This year, for the first time in 15 years, I was able to spend Christmas with my children and grandchildren in Southern California. It was a wonderful experience, but of course, it was over too soon.

Having lived in Orange County for over 40 years, I know the area quite well and because I had not been there during the holidays for so long, I wanted to revisit some of my favorite places. All of them are free to visit and are great for sharing with friends and family, so I thought I’d share here.

Here are some of my favorite places.

Roger’s Gardens

Roger’s Gardens is a great place to find both outdoor and indoor inspiration and it is especially beautiful during the holidays. It has several different shop rooms on the campus as well as a large outdoor area filled with trees, plants, patio furniture, Christmas decorations and more! There is also a restaurant called The Farmhouse which serves farm-fresh locally sourced food. They’re open for lunch and dinner and also serve cocktails, beer and wine.

The entrance at Roger's Gardens

One of the entrances to Roger’s Garden’s

There are so many inspirational things to see in the gardens. Of course, everything is for sale.

wreaths made from succulents

They have workshops and seminars throughout the year, but you can gather lots of inspiration from just visiting. Aren’t these succulent wreaths amazing?!

A 2-tier succulent arrangement

Their gift shops are filled with fun holiday items at this time of year. Sure, it costs money to buy but it costs nothing to look! I found lots of fun planting arrangements that I’d love to recreate come spring!

You can find Roger’s Gardens at 2301 San Joaquin Hills Rd, Corona Del Mar, CA 92625

Irvine Park

Irvine Regional Park is a 160-acre park in Orange, California. It was established as Orange County’s first regional park in 1897 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. It’s a beautiful park to walk around in or drive through with lots of sycamores, eucalyptus and oaks. Many of the trees have interesting shapes making them a great place for photos.

Shelley sitting on the branch of a large tree

The fall and winter hours are 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and there is a $3.00 car charge on weekdays which goes up to $5.00 on the weekends. The Irvine Park Railroad lives there and in December Santa comes to visit Santa’s Village. But tickets are scooped up super quick so you have to be on your toes to get some. During the holidays, there are guided hikes under the stars. Irvine Park is also home to the OC Zoo.

As you’re wandering around watch for the wild peacocks, especially closer to the horse stables! They were originally brought to the park in the early 1980s along with some swans. There are no swans left but some folks say there are too many squawking peacocks, although sadly some perished in the brush fires a few years ago!

a peacock crossing the road

The Brea Eagle Hills Neighborhood Christmas Lights

When I lived in Yorba Linda, we toured through this neighborhood with the kids every holiday season. The kids had some friends who lived there so we watched as the holiday lights exhibits grew throughout the years. I was surprised to see that city traffic enforcement is now involved. You have the option to walk or drive through this ever-expanding lighted neighborhood.

Christmas lights in Brea

Use this address to find them on your navigation system: 2970 Primrose Ave, Brea, CA 92821

The Beach!

Because we moved from Canada to Orange County, my father used to load us up and drive us to the beach each year on Christmas Day just so he could brag to the relatives. But who doesn’t want to spend a couple of hours there on the holidays just walking the shore or looking for shells? My best friend, Sandra knows a great shell-rich beach area but I promised to keep it secret!

shoes on the beach

Yes, I wore boots to the beach! I forgot to pack sandals!

Shelley standing on the beach throwing a snowball

Would you believe I brought the snow from Idaho? Probably not, huh. Actually, these are the greatest indoor snowballs that my BFF Sandra gave me. They even have that crunchy snow feel! If you want to have your own warm weather snowball fight, you can find them here on Amazon.

Downtown Disney

One of our traditions, when the kids were growing up, was to spend Christmas Eve at Disneyland.聽 Sometimes it’s hard to get into the Christmas spirit when the snow is absent but Disneyland somehow managed to bring the spirit. We didn’t have an entire day to spend there this year so we opted for Downtown Disney.

First stop, the Storyteller’s Cafe‘ at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa with this little one and his parents. This restaurant definitely caters to the children with its Micky Mouse waffle menu items and Disney character parades through the site but there’s plenty of food items (and beverages) that will please the adults. (This isn’t one of the free or low-cost options but there is no charge for Downtown Disney.)

Pluto kissing the baby

These bright and vibrant neon trees were abundant in Downtown Disney.

Shelley sitting in front of a neon tree display

Lots of great shops can be found in Downtown Disney including Pandora (my favorite) and Legoland. It’s so fun to see what can be created with those colorful blocks!

Buzz Lightyear in lego form

Beauty and the beast

Tale as old as time…

And because I don’t have enough mouse ears…

Naples Island Holiday Lights

Naples is a lovely little neighborhood in Long Beach, California, which is built on three islands located in Alamitos Bay (where we used to keep our sailboat). You can walk along the canals and view the numerous light displays or you can even take a gondola ride. (The gondolas are an additional fee, and reservations are required but it’s a great experience!)

a gondola on the Naples canal

One of the gondolas meandering through the canals


the lights at Naples

Neighbors there compete for awards such as best animation, most original, best use of window, etc. for their creations so you’ll see some amazing displays. Both Christmas and Hannukah are represented. Bring a thermos of hot chocolate (virgin or otherwise) to drink as you stroll through the canals. Parking is limited so it’s best to get there right as darkness sets in. We arrived at about 5:30 and easily found parking.聽 Park by the fountain in the circle for a great reference point.

Oy to the World - best use of window display

Oy to the World – Best Use of Window award

This year, we also found a food truck that was serving coffee,聽 mushroom coffee and hot chocolate. Unfortunately, the hot chocolate was barely lukewarm.

Sandra, getting hot chocolate from a food truck

If you have your own (small) boat, you can also cruise through the canals on your own.

So if you’re visiting Orange County for the Christmas or Hannukah season, you’ll find plenty to do without breaking the bank!


Do you feel like you need to hit the REFRESH button on your life? Download our free guide and begin to create your best life yet!