8 Wonderful Things to do in California in December

Happy Holidays, everyone! You may think of the West Coast as the perfect destination in the warm summer months, but what about all the incredible aspects of California in December? It’s where you go to escape frigid temperatures and do some sightseeing without the weight of that bulky winter coat.

I’ve already shared a 7-day California road trip, but here is even more information about the best California attractions in December!

A Very Disney Christmas

disneyland in california in december
Disneyland at night

California’s Disneyland Park is a beautiful place to experience Christmas, key for family fun, gorgeous light displays, and of course the Christmas parades down Main Street, USA! What better time of year for a bit of Disney magic?

If you want to avoid the crowds, try to visit on a weekday earlier in the month. The closer to Christmas, the bigger the crowds, so get there early–especially if it’s only a day trip! If Disney is your main attraction, you might want to stay in one of the Disneyland Hotels for easy access.

A San Diego December

If small crowds and a temperate climate is what you’re after, then roll on down to Southern California! In San Diego, you can stroll along empty beaches, check out Balboa Park’s December Nights festival, and even do some ice skating on a rink by the sea.

The best whale watching season starts in mid-December in California, which means you can spend your holidays admiring gray whales off of San Diego’s 20-miles of coast. To whale-watch for free, you can take your binoculars to the Cabrillo National Monument, or fork over some cash on a tour.

The San Francisco Festival of Lights

San Francisco is an incredible city any time of the year, but only in December can you be dazzled by its Festival of Lights.

This festival takes place all month long, while local artists install Christmas light sculptures around the city. To see them, go on a self-guided walking tour for beautiful holiday lights and fresh air!

For a more sobering tour, you can book a cruise to visit Alcatraz, or, for some silly grown-up fun, there’s SantaCon, which is exactly what it sounds like: a convention of Kris Kringles. Dress up like Santa and dance down the street! Why not?

Ho-Ho Hollywood Christmas Parade

On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, you can check out the Hollywood Christmas Parade, complete with live music, holiday performances, and Santa, of course! Just make sure you get there early to find a good spot to watch the parade roll on down the road.

From there, you’re in a great spot to explore the greater Los Angeles area, check out the Grinchmas or Harry Potter Christmas at Universal Studios, or see gorgeous light displays at the Descanso Botanical Gardens. 

Of course, if you stick around for New Years, there’ll be no shortage of nightlife to keep you awake long past midnight!

Cozy Lake Tahoe

heavenly village in december

If you’re looking to snuggle up on a white Christmas, Lake Tahoe might just be the place to do it! Thanks to its high altitude in the Sierra Nevada mountains, the right mix of precipitation and good luck will have you ooh-ing and aah-ing over the perfect snowy mountain getaway.

Ideal for the holiday season, ice skating near Heavenly Village will put a twinkle in your eye, and skiing around the gorgeous lake will have you ready to relax with some mulled wine at the end of the day.

Even a California Christmas can get chilly if you want it to!

Relax in Palm Springs

girl in Joshua Tree national park in December

Where better to go in December than the desert? Palm Springs has some of the warmest temperatures in California, which means that if you have no interest in a white Christmas, this is the spot for you!

There are plenty of resorts where you can play golf if that’s your game, take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway for a panoramic view of the desert, check out the Moorten desert botanical garden, and more!

Better yet, drive an hour out of town for a day trip to Joshua Tree National Park for some wonderful hiking, camping, rock climbing, and everything you need for a warm, outdoorsy December!

December in Death Valley

About 5-hours away from Los Angeles is one of the hottest and driest national parks in the United States, for those of you who are really trying to escape the winter weather!

Thankfully, visiting in the holiday season means the temperatures will have cooled down enough to comfortably do some sightseeing. Visit the Zabriskie Point for a panorama view of the desert, the sandy Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, and the surreal salt flats of Badwater Basin. 
If you want to document the landscape with some breathtaking IG shots, check out my tips on taking aesthetic photos!

Quick note: while the day temperatures should be nice and warm, the nights can get pretty chilly. Bring layers, and don’t forget sunscreen!

Beachside Monterey

Devoted fans of Pretty Little Liars will recognize Monterey County as the leading ladies’ picturesque hometown. If you wanted to experience California on a classic USA road trip, this is a perfect place to park and take a stroll along a boardwalk.

If the weather’s not cooperating, visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium with its incredible jellyfish exhibit. Plus, if you can’t make it this December, check out their Jellycam Live Stream from anywhere with an internet connection!

You can also do some whale-watching, simply picnic on Carmel Beach, or check out the cliffs in Big Sur.

As the most packed state in the United States, California has more fun attractions than I could ever hope to fit into one little article, but here are my top eight from personal experience!

If you’ve got a whole December to work with, I recommend drawing up a road-trip itinerary that gets you through every one of these locations, all the way to Northern California, complete with a bit of camping in state parks along the way. Lucky for you, I have a whole road-trip checklist to help you out!

If you’re looking for more of a snowy wonderland, try out  10 days in Canada or Alaska for you hardcore fans of winter weather!

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