The Coast News Group
The Winter Cathedral along Lightscape’s mile-long trail of lights, sculptures and music at the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas. Courtesy photo/SDBG
ColumnsHit the Road

Botanic Garden lights up the holidays

One million shining, twinkling, pulsating, glowing, dancing, flickering, swirling lights.

That’s what visitors will see at the San Diego Botanic Garden’s Lightscape, a festive, seasonal light display that will put you in a winter mood.

The mile-long trail that winds through the garden’s 37 acres is sure to delight with its array of light displays, sculptures and music.

And don’t forget about the Fire Garden, an element that features real candles and real flames.

Don’t worry, said Ari Novy, president and CEO of the garden. “We are fully permitted.”

The San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas obtained a special permit to allow artists to design and build the Fire Garden, one of 12 exhibits that are part of Lightscape, a seasonal experience that runs through Jan. 1. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

Good thing. As I write, a dry-winded Santa Ana is in full swing. But this weather phenomenon also creates the cold, clear nights that are associated with the holidays. Add some hot chocolate and s’mores and you’ve got a recipe for the perfect Southern California winter outing.

Lightscape and all the treats are available on selected dates through Jan. 1.

Visitors can expect to see 12 distinct light displays, each a different effect because of the type of lighting, placement and music.

“Each stands alone with its own style and identity,” Novy said.

There are trees draped in neon; black-light string sculptures; thousands of tiny, twinkling lights in the bamboo forest; giant illuminated water lilies and poinsettias; a disco-ball “alley” and more.

Most of the displays are augmented by pop, classical and holiday-themed music. Some of the scores are synchronized with the dancing lights.

“Lightscape is a …world-class, first-class production,” Novy said. “There’s a holiday feel to it but at a level of artistry, scale and production that visitors have never seen before.”

This flower and many other abstract works have been created with neon strings, one of 12 elements along the mile-long Lightscape trail at the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

After a year’s research, Novy said it took about two weeks, working with Sony Entertainment and upgrading some infrastructure, to install the exhibit.

“We never shut down the garden,” Novy said. “(It took) lots of electricians and lighting designers…working at night with headlamps.” 

Sony has been delivering illuminated Christmas trails for nine years, according to the garden’s press release. The trail “is designed to showcase (the garden’s) natural and unique environment…”

This event is one of 30 similar events across the United States, United Kingdom, Europe and Australia.

Advance ticket purchase is required, as the number of visitors is staggered.  Parking is separate. Visit or call 760-436-3036 ext. 217.

To see videos, visit or Instagram @elouiseondash.