Los Angeles in December

As a resident of the Los Angeles region for 15 years, I wrote this guide for visitors looking for a credible source on what it’s like to visit LA in December.

Frankly, this month is one of my favorites for visiting LA, when you can wear a t-shirt for an afternoon on a quiet beach surrounded by the city’s holiday lights.

LA is alive in the winter, and so long as you’ve worn clothing layers, the “California cold” will be pretty comfortable for most visitors. Enjoy this city, among the best places in the U.S., to commemorate the end of the year.

Is December a Good Time to Visit LA?

December is an excellent time to visit LA as it’s cooler, comfortable weather. Pack warm layers for the morning and evening to enjoy a December visit. Airports, theme parks, and restaurants are jam-packed, so reserve popular sites. It’s best to visit before December 15, when holiday crowds begin.

Weather

Weather and average high temperatures in December. Photo: Griffith Observatory

December marks the beginning of winter in Los Angeles, though the days don’t get cold and wet until January and February. Additionally, the weather conditions are typically consistent throughout the month,

The weather in Los Angeles during December is cool to comfortable, with an average daily high temperature of 68°F (20°C), with mostly clear or sunny days and about ten daily hours of sunlight. The average rainfall is 2.1 inches, with the chance of rain increasing by the end of the month.

Temperatures during the month:

  • Early December 69°F (21°C)
  • Mid-December: 68°F (20°C)
  • Late December: 67°F (19°C)

On a typical day in December, the late evening and early morning temperatures will be in the lower 50°F degrees (around 10°C). However, by early afternoon (around 2:00 p.m.), temperatures will peak at around 70°F (21°C) degrees most days. Most afternoons between 1:00 and 4:00 p.m. are comfortable, even on the lowest-temperature days.

Temperature progression on a typical day in December:

  • Early (8 AM): 54°F
  • Afternoon (2 PM): 68°F
  • Evening (10 PM): 55°F

However, it is not easy to generalize Los Angeles weather in the winter, as the beaches are much colder (for more accurate weather forecasts of coastal LA, check out the forecast for Santa Monica on WeatherSpark). If you want a warmer December day in LA, it’s best to go east of Hollywood.

Water Temperature | Beaches | Swimming
There is no other beach like Venice Beach in the world. Photo: Venice Beach, LA. Surfers with wetsuits

The ocean temperature will be around 60°F (16°C). If you’re planning to swim or surf (waves are excellent) in LA during December, rent a wetsuit. For most visitors, this month is a perfect time for an active day on the beach, such as an oceanside bike ride or a game of beach volleyball.

Early December Weather

In most of LA during early December, the mornings are cold, at or below 50°F (10°C) degrees. By 9:00 to 10:00 a.m., temperatures typically increase to around 60°F (16°C) degrees, which is more comfortable.

By midday, temperatures will likely increase to approximately 70°F (21°C) degrees and stay warm until sunset, around 4:45 p.m. However, it won’t get cold until around 10:00 to 11:00 p.m. There is a less than 5% chance of a hot day (i.e., up to 80°F degrees).

Nearly half of all days in early December should be clear. There is a 13% chance of precipitation and up to 1.9 inches of rain in early December.

On the coast, you may only experience a couple of hours of “comfortable” midday temperatures for the first few days of December (up to 70°F degrees). In coastal LA, December is also slightly windier, with more rainfall and up to 15% precipitation.

Mid-December Weather

By mid-December, mornings and late evenings in LA are cold, at or below 50°F (10°C) degrees: between 10:00 p.m. and 10:00 a.m. Between 10:00 a.m. and midday, temperatures begin to rise. From noon to 4:00 p.m. in LA (except coastal LA), temperatures may reach 70°F (21°C) degrees. Visitors to LA in mid-December likely won’t feel cold until around 10:00 p.m.

Around 45% of days are predicted to have clear skies in mid-December, with an increased chance (15%) of precipitation. On average, there are over two inches of rain in mid-December.

On the coast, temperatures probably won’t exceed 60°F (16°C) degrees, with more chance of winds and rainfall.

Late December Weather

During late December, you’ll have only a couple of hours around 70°F (21°C) degrees. The coldest day of the year in Los Angeles is December 25, and most of your day will be about 60°F (16°C) degrees.

Between 9:00 p.m. and 10:00 a.m., temperatures will drop to or below 50°F (10°C). In the morning, temperatures rise after 10:00 a.m. and fall again after sunset, before 5:00 p.m. You still have a slight chance of a warm day in the upper 70°F (upper 20°C) degrees, but this is less common in the late month.

