It's a little overwhelming, isn't it? I collect fabulous things to do with kids for a living, and this time of year has me teetering on a precipice between ecstasy and panic attack—because there is just SO MUCH TO DO! There are so many incredible, awe-inspiring, photo-op demanding, once-a-year holiday experiences on my list that my kid is starting to hide from me. There's a limit to how much fun a person can take.
So I'm taking a breath and making a top 10 list. Believe me, there is plenty more to do; our Ultimate Free Holiday List is a great place to start, and our event calendar an obvious place to continue. You'll run out of energy before we run out of suggestions, I assure you. But if you're looking for a Top 10 List before your family has you committed, here's what you came for.
1. LA Kings Holiday Ice at LA Live
There are several wonderful outdoor rinks at this time of year, and truthfully we love them all, from balmy one by the beach in Santa Monica, to the bustling one in Pershing Square. But it just doesn't feel like Christmas until we've skated around the giant Christmas tree in the middle of the surprisingly large outdoor rink on the plaza at LA Live. If you're feeling splurgy, why not pair it with Santa Brunch at The Ritz?
2. Mission Inn
We don't generally go to Riverside for, well, anything, but the lights at the Mission Inn aren't just any old thing. And after all, late December is a time for taking drives you wouldn't risk at any other time of year. Take advantage of the clear roads to spend an evening walking the holiday lights display that some call the best in the nation.
3. Enchanted Forest of Light
Speaking of holiday lights, there is nothing quite like Descanso Gardens' nighttime walk in the woods. The light stations in the trees are works of art, each one a different experience. It has become one of the highlights of the season in the Southland and merits an annual visit.
4. Queen Mary Christmas
It changes a little each year, but the Christmas festivities at the Queen Mary are always worth a prolonged visit. Decorations, ice skating, caroling, holiday crafts, and more make the vintage ocean liner a holiday treat I want every year.
5. Lythgoe Family Panto
There are Nutcrackers, and there are Christmas Carols, and they are all great; but if there is one play I cannot finish the season without, it's the Christmas Panto by the Lythgoe Family. We always hit the new show up in Pasadena—this year it's The Wonderful Winter of Oz in Pasadena—or you could catch Beauty and the Beast in Orange County.
6. Neighborhood and Home Holiday Lights
Sure, we've said it before, but it really cannot be overstated: There is no better way to get in the holiday mood than a family drive to look at Christmas lights! We add more displays to our round-up of the best home decorations every year, but for me, the old standards are must-see treats every year, including a walk through Sleepy Hollow in Torrance and Candy Cane Lane in El Segundo.
Holiday lights at the Los Angeles Zoo. Photo by Jamie Pham
7. LA Zoo Lights
If holiday lights are good, lights with animals are even better. Granted, most of the inhabitants are asleep at night, but nonetheless, a walk through the zoo at night is exciting. Add over-the-top holiday lights and a few reindeer, and what could be better?
8. Holiday Train
As long as little ones believe in you-know-who, a train ride with Santa is a must. We have the full range available to us in the Southland, from the full-on North Pole Express experience in a vintage train that travels from Fillmore to Santa Paula to a small-scale ride-on experience through lights in Griffith Park.
9. LA County Annual Holiday Celebration
This party has been going on for nearly 60 years: every Christmas Eve the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion comes alive with music and dance from the many neighborhoods and cultures of LA, celebrating the season with a totally free extravaganza. People come and go throughout, and the parking is free—it really couldn't be any easier.
10. Rose Parade Events
The beauty of having Pasadena in our metro area is not just that we can watch the parade in person some year when we're feeling brave; it's that we can make some part of the parade part of our annual holiday ritual. Helping to build the floats in the weeks before, visiting the horses who travel here for the big day, checking out the floats close-up all make festive family outings.