If waiting in line for a mall Santa isn’t quite your thing, maybe you’d prefer strolling through a mesmerizing garden of lights or taking to the streets with a Krampus or two. Or perhaps you’d prefer to visit with the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future in virtual reality.
Either way, if you’re looking for something different to do this month, here are 13 ways to get immersed in the holiday season in and around Los Angeles (numbered for reference, listed in no particular order).
1. Chained: A Victorian Nightmare
Nineteenth-century Victorians used to gather round to tell one another ghost stories on Christmas Eve. The most famous tale of them all is arguably Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which has been reimagined in myriad ways since its original publication in 1843. But it’s never been done quite like this.
From MWM Immersive and Here Be Dragons, director/creator Justin Denton (Legion FX HoloLens experience), and Ethan Stearns (producer of Carne y Arena) comes Chained: A Victorian Nightmare, a part-VR, part-immersive theater retelling of the classic Dickens tale that places one audience member at a time in the role of Scrooge. Well, sort of: you’re in Scrooge’s role, but the answers you offer to questions about your life and legacy will be your own. This spooky self-discovery experience begins by knocking on a foreboding chamber door in real life, but guests will soon find themselves using a VR headset to access the spirit realm. While the VR component allows for fantastical virtual sights, you’ll also be interacting with real actors and objects at the same time. To achieve this effect, motion capture tracks a live actor who speaks to and guides the guest, all while appearing as a foreboding spirit. It’s very cool, and something a lot of people have likely never experienced with this technology before. The overall aesthetic is creepy, reminiscent of gothic horror stories, with chilling artwork from Aaron Sims Creative (who also created Stranger Things‘ Demogorgon). But, it’s not specifically a horror experience, so don’t expect to be shrieking at jump scares or gore.
Tickets for the first wave of Chained are sold out, but new tickets will be released daily through December. Sign up for their mailing list for updates.
When: Nov. 29-early January
Where: The Great Co., 1655 Beverly Blvd., HiFi
2. X-Mas for One
Things take a dark turn when three employees are forced to provide the entertainment at their company’s annual Christmas party in the dark comedy X-Mas For One. In this immersive staging, the audience is cast as co-workers of the trio, occasionally getting “roped into workplace drama” as chaos ensues. The show is written and performed by Lucas Coleman, Will Huse, and Pablo Rossil, the same team behind Blowfish: A Horrific Immersive Experience. This event is not suitable for kids.
When: Sunday, December 9, 8 p.m. (doors at 6:30 p.m.)
Where: Rockwell Table and Stage, 1714 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz
Cost: $18-35, plus a 2 food/drink item minimum.
3. The Los Angeles Krampuslauf
In Austrian folklore, Krampus is the counterpart to St. Nick. He roams the night looking for bad children to whip with switches, toss in a frozen lake, or drag to the underworld—so, worse than a lump of coal. The Krampuslauf (or Krampus Run) is an annual parade of the horned beasts, and Los Angeles will have its own on December 13, coinciding with the Downtown Art Walk. The monsters will be out to swat the naughty while St. Nick will make sure they don’t get too wild. Also, expect an authentic steam car from the 1800s to make an appearance. Then, head to The Lash for a performance from Hammerstein Musik Bavaria. And, if you have your own Krampus suit (who doesn’t, right?), send a picture to Krampus Los Angeles by December 12 to participate. More info here.
When: Krampus Lauf, Thursday, December 13, 8 p.m. After party to follow at 9 p.m.
Where: Winston St., between Main and Los Angeles, DTLA. The Lash is at 117 Winston St., DTLA.
4. Nightmare Before Christmas Beer Festival
The Queen Mary will host a beer fest inspired by The Nightmare Before Christmas, featuring over 20 different brews from local favorites; an immersive HalloweenTown with character interactions and photo ops; karaoke with Oogie Boogie, and live music.
When: Friday, December 14, 6:30-10 p.m.
Where: The Queen Mary, 1126 Queens Hwy, Long Beach
Cost: $42 and up
5. Descanso Gardens’ Enchanted: Forest of Light
Enchanted: Forest of Light is one of the most beautiful and innovative holiday light displays you’ll find in L.A. County. The experience eschews red-and-green cliches for a one-mile journey through otherworldly installations like singing Oak trees, fields of illuminated, color-changing tulips, and a Japanese garden lit with red lanterns.
When: Nov.18-Jan.6, 5:30-10 p.m. Closed Dec. 24 & 25.
Where: Descanso Gardens, 1418 Descanso Gardens, La Cañada Flintridge
Cost: $28-30 (Members get $5 off)
Here & Now in the Arts District has become Blitzen’s, a holiday pop-up featuring seasonal decor, live performances (like a roving Bad Santa), and a full menu of seasonal offerings. Food includes potato latkes; the Leftover Turkey Sandwich with turkey, cranberry chutney, and mashed potatoes, and bread pudding. Cocktails include Oh Holy Nog (Cognac, Avua Cachaca, Becherovka, Amontillado, Egg, Coconut Cream) and Eight Crazy Nights (Plum Brandy, Vanilla infused Palo Cortado, Amaro Montenegro, Strawberry Rosemary Compote, Powdered Sugar). For added immersion, linger outside in the bluster of their snow machine. Additionally, garner a free cup of punch for every quart-size plastic baggie of toiletries you bring along to be donated to nonprofit People Assisting the Homeless (PATH).
