Parties and other obligations fill calendars quickly at this time of year, leaving little time for fun with the kids. But you can make this a meaningful holiday season for yourself and the ones you love by planning exciting, interesting things to do in Los Angeles as the year draws to a close.
Avoid the shopping madness with the little ones (but don’t miss Gwen Stefani when she performs at The Grove). Instead gather for a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony with the Pacific Ocean in the background, put on ice skates and glide together hand in hand, sing favorite holiday songs at the top of your lungs, catch oldie-but-goodie holiday TV cartoons while sipping hot cocoa, and make snow angels together.
Indeed there are plenty of unique ways to enjoy the holidays in L.A. We hope this list helps you make it more joyful by gazing at fireworks, watching a boatful of Christmas parades, oohing and aahing at holiday lights, and, most importantly, being together with the friends and family.
1. Free Gwen Stefani Concert
Tweens and teens (okay, and the rest of the family, too), gather around The Grove’s awesome Christmas tree on November 24 for a special live performance by Gwen Stefani. She’ll perform for free in The Park at 5 p.m. to celebrate her holiday album, You Make It Feel Like Christmas. Buy her album that day from Barnes & Noble and you’ll receive VIP treatment (wristband included for access) — you’ll meet and snap a photo with Gwen, receive a signed CD booklet, and enjoy holiday treats. –>Selfie with Gwen here.
2. Tree Lighting by the Ocean
Shopping malls have been lighting up Christmas trees since early November. Finally, a tree-lighting celebration that takes place in December! Terranea Resort will host the age-old tradition of lighting the tree on December 3 at 5 p.m. This resort on the bluffs of Rancho Palos Verdes brings the community together for a festive ceremony featuring live musical entertainment and holiday crafting stations. Attendance is free, as long as you bring an unwrapped gift donation for Toys for Tots. –> O Christmas Tree at Terranea.
3. Holiday Concert at Disney Hall
A sing-along is always good ol’-fashioned fun. Take in a lively afternoon on December 16 with the LA Phil at the grand Walt Disney Concert Hall and belt out favorite holiday tunes including “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Silent Night” and many more. Sing along with a choir, jazz combo and the Hall’s huge pipe organ. Actress Melissa Peterman (of TV hit Reba) emcees the event. Guests are invited to a “pre-concert” event, featuring complimentary hot chocolate, coffee and photos with Santa. –> Jingle all the way to Walt Disney Concert Hall.
4. Holly Jolly Day at JW Marriott
Perfect for every kid (and kid at heart), the annual Holly Jolly ice skating and holiday treats event at the JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. LIVE on December 16 offers merry fun. From ice skating on the L.A. LIVE rink to sugar rushes on sweets and treats with Santa, and sipping hot chocolate (boozy hot chocolate for the adults), Holly Jolly offers quality time for the entire family. Be sure to check out the hotel’s enormous 1,300 pound gingerbread bar made of cookie dough and sugar, where Santa will be greeting the kids. Reservations are required. –> Holly Jolly tickets here.
5. The Science of Gingerbread at Discovery Cube
It’s on at The Discovery Cube this holiday season! Bring the family in to explore, design and compete in the world of gingerbread from November 24 to December 31. The exhibit is tasty in so many ways — visitors will learn how science, math and engineering impact the kitchen (Good Eats fans will love this), specifically when baking gingerbread, the classic holiday dessert. Interactive exhibits include building a car out of holiday candy to race in a Gingerbread Derby. Interested in designing a gingerbread creation to compete in the Science of Gingerbread competition? Enter soon — the deadline is December 3. –> Get doughy for gingerbread.
6. L.A. Zoo Lights
Oh, what fun it is to visit the L.A. Zoo at night. It’s that most wonderful time of year when the zoo opens its doors nightly through January 7 for its brilliant holiday light displays. L.A. Zoo Lights is a festive night out for the entire family (and easy on the strollers), dazzling with 3D visuals, and a water show while many of the zoo’s residents are asleep. Visitors will get a chance to see real reindeer before they take off on their journey with Santa. –> Lions and bears and reindeer here.
7. 86th Annual Hollywood Christmas Parade
Kick off your holiday season Hollywood style by getting in the mood at the 86th Annual Hollywood Christmas Parade with a special appearance by Santa. On November 26 at 5 p.m., parade goers will line up along Hollywood Blvd. to wave and catch a glimpse of celebrities including Dr. Oz, this year’s Grand Marshall. Equestrians, high school marching bands, celebrities (last year featured Olivia Newton-John, Cyndi Lauper, Kenny G, the Beach Boys and Erik Estrada) and gigantic balloons of Garfield the Cat, a toy soldier, Gumby, a gingerbread man and Rilakkuma will figure among the highlights. –> Here comes Santa Claus, right down Hollywood Blvd.
