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Christmas in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Photograph: Michael Juliano

The best Christmas events in Los Angeles

Your guide to the best holiday events and activities in L.A., from tree lightings to holiday performances

Michael Juliano
Edited by
Michael Juliano
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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 and you’re confined to your living room or your car. With outdoor movie screenings and decorations in botanical gardens, 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 best Christmas events in L.A.

  • Things to do
  • Festivals
  • La Cañada

Discovery and wonder abound across the 10 or so 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.

  • Things to do
  • Festivals

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.

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  • Movies

Street Food Cinema has put together a series of outdoor holiday screenings in the closest thing to a Dickensian town square in L.A.: Heritage Square. In between Victorian home tours, piano sing-alongs, strolls through a light tunnel and sips on hot chocolate, mulled wine and craft beer, you can catch screenings of flicks (showing twice each night, at 6 and 8pm) like ElfHome Alone, A Christmas Carol and more. Just make sure to bundle up in your best Christmas sweater.

 

  • Things to do

The L.A. Zoo is staying open after dark every night through January during this holiday tradition. 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. In recent years, its earlier quirky and kitsch qualities have given way to a more polished experience thanks to the addition of a twinkly tunnel, Chinese lanterns and a shimmering wall of lights.

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  • Things to do
  • Event spaces
  • Anaheim
  • price 3 of 4

As soon as the Halloween pumpkins disappear from Main Street, the holidays take over at Disneyland. The beloved theme park turns into the merriest place on earth for a full two months (Nov 12–Jan 9), 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” (which is temporarily closed, but still lit up).

  • Things to do

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. You’ll want to hang around after dusk for “The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts,” (Nov 26–Jan 2) 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.

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  • Music
  • Downtown

This year's event will no longer have an in-person audience but will still be streamed online.

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. See more than 20 choirs, music ensembles and dance troupes from all over the city. The free three-hour show—you’re welcome to come and go as your please—celebrates L.A.’s multicultural observation of the holidays with everything from an all-female mariachi ensemble to a Korean dance troupe.

  • Things to do
  • Ice skating

The annual L.A. Kings ice skating rink once again returns to L.A. Live. Skate around the dazzling Christmas tree that stands in the middle of the outdoor rink, and take in an LED holiday light show on the huge screens around the plaza.

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