The weather outside is probably not … you know what … so the holiday season in Southern California can be downright delightful. Without the snow and chill, visitors might think our region is short on holiday traditions.
But they should think again. Want chestnuts roasting on an open fire? Find them in the many neighborhoods where homeowners outdo each other by adorning their houses with spectacular light displays. With no slush to drive through and comfortable nighttime temperatures, families can marvel at the illuminated residences every evening now through New Year’s Day, and sometimes beyond. Many residents offer hot chocolate, cider, coffee, cookies, and other homemade treats at nominal prices in their driveways. Check hyperlocal online sites for lists of the best streets to cruise, including maps and directions.
As for regional traditions, we’ve rounded up some of the most enduring and unusual in each county, from south to north. Get out there and have a jolly old time!
Balboa Park December Nights. San Diego’s largest free community festival is a two-day holiday celebration of food, entertainment, and family fun. The sights, sounds and smells of the holiday season fill the air as the museums and cultural institutions in Balboa Park, the nation’s largest urban cultural park, open their doors free of charge. Festivities include carolers, live music, light displays, theater, and dance performances, and delicious food from around the world.
Dates and times:
Dec. 4, 3-11 p.m.
Dec. 5, noon-11 p.m.
107th Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade and Ring of Lights. More than 1.5 million viewers enjoy this floating spectacle that lights up the harbor for five consecutive nights. The free parade starts at Bay Island at 6 p.m. and lasts approximately three and a half hours. Over 250 ships participate, along with hundreds of waterfront estates. Providing the backdrop for the parade is the Ring of Lights waterfront home and business decorating competition. Fireworks displays kick off the parade about 6:15 p.m. at Newport Pier on opening night, and end it with a bang about 9 p.m. at Balboa Pier on closing night.
Dates and time:
Dec. 16-20, 6-9:30 p.m.
Venice Christmas Boat Parade. Considerably smaller and funkier than the Newport Beach parade, this one putts its way down the windy canals of Venice, between homes that challenge the boats for best-dressed. Pick a bridge, any bridge, to enjoy a close-up view of the festive floating display. For ideal vantage points, check the Venice Canals Association’s map, unchanged since 2011.
Date and time:
Dec. 5, 6 p.m.
Mission Inn Festival of Lights. More than 4 million colorful lights dazzle the senses during the historic resort’s holiday extravaganza in downtown Riverside. For more than a month, the Inn is totally decked out in Christmas lights to create free, walk-through experience for the entire family. Decorations abound inside and out. Walk up the street to have the kids’ picture taken with Santa, glide across a small ice rink, and enjoy all kinds of festive foods.
Through Jan. 6
California Sleigh Rides. Ventura Boat Rentals at Ventura Harbor Village will whisk you through Ventura Harbor and Ventura Keys on a one-hour “sleigh ride” offering hot cocoa, “reindeer milk,” holiday cookies, and views of decked-out homes. Full bar available on board. RSVPs required.
Dates and times:
Through Dec. 31, 6 and 7:30 p.m.
$16 adults,$13 seniors, $10 children
Candy Cane Train. South Coast Railroad Museum in Goleta presents it popular year-end family event, including a ride on its festively decorated miniature train, an assortment of holiday treats and favors, and the museum’s holiday display, “Toy Trains & Teddy Bears.” All riders must meet the 34-inch minimum-height requirement.
Dates and times:
2-4 p.m. weekdays through Dec. 27.
1-4 p.m. weekends and Nov. 27.
Closed Nov. 30- Dec. 2, 7-9, 14-16, and Christmas Day.
Last train departs at 3:45 p.m. each day.
$4 per rider. Tickets must be purchased at least one day prior to date of use. If you plan to attend the event on the same day, purchase tickets at the museum.