Best holiday light shows in Southern California

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This is the grand daddy of SoCal’s holiday light shows. The city of Riverside provides a riot of vendors and holiday lights along its Main Street promenade, but the chief attraction is the Mission Inn — an extraordinary venue that covers a full city block and is draped with lights and moving figures on all sides.

The COVID pandemic shut down the festival for two years, but it’s all back this year, which means you should expect huge crowds and parking headaches as well.

Pro tip: Try to arrange your visit on a weekday and pay attention to the city’s handy parking guide. If you want to see the Mission Inn’s elaborate indoor holiday decor without renting a room or buying a meal, buy tickets for a tour with the Mission Inn Museum. You’ll get a peek inside this storied hotel, learn something about its fascinating history and if you take the last tour of the day, the outside lights will be ablaze when you emerge. The 75-minute tours are by reservation only and cost $20 for ages 12 and older, $17 for seniors and $15 for children ages 11 and younger as well as residents of Riverside and San Bernardino counties. It’s far easier to park if you arrive before dark.

There are several stores nearby, such as the always-festive Mrs. Tiggy Winkles gift shop, if you want to browse a little before the lights come on, and a plethora of decent restaurants.

Dates: The Mission Inn lights stay lit through Jan. 6; the city lights and vendors end at midnight on Dec. 31.

Hours: Lights come on at dusk every night, around 5 p.m.

Admission: Free to walk outside; however if you want to see the decorations inside, you’ll need to rent a hotel room (starting at $329 during the holiday season) or have a reservation at one of the Inn’s restaurants. (Or maybe grab a drink at one of its two lounges.)

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