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SoCal's Brightest Holiday Lights And Where To Find Them

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Sure, a Christmas tree and strings of lights around the house are nice. But what if you're the sort of maximalist who wants to see thousands, even millions, of lights? These Southern California destinations will indulge those grid-draining desires.


On Nov. 23, the day after Thanksgiving, the Mission Inn in Riverside flips the switch on its annual Festival of Lights. With 5 million twinklers and 200 animated characters, it's one of the largest holiday lighting displays in the country -- and it's free. After the opening ceremonies, which includes a full fireworks display, you can walk around the mission-style hotel's grounds, bathed in the glow through January 6.
3649 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside

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People visit the Enchanted Forest of Light preview at Descanso Gardens in La Canada Flintridge, California on November 21, 2016. (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images) (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)


Every winter, Descanso Gardens in La Cañada adorns its lush greenery with lights for Enchanted: Forest of Light. The interactive, nighttime experience features a one-mile walk through several illuminated areas of the botanical garden including a luminescent forest and an interactive art experience.

Forest of Light runs 5:30-10 p.m. nightly through January 6. The attraction is closed Nov. 22, Dec. 24 and Dec. 25. Tickets are timed and must be purchased in advance. They cost $28-30, general admission.
1418 Descanso Dr., La Cañada Flintridge.


Animals aren't the only attraction at the Los Angeles Zoo during the holidays. L.A. Zoo Lights is a nighttime attraction that includes giant glowing snowflakes, a disco-ball forest, glittering tunnels, a water show with a fountain and lasers and a whimsical herd of animated elephants. While most of the zoo's animals will be off limits (they need to sleep too), you can enjoy a self-guided 60-90-minute tour, take pictures with Santa on selected dates (for an extra fee) or visit a reindeer family in the Reindeer Romp.

Zoo Lights runs 6-10 p.m. nightly through Jan. 6. The attraction is closed Nov. 22, Dec. 24 and Dec. 25. Tickets cost $12-17 for children ages 2-12 and $12-22 for adults. Zoo members receive a discount.
5333 Zoo Dr., Los Angeles.


This Southern California tradition features glowing, festively decorated boats floating through several waterfront communities.

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This new, month-long, immersive nighttime art experience takes over Grand Park in downtown L.A. with 12 acres of art, projections, light displays, exhibits and installations. Even the fountain will "shine in new and exciting ways" and familiar pathways will "lead to exciting new discoveries."

Winter Glow is free and from Dec. 1-21, from sunset until 10 p.m.
200 N. Grand Ave., downtown L.A.


Lanterns shaped like flowers, pandas, dragons and other animals creates the mesmerizing Moonlight Forest. You'll also get to see live acrobats, dancers and other performers. Free parking.

Moonlight Forest is open Wednesday through Sunday and runs through January 6 with ticketed entry times at 5:30 p.m., 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. (it closes at 10 p.m.). Tickets cost $20 to $28. Arboretum members can get a 15% discount.
301 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia.

A holiday light display on Thoroughbred St. in Rancho Cucamonga (Photo by mbtrama/Flickr Creative Commons)


Southern California is famous for its Candy Cane Lanes, areas where the residents go all out to adorn their homes in holiday style. Despite the traffic and unhappiness of some residents, these next level neighborhoods continue to draw thousands of visitors each holiday season.

  • Altadena - Santa Rosa Ave. between Woodbury Ave. and Altadena Dr. -- On Dec. 8, there will be an arts and crafts festival at 2 p.m. followed by a tree lighting ceremony at 6 p.m.
  • Woodland Hills - 5966 Lubao Ave.
  • Santa Clarita - 21865 Copper Hill Dr.
  • El Segundo - 1200 block of E. Acacia Ave.
  • Torrance - Sleepy Hollow neighborhood on Pacific Coast Highway at Calle Mayor
  • Rancho Cucamonga - Thoroughbred St. at Sapphire St.
  • Brea - 2970 Primrose Ave.
Santa Claus flies above the Christmas tree at the Grove in 2006. (Josua/Flickr Creative Commons)


If you're looking for a noble fir, you don't have to look far. L.A. County lights up its official tree at Grand Park on Monday, Nov. 26. Loads of other cities, from San Gabriel (Tue., Dec. 4) to Culver City (Thu., Dec. 6), also host their own holiday tree lightings around this time of year.

The Grove lights up its 100-foot tall, white fir tree, which is adorned with more than 15,000 lights, the weekend before Thanksgiving, along with many other shopping malls -- and most of these events are free. A quick internet search should help you locate one near you.


We didn't forget. Every winter, Disneyland and California Adventure don their sparkliest apparel, giving rides, attractions and nighttime shows a Christmas theme. This year's holiday celebration runs from November 9 to January 6. Standouts include Sleeping Beauty's Castle and It's a Small World.
1313 Disneyland Dr., Anaheim.

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