Best Places for Christmas in Southern California

While California doesn’t have the snow and cold that ushers in the Christmas spirit for most of the United States, there are still a ton of great events that allow you to get into the holiday spirit. While I cannot speak for the epic celebrations in Northern California, here are my favorite ways to enjoy the holiday season in Southern California.

The Mission Inn Festival of Lights


The Mission Inn is one of the premier holiday light events in Southern California. Every year this famous hotel gets completely decked out in Christmas lights and it creates a unique and free night for the whole family to enjoy called The Festival of Lights. You can walk through the hotel and see their inside decorations or simply walk around the outside and up the street to enjoy pictures with Santa, a small ice skating rink and all of the festive food treats you can possibly eat. This is a great holiday tradition to create with your family as it is a free event that you can make as long or as short as you would like.

Chill Ice Kingdom at the Queen Mary

Chill is a winter wonderland located right in the dome next to the Queen Mary. This ice kingdom features dozens of different ice sculptures complete with a 24 foot ice replica of the Queen Mary. It has ice slides, animals and a walk through ice castle, and around the outside there is ice skating and tubing. Make sure to dress warmly though as even with the provided parka it is a cool 7 degrees in the ice kingdom.

Ice Skating at Pershing Square in Los Angeles or Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego

pershing square

Usually open from mid-November to mid-January this large ice rink right in the center of LA is in its 15th season of bringing a little cold weather fun to sunny Southern California. This is a great place to hang out with friends, enjoy Christmas Concerts and events and ice skate for only $6 for an hour and $2 for skate rentals. I love making the trek down here as it’s a fun way to pretend like you live in a city where ice actually does freeze on the ground, without having to drive in it. Also, in San Diego you can ice skate overlooking the beach and ocean at the famous Hotel Del Coronado. It is a very California Christmas thing to do to combine the beach with ice skating.

Newport Boat Parade (December 16-20, 2015)

newport christmas boat parade22

Called one of the ten best holiday happenings in the United States, the Newport Boat Parade is a truly unique event. Every year for the last 100 people have participated by designing their million dollar yachts to enter them into this four-day parade. It is not even crazy to hear people have spent over 50,000 dollars just decorating their boats. While this is excessive, there really are some amazing decorations. You can read my post about how to watch it here.

Logan’s Candy Cane Making Demonstration

Logans Candies 6

You have eaten a candy cane I am sure, but have you ever seen how they are made? Logan’s Candies is a unique shop with 80 years of history that is still making candy canes the same way they were in 1933. During the Christmas season they have awesome free demonstrations that will show you how the candy cane is made from start to finish and for $1.50 you can even get a warm candy cane that you can mold however your heart sees fit, sure to be a fun adventure for the whole family and may even be a new tradition. More information here.

Robolights in Palm Springs


Robolights is a 8.4 million light display on 4 acres in Palm Springs. It is full of strange statues and awesome creations. I loved visiting this spot and while it is a strange spot for sure, I can easily say it was a very fun way to spend a California Christmas night. Read more about it here.

Thoroughbred St in Rancho Cucamonga

thoroughbred st

As many have mentioned in the comments, Thoroughbred St in Rancho Cucamonga is a great free way to get into the Christmas spirit. Every year after Thanksgiving the neighbors start to decorate their houses and people begin flocking to this small street. The neighbors are out interacting with all the passer bys, and some even sell hot chocolate and churros. You can take the whole family and have a nice stroll, but make sure to respect peoples properties as they do this out of the kindness of their hearts.

Balboa Park December Nights (Dec 4 & 5, 2015)

Balboa Nights-13

For the 38th consecutive year, Balboa Park becomes a beacon for Christmas in San Diego. Located in El Prado, this event is visited by over 300,000 people each year and features dozens of vendors, concerts, food and entertainment. Add to that the fact that the museum themselves usually open their doors free of charge for a few hours during the event and you have the recipe for a fantastic night full of holiday spirit. Read more about it here.

Holiday of Lights Drive in Del Mar (not open for Christmas 2015)

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From Thanksgiving to New Years you can visit the Del Mar Racetrack and purchase a $15 dollar ticket for a mile and a half drive through the West Coast’s largest animated drive-though light show. Holiday of Lights website describes the even as More than 400 twinkling, lively displays located around the Del Mar Racetrack will delight your family and make it your holiday tradition.

