With theaters and theme parks still tightly closed due to COVID-19 — the pandemic that just keeps giving — Christmas 2020 is going to be super light on outdoor activities this year.
But if you and your pod feel the need to go further afield than a walk through the neighborhood, there are a few things you can do. Just remember to check ahead to make sure new COVID rules haven’t closed these venues too, and be sure to practice social distancing and wear a mask.
Ventura Botanical Gardens is a 40-acre collection of more than 8,000 plants from Mediterranean-type climes, plus it’s a darn pretty place to walk, with some spectacular ocean views. And — Christmas bonus! — the gardens have free entry on Fridays, including Dec. 25 (normal admission is $7). Leashed dogs are permitted on Fridays and Wednesdays too.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s indoor exhibits have been closed for months due to coronavirus concerns, so, naturally, LACMA is also closed on Christmas Day, but its outside grounds are open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily and a fun place to wander. Check out the new, mesmerizingly lifelike sculpture installation “Farewell, Work Holiday Parties” by Alex Prager, have a contest about who can take the most creative photo in Chris Burden’s popular “Urban Light” grid of street lights, or take fun photos around Yoshitomo Nara’s 25-foot bronze “Miss Forest” or of children pretending to hold up the massive boulder under Michael Heizer’s “Levitated Mass.” All visitors are required to wear face masks and practice social distancing.
Theme it up
Universal Studios’ CityWalk shopping and food area in Studio City is open noon to 8 p.m., and they’re now serving Butter Beer (hot, cold or frozen) and other Harry Potter-themed treats, including Chocolate Frogs.
Check out the lights
The Mission Inn in Riverside attracted some 750,000 people last year for its monthlong Festival of Lights. This year there aren’t any special programs, vendors or lighting ceremony, but the block-long inn will still be decorated with lights on three sides, along with the city’s surrounding pedestrian mall for people who want to take an evening stroll. The scaled-down event is called Christmas Lights at the Inn. (Note: The Mission Inn has more lights, a lifesize gingerbread house and an elaborately decorated 19-foot Christmas tree inside, but because of COVID-19, those areas are open only to hotel guests this year. The hotel’s four restaurants and bars are presently closed due to COVID restrictions.)
Outdoor shopping centers will likely be closed, but their lights and music should still be playing if you haven’t had your fill of window shopping and strolling. The Third Street Promenade’s Winterlit display in Santa Monica, for instance, includes thousands of dazzling lights and art by artists asked to express what the holiday season means to them.
The Elf on the Shelf’s Magical Holiday Journey is billed as an “immersive drive-through experience” at the Pomona Fairplex, an original story with actors, song and special lighting. In this show, Santa is forced to land his sleigh at the fairgrounds during a test flight, due to a lack of Christmas spirit. Cars “shrink” to elf-size to help the elves get Santa’s sleigh back in the air and save Christmas. Tickets are $49.95 adults and $44.95 children on Christmas Day, with at least two and no more than eight people per vehicle.
The Irwindale Speedway is hosting Santa’s Speedway Christmas Lights Drive-Thru, created by Mobile Illumination, the company that’s done holiday lighting for the Grove and Universal Studios, says spokeswoman Rachel Rogers. According to organizers, for $59 per car (maximum eight passengers), participants get the “thrill” of driving two miles on a real NASCAR race track (at slow speeds) through a 30- to 45-minute light show that includes scenes from Santa’s workshop, a 100-foot Christmas tree made of lights, and an LED forest of giant lollipops and other treats. As with all these venues, check ahead before you go in case of COVID-related closures. Online ticket sales only.
Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia is opening its park to cars through Jan. 3 for its Holiday in the Park Drive-Thru Experience, allowing visitors to drive a prescribed route through the park to admire the twinkling lights, seasonal music and decked-out characters, including Santa and his elves. Just remember, you can’t get out of the car. Tickets are $30 per person on Christmas Day, with a minimum of two tickets per car.
Altadena’s Christmas Tree Lane at East Mariposa Street and Santa Rosa Avenue is celebrating its 100th anniversary of lighting the lane, but this year the annual lighting ceremony and other events were canceled due to COVID-19.
Pasadena’s Upper Hastings Ranch neighborhood association will continue its 69-year-old tradition of displaying holiday lights and decor through Jan. 2, from 6 to 10 pm. in the area of Hastings Ranch Drive and Sierra Madre Boulevard. Photos of what to expect are posted on its Facebook page and website.
Torrance’s Seaside Rancho neighborhood, otherwise known as the popular Sleepy Hollow Christmas Lights, will be lit this year, but the city is trying to discourage crowds by putting up no-stopping signs along the main display streets of Doris Way, Sharynne Lane, Reese Road, Carol Drive and Linda Drive. Visitors traditionally park and walk along the streets to admire the lights, but the city is hoping that its no-stopping rules will reduce foot traffic this year. The city website notes that large gatherings are prohibited and urges visitors to social distance and wear masks. The lights are typically on from 6 to 10 p.m.
The city of Beverly Hills has installed a new Visions of Holiday Glamour in the center median of its famous shopping street, Rodeo Drive, to complement its usual lavish holiday decor. The new display, which runs through Jan. 3, features 10 statuesque mannequins donned in elaborate gowns made of winter foliage, florals and metallic holiday ornaments, along with palm trees ablaze in white lights. You can, of course, cruise the street in your car, but if you stop to do some tony window shopping or selfies under the street sign, be sure to bring a mask and practice social distancing.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.