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
The Hollywood Christmas Parade is one of the most longstanding holiday traditions in Los Angeles. Every year on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Santa accompanies floats and marching bands down Hollywood Boulevard. The parade starts at 6 p.m. 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 Boulevard. Bleacher seats are located between Orange Drive and Highland Avenue on both sides of the street.
The U-shaped route starts at Orange and Hollywood boulevards 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 along with festive food, unique shopping, great decor, and family fun for all ages.
Queen Mary Christmas is anything but just another outdoor ice skating rink in Los Angeles; it's a winter holiday event in Long Beach that includes a 6,000-square-foot ice rink, carousel, several winter-themed rides, gingerbread house making, and Mr. and Mrs. Claus. The special cinema on-board the ship will also be playing a 4-D version of "The Polar Express," which you can enjoy with hot cocoa while artificial slow flurries fall around you.
Come and enjoy this maritime Christmas activity on select dates between November 29, 2019, and January 1, 2020.
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—like hot cocoa, warm cider, homemade fudge, and special holiday-inspired funnel cakes.
Experience Holiday in the Park every evening from November 23, 2019, until January 5, 2020.
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.
In the attached Wizarding World of Harry Potter park, you can also experience some holiday magic. The downtown area of Hogsmeade is decorated with festive adornments, and the inside of the castle is transformed into a dazzling show of lights and music.
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, like the famous Los Angeles Ballet performance.
For a traditional holiday experience, check out the classic play "A Christmas Carol" from the acclaimed Pasadena theater company, A Noise Within. The show runs from December 1–23, 2019.
If you're looking for an LA original, "Bob's Holiday Office Party" is a hilariously irreverent show performed at the Atwater Village Theater in Los Angeles. Its 24th season runs from December 5–22, 2019.
"The Eight: Reindeer Monologues" sounds like a children's production, but this show is for adults only. For a twist on the typical Christmas stories, head to the Point Loma Playhouse for this hilarious and witty play, running November 22 through December 14, 2019.
Tree lightings are a beloved part of the holidays, and in Los Angeles as well as the surrounding cities there is no shortage of options. In addition to almost every single shopping center in the LA area, you can see bedazzled Christmas trees at theme parks, hotels, and around each neighborhood. Dates are listed for the initial lighting ceremony, but you can visit these holiday sites throughout the season.
- For an unmistakably Southern California tree lighting event, visit the Rodeo Drive Holiday Ceremony in Beverly Hills on November 14, 2019. The usual evergreen Christmas tree is swapped out for the famous palm trees that line Rodeo Drive.
- East of LA, the Shops at Montebello hosts a tree lighting ceremony on November 16, 2019, plus a silent disco party, hot cocoa stations, and gifts for children who arrive to see Santa.
- The Grove shopping center in Los Angeles hosts a blowout lighting ceremony each year with celebrity performers, artificial snowfall, and a fireworks show. This year it's on November 17, 2019.
- Named the "best public lights display" in the country by USA Today, the Festival of Lights at the Mission Inn in Riverside is an unforgettable experience. The display is turned on November 29, 2019.
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. In addition to the 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.
Most of the major shopping centers bring in carolers to liven up shoppers, including the Westfield malls in Topanga Canyon and Culver City. Other locales to hear holiday tunes are the LA Zoo during their evening Zoo Lights exhibition and the historic Original Farmers Market in the Fairfax District.
The LA Zoo Lights display includes LED lights, lasers, 3D projections, animal-themed sets, and interactive displays. In addition to the light-up animals throughout the park, guests can see the world's largest illuminated pop-up storybook.
Zoo staff has also taken precautions to make sure the light show doesn't bother the animals. Dates this year run from November 15, 2019, until January 5, 2020.
Since LA was once part of Mexico and the Mexican-American population is still a significant 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. This annual procession has been a holiday custom in the neighborhood since 1930.
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, 2019, and ending on Christmas Eve.
Winter Fest OC at the OC Fair and Events Center
A holiday tradition that began 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 attractions such as six lanes of ice tubing, ice skating, a nightly tree lighting, a 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 games for kids. You can also walk through the world's largest Christmas ornament. On certain nights, you can see Santa fly across the sky with his reindeer.
Winter Fest OC is open daily from December 19, 2019, until January 5, 2020.
Bob Baker Marionette Theater puts on a holiday show perfect for the youngest visitors. A stringed adventure comprised of over 100 puppets, take your family to see this kid-friendly version of "The Nutcracker." It's been performed every holiday season since 1969, and you can see it at the Pasadena Playhouse. This fantastic world is made even more magical by the dancing marionettes.
It's playing this season from November 30, 2019, until December 30, 2019.
Downtown LA Holiday Walking Tours
The annual DTLA Holiday Lights Tour is a nighttime tour of the festive holiday decorations and traditions in Downtown LA, held on select days throughout December. This special tour exposes visitors to the beauty of Downtown LA at night to celebrate the seasons of Christmas, Hanukkah, and 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 and inspire your own decor. Some of the major ones around LA include:
- The Sandpipers Holiday Home Tour in Manhattan Beach
- The West Adams Progressive Dinner Tour in Central Los Angeles
- The Pasadena Holiday Look In Home Tour
- The Costa Mesa Home for the Holidays Tour
- The Balboa Island Holiday Home Tour in Newport Beach
A free way to get a peek at 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.
Holiday Lamplight Celebration at Heritage Square Museum
If you can't decide in 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 years old or for people with mobility issues due to uneven terrain, dim lighting, and tight indoor spaces.
It takes place the weekend of December 7–8, 2019, and reservations are required.