Christmas in L.A.: A Guide to the Festive Season in the City of Angels
Los Angeles sparkles even brighter during the holiday season. Christmas lights glow throughout the neighborhoods, festive events fill the calendar, and palm trees don elaborate decorations in this sunny winter wonderland. Experience the magic of the season across this sprawling city.
Weather and What to Pack
Temperatures in December typically range from overnight lows in the upper 40s F to daytime highs around 70 F. While rain is unlikely, be prepared with layers for both warm afternoons and crisp evenings. Don't let the sunshine fool you - bring a jacket! Other packing essentials include sunscreen, sunglasses, and comfortable walking shoes to explore the city.
Top 10 Things to Do for the Holidays
The holiday spirit takes over Los Angeles with these classic activities:
Take in the Views During “Christmas Tree Lane”
For over 60 years on Santa Rosa Avenue in Altadena, locals have put up elaborate Christmas lights synchronized to music. Walk under the canopy of lights lining the street dubbed “Christmas Tree Lane” and hear festive tunes fill the air.
Experience Holiday Magic at The Grove
The faux snow falls nightly at this popular shopping center. Pose by the 110-foot tree, glance at toy displays in storefronts, catch a show, browse the Christmas market, and stay for choreographed water fountain shows.
Check Out Neighborhood Light Displays
In Los Angeles, locals decorate homes to extremes for the annual Griffith Park Celebration of Lights and the neighborhoods of Naples Island in Long Beach and Candy Cane Lane have not-to-be-missed residential light displays.
Visit Popular Christmas Markets and Pop-Ups
Los Angeles has Christmas markets and bazaars in all sizes, from small neighborhood gatherings to large installations at downtown LA Live or Santa Monica Place. Shop for handcrafted gifts, sip on hot chocolate or mulled wine, and feast on festive foods.
Stroll an Idyllic Coastal Christmas Setting
For nostalgic coastal Christmas vibes straight out of a movie, visit crystal pier in Redondo Beach or the historic Charles Moore-designed Naples Canals decked out colorfully thanks to the residents.
Splash in the Snow at Big Bear Lake
Head 100 miles northeast of the city for a real white Christmas getaway. Big Bear Lake transforms into a winter playground with skiing, snowboarding, natural snow, and lots of alpine charm.
Watch a Play or Holiday Show
Hear the Peanuts gang in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” play out on stage or check the schedules for festive versions of “The Nutcracker,” Handel’s Messiah, and A Christmas Carol. You could even enjoy Mariachi Christmas concerts!
Give Back This Season
Volunteer at local charities or consider doing a toy drive for underserved children. Many restaurants and businesses also collect money, clothes, or food donations.
Explore Festive Museums and Exhibits
The mansions of Hearst Castle shine especially bright with holiday decor and down in L.A., the Natural History Museum converts into a dazzling winter light experience while the zoo has a dazzling Lights Before Christmas installation.
Get Photos With Santa
Mall Santas populate across Los Angeles from Santa Monica Place to The Grove, giving visitors ample chance to capture a pic with the big man himself. Stand in line or make reservations in advance.
Unique Aspects of a Los Angeles Christmas
Beyond just palm trees decked out in lights, Los Angeles has its own festive flourishes:
- Movie Magic - Paramount Studio's backlots undergo stunning Christmas makeovers with perfect snow and classic holiday vibes. At Universal Studios you can have Grinchmas with Whoville decor, shows, and characters.
- Surfing Santa - Each year in Santa Monica you can catch Saint Nick on a surfboard instead of a sleigh! Hundreds splash into the ocean wearing red hats for this fun annual charity event on Christmas Eve morning.
- Celebrity Sightings - As awards season heats up, movie stars frequent holiday parties. Keep your eyes peeled for famous faces perhaps picking up some holiday treats at the shops.
- Outrageous Decorations - Angelenos go ALL out decorating their homes, with neighborhoods competing on dramatic light displays and inflatable scenes covering entire yards. You simply need to drive around to catch the action!
Holiday Culinary Traditions
The Los Angeles dining scene satisfies cravings for festive flavors from tamales at Grand Central Market to Chinese feasts, Christmas pastries, and more:
- Local Tamale Shops - Support L.A.’s Hispanic community by sampling tamales wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves during the holidays. Try Ramirez Tamales, La Mascota Bakery, or Ana Maria's, known for their signature red and green tamales.
- Chinese Feasts - For Chinese families, enjoying a meal out is a core part of Lunar New Year and Christmas celebrations. San Gabriel Valley is home to exceptional Chinese fare while China Town has more affordable feasts. Try Sea Harbour, CBS Seafood, or Lunasia to indulge.
- Christmas Pastries - You can’t celebrate without a yule log (buche de noel) or colorful Christmas bread decorated with fruits and nuts. Hit up your local French bakery or try proof bakery and Republique.
