Southern California may be home to the world’s tallest live-cut Christmas tree this year

Eric Nordhauser walks his two dogs at Franklin Canyon Reservoir.
Eric Nordhauser walks his two dogs, Mina and Ava, at Franklin Canyon Reservoir.
(Josie Norris / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

By Rachel Schnalzer
Design and illustrations by Jade Cuevas

Good morning, travelers. California is in the middle of a strict stay-at-home order, which prohibits nonessential travel. For those who love holiday trips to Solvang or scoping out Southern California’s boat parades, the order may feel discouraging.

In this edition of Escapes, you’ll find ways to get outdoors and experience California responsibly. If you’d like to share a safe, distanced activity you’ve tried during the stay-at-home order, please drop me a line. I’d love to share reader ideas in a future edition.

🎄 Cut your Christmas tree next year in Sequoia National Forest

If you want to pick out a Christmas tree this year, Times design writer Lisa Boone has put together a list of 15 family-run Christmas tree lots in the L.A. area where you can browse and buy one. If you’re up for an adventure, choose a lot in a neighborhood you don’t know well and explore it by car before selecting your tree. Order takeout from a nearby restaurant to enjoy as you untangle the lights and dust off the ornaments.

Speaking of Christmas trees, did you know you can cut your own tree in certain areas of Sequoia National Forest? Permits cost $10 per tree, and visitors must follow all Forest Service rules. A trip to the forest would violate stay-at-home orders for many Californians, so save this activity for next year. Shout-out to Escapes designer Jade Cuevas for the tip!

A family prepares to cut their own Christmas tree.
Visitors to Sequoia National Forest can cut their own Christmas tree with a $10 permit and some elbow grease.
( Jay Jones; Andre Gorham II / Unsplash; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

⭐ The world’s tallest live-cut Christmas tree this year may be in San Clemente

Do you know that the world’s largest live-cut Christmas tree of the 2020 holiday season — that we know of — can be found in San Clemente?

Times senior features writer Adam Tschorn reports that the 125-foot-tall white fir came all the way from Mt. Shasta to the Outlets at San Clemente, 60 miles south of L.A. More than 18,000 lights and 10,000 bows and ornaments decorate the massive tree, meaning more than a few Californians will make the trip to to see it. If you go, avoid crowds and wear a mask.

The 125-foot-tall lighted Christmas tree on display at the Outlets at San Clemente.
A 125-foot-tall Christmas tree was lighted Nov. 7 at the Outlets at San Clemente.
(Raul Roa / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

🏎️ Visit a NASCAR racetrack for holiday lights

NASCAR and Christmas collide this year at the Irwindale Speedway. Santa’s Speedway is a drive-through light-show experience where visitors can cruise on a real-life racetrack to enjoy the sights of Santa’s village, light-up boats and RVs, a tree that’s over 110 feet tall and more.

It’s best to reserve your tickets for the 45-minute experience, Times contributor Sara Cagle recommends. No at-gate ticket sales on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets cost $59 per car, with a maximum of eight people.

Want more holiday lights? Cagle breaks down the best places to see lights in L.A.

Tire circled with Christmas lights
Irwindale Speedway has turned into Santa’s Speedway.
(Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

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🌿 Looking for an escape into nature without leaving the city?

Franklin Canyon is a good bet if you’re eager for a taste of the wilderness but are worried about venturing too far from home. Even a short walk around Franklin Canyon Reservoir offers views that may make you feel as if you’ve escaped into Angeles National Forest — instead of Beverly Hills.

The area is home to Hollywood history too. In 2012, then Times staff writer Charles Fleming reported that the 3-acre reservoir was used as the fishing hole seen in the opening credits of “The Andy Griffith Show.” He offers some hike recommendations within Franklin Canyon.

Upper Franklin Reservoir
Upper Franklin Reservoir, famous as the old “fishin’ hole” on “The Andy Griffith Show.”
(Charles Fleming / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

📰 What I’m reading

    • Wondering what’s open and closed in Southern California now that the state has strengthened its stay-at-home rules? Times staff writers Christopher Reynolds and Mary Forgione have you covered.
    • Heads up: Many California campgrounds and national park accommodations are now closed because of the new stay-at-home rules, Forgione reports.
    • California’s stay-at-home order allows only essential travel. Reynolds and Forgione explain what that means.
    • Need to cancel your holiday rental or travel plans amid COVID-19? Reynolds and Forgione provide the latest on changes and refunds.
    • What’s it like to spend six months in darkness at the South Pole? Marissa Grunes, writing for Atlas Obscura, spoke with people who have “wintered” at the southern tip of the world.
    • J.R.R. Tolkien’s longtime home in Oxford, England, is for sale. Tolkien fans and cast members of the “Lord of the Rings” films have started a campaign to preserve the home, Vivian Marino reports in the New York Times.
    An illustration of a sign that indicates confusion over what's open and closed these days.
    Mary Forgione and Christopher Reynolds have a guide to what’s open and closed in Southern California.
    (Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

    💻 Can’t adventure IRL? Here’s one way to expand your horizons

    Picture this: hundreds of Santa Clauses, paddling into the Atlantic. Faux white beards and red jumpsuits soaked by the waves.

    This is what usually happens in Cocoa Beach, Fla., during its annual Surfing Santa Day. The festivities are on hold this year because of the pandemic, but you can find plenty of videos showcasing the zany event on YouTube. Here’s one from JTC FILMS that puts you in the middle of the Yuletide surf madness.

    🎸 Road song

    Looking for some California Christmas songs other than the Beach Boys’ “Little Saint Nick”?

    Add “A Surfer’s Christmas List” by the Surfaris to your list. Here’s hoping Santa brings us all a “surfboard 9-foot-3.”

    Surfboards with records
    “A Surfer’s Christmas List” by the Surfaris is the ideal song to kick off a surf-rock holiday playlist.
    (Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)