You won’t find snow-covered trees and below-zero temperatures in L.A., but there are still plenty of Christmas events and holiday activities to get you in the festive mood—even when it’s 70 and sunny in December. From meeting Santa and his reindeer to singing Christmas carols and scooping up crafty gifts at holiday markets, our list of the city’s best events and things to do this season will help make L.A. a winter wonderland all month long.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Christmas in Los Angeles
The 9 very best Christmas events in L.A.
Discovery and wonder abound across the 10 illuminated installations in Descanso Gardens’ holiday tradition. 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.
Feel as though you’ve escaped to a small-town fishing village during the Marina Del Rey Boat Parade. Bring a blanket and gather around Fisherman’s Village or Burton Chace Park 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.
L.A. doesn’t typically seem like much of a winter wonderland, until, that is, you create an ice skating rink right in the midst of Downtown skyscrapers and L.A. icons. Come glide and pretend there’s snow on the ground at Pershing Square’s outdoor holiday skating rink—swing by on Tuesdays for a soundtrack filled with selections from the Broadway edition of Frozen, which is in L.A. into the winter.
Go house-to-house at L.A.’s handsome Victorian museum and learn the true meaning of Christmas during the latest edition of this holiday tradition. The former occupants of Heritage Square’s homes will partake in this re-telling of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, in which participants will follow the characters from scene to scene and partake in the action by playing parlor games, singing Christmas carols and dancing at a Victorian Christmas party. Admission also includes a festive reception with libations and appetizers.
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 8–Jan 6), 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 is the joyous facade of “It’s a Small World.”
Muggles can look forward to a bit of sorcery and magic this holiday season. The Harry Potter-themed land at Universal Studios Hollywood has been decked out in holiday decor, including lights and wreaths along the snow-capped rooflines of Hogsmeade Village and, of course, plenty of wintry goodies in the gift shops. But by far the biggest addition to the land is “The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts,” (Nov 28–Dec 29) an approximately seven-minute projection show that illuminates Hogwarts Castle with dancing lanterns, colorful banners and a Christmas tree, all set to a swelling score.
The masters of alfresco movie viewing are keeping outdoor screening season alive with a slate of holiday favorites. And don’t worry about the relatively low temperatures: All seats come with blankets (in addition to the wireless headphones through which you’ll hear the movie). Plus, the Downtown location is getting a ski lodge makeover with seasonal hot drinks and full-body ski suits for photo ops.
While Santa may still be working with his elves to load up his sleigh, you can relax and enjoy a pre-Christmas Eve celebration at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Gather up your friends and family and go hear L.A.’s biggest holiday show, which includes more than 20 choirs, music ensembles and dance troupes from all over the city. It’s a long show, pushing three hours, but you’re free to come and go as you please, pending capacity.
After going dark in 2009, holiday lights returned to Griffith Parkin 2014—this time at the L.A. Zoo. Whereas the old DWP Holiday Lights brought motorists careening through the park’s windy roads, the zoo’s fest finds visitors trekking through the front half of the festively illuminated grounds on foot. Though most of the animals will be asleep, you will be able to see wildlife-inspired light-up displays. Standout elements include elephant statues animated with projection mapping, a twinkly light tunnel and a disco-ball–filled forest.
More Christmas things to do in L.A.
Do you want to build a... rainy day fund to save up for tickets to a smash hit Disney-inspired Broadway musical? Good, because Frozen is coming to L.A. The Broadway musical based on the 2013 animated Disney film, will kick off a national tour with a string of fall 2019 performances at Hollywood’s Pantages Theatre.