The holiday season is upon us, so it’s no surprise that (aside from Season’s Screamings and one or two productions of A Christmas Carol), spooky entertainment is in relatively short supply around Los Angeles. Instead, we must satisfy ourselves with seasonal spirits, which Holiday Road supplies in abundance. Produced by the creators of Nights of the Jack, Holiday Road offers another lengthy trek through King Gillette Ranch in Calabasas, but instead of carved pumpkins, visitors are immersed in a winter wonderland of lights, sets, and decorations ranging from the North Pole to the Nativity, from Kwanza to Hanukkah. There is nary a Ghost of Christmas present, but figures of Santa, Mrs. Claus, elves, and reindeer abound. Visitors of all ages will find much to enjoy.
Like Nights of the Jack, Holiday Road consists of mostly static displays; there are no actors, but a few animatronics add life, along with glistening lights, visual projections, and physical effects, such as falling snow. The only live element on the night we attended was a quartet of carolers, who performed “Carol of the Bells” at our request, which we turned into the music video embedded at the top of this page, showcasing some of the event’s decorative highlights.
There is much more than we could squeeze into a short video, so we are including a series of photo galleries below, each focused on a different section of the attraction.
Holiday Road 2021: Food Court and Photo Ops
The fun starts even before you hit the road. Immediately upon entering, visitors encounter photo ops and decorations. There are food trucks and bars, along with plenty of outdoor seating. Having a good meal provides useful energy before embarking on the excursion through King Gillette Ranch. The utility of imbibing an alcoholic beverage is more debatable; it is probably better to wait until after the walk.
Holiday Road 2021: Embarking
Embarking upon Holiday Road, hikers first approach a forest of trees encased in decorative lights. Some are simply colorful; others imitate melting icicles. Many more trees like this will be seen around the ranch.
Holiday Road 2021: Snowflakes and Stars
The first physical decorations are oversized snowflakes, stars, and presents, along with lighted reindeer and Santa’s sleigh.
Holiday Road 2021: Christmas Village
Next, visitors approach a quaint Christmas village, suggesting a small town snowed in for the season. Static figures of carolers stand before a bell tower, but we were fortunate to find real carolers a few yards farther along the trail (seen in the video above).
Holiday Road 2021: Tunnels of Light
There are a few lighted tunnels scattered around the trail. The one with giant candy canes out front is most spectacular.
Holiday Road 2021: Holiday Scenes
One area offers diverse displays celebrating the winter holidays: a Nativity scene for Christmas; a dreidel and a menorah for Hanukkah; a table with the fruits of the harvest for Kwanza. Nearby, animatronic reindeer sing seasonal songs.
Holiday Road 2021: Cascade of Lights
Next, more lighted trees can be seen, plus a lovely building bathed in blue, with a cascade of glittering lights suggesting snowfall.
Holiday Road 2021: Express Train
The Holiday Road Express, with a snowman for its engineer, belches steam, its cars packed with candy, presents, and decorations.
Holiday Road 2021: Fluffy Animals & Rest Stop
Oversized stuffed animals are there to delight children just before the rest stop at approximately the halfway point of Holiday Road. There is a table selling merchandise and a bar serving hot drinks to warm up visitors before they complete the second half of the trail. Resuming their journey, visitors pass the Grinch, who hopefully will not steal Christmas this year.
Holiday Road 2021: Elf Village
Elves show up next, first in what looks like a little Elf Village, then outside Santa’s Workshop.
Holiday Road 2021: North Pole
Passing Santa’s Workshop brings visitors to the North Pole, where Santa can be seen in his sleigh pulled by reindeer. A few steps farther there is domestic scene of Mrs. Claus and Santa seated comfortably by the fireside.
Holiday Road 2021: Swan Lake
From the North Pole display, visitors enjoy a spectacular view of the lawn decorated with rows of colored lights. The scene is crowned by a conical tower shaped like a Christmas tree and topped by a star. The curving path then leads around the illuminated lawn, bringing visitors up close to the Holiday Road building. Details that were invisible at distance are then revealed: human-sized Nutcrackers and trumpet players. Most glorious is a glowing display simulating a lily pond where two beautiful swans face each other.
