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Christmas Tree Lane
Photograph: Michael Juliano

December 2021 events calendar for Los Angeles

Plan your month with our December 2021 events calendar of the best activities, including free things to do, holiday festivals and our favorite concerts

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Written by
Michael Juliano
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After endless, premature teases from retailers, the holidays are here for real and they’ve taken over our December events calendar. Dive into the spirit of giving with a stop at one of the best gift shops in L.A. or take a drive by one of the city’s best Christmas lights displays. If you’re sticking around town this year and feeling a little lonely, maybe consider embracing it with some time outdoors at one of these secluded getaways. Whatever your plans are—even if you’re feeling like a bit of a grinch—you’ll find plenty of activities to take advantage of in our December events calendar.

RECOMMENDED: Full events calendar for 2021

This December’s best events

  • Art
  • Film and video
  • price 2 of 4
  • Miracle Mile

“Hayao Miyazaki,” which opens with the Academy Museum’s debut on September 30, features over 300 storyboards, concept images and backgrounds, many of them on display outside of Studio Ghibli’s Tokyo headquarters for the first time. It pulls from the director’s 11 feature films, with a particularly strong tilt toward My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away as well as his lush, enchanted forest settings. Find out more in our full preview of the exhibit.

  • Things to do
  • Exhibitions
  • Westside

Space: the final frontier. This is the voyage of a traveling pop culture exhibition. Its latest mission: to stop by L.A.’s Skirball Cultural center. After missing its 2020 debut because of, you know, everything happening here on Earth, “Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds” has finally landed at the Skirball. The exhibition celebrates the sci-fi franchise’s impact on culture, art and technology and its futuristic vision of inclusiveness—but mostly, it shows off some particularly cool Trek relics. Originally organized by the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP), Seattle, “Exploring New Worlds” features over 100 artifacts, set pieces and props—from communicators to phasers to Borg cubes to tribbles—from the television series, spin-offs and films. The original series and its subsequent movies are the most well-represented, but you’ll find a little bit from just about everything that followed, up through Discovery (the insistence in one video that the J.J. Abrams-launched alternative universe movies are still going strong certainly dates the exhibition to a specific time in the franchise’s history). Even if you’re not a Trekkie, you’re sure to recognize some of the things on display here: Captain Kirk’s command chair (there’s a replica in the lobby for photo ops) and the navigation console from Star Trek: The Original Series; costumes worn by Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols and Patrick Stewart (Spock, Uhura and and Picard, respectively); filming models of the U.S.S. Enterprise, U.S.S. Excels

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Enchanted: Forest of Light
  • Things to do
  • Festivals
  • price 2 of 4
  • La Cañada

Discovery and wonder are set to inhabit the illuminated installations once again in Descanso Gardens’ holiday tradition. After having to cancel the 2020 edition, Enchanted: Forest of Light is set to return from November 21, 2021 through January 10, 2022. The botanical garden’s nighttime experience masterfully mixes hands-on art installations with atmospheric, luminescent forests, all against a background of uplit trees and shimmery sound effects. Expect most installations to return, while sculptor Tom Fruin’s kaleidoscopic stained-glass–inspired house will now multiply into an entire village of structures in the rose garden. Tickets go on sale in September for members and October to the general public. Check out our review of 2019’s edition below. Enchanted is intuitively immersive: You can tap columns that change color according to your touch; spin a dizzying swirl of kaleidoscopic patterns with HYBYCOZO’s “Celestial Shadows” pendants; and stomp your way across Jen Lewin’s “Aqueous,” a serpentine Candyland-like path that changes colors as you meander along its winding walkway. And, true to its botanical garden location, most of the installations highlight the natural beauty of Descanso’s flora. Enchanted is L.A.’s most magical holiday lights experience L.A.’s most whimsical light-up experience is back. http://bit.ly/2PBqpqK Posted by Time Out Los Angeles on Tuesday, November 19, 2019 This year, “Celestial Shadows” has been upgraded with even more shapes (last year saw th