Under half of the days are clear in late December, with a 17% chance of precipitation. On average, expect just under three inches of rain across LA.

Coastal temperatures in LA likely won’t exceed 60°F (16°C) degrees, and the coast has more wind than the downtown in late December.

What to Wear

Layering is key during December in LA.

For a December visit to Los Angeles, you wear layers like pants, shirts, long-sleeved shirts, and a jacket. Coastal areas are the chilliest. Wear a warmer jacket in the cold mornings and evenings. Bring an umbrella and water-resistant shoes for a rare day of rain.

Don’t be surprised by an occasional hot day when you can walk around in a t-shirt in the afternoon.

Wearing layers is key during December in the LA region, especially when you start your explorations early and when you do something outside after sunset. Mornings and evenings are significantly colder, and a jacket is typically required.

Does it rain? There may be some rain depending on the year. Check the weather forecast ahead of time, and if it seems like rain, bring rain gear. It doesn’t rain often in December, but when it does, it usually lasts a day or sometimes two.

Prepare for mornings and evenings: Once, we went to dinner and had to wait in front of a restaurant, which wasn’t that far from the coast, for about 20 minutes. I forgot to bring a jacket, and it was a big mistake which I regretted after a few minutes only. I was so cold that night!

Just last year, we went to a December birthday party on the beach in LA. It had been sunny t-shirt weather for days before, but that day it was cloudy and cold, so we all made a beach bonfire and cooked hot dogs over the flames. We had to wear our jackets, but we still enjoyed the party on the beach

Don’t forget comfortable sneakers for a long day of sightseeing and other activities (check out our ‘things to do’ tips below)

Essential packing items:

  • Jeans
  • T-shirts
  • Long-sleeve shirts
  • Jacket
  • Rainproof jacket
  • Oversized sweater
  • Sneakers
  • Water-resistant boots
  • Sunglasses

Crowds

December is the busiest winter month for Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), with around five million visitors, so you’ll see more tourists, particularly after mid-December. For instance, Santa Monica, Universal Studios, and Disneyland see most of their visitors after December 15.

If you’re going to a popular spot, it’s best to go in early- to mid-December, ideally on a weekday. If you’re traveling to LA in late December, it’s doable, but please reserve event tickets at least a week in advance and arrive as early as possible – with snacks for the long lines.

Things to Do | Holiday Light Festivals | Events

Festival of Lights at the Mission Inn (Riverside, near LA)

For 30 years, this holiday light festival has drawn upwards of half a million visitors annually. Millions of lights are draped over the mission, food vendors, trees and floral decor, and live musical performances. Festival of Lights is free and runs from Thanksgiving to the first week of January.

This one is worth the one-hour drive from LA, not least because downtown Riverside is charming to walk through any time of the year. Free street parking after 5:00 p.m. The festival is open all month in December. Read more at MissionInn.com.

Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade (Newport Beach)

There are only a few places in the U.S. where you can sit on a boardwalk and watch a boat parade float by you. In Newport Beach, you can watch from the beach (for free) or rent a boat and join in (from $20 per person) as the 100-boat parade merrily floats past you. The parade lasts five nights, ending with a fireworks show on the final night.

The best place to go is Marina Park, though you will need to download an app to pay for parking (visit this website for free parking further away). This unique experience is worth the one-hour drive from Los Angeles. Don’t forget to visit little Balboa Island and try one of their famous frozen bananas or balboa bars – you can also watch the parade from here.

Lightscape at LA County Arboretum (Arcadia)

The LA County Arboretum is famous for its wild peacocks and botanical gardens. In the winter, the Arboretum hosts a contemporary holiday light experience called “Lightscape,” with several lit-up features such as the photogenic “Winter Cathedral,” a tunnel of white light.

For those who can’t wait until Thanksgiving, Lightscape opens in mid-November and runs through most of December until the first week of January (closed on Christmas and a few weekdays). Tickets are entry-timed and cost $34-$39 per adult and $15-$20 per child (free for children under 2). The Arboretum is a 30-minute drive from LA, and parking is included in the ticket. Read more on Arboretum.org.

Enchanted: Forest of Light (La Cañada)

The charming Descanso Gardens lies in the Los Angeles mountain foothills. Descanso hosts “Enchanted,” a classic LA holiday celebration of light, every winter from before Thanksgiving through after New Year’s Day.

