Impressive Holiday Light Displays in California

Jill Weinlein

In Southern California the holiday light displays are bigger and better than ever. Besides twinkling lights, the destinations offer music, food, entertainment and special visits from people and animals from the North Pole.

Here's a guide to my favorite holiday themed destinations:

The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa celebrates its 26th year as one of the nation's largest holiday light collections. Owners Duane and Kelly Roberts and their staff hang 5 million lights and 400 animated figures around the historic property during their Festival of Lights! Before of after walking around the light displays, enjoy a holiday dinner at the Mission Inn Restaurant. At 5 p.m. the bell tower chimes and the courtyard becomes aglow in lights and animated characters come "alive." After dinner you can admire the elaborately decorated Christmas tree, and the life-size “Santa’s Wonderland House” gingerbread house. It took Executive Pastry Chef David Blaine and his team ten weeks making 800 gingerbread bricks and 200 gingerbread tiles. Listen to the live music, and have a photo taken with Santa and his elves. The festive Holiday Dinner Buffet is available every evening until January 6, 2019 from 4 to 10 p.m. New this year is the “North Pole” walkway complete with elves building snowmen and decorating trees; faux snow dusting visitors under the hotel’s iconic Campanario; holiday window displays; and Santa’s poolside workshop, featuring elves making toys and loading them onto a conveyor belt. For the Ultimate Holiday experience book a stay in the luxurious Kensington Kelly Suite, the hotel’s themed suite named after The Roberts’ first-born granddaughter, Kensington Kelly. The all-pink suite has a pink Christmas tree among other holiday touches to complement the suite’s whimsical ambience. Visit

Christmas in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios Hollywood falls at Hogemeade Village. The storefronts sparkle with snow-capped roofs and holiday lights, garland and decorations. The Hogwarts Castle is lit with color, illuminating Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry during designated times in the evening after sundown. The awe-inspiring light projection show on the castle is choreographed to the musical arrangement from the Harry Potter movies. This special holiday event includes snowfall now until January 6, 2019. On select dates "Grinchmas" celebrates Christmas with the lighting of the one-of-a-kind curved Seussian tree until December 30, 2018. For tickets and information, go to

Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure is extra festive this year. The parks are decked out for the spirit of the season. This year Disney's Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure Park is a celebration of Christmas, Hanukkah, Navidad, Kwanzaa, Three Kings Day and Diwali. There is live music and entertainment, Santa's Holiday Visit, Elf Games, Festive Foods Marketplace, Cookie Decorating, Arts & Crafts. For foodies the Tasting Passport guides guests to 12 different food carts throughout the park. Guests who purchase a Sip and Savor Pass entitles a guest to enjoy 8 different food or non-alcoholic beverage items from any of the participating Marketplace stations. Both theme parks are creating holiday magic in their kitchens with an array of festive culinary dishes until January 8, 2019. Be sure to stay for the fireworks over the dazzling snowcapped Sleeping Beauty's Castle. Visit

Enchanted: Forest of Light at Descanso Gardens celebrates its third year with 10 different areas in the botanical garden. Visitors walk along the one-mile long pathway to experience unique spinning lights, music and interactive displays. Onsite are multiple dining venues including the sit down Maple by Patina Restaurant Group, offering a soulful Enchanted: Forest of Light menu now through Jan. 6, 2019. The special menu is available exclusively to ticket holders before or after exploring the garden’s annual installation Enchanted: Forest of Light. For dinner and Enchanted: Forest of Light reservations

Jill Weinlein

The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa is ablaze with five million lights and hundreds of decorations.

Jill Weinlein

Universal Studios 'Decks the Halls' during the holiday season.

Jill Weinlein

Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure is magical during the holidays

Jill Weinlein

Enchanted: Forest of Light offers 10 different music and light experiences.

Jill Weinlein

Los Angeles based Jill Weinlein covers travel, food and lifestyle destinations for multiple newspapers, magazines and websites. Her areas of expertise include, luxury travel, culinary reviews, cruising and family travel destinations. Born in Los Angeles, Jill studied Communications and Theatre Arts at UCLA. She has a a Dine and Travel blog - and she writes a weekly restaur...(Read More)

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