Californians are hard to please. We want to run barefoot in December and still enjoy a Winter Wonderland. We insist on beach weather, turning our dreams of a White Christmas over to illumination. Luckily, not even Covid-19 can keep the holidays from lighting up the California sky. Soon the Golden State will twinkle with holiday lights, filling us with holiday cheer and signaling the commencement of the holiday season.
So, grab those flip flops and enjoy a day at the beach. When you need a little Christmas Spirit, check our list below of Don’t-Miss Christmas Light Displays, listed in location order from San Diego to Sausalito.
First, a little history on why lights mean so much to us during Yuletide.
The tradition of lighting Christmas Trees goes all the way back to 18th Century Germany. Wealthy German families attached candles to Christmas tree branches, lighting it up as Christ light the world. By the mid 20th century, the lights migrated to houses, businesses, even boats and lighthouses. Large cities created festive ceremonies around tree lightings; smaller cities soon followed their lead. Twinkling lights also served to brighten our outlook during long, dark winter days. Today, they still blink comfort and joy!
If you’re feeling a little Grinchy, visit one of these amazing Holiday light displays!
21 Don’t-Miss California Christmas Lights
1. San Diego Botanic Gardens – San Diego
The San Diego Botanic Gardens invites you to an Urban Oasis, Holiday style. Tour the garden’s, decorated with festive while enjoying music by carolers and mariachis. Dates not yet available.
2. Christmas Communities – San Diego
Visit these neighborhoods for lights a’plenty, illuminated Santas and unbelievable Christmas cheer:
- Garrison Street in Point Loma
- Christmas Card Lane in Rancho Peñasquitos
- Bell Hill in El Cajon or Christmas Circle in Chula Vista
3. San Diego Bay Parade of Lights – San Diego
Settle in at Seaport Village or Coronado Ferry Landing for an outstanding view of the illuminated boats as they cruise San Diego Harbor. After the boat parade, stay for Christmas fireworks! The fun starts at 5:30 PM on December 13th and 20th.
4. La Jolla Christmas Parade – La Jolla
Enjoy “Christmas in the Cove” in downtown La Jolla at the Christmas Parade! The fun begins on December 6th 2020 at 1:30pm.
5. Casa Lumina Holiday Walk – San Clemente
To fill your heart with Christmas joy, visit Casa Romantica Cultural Center in San Clemente. The center presents the Casa Lumina Holiday Walk, a stroll around the gardens with over 1,000 twinkling lights. Runs 12/5/20 through 12/23/20 from 5:00 -7:00.
6. Dana Point Harbor Lights – Dana Point
Even the Grinch himself would enjoy the twinkling red, blue, green and white lights brightening the scene in Dana Point Harbor. The display begins 11/11/20 and runs through 1/3/21. Visit the harbor on 12/4th, 5th, 11th, and 12th to enjoy the Holiday Boat Parade. This year’s theme: Fiesta Holiday!
7. Tanaka Farms Hikari – Irvine
Visit Tanaka Farms for Hikari, a drive-through Festival of Lights event. The farm, tractors and even scarecrows are decked-out in twinkling lights to celebrate the holiday season. Join us Friday – Sunday for a visit from Santa. The cost is $49 per vehicle weekdays and $59 on weekends.
8. Irvine Park Railroad’s Christmas Train – Irvine
Festive lights illuminate the night sky on Irvine Park Railroad’s Christmas Train. Come aboard at the train station and ride through historic Irvine Regional Park to the North Pole. Please note that for the safety of our staff and passengers, there will be no photos with Santa. In addition, guests must wear masks and practice social distancing.
9. Newport Beach boat parade – Newport Beach
Floating vessels of all types dress in fine festive lights to sail Newport Harbor in the 112th Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade. The fun begins Wednesday, 12/16/20, running through Sunday, 1220/20. The parade is free, but parking can be a hassle, so give yourself a little extra time.
10. Newport Dunes Lighting of the Bay – Newport Beach
The Bay at Newport Dunes presents a light display, including floats and 40+ Christmas trees on the beachfront walking path. The dunes light up every day at dusk, from 11/27/20 through 1/1/20. Entry is free, although you will need to pay for parking unless you can find a spot on the street.
