There’s nothing quite like a million twinkling lights to light up your little one’s faces (and your own) during the holiday season. As if the city wasn’t bright enough already, LA definitely knows how to dazzle with dozens of magical light displays across the city. All of these spots will leave your family glowing through the New Year.
photo: Descanso Gardens
Garden of Lights: Enchanted: Forest of Lights
Brand new for this holiday season, Descanso Gardens will light up its lush landscape with a one-of-a-kind holiday light display. Starting November 25 and running through January 8, the light show features several interactive displays, like the Symphony of Oaks, which lets you manipulate lights and sounds in the garden’s Oak Grove. It’s a walk through exhibit so you’ll definitely want to bring the stroller for little ones. Tickets are $28 for adults, $24 for kids 3-17, and free for under 3. Timed entries run from 5-10 p.m. each evening. We definitely recommend purchasing tickets in advance online and if you want a spot to grab a bite before, make a reservation at the newly opened Maple restaurant, now serving dinner.
photo: Jamie Pham
Wild for Lights: Los Angeles Zoo
See the zoo come alive while most of the animals sleep (though you can catch the nocturnal creatures for once!) November 18–January 8 from 6-10 p.m. After the daytime crowds leave, the zoo transforms into a magical winter jungle with lights, lasers, 3D projections and interactive displays. Animated LED “monkeys” lead the way through various only in LA displays (including animals on a freeway). A black light party in the LAIR reptile house, weekend visits from Santa, holiday-themed treats, and the only place in town to visit real reindeer make this an experience your family won’t forget. This is only the third year of Zoo Lights, and it’s extra special as it kicks off the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Zoo, so there will be new features like the new light waterfall and shadow puppet installation. Admission starts at $9 for adults and children ages 2-12.
Learn more about Zoo Lights here.
photo: Downtown LA Walking Tour
Historical Holiday Shine: Downtown LA Walking Tour
Discover the center of the city in the brightest way. Lights, decorations, festivities and holiday cheer are everywhere you look when you take this special Holiday Lights walking tour of downtown. From a Nutcracker village to icicle sheets to Las Posadas to a bright ice rink and more, you’ll celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah and the bright lights of our big city. The tour is for everyone from kids to grandparents, and departs nightly from November 26-December 30 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and free for kids. If the whole tour is too much, head to a spot where you can play at the playground (or in the fountain if it’s a warm day) until the sun sets, then watch as Grand Park magically comes alive with tons of twinkling lights for the holidays.
Learn more about the walking tour here.
Learn more about Grand Park’s holiday display here.
photo: may grace A. via Yelp
Storytime Walk: Wakefield Court, Saugus
BYOC (cocoa, peeps) to this winter wonderland in the northern Los Angeles area. You can drive or walk in and out of the glowing double cul-de-sacs, which feature unique themes from Star Wars to Gingerbread House displays. Because of the self-guided Night Before Christmas story you can read along the route, it’s best on foot. There’s always a community charity drive (this year it’s to bring unwrapped toys for the local Boys and Girls Club). Weeknights are the least congested times to visit and the lights are on from 5-10:30 p.m.
photo: Lea N. via Yelp
The Biggest Tree: The Grove, Los Angeles
Complete with Santa and his reindeer streaking across the sky, The Grove shopping center in Mid-City is a great spot to see beautiful holiday lights. With Los Angeles’ largest Christmas tree and the fountain’s water show set to holiday tunes, this place is sure to elicit “oohs” and “ahhs” from your little ones. Your drought-tolerant tots will be especially ecstatic to experience the “snowfall” that happens every night at 7 & 8 p.m. While you’re there you can try to catch Santa in his gingerbread-themed workshop. And if giant trees are your (Santa’s) bag, check out our list of the best tree lightings in town. Even if you miss the lighting ceremony, the trees all twinkle from November 15 through Christmas.
Learn more about The Grove’s holiday display here.
photo: Angela A. via Yelp
Not So Sleepy: Sleepy Hollow Christmas Lights Extravaganza, Torrance
One of the more popular light displays on this list, the entire neighborhood comes out with lights, Christmas icons, and tons of holiday cheer. You’ll find this California winter wonderland at Robert Road off Pacific Coast Highway, north of Calle Mayor. This neighborhood comes out in full force for the holiday with groups touring the area in golf carts and local kids selling hot chocolate and churros. Park and walk—traffic moves at a turtle’s pace.
Candy Cane Lane: South Bay Edition
Not to be confused with the Candy Cane Lane in Woodland Hills, or Sleepy Hollow in neighboring Torrance. This El Segundo neighborhood along the 1200 block of Acacia Street lights up with unique home displays. You’ll need to park your car and walk through, but it’s a short few blocks so nothing little legs can’t handle. The walk is well worth it when kids get to meet Santa waiting in his sleigh at the end of the street. This year’s display will be up starting December 10 and run through Christmas. Santa makes his appearance most nights from 7-9 p.m.
photo: The Getty Center
Artistic Lighting: Illuminate Your Holidays at The Getty Center
It’s impossible to believe The Getty Center can get any more beautiful than it already is, but when the sky grows dark and the holiday lights turn on, the view becomes even more breathtaking. Starting November 25, stay a little late at the Getty and you’ll be treated to a serene light show as the trees light up with twinkling white lights and snowflakes are projected on the walls. This is the perfect spot for a more calm and quite experience if you’d rather avoid a big crowd. Saturday nights the Getty is open until 9 p.m. so you can enjoy the lights a little longer. Get a cocoa from the carts and relax.
