California Christmas Lights and Decorations

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    San Francisco Skyline at Christmas

    San Francisco Ferry Building and Skyline at Christmas
    ••• San Francisco Ferry Building and Skyline at Christmas. Stephen Kelly/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    Photo Tour of California at Christmas

    It's easy to tell when a photo of the San Francisco skyline was taken during the Christmas Holidays. All the buildings at the Embarcadero Center are outlined in white lights. In this photo, taken from near the Ferry Building, the tower is also lighted in holiday colors.

    Find out about the best Christmas celebrations in San Francisco.

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    San Francisco Union Square at Christmas

    Macy's Union Square at Christmas
    ••• Macy's Union Square at Christmas. ©2008 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    If you can only go one place in San Francisco during the Christmas holidays, go to Union Square. Macy's lighted facade is just part of the holiday decorations. 

    You'll find more photos of Union Square at Christmas in this image gallery.

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    Los Angeles Griffith Park at Christmas

    LA Zoo Lights at Griffith Park
    ••• LA Zoo Lights at Griffith Park. Courtesy of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association

    If you want to go see the Christmas lights in Griffith Park, you may have heard about a drive-through light display, but that tradition has been replaced by a walk-through extravaganza at the Los Angeles Zoo, called Zoo Lights. use this guide to find out all about it.

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    Redondo Beach Robert Road at Christmas

    Christmas Holiday Lights on Robert Road in Redondo Beach
    ••• Christmas Holiday Lights on Robert Road in Redondo Beach. ©2014 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

     

    This is my favorite place to see holiday lights in the Los Angeles area, with lots of decorations and a traditional feel. It's easy to tell that residents have been putting up the same lights for years and you'll find few LED lights and none of those inflatable yard decorations that every other neighborhood seems to have these days. In fact, the most charming part of the look is the strings of white lights hanging gracefully from all the trees.

    Some people call the area Sleepy Hollow or Candy Cane Lane. No matter what name you give it, you can reach this pleasantly decorated neighborhood from Pacific Coast Highway. Take Pacific Coast Hwy to Robert Rd (near the Redondo Beach Hollywood Riviera area, between Calle Mayor and Prospect).

    It's a great place to just park your car and walk. You can park on Pacific Coast Highway, Calle Mayor or Prospect Avenue and walk in on Robert Road. You should know that there are no sidewalks and while there's plenty of light, the ground can...MORE be a little uneven. Plan to spend about an hour if you walk around and half an hour if you drive through on a moderately busy night.

    Find out about the lights - and more - in the guide to Los Angeles at Christmas.

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    Huntington Harbor Cruise of Lights

    Holiday Lights in the Huntington Harbor
    ••• Holiday Lights in the Huntington Harbor. Courtesy of Visit Huntington Beach

     

    You don't hear much about this event, but it's one of my favorites. Homeowners along the waterfront in Huntington Beach harbor get really extravagant with their holiday lighting. The cruise (which benefits the Huntington Harbour Philharmonic Cruise) takes you for a leisurely trip to see them.

    If you want to go, here's the guide - and all the tips you need to have the most fun.

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    Newport Beach Harbor Christmas Boat Parade

    Newport Beach Harbor Boat Parade
    ••• Newport Beach Harbor Boat Parade. fortherock/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

     

    Many of California's coastal cities have their Christmas parades on the water, filled with lighted yachts instead of motorized floats. The parade at Newport Beach is one of the best and longest-running. 

    If you think it would be fun to watch it in person, use this guide to find out how.

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    San Diego at Christmas: Neighborhood Displays

    Light Display from Christmas Card Lane, San Diego
    ••• Light Display from Christmas Card Lane, San Diego. ©2010 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    A few San Diego neighborhoods go all out during the holidays and this is one of the cutest, where every house creates their own lighted Christmas postcard. Check out our top picks from the rest of them.

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    Hearst Castle Dining Room at Christmas

    Dining Table at Hearst Castle, Christmas
    ••• Dining Table at Hearst Castle, Christmas. Courtesy of Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument

    Hearst Castle is generally less crowded in December, and they offer holiday-themed evening tours, which are an especially nice way to see the lighted decor. Learn more about visiting Hearst Castle at Christmas.

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    Mission Inn Festival of Lights, Riverside

    Festival of Lights at the historic Mission Inn, Riverside City, California, USA, North America
    ••• Festival of Lights at the Mission Inn, Riverside. Richard Cummins / Getty Images

    Between Los Angeles and Palm Springs in Riverside, the Mission Inn puts on a holiday Festival of Lights that has been named best in the country by USA Today. You can also have breakfast, brunch or tea with Santa and if you stay overnight, you can get an elf to come tuck your children into bed.

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    Bracebridge Dinner, Yosemite

    Jester at the Bracebridge Dinner
    ••• Jester at the Bracebridge Dinner. Courtesy of the Bracebridge Dinner

    Yosemite's Bracebridge Dinner is a tradition that dates back to the days of famed photographer Ansel Adams. It's based on a story from Washington Irving's The Sketch Book which describes Christmas Day, 1718 at Bracebridge Hall in Yorkshire, England. You can expect lords and ladies, jokers and jesters — and a sumptuous feast.

    If you want to attend the Bracebridge Dinner, you can get all the details about it in this guide.

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  • 11 of 12

    Surfing Santas

    Surfing Santa in Orange County
    ••• Surfing Santa in Orange County. Courtesy of the Surfing Santa Competition

     

    In Orange County, lots of St. Nick lookalikes are everywhere at the Surfing Santa Competition at Salt Creek Beach. It's a charity event sponsored by Surfers Healing and the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel. Details are at their website.

    At Seaport Village in San Diego, the jolly old elf wears a Hawaiian shirt and board shorts. He can't get his surfboard into the calm bay, so he arrives in a speedboat instead. Get the details for this event — which has been called one of the best Santa sightings by USA Today — at the Seaport Village website.

    In the town of Capitola near Santa Cruz, Santa has to transfer from his surfboard to an outrigger canoe to get to the beach. The annual Surfin' Santa event is held in late November. You can get this year's date at the Capitola Chamber of Commerce website.

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  • 12 of 12

    Festival of Lights, Los Gatos Vasona Park

    Festival of Lights at Vasona Park, Los Gatos
    ••• Festival of Lights at Vasona Park, Los Gatos. Demetri Mouratis/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

    Vasona Park is a charming county recreational park in the town of Los Gatos, at the edge of the Santa Cruz Mountains as you drive from San Jose to Santa Cruz. But their holiday lights display is not a small town affair. In fact, it may be the best drive-through light display in Californian now that the Los Angeles' Griffith Park and Del Mar near San Diego are cancelled.

    To relieve traffic congestion, you need a timed reservation. They also have a couple of walk-through nights when food trucks will be available. Get details  and tickets at the Santa Clara County Parks Department.