In good times and bad, Santa has counted on his trusty sleigh and reindeer pack. Jewish Americans ride in every Hanukkah with menorah lightings accompanied with stories about the Maccabes’ triumph over adversity with the help of an efficient oil that burned for eight days. Until now, practically everybody, regardless of faith, had sugarplums dancing in their heads reflecting the endless possibilities of holiday fun. However, with safety concerns limiting possibilities of what to do and where to go, drive-in and drive-through holiday celebrations throughout Los Angeles (many just announced in November) are revving up to save the (holi)day!

This is heartwarming news, given that beloved—and crowd-generating—annual traditions such as the Rose Bowl Parade, Griffith Park Train Rides and the Queen Mary are shelved this year. In addition to homeowners coalescing to bring famed neighborhood displays such as Woodland Hills’ “Candy Cane Lane” and Altadena’s “Christmas Tree Lane” to life, “event” drive-throughs such as WonderLAnd will be bringing on the seasonal glitter. 

The creators of WonderLAnd brought their extensive experience creating Halloween haunted houses to their holiday drive-thru experience. Admission is pricey, but the production values are high, borrowing from Southern California’s rich film industry and theme park tradition.

WonderLAnd is located outside the Westfield Promenade in Woodland Hills.

According to Jasen Smith, founder and chief experience officer at Experiential Supply Co., the production company behind WonderLAnd), the genesis of the event will be familiar to anybody living in L.A., because it is similar to pumpkin patches becoming Christmas tree lots after the Halloween festivities. Smith’s company also produces a popular Halloween event called Hauntoween. He explained that the ultimate goal was to create something from the framework of the Hauntoween extravaganza that was greater than the sum of infrastructure, lights, tinsel, sets and special effects.

“Creating an ultimate holiday season escape was definitely always in the back of our minds,” said Smith on the decision to give WonderLAnd the green light on relatively short notice. “However, it didn’t become a reality until the final weekend of Hauntoween, based on the feedback of those who experienced it. Pulling WonderLAnd together made so much sense right on the heels of Hauntoween because of the existing infrastructure we had already built here. It would have been a waste to tear it all down. Therefore, with a good foundation in place, we turned our efforts toward improving the route, the flow of the cars and, of course, leveling up the sensory experience.” 

Smith adds that the site has undergone several “incredible” changes that build upon what the group created for Hauntoween, and hopes the planning and work put into the first edition of WonderLAnd establishes a foundation on which to build upon in better times. Proof can be found in the experience itself, with remarkably elaborate “scenarios” that bring a uniquely “Los Angeles” perspective to how the season is celebrated. 

Above and beyond the carefully-conceived set pieces incorporating different religions and Los Angeles’ cultural makeup, WonderLAnd also features a multicultural cast that finds ways to meaningfully greet and interact with visitors even with social distancing firmly in place. One friend in my car during the press preview—a seasoned theme park enthusiast—was impressed. She noted that WonderLAnd as a whole reminded her of some of Disneyland’s holiday efforts, which is important given Disneyland’s closure during the pandemic. 

“With both WonderLAnd and Hauntoween, we would have loved to welcome guests on foot if circumstances are different,” Smith said. “For future Halloweens and holiday seasons, we’re looking forward to creating magical worlds, but giving people the thrills the on-foot perspective can deliver that an in-vehicle experience can’t. However, one thing we have achieved that we plan to continue is doing the required homework and extra creativity required to make everyone feel welcome and included. Even on short notice, we spent a lot of time researching different cultures and faiths. From there, we discussed and developed unique ways to represent them, not just at our ‘Around The Globe’ installation, but throughout the entire route.”

Smith offers a few tips to fully round out the holiday season experience. He recommends tricking out the family “sleigh” with all of the festive trimmings. “Prep some great holiday music, festive snacks and dress up,” he suggests. “It’s a fun world you’re going to drive through and a perfect way to get into the holiday spirit! Even with all the changes happening to our traditional holiday events this year, you’ve got every reason to experience real joy and have fun.”

