Sometimes it doesn’t feel like Christmas in Southern California with our gorgeous palm trees and sunny weather. That’s when I seek something special to get me in the Christmas spirit. Whether you’re a local or visiting for the holidays, here are 12 festive holiday activities in OC and LA. These holiday outings would also be great ideas for gifting experiences, which I talked about here.
Balboa Island in Newport Beach is my favorite spot to go and house watch. Some houses have such creative themes and the island even hosts an annual contest for best decorated. Hit up the Balboa Fun Zone first for hot cocoa, funnel cake, or a Balboa Bar before you set off across the ferry to the island. I love doing this with my family and bringing our fur babies in their matching Christmas sweaters.
Visiting the Sleepy Hollow houses in Torrance is another fun and festive outing, despite its eerie name. I visited with friends once for my birthday and it undoubtedly put us all in a jolly mood. The houses here are just as creatively decorated as the houses on Balboa Island, just much closer to Los Angeles. This is a free activity and is pet and kid friendly.
As Disneyland annual passholders, we look forward to Christmas at Disneyland every year. Christmas at Disneyland is even more magical than a regular visit. We went this past weekend and they really outdid themselves this year. The special shows, festive decorations, and holiday themed foods make Disneyland a truly unique place to visit this month. There’s a lot going on, so check out the holiday happenings here. The festivities run until January 6 and ticket prices vary depending on day.
During the holidays, Descanso Gardens transforms into an Enchanted Forest of Light. This interactive nighttime experience consists of various light displays where guests get to manipulate lights and sounds. I’ve never visited, but maybe this will be the year. Their special holiday exhibition run until January 5.
The Los Angeles Zoo lights up during the holiday season. If you’re an animal lover, then this is such a special time to experience the zoo. You’ll experience the world’s largest illuminated pop up storybook and a disco ball forest. Oh what fun! Their holiday lights stay up until January 5.
Mission Inn is a hotel located in downtown Riverside with not much to show for in my opinion. That is until the holidays roll around. The stunning light installation around the inn is one of the most impressive I’ve seen. Around downtown, you’ll also be able to enjoy horse drawn carriages and other holiday festivities.
San Diego is a great destination for tons of fun holiday activities without the cold weather. If you’re a dog lover, the annual Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade is happening on December 15 from 12PM-5PM. Walking around the Hotel del Coronado is always fun and Winter Wonderland at Fairmont Grand del Mar sounds so cozy with a fire pit for s’mores, carolers, and a champagne garden. You can also visit my favorite shop Pigment for cute holiday decorations and gifts.
Sawdust Festival showcases artists and makers in Orange County. I’ve been before, but not during the holidays when they put on their Winter Fantasy Festival. There you’ll find holiday themed classes, visits to Santa, carolers, a petting zoo, falling snow, and festive decorations. This would also be a great place to buy unique holiday gifts for your loved ones. The festival is open these following dates: December 14, 15, 20, 21, 22.
Visiting Skypark in Lake Arrowhead is the perfect holiday adventure for a family with young children. It’s probably the closest thing in Southern California to being transported to the North Pole. You can experience a white Christmas while ice skating, toy building, sipping tea with Mrs. Claus, and breakfast with Santa. Skypark is open year round, but Santa leaves after January 5.
For a proper California Christmas experience, head down to Crystal Cove and eat right next to the waves at The Beachcomber Cafe. It’s quite unreal to see a Christmas tree right on the sand, and the surrounding houses look just as merry. Then take a quick walk and grab a shake at Crystal Cove Shake Shack. If you’re in Los Angeles, check out Smorgasburg Holiday Market for themed food and drinks. For a fancier meal, head to Lawry’s in Beverly Hills. The prime rib dinner will leave you in such high holiday spirits with their old school carolers.
Ice skating is always a fun winter activity. If you’re in Los Angeles, try outdoor skating at L.A. Live in downtown or head toward the ocean and skate at Ice at Santa Monica. If you’re in Orange County, show off your skating skills at OC Chill Ice Rink at the Irvine Spectrum.
It wouldn’t be a trip to California without some shopping. Century City Mall is hands down the most festive mall, equipped with a skating rink and pop up Christmas markets. Other festive shopping in the LA region can be found at The Grove or Americana. If you’re in Orange County and love a good home and garden store, stroll through Roger’s Gardens and maybe even catch lunch out on their scenic restaurant, Farmhouse.