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  • Writer's pictureWanderlust Mike

Top 3 Places to Experience the Holiday Season in Southern California: Los Angeles, San Diego, and Big Bear

With Southern California's mild Mediterranean climate, you might not think of us first when it comes to the Winter holiday season. But from sunny beaches to snow-capped mountains, I guarantee your holiday time spent here will be a wonderful, festive experience you'll never forget!


We begin our holiday season at home in Los Angeles, California. Some of our perennial favorites to get us in the Christmas spirit include the annual light displays on the grounds of the L.A. County Arboretum in Arcadia, and the L. A. Zoo Lights. Walking through their colorful light displays, with holiday music playing, is a festive way to enjoy the season.

Los Angeles Zoo lights

In our South Bay neighborhood of Los Angeles we enjoy shops adorned in holiday spirit. Along the Redondo Beach Riviera, on a Thursday following Thanksgiving, they hold an annual Holiday Stroll with live music, a parade, holiday displays and other festivities! Once the shops are decorated they stay that way throughout the rest of the season.

In Manhattan Beach, every year before Thanksgiving, the city of Manhattan Beach holds an annual holiday lighting of Manhattan Beach Pier with festive displays, choirs, strolling carolers, live reindeer, and even a visit by Santa Claus! Once again, once the shops decorate and begin to sell their holiday ware they remain that way for the rest of the holiday season.

Photos with Santa - Redondo Beach Riviera Village

manhattan beach pier holiday sunset
Manhattan Beach Pier holiday lighting

The Torrance neighborhood holiday lights display and Candy Cane Lane in El Segundo (location) are also nice places to stroll around and enjoy the beautiful homes and yards decorated in lights. Candy Cane Lane was made famous from the 2023 Amazon Prime movie of the same name starring Eddie Murphy.

And South Coast Botanic Garden in Rancho Palos Verdes is occasionally all aglow as well!

Candy Cane Lane - El Segundo

Astra Lumina - South Coast Botanic Garden

Attending the elaborate and lavish holiday displays at The Grove in downtown Los Angeles is always a treat! These displays include a life-sized gingerbread house where you can get your photo taken with Santa Claus, an operating street trolley, beautiful mosaic mirrored stars and light posts, Santa and his sleigh flying high above a water fountain, and a 110 foot tall Christmas tree!

The Grove is a high-end, outdoor shopping plaza featuring retail shops, restaurants & a movie theater. It is also the location of many live entertainment broadcasts. It first opened in Los Angeles in 2002.

The Grove - downtown LA

3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica is beautiful this time of year with an outdoor pedestrian shopping avenue canopied in beautiful lights! And Christmas icons are always displayed on the nearby ferris wheel at Pacific Park on Santa Monica Pier as well.

You can also enjoy an outdoor ice skating rink in downtown Los Angeles at L.A. Live! L.A. Live is a large outdoor entertainment complex featuring a multiple theaters, The Grammy Museum, arena, the Los Angeles Convention Center, hotels & restaurants. It first opened in 2007.

3rd street promenade santa monica christmas
3rd Street Promenade - Santa Monica

L. A. Live ice rink in downtown

The best Christmas market that we know of is to the South in Laguna Beach, Orange County. The Sawdust Winter Fantasy includes over 100 handcrafted vendors, lights and decorations, live music stages, art classes, and even visits with Santa Claus!

Us at Sawdust - Laguna Beach, CA

Towards the end the holiday season in Los Angeles, you could attend the Tournament of Roses Parade on New Years Day in Pasadena! We like to view the floats following the parade at their Floatfest display. You can also watch them decorating the floats before the parade as well.

Tip: If you plan on attending the Rose Parade or Rose Bowl football game, we recommend taking the LA Metro light rail to Pasadena. This will help you avoid all of the traffic and parking fees. We usually drive to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles, park in their underground parking structure, then take Line A (Azusa - Long Beach) to Pasadena.

Floatfest - Tournament of Roses Parade, Pasadena


In San Diego, we found the spirit of the holidays at the Hotel del Coronado, which is beautifully decorated inside and out for the holiday season! This famous waterfront hotel is located on Coronado Island in San Diego Bay. There are many public shops and restaurants on its grounds.

Constructed of wood and housing over 700 rooms, many Hollywood movies have been filmed here, including 1959s "Some Like It Hot" starring Marilyn Monroe. Many United States Presidents have stayed at the hotel as well, such as John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. The Hotel Del first opened in 1888.

christmas hotel del coronado
Hotel Del Coronado - San Diego

The shops at Seaport Village in downtown San Diego are also festive this time of year. Seaport Village is a waterfront shopping and dining experience, first established in 1980.

Nightlife at the Gaslamp Quarter in downtown is accentuated by festive holiday lights and decorations! Clubs, restaurants, and live entertainment adorn the area, found primarily along 5th Avenue in downtown San Diego.

Additional holiday destinations in San Diego could also include Balboa Park with its museums, restaurants, and the world famous San Diego Zoo, and the historic shops and restaurants in Old Town with its festive Mexican holiday flair!

See my San Diego, CA travel blog entry for more information

Old Town San Diego


Big Bear, California, is our holiday alpine escape. Approximately 2 hours East of Los Angeles, and at a base elevation of 6,700 feet, it rests high in the San Bernardino mountains.

Snow tubing at Big Bear Snow Play it a favorite for us! And a horse-drawn carriage ride with Big Bear Carriages is a memorable highlight as well. We also love the shops and restaurants at Big Bear Lake Village. And for skiers, Big Bear Mountain Resort is where you want to go, with Bear Mountain and Snow Summit ski resorts.

big bear snow play
Snow tubing at Big Bear Snow Play

Horse-drawn carriage ride with Big Bear Carriages


All of our Southern California amusement parks are decorated for the holidays, and include live holiday entertainment such as shows and parades! Our favorites here in the Los Angeles area include Disneyland with their holiday parade, Knott's Berry Farm with Snoopy on ice, and Universal Studios Hollywood where the Grinch and Whoville make an appearance.

In San Diego, Legoland and Sea World are festive during the holidays as well.

sleeping beautys castle holiday
Sleeping Beauty's Castle - Disneyland

Knott's Merry Farm - "Home for the Holidays" musical

meet the grinch
Meet the Grinch - Universal Studios Hollywood

We always enjoy time spent in our home state of California. From sunny beaches, to majestic redwoods, to snow-capped mountains, our beloved state has it all! Southern California has many options to get you in the festive holiday mood. We invite you to come take a look for yourself!


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