LA Zoo Lights
  • Things to do
  • price 1 of 4
  • Griffith Park

The L.A. Zoo is staying open after dark every night through January during this light-up holiday tradition, which returns for 2021 after having to take last year off. Many of the lighting displays are inspired by the zoo’s wild residents: think elephant statues with whimsical projections, mosaic-like multicolor giraffes and twinkling butterflies. When we last visited in 2019, we found that Zoo Lights had lost a bit of the handmade, kitsch quality that made it quirky in its earlier years, but we thought it’d become a more polished experience in the process (thanks to the addition of a twinkly tunnel of lights, Chinese lanterns and a shimmering wall of lights). Tip: Buy your timed tickets (available in three sessions nightly) in advance to avoid the worst of the entry lines. Also, tickets are a typically a few dollars cheaper during the first week of Zoo Lights. And wear comfortable shoes; the lights only cover about a third of the zoo grounds, but you’ll be walking slightly uphill for most of the way. RECOMMENDED: Christmas lights in Los Angeles: Where to find holiday lights This sparkly rainbow tunnel has come to L.A. Zoo Lights You can visit for only $12 during the next week. http://bit.ly/2Qm1KWc Posted by Time Out Los Angeles on Friday, November 15, 2019

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  • Things to do
  • price 0 of 4

The term CicLAvia stems from a similar Spanish word for “bike way,” and in L.A. it’s become a shorthand for the temporary, festival-like closing of L.A.’s streets. The event (inspired by the first Ciclovías in Bogotá, Colombia) welcomes bikes, tricycles, skateboards, strollers and basically anything else without an engine to ride a rotating cast of car-free routes. You’ll inevitably always find a route each year around Downtown, but past events have taken it anywhere from the harbor to the San Gabriel Valley. For 2021, CicLAvia makes its return with three events: one by the harbor in Wilmington (Aug 15), another near DTLA (Oct 10) and a final route through South L.A. (Dec 5). Expect music, street performances and food trucks, as well as general whimsy and shenanigans along the way. Shop owners and restaurants along the CicLAvia route also tend to host specials. It goes without saying that you should bike or take the Metro to your desired spot along the route.

  • Art
  • Painting
  • price 2 of 4
  • San Marino

Just weeks before his portrait of Barack Obama goes on display at LACMA, the Huntington has debuted artist Kehinde Wiley’s Portrait of a Young Gentleman, his own take on Thomas Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy. That recently-restored 1770 portrait, easily the centerpiece of the museum’s collection for the past century, played in key role in Wiley’s stylistic development (the L.A. artist frequented the gallery as a kid with his mother and took classes there), and the two works are now on display across the gallery from each other. Wiley’s bold orange and periwinkle portrait of a casually-dressed Black man beams inside of a gallery full of 18th-century fancily-outfitted Brits. Like his other interpretations of historical portraits, Wiley’s Gentleman mimics some of the key characteristics of The Blue Boy: Both feature anonymous subjects draped in luxurious blues and posing with one hand on the hip and the other holding a hat, and Wiley even commissioned a recreation of the elder painting’s ornate frame. Whereas Gainsborough’s painting plays up fancy dress, Wiley’s features what he dubs a California surfer dude aesthetic: A Senegalese man with blond dreadlocks in an orange tie-dye shirt, electric-blue shorts and black-and-whte Vans who’s adorned with a white smartwatch and clutching an American flag cap. And that’s all woven into a periwinkle-and-pink patchwork of poppies that situates the subject within nature (as well as within a twist on Morris and Co.’s Arts and Crafts anemone tex

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  • Art
  • price 2 of 4

After a brief tease and a couple of false starts, “Immersive Van Gogh” has finally hit Hollywood with animated projections of the artist’s recognizable paintings like Bedroom in Arles and The Starry Night. That’s basically how you could describe any of the five similar shows touring the country right now, but this one, from Lighthouse Immersive and Impact Museums, certainly sells the loudest take on the Dutch painter. “Immersive Van Gogh” is inhabiting Amoeba Music’s former Sunset Boulevard record store through at least the beginning of 2022 with three main rooms, all covered with same 35-minute loop that plays out across 65 projectors. Check out our full preview of the show.

