Los Angeles celebrates the 2018 holidays with these top 10 attractions

While winter never truly comes to Los Angeles and Southern California, that doesn't stop Angelenos from celebrating the holiday season just the same. So whether it is Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year's, the Winter Solstice or some combination of them all that you celebrate, there's something for everyone to enjoy in the Southland. Mickey and Minnie go all out at Disneyland , Harry Potter and the Grinch transform Universal Studios into a holiday haven, parades abound and the Los Angeles Ballet even takes "The Nutcracker" on the road. There's places to ice skate, too – just don't expect any real snow! Los Angeles is famous for its New Year's extravaganza, as the 130th Tournament of Roses Parade will be televised all over the United States. Visiting SoCal for the holidays means you can go in person, but to get good viewing spots, you'll need to join the throngs camping out along the parade route the night before, or splurge and buy seats to watch the parade live. The annual Hollywood Christmas Parade brings out Santa and the stars, too; and you'll find the ultimate shopping adventure on Rodeo Drive as Beverly Hills BOLD takes over that famous destination.


Hollywood Christmas Parade
Photo courtesy of Hollywood Christmas Parade

The Hollywood Christmas Parade marks its 87th year in 2018 and (as usual) it's quite the extravaganza. Happening on November 25 and wending its way from Hollywood Boulevard at Orange (right at the TCL Chinese Theatre) all the way to Vine, down to Sunset and west back to Orange. The live music begins in front of Hollywood & Highland at 5 p.m., with the parade following at 6 p.m. The whole extravaganza airs live on the CW TV network, with Nancy O'Dell serving as this year's grand marshal. She'll be joined by a star-studded group of hosts, including Erik Estrada, Laura McKenzie, Dean Cain and Montel Williams. Musical performers range from Donny and Marie Osmond to The Beach Boys, as well as 14 marching bands. And of course, no Christmas parade would be complete with Santa Claus!

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: This longtime tradition is one of Hollywood's most exciting events, with plenty of fun for the whole family.

Jenny's expert tip: Take the Metro to Hollywood and Vine and snag a good spot; bring a backpack beach chair to be able to sit down as the parade wends past.

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The Queen Mary Christmas
Photo courtesy of The Queen Mary Christmas

The Queen Mary Christmas is an all-new for 2018 celebration in Long Beach harbor, aboard that famous ocean liner. The fun includes ice skating onboard the Queen Mary's uppermost deck, nightly tree lighting ceremonies on the ship's bow, a Gingerbread Village and Stocking Shop, live entertainment, a chance to sit on Santa's lap and more. There's even a show called "Ghost of Christmas Passed: A Theatrical Seance," that calls up all the ghosts who reportedly haunt The Queen Mary. For those less adventurous, there's also a holiday dinner show with holiday themed entertainment. Open daily from November 23, 2018, through January 6, 2019, you can even have breakfast with Santa, especially if you book a room on board and spend the night.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: This annual extravaganza takes on a whole new look and feel for 2018, with events to please both young and old.

Jenny's expert tip: Note that there is no parking anywhere except the Queen Mary parking lot, which costs $8 for three hours.

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Tournament of Roses Rose Bowl Parade
Photo courtesy of Tournament of Roses � Rose Bowl Parade

The 130th Tournament of Roses Rose Parade kicks off on January 1, 2019, at 8 a.m., traveling 5.5 miles along Orange Grove Boulevard and Colorado Avenue in Pasadena. The nationally televised New Year's Day parade is famed for its extravagant floats that are constructed with thousands of flowers, roses and other beautiful blossoms. Presented by Honda, and themed "The Melody of Life," there will be around 40 floats, as well as numerous marching bands, horse-drawn carriages and much more. Singer Chaka Khan is this year's Tournament of Roses Parade Grand Marshal. Admission is free along the parade route, with people camping out the night before to get prime spots on the sidewalk. Or tickets may be purchased for various grandstands, ranging in price from $100 to $55, depending on the spot along the route. The festivities conclude by 1 p.m. when the Rose Bowl college football playoff semifinal begins.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: America's New Year's Day celebrations are traditionally anchored by this Southern California parade institution.

