Visit: Descanso Gardens ~ Enchanted: Forest of Light 2022
Updated: Dec 11, 2022
Descanso Gardens - Enchanted Forest (Holiday Overlay)
1418 Descanso Drive, La Cañada Flintridge, CA 91011
Descanso Gardens, located right off Highway 2 in La Canada - with the Los Angeles skyline not more than 12 miles away (as the crow flies), opened to the public in 1950. Once a massive parcel of property by the Boddy family, its patriarch loved the land and horticulture - with an unmatched regional collection of plants and fruits. In, or about, 1957 the property came under the ownership of LA County and a non-profit Guild. Since then, Descanso has evolved into a beauty garden worth a visit.
During its daytime hours, the majority of its 150 sprawling acres is quite open. Yet, for the seasons, Descanso at night transforms. Right now, for the holidays, it becomes ‘Enchanted: Forest of Light’.
Enchanted is, as its titular moniker, quite so. Where the park is typically wide open - at night it is less so. Paths are laid out with clear, lighted signage and attendants line them to ensure you stay on course. The sequence is meant to be followed (trust me on that one). I’m a bit errant in my ways and I attempted to see it in variance, deviating from the assigned path twice and meant with mildly admonished to stay in sequence, “Tis why I instruct you with my lighted staff!”. My response “Mark I am but mystified!”.
That said, it is not like there is a discernible narrative where one must move through the sequence. At least not one that I could see. The attendants and paths are meant to keep people moving, avoid them from getting lost, and keeping the peace.
There are ten distinct areas as part of the Enchanted overlay. A link to the map is below, but the names are almost unimportant. In order: (1) Flower Power (or Lighted Tulip Field), (2) Rainbow Sycamores, (3) Starlight Garden, (4) Lightwave Lake, (5) Symphony of Oaks, (6) Fantasy Forest, (7) Luminous Lawn, (8) Ancient Forest, (9) Pixel Grove, (10) Garden of Good Fortune. Names are unimportant because you will have a chance to interact or walk through all of the areas either way - taking your time, taking photos, etc - fairly unobstructed. We went on a weeknight, which is highly recommended. I could see Fridays and weekends as being a bit of a bear.
The top three areas you’ll want to check out:
The lighted tulip field (Flower Power) - this is a great way to start off the walk and the first installation you will see. It is an arresting display of hundreds of lighted tulip-shaped lights, synchronous to itself. There is a great audio set-up, clear as a bell - that plays, well, bells. The bells are attuned to calm and enhance the experience. You will spend some time mesmerized here. [There is also a pair of restrooms off the beaten path.]
Second, the Ancient Forest. This area is impressive without the overlay. During the day it is a collection of ‘living fossils’ - ancient variants of redwoods and ferns. It is my favorite area of the Garden. During Enchanted, it comes alive. Static green lights glow across the area. Then, out in the distance of the trees - golden sunlight shafts flow through the branches. The effect is almost as if a day is passing in seconds - from sunrise to sunset. I could have stayed there for some time.
The third is the Garden of Good Fortune. This is the Japanese garden and quite relaxing during the day. During the overlay, it is awash in deep blue light. With dozens of red lanterns dotting the land. These bounce off the small ponds in a beautiful way. The paths in the Garden are tight and embracing, it is quite a relaxing area at night too.
Bonus: there are delicious sweets, treats and drinks peppered through-out - you will not be too far from anything. We enjoyed a delicious cranberry mule, a hot apple cider (non spiked) and a sweet hot chocolate (likewise non-spiked). The folks are friendly and accommodating. (Poor things all - it is quite chilly out there!)
All in all, highly recommended during the season. Here are some thoughts to make your visit that much better:
Reservations are required, but definitely read through the FAQ before you go so you are not disappointed if something goes sideways (weather primarily) https://www.descansogardens.org/programs-events/enchanted/faqs/
Parking is in their lot, which is quite large and I’ve never had issues, but I’ve typically gone during the week. I suspect it is not an issue, but, as with anything in LA, go early.
That said, driving in is fairly straightforward, but it could be easy to overshoot the right streets or the entrance. Don’t be afraid to drive slower and make your target. It is a residential area and I’m sure the locals would appreciate that too.
There is a line at the start, as folks are awaiting their allotted time, or making their way through the entrance. Once in, you are golden, and the very front seems to get bunched up by folks going to the food stall, merchandise or restrooms. Once beyond that, it opens up.
DRESS WARMLY. Los Angeles this time of year can be deceptive at times. Remember you are in an open forested area that is nestled in the quiet hills of the County. Bring layers and adjust as you go.
PHONE BATTERY / CHARGER: you will take a ton of photos, make sure your phone is charged (or bring a power brick). You will be calling your party quite often (as I noticed) because it is quite sprawling. Folks were calling one another constantly by what we saw.
SOCIAL: perfect socials, so be ready to send a few up.
SHOPPING: there are a few areas to buy merchandise, so you may want to walk the path first, before making decisions.
SIT: sit, enjoy if you can - it is quite a break from the ‘normal, traditional’ holiday overlay. We found it quite mysterious and enjoyable. A nice break from the norm.
As for what is in the surrounding area, in La Canada Flintridge - just around the corner is a small city center. This can be seen on the map with Memorial Park and surrounding areas. We recommend Hill Street Cafe, Flintridge Bookstore and (haven’t tried this yet) but Taylor’s Steak House is on our list. All of these lay across Foothill Blvd.
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