9 Festive Drive-Thru Christmas Lights and Activities in L.A.
Turns out, Halloween isn't the only special day where you can enjoy seasonal COVID-safe festivities in Southern California. If you're celebrating Christmas in L.A., there's a whole holiday caravan of special drive-thru lights, shows, Santa visits and Hanukkah experiences, too. Here's a fun-for-all-ages, safe-in-your-car, socially distanced collection of options (and be sure to check before setting off that the shows are still happening with state restrictions).
1. Santa's Speedway Christmas Lights Drive-Thru Spectacular
Picture this: You're driving on an actual NASCAR track for the holidays when the Irwindale Speedway is transformed into a magical display of lights and attractions, including a record-setting Christmas Tree of lights towering over 110 feet (um, that's 10 stories high). You drive past a village of Santa's elves busily creating toys, then on the half-turn there's a land of giant-sized holiday sweets (aka, 20-foot high lollipops). There's also a 700-foot long sea of lights and a "camping Christmas" where RV enthusiasts have created a campground in festive lights and decorations. This is all from the people who do up The Grove, Universal Studios and Warner Brothers for the holidays, so you know you're going to get a no-holds-barred and profesh light show. Open on November 25 through January 10.
2. Magical Elf Journey
Described as an all-new immersive theatrical production, this is an hour-long drive-thru show in which the Elf on the Shelf saves Christmas by going on a journey to repair Santa's sled. There are tons of elves (wearing masks, of course) running around in a toy repair workshop and gingerbread villages, with Santa and his sleigh available for a photo op. You're encouraged to dress festively, and you'll need to bring a smartphone (though some loaners will be available on site) to follow along in English or Spanish.
3. Candy Cane Lane
Before the days of branded entertainment "experiences," there was an American small town tradition of neighbors decorating their front yards with a Christmas creche, or, say, a wooden-cut out of Saint Nick on his sleigh. What with one neighbor outdoing another, with more lights and ever-increasingly elaborate tableaux...behold, there was born the Christmas street. There are several in Southern Cali, and the one in Woodland Hills, Candy Cane Lane, is our favorite because it's been going on for 60 years on eight blocks around Lubao Avenue and Oxnard Street. Go just at sundown for the least-crowded time, and make a game of it with your family—who can spot the Santa hat-wearing minions first? How many Santas can you find? And what inspirations can you take back to your own home?
4. South Coast Botanic Garden Glow
Want to see something that's more artistic and less Santa-oriented? And maybe want to stretch your legs outside your auto? Then. This. Experience. Has. Everything. At the South Coast Botanic Garden from November 21 to January 10, you can buy a timed ticket to walk through the famously lush greenery, now transformed into visually stunning art installations depicting an oceanic experience using thousands of lights. Your walk is cued to an artistically curated soundtrack guiding you through this unique and unforgettable after-dark event featuring original electropop created for GLOW by DJ Jerzy, as well as Baja surf music, Vivaldi and the band Train.
5. Nutcracker Concerts in Your Car
Your little inner bunhead doesn't need to miss out: Southern California is hosting one of a handful of outdoor Nutcracker productions in the U.S. this season. This performance happens on an extra-high 360-degree stage at the Ventura County fairgrounds at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturday, December 12 and at the Del Mar Fairgrounds on the following Saturday, December 19, at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. The show will include a visual light show, multi-media entertainment and a video screens. Just like in a traditional drive-in theater, sounds of the show including Tchiakovsky's score is piped in via your car stereo, on 89.7 FM. The ballerina is Elizaveta “Leeza” Domrachev of Ballet Academy Ventura, who has danced with Russia’s prestigious Perm State Ballet and the male lead is Jack Stewart, who has danced globally with State Street Ballet.
6. Strong Water Anaheim
In Anaheim through December 31, the tiki bar Strong Water is hosting a pop-up called Sippin’ Santa with special holiday-themed to-go cocktails. Yes, for those of us that have delighted in the silver lining of restaurant restrictions—that now, as long as you order one food item, you can get cocktails to go. The bar itself will be transformed with a holiday twist, but even if you don't set a foot inside, you can enjoy the cute theme cocktails created by tiki-connoisseur Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, such as the North Pole Punch, Runaway Sleigh and Rum Rum Rudolph. The drinks come in theme glasses and will be brought to you curbside...because this might be just the thing to steel yourself for that series of family Zoom calls during the day.
How about a drive-thru the North Pole? That's what's happening in Woodland Hills, when the team behind Haunt'oween build out a new automobile-based experience, this time with tunnels of glowing Christmas lights instead of lit-up pumpkins. The company behind this is Experiential Supply, which builds activations for big budget Hollywood fare like It: Chapter Two and Ready Player One. It's happening November 30 to December 23, and December 26 to December 30. Expect snow-dusted streets and a maze of Christmas trees, with guest appearances by Santa, Mrs. Claus and elves, as well as a partnership with YouTube star JoJo Siwa.
8. Winter Holiday/Stocking Stuffer Sweets Crawl
A producer alum of the famed Haunted Hay Ride in Griffith Park has created this event, which includes a Snowman "Sno-ball" fight (you grab a bag of cotton plush snow balls and exchange fire with fired-up snowmen), a visit to the Village of Gnomes (which sounds creepy, kitsch and social media-ready), a story from Santa and, if you dare, an Ugly Car Sweater Contest. Best of all, you get a stocking at the start of the drive, and characters fill it with sweets—vegan, gluten-free and vegetarian options are available—during your drive.
9. Newport Christmas Cruise
The Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade tradition began over 100 years ago with a dozen boats that set sail, strung with decorations by their owners. While this year, the actual parade of boats has been canceled due to COVID-19, you can still board a boat from December 4 to January 3 and enjoy a water-view of all the estates around the Newport Harbor that are decorated. With fewer crowds expected, and holiday lights cruise boats running at decreased capacity with guests wearing masks, it is an open-air, and still Christmasy, celebration of the season.