- Christmas Market Treats - At holiday markets and neighborhood gatherings, sample international Christmas snacks like Italian panettone, German stollen, and British mince pies. And of course enjoy local Mexican hot chocolate too!
- Seasonal Craft Beverages - From peppermint mochas to rosé cider mulled wine, Los Angeles coffee shops and bars concoct delicious Christmas drink recipes to enjoy.
Getting in the Festive Spirit
The holiday season sparks joy across Los Angeles from Santa hat pub crawls to ugly sweater contests, caroling events, and festive concerts. Check Eventbrite for happenings during your stay. A giant Christmas tree towers in front of the Iconic Santa Monica Pier Ferris wheel glowing against the night sky. Skaters whirl around the seasonal ice rink in Pershing Square downtown as music fills the air. Meanwhile in cozy local bars, contestants belt out Christmas karaoke hoping to win some extra holiday cash. As vibrant as year-round fun in the sun feels in Los Angeles, the chill in the air and festive decor make it an enchanting atmosphere from Thanksgiving through New Years. Locals exude seasonal cheer across this diverse city.
Booking Travel and Accommodation
As one of the largest cities in the United States anchored by the film industry, Los Angeles has booming tourism year-round meaning flights, hotels, and activities fill up fast, especially over Christmas and New Years when some hotels impose minimum night stays.
Book all legs of your trip 4-6 months out for the best prices and availability. Flexible dates help, but expect holiday rate hikes. Consider staying outside the city center given the spread out nature of attractions to save money at places like Long Beach or Pasadena adjacent to key activities.
Public transit improves but still has major gaps, so visitors should consider renting a car for the best chance to catch all the holiday magic across Los Angeles if in town for more than 2-3 days.
FAQs: Holiday Happenings in Los Angeles
What is there to do on Christmas Eve and Day? Many popular attractions like museums and amusement parks remain open Christmas Eve while restaurants serve special holiday menus. Some spots host Christmas Eve events like candlelight church services. On Christmas Day, most major attractions close, but movie theaters, several museums, and lots of Chinese and ethnic restaurants keep their doors open, as do hotels and of course Santa Monica beach!
Are there public Christmas events or free light displays to see? Yes! The beloved Griffith Park light festival dazzles audiences every year for free. And neighborhoods like Naples Island host elaborate light displays visible from the sidewalk. You can also usually find free performances, concerts, and community gatherings like the Marina Del Rey Holiday Boat Parade.
What should I know about driving around the holidays? Allow for extra time getting places as traffic intensifies across Los Angeles through the new year with tourists joining locals. Avoid driving on December 24th and 25th when possible. Last minute shopping trips create gridlock!
What’s the weather typically like around Christmas? Surprisingly pleasant! Think sun shining with temperatures in the 60s Fahrenheit during the afternoon then cooling off at night into the 40s or 50s. Pack layers and don’t worry about winter coats or snow shoes!
When do the best holiday deals happen? Shop early specials running late November for the best stock of gifts and decor then go back for post-Christmas clearances to score major discounts for any purchases you still wanted to make after December 25th since retailers slash prices.
Are holiday tipping customs different in LA? Many service staff depend on a “holiday bonus” in order to make rents in this expensive city similar to NYC. Tip 20%+ for exceptional service if possible. And tip your hotel cleaning staff a few dollars a day as well.
Is public transit a viable option for seeing holiday attractions? Yes and no. Central areas downtown have decent subway access. But connectivity drops off elsewhere. Visitors staying 4+ days should consider an Uber/Lyft or rental car to catch more spread out events across the city.
How early should I make holiday activity reservations? Mark your calendar to book tickets for tours, shows, specialty dining, and more as early as September or October especially for dates right around Christmas and New Years. Availability disappears rapidly during the holidays since LA fills with visitors.
What type of clothing and shoes should I pack? Functional fashion fits Los Angeles perfectly during the holidays. Bring stylish jeans, festive blouses, sweaters, and jackets for comfort while walking between activities plus some dressier eveningwear options should you attend any holiday parties. And don’t forget sunglasses - the sun will still shine brightly most days!
People also ask
Where can I see holiday lights displays? Head to Griffith Park, Candy Cane Lane, Naples Islands plus Bel Air, Hollywood Hills, and Pacific Palisades neighborhoods for fabulous light displays.
What Christmas events happen in Los Angeles? You’ll find holiday concerts, Christmas-themed plays and musicals, meet Santa opportunities, festivals, markets, parades, and parties across LA for Christmas.
Where should I eat for Christmas dinner in LA? Celebrity chef restaurants BOA Steakhouse, Catch LA, and Sugarfish host special Christmas menus. Reserve months in advance for a holiday feast! Or grab Chinese food, casual Italian, or even movie theater popcorn, which attract long lines Christmas evening.
How expensive is Los Angeles at Christmastime? Hotel rates spike and crowds flock here over the holidays. Pack your patience and secure reservations for key activities/dining far in advance to enjoy LA affordably and comfortably this Christmas.