Los Angeles Holiday Activities & Events Guide

November 20, 2017

California, LA Activities, LA Local, LAevents, USA

Los Angeles Holiday Activities & Events GuideThe 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

LA Zoo Lights - Los Angeles Holiday Activities & EventsLA Zoo Lights ( & Reindeer Romp)

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 often great discounts on tickets on Living Social or Groupon if you act fast.

Descanso Gardens

A new addition last year to the Christmas scene was Descanso Garden’s one of a kind display – Enchanted: Forest of Light. Beginning November 19 through January 7, 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 children, but is truly a spectacular event to welcome in the season. Tickets are provided based on timed entries starting from 5:30 pm each evening.

Neighborhood Christmas Light Displays

Neighborhood Light Displays - Los Angeles Holiday Activities and EventsOne 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.Candy Cane Lane - Los Angeles Holiday Activities and Events
  • 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

Boat Parade - Los Angeles Holiday Activities & Events

Photo via Flickr

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 13, 2017 to December 17, 2017. Ceremonies will also include fireworks and other festivities. The Newport Beach Boat Parade 2017 takes place from around 6:30 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.

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

The “An American Christmas” exhibit at the Ronald Reagan Library has 25 beautifully decorated trees representing the defining moments of America’s history, from the Revolutionary Era to today. The exhibit runs from Nov 11 to Jan 7. 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!

Los Angeles Holiday Activities and EventsWinterLit in Santa Monica

Spend the day at the beach before heading over to WinterLit in Santa Monica for annual tree lighting event on November 30 (6:00 – 9:00pm) 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. 12, 2017 — Dec 19, 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 16, 2017 (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.

Holiday Parades

Rose Bowl Float - Los Angeles Holiday Activities & EventsHollywood Christmas Parade

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 2017 parade is on Dec 2nd at 6pm.

Northeast Los Angeles Christmas Parade

The An American Christmas is the second oldest Christmas Parade in Los Angeles. This year it will be held at 10:30 a.m. on December 3rd. 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 9th 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 1, 2017 to December 31, 2017, all day) or view the floats post parade (January 1, 2018 to January 2, 2018, 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 (55th year) Holiday Parade of Boats in Los Angeles Harbor. The parade will be held on Saturday, December 2nd 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

Santa Photo ops - Los Angeles Holiday Activities and EventsHaving 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!

Christmas Trains

Christmas Trains - los angeles holiday activities and eventsWestern & Fillmore Christmas Tree Train

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 25th thru December 10th. 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 125th thru December 23rd 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 24th 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.

Nutcracker Ballet

Nutcracker Ballet - Long Beach

Photo via Long Beach Ballet

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.

San Gabriel Mission Playhouse

The Pasadena Dance Theater performs their yearly Nutcracker show at the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse, showing every weekend in early December.

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.

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 15 – 17, 2017. 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!

Holiday Shows

Los Angeles Holiday Activities & ShowsThe 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.

Snow & Ice

Snow at the Americana - Los Angeles Activities and EventsEven though we don’t get snow or ice falling from the sky, there are several opportunities to share the magical icy wonderland with our children even here in Southern California.

Snow Day LA

New to the LA Snow scene last year was the fantastical 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 with prices starting at $16 per person for admission only with extra add-ons costing more, 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 concepts based on the theme International Holiday Expedition. Providing a tribute to cultural traditions from around the world showcasing a global sampling of food, music and live entertainment perfect for the holidays. Themes change yearly, so just because you have been once, doesn’t mean you can’t go again! Don’t forget to wear all the winter gear you own – temperatures are VERY COLD! In addition, 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.

Snow Play - Los Angeles Holiday Activities and EventsSnow Tubing Day Trip

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.

Ice Skating

Ice Skating - Los Angeles Holiday Activities & Events

Photo via Flickr

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.

Theme Parks

Theme Parks - Los Angeles Holiday Activities and EventsThere is nothing more magical than spending some time at our local theme parks during the holidays. Each of the local parks go all out with their own brand of holiday cheer.

