Take a carriage ride through Riverside's Festival of Lights. Photo courtesy of City of Riverside
Take a carriage ride through Riverside's Festival of Lights. Photo courtesy of City of Riverside

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

Shhhhh. Do you hear that silence? They're gone! All those people standing in their socks at airport security, telling their kids to hurry up and knock back the juice box, they've all cleared the highways and left room for the rest of us to do anything we want! 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. Discovery Cube LA
    Check out the fabulous science museum at Hansen Dam.
  2. Los Angeles Arboretum
    Hang with the peacocks or admire the holiday lanterns at this LA gem.​.
  3. Go on a sand sledding adventure
    Head up the coast to the giant sand hill on PCH in Point Mugu State Park.
  4. Ventura Harbor
    Take a Boat Sleigh ride to see the holiday lights in the harbor.
  5. Moorpark Teaching Zoo
    See the rescued animals perform in animal shows, assisted by students at Moorpark College.
  6. Whale watching cruise
    The season of the Pacific Gray Whale is just beginning.
  7. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
    You could see it in any number of places, but only El Capitan in Hollywood has costumes, storm troopers, and a light show.
  8. Redondo Pier
    When there's traffic on the 405 it sounds far away, but a drive to Redondo is an easy treat at this time of year.
  9. Kidspace Children's Museum
    Pasadena's kid heaven is a must for anyone growing up in LA.
  10. South Coast Botanic Gardens
    Get lost for a few hours amid the greenery and trails.

    Photo courtesy of Reagan Presidential Library
  11. International Printing Museum
    History comes to life in this Carson museum showcasing the history of printing.
  12. Pacific Marine Mammal Center
    Pay a visit to the rescued sea lions at this seaside center.
  13. Enchanted Forest of Light
    Wander the woods of Descanso Gardens in the evening, and bring your camera for lots of photo opportunities.
  14. Cabrillo Marine Aquarium
    Explore the tidepools and marine life at this gem of an aquarium.
  15. 2020 Rose Parade
    Attend events before, after, or during this iconic parade. You could even help decorate a float!
  16. Battleship Iowa
    Tour the historic ship down on the LA Waterfront.
  17. Try a cronut
    The Grove is your stop for these unique pastries.
  18. Cupcake ATM in Beverly Hills
    Hit the ATM anytime of the day or night for a classic red velvet confection.
  19. Speedzone
    Race Go Karts for the speed demons in your family.
  20. Queen Mary Christmas
    Enjoy ice skating, captivating lights, and a faux North Pole on the vintage ocean liner. 
  21. Winter Fest
    Chill a little at Costa Mesa's winter adventure park with bobsledding and skating.
  22. Local ski slope or tubing park
    Hit the slopes or go sledding or for the day.

    Everyone loves busting moves at the Grammy Museum. Photo courtesy of Grammy Museum/Facebook
  23. Nixon Museum
    Drive down to this museum highlighting the life and work of our 37th president.
  24. Reagan Museum
    Drive up to Simi Valley to learn about the 40th president.
  25. Camarillo Outlets or The Citadel
    Do some outlet store shopping for great deals—especially after Christmas!
  26. Learn about the Science of Gingerbread
    Build and learn holiday style at the Discovery Cube.
  27. Santa Barbara Zoo
    Head north (maybe on the train?) to a great zoo.
  28. Over-the-top Christmas lights around LA
    Take a drive to see amazing neighborhood Christmas lights.
  29. Over-the-top Christmas lights in the OC 
    Drive to Orange County see even more lights.
  30. Really over-the-top Christmas light displays
    See some really awesome public light displays.
  31. Irvine Ranch
    Explore the huge, beautiful wilderness just a short drive away.
  32. Ice skate downtown
    Skate at either LA Live or Pershing Square.
  33. Balboa Island
    Take a walk around, smell the salt air, and eat at great restaurants. 
  34. The Skyslide
    Head Downtown and test your nerves.
  35. Montrose Village
    Enjoy holiday music and horse-drawn trolleys amid bright lights in this small-town village.

    Tubing at the North Pole is not so far away. Photo by the author
  36. See the sights of Newport Beach
    Use these tourist sights as an excuse to hit Fashion Island.
  37. Little Tokyo
    Spend an afternoon in Japanese culture.
  38. The Paley Center for Media
    Show your kids your favorite old episodes of virtually any classic TV show at the Paley.
  39. Mini-golf
    Tee off with the whole family in a game of golf.
  40. The Proud Bird
    Have a bite and a holiday drink, while your kids watch the planes and explore the new airplane playground.
  41. Huntington Library
    Visit the gardens and exhibits in this gorgeous museum.
  42. Autry National Center
    Learn some real cowboy history (free on New Year's Day!).

    We can't get enough of the giant Christmas tree at LA Live! Photo by Mommy Poppins
  43. GRAMMY Museum
    Rock out at this unique music museum.
  44. Broad Museum
    Finally get around to checking out DTLA's newest free museum.
  45. San Juan Capistrano
    See why the swallows are so into this place.
  46. La Habra Children's Museum
    Take a drive to this hands-on museum.
  47. Skypark at Santa's Village
    Take a longer drive up into the mountains, for Lake Arrowhead's delightful Santastic theme park.
  48. Olvera Street
    Enjoy some treats and shop on DTLA's iconic, oldest street.
  49. Festival of Lights
    See the famous festival in and around Riverside's Mission Inn.
  50. Noah's Ark
    Visit the Skirball's wonderful, endlessly entertaining play space.


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


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