11. Winterfest OC – Costa Mesa
if you dream of a white Christmas, but you live in orange county, visit Winter Fest OC! Frolic in the snow, try ice-tubing or iceskating outdoors! Or, take a walk along the Festival of lights, expanded this year to 2 million lights. The nightly tree lighting celebration comes with fireworks, snow flurries, flying reindeer and Santa himself!
12. Elf on the Shelf’s Magical Holiday Journey – Pomona
Come to Pomona Fairplex for Elf on the Shelf’s Magical Holiday Journey, a drive-through Covid-safe event featuring scenes like Gingerbread Village and Santa’s Magical Grotto. Runs from 11/10/20 through 1/4/21.
13. Winterlit Holiday Art Installations – Santa Monica
Santa Monica welcomes you to Winterlit Holiday festivities! Tens of thousands of blinking, twinkling lights illuminate 3rd Street Promenade’s holiday inspired art installations and retail spots. Murals by local artists depict the meaning of holidays and family. In addition, the city’s traditional 24-foot Christmas tree lights up and nightly menorah lightings will celebrate the season of Hanukkah. Face coverings are required to ensure the health of our staff and visitors.
14. Upper Hasting Ranch Festival of Lights – Pasadena
The neighborhood of Upper Hasting Ranch in Pasadena invites you to enjoy their neighborhood decorations featuring inflatable Santas and lights galore. Drive through the lighted displays and enjoy a tradition started in 1951. Typically starts on December 12th, and runs daily from 6:00 PM through 10:00 PM.
15. Holidays in your Car – Ventura
Coming late November, Holidays in your Car a light show combining symphony and light.Holiday tunes illuminated by over one million LED lights, Holograms, lasers and projection mapping Begins November 22nd.
16. Lights at Cambria Pines – Cambria
The annual Cambria Christmas Market will be replaced this year by over 2 million lights in a socially distanced setting with Lights at Cambria Pines. If you’ve visited the Cambria Christmas Market in the past, you will recognize some of the amazing lights displayed in a new way. Only guests booked on the Christmas rate at Cambria Pines Lodge, J Patrick House & Inn, and Sea Otter Inn, will be able to attend the event. Nov 27 – Jan 2 (closed Dec 24 and 25). Guests must wear masks.
17. Santa Cruz Holiday Lights 2020 – Santa Cruz
The Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds Foundation invites you to explore a half-mile of lighted Holiday displays, all from the socially-distanced comfort of your own car. Festive, giant trees, decorated Holiday-style are the perfect backdrop for Santa and his reindeer. The magical experience continues with lighted tunnels, snowmen and music on our Holiday Lights station. The experience runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11/27/20 through 12/27/20, 5:30 to 9:30.
18. Fantasy of Lights Drive-Thru – Los Gatos
The Fantasy of Lights comes alive for the 22nd year at Vasona Lake in Los Gatos. This year, stay in your car and drive through over 50 twinkling eco-friendly animated displays. Drive through tunnels and experiences like the Dinosaur Den, Pirate Cannons and Santa shooting hoops. The fun runs between 12/4/20 and 12/30/20 from 6:00 – 10:00.
19. Christmas Tree Lane – Palo Alto
Visit Fulton Street in Palo Alto (between Embarcadero Ave. and Seale Rd.) Christmas Tree Lane to rekindle your Christmas spirit. This 80 year old tradition is perfect for 2020 and social distancing. Visitors are welcome to drive or walk along the decorated houses, enjoying carolers and vintage lawn displays. Runs 12/12/20 – 12/31/20 from 5:00 to 11:00 PM.
20. Illuminate SF Festival of Lights – San Francisco
Enjoy San Francisco’s light art at Illuminate Festival of Lights, an earth-friendly collection of 44 light displays. The events light-up 11/26/20 through 1/3/21.
Here is a partial list of the 44 displays:
- Glow – Embarcadero
- Kaleidoscope – Embarcadero
- Observation Wheel – Golden Gate Park
- Night Bloom – Golden Gate Park
- Entwined in Golden Gate Park
- Bandshell – Golden Gate Park
- Grace Light – Nob Hill
- Point Cloud – SoMa
- Coding – SFO
- Monarch – Mission Bay
- Lumina – Yerba Buena
21. Winterfest Sausalito Boat Parade – Sausalito
The Holidays illuminate the Sausalito waterfront at the Sausalito Lighted Boat Parade on Saturday, 12/12/20. Winterfest Sausalito invites you to join in the celebration.
Hopefully our list reignited your Christmas Spirit! Where will you visit this year?