Sunny L.A. weather runs counter to the festive vibe of the winter holidays. Without bare trees, snowy streets and a good reason to snuggle up next to the fireplace with peppermint hot chocolate and a candy cane, finding the spirit of the season can be a challenge. Luckily, a flurry of activities and events around Southern California are sure to bring holiday cheer to your L.A. winter.
Illuminated attractions big and small are available nearby – or a short drive away.
In Downtown L.A., stroll through Grand Park’s Winter Glow (www.grandparkla.org), a free public art display open from sun-set-10 p.m. Dec. 6-25 that uses light and projection technology to transform familiar pathways and historic fountains in Grand Park and The Music Center Plaza into exciting discoveries – some that are hands-on and interactive.
Discover the hidden treasures of the Holiday Light Up with the Upper Hastings Ranch Association (www.upperhastingsranch.org) in Pasadena. From Dec. 7-Jan. 2, each block is decorated according to a different theme and lit from 6-10 p.m. On the Friday before Christmas, a family on Cartwright Street sings carols on their front lawn. On Rexford Avenue, you’ll find a Christmas band with Santa giving out candy, and a family on Daveric Drive has Buddy the Elf handing out candy until Santa and Mrs. Claus show up on Christmas Eve. The Light Up began in 1952, and the neighborhood has kept up the tradition for more than 60 years.
Over in Los Feliz, explore a wild wonderland of light at L.A. Zoo Lights in Griffith Park (www.lazoolights.org). Through Jan. 5, this self-guided 60-to-90-minute stroll through the zoo features wild-life-inspired displays, photo ops, glowing animals and visits with Santa. Admission is $11-$21.95.
On the Westside, join thousands of spectators in Fisherman’s Village and Burton Chace Park (the best viewing spot is on the grass in the park) to watch lighted boats at the Marina del Rey Annual Holiday Boat Parade (www.mdrboatparade.org) Dec. 14. The free-to-view boat parade starts at 6 p.m., but don’t miss the brief fireworks show at 5:44 p.m. Arrive early (11 a.m.-4 p.m.) to enjoy Snow Wonder in Burton Chace Park, a free, kid-focused festival with snow, sledding, arts and crafts, face painting, a live DJ and food trucks.
Travel to Riverside to be dazzled at The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa Festival of Lights (www.missioninn.com). On an entire city block sparkling with more than 5 million light bulbs, your kids can see the world’s largest man-made mistletoe, a life-size gingerbread house, freshly fallen snow, more than 200 animated figures and an impressive fireworks display. Admission to the festival (which will be lit through Jan. 6) is free, and additional perks such as elf tuck-ins and breakfast with Santa are available to guests of the inn for an additional fee.
The weather might be warm, but snowfall is predicted and skating spots are plentiful throughout the Southland.
Skate the day away at The Rink in Downtown Burbank (www.facebook.com/therinkindtbk) Dec. 12-Jan. 5. Saturday skate classes cost $25, including skate rental. Unlimited skating passes cost $12, plus $5 for skate rental and $8 for Bobby the Seal/Tommy the Rein-deer Skating aids.
Chill near the beach at Downtown Santa Monica’s Winterlit (www.downtownsm.com/winterlit) through Jan. 20. The corner of Fifth Street and Arizona Avenue is transformed into an 8,000-square-foot skating rink. Skate rental and all-day admission are $15, with locker rentals for $5. (Don’t miss the City of Santa Monica tree lighting Dec. 5 or the menorah lightings Dec. 22-30.)
Downtown L.A. boasts the city’s largest outdoor rink, the Bai Holiday Ice Rink Pershing Square (www.holidayicerinkdowntownla.com). The 7,200-square-foot rink celebrates “Let it Go Tuesdays” in honor of Disney’s “Frozen: the Broadway Musical,” and families can look forward to winter music concerts and a winter holiday festival Dec. 7 and 8. The rink is open through Jan. 20. General admission is $9, skate rental is $5, locker rental is $3 and skate helpers are $6.
L.A. Kings Holiday Ice (www.lakingsholidayice.com) offers festive outdoor rinks at three locations: Westfield Valencia Town Center, Westfield Topanga & The Village and L.A. Live. All are open through Jan. 12. General admission with skate rental is $17-$20 per adult, $14-$15 for ages 5 and under.
Take the chilly fun beyond skating at Queen Mary Christmas in Long Beach (www.queenmary.com). The outdoor Christmas Village boasts live holiday entertainment, gingerbread and stocking decorating and the True North Ice Rink circling a 26-foot Christmas tree. Aboard the ship, stroll the tree-lined decks to find Mrs. Claus reading stories to little ones and St. Nick hosting meet-and-greets in the captain’s quarters. Admission is $22 for children, $29 for adults. Breakfast with Santa Dec. 7, 14, 21 and 24 costs $40 for adults and $20 for children.
Your holiday spirits are sure to get a lift at these festive spots.
You can give some holiday help to families experiencing homelessness with the help of Lazy Dog Restaurant locations in L.A. (www.lazydogrestaurants.com). Lazy Dog has partnered with Habitat for Humanity for its Houses for the Holidays program. Book a party with a group of eight or more through Dec. 31, choosing either a $30 or $40 per person menu, and each person in the party will receive a gingerbread house kit to build. Proceeds from each purchase help build a home for someone in the community through Habitat for Humanity.
Immerse yourself in the magic of Christmas, literally, with “Christmas in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” at Universal Studios Hollywood (universalstudioshollywood.com), complete with performances from the Frog Choir and hot butterbeer. Then head over to the dazzling “Grinchmas” Who-lebration that includes tree lighting and spirited holiday decor. Tickets start at $99.
Feed your snowman and snowball craving at Kidspace Children’s Museum Snow Days in Pasadena (www.kidspsacemuseum.org), where your kids can meet Jill & Jack Frost for storytimes, decorate cookies and boogie to dance music Thurs.-Mon. Dec. 26-30. Admission: $14, free for children under age 1.
Channel your holiday spirit at the 39th Annual Spirit of San Pedro Holiday Parade (www.sanpedrochamber.com) from 1-3 p.m. Dec. 1. Join more than 9,000 folks lining the roads to watch dancers, Santa and his elves and other festive participants march down the streets in full holiday regalia.
Snow Day LA’s winter-themed fun returns to Echo Park (www.snowdayla.com), where your kids can go tubing, explore the enchanted crystal winter garden and enjoy an interactive light show from 6-10:30 p.m. every weekend through December. Admission is $12.
Ride around a sparkly one-mile track courtesy of the Griffith Park Train Rides (www.griffithparktrainrides.com) Holiday Light Festival Train Ride Nov. 29-Dec. 30 (except Dec. 24 and 25). The first train leaves at 5 p.m. and the last at 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday. The last train leaves at 9 p.m. Friday. through Sunday. Rides are $5 per person. Entrance to Santa’s Village is $2 per person and photos with Santa are $5 each.
Getting into a good winter holiday groove may require a little more creativity in L.A. than in colder parts of the world, but dive into some of these activities with the people you love, and holiday cheer is only a heartbeat away. Happy Holidays!
Emmanuelle Roumain is a festive, local freelance writer.