By: Scott S. Smith and Sandra Wells

Christmas and Hannakuh may be officially religious holidays, but anyone can enjoy the gift-giving (and receiving), the parties, home decorations, shopping deals, and special events (Kwanzaa is a year-end Black-themed secular holiday everyone can also celebrate).

Aldik Home is widely considered the best Christmas decoration retailer in the world and only by going there in the last months of the year can anyone understand why (January through July it is a home and garden store, but for 70 years they have closed Aug.-Sept. to make the transformation into the Disneyland of the holiday experience). As you walk in, your jaw will drop because of the extraordinarily beautiful, fully-decorated artificial trees that look so real, with thousands of elaborately designed ornaments and different types of lighting (see photo). You can also order real and artificial trees to be custom-decorated to your specifications. There are also overhead light displays, everything for decorating the outside of the house and the front yard, all manner of figurines from angels to Santas, and every kind of wreath or Christmas stocking imaginable.

Best Neighborhoods for Holiday Light Displays
Los Angeles turns into a winter wonderland at the end of the year, no matter the weather, and it is definitely worth touring the best neighborhoods for the spirit of the holidays with friends, family, and especially visitors. Some light up at dusk as early as Thanksgiving and remain active through New Year’s Day, but check the latest info on websites. One favorite resource is, which says of Lights on Display at 3901 Longview Valley Rd. in Sherman Oaks, “it easily rivals any professional light and music show, you’ll ever see…with a bevy of animatronic characters synched to a pre-programmed playlist” (see photo). Plan to park a couple of blocks away on the narrow road and respect the neighbors.

Among the other places the site highlights: Candy Cane Lane in Woodland Hills (there is also one in El Segundo), Christmas Tree Lane in Altadena, Upper Hastings Ranch in North Pasadena, Sleepy Hollow in Torrance, and the Naples Canals in Long Beach. It also notes that there is a Downtown L.A. Holiday Walking Tour, and that special light displays can be enjoyed on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, at the L.A. Zoo, Descanso Gardens, the L.A. Arboretum, and Dana Point Harbor Holiday Lights with 700,000 LED lights. Not mentioned is the King Gillette Ranch Holiday Road in Calabasas, though one has to pay for the experience.

Toys for Tots of All Ages
Los Angeles has a number of specialty toy retailers with items you should see and handle in person, which are not offered on chain shelves and hard to find (or appreciate) online.

Kip’s Toyland is L.A.’s oldest toy store (see photo), family-owned since 1945 at the Original Farmers Market next to the Grove outdoor shopping mall (which is lit up for the holidays and worth a stroll). We found all kinds of timeless board games, vintage toys, retro classics, the latest fun experiences for the whole family that doesn’t have to be plugged in. The family members and employees can tell you everything about each item.

Miracle Mile Toys & Gifts on La Brea offers “classic toys and games that are sure to stand the test of times…nostalgia and wonder abound!” The brands they carry are well-known to toy fans, such as Maileg, Brio, Grimm, Meri Meri, Bruder, Thames and Kosmos, Schleich, Ooly, and many more. Timeout call it “a hidden gem with hard-to-find collectibles, rainy day puzzles, stuffed animals, costumes, toy trains, and eco-dough.”

Tom’s Toys has been a Beverly Hills staple for more than 50 years and it has other locations in Montrose (near Glendale) and San Luis Obispo. It has an extensive variety of classic toys and games and advanced versions, from exotic stuffed animals (see the photo of an octopus) and very complicated jigsaw puzzles to Calico Critters and Bruder vehicles. Casefile: Truth and Deception, based on a true crime podcast, informs prospective buyers that it takes 15 minutes to learn and will take 90 minutes for 3-4 players. The store offers free gift wrapping and will even ship toys directly to the person you are giving them to.

Huzzah! in Venice carries “neat toys for kids newborn to 90.” They have lists for grownups that include the Codenames board game in which rival spymasters know the secret identities of 25 agents and teammates only know them by their codenames. For girls 9-12 they offer a 4D Cat Anatomy Model and Alien Slime Lab. For tween and teen boys they recommend Bill Nye’s VR Science Kit and Bouncy Pogo Stilts. Los Angeles Parent calls Huzzah! “the most vibrant, friendly, contemporary, well-stocked, affordable toy store on the Westside.”

Popular Ice Skating Rinks in SoCal
Perhaps counterintuitive, our region has lots of ice skating rinks, though some are seasonal. Timeout magazine lists some of the best, which includes the one at Pershing Square in downtown L.A., the L.A. Kings Holiday Ice, one in Palos Verdes, and a theme park you may remember from childhood visits is near Lake Arrowhead, Skypark at Santa’s Village, which flips its summertime roller rink to a holiday ice skating one (see photo).

Hollywood for the Holidays at Universal Studios
When we visited Universal Studios Hollywood last December, we loved the elaborate and thorough seasonal decor (especially at the Wizardly World of Harry Potter, but we took the photo of the bent Christmas tree at one of the seasonal activities for families). It will have new special events for 2023, but be sure you include what is by far the best “Hollywood” studio tour: