The holiday season is upon us which means an overload of things to do in Los Angeles. Even though we don’t get the snowy cold weather, this city knows how to celebrate for the holidays! Parades, neighborhood Christmas light extravaganzas, Santa photo ops and of course classically southern California winter fun – sand sledding!
If you are like me, you have mental lists of everything you want to do, but then mommy brain takes over and things fall by the wayside! So here it is, for me, for you and everyone visiting Los Angeles over the holidays, our comprehensive list of all the amazing and awesome holiday related activities and events to attend in Los Angeles from November to January.
Christmas Tree Lightings & Light Displays
After the daytime crowds have left, stroll through the zoo lit up with glowing light animals,lasers, 3D projections and interactive displays at the LA Zoo Lights. There are photo opportunities with Santa (on select dates), places to hang with real reindeer and of course just time to have fun seeing the zoo from a different perspective. There are great discounts on tickets on Living Social (limited times and dates) if you act fast.
A new addition to this year’s Christmas Light displays is Descanso Garden’s one of a kind display – Enchanted: Forest of Light. Beginning November 25 through January 8, Descanso Gardens looks to wow audiences with several interactive displays, like the Symphony of Oaks, which lets you manipulate lights and sounds in the garden’s Oak Grove. It’s a bit on the pricey side, at $28 for adults and $24 for children 3-17 yrs old, but looks to be a spectacular event to welcome in the season. Tickets are provided based on timed entries starting from 5 pm each evening.
Neighborhood Christmas Light Displays
One of our favorite things to do over the holiday season is pack up the car on a whim and head out to check out Christmas lights, especially in neighborhoods that go all out. Some of our favorites from the past few years are:
- Candy Cane Lane in Woodland Hills is one of our favorites. This valley neighborhood is a great stay-in-the-car adventure. The main focus of lights are located at the intersection of Oxnard Street and Lubao Avenue in Woodland Hills.
- Sleepy Hollow in South Torrance is one of the more popular light displays in Los Angeles. The entire neighborhood is covered with lights and filled with tons of holiday cheer. Head to Robert Road off the Pacific Coast Highway, north of Calle Mayor. Bring some small bills to buy hot chocolate from the neighborhood kids.
- Majestic Pines in San Marino – St. Albans Drive decorates its massive pine trees for the Christmas season. This is best taken in by walking, but a quick drive by is also doable. Head to St Albans Drive at Huntington Drive to start your journey.
- Christmas Tree Lane in Altadena is closed to traffic, so bundle up and head out on the .7 mile walk through a winter wonderland. This will surely get you into the Christmas spirit!
- WakeField Court in Saugus is a small double cul-de-sac that is transformed into a magical fairyland. The Night Before Christmas Story is told on sign boards along the path, making walking the street ideal. Go early in the night, on weeknights or well before Christmas as it gets packed! Lights are on from 5-10:30 pm. It’s a long drive, but this is worth it.
- Hastings Ranch in Pasadena is another delightful neighborhood where the residents go all out. Each street has it’s own theme. The streets are long, so driving is recommended, however to get the most out of the displays walking is best… Maybe you can take in your favorite themed street by foot after driving through them all.
- Candy Cane Lane in El Segundo at the 1200 block of East Acacia is a recommend cul-de-sac lit up fantastically. If you are on the west side, this is a great one to hit with the littles.
Grand Park Tree Lighting
One of the greatest revivals of downtown has been Grand Park. From their fantastic 4th of July celebrations to summer water fun in the fountain, we love to spend holidays in the melting pot of LA. This year, Grand Park Lights up the Holidays will hold their official tree lighting on November 26th. The lights will be lit every night through Dec 25, so head on down to check them out!
Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade/Light Display
Looking for a different way to see Christmas Lights? Check out the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade with elaborate light displays on the bay front estates. In addition, check out hundreds of decorated boats of all sizes. Boat tours are conducted through Newport Landing. The parade is from Dec 14, 2016 to December 18, 2016. Ceremonies will also include fireworks and other festivities. The Newport Beach Boat Parade 2016 takes place from around 6 pm to 10 pm every night.
Winter Snowland in Burbank
We love to visit quirky people’s homes who go all out for the holidays (ala Boney Island for Halloween). For a Christmas light extravaganza make your way to Keith’s Winter Snowland in Burbank. He begins decorating for the holidays on Halloween! Displays are off during rain, so don’t bother heading out. Go early in the season as the crowds increase the closer it gets to Christmas. The full light display should be up and operating by December 5th and will continue each night from 6:15-9pm. (Note: For 2016, the website is not working, so it may not be happening. I will leave it on here for a while just in case as we love it!)
Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
The Christmas Around the World exhibit at the Ronald Reagan Library has 26 beautifully decorated trees representing the countries that President Reagan visited while in office. Displays will include colors of the Caribbean, snowy whites of the Nordic countries as well as traditional decorations representing England and Europe. The exhibit runs from Nov 12 to Jan 8. This is a great one to visit after the holidays have passed, but you just aren’t ready to give it all up for another year!
Spend the day at the beach before heading over to WinterLit in Santa Monica for their santa parade and tree lighting event on Dec 1 (5:30 – 8:30) in downtown Santa Monica (1300 block of the Third Street Promenade). Also as part of the season’s festivities there will be Menorah lightings at sundown each day between Dec. 24, 2016 — Jan 1, 2017. Check their website for more information on a kids movie night, ice skating and more.
Rodeo Drive Festivities
For a lavish welcome to the holiday season, head to Beverly Hills for their Christmas extravaganza. The annual Rodeo Drive Lighting Ceremony will take place on November 20, 2016 (tree lighting, carolers & santa photo ops) at 6 pm. This is a hugely popular event, so arrive very early to get a good view. Expect a preview of Debbie Allen’s “The Hot Chocolate Nutcracker”, jazz musicians, a visit from Santa and so much more. If you can’t make it for the lighting ceremony, lights will be on every night until Christmas. Check the schedule for jazz performances and times for carolers throughout the holidays.
The Hollywood Christmas Parade is one of LA’s longest traditions. Every year, on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, entertainment stars compete with Santa for attention as they accompany floats and marching bands down Hollywood Boulevard. There are plenty of places to watch the parade for free along the street, but you will need to arrive early in the afternoon, or you can purchase grandstand seats. The parade starts at 6 pm. The u-shaped route starts at Orange and Hollywood Blvd., traveling east on Hollywood Blvd. to Vine, where it turns south on Vine to Sunset, back to Orange. Head down on the metro and find a comfy spot to settle in for the evening (or watch it on TV!).
Montrose Christmas Parade
This cute neighborhood holiday parade full of marching bands, cheerleaders and elected officials from the area provides a great introduction to parades for kids without being overwhelming. Particularly spectacular to the littles is the Santa fly-by in a helicopter! The parade begins at Honolulu Ave & Rosemont Ave and runs east to Verdugo Rd. Parking is available in the open city parking lots, on the open side streets and within the surrounding neighborhoods. Plan to arrive early, set up chairs on the curb and bundle up in your blankets while watching one of the sweetest parades in Los Angeles. The 2016 parade is on Dec 3rd at 6pm.
Northeast Los Angeles Christmas Parade
The NELA Christmas Parade is the second oldest Christmas Parade in Los Angeles. This year it will be held at 1 p.m. on December 4th. It includes local high school bands, equestrian units, local artists, Santa Paws, stilt walkers, Santa Claus and much more. Check it out for an old time classic holiday parade. Perfect for the littles who can’t stay up late to watch the night time parades.
Naples Island Boat Parade
By popular request, we are adding the Naples Island Boat Parade. We haven’t been to it personally, but have heard great things. On December 17 at 6 pm boats will start cruising along the outside of the islands with small boats navigating the canals. As this is a competition, expect to see some boats that have really gone all out! Arrive early, have dinner and stake out your place along the waterways or stroll your way around the tiny inlet island to take it all in.
Tournament of Roses Floats & Parade
The yearly Tournament of Roses Parade is a delight for locals and visitors all over the area. In addition to just viewing the parade, visitors can help decorate the floats in advance (December 27, 2016 to December 31, 2015, all day) or view the floats post parade (January 2, 2017 to January 3, 2017, All Day). If you go post parade, make sure to go early in the day as it gets crowded. Also take advantage of the provided shuttle bus to avoid traffic headaches!
LA Harbor Holiday Afloat Parade in San Pedro
Another unique parade can be found in San Pedro at their yearly (53rd year) Holiday Parade of Boats in Los Angeles Harbor. The parade will be held on Saturday, December 3rd beginning at 6 PM in the Port’s East Basin. Ideal viewing locations are Cabrillo and the Holiday Harbor Marinas. Click here for a map of the parade route. Bundle up and head out to watch the beautifully lit up boats pass by.