8. Holiday Boat Parade in Marina del Rey
Marina del Rey will tend to everyone’s holiday spirit at the 55th Annual Holiday Boat Parade on December 9. First will be a fireworks show at 5:55 p.m. Immediately afterwards, the marina’s yachts and boats will make a festive splash by parading its sensational lights and holiday decorations. Over the years, parade themes have varied from Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas to Adventures on the Sea to An Animated Holiday. Boaters circle the main channel of the harbor at least twice, giving spectators a fun show. Participants submit boat displays as part of a competition. For best viewing, grab a spot at Burton Chace Park. –> Boat parade ahead.
9. Hanukkah Festival at Skirball Cultural Center
Celebrate Hanukkah at Skirball Cultural Center on December 10. This year’s lively program, inspired by the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA initiative, gives festival goers an opportunity to delve into the traditions of Hanukkah via the Latin American communities of Los Angeles. So, what does this mean? Dancing to Latin Jewish Klezmer bands, creating a community art installation with Sandy Rodriguez, learning about Mexican chocolate and decorating chocolate gelt with private chef/educator Maite Gomez-Rejón, and listening to Mario Ibarra and Julia Garcia Combs, who will tell the story of Hanukkah in English and Spanish. –> Eight nights of light here.
10. ICE in Santa Monica
Ice skating just a few blocks from the beach is a thing. This year, the ICE at Santa Monica outdoor 8,000 square foot rink is the place for holiday vibing. Now through January 15, the arena is open to all levels of skaters. For a holiday gathering, ICE offers cabanas for $300/two-hour slots. If you or your little ones need a lesson or a brush-up on technique, lessons through Randy Gardner’s School of Skating are available. –> Must do.
11. The Nutcracker
Seeing The Nutcracker ballet is a very traditional way to celebrate the holidays. Luckily, the stunning Los Angeles Ballet company performs this beautiful production from December 9-31 at various venues around Los Angeles. Set to Tchaikovsky’s beloved music, The Nutcracker captivates all ages with life-size toy soldiers and dolls, a Mouse King and his soldiers, dancing snowflakes, and, of course, a princess (Clara) and a prince (the Nutcracker).
For sugar plum fairies, visit here.
12. Classic Holiday Cartoons & More at The Paley Center for Media
You might want to scratch the mall Santa this year — instead, plan a family outing to The Paley Center for Media. This year, the center is featuring It’s Holiday Time in PaleyLand, which includes a free visit with Santa Claus, daily screenings between 12 p.m. and 5 p.m. of classic holiday TV programs including Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Rugrats Kwanzaa, Frosty the Snowman, and more. Kids will also enjoy ornament-making and hot cocoa. –> Visit Paleyland.
13. Free Christmas Eve Concert at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Musical artists, choirs, bands and dance companies will come together to perform a free holiday spectacular show at the 58th Annual L.A. County Holiday Celebration. This Christmas eve tradition welcomes the public to a three-hour show at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at The Music Center from 3 to 6 p.m. Th diverse line-up will include the Harmonic Bronze Handbell Ensemble, performing both Christmas and Hanukkah melodies, along with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Band, the MUSYCA Children’s Choir, the Jung Im Lee Korean Dance Company, Las Colibri, the City Ballet of Los Angeles, and many more. Seating is first-come, first-served, so get there early. Doors open at 2:30 p.m –> Free Christmas Eve show at The Music Center.
14. Snow Days at Kidspace Museum
Pull out the snow gear and head over to Kidspace Children’s Museum for the gift of a real winter wonderland. Kidspace offers a snowy playground where kids can explore the science of snow, build snowmen, create snow angels and throw snowballs — all in the name of wintry fun. Head into the museum for cookie decorating, winter-themed arts and crafts and live holiday performances. –> Bring hats and mittens here.
15. Marvel at Christmas Lights at Candy Cane Lane
A neighborhood beautifully lit for the holidays is hosted solely by the residents of one Woodland Hills neighborhood at Oxnard and Lubao streets. Candy Cane Lane is sure to give the entire family all the holiday feels. Beginning December 2, spectators will enjoy quite the show, either by foot or by car. Since 1952, this neighborhood’s been going all out by transforming into a holiday destination with decorations, lights, animated displays, snowy rooftops, and Santa and his reindeer. Put the kids in pajamas, fill a thermos with hot chocolate, and play Christmas music in your car while cruising up and down the local streets. –> Eight blocks of holiday lights.