14 things to do in winter in L.A.
It might defy East Coast common sense, but winter is the perfect time to go to the beach. Sure, the water temperature is hypothermia-inducing, but it always is, and let’s be honest: you had no plans to get wet anyway. Beach city temperatures typically flirt with 70 degrees during the winter, which is cold enough to keep tourists away but warm enough to relax with a comfy sweatshirt—that counts as winter wear, right?
Ice skating isn’t synonymous with winter in Los Angeles; we’d instead file it under “ways to make it feel like Christmas.” But there are still a handful of outdoor rinks that stay frozen through January and February. Whether you’re looking to glide in the shadows of Downtown’s skyscrapers or in Santa Monica’s ocean breeze, lace up those skates before the plentiful sunshine gets the best of the rinks.
Climb up into the hills before those sweaty summertime days—and crowds—return. And did we mention the views? The best part of the rainy season (other than, you know, having water to drink) has to be the clear skies that showers leave behind. Just make sure to keep in mind the cooler temperatures and fleeting daylight before you set out on your trek.
One of the greatest things about winters in Los Angeles? Never scraping ice off of your windshield or slipping on an icy sidewalk. But if you’re pining for snow, leave the comfortable 70s in the L.A. Basin behind and head into the mountains. You don’t need to drive up to Mammoth Mountain and the Sierras to go skiing; both Mountain High and the slopes around Big Bear are within two hours of L.A. Ride the ski lift at Mt. Baldy for a snowy escape within an hour of the city. Or, if you simply want to roll up a few snow balls, follow the Angeles Crest Highway for about 45 minutes—just past Newcombs Ranch—and you’ll find plenty of turnouts brushing up against snowy hills.
When the sun sets early and that Pacific Ocean breeze blows in, it’s time to head for the flames. These fireplace bars keep us warm with crackling flames and seasonal cocktails all season long. Pardon our pun, but let’s get lit!
We never need an excuse to visit L.A.’s excellent institutions—especially when we’ve been bestowed with so many free museums. But those rare cold, rainy winter days present the perfect opportunity to catch up on some exhibitions, free of the throngs of summer crowds.
It’s easy to take L.A.’s brutally pleasant winters for granted, but let’s look at things from an outsider’s perspective: This would be the perfect vacation spot if you didn’t already live in Los Angeles. So why not take advantage of the city’s assets and check into a swanky hotel or oceanside spa for the weekend? Plus, you won’t have to waste wintertime’s dearth of federal holidays on traveling—traffic on the 405 permitting.
Twice a year, the city’s eateries ramp up for a week-plus stretch of prix-fixe menus where diners can check out some of the best restaurants and best dishes in Los Angeles. During DineLA Restaurant Week, tasty meal deals can be had, and cheap eats scored—you’ll want to make sure to check out our picks for the best DineLA lunch and dinner menus.
Lunar New Year celebrations in L.A. last into mid-February with plenty of events and things to do, from a century-old Chinatown parade to kids activities like paper-lantern making. Need to feed your belly for an auspicious year ahead? Slurp some of the city’s best noodle dishes and cheap eats or check out our favorite dim sum. Whether you’re celebrating a long-running family tradition or experiencing the holiday for the first time, join the Chinese New Year festivities for a year of good luck and fortune.
Pause for a moment and give thanks that our winter colors are a vibrant, grassy green and a range of floral pastels—not brown and white. Los Angeles is a pretty amazing place; stick practically any plant in the ground and it’ll grow almost any time of year. Even though some of us can reach out our windows and pluck an avocado from a tree, a trip to one of L.A.’s many manicured gardens reveals vegetation that simply can’t be found on our city streets.
Agoraphobes rejoice: Winter weekdays are the best time to visit Disneyland (or Knott’s and Universal) without having to navigate around mobs of double-wide strollers. The park feels that much more magical when you can get onto Splash Mountain without having to roast in the sun first—though be warned, it’s just as wet in the winter. The off-peak season has its drawbacks—some of the Disneyland rides are down for refurbishment and the park closes earlier—but we’ll take it for slightly shorter waits. Just a quick note: When we first published this story a few years ago, we deemed this time period “almost deserted,” but the ever-growing popularity of Disneyland has downgraded the winter to “slightly less crowded.”
How do we fuel ourselves to get through those not-so-bitter cold days? Coffee. And lots of it. Whether it’s paired with a fantastic brunch or enjoyed solo, good java is a necessary winter—and, really, anytime—staple. But where can you find great coffee? And what makes a good coffee shop? To help you find the perfect cup, we’ve sipped our way through the best coffee shops in town.
Looking to get away during the winter?
It may seem paradoxical, but of all the wonderful reasons we’re in love with L.A. and all the amazing things there are to do here, one of the best is the freedom to escape at any moment. To hop in the car, crank up some road trip songs and hit the pavement for somewhere new. Whether you’re itching for a spontaneous weekend getaway or have months to plan an extended vacation, we’ve compiled the best road trips for all kinds of adventuring.