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Christmas Tree Lane
Photograph: Courtesy Michael Juliano

Find out where to see Christmas lights in L.A. this year

Simplify your search for Christmas lights in Los Angeles with these must-see neighborhoods and landmarks

Michael Juliano
Written by
Michael Juliano
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You’ve probably had to fend off this tired question before from out-of-town friends: How can we get in the holiday spirit here on the West Coast when it’s warm in December? Well, first of all, it’s cold—by L.A. standards, at least. But second, there’s also plenty of holiday cheer if you know where to see Christmas lights in Los Angeles. In between a deluge of Christmas events, festive movie screenings and frantic shopping trips, take the time to check out these twinkling neighborhoods and ticketed events. Just make sure to bring along an extra sweatshirt and some patience: Not even Christmas lights can escape L.A. traffic.

RECOMMENDED: Christmas in Los Angeles

17 places to see Christmas lights in Los Angeles

  • Things to do

Stroll through a garden illuminated by celestial-inspired lights during this year-end event at South Coast Botanic Garden. There’s nothing Christmassy nor even wintry about the hour-long Palos Verdes trail, yet its nine stellar installations are the most cosmically mesmerizing of the budding after-dark botanical garden shows that’ve come to blanket L.A. toward the end of the year.

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The on-foot spiritual successor to the old nearby DWP Holiday Lights, most of the displays here are inspired by the zoo’s wild residents (elephants, parrots and otters, among them). That’s especially the case with the current “Animals Aglow” theme, which doubles down on oversized, animated animal lanterns—to delightfully charming effect.

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  • Things to do

Uplit trees and about a dozen illuminated installations dot the roughly mile-long pathway at the third edition of Lightscape at the L.A. County Arboretum. Whether or not the cost of admission is worth it will largely come down to just how badly you want to pose for photos inside of the cathedral-like light tunnel. There are a few other pieces that’ll have you pausing for a bit, too (including a curtain of light strands), but the bits in between can sometimes seem sparse in person.

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Descanso Gardens’ light-up experience was the first L.A.-area one to ditch the kitsch aesthetic typical at most other venues, and its whimsical, wondrous, curiosity-driven displays are still among L.A.’s most stunning and, more importantly, most fun. (It’s also quite pricey, but that’s the unfortunate reality now of every ticketed pick in our list.) The partially interactive nighttime program sets up illuminated installations around the botanical garden grounds, from luminescent forests to free-standing hands-on art pieces.

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Christmas Tree Lane

While L.A. might lure in visitors with breezy palm trees, the region is no slouch when it comes to conifers. Case in point: This grand, mile-long driveway of cedars in Altadena becomes blanketed in lights each holiday as it transforms into Christmas Tree Lane. Take a majestic cruise down the hill after it lights up (the lighting ceremony takes place December 9). And we do suggest going down: Traffic can get pretty gridlocked during peak holiday season, but it moves a bit better if you start at the top and head south (or just visit later in the evening, before the lights flick off at 10pm).

Santa Rosa Ave, between Woodbury Rd and Altadena Dr (Altadena)

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Feel as though you’ve escaped to a small-town fishing village during the Marina Del Rey Boat Parade—well, you know, minus the massive crowds. Bring a blanket and gather around Fisherman’s Village or Burton Chace Park on December 9 to watch as 70 boats glide through the marina with holiday lights and decorations in competition. Categories include Best Theme, Best Animation, Best Band, Best Lights and more. The festivities begin at 5:55pm with fireworks, and the boat parade starts at 6pm, rain or shine.

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Sleepy Hollow Christmas Lights Extravaganza

Sometimes you simply want to see as many lights as possible, and Torrance’s Seaside neighborhood (sometimes referred to as Sleepy Hollow) surely delivers. Follow the stream of brake lights overflowing from Robert Road for a trek through this visual overload. Starting in early December, seemingly every tree, house and lawn becomes blanketed in an electric bill-dizzying degree. The displays typically run every night from 6 to 10pm, up until New Year’s. There’s no parking on one side of the street on weekends, so you’ll more than likely have to walk the few blocks (PCH, Calle Mayor or Prospect Avenue can accommodate more cars).

Robert Rd, off of the Pacific Coast Hwy, and surrounding streets (Torrance)

Venice Canals

Free of the boardwalk’s grunge and Abbot Kinney’s pretense, the Venice Canals are an idyllic slice of L.A. living made all the more charming by the Christmas lights that line its bridges each year. Leave your car a few blocks away to avoid the narrow, one-way Dell Avenue, and take a stroll through the shimmering neighborhood. The long-running and gleefully irreverent boat parade typical floats along the first or second weekend of December.

