Happiest Time of the Year in Southern California

Genie Davis December 21, 2013 No Comments

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All around the Southland you’ll find elaborate holiday light displays

Looking for a place your children can see opulent holiday decorations, or enjoy the sparkle and shine of a million holiday lights? Tall trees, fake snow, outdoor screenings of The Polar Express? Los Angeles offers all of these and more, and without the chill that real snow brings in other climates. Our family loves a holiday with palm trees and no mittens, and I hope yours will too.
Leave those snow boots in the closet, and check out some very happy seasonal times in the greater Southland.

In the Northeastern area of Los Angeles, San Marino and Altadena both house beautifully decorated Christmas Tree Lanes not far from Huntington Gardens. In fact, start at the Gardens in daylight, and treat your family to an elaborately over-the-top array of finger sandwiches at the tea room and a stroll through galleries and beautiful gardens all decked out with ribbons and boughs and garlands of pine. Then, when night falls, off you go to the brilliantly arrayed streets nearby.  With well lit manor houses that could exist in the U.K., and enormous pine trees dripping with lights, you won’t be disappointed by San Marino’s St. Albans, a.k.a. Christmas Tree Lane. Altadena’s version includes the Ice Cream mansion, where reportedly over 100,000 lights make this elegant mansion glitter.

The holiday lights are dazzling

An hour South, in the homey town of El Segundo, near LA’s airport, you’ll find Candy Cane Lane – or Acacia Ave. Two short blocks are closed to traffic and are literally dripping with lights and feature elaborate yard displays, one of which features The Polar Express on an outdoor screen. But your kids may not stand long enough to watch more than a scene or two, with dazzling lights and music everywhere, and Santa parked in his sleigh for two hours every early evening at the end of the block. Mine couldn’t contain themselves, and had to make an immediate dash. Houses in adjoining streets also feature decorations, and it’s worth a drive or a longer stroll to check them out.

And down in Torrance, the Sleepy Hollow neighborhood is an area my family strolls every year, with hot chocolate vendors and friendly neighbors offering rides through the streets in golf carts. You can also drive you own car beneath trees strung with lights and yard displays on many lawns–bigger, but less intense in the glitter factor than Candy Cane Lane not far away. We like to see both displays in one night, but if your little ones are very small, one per evening may do the trick.

Of course for some waterfront holiday lights, you should drive further from LA proper – down the freeway to Long Beach’s Naples a half hour away, or sixty minutes south to Newport Beach’s peninsula whose large light displays are matched by nautical versions on boats moored in the harbor and circling for a nightly boat parade.

Maybe your family, like mine, trots out the usual synthetic holiday tree, but if you want a look at elaborately-themed decorated homes and giant trees, take a holiday home tour. Kids will enjoy them as long as you don’t make them stick around for every single home on the list, and as most tours are self-guided, you can always duck out for a cup of hot chocolate or even a quick nap.

You can feel good about getting a peek into the private lives of those able to purchase unlimited holiday gifts, as most home tour tickets benefit a charitable endeavor. We took the Yule Parlor Parade on the Palos Verdes Penninsula, whose philanthropic proceeds are a nice accompaniment to the sprawl of luxurious Cape Cod – one with a room-wide miniature railroad, and vast
modern Mediterranean-style houses with multiple outdoor fireplaces to confuse Santa.

Candy Cane Lane in El Segundo

We love the tea back at the Neighborhood Church, whose charitable endeavors benefit from this particular tour. Bell ringers and old-fashioned carolers perform on a stage, and the kids are going to love the cookies and mini-sandwiches served on elegant silver trays. The church itself is decked out with holiday finery, and there’s a splendid ocean view to overlook, or lead you to nearby trails down to RAT beach. No, not what you’re thinking. No need for a Nutcracker to battle a giant evil Mouse King. That’s Redondo at Torrance Beach, where the hills of Palos Verdes give way to the white sands of Redondo. The kids may find the frothy-white surf just as much fun as frothy-white snow – and you won’t have to dig out those mittens.

Similar beachy Holiday home tours exist in Manhattan Beach through the Sandpiper’s charitable organization.

And you mustn’t forget to take the kids to The Grove in the heart of West Hollywood. Every night a fake snowfall, a giant holiday tree, live music, and the wonderland of the FAO Schwartz. Just keep that check book or credit card firmly in your pocket, lest your little ones encourage you to purchase a six foot stuffed giraffe – which my kids have been known to clamor for. Be sure and stop for some breakfast-for-dinner at Dupars at the Farmers Market, at one end of the Grove’s parking lot. Pancakes, waffles, hot chocolate, french toast – nothing says holiday more than maple syrup. Just ask Buddy the Elf, who lives on the stuff. And if you haven’t shared the modern holiday classic comedy of the film Elf which Buddy inhabits with your little ones – this is the year to start.

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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling. www.geniedavis.com

Tags: , , Sharing Experiences, Tips and Hints, Travel Excursions

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