Arts & Entertainment

SoCal's brightest holiday lights and where to find them

More than 4 million lights decorate the Mission Inn in Riverside for its annual Festival of Lights.
More than 4 million lights decorate the Mission Inn in Riverside for its annual Festival of Lights.
PROPyro Spectaculars by Souza
More than 4 million lights decorate the Mission Inn in Riverside for its annual Festival of Lights.
More than 4 million glowing lights decorate the Mission Inn in Riverside for its annual Festival of Lights.
Don Graham via Flickr
More than 4 million lights decorate the Mission Inn in Riverside for its annual Festival of Lights.
More than 4 million glowing lights decorate the Mission Inn in Riverside for its annual Festival of Lights.
Lara Farhadi via Flickr


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? A few Southern California destinations offer that experience.

Festival of Lights

On the day after Thanksgiving, the Mission Inn in Riverside flipped the switch on its annual Festival of Lights. With 4.5 million twinklers, it's not merely one of the largest holiday lighting displays in Southern California, it's one of the largest in the country. And it's free. Hotel employees have been putting up lights since August. Now, visitors can enjoy the glow among more than 400 animated characters. The Festival of Lights runs through January 7. 

L.A. Zoo Lights

Now in its third year, L.A. Zoo Lights is a nighttime attraction that includes light animals, giant glowing snowflakes, a disco-ball forest, glittering tunnels, a water show with a fountain and lasers and an interactive shadow puppet experience. While most of the zoo’s animals will be off limits (they need to sleep too), you can attend a black light party in the reptile and amphibian house or visit a reindeer family — with two new babies — in the Reindeer Romp. The event runs 6 to 10 p.m. nightly through Jan. 8. Tickets cost $11-14 for children 2 - 12 and $14-18 for adults. Zoo members receive a discount.

A view of the Grove's 11th Annual Christmas Tree Lighting Spectacular on November 17, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.
A view of the Grove's 11th Annual Christmas Tree Lighting Spectacular on November 17, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.
Alexandra Wyman/Alexandra Wyman/Invision/AP

All The Christmas Trees

If you're looking for a noble fir, you don't have to look far. Grand Park lights up a 45-tall tree for the season. Nearby, L.A. County also lights up its own official tree at the Music Center. Loads of other cities, from Culver City to San Gabriel, also host their own holiday tree lightings. The Grove lit up its 100-foot tall, white fir tree, which is adorned with more than 15,000 lights, in mid-November and plenty of other malls do the same thing. A quick internet search should help you locate one near you — and most of these events are free.

Boats in the 101st annual Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade are lit with Christmas decorations.
Boats in the 101st annual Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade are lit with Christmas decorations.
David McNew/Getty Images

Boat Parades

This uniquely Southern California tradition in which glowing, festively decorated boats float down our waterways happens in several waterfront communities including Newport Beach, Marina Del Rey, Huntington Beach and Dana Point.

The Enchanted: Forest of Light installation at Descanso Gardens.
The Enchanted: Forest of Light installation at Descanso Gardens.
Courtesy of Descanso Gardens

Enchanted: Forest of Light

For the first time, Descanso Gardens in La Cañada is adorning its lush greenery for an interactive, nighttime experience. Enchanted: Forest of Light features a one-mile walk through 10 illuminated areas of the botanical garden including a luminescent forest and an interactive art experience. Tickets, which are timed and must be purchased in advance, cost $24-28. The attraction runs through January 8.

Disneyland

We didn't forget. Every year, the theme park dons its sparkliest apparel for the season, giving its rides and nighttime shows a Christmas theme. This year's holiday celebration runs from November 10 to January 8. Standouts include Sleeping Beauty's Castle and It's a Small World.