Maybe you’re a native Angeleno set in your warm-weather ways. Maybe you came to Southern California because, after 18 years spent braving ice storms in the Midwest, you absolutely hate the cold. Luckily in SoCal, even the arrival of the holiday season won’t threaten your aversion to wintertime.
Joshua Tree National Park
74485 National Park Drive, Twentynine Palms; nps.gov/jotr
A hundred and forty miles east of Los Angeles lies the desert from whence all campground legends spring. Even if you’ve never been to J Tree, as it’s affectionately known among students, odds are many of your friends and neighbors have. A staggering landscape, host to countless trails framed by the distinctive silhouette of the park’s eponymous tree, is accessible by car for just $15 a week. While you’re there, make sure to check out Hidden Valley, a secluded campground perfectly encircled by vast boulders (and a refuge favored by many a 19th Century cattle rustler) and Lost Palms Oasis Trail, an eight-mile hike with an arresting view of the oasis from atop a canyon bluff.
Coronado Visitor Center, 1100 Orange Ave., Coronado; coronadovisitorcenter.com
A short drive across the playful San Diego-Coronado Bridge will land you on the sun-drenched peninsula of Coronado. Long considered a decadent resort capital, with its trademark luxury hotels and stretches of high-end restaurants, the Crown City is home to a surprising number of more economical attractions. The timeless ‘island’ – connected to the mainland by a wispy strand of beachhead – makes for a paradisiacal daytrip, longer if you have a friend to stay with or the budget for lodging (Don’t be put off by the spray of lucrative hotels; Coronado has a Best Western just like everywhere else.). Stroll the quaint beachfront walks and the Ferry Landing Marketplace, or take a scenic turn up Orange Avenue. If you’re there Dec. 11 or 18, you can watch the annual San Diego Bay Parade of Lights from the shoreline.
The skiing-and-boarding crowd has long since discovered that California isn’t all beaches. If you’re of the athletic persuasion, pack up your friends and your SpiritHoods and head east this holiday break. If you’re not, pack a Snuggie and head up anyway.
Mountain High Ski Resort
24510 State Highway 2, Wrightwood; mthigh.com
The nearest skiing destination for many staying in SoCal over break, Mountain High features predominately intermediate runs spread across three resorts. The park, located a little more than an hour north of Los Angeles and Orange County, is celebrated for its exquisite Faultline Terrain Park. Adventurous resort-goers will find night skiing available seven days a week, while non-skiers can delight in the sedentary joys of the expansive North Pole Tubing Park. A regular eight-hour adult ticket will run you $59. Got a birthday over break? You’ll ski (or board) for free.
Mt. Baldy Ski Lifts
8401 Mt. Baldy Road, Mt. Baldy; mtbaldyskilifts.com
Promising the “largest and steepest resort in Southern California,” Mt. Baldy is a particularly beloved destination for experienced skiers and boarders; more than half the runs are classified Black Diamond or above. Emile’s, SoCal’s longest mogul run, and a reputation for the state’s best powder draw faithful snowriders each and every season and make it an ideal resort for students who might be staying in Los Angeles for the holidays but grew up on slopes farther east. Try this resort toward the end of break – snowfall at Baldy does its best work after Christmas. Regular adult tickets go for $59 ($49 if you’re under 20).
Big Bear Mountain Resorts
43101 Goldmine Drive, Big Bear Lake; bearmountain.com
880 Summit Blvd., Big Bear Lake; snowsummit.com
Big Bear is a tale of two facilities: Snow Summit and Bear Mountain, situated two miles apart and accessible with a single lift ticket. Snow Summit, with its varied terrain parks, is ideal intermediate fare, while Big Bear is probably the best place for beginners and younger kids. Snow Summit features more challenging runs, as well as some of the most serene and picturesque night skiing to be found in California. Big Bear, predominately teaching terrain, houses novice-level parks and Southern California’s only Superpipe, according to its Web site. Tip: Buy your lift tickets at Snow Summit, where they’ll run you about $10 less. Adults over the age of 22 pay $40 for a day pass to both resorts; under-21s, just $35, making this resort one of your wiser options if you’re planning to stay a while.
You’re the sentimental friend. When the holiday season trumpets its arrival, you bake festive cookies, swathe your tiny dorm in a canopy of lights and wistfully muse that, if people would just squint, the smog over the mountains might pass for distant snowfall. While a SoCal Christmas might be more of an off-white, there remain sufficient tidings of comfort and joy around Los Angeles to keep you merry this winter break.
Downtown on Ice at Pershing Square
532 S. Olive St., Downtown; laparks.org/pershingsquare
At $8 total for skates and rink admission, holiday cheer doesn’t come much cheaper than at Pershing Square. Downtown on Ice is a mixture of music, charity events and family-friendly skating on Los Angeles’ largest outdoor rink, which stays open on Christmas and New Year’s Day. On Dec. 10, the Square presents a free Winter Holiday Festival that boasts an ice train ride, photos with Santa and what has been only described as a ‘Snow Zone.’ From Dec. 12 to 23, Pershing Square puts on its annual 12 Nights of Christmas (tactfully extended to also be the 12 nights of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa), featuring a different live concert each night.
Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade
Newport Landing, 309 Palm St. #A, Newport Beach; christmasboatparade.com
Not all yuletide celebrations are confined to dry land. Known alternately as the Tournament of Lights, the Christmas Boat Parade is one of the nation’s great holiday traditions. Pre- and post-parade cruises, running from Dec. 14 through 18, begin at a surprisingly agreeable $17, and general parade tours at $36. While the boat rides are the main draw, it’s worth a trip to Newport any time in December simply to see every house, ship and pier decked in holiday lights.
52nd Annual LA County Holiday Celebration
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., Downtown; lacountyarts.org/holiday.html
Christmas Eve is a night of song and dance at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The free three-hour event has long been a fan favorite; this year’s performance features 25 local bands and artists, and you can come and go as you please if you want to take in the rest of the Downtown splendor. Bonus: free parking.
Farmers Market L.A.
6333 W. Third St., Los Angeles; farmersmarketla.com
On Third Street, the week leading up to Christmas is a throwback to every happy childhood memory of the holidays we have. Radio Disney, Menorah lighting, Santa hat-decorating workshops and caroling – it’s difficult to imagine a more appealing range of festivities packed into one location. Beginning Dec. 17, head to the L.A. Farmers Market in the afternoons to get in the holiday spirit. Dec. 20 rings in the Hanukkah celebration: a live DJ, dreidel-making and a rather unforgettable giant Lego Menorah.