LA may not have real, from-the-sky snow to get us revved up for winter, but what it lacks in the cold stuff, it makes up for in stunning Christmas light displays. So whether you want to walk through tunnels of sparkle at the LA zoo or mingle with your neighbors on Candy Cane Lane, there’s no shortage of shine this holiday season. Keep reading for the most spectacular light displays in LA.
Enchanted Forest of Light: La Cañada Flintridge
Descanso Gardens lights up its lush landscape with its one-of-a-kind holiday light display called Enchanted: Forest of Lights. Beginning Nov. 17 and running through Jan. 5., the larger-than-life show features a mile-long stroll through 10 large-scale light displays, including interactive exhibits that let you manipulate lights and sounds. This is a popular event that almost always sells out, so if you’re hoping to go this year, get your tickets ASAP. Event details.
1418 Descanso Dr.
La Cañada Flintridge
LA Zoo Lights: Los Angeles
The zoo's glittering winter wonderland returns for the sixth year, this time boasting the world’s largest illuminated pop-up storybook, a magical disco ball forest, giant glittering snowflakes, and a twinkling tunnel filled with dynamic swirls of color. Beginning after the daytime crowds leave, LA Zoo Lights features a variety of huge light displays, including more light animals than ever before, beautiful hand-crafted Chinese silk lanterns, and a high-tech interactive display where dancing lights respond to guests’ voices. The popular Twinkle Tunnel, a 225-foot tunnel of twinkling lights, has also been expanded. Event details.
5333 Zoo Dr.
Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade
Head south to Newport Beach with the kids for an incredible light display they’ll never forget: the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade! Newport Beach starts the holiday decorations just after Thanksgiving and by the first weekend in December, Newport Bay is richly illuminated with millions of lights and hundreds of themed estates. The parade takes place every year over five nights from the third Wednesday in December to the third Sunday in December. Along with the boat parade, the Ring of Lights competition takes place throughout the month, which means Bayfront homes are vying for most dazzling house on the block (or waterfront).
Boat Parade Cruise: Dec. 18-22
Holiday Lights Cruises: Nov. 30-Dec. 31
Times: 5:30 p.m., 7 p.m. & 8:30 p.m.
Cost: $38/adults; $34/juniors
Newport Landing Cruises
Holiday Light Festival Train Ride: Griffith Park
Climb aboard the Griffith Park Railroad for a magical train ride after dark. From Nov. 29-Dec. 30 (closed Dec. 24 and 25) the miniature Southern Railroad train (not to be mistaken with the Travel Town railway right around the corner) glows with displays made up of thousands of twinkling lights. Look out for the big guy in red! Entrance to Santa's village costs an extra $2, but your kids will want that chance to unload their Christmas wishes. Event details.
4400 Crystal Springs Dr.
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 p.m. and then again at 8 p.m.
While you’re there you can try to catch Santa in his gingerbread-themed workshop. Even if you miss this tree-lighting ceremony (which even has a fireworks display!), the trees still all twinkle from through Christmas.
Dates: Nov. 17- Dec. 25
Times: Nightly, with snowfalls at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m.
189 The Grove Dr.
Candy Cane Lane: Woodland Hills
This little West Valley neighborhood at the intersection of Oxnard St. and Lubao Ave. in Woodland Hills is just a couple of blocks and can be 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 as well.
Dates: Second Sat. of Dec. through the end of the year
Times: Nightly after dark
Oxnard Street and Lubao Ave.
Upper Hastings Ranch: Pasadena
This Pasadena area neighborhood will be a sure hit with your little elves. Starting the second weekend of Dec., 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. And: Keep an eye out for Santa!
Dates: Dec. 7-Jan. 2, 2019
Times: 6 p.m.-10 p.m.
Sierra Madre Blvd., Michillinda Ave., Hastings Ranch Blvd. and Riviera Pasadena
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 that light closer to Christmas (last year they were on from Dec. 22-Dec. 31).
Dates: Dec. 14 and the lights stay up through Dec.
Times: 6 p.m.
Santa Rosa between Mariposa and Mendocino
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.
Dates: Typically up in early Dec and runs through the month
Times: After dark.
Saint Albans Rd. and Huntington Ave.
Venice Canals Holiday Lights: Venice
As if this sleepy enclave in Venice, Calif., with it's charming bridges and narrow walkways, wasn't already magical enough—come the holidays, residents of the 12-acre hideaway go all out. Starting in December, wander the car-free paths to admire the lights (and the homes) along the canals.
Times: After dark
Sleepy Hollow Christmas Lights: Torrance
One of the more popular light displays on this list, this entire neighborhood in Torrance, comes out with lights, Christmas icons, and tons of holiday cheer. You’ll find this California winter wonderland at Robert Rd. off Pacific Coast Hwy., north of Calle Mayor. Expect 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.
Dates: Typically runs from the second weekend in Dec. through Dec. 23
Times: 6:30-9 p.m.
Robert Rd. off Pacific Coast Hwy., north of Calle Mayor
Candy Cane Lane: El Segundo
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 St. lights up with unique home displays and has been doing so since 1949. 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.
