped guide him on his success and he’s very loyal to us.” Roberts will be signing his character ornaments and designs at Canterbury Gardens on December 7 from 1:00 - 4:00 pm. Proceeds from the sales of Roberts’s pieces will go to pediatric and breast cancer charities.

Hansen says this is a highlight of the season and looks forward to this event every year. He feels he has a great relationship with many of his vendors and said, “Our vendors are very precious to us and we have enjoyed doing business with them through the years.”

Hansen also feels the city of Escondido has been there for his business from the start. “Escondido is the greatest supporter of my business. When we have a planning, building, or parking issue, the city has been nothing but good to Canterbury Gardens.”

In addition to city management, Hansen feels the support of the community, “The community is great. Many locals come in so often, sometimes they come in just to cheer up. Seeing beautiful things sometimes makes your heart forget the heaviness of life. Some of our employees have been here for over 30 years, and they have made friends with the locals.”

“I think what I would add is we are so glad we are in Escondido. It has a small town feel and a lot of loyal customers. People come in all the time and say, ‘thank you for still being here.’ We sell nothing anybody needs; we just provide happiness.” 

Canterbury Gardens is located at 2202 S. Escondido Boulevard, parallel to Centre City Parkway (U.S. Route 395). All items found in the store can also be purchased online at or

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