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California at Christmas

We will be visiting family at Christmas for two weeks with a base in the LA area, but would like to spend a few days in a small town that has a nice family Christmas feel? We spent many a Christmas in Europe and we saw photos of Solvang which has the Denmark feel. Any other suggetions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance!

Posted by
3105 posts

If the OP is from CO I doubt she’d be impressed with ski areas in SoCal. I do think she’d enjoy potentially warm, sunny Solvang and the nearby charming towns of Santa Ynez and Los Olivos which have a festive flair in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Edit: An added bonus for the adults, there are hundreds of wineries in the Santa Ynez Valley with tasting rooms and scenic grounds for picnics that are often possible outdoors, even in December.

Posted by
2017 posts

I'll also recommend Solvang but I have to qualify that by saying I haven't lived in that area for several years. It used to be one of my favorite places to visit; it's in a lovely part of central California. I second the suggestions you have received from Mona. I always have loved the Los Olivos and Santa Ynez area and Solvang will be very festive during holiday time.

Posted by
6868 posts

If you elect to see Solvang, perhaps you can stop by Ojai as well (it's not terribly out of the way). I don't know if it will have a Chrismas feel, but it is a nice, laid-back small charming town. I go back home to see family during Christmas as well, and one of my favorite things to do is the Balboa Island (near Newport Beach) Christmas Boat parade. Even if you miss the parade, I highly recommend checking out Balboa Island, the beaches of SoCal (Pacific Coast Highway), and visiting one of the California Missions (San Juan Capistrano is lovely, but there are others as well).

Posted by
1214 posts

If you're looking to do an overnight trip, you could visit Hearst Castle and stay overnight in Cambria or San Luis Obispo. I visited Hearst Castle at Christmastime with my relatives and it was beautifully decorated and learned more about Hearst family-even got to sit in his private movie theatre.

Posted by
8271 posts

Carmel would be my choice. I realize it’s a fair distance but so worth it.
Carmel is extremely charming, like a Cotswold village, very enjoyable anytime, but especially at Christmas. You can easily walk anywhere in town, and to the beautiful beach. You can walk from the beach to Pebble Beach golf course very easily. Dog friendly town, off leash dogs allowed on beach. Town has lots of good restaurants, shops, art galleries, a park, a very sweet small church. Many wonderful hotels and many Airbnb options. Just a little south of Carmel is the start of the Big Sur Coastline. Carmel is next to Monterey with the amazing Monterey Bay Aquarium. Carmel and surrounding area is great for bike riding if that’s of interest. And if you have any golfers, several great courses.

I’m not a fan of Solvang. It’s kitschy and tacky imo.

Posted by
2328 posts

And Carmel has such friendly people too, and good-looking!

Plus, the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1, along the coast) has just this past week re-opened, ahead of schedule, after a year closed due to a major landslide south of Big Sur. It's a beautiful, if slow, drive between northern and southern California, with a variety of inns, restaurants, shops, campgrounds and viewpoints. For beauty and safety, it's best to do that drive in daylight hours.

Posted by
8271 posts

Larry, I’d love to live in Carmel, lucky you... : )

Posted by
151 posts

Many thanks to all of you for your input! I think we will drive up the coast with a few reserverations due to the time and season. I like the idea of the charm that Monterey and Carmel has to offer. I also googled imaged Hearst castle which looks like a great place too! Solvang...I think I still need to see it if only for a day as it offers the European flavor that I love! Thanks again to all of you for the great suggestions.

Posted by
794 posts

L.A. at Christmas?

Rodeo Drive, Baby - Go see the $10,000,000 of crystal chandeliers that Baccarat hangs over the street.

Old Town Pasadena and Christmas Tree Lane - 10 Million lightbulbs can't be missed. Old Town Pas is one of the better "Christmas" destinations, but any place that is will have traffic you just have to see to believe.

Olvera Street and Chinatown - see how the other half lives.