The botanical garden displays illuminated tulip fields and lit-up oak groves for $40 a ticket (free for children under 2). Descanso is a 20-minute drive from Los Angeles and has free parking. Enchanted runs through December, but the gardens are closed on Christmas Day. Read more at DescansoGardens.org.

LA Zoo Lights: Animals Aglow (Griffith Park, Los Angeles)

This urban zoo is one of the most family-friendly destinations in the city and joins in on holiday fun for its “Zoo Lights” event running for nine weeks between mid-November and late January.

Zoo Lights is a unique event featuring lit-up lantern animals such as tigers, peacocks, zebras, elephants, and more. Tickets are entry-timed and cost $39 per adult and $32 per child (free for children under 2). Better yet, arrive earlier in the day and visit the nearby Griffith Observatory. The zoo is closed some weekdays in December, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. Free parking. Read more at LAZoo.org.

New Year’s Eve Glow Party (Marina Del Rey)

New Year’s Eve in LA is a more relaxed event, often marked by celebrating the “New York midnight” at 9:00 p.m. But for a unique and free Angeleno event, visit Marina Del Rey’s waterfront park for live music, and two countdowns and fireworks shows at midnight and 9:00 p.m.

Must-Visit Places in December

Golden hour at the Griffith Observators, LA
LA Beaches

When you land at LAX in December, you’ll probably want to go straight to your hotel and relax. The best place to get a hotel is close to the airport in Venice Beach or Santa Monica.

These are both walkable and bikeable cities, so rent some wheels (bikes, skateboards, and rollerskates are all popular) and explore the waterfront.

Venice Beach is quirky and artsy, an excellent location for young couples and solo travelers. At the same time, Santa Monica is more expensive and family-friendly, with an amusement park on the pier and street performances on Third Street Promenade.

Both cities are delightful, particularly in the winter when the sun is warm on a December afternoon, and the skies are clear. You can see them both in one day, even if you arrive in the afternoon. And don’t miss the sunset over the Pacific Ocean. Even in December, you can try surfing with one of the many surf schools.

You’ll find multiple restaurants, both casual and posh, to eat at in Santa Monica. However, we prefer the beachfront restaurants and cafes in Venice Beach.

Hollywood | Griffith Observatory | Universal Studios

Most visitors are eager to take a photo in front of the Hollywood sign, and there are few places where you can see the sign better than Griffith Observatory, which has the city’s best views. On a clear day in December, you can see across the ocean to the Channel Islands.

The observatory, which is free, is an architectural object of pride and provides opportunities for visitors to look through telescopes, learn about space, and take a photo with the Hollywood sign.

The observatory will take at least two hours. We recommend visiting downtown Hollywood, 15 minutes away, notably the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Chinese Theatre if you have more time.

Universal Studios are incredible. As if you are in a movie! Every ride is amazing. The best ones are: The Mummy, Jurassic Park, and Transformers. It is a really unique and once-in-a-lifetime experience. Tip: One day is enough but definitely choose the express ticket option. Otherwise, you have to wait in line for every ride and show.

Disneyland

It wouldn’t be a visit to Southern California in December if you didn’t see Disneyland, the “happiest place on earth.” So, get up very early to avoid morning traffic and make it to the amusement park gates by opening time (usually around 8:00 a.m.).

Plan to arrive at least 30 minutes before opening time to avoid crowds. Bring good walking shoes because this will be one of the most enjoyable and tiring days of your visit.

Ongoing Events | In and Near LA

  • Ciclavia (throughout Los Angeles). In a car-dominated city, this free bike-centric event is memorable. A few times a year, the city closes miles of streets for people on bikes, skateboards, scooters, and other wheeled modes of transportation. Each route highlights an LA neighborhood, and visitors can take a Metro to the start or end point of the route. The final course of the year is held on a Sunday in December. Read more at Ciclavia.org.
  • Chinatown First Fridays (Chinatown, Los Angeles). This free Friday night tradition ends on the first Friday of December, so see it while you can. Chinatown First Fridays offers visitors a chance to explore art galleries, go shopping, and eat and drink in the historic neighborhood. See who is participating here.
  • Jazz at LACMA (Miracle Mile, Los Angeles). This free jazz concert series is held on the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) grounds and ends on the first Friday night of December. Buy a picnic onsite or bring your own, but arrive early and bring extra layers for the evening. Read more at LACMA.org.