Christmas ferris wheel in Los Angeles

Christmas in Los Angeles - lights and sights

It might not fit the stereotype for a White Christmas, but if you’re heading west in December you'll find plenty of holiday spirit in Los Angeles. You’ll find festivals, parades, ice rinks and theme parks going all out on Christmas rides and costumes. Hotel lobbies get decked out in festive decorations, making them worth a trip on their own, and when the sun sets at around 5pm the city comes to light, with shows and displays twinkling from house to harbor. And if you’re the kind of person who likes to keep your fingers and toes warm, then an LA Christmas could be the perfect escape for you, with the mercury in December rarely dipping below 60 degrees. Most of the festivities are hard to miss, but to truly make the most of your time, here are our top tips for the best lights and sights to experience at Christmas in Los Angeles:

  • Knott’s Berry Farm
  • Six Flags Magic Mountain
  • Universal Studios
  • Disneyland
  • Snow hunting
  • Self-drive lights tour
  • Solvang

Knott’s Berry Farm

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For nine months of the year Knott’s Berry Farm is an exciting, bustling theme park filled with thrill rides, roller coasters, water rides and visitors tucking into home made preserves and boysenberry pie – but from November through January it transforms into Knott’s ‘Merry’ Farm winter wonderland of holiday sights, sounds and scents. There are holiday ice shows with world-class figure skaters, carolers singing songs old and new and a Christmas craft village. Children will love looking for Santa’s Christmas Cabin, and the whole family can watch the spectacle of the nightly Snow and Glow Show and tree lighting ceremony.

Six Flags Magic Mountain

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Thrill seekers flock to Six Flags Magic Mountain at any time of year, as this theme park is where they'll find the world’s tallest looping roller coaster, the fastest and longest flying coaster and the only 5th-dimensional coaster. But it’s even better during the holidays when millions of twinkling lights add even more dazzle to this dare-devil’s wonderland. Of course, there’s plenty for the less-adventurous too, with the nightly tree-lighting ceremony and choreographed sound and light show. Romantics will love the Victorian Christmas Village, where young and old alike will be transported to the time of Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol with themed costumes, handcrafts and décor.

Universal Studios

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A must-see for movie-lovers any time of year, Universal Studios in LA really turns it on in the holiday season – especially if you’re a Harry Potter fan. Immerse yourself in the magical Wizarding World with the Harry Potter Studio Tour, then stroll through HogsmeadeTM – transformed for the season with lights, garlands and wreaths – and watch the dazzling music and light show featuring the Hogwarts Frog Choir and the majestic HogwartsTM Castle as its background. Elsewhere around the park you’ll find festive food and plenty of holiday gift shopping ideas – but watch out for the Grinch! If you’re there for New Year’s, hang around at a themed party for the midnight fireworks display.

Disneyland Los Angeles

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There’s just something about the fairy-tale charm of Disney that makes everything here seem more magical at Christmas. Is it the twinkling luminescence of Cinderella’s Castle? The twice-daily Christmas parade bringing back memories of childhood Christmases and favorite gifts? Or perhaps it only happens when the sun goes down and streets and rides light up like the set of our favorite holiday movie. Whatever it is, a visit to Disneyland at Christmas will have your inner child bursting with happiness. Be sure to see the massive Christmas tree all lit up, catch the Small World light display and if you’re a fan of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas then don’t miss the haunted mansion, where you may just bump into your favorite characters from Halloween Town.

Snow hunting

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Ok, so you won’t be able to recreate your favorite holiday rom-com scene in this city (you know, the one where boy and girl go ice-skating and it just happens to start snowing), but because LA is surrounded by mountains you can still escape to cooler climes where you can get your annual snow angel making fix. A couple hours inland, in the San Bernardino Mountains, is Lake Arrowhead, known as ‘The Alps of Southern California’, where visitors can go ice skating at Santa’s Village and drop off a letter at Santa’s Workshop Museum. Or at Big Bear Lake ski enthusiasts will find 400 acres of slopes to explore and night time glow tubing on the weekends.

A self-drive lights tour

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As well as in theme parks and in shopping centers, plenty of the LA locals get into the festive spirit, decorating their homes and gardens for the season. Dana Point Harbor lights up with illuminated palm-trees, light sculptures and its famous ‘Merry Kiss Me’ arch, and it’s worth the drive to Palm Springs for some of the magnificently astonishing displays on offer there. But for local, personality-filled displays closer to home try Christmas Tree Lane in Altadena, the eight square-block area of Candy Cane Lane in Woodland Hills – where residents regularly try to out-do each other with ever-increasingly extravagant displays – or Harbeck Lights in Pasadena, where light-show themes in recent years have included Space Invaders, Hello Kitty and Star Wars.

Solvang Danish village

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There’s no denying that Europeans know how to do Christmas, and it doesn’t get more fairy-tale-like than the Danish village of Solvang. Scandinavian architecture and wooden windmills are the backdrop for the annual holiday of Julefest, decorated for the season with lights and Christmas trees. Warm up with local wines and Danish pastries and, depending on when you’re there, you can witness the tree-lighting ceremony, watch a parade or live nativity, join a candlelight tour, visit Santa’s Grotto or go on a gnome hunt. And if you’re still around in January, you can attend the annual tree-burning festival which officially closes the holiday season.

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