Santa Photo Ops
Having a child at Christmas means standing in line for the yearly photo with Santa. Here are some of the more popular (and realistic looking) Santa experiences. Many of these allow for advance reservations to cut down on lines. Santa has already arrived at a few place, so book your times soon!
- The Americana at Brand
- This is our favorite. Santa looks pretty realistic to us and is always very happily chatting with the kids about their wish lists!
- Beverly Center
- The Grove (Santa has already arrived!)
- Looking for an ethnic Santa photo – head to Eagle Rock Plaza (outside of Seafood City)
Looking for an adventure to get your Christmas tree? Head out to the Western & Fillmore Christmas tree train that will escort you to a real Christmas tree farm where you can pick and cut down your own tree (saws and netting are provided). Train runs on weekends from November 26th thru December 11th. For more information on what to expect, check out this Red Tricycle detailed write up.
Western & Fillmore North Pole Express
Wrap the kids in their jammies, grab their favorite stuffed animal and head out on the North Pole Express for an hour journey on a vintage train to see Santa. The North Pole Express starts running on November 18th thru December 26th on selected days, with departures at 4:45pm, 6:00pm & 7:30pm.
Holiday Light Festival Train Ride in Griffith Park
Looking for something quick and cheap to appease your train loving kids? Head to Griffith Park for this year’s Holiday Light Festival Train ride through the brightly decorated one mile track. Rides begin Nov 26th at 5 pm. and continue every night until December 23 and then again from December 26 to December 30 – weather permitting. The first train leaves at 5 pm and the last one at 9 pm.
Irvine Park Railroad Christmas Train
If you have a train obsessed kid, but just can’t stomach the drive to Fillmore, head down to Irvine for their yearly Christmas Train. Families will ride the train to the “North Pole” where they will be dropped off to meet Santa and get their photo taken (you can take photos with your own camera or buy the professional photos). After you have had your fill of the North Pole, head back on the train to head home. Tickets must be purchased in advance. Trains start departing Dec 1st and go until Dec 23rd.
A holiday classic event not to be missed is a performance of the Nutcracker Ballet. From the only full ballet with an orchestra to several very professional children’s performances, we are spoiled for choice in Los Angeles.
Kidspace Nutcracker Special Event Performed by the Pasadena Dance Theater
On December 4th at 1 pm, a select number of artists from the Pasadena Dance Theater will be performing sections of the Nutcracker for audiences at Kidspace in Pasadena. This is a perfect introduction to The Nutcracker for smaller children.
San Gabriel Mission Playhouse
The Pasadena Dance Theater performs their yearly Nutcracker show at the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse, starting in early December. As an extra treat, visitors can also purchase tickets to Clara’s Holiday Party at 12:30pm (for 2 pm shows). Guests will munch on refreshments with a visit from Clara and the Sugarplum Fairy. Enjoy refreshments and a visit from Clara and the Sugarplum Fairy. Space is limited to 80 guests, so book early!
Toyota Symphonies for Youth: Nutcracker Performance
A very special orchestra symphony concert for youth will be performed at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown LA. The orchestra will be accompanied by a small cast of Barak dancers performing to Tchaikovsky’s suite. There are two performances – Nov 26th and Dec 3rd. If tickets are sold out, you can show up and hope to get a few extra’s at the door. Performances are 1 hour, with a 1 hour craft/introduction to music session starting at 10 a.m.
The Long Beach Ballet
The Long Beach Ballet is the one of the only Nutcracker performance in Los Angeles with a full symphony orchestra. The production also boasts a flying sleigh, a real live horse, on-stage pyrotechnics, and a cast of over 200. The performance is 2 hours and as such is not recommended for children who cannot sit still for longer periods of time. This is the ultimate in Nutcracker performances.
Alex Theater in Glendale
The Alex Theater in Glendale offers two different Nutcracker performances this year. One with the the Los Angeles Ballet and one with the Red Chair Children’s Production Company consisting of performers aged 5-18. The LA Ballet performances have special appearance by Santa Claus! The Red Chair productions shows boast lavish sets, glittering costumes and a cast of over 100. This yearly tradition is perfect for children, family and friends.
Bob Baker Marionette Theater
The classic LA puppet institution, Bob Baker’s Marionette Theater‘s yearly Nutcracker performance is a must do for all the littles! The show includes all your favorite characters from the beloved story: Clara and the Nutcracker Prince, the Sugarplum Fairies, the Mouse King, and many more in puppet form. Sit on the floor and be up close to the action.
