Christmas in Los Angeles is a very festive season where you'll find every conceivable traditional holiday activity from tree lightings and boat parades to theme park events and holiday shows.
There are also truly unique Los Angeles Christmas events and some unusual Christmas traditions to discover. Some winter activities begin before Halloween and run through February while others are scheduled throughout November and December.
Some local LA Christmas traditions date back to the turn of the last century while others are just beginning as new traditions.
The Hollywood Christmas Parade is one of the most longstanding holiday traditions in LA. Every year on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Santa accompanies floats and marching bands down Hollywood Boulevard. The parade starts at 6 pm. There are plenty of places to watch the parade for free along the street, or you can purchase grandstand seats.
There's lots of free curb space along the 2.5-mile parade route, but if you'd like to see the parade in relative comfort, you can buy tickets to the grandstand seating on Hollywood Blvd. Bleacher seats are located between Orange Drive and Highland Ave on both sides of the street.
The u-shaped route starts at Orange and Hollywood Boulevard and travels east on Hollywood to Vine, turns South on Vine to Sunset, travels west on Sunset, then circles back to Orange. Grandstand seats run from the beginning of the parade route to Highland Avenue on both sides of the street.
Outdoor ice skating in Los Angeles began with the construction of the Downtown on Ice facility and has spread to venues across the LA Basin and into the Valley and Orange County. Technology allows outdoor rinks to stay frozen despite the warm weather so that outdoor ice skating in LA has become a widespread winter tradition. Skating now starts as early as the beginning of October and continues at some rinks through February.
Whether you're traveling with children or just want to experience the holiday magic of Disney, Disneyland at Christmas is quite an enchanting experience. The park is completely redecorated with dazzling lights, and there's even a nightly snowfall that Disneyland produces to put park guests in the holiday spirit. Additionally, Christmas themed characters and shows join the classic Disney family from November through early January.
At about a third of the price of Disneyland, Knott's Merry Farm, the Christmas celebration at Knott's Berry Farm, is pretty much the most Christmas fun you can have on a budget. In addition to the rides open all day and night, there are tons of holiday shows, festive food, unique shopping, great decor, and family fun for all ages.
CHILL at the Queen Mary is anything but just another outdoor ice skating rink in Los Angeles; it's a winter holiday event in Long Beach that includes ice tubing, several winter-themed rides, entertainment, and the world's biggest rocking horse. It originally included the Ice Kingdom exhibit of ice sculptures, but that has been replaced in recent years with Alice in Winterland, a non-frozen exhibit of Chinese lanterns and other interactive components telling the story of Alice in Wonderland.
Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm aren't the only two amusement parks in the Valley that celebrate the holidays, Six Flags Magic Mountain goes all out for the season with festive light shows, seasonal decor and entertainment, and an abundance of unique holiday fare at Holiday in the Park.
Santa reigns in most of LA, but the Grinch and the Whos of Whoville take over Universal Studios Hollywood to enchant Dr. Seuss fans young and old. While most of the rides at the park will remain unaffected by the Grinch's takeover, you can expect to wander down Dr. Seuss-inspired streets and meet some of your favorite characters from this classic tale. There are also nightly events and special performances throughout the month of December.
From Marina del Rey to Newport Beach, the waters off the Southern California coast sparkle with lights as festively decorated boats parade through the night. Some cities have just one parade, but places like Long Beach have two different celebrations and Newport Beach and Dana Point run the same parade on multiple nights. Chances are that if you're traveling to an ocean-front city, it will host at least one boat parade this holiday season.
Perhaps one of the most famous holiday traditions in the world, The Nutcracker ballet is a time-honored celebration of the Christmas season. Almost every ballet company and school in the region (as well as several touring companies in town) put on some version of The Nutcracker ballet for the holidays. While some last just one or two nights, others run for the entire month of December.
From classics like "A Christmas Carol" to Los Angeles originals like "Bob's Holiday Office Party," holiday cheer shows up in various incarnations on stages all over Southern California with dozens of holiday-themed performances. Whether you're in the mood for some of the top-billed live theater in Los Angeles or just want to check out a local community performance, there are all kinds of shows happening this holiday season.
Holiday shopping events and tree lighting ceremonies are festive in LA. From traditional tree and menorah ceremonies featuring nightly visits with Santa to a casual through the manmade snowfall at the ice palace, LA shopping centers put on all kinds of programs to lure you in and keep you entertained this holiday season. There are plenty of both outdoor and indoor shopping malls in the Valley.
