Holiday Road Christmas Lights Drive-thru: Christmas Cheer without Leaving Your Car

If Christmas lights are your jam, you may have wondered about the oodles of drive-thru holiday light displays that have sprung up around LA this season as antidotes to the pandemic blues. With so many holiday traditions canceled for Christmas 2020, it's pretty exciting to find new ones. But are these commercial drive-thrus worth the price of admission? In the case of Holiday Road at King Gillette Ranch, I'm going to go out on a Christmas tree limb to say yes! If you're able to spend some of the cash you're saving by missing out on Disneyland and holiday travel, then Holiday Road could be a delightful and festive evening excursion for the whole family.

One key thing to address, considering the new stay-at-home orders: According to the Holiday Road team, driving through the lights display is not considered a social gathering and therefore continues to be allowed under the latest COVID restrictions. So while many of the outings we would like to do at the moment would land us on Santa's naughty list, taking a sparkly drive in the woods seems to be allowed.

King Gillette Ranch is located high up in the hills that separate Calabasas and Malibu. The park is normally host to a variety of nature programs and the popular Halloween Nights of the Jack event. Recent creative use has even included pandemic drive-in movie events. For Christmas 2020, the folks at Holiday Road have created a mile-long drive under towering, twinkling trees, past a variety of illuminated scenes, accompanied by a fun holiday soundtrack and a few festive surprises.

Holiday Road at King Gillette Ranch
Enter a magical world of lights!

It's obvious that a team of designers has had a grand time creating this woodland light show, setting up sparkling scenes featuring Christmas trains, polar bears, Dr. Seuss characters, a Dickens style village (complete with live carolers), a gingerbread lane, The Nutcracker story, and a few Hanukkah displays. The lighted archways that seem to be the backbone of any drive-thru lights experience are sprinkled throughout, offering plenty of grins and photo ops. There is even one section that mimics a snowstorm in the woods, offering Angelenos the novel winter experience of driving through falling snow—or offering transplants from the East a momentary flashback to the days of living in the wake of the snowplow.

Holiday Road Christmas lights at King Gillette Ranch, Calabasas
The blizzard in the woods is surprisingly convincing.

For me, a big part of what makes Holiday Road so impressive is the trail of enormous trees covered right up to the tops of their towering branches, and right down to the bottoms of their dangling boughs. The forest setting is truly majestic, with lighting beyond what the average home lights display can create, and the effect is uplifting. Music selections are varied (yes, you'll probably want to sing along several times), and the fresh mountain air smells wonderful. Speaking of fresh mountain air, it gets pretty cold up in the mountains in December, which definitely adds to the ambiance. We left the Westside in mild temperatures, but when we reached King Gillette the mercury had dropped to 40 degrees! There is a magic to cold, mountain air and the smell of fresh trees in the moonlight; Winter Wonderland is a totally fair description.

Holiday Road Christmas lights at King Gillette Ranch, Calabasas
Watch for carolers at the end of this Christmas road!

Reservations for Holiday Road must be made in advance and are sold by the carload (so the bigger the family, the better the deal). Timed entry allows organizers to attempt to keep the flow of traffic moving without too much waiting. That said, there are definitely long lines at check-in, and there are no restrooms. If anyone in your family wouldn't be able to handle an hour or two without a trip to the bathroom, that would for sure impact the fun of the outing. But if you can plan around that practical consideration, plus have some snacks and activities in the car for the line, you will reap a joyous and shimmering reward.

Holiday Road Christmas lights at King Gillette Ranch, Calabasas
Prepare for Nutcracker themes to get stuck in your head.

Tickets to Holiday Road cost $75 per vehicle most nights (slightly more on weekends) and are available nightly through January 10, 2021 (except Christmas Day and New Year's Eve and Day). All guests must stay inside their vehicles for the entire drive—no riding in the back of the pickup truck for this event—and masks must be worn if windows are open. The good news is that keeping to the rules that make this event safe help keep it open for all to enjoy this holiday season!

All photos by Ian Brown

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