Dates: Typically begins the second Sat. of Dec. and runs through Christmas
Times: 7-9 p.m. (Santa makes his appearance most nights, but the line can get long to say hello and take pictures, so try to arrive early.)
1200 block of Acacia St.
Wakefield Court Winter Wonderland: Saugus
BYOC (cocoa, peeps) to this winter wonderland in the northern Los Angeles area. You can wind your way in and around glowing double cul-de-sacs, which feature unique themes from Star Wars to Gingerbread House displays. There's a self-guided Night Before Christmas story you can read along the route and there's usually a community charity drive so bring an unwrapped toy to add some gift-giving joy. Weeknights are the least congested times to visit.
Dates: Nightly Dec. 1 through Christmas
Times: 5:30-10:30 p.m.
Wakefield Court between Seco and Haskell Canyon off Copper Hill Dr. and Courtland
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 after Thanksgiving, 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.
Dates: Typically begins after Thanksgiving and runs through the end of the year
Times: Nightly after dark
7300 block of Yolanda Ave.
Six Flags' Holiday In the Park: Valencia
Twinkling lights, magical snow drifts, Christmas carols...and the ceaseless sounds of frantic, terrified screams? Must be Christmastime at Six Flags! This year, the self-proclaimed “Thrill Capital of the World,” lights up the season with more than two million lights, special holiday shows, and seven uniquely-themed areas.
You’ll wander through snowfalls, take pics inside humongous LED-lit ornaments, stroll down musical tunnels of synchronized lights, and get cozy with the big guy in Santa’s Cottage. Hungry? There are also a host of yummy seasonal treats (pumpkin spice funnel cakes!) that’ll have your little coaster-fanatics amped up even before they hit Bugs Bunny World.
Dates: Select nights Nov. 23 through Jan. 5
Times: Each day at 5 p.m., signaled by the first “snowfall” of the evening
Cost: Included with park admission (starting at $53.99 when ordered online). Children 2 & under are free
26101 Magic Mountain Pkwy.
Worth the Drive
Naples Island Holiday Boat Parade: 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. For this year's boat parade (the 73rd annual!), the theme is "Christmas Under the Sea." Expect stunning views of the bay dotted with floating lighted Christmas trees. Even if you don't make the parade, this is a great spot for an evening stroll, the waterfront walkways are child-friendly, and there’s no traffic to worry about.
Pro Tip: Another great Long Beach spot is Daisy Ave.
Dates: The boat parade is Dec. 14 and the lights will be up through Christmas.
Times: 6 p.m.
Hint: Park in Mothers’ Beach Lot off Appian Way or in the marine lots east of Davis Bridge, Marine Stadium, and 54th & Bayshore to walk along the island.
Mission Inn: Riverside
The Festival of Lights at the Mission Inn Hotel features one of the nation’s largest holiday light displays of its kind. Though it is a bit of a trek, it’s well worth the drive. The castle-like, historic hotel is illuminated nightly with a record-breaking 5 million colorful holiday lights along with 400 animated figures.
There are visits from Santa Claus, a chance to kiss under 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.
Dates: Nov. 29-Jan. 6
Times: Daily after dark
Cost: The lights are free but booking a room is way more fun. Rates start at $279
3649 Mission Ave.
WildLights: Palm Springs
The Living Desert’s WildLights Holiday Festival in Palm Springs 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. Staying the weekend? Check out our guide to Palm Springs.
Dates: Select nights Nov. 27 through Dec. 28
Times: 6–9 p.m.
Cost: Adults $12, Children $10, Children (under 3) Free
47900 Portola Ave.
Palm Desert, CA
Disney Festival of Holidays: Anaheim
The Happiest Place on Earth gets even merrier and brighter for the holiday season with close to one million lights sparkling throughout the park. Take the whole family for loads of festive frolic as you all rock around the 50-foot Christmas tree on Buena Vista Street at California Adventure (lit nightly) or the 60-foot tree on Main Street in Disneyland Park. With such spirited attractions as the Christmas Fantasy Parade, Mater’s Jingle Jamboree, Haunted Mansion Holiday, Snow White’s Winter Castle, “Believe in the Holiday Magic” Fireworks show and many chances to meet Santa Claus, your little nutcrackers will be decking the Disney halls until they drop!
When: Nov. 9-Dec. 30
1313 Disneyland Dr.
Knott’s Merry Farm: Buena Park
Now that Knott’s Scary Farm in Buena Park is a ghost of season’s past (at least until next year), lovers of all things Knott’s will be happy to see Snoopy’s digs all done up for the holidays with its largest Christmas display ever.
When you arrive, be sure to start with the Calico Park tree lighting, which comes complete with old-time carolers and the jolly old man himself (who pulls up to the shindig by way of an antique steam train). There’s also a lively Christmas Craft Village, five Peanuts-filled holiday shows (including Snoopy on ice!), and an hourly “Snow and Glow” show that features thousands of sparkling lights amidst gentle snowfall.
Dates: “Holiday in the Park” runs daily Nov. 22 through Jan. 6
Time: Tree-lighting happens once nightly at 5:15
Cost: Included with park admission starting at $53. Children 2 & under are free
8039 Beach Blvd.
Buena Park, CA
–Shannon Guyton, Shahrzad Warkentin, Andie Huber & Melissa Heckscher