When you think of your favorite winter holiday, what do you picture? Snow piled outside your window, soggy mittens landing in a heap by the door? The chill in the air turning your nose redder than Rudolph? Palm trees?
Ha! We have all that and more when you decide to celebrate the holidays in Los Angeles. Skip the flights cancelled due to ice, the caroling when everyone has strep throat, Jack Frost who does not so pleasantly nip at your nose. Come to LA. Though it may not have actually snowed since the 1960s, here in LaLa Land, we know how to fake it.
Fun fact: check out all the holiday movies filmed right here in Los Angeles.
This is a little insider tip, too: Los Angeles clears out the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Much of the industry gives everyone time off, so you as visitor can finally get a reservation at Trois Mec or enjoy the hike to the Hollywood sign with at least a little less competition.
For those with kids (or without–the magic of the holidays transcends age), LA has myriad opportunities for celebration. Since many of these events are in the evening, dress warmly. Though winter temps during the day here can be 60-80, the thermometer drops precipitously about 20 degrees at nighttime. Leave the flip flops at home.
Enchanted: Forest of Light
Northeast of Glendale in the upscale town of La Canada-Flintridge, you can find Descanso Gardens. During the day, it seems to be a garden oasis in the middle of the Southern California desert. At night, though, it transforms into “Enchanted: Forest of Light.” In general, this is a one mile nighttime stroll through a series of lights. That mundane description hardly does this event justice. Check out some of these photos.
So pick up some hot chocolate or cider (or a cocktail while you’re at it), grab a hot dog or popcorn, and enjoy your stroll while you celebrate the holidays in Los Angeles.
Event runs from November 19,2017- January 7,2018. Hours are from 530 pm-10 pm. Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas eve, Christmas Day, and Mondays. Tickets can be bought at the door, but to avoid disappointment, buy online in advance. Sometimes you can find coupon/Groupons. Children under 2 are free, everyone else is $28-30 per ticket. They have timed entry–don’t miss your time! Parking is free in the lot.
Clearly my daughter has an affinity for light displays. If you want more of a zoomorphic approach to your festive lights, head to the fabulous Los Angeles Zoo for LA Zoo Lights. Stop by and visit the reindeer, ride the carousel, and take your kids to see Santa. Don’t miss the Twinkle Tunnel, especially for you lovebirds out there. If you have children, bring the stroller. Though Zoo Lights does not take you through the entire LA Zoo, it is still a long walk for little ones. Keep in mind that besides the reindeer, most of the animals are not visible during Zoo Lights. It is nighttime after all. Don’t miss the snow machines just outside the Twinkle Tunnel.
Event runs from November 17-January 7,2018 from 6-10 pm every night. Definitely buy your tickets in advance on the website. Especially weekend nights sell out quickly, though you can try to buy tickets at the door. Food, hot chocolate, alcohol are on sale.
Chill at the Queen Mary
Touted as the United States’ first ever Ice Adventure Park, the Queen Mary in Long Beach offers ice skating, Santa, Christmas trees, international food, and a 140 foot Ice Tubing Slide. The latter, obviously, is not appropriate for toddlers, but certainly everyone else can have fun. Apparently for adults they have the Ice Bar. Borrow a parka or shapka to enjoy some adult freezing beverages.
Event runs from December 13- January 7 430–11pm, and is open on all holidays. You can buy tickets in advance on their website (though Living Social and Groupon often have discounts). Kids 3 and under are free. Tickets for everyone else cost $19-35. You do have to pay for parking at the harbor in Long Beach. Bonus tip: you can actually book a room and stay at the Queen Mary. Totally worth it.
When you are celebrating the holidays in Los Angeles, you have your choice of festive markets.
Check out Grand Central Market in Downtown Los Angeles. Not only can you have a beer or glass of champagne with your delicious pupusa, you can also browse used books, buy handicrafts and pick up your holiday tamales. This past year, musical guests included carolers, a klezmer band and steel drums. This year the pop up marketplace occurred on 12/2 and 12/3. Sign up for notifications for next year on Thrillist.com.
Also look into Artisanal LA. They offer pop up markets throughout the year all over the city, and the vendors cannot be beat. They have everything from hand crafted food and beverages to home goods.
Snow Days at Kidspace
If you visit Los Angeles with your children, make sure to take them to Kidspace Children’s Museum in Pasadena. This museum is amazing. Not only do they have multiple opportunities for kids to play, learn and explore outdoors, they also have a special room for infants and toddlers under 3. From December 26-December 30, Kidspace also has Snow Days. They fill an entire enclosed space with fake snow for kids to wallow in, pelt each other with snowballs, etc. This event gets VERY busy. Parking is free but the lot fills quickly. Admission is $13 per person over age 1.
Atypical Ways to Spend Holidays in Los Angeles
You thought I was going to neglect to tell you how to see Santa surf? How could I do that to you? You can catch an entire stand up paddleboarding and surfing contest in November at the Surfing Santa contest. Check out these other opportunities at Mommy Poppins. You can also just head down to my favorite beach, Marina Beach in Marina del Rey, to hang out, play on the playground, catch a bite to eat, and watch the people who do yoga on the stand up paddleboard. Nothing says Saturday in LA like watching people contort in unconventional places.
If you are a fan of lights like my daughter is (well, she borders on the fanatical), make sure you drive down Christmas Tree Lane and the Upper Hastings Ranch Holiday Light Up. Both of these events are free.
The Theme Parks
There are always the theme parks. If you don’t feel like waiting in the very long Disneyland holiday lines, check out my #1 Tip for Visiting Disneyland with a Toddler. Knott’s Merry Farm is supposed to be great for kids, and slightly less overwhelming than the House of Mouse. Universal Studios Hollywood has Christmas in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which I would definitely see if I did not have a two year old. For older kids, I cannot imagine missing that.
Why not spend the holidays in Los Angeles?
Hopefully I have convinced you of the magic of the holidays in Los Angeles. You can still have your snow, and suntan too. Tucker yourself out at Disneyland, then spend the evening admiring some amazing light displays. We are certainly a “City of Stars.”
If you do find yourself here and in need of some refreshment, head to the East Side of LA and check out family friendly restaurants in Eagle Rock. To help burn some extra hot-cocoa-energy if you’ve run out of sunscreen, bring your kids to my top 3 indoor playgrounds. Los Angeles has a lot to offer families and travelers of every type, particularly around the holidays.
I hope that wherever you are this holiday season, you are safe and happy.