A Beachy Display: Naples Island, Long Beach
If you are looking for a beachy Christmas vibe, check out the canals of Naples. Nestled in a Long Beach inlet, this tiny island provides some really splendid private home light displays, a Christmas Boat Parade on December 17, and a stunning view of the bay dotted with floating lighted Christmas trees. A great spot for an evening stroll, the waterfront walkways are child friendly, and there’s no traffic to worry about. Insider tip: another great Long Beach spot is Daisy Avenue, with their plethora of decorated Christmas Trees.
Learn more about the Naples Island Boat Parade here.
photo: Tea D. via Yelp
Drive By Lighting: Candy Cane Lane, Woodland Hills
This little West Valley neighborhood is a couple blocks, centered on the intersection of Oxnard Street and Lubao Avenue in Woodland Hills. It’s more of a stay-in-your-car adventure, but the closer you get to Christmas, the longer it can take (up to two hours), so plan on going early in the season. Several houses sell hot chocolate and holiday snacks. This is a baby-friendly spot with lots of families walking with baby carriers and strollers.
Posh Electricity: Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills
For a more glamorous excursion, check out the brightly lit storefronts and street displays on Rodeo Drive. Grab a hot chocolate and stroll south down Rodeo Drive starting at South Santa Monica Boulevard. Make sure you make it down to Rodeo Two, a pedestrian street between Dayton Way and Wilshire Boulevard, where you can catch Santa, the Mrs., a jazz band or some carolers, depending on the night. Don’t forget to look up as you drive home, the kids will be delighted to spot Santa’s sleigh led by Rudolph and his crew, flying high over the intersection of Wilshire and Beverly Drive. (AKA, Pretty Woman territory, for us old people.)
Check this list to see when you can catch Santa and singers on Rodeo.
Thematically, Spot On: Hastings Ranch, Pasadena
This Pasadena area neighborhood will be a sure hit with your little elves. Starting the first weekend of December, each block has its own theme, from Santa’s Toy Shop to a snowy Winter Wonderland. This is a large neighborhood with a ton to see, so driving is recommended. Most drivers go slowly so you can enjoy it as if you’re walking.
photo: Jen S. via Yelp
Oldie & Goodie: Christmas Tree Lane, Altadena
Purported to be the oldest large scale Christmas light display in the country, Altadena’s Christmas Tree Lane is sure to get you in the spirit. If you head out this way be sure to visit the Balian House, a 4-acre property and mansion with over 10,000 holiday lights and Christmas decorations.
A Majestic Stroll: Saint Albans Road, San Marino
Saint Albans is lined with tall majestic pines that are all bedecked in colored lights for the season. This old San Marino neighborhood will delight munchkins and grownups alike with its stately old California architecture all dressed up for the holidays. This is a short trek, so bundle up, park the car and take a stroll.
Tunnel of Lights: Yolanda Lights, Reseda
Located on the 7300 block of Yolanda Ave south of Valerio, this holiday light tunnel is ideal for those who want to walk, bike, blade, or take a stroller through a beautifully lit tunnel. Beginning November 28, it runs down both sides of the street, so there’s plenty of room for your little ones to go zooming through. Don’t forget to sign the photo guestbook with a selfie at the end of your walk.
photo: Mission Inn
There’s Light at the Inn: Mission Inn, Riverside
The Festival of Lights at the Mission Inn Hotel features one of the nation’s largest holiday light displays of this kind. The castle-like, historic hotel is illuminated nightly with nearly 4 million holiday lights. There are also visits from Santa Claus, the world’s largest man-made mistletoe, horse-drawn carriage rides, freshly fallen snow, an elaborately decorated Christmas tree in the hotel lobby and tasty holiday confections at Casey’s Cupcakes in the Inn. You can also plan your visit to coincide with taking breakfast, brunch, or afternoon Tea with Santa, then skate the day away on the ice rink as you wait for darkness to fall and the lights to come alive. The festival kicks off on November 25.
Learn more about the holiday events at the Mission Inn here.
A Desert Delight Worth the Drive: WildLights
The Living Desert’s WildLights Holiday Festival lights the desert zoo up with thousands of twinkling lights, dazzling displays, live music, festive games and activities. Get the lay of the land with a ride on the Holiday Express train, then delight kids with camel and carousel rides, Prancer’s Playland, Santa’s Corner, and Mrs. Claus’ Kitchen with hot chocolate, s’mores, holiday-themed Wildlife Wonder Shows and more. Spend the day and then the night, checking out the splendors of the desert with this only in (near) LA outing. The lights come alive November 23 and run Friday and Saturday nights through December 24, and select nights through the end of the year, from 6-9 p.m. Admission is $8 for children and $10 for adults.
Learn more about the Living Desert’s WildLights Festival here.
Do you have a favorite spot to see festive lights? We want to hear about it!
—Shannon Guyton & Shahrzad Warkentin