Jenny's expert tip: Buy parking passes along with grandstand seats and you are guaranteed a spot within a one mile walk of your seats.

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Beverly Hills BOLD Holidays
Photo courtesy of Beverly Hills BOLD Holidays

The Beverly Hills BOLD Holidays celebrations are happening all season long, on the 200, 300 and 400 blocks of Rodeo Drive, as well as throughout the city. All the streets in that famous city come alive from November 16 to December 22, 2018, with beautiful lights, holiday cheer, special events and more. Visitors will find later shopping hours (especially on the weekends) as well as pop-up holiday moments that include larger-than-life California snowballs, a live ice-sculpting experience, an interactive peace wall, elegant ballerinas performing on top of grand pianos and much more. BOLD Rides, a chance to drive Lamborghinis or Ferraris, are offered on select Saturdays, while art walks happen on November 30 and December 7. Alexa Meade's interactive pop-up art installation happens from November 15 to December 22, and don't miss the debut of the motorcycle coaches on December 14, 15, 21 and 22, for those are really something.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Beautiful Beverly Hills gets even more amazing with their now annual BOLD Holidays events, making it a must-see stop for the season.

Jenny's expert tip: Rodeo Drive stores stay open late during the Beverly Hills BOLD Holidays on Friday and Saturday nights.

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Winterlit at the Santa Monica Third Street Promenade
Photo courtesy of Winterlit at the Santa Monica Third Street Promenade

Winterlit at the Santa Monica Third Street Promenade is an extravaganza of inclusive holiday events, including everything from Santa and Mrs. Claus lighting the City of Santa Monica Christmas tree on December 3, 2018, at 5:30 p.m. to Menorah lightings happening every night from December 6 to 13 at sundown. The annual Ice at Santa Monica on 5th Street also got into full swing on November 3 and the skating goes on there until January 21, 2019. Cinema on the Street happens from November 21 to January 16 every Wednesday at 6 p.m., free showings of classic films related to Los Angeles (and the holidays, too) on the plaza at 1324 5th Street. Breakfast with Santa happens on December 1 at Santa Monica Place, and many other fun happenings occur throughout the season.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Sunny Santa Monica is a wonderful place to celebrate the winter holiday season, with Winterlit's fun offerings.

Jenny's expert tip: Check the Winterlit website for exact times and locations for the events happening on the Third Street Promenade and beyond.

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La Canada Flintridge
Descanso Gardens
Photo courtesy of Descanso Gardens © Jake Fabricius

Descanso Gardens' annual holiday fantasy lights creation is known as Enchanted: Forest of Light and it really does seem as if you've entered an enchanted wonderland. Normally an internationally renowned garden located to the north of downtown L.A., the gardens are known for their incredible botanical collections and spectacular seasonal horticultural displays. With 160 acres to play with, the gardens' ingenious designers always create beautiful spaces, and then outdo themselves every year with a spectacular and slightly surreal light experience that extends for one mile. There are plenty of fantastical exhibits including the Flower Power, Rainbow Sycamores, Lightwave Lake, the Pixel Grove and much more. The forest is on display from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. from November 18 to January 6, but closed on a select number of nights, so check their website. Tickets are $28-$30 for non-garden members, have a timed entry and must be purchased in advance.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: This is a magical way to see a totally different kind of Christmas light display; and the lights here are interactive, too.

Jenny's expert tip: Be sure to buy your tickets ahead of time; parking is free at the gardens and there's plenty of food and drinks available.

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LA Kings Holiday Ice at L.A. Live
Photo courtesy of LA Kings Holiday Ice at L.A. Live

The LA Kings professional hockey team presents its annual outdoor ice skating rink in downtown Los Angeles for the 2018-2019 holiday season, as "LA Kings Holiday Ice" comes to L.A. Live, right next to Staples Center, where the team plays. Kids and adults, too, can ice skate in the pop-up rink, operating from November 10 to January 6, including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Choose the Supper and Skate option and you'll discover lots of special deals at the participating restaurants that are part of L.A. Live, but make sure you do that the same day you skate, as the deal is only valid that day. Purchase a Fast Pass online to skip the line and be the first to get to skate. The LA Kings Holiday Ice rink offers three sessions each day, from late afternoon to late night.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: There's nothing quite like ice skating on a warm winter evening in the heart of Los Angeles.

