The 10 best things to do during the holidays in L.A.

Christmas in L.A. isn’t complete until you’ve checked these quintessential, holiday things to do off your list
Christmas in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Photograph: Michael Juliano
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At first glance, L.A. doesn’t seem like it would be a seasonal winter wonderland. But this sunny city is actually a great place to spend the holidays—we go the extra mile to bring the magic of Christmastime to life. Between whimsical, twinkly (even interactive) Christmas lights, holiday markets and ice rinks galore, we’ve got our own set of L.A. holiday traditions that just can’t be beat. ’Tis the season, and here’s how to make the most of it!

RECOMMENDED: Our complete guide to Christmas in Los Angeles

Things to do during Christmastime

Things to do, Festivals

Walk through whimsical woods at “Enchanted: Forest of Light”

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.

Photograph: Courtesy Marina Del Rey Holiday Boat Parade
Things to do, Festivals

See lights float by during the Marina Del Rey Boat Parade

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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Holiday Ice Rink Pershing Square
Photograph: Michael Juliano
Things to do, Ice skating

Glide around an outdoor ice skating rink

Make the city your winter wonderland and add ice skating in Los Angeles to your list of must-do Christmas events this season. These family-friendly rinks offer more than just skates—from wintry food and drinks to ice tubing and meeting Santa, there’s something for everyone. Plus, if you’re still looking for the perfect Christmas gifts, most of the rinks are located within walking distance from prime shopping destinations and holiday markets.

Photograph: Foster Snell
Things to do, Quirky events

Put on your red sweats for SantaCon

SantaCon is a holiday celebration with a pretty simple premise. Get a whole bunch of people to dress up like Santa Claus and hit the town. They party and pub-crawl and have a jolly old time. Want to join in? You’re (really!) going to need a costume; they’re mandatory—and we’re not just talking about a cute Santa hat. The expectation is that you’ll go all red, get creative and really do it up (we’ve also seen Christmas hams, candy canes, etc.). SantaCon is a free, open-invite, self-organizing sort of affair; just show up.

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Hollywood Christmas Parade
Photograph: Courtesy Hollywood Christmas Parade
Things to do

Partake in a bit of kitsch at the Hollywood Christmas Parade

Every year we don our gay apparel (still too tight from Thanksgiving dinner) and head to the Hollywood Walk of Fame as it’s transformed into a winter wonderland. Curbside viewing along the parade route after Highland Avenue is free, and all the action will be televised and broadcasted on the CW Network in case you can’t make it in person. The parade will feature plenty of balloons, marching bands, equestrians and a special magic performance.

George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker
Photograph: Courtesy Alexander Iziliaev
Theater

Feel like a kid with a production of ‘The Nutcracker’

Now through December, theaters across the city are presenting various productions to celebrate the holiday season—including the classic tale of Clara and her magical nutcracker. Stagings vary in quality, but we happen to like George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, which benefits from a live orchestra and whimsical sets.

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Renegade Craft Fair
Photograph: Courtesy Renegade Craft Fair
Shopping

Stock up on gifts at a holiday market

Fed up with mass-produced merchandise and stuffy, crowded stores? Try a holiday market instead. Fortunately, L.A. has a wealth of seasonal craft fairs you can browse if the shopping mall options or big department stores just aren’t your bag.

Christmas lights in Los Angeles: Christmas Tree Lane.
Photograph: Michael Juliano
Things to do

Drive through 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 second Saturday in December (Dec 8, festival at 2pm, lighting at 6pm). Just a heads up: While you may feel inclined to drive through with your headlights off, that would be illegal.

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

Spend Christmas at Hogwarts in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

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,” 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.

Things to do

Scope out massive lanterns at Moonlight Forest

Wander through gardens filled with massive lanterns, shimmering flowers and whimsical dragons as the L.A. County Arboretum lights up for Moonlight Forest. The first-ever timed-ticket, nighttime event to be held across the grounds of the Arcadia botanical garden includes a slew of parade-float-–sized Chinese lanterns, like dragons, peacocks and temples.

Before you know it, it’ll be New Year’s Eve

Bootie LA NYE
Photograph: Joe Stewart, courtesy Bootie LA
Things to do

New Year’s Eve in Los Angeles

Ready to part ways with 2018? Whether you’re just visiting or a seasoned local, our guide to New Year’s Eve in Los Angeles will help you find the best events and parties in the city—from family-friendly activities to adult affairs. Whatever your plans, get ready for the best New Year’s ever. Hello, new year!

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