  • Disneyland is celebrating the holidays with decorations, special parades and lots of Christmas lights through Jan 7.
  • 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 18 – December 31. 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,  climbing walls, bungee, zippiness and so much more to entertain the entire family. Tickets are pricey, but well worth a day full of adventures!

Other (1 Day) Events

Breakfast with Santa - Los Angeles Holiday Activities & Events

Photo via Flickr

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 18th from 10-4pm.

Voices of Christmas Carolers

Aching to hear some Christmas tunes? Find yourself a date 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 2nd & 3rd, 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!

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’ light show, Enchanted: Forest of Light! Tickets are $100 for adults and $65 for children over three.

Hanukah Festival at the Skirball

On December 10th, 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.

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 3 (10-5pm) in Torrance.

Only in SoCal

Sand Sledding - Los Angeles Holiday Activities and EventsSand Sledding

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.

Did I miss your favorite holiday event?  Leave a comment and I will update the page.

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A comprehsive Guide to everything there is to do in Los Angeles from Nov - Jan.A comprehensive guide to Los Angeles holiday activities & events from Nov to Jan.

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15 Responses to “Los Angeles Holiday Activities & Events Guide”

  1. Cynthia Says:

    Aww this really reminds me of a Christmas trip a few years ago when I went to New Jersey and NYC to visit some family. I really love the holiday season! <3 I think it would be pretty interesting to visit the west coast for the holiday season!

    Reply

  2. Megan | Traveling Nine to Fiver Says:

    A great list. Heading back to SoCal for the holiday so will keep ahold of this list. Loved the LA Zoo when we went last year after Thanksgiving. Only thing you’re missing is the Mission Inn out in Riverside. It’s a little out of LA but rivals Disneyland for Christmas Light displays.
    Megan | Traveling Nine to Fiver recently posted…Where to Stay in Puerto RicoMy Profile

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  3. Elaine J. Masters Says:

    Love this list but you missed the crazy Boat Parade through the Naples Island canals in Long Beach in December. Crowds but fun & lots of decorations to ogle.
    Elaine J. Masters recently posted…Wrestling with terror – Another mother’s sonMy Profile

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  4. Beth Blair Says:

    Awesome list! I’m going to have to send this to some of my LA-based friends. :)
    Beth Blair recently posted…Christmas Gifts for ToddlersMy Profile

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  5. Traveling Rockhopper Says:

    That’s so crazy, I want to spend Christmas in USA 😀
    I skipped LA during my trips, only landed there, but I see there could be so much fun!
    Traveling Rockhopper recently posted…Madeira – LevadaMy Profile

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  6. Katja - globetotting Says:

    We lived in the states for a while when I was a kid and one of my strongest memories was driving around the neighbourhoods to look at the Christmas lights – no one does them quite like the States! Great list!
    Katja – globetotting recently posted…10 Things to do with Kids in Tofino, Vancouver Island, CanadaMy Profile

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    • kkowen Says:

      Thanks Katja. That is one of my fondest memories as well. In LA unfortunately most neighborhoods don’t quite get into the spirit, but thankfully there a few that go all out so we still get to share that experience with our son.

      Reply

  7. Lisa Says:

    Great list,
    I am planning on sending it to my class. One way I check out holiday shows is by looking at Goldstar.com and searching under holiday. Every year we some kind of dinner and a show with the family.
    Lisa recently posted…Paris je T’aimeMy Profile

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    • kkowen Says:

      Yeah there are SO many amazing shows to see its hard to narrow it down to just one or a few! We are trying the retro holiday show this year along with Bob baker marionettes (again!)

      Reply

  8. Miranda Says:

    We love to spend Christmas in LA every year, even made it a tradition and I can’t wait to visit again this coming week.

    Reply

  9. Umina Beach Says:

    Wow! this is a great list.. it oct2017 now.. awesome!! thanks for sharing..

    Reply

  10. Julie Says:

    What a fabulous list of things to do in LA over the next several weeks! I’ve never been sand sledding but I feel like I need to change that!
    Julie recently posted…Orange County Christmas Bucket ListMy Profile

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