Going out of town for the holidays can be complicated (and expensive), but take flying out of the equation and the prospect seems a lot more fun (and affordable). If you’re willing to forgo that wonderful week of a traffic-free Los Angeles, here are some festive, fun places to flee to.
Distance from DTLA: 100 miles
What to do: Last year, the city kiboshed Robolights, artist Kenny Irwin’s outrageous Christmas display that drew people from all over the region (much to the chagrin of neighbors). Fortunately, you can still drive about 15 miles southeast to Palm Desert to check out Wildlights, the Living Desert Zoo & Gardens’ glowing holiday spectacle. Luminescent life-size animals light up the park every day through December 28 (except for Christmas Day).
Also check out: Take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway up the mountain for Christmas dinner at either Pines Cafe or Peaks Restaurant, both of which have special holiday menus with seasonal fare like roasted turkey and glazed ham.
Distance from DTLA: 200 miles
What to do: No, they’re not technically holiday lights, but Bruce Munro’s installation Field of Light is sparklier and more mind boggling than any Christmas display. The artist covered the rolling hills at Sensorio with more than 58,000 fiber optic spheres to stunning effect—you can even sip wine as you stroll. Note: Sensorio is only open Thursday through Sunday, so you’ll have to entertain yourself elsewhere on actual Christmas.
Also check out: Take a stroll down Vine Street to admire the thoroughfare’s stock of Victorian homes decked out in their holiday best.
Distance from DTLA: 200 miles
What to do: Fans of Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas can commune with actual otters in this charming town with a very big rock. Bundle up, rent a kayak from one of several vendors, and hit the bay.
Also check out: The city pays homage to its heritage as a commercial fishing town by erecting Christmas trees made from old crab pots all over the city. At night, they light up the streets.
Distance from DTLA: 55 miles
What to do: The Mission Inn is beautiful year-round, but it really sparkles at the holidays. Through December 31, the hotel hosts its annual Festival of Lights, which has live entertainment, carriage rides, an artisans collective, a carousel and a ferris wheel, and an interactive experience that puts you inside a gigantic snow globe.
Also check out: On December 21, 22, and 23, David Allan’s Nutcracker, featuring a pair of principal dancers with the New York City Ballet alongside lots of local IE talent, hits the Landis Performing Arts Center.
Distance from DTLA: 25 miles
What to do: Does Long Beach really count as a getaway? Why the hell not. (Have you ever tried going there during rush hour? It feels farther than it is.) Through the end of the month, the Long Beach Trolley is hosting tours of the best light displays on the waterfront, particularly Naples Island. Tickets for the 30-minute tour include hot chocolate and a cookie, a souvenir Santa hat and candy cane, and of course plenty of Christmas music to sing along to.
Also check out: The Queen Mary is all decked out for the holidays. Strap on some skates and take a spin around their 26-foot Christmas tree.
Distance from DTLA: 129 miles
What to do: Do Christmas like the Danes do at the Santa Barbara County storybook town’s annual Julefest. Santa’s Village is open every Saturday till Christmas Day, plus (on December 21 and 28) costumed guides are leading candlelight tours through town with caroling, local lore, and more. Find out why it’s been called one of the most Christmassy towns in America.
Also check out: Good news. The Aebleskiver Café—purveyor of those famous doughnut balls—is open on Christmas.
Distance from DTLA: 80 miles
What to do: The San Bernardino Mountains are an actual dang winter wonderland, but if you really want to go full bore for the holidays, a visit to Skypark at Santa’s Village is basically mandatory. The long-defunct theme park that predates Disneyland was resurrected a few years ago as an adventure park with ziplines, rock-climbing walls, and whatnot, but Santa’s Village remains its nostalgic centerpiece.
Also check out: There’s a white Christmas in the forecast (be sure you have tire chains), so get outside and explore the village.