Although you won't find a lot of people caroling door to door, there are lots of places to listen to and sing along with your favorite Christmas and Hanukkah songs. Along with many of the tree lighting celebrations, multiple venues around Los Angeles host special concert celebrations where guests are invited to join in with the performers for group renditions of some of America's favorite Christmas carols.
The DWP Holiday Light Festival won't be coming back in its original location, so they've created a new light show at Griffith Park within the Los Angeles Zoo. The new LA Zoo Lights display includes LED lights, lasers, 3D projections, animal-themed sets, and interactive displays. They've also incorporated a few favorites from among the original DWP lights collection.
Zoo staff has also taken precautions to make sure the light show doesn't bother the animals. Dates run from Thanksgiving weekend to the weekend after New Year's. The evening show, the Reindeer Romp at the LA Zoo, takes place from 6 to 10 p.m. and requires a separate ticket from the daytime zoo ticket, but reduced-price early bird tickets are available.
Since LA was once part of Mexico and the Mexican-American population is still the majority, it is not surprising that the tradition of Las Posadas is alive and well on Olvera Street at El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Site, the oldest established of LA.
During Las Posadas, a costumed Mary and Joseph—accompanied by a procession of singers, musicians, and community members—go from house to house looking for a room. As part of the tradition, the performers and residents sing a call-and-response routine which ultimately results in Mary and Joseph being turned away each time. Las Posadas on Olvera Street is held for nine nights beginning December 16. Entertainment begins at 6 p.m. and the procession starts at 7:30.
A brand new holiday tradition beginning in 2015, Winter Fest OC transforms the indoor and outdoor spaces of the OC Fair and Event Center in Costa Mesa into a winter wonderland. It includes a lot of the same attractions as Queen Mary's CHILL, such as six lanes of ice tubing, ice skating, a nightly tree lighting, giant rocking horse, carolers, and other stage entertainment.
There's no ship, but there are 30 carnival rides and games open on the midway, a trackless train, petting zoo and arts, crafts and games for kids. You can also walk through the world's largest Christmas ornament. Santa appears on The Hangar rooftop in the tree-lighting show when he's not holding court for photo opportunities inside The Hangar.
Winter Fest OC is open daily from Friday night the weekend before Christmas through the first Sunday in January.
Bob Baker Marionette Theater puts on a holiday show perfect for the youngest visitors. Sometimes a version of The Nutcracker, other years a variety show, the fascinating puppet show has been a Los Angeles holiday tradition since 1963.
The annual DTLA Holiday Lights Tour is a nightly tour of the festive holiday decorations and traditions in Downtown LA from the weekend after Thanksgiving through the weekend after Christmas. This special tour exposes visitors to the beauty of Downtown LA at night to celebrate the seasons of Christmas, Hanukkah, and even Kwanza. It includes attractions like Las Posadas on Olvera Street, a Nutcracker Village, Icicle sheets, an ice rink, and many more light features around Downtown Los Angeles.
Holiday home tours are a fundraising opportunity for various organizations around LA and Orange County from Pasadena to Newport Beach. They give you a chance to go inside fabulously decorated homes—usually of some historic significance—just to admire or to get ideas for your own decor. Some of the major ones around LA include:
A free way to get a peek inside some beautifully decorated homes from the outside is to take a stroll around Naples Island in Long Beach between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.
If you can't decide which decade you'd like to celebrate Christmas, you can visit holiday parties in three different eras at Heritage Square Museum's Holiday Lamplight Celebration. Costumed hosts escort visitors from one Victorian house to the next to enjoy warm apple cider and holiday treats, music, dancing and retro parlor games. This event is not recommended for children under 6 or for people with mobility issues due to uneven terrain, dim lighting, and tight indoor spaces. It usually takes place on two days in the first weekend of December. Reservations are required.
Every year on Christmas Eve from 4:30 to 11 at night, the Magic Christmas Caroling Truck drives through the north Los Angeles neighborhood of Toluca Lake. Decorated like a holiday parade float, the festive flatbed is laden with volunteer musicians and singers who carol through the community.
The tradition began in 1984 when a group of 12 studio musicians wrapped a recording session and decided it would be fun to go play Christmas carols in their neighborhood from the back of a pickup truck. Today over 200 volunteer singers and dancers perform to a backing track recorded in the same studio, with new songs added every year. The route covers 10 miles of streets in Toluca Lake and North Hollywood.
You can sometimes find the Magical Christmas Caroling Truck in the Burbank Christmas parade and other community events. For the route map, sing-along lyrics and other information, visit the official website.