This time of year there can be so much pressure to keep visiting family and friends entertained. Consider a short road trip, if you find yourself in the Southern California area, and get everyone out of the house for a few hours to enjoy holiday light shows together.
It was a ritual with my family. We’d pile in the car at least once every year to slowly venture through the neighborhoods with the best light displays.
If you plan well and feel intrepid, try out one of the handful of holiday light shows below. They’re an inexpensive way to spend quality time with the family, or a pile of pals, on a cool California night.
***Please note: These are far flung throughout the Southland, so plan wisely – nothing kills a jolly, holiday buzz more than sitting in traffic for hours or getting stuck gridlock.
1. The Original Los Angeles Farmers Market:
One of my favorite places to visit in Los Angeles is the original Farmers Market. From dawn to dusk, this is the place for food, fresh to exotic cooking ingredients or simply to unwind with a cuppa coffee and people watch.
The annual Holiday Celebrations at the Farmer’s Market includes children’s craft workshops, holiday foods, music and Tree Lighting Ceremonies. There’s lots of shopping, music and restaurants at the mall next door as well.
When: Dec 9- 24th
Where: Farmer’s Market Plaza, 6333 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles, CA 90036
Parking: 2 hours free with validation/purchase
2 Boat Parade Par Excellence on Naples Island, Long Beach:
Serendipity led me to discover one of my favorite holiday traditions. We’d moved into a little bungalow on Naples Island in Long Beach just a couple of months before Christmas. Little did we know that just a few feet from the front door was the perfect bridge to watch the annual boat parade that floated through the canals in this tight and tiny neighborhood. Houses along the waterway blazed in over-the-top light and animated displays. Crowds started arriving soon after lunch but we strolled out of the house after an early dinner. Of all the boat parades I’ve seen since , between viewing larger ships in Belmont Bay and the smaller, ‘rowdies’ in the narrow canals, this is my favorite.
When: The Naples Holiday Boat Parade, December 17st dusk to about 9pm
Parking: Free Lots are near 2nd Street. Avoid squeezing into parking places along the narrow streets of the island unless you plan to stay late and don’t mind navigating through crowds of clueless revelers.
Other Holiday Lights Boat shows:
There are many boating light shows throughout Southern California. Two other favorites are the San Diego Bay Parade (Dec. 20th) and Newport Island’s Boat Parades (16th – 20th.)
3. Lights fantastic at the historic Hotel Del Coronado:
When my parents were still around I’d make it home for Christmas as often as possible. We’d catch up, shop and cook together, but one night each December the gang would drive south to Coronado Island to see the lights gracing the historic Hotel Del. Since early in the last century the hotel squeezes the tallest Christmas tree possible into the two story lobby and decorates with abandon. There are special events and award-winning restaurants but just walking around the site is a treat. For the more ambitious you can even go ice skating on the beach!
When: December 1st to New Years Day
Where: Coronado Island – Hotel del Coronado
Parking: Expect to hunt awhile for street parking or pay the hefty sums for the privilege, and convenience, of using the hotel parking lot and valet.
4. Drive Through Magic (and more than a little kitsch): Candy Cane Lane in Woodland Hills
It seems most every suburban neighborhood hosts a street notorious for the best holiday decorations. At the Del Mar Racetrack the custom turned a bit more commercial and carloads of gawkers would pay to ride the lane through the displays. Unfortunately, as the racetrack is being widened this year, the holiday lights are on hiatus. Same is true of the huge light displays that the LA Police Force usually erects in Griffith Park. Be not dis-heartened! Candy Cane Lane in Woodland Hills/Tarzana is gearing up for a spectacular show.
When: Second Saturday of December to New Years Eve dusk to no later than 10pm
Parking: It’s recommended that you go early in the season to avoid the crowds. Park on the adjacent streets and walk the 8 block neighborhood. Watch out for spots of spontaneous holiday caroling.
5. Electric nights at Riverside’s Mission Inn:
Sitting on a full city block in downtown Riverside, this Spanish Colonial relic of times past goes all out each holiday season. More than 4 million lights illuminate animated angels, santas, elves and more on the balconies, gardens, banisters, and every rooftop cranny and peak.
A few years ago my family spent Christmas Eve there and loved the contrast between the bright displays and lines of tourists at night with the quiet, stateliness of the halls and chapels during the day. The place is worth a visit any time of year, but during the holidays, you won’t find a more varied and lovingly arranged light show in the Inland Empire.
When: Nov. 29th to Jan. 4th
Cost: Free to wander around and through the hotel public areas.
Parking: Usually free on the surrounding streets
Bonus Holiday Lights: Robolights in Palm Springs
And now for something entirely different: Robolights in Palm SpringsIf you’re in the desert during the holiday season and want an antidote to the commercialization and commodification of Christmas, stop by this very unique display in the Movie Colony neighborhood. Not for the faint of heart, the several acres of sculptures, robots and assemblages are whimsical and macabre. Still it’s a wonderful light show and well worth a visit.
Creator, Kenny Irwin explains it this way: “The general purpose of my art and the annual art and light display is to both counteract the negative energy in the world and gear people into positive mindset when they experience my work. Aspects of my work also are to encourage and inspire others about sustainability, space exploration and tech.” See for yourself!
Where: The display address: 1077 East Granvia Valmonte, Palm Springs
When: Open from Monday to Sunday from 8 am to 9:30 pm. From Thanksgiving to Jan. 9th.
Cost: A $15 dollar donation
These holiday light shows are worth the drive for just the cost of your gas. Isn’t it worth enduring a chorus of whiny, ‘are we there yet?” when little ones light up at the spectacles? Your inner child just might give their rapture some competition. Enjoy holiday lights!