Probably the most spectacular part of the California holiday season is the dazzling displays of light across the state. It’s the one time of year that outdoor décor—whether you’re in the heart of Hollywood or by the rolling vineyards of wine country—feels united and uniformly festive. One glimpse of the glimmering, shimmering beauty of Christmas lights is enough to bring a smile to the grumpiest of scrooges…and maybe that’s the true magic of the season.
Since our state is known for its creativity and gorgeous settings, we have more awe-inspiring decorations than we can possibly count. But year after year, there are a handful of displays that seem to make visitors utterly gleeful. Take a look at five of the best of these light displays and if you have time, swing by one. We promise, you’ll be hit with that “I’m a kid again” wonderment …and boy, will it will make your holiday bright. Happy Holidays!
1. Candy Cane Lane —Woodland Hills-Tarzana
Intersection of Lubao and Oxnard Streets, Woodland Hills
December 2–December 31 until 10:00 PM
Just a hop, skip and a jump (plus about 45 minutes of traffic) from Hollywood is Woodland Hills’ Candy Cane Lane; a virtual North Pole in the San Fernando Valley. The Candy Cane Lane tradition started back in 1952 and every year since, homeowners in the eight square-block area by Lubao and Oxnard Streets go to town with the holiday decorations, festively trying to outdo their neighbors. It’s great fun, so be sure to stop by if you’re in the Los Angeles area. The displays last from now until the end of the year.
2. San Diego Botanic Garden—San Diego
230 Quail Gardens Drive, Encinitas, CA 92024
December 7–23 and December 26–30 from 5:00–9:00 PM
For a truly dazzling display of the holiday spirit, you must visit the Garden of Lights at the San Diego Botanic Garden. The garden grounds are sparkling with more than 100,000 lights, creating a beautiful and magical setting. To add to the atmosphere, a wintry snowfall will descend on the Botanic Gardens on December 9, 11, 26 and 28—so feel free to bring your sled along for some slip and slide fun. Bonus: Santa will be in the lighted gazebo from 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm from December 7 to the 23rd, so bring the kids along for some face time with Santa (and a picture!).
3. Fantasy of Lights—Los Gatos
333 Blossom Hill Rd., Los Gatos, California 95032
November 29–December 31 from 6:00–10:00 PM
Now in its 15th holiday season, the Santa Clara County Department of Parks and Recreation’s Fantasy of Lights drive-thru event has become one of the most popular holiday lights destinations in Northern California. The cost is $15 per vehicle ($25 per vehicle for 10–25 guests and $50 per commercial and school buses) and for that, visitors are treated to a holiday event unlike any other. Most of the displays are animated and larger-than life, with attractions like the 90-foot “winking, twinkling tree,” a pen of penguins, a Dinosaur Den and much more waiting for you. Check it out!
4. Rombeiro Christmas House—Novato
34 Devonshire Dr., Novato, CA 94947
December 1–January 6 from 6:00–10:00 PM
Can one family’s holiday display attract tens of thousands of visitors every year? If that family is the Rombeiros, the answer is “yes!” For 21 years, the family has transformed their home into a holiday wonderland and opened their doors to the public (41,000 visitors each year). The family’s property and every room of the house (except the master bedroom) is ornately decorated with over 140,000 lights and Christmas displays that leave visitors in awe. Admission is free, but since their December electricity bill typically reached the $4,000 mark, the family welcomes donations after visits.
5. Christmas Tree Lane—Alameda
3200–3299 Thompson Ave., Alameda, CA 94501
December 1–December 31 from 5:30–10:00 PM
Thompson Avenue may be just another street in Alameda for most of the year, but as Christmas nears, it transforms into the Bay Area’s magical Christmas Tree Lane. Visitors flock to this neighborhood street every year to see the twinkling lights, 3-D Santas and merry, merry music, but they also come for one house in particular: the house that features the synchronized light and music rendition of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” by Tim Burton. As one visitor exclaimed after visiting this year: “This place is magical!” And isn’t that what Christmas should be? If you’re in the San Francisco area, head across the Bay and treat yourself to a stroll down Christmas Tree Lane.
Do you have a favorite light display we haven’t mentioned? Let us know in the comments section below!