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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Southern California! There may not be snow on the ground, and the shining sun may make it feel like the perfect 75 degrees, but decorations are popping up at every corner and special holiday events are being held almost daily.
There are so many special Christmas events in Southern California! If you live here or are visiting, we hope you enjoy our guide to Los Angeles Christmas events, Orange County Christmas events, and holiday happenings in San Diego. Updated for the 2019 season!
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Over a million lights twinkle on cleverly decorated boats floating through harbors and canals up and down the Southern California coast. Bundle up your kids, breathe in the cool marine air, and enjoy this quintessential SoCal event. Be sure to find out where the parade starts so that you know the approximate time of when it will float by your location.
Choose from the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights, Huntington Harbor Boat Parade, Dana Point Boat Parade of Lights, Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade, Long Beach’s Parade of 1000 Lights, Channel Island’s Harbor Parade of Lights in Oxnard, Ventura Harbor Parade of Lights, Marina Del Rey Holiday Boat Parade, Naples Long Beach Boat Parade, and the Oceanside Harbor Parade of Lights.
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You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll sing – and then you’ll boo and hiss the evil queen! Sounds like a strange way to enjoy a holiday play but our friends in Great Britain have enjoyed the tradition of Panto for many years, and now thanks to the Lythgoe family, we can enjoy this family-friendly introduction to the theater here in Southern California.
Panto is basically an interactive musical theatre production using classic fairy tale stories with modern scripts and twisting in pop songs, dancing, and interaction with the audience, and then tying it up with a big red Christmas bow. In the 2019 holiday season, enjoy performances of “Peter Pan and Tinkerbell: A Pirate’s Christmas” at the Laguna Playhouse or “A Snow White Christmas” at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.
Dancing Sugar Plum Fairies and sword battles with monkey kings will delight many children. However, it can be hard on kids who can’t sit still for long periods of time. If you have young boys like me who like to blurt out loud, “those tight pants look funny” in a quiet theater, you may enjoy one of these special Nutcracker performances for kids.
In 2019, The Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa will be performing the Nutcracker for kids on Dec 7. Regular performances of the American Ballet Theatre’s production of the Nutcracker will take place on most dates from December 13-22.
The Festival Ballet Theatre will be performing full length Nutcracker shows at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, but the Nutcracker Tea Party might get the kids extra excited to be there. There will be tea sandwiches, treats, lemonade, tea, and champagne to enjoy. Photo opps will be available with Clara, Nutcracker Prince, and the Mouse King.
The San Diego Civic Youth Ballet presents the Nutcracker at the historic Casa Del Prado Theatre in Balboa Park on Dec 13-22. There are special dates for schools and scout groups.
All ages will be enchanted by the children performers of the Red Chair Children’s Production of the Nutcracker at the Alex Theatre in Glendale. On December 13 enjoy a special Friday show geared towards school-aged children. Also at the Alex Theatre, the Los Angeles Ballet is presenting a performance of The Nutcracker on Dec 7 and 8.
A good friend of mine loves taking her daughters to a special Christmas tea every year. They have become holiday treats for families across the Southland. The Langham Huntington, Pasadena will hold their annual Teddy Bear Tea on November 30, and December 1, 7, 8, and 14-24. It includes a story time, photos with Santa, and a marionette puppet show.
At the Great Wolf Lodge of Anaheim, there are several special events and experiences taking place. Check out our guide to Christmas at Great Wolf Lodge for more information.
Make a reservation for the elegant high tea served in the beautiful Rose Garden Tea Room at The Huntington Library of Pasadena or The Tea House on Los Rios in historic San Juan Capistrano. No matter where you take tea, enjoy the sights and tastes of a relaxing and beautiful holiday season.
All tea events require reservations. Please see details on resort websites for ticket prices and reservations.
Southern California is known for its world-class theme parks. Each one celebrates the holidays in grand style with extensive decorations and special events. Visiting these parks during the Christmas season can be twice as fun, extra special, and provide decorative backgrounds for really great photos of your kids!
At Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park experience Knott’s Merry Farm. This event celebrates with the holiday spectacular, “Merry Christmas, Snoopy” ice show, plus parades, carolers and a special Christmas shopping village. This special event runs November through the beginning of January.
