Holiday light displays brighten up local neighborhoods

The merriness of the winter months can put a damper on a person’s wallet, but with a few dollars spared in the Venmo transactions, certain counties in Southern California offer gleeful experiences that only require a parking spot and patience to navigate through the numerous YouTubers with digital single-lens reflex cameras.

Inland Empire

An establishment reminiscent of a vintage era, the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa offers a breathtaking stroll through Downtown Riverside. The Mission Inn seemingly covers every square inch of the place with Christmas lights and will be participating in the 26th annual Festival of Lights.  

From animatronic nutcracker soldiers to palm trees wrapped in multicolor lights, the Mission Inn has made itself a must-see destination. While the bells toll for Christmas glee, the slow-moving cars halt in the congested streets for the horse-drawn carriages.

The walkways are filled with retail stores and elegant restaurants like Mezcal Cantina y Cocina and Bella Trattoria Italian Bistro, and are decorated with towering ornaments and gift boxes. The long lines to Casey’s Cupcakes mix with the crowds gathering around vendors offering handcrafted merchandise.

The Festival of Lights runs through Jan. 6, which gives people just enough time to enjoy the sunny California weather while avoiding any New Year’s resolutions.

San Gabriel Valley

Pasadena can offer more than just Instagrammable coffee houses and hipster clothing shops. Santa Claus’ workshop in the North Pole has nothing on Upper Hastings Ranch. The elaborate themes continue for blocks full of exuberant inflatables like Star Wars’ C3PO and the Grinch.

It’s the perfect location to drive slower than the speed limit and cars behind you won’t yell obscenities. A pass through the neighborhoods allow drivers and passengers to admire how homeowners go bells out for the holiday, where each house looks like a miniature theme park.

However, north of Pasadena is Christmas Tree Lane. The Altadena community makes an effort to  see that Christmasgoers feel enveloped in the trees that surround their street. Large deodar cedar trees decorated with string lights and larger-than-life ornaments stretch all the way down Santa Rosa Avenue. Park the car a couple streets over and take a stroll down the lane to feel like a gift under the Christmas tree.

Orange County

Although Disneyland may be regarded as the happiest place on earth, a single-day pass for one park can cost over $130 per person. In terms of free, jaw-dropping Christmas displays, Downtown Disney doesn’t have much to offer other than children running wild and over-played showtunes.

For a detour, navigate away from Katella Avenue traffic and head to Irvine Park Railroad. Unlike most Christmas adventure destinations, the old town village thrives in the day and at night.  

The train ride into the Tunnel of Lights is less of a tunnel and more of an open field filled with trees that are decorated with captivating lights. At night, embellished trees illuminate the park, and during the day, activities like the paddle boats and bike rentals can be a calorie-burning alternative to tour the village and be in awe of the festivities.

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