Griffith Park; especially the Observatory. Check out the programs they have.

West Hollywood and Santa Monica - Try to do the farmers market in WH, and keep your eye open. You'll see stars...

Go up to La Canada and get on highway 2. Drive up into the mountains towards Chilao. From up there you can look out into the Mojave desert on one side and (if the air is clear) to Catalina Island in the other direction.

Last, put on your flip flops, get a Bogie Board, and go to the beach. That's what locals will do if the weather's good. Just remember, the water's cold.

There are no "small towns" in and around L.A. it's ingested them. Still, there's a lot to do there. Remember people start camping out on the streets in Pasadena for the Rose Parade a week early. You can go see the floats being built before then.

Solvang is purely tourist, and commercial. If that's what you want for Christmas then go for it, but I wouldn't. Solvang is 3-5 hours from L.A. Paso Robles is 4-6 hours (depending on traffic) from L.A. Carmel is 8 hours. They are not L.A.

Posted by
1777 posts

@ larry how good looking? VERY lol
is your picture on the sign "entering carmel"

drive up the coast ventura, santa barbara, catalina and avila, pismo beach (splash cafe for chowder in a bowl), cambria hiway 1 to good looking carmel. there are wineries, parks, ocean, beaches, hearst castle, along the way. and drew barrymore by carmel road has wine using monterey grapes, be on the lookout, you may see larry on the road with a bottle. :)

Posted by
8763 posts

KGC mentioned watching the floats being constructed for the Rose Parade. We often went to L.A. right after Christmas to visit relatives and we did that one year. It was very interesting. The following year we got to actually help with making the float for the city of Glendale. It was quite an experience. My relative arranged it, so I don't know who would need to be contacted if you were interested in that.

Posted by
794 posts

L.A. get an hour more sun every day in December than Grand Rapids. And the OP is from CO; 60 in December is a lot warmer than home will be.

Yes, everything is crowded. The City of L.A. has almost 4 million people in it. The County has a greater population than the entire State of Michigan, and twice that of Colorado. Plus tourists, and Christmas is a major tourist season down there.

There are hundreds of holiday events, all over the county. Every amusement park, zoo, music center, and mall will have something going on. If they're lucky there will be snow on the mountains and it won't rain.

You want to do something most tourists never even hear about? Take the ferry over to Catalina for the day. I'd rather do that than fight traffic up the coast to Monterey.

Or go to Palm Springs, which is where all the movie stars spent the winters way back when. It's only a couple hours drive from L.A. and it never rains out there. Plus you can take a tram up to the top of San Jacinto and enjoy the view.

A trip to Death Valley would be good too, as December is a great time to visit, and again, most tourists won't be thinking like that. Go when there's nobody there and the temperatures are sub-100 degrees in the daytime.

Go out to Anzo Borego Park and take in the desert. It's beautiful in the winter.

Take a couple hours and go to Vasquez Rocks. There you can climb all over the scenery you've seen in everything from Westerns to Star Trek.

Go to the Tar Pits, The Petersen, The Getty.

Take a drive around Rancho Palos Verdes and see one of the least known, very old money, neighborhoods in the State.

Go to Huntington Gardens and see how bankers a hundred years ago spent their money. Or go to Descanso Gardens and picnic on the lawn. (December is perfect for this as the Camillias will be in bloom.)

Christmas in L.A. is not like anywhere else. It's vacation time and "get away from the tourists" time. When I lived in Pasadena I spent Christmas in Mammoth or Tahoe. There's more folks coming home thru LAX after Christmas than people outbound.

Actually, if you want to spend time is a small town that "feels" like Christmas, go to Mammoth or June Lake, or Lone Pine. They're a lot more "Christmas like" than Carmel. (I also lived up that way (Santa Cruz) a few years, and in Napa, and in SAC, so I do know CA.)

Have fun. Who knows, it's entirely possible I'll be down there at that time too.