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L.A. Zoo Lights
Photograph: Michael Juliano

Los Angeles holiday traditions that aren’t happening this year

And the things that you can do instead.

Michael Juliano
Written by
Michael Juliano

Like Halloween before it, Christmas this year means two months of almost exclusively car-friendly events. That’s mostly because L.A.’s typical holiday traditions had to be scrapped. Ice skating rinks? Closed. Twinkly Christmas lights walkthroughs? Mostly canceled. Christmas plays? Virtual, if they’re even happening at all. But for every festive affair that’s had to take the year off, we’ve found another drive-thru, drive-in or outdoor event that you can do instead.

Enchanted: Forest of Light
Photograph: Michael Juliano

Enchanted at Descanso Gardens

You could tap color-changing columns, spin kaleidoscopic pendants and stomp along a serpentine Candyland-like path—so by now you’ve probably sorted out why Enchanted had to be canceled this year. It’s a loss, for sure, since the after-hours garden walk was simply the most whimsical event in the region. It’s not quite the same, but you can still get a daytime taste of Descanso right now during Reflections.

Do this instead: South Coast Botanic Garden’s inaugural GLOW has brought a similar event to Palos Verdes. It’s not nearly as full of discovery and wonder, but it’s still full of beautifully illuminated trees that highlight the garden’s botanical residents (and the one-way paths are wide enough to easily distance).

L.A. Zoo Lights
Photograph: Michael Juliano

L.A. Zoo Lights

The spiritual successor to the defunct DWP Holiday Light Festival is taking 2020 off, so no light tunnels and after-hours visits to the zoo this year (though the zoo is still open during the day). We kept our fingers crossed that the old DWP drive-thru would return, but seems like we’ve come up just short on holiday magic.

Do this instead: It doesn’t open until November 30, but based on a similar Halloween event and a layout that promises multiple light tunnels and a whole bunch of Christmas trees, we think Woodland Hills’ WonderLAnd drive-thru should scratch a similar itch.

Candy Cane Lane El Segundo
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/alexmwang

Candy Cane Lane

El Segundo’s over-the-top neighborhood display has been canceled for the first time since 1949. It’s probably not the only local decorations that’ll go dark this year, either; though we’re still waiting for the word on flat-out cancellations, a number of private-residence displays have yet to release 2020 info.

Do this instead: Altadena’s century-old Christmas Tree Lane was made for this moment. Though it’ll forgo its usual grand lighting, you can still take a mile-long drive through this stretch of cedars blanketed in lights. You’ll find it on Santa Rosa Avenue (between Woodbury Avenue and Altadena Drive), and though no date has been given yet, the latest update promises it’ll come “sooner than you know.”

It's A Small World
Photograph: Michael Juliano

Holiday Time at Disneyland

The beloved theme park typically turns into the merriest place on earth for a full two months, but the rides and fireworks are still down at the temporarily-shuttered Disneyland. That said, California Adventure’s Buena Vista Street area is open as a dining and shopping destination right now; you’ll find some festive treats and garlands, but no Christmas tree.

Do this instead: It may not have quite the same magic, but if your goal is to be inside of a lit-up theme park, then scope out Six Flags Magic Mountain’s drive-thru spin on its annual Holiday in the Park. You’ll be able to drive past illuminated displays on the park’s pedestrian pathways, and it’s more reasonably priced than most other similar events. Or if you want an on-foot, food-filled experience, Knott’s is holding its Taste of Merry Farm through the end of the year.

Long Beach Ballet, The Nutcracker
Photograph: Courtesy Long Beach Ballet

All of the Nutcracker performances

This one shouldn’t come as a surprise: Stages have been dark since March, so you certainly won’t be seeing any of the usual Nutcracker productions on them this year (the news of which some of you might welcome). 

Do this instead: We have found one in-person exception: Both the Ventura and Del Mar locations of Holidays in Your Car will stage a one-night-only drive-in Nutcracker performance. Otherwise, you can also catch a virtual performance and at-home tea party from the Los Angeles Ballet.

Holiday Ice Rink Pershing Square
Photograph: Michael Juliano

All of the ice skating rinks

Yep, all of ’em. Unless the Venice Canals freeze over (hey, we won’t count anything out in 2020), don’t plan on outdoor skating this year.

Do this instead: But this year is the rebirth of roller-skating, and ice-less skating is still an option. We live in a place with beautiful weather year-round, so lace up and hit your fave stretch of the 22 miles of the Strand.

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