Uplit trees and illuminated installations have once again dotted the roughly mile-long pathway at the third edition of Lightscape at the L.A. County Arboretum.
For the 2023 season (Nov 17–Jan 2), the Arboretum has “reimagined” the event with a reconfigured route and a majority of new stops along the way. The light cathedral has, of course, made its return, as well as an iteration of the fire garden from Lightscape’s first year in Arcadia. But aside from those, everything else here is new: The field of lights on the front lawn are gone to make room for some welcome seating, while the projections on the Queen Anne Cottage have gone dark this year.
Among the dozen named spots on the trail, a handful of installations are genuinely engaging—with some drawbacks. There’s a thick curtain of light strands you can walk through that’s legitimately trippy (though the walkway is a bit too narrow for all of the posing that’s bound to go on inside). A frame of swinging spotlights bathe the surrounding fog in a colorful glow (just don’t mind the utilitarian truss they sit on). Other areas, like an illuminated forest walk and the chasing lights along the Mario Kart-esque “rainbow road” are certainly photogenic. But large stretches here, particularly in the beginning, are just straight-up uneventful.
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Like Moonlight Forest before it, Lightscape’s glowing sculptures may look remarkably photogenic on your phone but everything in between them often seems sparse in person. The installations rarely feel custom-tailored to the Arboretum’s environs and instead seem picked out of a catalog and plopped onto the side of the walkways.
That would all be fine (and still an instant recommendation) if Lightscape was about half the price. But even with ticket prices down a few dollars this year for some of the early-season evenings, this is still a very expensive event, with admission ranging from $29 to $35 plus a $4 fee and limited $20 on-site parking. Whether or not the cost admission is worth it will largely come down to just how badly you want to pose for photos in that cathedral-like light tunnel.
As a sort-of-moody and wintry but not overly Christmassy light-up display in the San Gabriel Valley, it’s hard not to compare Lightscape to Descanso Gardens’ Enchanted. For about the same price, Enchanted’s mastery of ethereal wonder has Lightscape beat. And not too far down the freeway, L.A. Zoo Lights offers a far more charming package (with free parking, no less). If you can afford it, there’s illuminated beauty to be found at Lightscape—but with things like the pricey parking and single-serving s’mores kits for $11, we can’t really understate just how expensive this is for something that you can zip through in about a half hour.