Marat Daukayev Ballet Theater Production
The Marat Daukayev Ballet Theatre presentation of The Nutcracker is held at the Luckman Theater at CalState LA. Marat Daukayev is a prestigious ballet school in Los Angeles which culminates its year with a wonderful ballet production. Children 5 and up get to participate in this fantastical performance.
Westside School of Ballet
For over 40 year’s the Westside School of Ballet has been wow’ing audiences with their yearly Nutcracker performances. A visually stunning production featuring young dancers from their school performing alongside adult guest artists. This show also has a live orchestra performance provided by the Santa Monica College Symphony Orchestra. There are only two weekends of shows each year, so grab your tickets early!
Los Angeles Ballet
A yearly tradition begins with the Los Angeles Ballet‘s annual production of The Nutcracker performed at Royce Hall from December 16 – 18, 2016. The production follows Uncle Drosselmeyer, Clara and her beloved Nutcracker Prince as they battle the Mouse King. The LA ballet is relatively new compared to others on this list, only starting in 2006. However, we hear it’s a beautiful performance!
The holiday season is a great time to create your own holiday traditions through a variety of classically Christmas themed shows as well as the more non-traditional holiday shows. Below are some of our favorites and/or have been recommended to us. We can’t wait to check out the Retro Holiday Show II this year!
- Bob Baker Nutcracker Show
Hot Chocolate Nutcracker at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
- Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol @ A Noise Within (Now to Dec 23rd)
- Mr. Scrooge with an all female cast @ 9 O’Clock Players
- A Cinderella Christmas at The Pasadena Playhouse from Dec 9 – Jan 3
- Alice’s Winter Wonderland (One day only – Dec 30) at Creating Arts Company
- Broadway Christmas Wonderland at the Red Kavli Theater in Thousand Oaks (Dec 1-4)
- Independent Shakespeare Company Presents A Christmas Carol with Charles Dickens (Atwater Dec 8-18)
- Walt Disney Concert Hall Holiday Sing-A-Long (Dec 17- 11:30 and 2:30)
Snow & Ice
Snow Day LA
New to the LA Snow scene this year is Snow Day LA which is brought to us by two friends (RJ Hurley & Joe Martin). They both grew up in winter snow and wanted to bring that tradition to LA. Spread over 9 acres, there are bubble machines manufacturing “LA snow” for perfect photo opportunities. There is a pseudo snow tubing hill, a fake snowman forest and a small patch of real life snow to get cold fingers while making snowballs! It is not a cheap affair at $24 per adult and $15 per child, but it’s a fun night out if you go early before the crowds!
Snow at the Americana
Not cold and definitely not real, the snow bubbles falling from the sky nightly at the Americana in Glendale is still a fun night out for kids to get a feel for what it means to see snow! Small kids will especially enjoy the snow bubbles falling from ‘the sky’. Snowfall occurs nightly at 7pm and 8pm. While you are there, make sure to check out the water and music show that occurs at the fountain.
The Chill at the Queen Mary
One of the most elaborate events of the season is The Chill at the Queen Mary in Long Beach. A giant dome will be frozen over and transformed into an igloo featuring a 13,000 sq ft walk through exhibit. Inside visitors will be awed with an interactive maze with lights and non ice sculptures and characters from Alice & Wonderland. Themes change yearly, so just because you have been once, you can go again! Don’t forget to wear all the winter gear you own – temperatures are VERY COLD! In addition to the Ice Kingdom, there is also tubing, ice skating and other holiday celebratory activities. This event gets packed, so book your tickets in advance and if possible go on a weekday to avoid the lines.
Apart from tubing at the Chill, the only other options for snow tubing is in the local mountains. An easy day trip can be taken to Mt Baldy to tube and even further towards Big Bear. Check out this post on Snow Tubing options for Angelenos to find out more.
The beauty of ice skating in Los Angeles is doing it outside in short sleeves! Most of the seasonal skating rinks are outdoors and if you plan it correctly, you could be ice skating outside in 80 degree weather! Below are some of our favorites or ones that have be recommended to us as being exceptionally kid friendly.
