A Guide to the Best of Southern California : GOING PLACES : The Lighting of a Christmas Castle

IT MAY BE YOUR ONLY CHANCE to step inside a castle--locally. At the annual Amy Strong Castle lighting gala, on Dec. 1, the solid-rock exterior will be dramatically illuminated by thousands of white lights, and, following the outdoor lighting ceremony, guests will be invited to partake of a traditional Christmas feast. Visitors walking through the 27-room castle, which was built at the base of Mt. Woodson (in north inland San Diego County off Highway 67) by Amy Strong in 1921 and is now listed on the National Register of Historical Landmarks, will discover the former seamstress's eccentricities. For example, she had stairs cut to precise heights according to her skirt's hemline, which she never raised above her toes. Admission is $25.

The exterior lights can be viewed Friday and Saturday nights, through December. Just drive up to the castle, park and wander. To order the $25 tickets, telephone (619) 481-8500.

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