When: Nov. 28-Dec. 31
Where: Here & Now, 300 S. Santa Fe Ave., Arts District
7. Immersed in Wonderland
If you can’t afford anything on Rodeo Drive, you can at least go see artist Alexa Meade’s pop-up installation, Immersed in Wonderland. Meade has painted a series of 3-D paintings that place guests inside a holiday vignette and that, when photographed, present the illusion that you’re actually inside the painting. The set also includes a piano, which guests are free to play.
The exhibit is part of Beverly Hills’ BOLD Holidays programming, which also includes live music, art, and ice sculpting, holiday art walks, and more. See more information here.
When: Now through Dec. 23, Mon.-Sat., noon to 8 p.m.; Sundays, noon to 6 p.m.
Where: 262 N. Rodeo Dr., Beverly Hills
8. The Mission Inn’s Festival of Lights
The Mission Inn’s 26th Annual Festival of Lights celebration is one of the most intense holiday light displays you can see in Southern California, if not the nation. The sprawling display incorporates over 5 million lights, 400 animated dolls, a life-size gingerbread house, live performances, and more.
You don’t have to be a guest of the hotel to check out the lighting display, but if you do decide to stay overnight, you can wander around and check out the mismatch of architecture that makes up this historic property. The hotel began as an adobe guest house with just 12 rooms in 1876, but turned into the behemoth it is today under the leadership of owner Frank Miller. The hotel was never a mission, merely “mission-themed,” and also served as a place for Miller to store and display artifacts acquired during his travels. This includes his collection of hundreds of bells.
When: Nov.23-Jan. 6
Where: 10705 Magnolia Ave., Riverside
9. Miracle at The Everly
Miracle is a Christmas cocktail pop-up bar launched in 2014 in NYC, but it’s since spread to over 80 locations around the world. Miracles are marked by fun, holiday decor; creative seasonal cocktails served in kitschy glassware, and heaps of Instagrammable nostalgia. Guests will find Los Angeles’ only Miracle this season at Kimpton Everly Hotel’s lobby bar, Ever Bar. Cocktails include the Run Run Rudolph (prosecco, gin, mulled wine puree, lemon, cane syrup) and a hot milk punch titled Bad Santa.
Where: 1800 Argyle Ave., Hollywood
Cost: Free admission, food + drink for purchase
10. Universal Studios Hollywood
What could be more magical than Christmas in Hogsmeade? Guests to Universal Studios Hollywood will experience the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in full “winter” splendor, complete with nightly snowfall, holiday decor, an a cappella Frog Choir, holiday merchandise and seasonal offerings (hot Butterbeer!), and a light show projected against Hogwarts Castle.
Additionally, guests can check out Grinchmas, complete with a 60-foot tree, characters, and live performances, daily Dec. 1-2, 8-9, and 14-30.
When: Nov. 17-Jan. 6
Cost: $99 and up
11. Ya Filthy Animals
Ya Filthy Animals is a pop-up bar inspired by holiday movies including Bad Santa, A Christmas Story, and, of course, Home Alone. Expect themed drinks, photo booths, movie-themed installations (including a collage that explains the best booby traps for protecting your home from burglars), and an outdoor ice rink and winter wonderland with falling “snow,” a Christmas tree farm, and a fire pit. Food is available via onsite trucks.
When: Dec. 1-Jan. 6. Weds-Sun., 4 p.m. to midnight.
Where: Hollywood & Vine, Hollywood
Cost: $40 in advance/$50 day-of. Includes admission, ice skating, and a custom cocktail.
12. Knott’s Merry Farm
The monsters and ominous fog of Knott’s Scary Farm are gone and a festive yuletide celebration has taken its place. Guests to the family-friendly theme park will enjoy visits with Santa in his cabin, Snoopy and friends on ice, the musical It’s the Merriest Christmas Show Ever, Charlie Brown, carolers, crafts vendors, live stagings of A Christmas Carol and Gift of the Magi, tree lighting ceremonies and lighting spectaculars, and seasonal treats.
When: Nov. 16-Jan. 6
Where: 8039 Beach Blvd., Buena Park
13. Madame Tussauds
Madame Tussauds is offering a winter wonderland on their second floor featuring a ball pit made of “snow” for all your Instagram needs. They’ve also recruited the Hollywood Men dancers (that’s L.A.’s own version of Magic Mike) to pose as sexy Santas with guests on December 8 from 1-3 p.m. So, if you want your family back in the Midwest to know you’re really living life, there you go. Guests can also enjoy a 15-minute Polar Express experience in 4D, complete with complimentary Ghiradelli treats.
When: Through Dec. 31
Where: Madame Tussauds, 6933 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood
Cost: $16.99 and up