Holiday Road 2021: North and South Poles meet
Next up, fauna from the Arctic and Antarctica meet in a snowy landscape inhabited by polar bears (who live near the North Pole ) and penguins (who live at the South Pole). Scientific inaccuracy aside, the baby penguins and the momma bear with her baby are cute!
Holiday Road 2021: Suburban Christmas
Here’s the closest Holiday Road comes to making an artistic statement. This display of what looks like a suburban Christmas seems almost deliberately tacky with its shaded lamps shaped like female legs in stockings. The interior of happy home with human inhabitants depicted by mannequins would not be out of place as an installation at a modern art museum, where connoisseurs would interpret it as a comment on the dehumanizing impact of social conformity. Or maybe the whole thing is just Retro Cool…
Holiday Road 2021: Winter Wonderland
If you have been to Nights of the Jack, you know what to expect next. The following area is themed to Christmas even during the Halloween season, but for Holiday Road the giant Jack O’Lanterns are replaced with singing snowmen – or maybe they are just singing snowballs. In any case, digital projection provides the face lip-synching to the music. There is also a flurry of artificial snow, creating one of the most magical moments on the trail.
Holiday Road 2021: Gingerbread Lane
The last themed display is Gingerbread Lane, which of course is lined with gingerbread houses. Although they all seem very homey, their signs advertise them as places of business: Lulu’s Lollipops, Harry’s Hot Chocolate, Benny’s Biscotti, etc. They all look good enough to eat, but…don’t.
Holiday Road 2021: Back to the Beginning and Stopping at the Bar
Passing through Gingerbread Lane brings visitors to the end of Holiday Road. Now would be a good time to grab a snack in the food court and possibly order a drink at the bar. (There are two, one open to the general public and another reserved for VIPs.)
Special seasonal cocktails include the Holly Jolly Poloma and Santa’s Nightcap, but after walking through King Gillette Ranch on a cold night, the two hot options are probably preferable: Caramel Apple Spiked Hot Cider and Ho Ho Ho Hot Cocoa. The latter, which enhances its hot chocolate with vodka, Baily’s Irish Cream, and vanilla extract, is just the thing to restore your body’s core temperature and restore one’s seasonal spirit.
Holiday Road 2021: Conclusion
Holiday Road hews closely to the template of Nights of the Jack. Both events offer lengthy excursions through a rural setting decorated for their respective seasons. The only distinction we can make (though it may be a distinction without a difference) is that Nights of the Jack, with its hand-carved pumpkins, could arguably be described as a sort of outdoor art gallery, each themed display a sort of art installation. Holiday Road is closer to the decorative arts: landscaping elaborated to an amazing level, it might best be described as the ultimate in lavish Exterior Design. That probably makes little difference to the majority of visitors, who most likely will simply enjoy the multitude of colorful decorations.
Of the major holiday-themed overlays available in the Los Angeles area, Holiday Road falls somewhere in between Holiday in the Park at Six Flags Magic Mountain and and Lightscape at L.A County Arboretum. Holiday Road features more elaborate seasonally themed displays than Lightscape, but Magic Mountain’s presentation one-ups the competition by including live actors and stilt-walkers impersonating elves, angels, and Santa Claus.
Besides the viewing experience, Holiday Road offers an appetizing array of culinary options courtesy of numerous food trucks, and the seasonal cocktails are wonderful. Potential visitors concerned about wandering through King Gillette Ranch should know that the trail is hardly exhausting (certainly less so than hiking up Magic Mountain); also, the rest stop midway provides ample opportunity to catch your second wind.
One final note: Holiday Road made its debut last year as a drive-through because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of the same decorations are back this season, but the opportunity to walk among the displays makes them worth repeat viewing. There is so much to see that strolling along at one’s own pace, stopping to take selfies or peruse details, is almost a necessity.
Holiday Road 2021
Holiday Road offers a lengthy tour through a winter wonderland filled with decorative lights and settings that evoke the seasonal spirit in numerous aspects: Santa, Christmas, Kwanza, Hanukkah. There are no live actors, so it’s best to think of this event as an elaborate Christmas yard display multiplied to the nth power.
Holiday Road continues through December at King Gillette Ranch, 26800 Mulholland Highway, Calabasas, CA 91302. For more information you can visit: holidayroadusa.com.
For those of you too impatient to sit through the slowly scrolling slideshows above, here is our complete gallery of images from Holiday Road 2021…