Los Angeles is a place with an active car culture and a temperate climate, with residents who tend to be fans of both extravagant spectacles and technology. During the holiday season, these traits converge to form the perfect storm of holiday-themed lighting displays. Some annual attractions have become national landmarks, such as Christmas Tree Lane in Altadena, while others remain comparatively less known (but no less impressive), like El Segundo's Candy Cane Lane. The one thing they have in common is the fact that they're all unique, showing that when it comes to holiday lighting displays, SoCal doesn't mess around. Here are just a few of our favorites in the City of Angels and beyond.
Enchanted: Forest of Light
This year may have sucked in multiple ways, but at least it marks the debut of Enchanted: Forest of Light at Descanso Gardens. Highlights of the different displays include Jen Lewin's “Pool,” which allows visitors to change colors of an oversized light sculpture by bounding over illuminated pads. The rest of Enchanted's thematic, high-tech attractions were designed by Chris Medvitz of Lightswitch, including the interactive “Symphony of Oaks,” which gives visitors the chance to control lights and sounds using buttons and joysticks. A walk through the park's towering oak trees, camellia forest and Japanese garden already has the capacity to melt the hardest of hearts, but when everything's transformed into a glittering blanket of stars, it's like hot chocolate for the soul. Descanso Gardens, 1418 Descanso Drive, La Cañada Flintridge; through Jan. 8; $28, $24 seniors and children. enchantedla.com.
Christmas Tree Lane
This Altadena tradition started in 1920 when a local businessman had the “bright idea” to light up a row of cedrus deodara trees, initially planted in the area in the 1880s. By the mid-1950s, the Christmas Tree Association was established to oversee the seasonal festivities, which would go on to involve Local 11 of the Electric Workers Union, the Boy Scouts and the Women's Auxiliary. It earned the designation of a California State Landmark in the National Register of Historic Places for being an early example of America's love affair with both leisure motoring and fancy light displays. Some of the neighborhood's 150 trees have since dried out, but thanks to an immense sense of civic pride, new measures have been implemented to make sure that one of the country's oldest holiday light displays will continue to operate smoothly for decades to come. Santa Rosa between Altadena Drive and Woodbury Ave., Altadena; through early January; free. christmastreelane.net.
L.A. Zoo Lights
Now in its third year, L.A. Zoo Lights turns a beloved local landmark into a winter wonderland. While learning about the zoo's 250 different species, visitors can glimpse seasonal animal-themed displays, along with shimmering tunnels, huge lit-up snowflakes, 3-D animated projections and even a disco-ball forest. The zoo's aptly named LAIR (Living Amphibians, Invertebrates and Reptiles) greets guests with a huge, tongue-flicking, illuminated snake, while inside, ultraviolet light effectively turns the whole attraction into a mock rave. Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the L.A. Zoo is also the only place where guests will be able to see actual reindeer — except maybe when they're flying overhead towing a sled. Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens, 5333 Zoo Drive, Griffith Park; through Jan. 8; $14 adults, $11 children. LAZoolights.org.
Festival of Lights
A National Historic Landmark, the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa in Riverside is a popular getaway for people who not only want to escape the stress of the city but also want to enjoy the aesthetic appeal of a bygone era without the trouble of building a time machine. Featuring a hodgepodge of eclectic architecture, the buildings at the Mission Inn form a labyrinthine maze that lends itself to a dazzling annual light display, now in its 24th year. With more than 4 million lights, hundreds of animated holiday figures and the “world’s largest man-made mistletoe,” the impressive Festival of Lights promises to light up the eyes of even the most cynical grinch. Mission Inn Hotel & Spa, 3649 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside; through Jan. 7; free. missioninn.com.
El Segundo Candy Cane Lane
A local tradition since 1949, El Segundo Candy Cane Lane features 26 homes decorated with everything from planes and trains to old-fashioned Nativity scenes. Each year, Santa kicks off the neighborhood festivities by ceremonially lighting each home as he strolls down to the end of the street, where he can sometimes be found waiting to take pictures with kids of all ages. While it's a neighborhood thing, no cars are allowed, so visitors are asked to park nearby and walk instead. That should give everyone more time to truly appreciate all the effort that's gone into decorating the various homes, anyway. 1200 block of East Acacia, El Segundo; through early January; free. facebook.com/ESCandyCaneLane.
Sleepy Hollow Christmas Lights Extravaganza
Despite its name, you won't find any headless horsemen at the annual Sleepy Hollow Christmas Lights Extravaganza in Torrance. What you will find, however, are plenty of lights. In this otherwise quiet South Bay neighborhood, local homeowners go balls-to-the-wall with extravagantly decorated houses that attract so many looky-loos, enterprising local youngsters have established an adjunct tradition of selling hot cocoa and snacks to the crowds. Tip: Because the event attracts loads of automobile traffic, consider parking on PCH, Calle Mayor or Prospect Avenue and walking instead. Various homes on Robert Road and vicinity, Torrance; through Jan. 1; free.
Daisy Avenue Christmas Tree Lane
In 1953, Long Beach resident Gertrude Whittle petitioned the city council for permission to beautify a piece of land with a holiday-themed display. Now, Daisy Avenue Christmas Tree Lane has grown from a modest Nativity scene to accommodate a wide variety of glittering displays. Today, visitors can expect marvelously illuminated conifer trees and a variety of small-scale holiday tableaux. The monthlong neighborhood spectacle is celebrated with the 63rd annual Daisy Avenue Christmas Tree Lane Parade on Saturday, Dec. 10, sponsored by local businesses as well as the City of Long Beach.Wrigley Neighborhood at 2000 Daisy Ave., Long Beach; through early January; free. facebook.com/DaisyLaneLB.
Artist and Palm Springs native Kenny Irwin first started working on Robolights 30 years ago at the tender age of 12. Millions of lightbulbs later, Irwin's ambitious, inexplicable project is now officially the biggest residential light display in the country, inviting curious guests to meander through more than 4 acres of weirdness created from nearly 2 million pounds of junk. The outdoor sculpture park is not only inspired by the holidays but by sci-fi and fantasy, too. In what appears to be a freaky mashup of A Christmas Story and Blade Runner, elves are robots and sleds look suspiciously like rockets. As visitor and fan Paul Koudounaris quips, “It's everything you've ever hated about Christmas perverted into something you love.” Robolights, 1077 Granvia Valmonte, Palm Springs; through Jan. 1; donations encouraged. facebook.com/ROBOLIGHTS.