- ICE in Santa Monica – Enjoy skating steps away from the beach (open from Nov 3)
- Holiday Ice Rink at Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles (Open through Jan 16, 2017)
- Woodland Hills Ice Skating
- Holiday Ice at L.A.Live (open Nov 28 – Jan 7, 2017)
- The Rink at Downtown Burbank – this is the best place for new learners as they have helpers for small kids. (Open from Dec 15, 2016 to Jan 8, 2017)
- Disneyland is celebrating the holidays with decorations, special parades and lots of Christmas lights through Jan 8.
- Knotts Berry Farm (Merry for the holidays!) will have live entertainment, a Christmas Crafts Faire, and a sensational ice show throughout the holidays.
- Magic Mountain’s Holiday in the Park is from November 27 – January 1. The park is transformed into a winter wonderland with colorful lights, carolers and personalized meet-and-greets with Santa and his helpers, in addition to the thrilling roller coasters!
- Santa’s Village at SkyPark is back! LA natives grew up with this old fashioned amusement park, but those of us new to the city haven’t had the experience as it’s been closed since the late 90s. But now it’s returned! Santa visits, ice skating, snow play, Polar Express train rides, climbing walls and so much more to entertain the entire family. Tickets are pricey, but well worth a day full of adventures!
Other (1 Day) Events
The Waldorf School Elves Faire
Not particularly a Christmas event, but very holiday-ish with an elaborate photo booth set up which produces perfect for holiday card photos. Tons of games for kids (jousting ziplines, ladder climbs, skee ball and more), tons of food, snacks and holiday treats (oranges with candy cane straws anyone?) and crafting stations. The Elves Faire at the Waldorf School is mainly a fundraiser for the school, but is open to the public. If you haven’t been up there, go and check it out! Free admission, but take plenty of cash to buy tickets to for games, food, craft projects and more. Nov 19th from 10-4pm.
Voices of Christmas Carolers
Aching to hear some Christmas tunes? Head to the Glendale Galleria Nov 22, 2016 to get your holiday season started with the Voices of Christmas Carolers. These beautiful carolers can also be heard throughout the holiday season at the Tam O’Shanter in Los Feliz. Give them a call to find out when they will be singing this year.
Unique LA Holiday Market
Looking to purchase handmade or gifts with a personal touch? On December 3rd & 4th, Head down to the Unique LA Holiday Market. This isn’t something the kids do great at to be honest, but it’s a perfect mom (or dads) day out to do some holiday shopping. Purchase tickets online or at the door. Prepare to pay for parking unless you take the metro downtown. Go early as it gets packed and hard to maneuver through the tiny lanes. This is where I go to buy all of my husbands t-shirts every year!
Breakfast with Santa at the LA Zoo’s Winter Wild
Eat breakfast with a jolly Santa in one of the kids’s favorite places in Los Angeles – the zoo! Ticket prices for the LA Zoo’s Winter Wild include breakfast and unlimited rides on the carousel from 8:30 -10 a.m. You must be a GLAZA member to purchase tickets and attend. Tickets are $21 for adults and $16 for children ages 2–12. Children under 2 get in free. Breakfast is on December 3, 2016, so book soon!
Dinner with Santa at Descanso Gardens
Share your dinner meal with the Man in Red on December 10th! The dinner at Descanso Gardens includes a sumptuous buffet, a gingerbread decorating station, and entry to Descanso Gardens’ new light show, Enchanted: Forest of Light! Tickets are $75 for adults and $45 for children over three. Register here, reservation deadline is December 6.
Hanukah Festival at the Skirball
On December 18th, head to the Skirball Center to celebrate Hanukkah with stories, music, crafts, and the museum’s annual family Hanukkah tour. Purchase tickets in advance to ensure availability.
The Music Center Holiday Sing Along
The Music Center Holiday Sing Along at the Music Center Plaza is happening this year on December 16th at 6:30 pm. Tickets are free, but limited. You will need to arrive early to line up to get a spot for this fantastical holiday sing along for the entire family.
Swedish Christmas Faire
For all the Swedes out there, you probably already know, but in case you don’t, head to this yearly festival to celebrate everything Swedish. The Swedish Christmas Faire includes Swedish music, foods, performances and crafts. This year it will be held on Sunday December 4 (10-5pm) in Torrance.
Only in SoCal
One of the best activities in Southern California during winter is sledding the sand berms on various beaches on the Pacific Coast Highway. Our favorite beach to sand sled is Zuma, but for something a little closer, head to Venice beach. For more information, read our post on Sand Sledding in Los Angeles.
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