So you've got two consecutive three-day weekends and nothing to do? Get the hell out of Los Angeles! In spite of SoCal's abundant sunshine, our small(er)-town neighbors celebrate the holidays with the best of 'em. Whether you're looking for Santa, snow, romance, debauchery or all of the above, here are some getaways within driving distance, which all promise to jingle your bells or nog your egg or whatever.
An obvious choice. The Danish village of Solvang is pretty festive all year round, so it's no surprise that during the holidays it's been named among the most Christmassy towns in America. The town's annual Julefest came and went, but what attracts lots of people to Solvang are its many wineries and beer halls, and from now until the new year many are decorated and are hosting a variety of events like holiday wine tastings with cheese or truffle pairings. They're even offering a Winter Pass: 40 bucks for a tasting at each of 15 Santa Ynez Valley Wine Country Association tasting rooms. That'll keep you warm, even if it's not very cold outside. solvangusa.com.
Part peaceful retreat, part debauched bachelorette party destination, Palm Springs is also good for a desert holiday. There's plenty of grown-up fun to be had but head east to Palm Desert and the Living Desert Zoo and Botanical Garden, where most nights through December 31 (except on Christmas Day) they're flipping the switch on the WildLights Holiday Festival. Because, come on, you don't have to be a kid to find the joy in a camel or carousel ride, or a walk through the Tunnel of Lights, a canopy built of tiny blinking bulbs set to holiday music. Lighting up the night around the corner from Frank Sinatra's old estate is artist Kenny Irwin Jr.'s Robolights, a “winter-wonderland-meets-sci-fi art installation.” If you stick around for New Years Eve, indulge in nostalgia when Joan Jett and the Blackhearts play Aqua Caliente Casino. Christmas in the desert doesn't have to involve a manger and myrrh. visitpalmsprings.com.
If Christmas Eve and Christmas Day activities seem sparse elsewhere, that's definitely not the case at Big Bear, where zipline, Segway, paddleboat and helicopters tours continue throughout both days, not to mention an alpine slide and holiday grub at well over a dozen restaurants. And on New Years Eve, Snow Summit Resort rings in 2016 by lighting up all of Big Bear with the glow of speeding flames. At 7 p.m. on December 31, between 100 and 250 skiers and snowboarders dressed in holiday garb will take to the slopes with torches to participate in the Torchlight Parade, creating a twinkling snake of light as they descend. Head to the resort for the bash starting at 8 p.m. bigbear.com.
San Diego area
There's been little more than a dusting of snow on Mount Laguna — so, sorry, no snowmen — but there's other stuff to get you in the holiday spirit in and around San Diego. Head there this weekend to catch the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights when the sun goes down (5:30 p.m.) on Sunday, December 20; 80 decorated boats start their cruise at Shelter Island, pass Harbor Island, the Embarcadero and Seaport Village, and wind up at the Ferry Landing in Coronado. Or head to the teeny-tiny town of Julian for a country Christmas, replete with bed and breakfasts, a mountain train ride and so much other quaint stuff it would turn your stomach if you weren't having such a wholesome good time. sandiego.org, julianca.com/country-christmas.html.
If you don't make it to Temecula before the New Year, don't sweat it. Their Winterfest continues all the way through February 28. If you do, throw on some blades at Temecula On Ice, an outdoor ice-skating rink in Town Square Park that's open through January 3. Then bring a blanket and up to three friends on a Jingle Bell Sleigh Ride through South Coast Winery's vineyards to ogle 100,000 lights adorning them — or up the romance by bringing just one “friend.” visittemeculavalley.com.
According to their website, the open-air Santa Barbara Trolley of Lights Tour is totally sold out for 2015 — but with four wheels and a little DIY holiday spirit, there's no reason you can't create your own. Or ditch the car and head to Paseo Nuevo for nightly snowfall through Christmas Eve, climate change be damned. There's also the Eye See Santa Barbara Holiday Lights Photography Tour — festive and educational. santabarbaraca.com.
The Victorian houses on Paso Robles's famed Vine Street are decked each year with lights and decorations, and it makes for a beautiful stroll throughout the holiday season. And a visit to the central coast would be pointless without a visit to one of its many wineries — several are open on Christmas Eve and, according to a wine country website, one is even open on Christmas Day, just in case Santa doesn't bring you a Syrah that's worth a damn. prcity.com.