The Santa Monica Pier will host the 2011 Holiday Open House, featuring Santa Claus and Cirque du Soleil, beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 17.

Santa will make his grand entrance on the Pier Bridge at 11 a.m., when Los Angeles County lifeguards and the Santa Monica Harbor Patrol will escort the man in red by dory to the historic Hippodrome, or “Merry-Go-Round” building for visits and an array of activities.

Santa will be available for visits and photos, as well as free rides on the merry-go-round until 3 p.m. Soda Jerks, the pier’s old-fashioned soda fountain, will be on hand with hot cocoa and assorted holiday treats.

“Our 2011 Holiday Open House provides the perfect time to bring families to the iconic pier for merriment and fun and a chance for the little ones to tell Santa their wishes and dreams for the holiday season,” said Anne Railsback, marketing manager at the Santa Monica Pier Restoration Corporation.

Cirque du Soleil will also be featuring its “Oh Snap” photo experience from 1 to 3 p.m. during the event. Adults and children will have the chance to get their photo taken with lifelike characters from the OVO show that will be coming to the pier beginning in January. There will be no Cirque performers or performances.

At 2:30 p.m. a contemporary caroling troupe presented by Green Brooms Music Academy will stroll the planks of the pier, singing holiday favorites.

For the second year, the Santa Monica Pier will be partnering with Upward Bound House to collect canned food items for families in need this holiday season. Food items will continue to be collected in the Merry-Go-Round building through Dec. 18.

“We are thrilled that Cirque du Soleil is participating in the pier holiday event this year, and families have the opportunity to share in the experience of giving by bringing food items in support of the Upward Bound House food drive,” Railsback said.

Information, (310) 458-8901 or www.santamonicapier.org.

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