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Downtown L.A.’s Holiday Decorations, From Gorgeous to Grinchy


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Los Angeles is a filming town, so while other cities light up their town squares with outrageous displays of holiday cheer, L.A. tends to be more of a keep-your-light-under-a-bushel kind of place. Why put up lights and risk that the film industry doesn't book your location for an episode or two of Fresh Off the Boat? But we found downtown's best holiday displays, and also a few grinchy ones to stay away from. 

The must-sees:

Union Station: Far and away the best of the best is Union Station's outdoor light display. This little-discussed exterior tree and light garden on the station’s South Patio will make your family and loved ones think you're really in the know when it comes to where to see something spectacular. Plus, it's just steps away from

Olvera Street: A live nativity and posada starting Dec. 16 help mark the great seasonal lights and decorations proudly displayed on the oldest street in Los Angeles. If Mexican food isn't your thing, or the lines are too long, walk a block over to grab a coffee or some eggs at Philippe the Original (Hooray, they now take credit cards!).

Go if you're in the neighborhood:

Grand Park and the Music Center: We had heard of a spectacular lighting display in Grand Park but we just couldn't find it. Pictures say it exists, but all we could see was the weird pink Christmas ball tree. The Music Center had a nice large living tree and a fully lit menorah (though Hanukkah doesn't start until Dec. 24, so technically the menorah should be dark till then), with a few tasteful wreaths and garlands thrown about. Parking is $10 at night, and you could always park there and then take the metro to Union Station and Olvera Street.

The Water Court at California Plaza: This place is cool, but being at the top of Angels Flight means you either have to move your car and pay for parking again or you have to climb a lot of freakin' stairs. A whole lot of stairs. 


Pershing Square ice skating rink and Biltmore Hotel: It's really great fun to skate, but the lack of any real decorations or lighting plan hurt this holiday stop. The $7 parking (at night — during the day it hits $17) doesn't help, either. But if you are there, we definitely recommend going across the street to the Biltmore and taking a gander at those cool, old-world-style decorations.

Avoid:

L.A. Live: No amount of lights can make up for the crowds and truly pocketbook-shattering cost of parking at L.A. Live. Union Station is just as cool, and the parking is super cheap or you can take Metro right to the decorations. 

Grand Central Market: A couple of dying trees and a pushed-over squirrel are all that show of Christmas. 
Go if it was 2008:

Before it closed, Clifton's Cafeteria had the most magical Christmas display in the city. The decorations (ranging from the 1930s to 1970s) took over the entire place — there really wasn't anywhere to look without smiling. It had Santa riding a sleigh down the main tree, reindeer, snow — you name it. Clifton's does have a Christmas display this year but declined to be photographed, and from what we could see by peering in, it was all new decorations. Those might be pretty, but they don't have the soul of the original.

All photos by Star Foreman.