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Where to See Holiday Lights in California

Where to See Holiday Lights in California

Check out these seasonal displays across the Golden State

Posted 5 months ago

Starting in late November, California begins to shimmer with twinkling lights—on boats bobbing in bays, along cityscapes, or blooming in botanical gardens. Some coastal light displays hit their peak during annual boat parades in December, but California’s waterfront areas tend to twinkle throughout much of November and December—and some attractions around the state dazzle well into January. Here are two dozen displays that will light up your season.

Nov. 9–Jan. 30: Illuminate SF Festival of Light, San Francisco

For holiday lights superfans, it’s hard to beat this citywide event of light-art installations that runs through the end of January. More than 40 works stretch from the Castro to Yerba Buena—check out the map of the installations, or browse the 11 featured on the Light Art Trail

Nov. 12–Dec. 31: Tree Lights at Citadel Outlets, Los Angeles

Citadel Outlets, located just outside downtown Los Angeles,  is famous for its enormous tree. This year, the tree lighting kicks off with a Good Newz Girls concert on Nov. 12. Subsequent nights feature a light show, “snow flurries,” and the voices of previous tree-lighting performers, including Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, and Victoria Justice.

Nov. 16–Dec. 31: Dana Point Holidays at the Harbor, Dana Point

The Orange County town of Dana Point is awash with 700,000 lights during the holiday season, and this year’s theme is “Surfin’ USA.” Come from Dec. 9–12 for the Boat Parade of Lights, or visit on other nights for live music, menorah lightings, Boat Rides with Santa (Dec. 3–4) , or Harbor Lights Cruises (Dec. 2–4, 16–18). Download the map to walk or drive the festive route.

Nov. 17–Jan. 1: Rodeo Drive Holiday Lighting Celebration, Beverly Hills

Beverly Hills always brings a little star power to its holiday lights display. This year the town will showcase an illuminated toy train display, stretching three blocks from Wilshire Blvd. to Santa Monica Blvd. Opening night will feature a performance by singer-songwriter David Foster and American Idol favorite Katharine McPhee.

Nov. 18– Dec. 27: Redding Garden of Lights, Redding

At Redding’s Turtle Bay Exploration Park, 10 acres of the McConnell Botanical Gardens are lined with illuminated pathways and dotted with wildlife- and nature-themed displays. Stop along the route for the hot cocoa stands and fire pits for s’mores. Open Wednesdays through Sundays.

Nov. 18–Jan. 1: Lightscape, San Diego

Stroll through one million lights along the one-mile path at Encinitas’ 37-acre San Diego Botanic Garden. The walkways lead through glittering gardens, lantern trees, and tunnels of light, with stops to roast marshmallows and drink hot cocoa.

Nov. 19–Jan. 8: Holidays at Filoli, Woodside

Explore this 1917 country estate in San Mateo County, where the 54,000-square-foot house is decorated with 14 Christmas trees and the 16-acre garden shimmers with 20 miles’ worth of lights.

Nov. 22–Dec. 30: WildLights at The Living Desert, Palm Desert

On select nights, this Greater Palm Springs desert park lights up with more than one million holiday lights, including a tunnel of lights and life-size “lanterns” depicting giraffes, cheetahs, and other animals. Don’t miss the decorated G-scale model trains displayed on more than 3,300 feet of track.

Nov. 25–Dec. 18: Festival of Lights at Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, Mendocino

By day, Mendocino’s colorful preserve of flowers, shrubs, and birds needs no embellishment, but it seriously sparkles on weekend evenings during the holidays when pathways are lined with displays and twinkling lights. Sip hot cocoa and cider, enjoy the music, and sample locally made sweets.

Nov. 25– Dec. 24: Holiday Plaza, San Luis Obispo

Explore the twinkling winter wonderland in Downtown San Luis Obispo: This time of year, Mission Plaza has a carousel, menorah lightings, a Santa’s House, and a musical light show. Come on Dec. 2 for downtown’s annual Holiday Parade with more than 80 decorated floats, classic cars, marching bands, and dancers. Find more cheer and lights around San Luis Obispo County at spots such as Nature Nights at San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden (runs Nov. 11–Jan. 8).

Nov. 25–Dec. 26: Santa Cruz Holiday Lights Train and Chanukah Train, Santa Cruz

Ride through the streets of Santa Cruz on a vintage excursion railroad, festooned with thousands of lights. The train celebrates Chanukah on Dec. 26 and also hosts Holiday Tree Walk excursions featuring hot-cocoa fueled rides to Bear Mountain.

Nov. 25– Jan. 6: Festival of Lights at Mission Inn, Riverside

Each year, The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa in downtown Riverside celebrates the season with sprawling displays featuring more than four million lights. You don’t have to be a hotel guest to enjoy the dazzling display, but it’s tempting to stay: Choose from bundled packages that include a $50 dining credit, a bottle of wine, and candies.