Jenny's expert tip: Watch for the LA Kings mascot, he's often on the ice with you!

Read more about LA Kings Holiday Ice at L.A. Live →

West Los Angeles
Los Angeles Ballet
Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Ballet

The Los Angeles Ballet was founded in 2004 by Artistic Directors Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary, and Executive Director Julie Whittaker. The LAB is known for its superb stagings of the Balanchine repertory, as well as the mounting of stylistically meticulous classical ballets and its commitment to new works. Every holiday season, the LAB performs the classic "The Nutcracker" for audiences across Southern California. In 2018, their wonderful performances will be held in the Alex Theatre, Royce Hall, the Dolby Theatre and the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center and at a new venue, the Cerritos Center for the performing arts. This ballet is a perfect way to introduce youngsters into the beauty of the ballet; adults will marvel at the talented dance ensemble that makes every move look completely effortless. Performances begin November 24 and run until December 24.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: "The Nutcracker" is a classic staple of every holiday season; Los Angeles Ballet brings it to life with gorgeous costumes, beautiful music and spectacular dancing.

Jenny's expert tip: Check the website for times and prices in the various venues around the Southland. There's sure to be one near you.

Read more about Los Angeles Ballet →

Universal Studios
Photo courtesy of Universal Studios Hollywood

With "Christmas in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter," Universal Studios Hollywood literally brings the magic to the holidays. Fans of the boy wizard will find Hogsmeade village transformed into a fantasy land of Christmas cheer and see Hogwarts Castle aglow with an unforgettable animated light-projection show. The show happens daily until January 6, 2019. Meanwhile, the theme park's annual "Grinchmas" returns, complete with the Grinch, his dog Max and plenty of Who-ville singers, dancers and others making merry every evening with caroling and other performances. Look for "Grinchmas"on the weekends of December 1-2 and 8-9, and daily from December 14 through December 30, 2018. There will be more holiday treats in store for visitors, too, so be sure to watch for the "Despicable Me" Minions, as they spread their silly holiday cheer throughout the park.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: One of the iconic theme parks of the world, Universal Studios Hollywood really pulls out all the stops with their annual holiday extravaganza.

Jenny's expert tip: Visit CityWalk for free and enjoy Santa's nightly appearances there as well as concerts, caroling and a huge water display at the walk's dancing fountain.

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Disneyland Resort
Photo courtesy of Disneyland

With the traditional holiday elements all in place, Disneyland and its Disney California Adventure next-door theme park are decked out and ready for visitors during the 2018-2019 holiday season. This year's party is themed "Believe . . . in Holiday Magic" and features classics like Sleeping Beauty's Castle completely lit up in Christmas lights and shimmering icicles; huge Christmas trees on Main Street U.S.A. and Buena Vista Street, perfect for that family portrait; and the Haunted Mansion is once again transformed into a fabulously macabre melange of Halloween and Christmas with Jack Skellington as the star of the show. The annual "A Christmas Fantasy" Holiday Parade happens every evening. At Disney California Adventure, two Cars Land rides transform into Christmas delights and many different holiday celebrations are highlighted during its Festival of Holidays, including Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Three Kings Day. The season runs through January 6, 2019.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Spending the holidays with Mickey Mouse at Disney's two SoCal theme parks is incredibly exciting for anyone with young children â€" and for adults, too!

Jenny's expert tip: Be certain to plan to visit both parks â€" Disneyland and Disney California Adventure â€" to see all of the special holiday events and rides on offer from Disney.

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Meet Jenny Peters

Jenny Peters – aka Jet Set Jen – is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist, editor and party columnist specializing in travel, entertainment, film, food, wine, fashion and the other good...  More About Jenny