  • Things to do
  • price 2 of 4
  • Rancho Palos Verdes/Rolling Hills Estates

Take a twinkly walk through South Coast Botanic Garden during the return of this illuminated, after-hours installation, which runs from just before Thanksgiving until after New Year’s. GLOW will mark its second year with the addition of themed nights (think: ugly sweaters, neon) and some new lit-up areas, including the lavender garden, koi pond, fuschia garden and lower meadow. Tickets will go on sale to the general public on October 18, with a member presale during the two weeks prior. During last year’s debut, we found multicolored uplights all over the Palos Verdes Peninsula garden, all set to a genre-spanning mix of music. Nothing was overtly Christmasy; instead, the lighting set up an alternative, illuminated perspective of the botanical residents (we thought the banyan grove, desert collection and succulent-filled living wall were particularly beautiful). It took us about 45 minutes to leisurely walk through GLOW (at the time it was a one-way loop due to distancing requirements), including semi-frequent stops to snap the photos you see above.

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  • Things to do
  • price 3 of 4
  • Anaheim

Like its Halloween parties, Disneyland is bringing the limited-capacity, after-hours treatment to Christmas for five nights only in November and December. You can still see all of the familiar holiday favorites any night at Disneyland, including A Christmas Fantasy Parade, snow on Main Street and the seasonal makeovers of “it’s a small world” and the Haunted Mansion. But the separately-ticketed Disney Merriest Nites teases lighter crowds for all of those and adds in a half-dozen music and dance-filled character areas, including a Victorian-dressed Mickey Mouse and Christmas-caroling Muppets on Main Street, along with Princess Tiana in New Orleans Square, Coco’s Miguel in Frontierland, Lilo & Stitch in Adventureland, Elsa in Fantasyland and Buzz Lightyear in Tomorrowland. The evening also promises more festively-dressed characters, themed backdrops (with unlimited downloads for portraits snapped by the park’s PhotoPass photographers) and hot chocolate and cookies. Tickets go on sale September 14 around 9am, but the prices aren’t exactly merry: Admission costs $165 (plus an extra $10 on opening night), a notable premium over standard admission tickets around the holidays, depending on the day. You’ll be allowed to enter the park at 5pm during the final few normal park operating hours before things switch over to the ticketed party from 8pm until midnight. Also, just a heads up that Mickey’s Toontown, Critter Country and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge won’t be available during the par

  • Things to do
  • price 3 of 4
  • Pomona

With its rosy cheeks and its definitely-knows-too-much eyes, the Elf on the Shelf has become a Christmastime staple in living rooms. And now, it’s become an IRL holiday event, too. The event debuted last year as a drive-through, but for 2021 it’s returning to Fairplex for a walk-through. This time around, you’ll wander through a Christmas village (with shopping and dining), glide around an ice skating rink (for an extra $20, with skate rentals), hop onto a trolley ride and venture on-foot past festive scenic displays at elf-scale (a rendering for the event shows a candy cane bridge over a river of milk and cookies, and a winding path through overstuffed mail bags of letters to Santa). The pricing and length remain the same ($25 for about 45 minutes, depending on the date), but otherwise expect a considerably different setup compared to last year’s event. Tickets go on sale September 21 at 11am. Last year’s car-based event (as pictured in all of the photos above) was the first Christmas drive-through we visited for the season (and ever, really), and we found it to have much more of an emphasis on live actors compared to other similar events (think: delightfully-committed elves measuring your car’s Christmas spirit, juggling pins or balancing on a tightrope of oversized lights—and even one who’ll accept your letter to Santa). We did wish there were more over-the-top light displays throughout, but hopefully this year’s will bump up the lighting. We also found that, since it’s a

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