WonderLAnd runs through December 23, and then picks up again from December 26th through  December 30. 4:30 p.m. – 9:45 p.m. Admission is $70 per vehicle up to eight seats, and $80 for vehicles with nine or more passengers. www.socalwonderland.com

Hitting The Holiday Highway

Make your December “staycation” in L.A. a festive escape by checking out other drive-ins, drive-throughs and walk-throughs lighting up the city.

Beverly Hills: Rodeo Drive Drive-Thru. Saturdays, through the end of the year. Rodeo Drive and Wilshire Boulevard, 2rodeo.com. One of America’s most famous shopping streets is always magical with the holiday trimmings up. However, Two Rodeo Drive upped the ante with a custom holiday 3-D light show to spotlight the 12 days of Christmas, aligning lights and animation with the building’s European-inspired architecture. Free.

Calabasas: King Gillette Ranch Holiday Road. Nightly through January 10 at King Gillette Ranch. Larger than life holiday installations, thousands of Christmas lights, Santa, Mrs. Claus, elves, countless candy canes and all your favorite holiday cheer — all enjoyed from the comfort and safety of your car! $75 per car, reservations required. https://www.tixr.com/groups/holidayroadusa

Glendale/Pasadena: Christmas Tree Lane. Through the end of December. Santa Rosa Avenue between Altadena Drive and Woodbury Road, Pasadena. The oldest large-scale outdoor Christmas display in the world, dating to 1920, hits the century mark this year with a ¾ mile worth of light-adorned stately homes and cathedral-esque deodar cedar trees. Free.

Reflection at Descanso. 9 a.m.-5 p.m., daily, through January 10. Descanso Gardens, Glendale. This daytime walk-thru replaces Enchanted Forest of Light, and will feature art pieces, special plantings, self-guided activities and a beautiful Wishing Tree. Cost: $15, general. Reservations required. descansogardens.org 

Upper Hastings Ranch, Pasadena. Through January 10, 2021, 6-10 p.m. nightly. Sierra Madre Boulevard,  east of Michillinda Ave. Since 1951, local families have decorated their driveways with lit displays to guide Santa’s way. Free. facebook.com/UHRAPasadena

Los Angeles Dodgers Holiday Festival. Through December 24,  Dodger Stadium,  Lot 10 at Chavez Ravine. A light show, LED video displays, and sparkling decor honoring the L.A. Dodgers, 2020 World Series Champions. Cost: $55-115. mlb.com/dodgers/fans/holiday-festival

Los Angeles and the Westside: 

Happy Place Drive-Thru. Through January 10, Westfield Century City. Eighteen larger-than-life installations that include the world’s first giant piano you play with your car, a rainbow road, a pulsating nightclub for your car, and supersized sweets. Tickets start at $49.50.

Holiday Festivities at The Original Farmer’s Market. December 18-24. 3rd and Fairfax. The official event of the market features music, arts & crafts, variety shows and strolling carolers. Hanukkah is being observed with a special menorah lighting ceremony on Sunday, December 22, from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Free.

The Los Angeles Christmas Market. Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m, through January 3, at Third and Fairfax, across the street from The Original Farmer’s Market. This pop-up experience is built into an immersive winter wonderland setting, and features a photo op with Santa and a themed holiday market selling goods to deck your own halls. Free.

Valencia: Holiday in the Park Drive-Thru at Six Flags Magic Mountain. Through January 3.  Drive your car past dancing lights set to holiday tunes, 30-foot-tall ornaments, fake snow, appearances from Santa and Mrs. Claus, and a car show from West Coast Customs. $20-25, per car. sixflags.com/magicmountain/events/holiday-in-the-park

Ventura: Holidays in Your Car at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, through January 2. The mile-and-a-half-long drive through the fairgrounds is enlivened with millions of LEDs, laser light shows and projections, all set to holiday tunes.  $49 for a vehicle with up to four people; $64 for five or more. holidaysinyourcar.com/

Woodland Hills Candy Cane Lane. From dusk to 10 p.m, through the end of the year, at Lubao & Oxnard Streets. A 60+ year-old holiday tradition continues, reflecting the creativity of eight blocks of homeowners. Free. Woodlandhillscc.net/candy_cane_lane.html

A snow tunnel lined with larger-than-life holiday paper art shadow boxes is one of the showstoppers at the WonderLAnd event.