Nov. 26: Geyserville Tractor Parade, Geyserville

This Sonoma County town with deep agricultural roots throws a holiday celebration that boasts some serious farm flair: Illuminated tractors head through downtown, with Santa and Mrs. Claus greeting fans by the town Christmas tree.

Nov. 26–Dec. 22 Downtown San Rafael Parade of Lights and Lighted Boat Parade, San Rafael

A big tree lighting plus two parades provide the key moments of the holiday festivities that have been running for four decades in this Marin County town. Come during the day on Nov. 26 for a holiday marketplace and kids’ activities before the evening car parade. From Nov. 26­–­Dec. 22, join in on the Elf Hunt in downtown (winners get $100 gift baskets), and on Dec. 17, watch the Lighted Boat Parade.

Nov. 27–Dec. 30: Holidays by the Bay, San Diego

Soak up the holiday cheer along San Diego’s Embarcadero for much of the month, by way of Santa sightings, menorah lightings, and the Parade of Lights on Dec. 12 and 19. Or take Flagship Cruises’ Holiday Nights on the Bay dinner cruise on most Friday and Saturday nights during December.

Dec. 1–Dec. 25: Christmas Tree Lane, Fresno

Drive this two-mile stretch of Fresno’s Fig Garden neighborhood, which has been decorating almost every year since 1920. There will be no stroll-only evenings during 2022, so plan to buckle up and experience it from your vehicle.

Dec. 3: Annual Lighted Boat Parade, Stockton

See festooned boats and yachts sail along downtown Stockton’s waterfront during this nearly 40-year-old tradition. Watch from perches along the north shore—like behind the marina and Banner Island Ballpark—or from the south shore near Weber Point and the waterfront warehouse.

Dec. 3: Festival of Lights Parade, Palm Springs

The acclaimed annual parade through downtown Palm Springs features light-bedazzled floats, cars, equestrians, and occasional celebrities.

Dec. 5–21: Fabulous 40s Lights Tours, Sacramento

The top spot for holiday lights in Sacramento is the historic neighborhood known as the Fab 40s. Explore the neighborhood on your own, or do a leisurely SacBrew Bike Holiday Lights Tour, (Dec. 5–21), where you pedal a bike through the neighborhood and stop for a snack.

Dec. 10: Marina del Rey Holiday Boat Parade, Marina del Rey

Walk, bike, or paddle along the waterfront of this L.A. County town to see decorated boats docked at Fisherman’s Village, Burton W. Chace Park, and the Marina Promenade on Admiralty Way. Enjoy evening lights throughout December at Burton Chace Park from 4 p.m.–10 p.m.

Dec. 10–11: Huntington Harbour Boat Parade, Huntington Beach

Orange County’s Huntington Beach launched this boat parade in the 1960s with just 12 vessels, and today there are more than 75. Public viewing areas are along the beaches in the Huntington Harbor—or enter your own boat for the best view.

Dec. 10–11: WinterFest Sausalito, Sausalito

Sausalito’s annual light-fest features dozens of yachts and boats on the water, along with a colorful fireworks finale in the sky. Watch the show (6–9 p.m.) on Dec. 10 from the waterfront, then stay through Dec. 11 for a 5K fun run.

Dec. 11: Santa Barbara Parade of Lights at the Harbor, Santa Barbara

Check out this elegant parade from Santa Barbara’s Stearns Wharf: It kicks off with fireworks and ends as judges award prizes in five categories. During the afternoon, kids can submit their wish lists to St. Nick at the Santa’s Village on the City Pier.

Dec. 14–18: Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade, Newport Beach

This legendary boat parade in Newport Beach dates back to the early 1900s, and today runs for five nights. Watch it from various spots along the route, such as Lido Isle or Balboa Island, or book a spot on one of the ships that’s actually in the parade. Another option: Take an evening cruise on select nights from Dec. 2–31 and glide past more lit boats and homes.

Dec. 16–17: Ventura Harbor Village Holiday Parade of Lights, Ventura

Illuminated boats take two laps around Ventura Harbor on Friday and Saturday evenings (6:30 p.m.) at this annual parade in Ventura; this year’s “Out of this World” theme salutes space travel. Come during the afternoon for kiddie rides and carnival games followed by faux snowfall and LED-emblazoned performers at 5:30 p.m. Stay after the parade for 8 p.m. fireworks, weather permitting.

Dec. 17: Night of Lights, Mammoth Mountain

This annual tradition at Mammoth Lakes always takes place a few nights before the Winter Solstice. Ride the free Village Gondola to Canyon Lodge to make the most of the dark skies, plus enjoy a winter lights show (including fireworks and a torchlight parade), accompanied by live music and snowmobile rides.

Jan. 21–Feb. 19: Napa Lighted Art Festival

Too busy during the month of December? Come to Napa Valley after the New Year for this free, open-air, lighted art walk created by local and international artists at 16 locations in and around Downtown Napa. These unique installations typically include light art, 3D video mapping projections, and lighted sculptures.

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