The Disneyland Resort is the place to be for a full-fledged holiday celebration. Disney knows how to make memories magical during the holidays with decor, attractions, shows, parades, and fireworks which are sure to get you in the Christmas spirit. We have a full guide to Christmas at Disneyland as well as plenty of “can’t miss” Disneyland tips.
Universal Studios Hollywood is the place to be in Los Angeles for holiday-spirited them park fun! From the magic of Christmas at Hogwarts to Grinchmas, there is so much to get excited about. We have a full guide to Universal Studios Hollywood Christmas attractions and experiences.
There are several exciting happenings at theme parks and zoos across San Diego County. At LEGOLAND California include holiday shows, character meet-and-greets, and wonderful decorations, including the world’s largest LEGO Christmas tree. The Holidays at LEGOLAND event runs November 23 through December 31. We have plenty of great LEGOLAND tips as well as a guide to finding LEGOLAND discounts.
Over at SeaWorld San Diego the Christmas celebration begins November 23 and ends on January 5. Highlights include Santa’s Christmas Village, Rudolph meet-and-greets, and the Happiest Christmas Tree light show. Animal shows with a holiday vibe include Dolphin Island Christmas and Clyde & Seamore’s Christmas Special.
At the San Diego Zoo, park-goers celebrate Jungle Bells December 13 through January 5. Expect holiday lights, special performances, and festive foods.
Read more about San Diego Christmas events. We have a full guide to the fun!
Gliding over the ice, or rather, inching along with your clinging son at your side, can be a great event that creates memories through laughter and exercise. Ice skating outside is twice as fun with sparkling holiday lights and music.
If you are in the Los Angeles area, don’t miss ice skating by the beach at Ice at Santa Monica (November 1-January 20). You will also enjoy skating under the lights of Holiday Ice at L.A. LIVE. Pershing Square ice rink in Downtown LA is another rink you don’t want to miss.
For families in San Diego, what could be a more beautiful picture of winter in California than ice skating next to the beach at the picturesque Hotel Del Coronado with its red peaked roofs and white sandy beach. The Rady Children’s Ice Rink in Liberty Station (open November 14-January 5) is another San Diego skating spot you don’t want to miss.
Ice skate under the stars and the lights of the Giant Wheel at the Irvine Spectrum Center in Orange County beginning November 1. Be sure to check the schedule for Themed Thursdays. Come dressed in theme and receive $5 off!
Explore more places to ice skate in Southern California.
All during December, I hear my little ones shouting in the back seat of the car, “Christmas Lights!!!” at the top of their lungs, just to make sure I see any and all of the twinkling lights that delight them. We often enjoy driving around neighborhoods with hot chocolate or walking the streets with sticky candy canes to enjoy the lights of the season. Here are some extra special light displays to visit this year:
The Festival of Lights is held at the Mission Inn Hotel and Spa in Riverside. It is the most popular Christmas attraction in the Inland Empire. It is free and open to the public nightly from November 29 – December 31. Enjoy thousands of lights and decorations, visits to Santa, carolers, horse-drawn carriage rides, live reindeer, and more!
Don’t miss Christmas Tree Lane in Altadena. It has been recognized as the oldest large-scale outdoor Christmas display in the world. The trees on Santa Rosa Avenue, have been lighted annually since 1920.
In Griffith Park, enjoy LA Zoo Lights. Prepare to be surrounded by glowing animals, a disco ball forest, sparkling snowflakes, and a tunnel filled with twinkling, swirling lights. Hot cocoa and treats are available for purchase.
Kids will love to dance across lily pads of lights at the Enchanted Forest of Light at Descanso Gardens from Nov 17 – Jan 5. Buy your timed ticket in advance.
A towering LED-lit Christmas tree near the Giant Wheel of the Irvine Spectrum in Orange County will come alive with a choreographed light and music show every 30 minutes, from 5 pm until 11 pm throughout the Christmas season.
The San Diego Botanic Gardens host Botanic Wonderland Holiday Nights most nights from December 3-30. Enjoy a stroll through the wonderland of lights in the garden, a musical light show, snow mound, pictures with Santa, crafts, marketplace, and food trucks.
