47 Things To Do around LA When Everyone Else Goes Away for Christmas

Take a carriage ride through Riverside's Festival of Lights. Photo courtesy of City of Riverside
Activities for Los Angeles and Southern California Families

Shhhhh. Do you hear that? Wait—I think.... Yep! They're gone! All those people whose families live on the east coast, in the Midwest, in the Bay Area—they're all standing in their socks at airport security, telling their kids to hurry up and knock back that juice box before they miss their plane. Doesn't it make you glad to be in LA?

The marvelous secret I never knew in my childless, travel-at-will days is that for roughly 10 blessed days in December every year the highways of Los Angeles open up—and I'm not talking the San Andreas Fault way. While all those other Angelenos are away, you can do anything, anywhere, and it need not take you more than 20 minutes to get there. Have friends you miss in Burbank? Never get to the beach? Now is the time to start checking items off our 100 Things To Do in LA Bucket List, or try a few of the far-fetched and fun outings below that won't feel nearly so far during LA's true Holy Week!

  1. Check out the Discovery Cube LA at Hansen Dam
  2. Hang with the peacocks (or admire the holiday lanterns) at the Los Angeles Arboretum
  3. Sled the giant sand hill (just past Sycamore Canyon) on PCH in Point Mugu State Park
  4. Take a Boat Sleigh ride to see the lights in Ventura Harbor
  5. See some animal shows at the Moorpark Teaching Zoo
  6. Go on a whale watching cruise
  7. Experience the new Mary Poppins at El Capitan
  8. Wander the Redondo Pier
  9. Spend a day at Kidspace Children's Museum
  10. Stroll through the South Coast Botanic Gardens

    Photo courtesy of Reagan Presidential Library

  11. Check out the International Printing Museum in Carson
  12. Visit the rescued sea lions at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center
  13. Pay a visit to Descanso Gardens and visit the Enchanted Forest of Light
  14. Explore the tidepools (and everything else) at the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium
  15. Attend events before, after, or during the 2019 Rose Parade
  16. Tour the Battleship Iowa
  17. Try a cronut at The Grove
  18. Hit the cupcake ATM in Beverly Hills
  19. Race Go Karts at Speedzone
  20. Enjoy the decked out decks of Queen Mary Christmas
  21. Chill a little at Costa Mesa's Winter Fest
  22. Hit a local ski slope or tubing park for the day

    Everyone loves busting moves at the Grammy Museum. Photo courtesy of Grammy Museum/Facebook

  23. Drive down to the Nixon Museum
  24. Drive up to the Reagan Museum—and take in its new holiday lights display
  25. Do some outlet store shopping at Camarillo or The Citadel
  26. Have dinner in the giant gingerbread house at OC's Great Wolf Lodge
  27. Head up to the Santa Barbara Zoo
  28. Take a drive to see over-the-top Christmas lights around LA
  29. Drive to Orange County see more over-the-top Christmas lights
  30. Pay to see some really, really over-the-top Christmas light displays
  31. Explore the huge, beautiful wilderness that is Irvine Ranch
  32. Ice skate downtown at either LA Live or Pershing Square 
  33. Take a walk around Balboa Island
  34. Cheer the horses at Santa Anita Park
  35. Enjoy holiday music and horse-drawn trolleys in Montrose Village

    Tubing at the North Pole is not so far away. Photo by the author

  36. Use the sights of Newport Beach as an excuse to hit Fashion Island
  37. Spend an afternoon in Little Tokyo
  38. Go off in search of mini-golf
  39. Visit the gardens and exhibits at the Huntington Library
  40. Learn some real cowboy history at the Autry National Center (free on New Year's Day!)
  41. Rock out at the GRAMMY Museum
  42. Finally get around to checking out DTLA's new Broad Museum
  43. See why the swallows are so into San Juan Capistrano
  44. Pay a visit to the La Habra Children's Museum
  45. Enjoy some treats and shop it up at Olvera Street
  46. See the famous Festival of Lights at Riverside's Mission Inn
  47. Visit Noah's Ark at the Skirball

We can't get enough of the giant Christmas tree at LA Live! Photo by Mommy Poppins

Originally published on December 21, 2012
Top photo by Don Graham via flickr