Dell Ave (Venice)

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Holiday Time at Disneyland

Even before the Halloween pumpkins disappear from Main Street, you’ll be able to spot signs of the holidays at Disneyland. The beloved theme park turns into the merriest place on earth for a full two months (Nov 10–Jan 7), with Christmas makeovers of popular rides and holiday-themed nighttime shows. As far as Christmas lights go, you’ll spot festive decor all over the parks, from the auto-themed Americana decorations in Cars Land to icicle lights draped atop Sleeping Beauty Castle. But the real standout, in our opinion, is the joyous facade of “It’s a Small World.”

Just a heads up: Reservations are required to visit Disneyland, and you can expect them to go particularly quick during the holidays.

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  • Things to do

Stroll across the grounds of King Gillette Ranch as the Santa Monica Mountains hideaway is illuminated during Holiday Road, which returns with a nearly mile-long walking trail. The event, which comes from the same team as Nights of the Jack, includes festive decor like a treetop canopy of icicle lights, a small Christmas village, freestanding oversized decorations and archways of lights. Look out for food trucks and a holiday bar while you’re there.

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Tanaka Farms is opening up its Irvine fields for this after-dark wagon ride and walk-through. Hikari—which means “light” or “shine” in Japanese—has set up a long trail of lanterns, plus some festive theming that’s overtaken the farm’s scarecrows, tractors and trees. You’ll be able to explore the lantern field by both tractor and foot, and afterwards you can peruse a petting zoo, games, crafts and photo ops. You’ll need to purchase a parking pass, as well as tickets for each person; the prices fluctuate depending on the date, so opt for a weekday for the lowest price.

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Beverly Hills

We’ll admit it: Los Angeles has no true holiday counterpart to the festive windows of New York’s 5th Avenue. That said, our own tony shopping district, Beverly Hills, knows how to add a bit of opulence to the holidays. This year’s decorations on Rodeo Drive light up starting November 16. Elsewhere in the area, you can usually expect to see lights swirl around the palm trees, up the steps of Via Rodeo, over the span of Wilshire Boulevard and onto the extravagent Beverly Wilshire. Beverly Drive, too, typically gets covered in white lights, along with a willow tree decked out in gold decor at Beverly Cañon Gardens. 

Rodeo Dr, between Santa Monica Blvd and Wilshire Blvd (Beverly Hills)

Upper Hastings Ranch

This decades-old tradition of coordinated holiday displays among homeowners smakes the sloping grid of ranch-style homes in Upper Hastings Ranch a scenic year-end destination. Each block of the Pasadena neighborhood decorates according to a different theme; one street might be lined with light-up candy canes while another is flanked by an army of inflatable Santas (there’s also a house on Tropical Avenue that typically goes all out with a music-coordinated show, so look out for traffic backups south of Alegria Avenue). Look out for a lighting typically on the second Saturday in December; you can cruise around the twinkling foothill community nightly from 6 to 10pm until the new year.

North of Sierra Madre Blvd and east of Michilinda Ave (Pasadena)

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Candy Cane Lane

We all like showing off to our neighbors, but the homeowners behind Candy Cane Lane take it to the extreme. There are actually at least two neighborhoods in L.A. that go by that name: One in El Segundo, on East Acacia Avenue, the second in Woodland Hills. Here, we’re talking about the former, a dead end just south of LAX with around two dozen homes that’ve been going all out for roughly three quarters of a century. Look for the area to light up nightly (until 9:30pm) from December 9 through Christmas.

E Acacia Ave and California St (El Segundo)

  • Things to do

Ah, the joys of Christmas in a Mediterranean climate, where boat owners can deck out their ships in holiday lights and set sail without the impediment of icy weather. For the 115th year, the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade is doing just that as over 100 decorated yachts and ships parade around a 14-mile circuit in the Newport Harbor. You can see the parade for free during each of the five nights from any bay-facing point along the harbor (Marina Park, which also hosts a holiday market, is the go-to spot), but there are also reserved seats, dining packages and cruises available for purchase.

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St. Albans Road

This single block in San Marino might be the smallest entry in our list. But sometimes short and simple is all you need: The towering evergreens on St. Albans Road are draped in big, colorful bulbs that dangle from the treetops all the way down to the ground. Is it worth a drive across town solely to see this street? Not really. But if you’re checking out Lightscape, Hastings Ranch or Christmas Tree Lane, consider this a charming (and often barely crowded) detour.

St. Albans Rd between Monterey Rd and Huntington Dr (San Marino)

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