Seasonal festivities for the whole family along with beautiful lighting makes Balboa Park shine at December Nights – Dec 6 & 7 from noon until 11pm. There are several vendors and plenty of entertainment at this wildly popular event. Most of the park’s museums open their doors for free during the evening.
Explore this list of Where to Enjoy Holiday Lights in Los Angeles.
Last December we attended the Sawdust Art Festival Winter Fantasy in Laguna Beach after hearing rave reviews of the annual summer festival. I’ve heard much of the fun crafts, art demonstrations, and beautiful displays that kids and parents enjoy, but what we enjoyed the most was getting to throw clay on a pottery wheel and watch the glass blowing demonstrations.
Los Angeles is a culturally diverse community and there are many ways to celebrate the holidays with kids. Las Posadas, a nightly tradition of acting out the journey of Mary and Joseph through the streets of Nazareth takes place at Olvera Street in Los Angeles nightly from Dec 16-24. Live music begins at 5:30, the procession at 7pm, along with pinatas for children, free sweet bread, and live entertainment.
“Christmas Around the World ” is a great exhibit at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library . It features 26 decorated Christmas trees representing the 26 countries President Reagan visiting while in office.
Other cultural events occur at the Skirball Cultural Center’s Hanukkah Family Festival and the Japanese American National Museum’s Oshogatsu Family Festival celebrating the Japanese New Year.
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Celebrate the holidays at historical sites in SoCal and let an old-fashioned Christmas come alive for your family.
Beginning December 8, Mission San Juan Capistrano will host Capistrano Lights. It involves a nightly tree lighting and live musical program. It continues through January 6, 2020.
Christmas comes to Heritage Hill Historical Park in Lake Forest with the annual Candlelight Walk on Dec 13. There will be more than 1,000 luminarias lighting the park’s pathways. Strolling carolers and musicians help set the holiday scene.
The Holiday in the Village, A La Mesa Tradition transforms the historic downtown streets of La Mesa into a holiday wonderland. There are Victorian decorations and special events on Dec 13 and 14.
Book a room or take a tour of the historic Queen Mary, docked in the harbor of Long Beach to be transported to a Christmas of yesteryear. Light displays and holiday carolers will be on deck to delight guests as well as family-friendly activities and visiting the new captain – Santa!
Visiting Santa is often at the top of most family’s checklist for the season. How much more fun to visit him on a farm or at the end of a train ride!
Bates Nut Farm in Valley Center, north of San Diego, is hosting Christmas in the Valley on Dec 13 and 14.
Take a Polar Express ride to visit Santa Claus and then enjoy live entertainment, crafts, a living nativity, and more. Hop aboard the Christmas Train on the Irvine Park Railroad to visit Santa from Nov 29 – Dec 23. Kids will be delighted to find Santa at the North Pole after their nighttime ride on the train through the park.
Near Santa Clarita, take the North Pole Express to Santa’s Village on the Fillmore & Western Railway Co or the “Sugar Plum Express” to pick out your perfect tree while Santa rides onboard to visit with everyone.
Down south in Campo, reserve a ticket on the Santa Train North Pole Limited and bring kids dressed in jammies for a trip to see Santa at the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum.
Take the train to Santa’s Workshop at the Southern California Railway Museum in the Inland Empire on select dates in December. Kids can enjoy singing songs on the train, visiting Santa and Mrs. Claus, making crafts at Santa’s Workshop, and so much more.
Make reservations for a train ride to Santa today as many of these events book up in advance.
The biggest holiday event in all of Southern California is the world-famous Tournament of Roses Parade. It is held every January 1 in Pasadena. Every year that I watch the parade and see the sun shining down on the beautiful floats covered with flowers, I am reminded of the blessing of living in sunny SoCal.
Our family hasn’t been able to make the commitment of spending the night on the street, yet. We did drive down Colorado Blvd. two days before New Years and our kids were fascinated with the preparations for the grand parade. Take you family to the Showcase of Floats at the end of the parade to see the amazing structures up close.
This article was the winner of a 2015 Visit California Eureka! Award for travel writing and multimedia. Congratulations to Michelle McCoy (author) for this awesome recognition.
Lead image by: Michelle McCoy
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