Take the Lift to Mt Baldy

If you are looking for a traditional day in the snow, buy a lift ticket up to the top of Mt Baldy. At over 8,000 feet of elevation, this area has snow for the family to play in (weather permitting), snowboard, hiking and even a restaurant if you just want to relax and take in the views. I love heading up here every year to snowboard but even if you are just playing around or watching a sunset it is a fun way to get a white Christmas in Southern California.

Downtown LA Walking Tour

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If you are looking to get the blood moving then consider a walking tour of downtown Los Angeles which can take you to a lot of the spots that light up for Christmas. You can read about my time on the tour here.

Hydro Bike in the Long Beach Harbor to See the Lights

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Another super unique way to see the California Christmas lights would be to take a hydro bike along the harbor in Long Beach. This is an active and fun experience which lets you see all of the houses up close. I was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed it and how easy it was to learn (your legs will be tired though). Often there are deals on Groupon or Living Social for this as well.

Solvang: California’s Danish town at Christmas

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This one is a little outside of traditional Southern California as it is about 3 hours from LA but if you are driving up the 101 it is fun to stop and see all the decorations in this historic little Danish town. You can see my pictures from my time in Solvang for Christmas here or check it out for yourself. Make sure to grab a treat from one of the bakeries, there is a lot of awesome bakeries up there.

So there is my list, I would love to hear if you think I left something off as I am always looking for new adventures. Make sure to leave them in the comments.

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  • Great post. My family and I went to the Mission Inn Festival of Lights this year for the first time and we really had a good time. My one compaint is that my wife tried to get me trapped in the huge crowds.

    Another Christmas travel idea is the Irvine Park Christmas parade. I wrote a short post which can be found here.

    • Thanks for the comment and the recommendation!

  • AaronAaronAaronAaron

    Mt. Baldy was the first place i ever went snowboarding. I think you were there. I don’t remember the scenery, I was too busy worrying about staying alive.

  • Barbara Richards

    It’s this time of year, the holidays, that I miss California the most. I’m heart and home sick ….

    • Thanks for the comment! It is a great place for Christmas, so much to do and you only have to deal with snow if you want to go to the mountains.

  • Judy Green

    I’m from the east coast. Looking for the Christmas spirit in So Cal. I will check these places out. #fingerscrossed

    • Thanks for the comment and hope some of these adventures help you to find a SoCal Christmas!

  • LN56

    Thoroughbred Street lights are also fun every year! And FREE!!!

    • Agreed, that is a great spot I need to add to the list!

  • Thanks for the recommendation that is a great idea for the list!

  • Joybot

    Been there done that.

  • OhMicki

    Inland Pacific Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” … 17 performances from Nov. 29 – Dec. 27th at four locations: Arcadia Performing Arts Center, Arcadia; Lewis Family Playhouse, Rancho Cucamonga; Bridges Auditorium, Claremont; and Fox Performing Arts Center, Riverside. Beautiful performance every year.

    • Thanks for the comment that sounds like a lot of fun!

  • Pen

    Nothing about events in San Diego? So bits of SoCal then…

    • I would love to add more from San Diego, please let me know where I should go!

      • Stacy Jennings

        Seaport Village, Carlsbad Forum, Encinitas Botanical Gardens, Bates Nut Farm, San Diego Zoo, Sea World, Coronado

        • Thank you! I will have to check a few of these out this year!

  • Beth

    Ummm…. Candy cane lane is a freaking tradition in SoCal

    • Thanks for the comment, I will be adding that in soon!

  • Kathleen Casey

    Victorian House Christmas Tours
    Holiday Festivity
    December 06, 2014 — December 28, 2014 Recurring weekly on Saturday, Sunday
    10-4 Saturday, 1-4 Sunday
    Heritage Square
    715 South A Street
    Oxnard, CA 93030

    • Thanks for the awesome suggestion!

  • Thats awesome, thanks for the recommendation. I will have to check it out next year!

  • Bill Henderson

    Manning St Yucaipa.