Enjoy the Holidays in a Mid-Modern Way

Tramway tree
A tree of light sits atop the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway by the Mountain Station, which was built in 1961 to designs by the great desert modernist E. Stewart Williams. It’s one of many places to enjoy the holidays in mid-century modern style. Courtesy of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Palm Springs at night turns into a winter wonderland, best viewed perhaps from Mt. San Jacinto Park, high above the valley floor, yet easily accessible thanks to the mid-century marvel, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.

The annual Palms Springs Festival of Light Parade, always fun, is in the past this year, but the mid-century modern Mecca of a city remains a holiday treat throughout the season, with lights, fine restaurants, and ideal weather. How about ‘Judy’s Old Fashioned Christmas’ through December 17 at the Purple Room?

But if you’re looking for some easy holiday getaways with mid-century modern flair,  you needn’t head to the desert. Here are a few options that may be nearer at hand, many family friendly as well.

If you’d prefer to spend some of your holidays at the beach rather than the desert, one good option is the Dream Inn Santa Cruz, on the Santa Cruz beach. This stylishly modern hotel, with roots back to the early 1960s (the tower came a few years later), plays up the holidays with, among other things, surfboards in the lobby wearing Christmas wreaths.

Dream Inn Santa Cruz
The Dream Inn Santa Cruz on the beach in Santa Cruz provides a jocular take on Christmas with decorated surfboards. Courtesy of the Dream Inn Santa Cruz

Special seasonal events, the Dream Inn promises, include a “Breakfast with Santa” from 9 to 11 a.m. on December 17, “complete with a full breakfast buffet, cookie decorating, face painting, story time, and a visit from Santa,” and live music accompanying their New Year’s Eve dinner.

Another iconic modernist hotel, the Hyatt Embarcadero in San Francisco, alas, no longer has a rotating skybar. But the hotel, a creation of architect John Portman from the early 1970s, still has a marvelous atrium, complete with lighted elevators that soar to guest rooms high above.

The lobby serves as well as a space for dining and imbibing in its Eclipse Kitchen and Bar, where you can sit back and imbibe as well the architectural verve of the ‘70s.

Besides their overtly religious elements, all of the holidays celebrated during the holiday season also celebrate light. Celebrations of light, with or without religious connotations, are easy to find.

Hyatt Embarcadero
San Francisco’s Hyatt Embarcadero is an amazing environment at any time but during the holidays it is even more special. Photo by Dave Weinstein

One that wins plaudits from Los Angeles preservationist, CA-Modern writer, and Eichler owner Adriene Biondo is the Enchanted Forest of Light show at Descanso Gardens in La Cañada Flintridge, just north of Pasadena. “Just beautiful,” Adriene says.

Descanso Gardens, which first opened to the public in 1950 and became a public park in 1953, offers a wide variety of garden and architectural experiences.

There’s the volunteer-built Japanese Garden from 1966, designed by landscape architect Eijiro Nunokawa. The well known modernist architect Whitney Smith designed the Teahouse.

The Enchanted Forest, open through January 8, includes several magical sections, providing “an interactive, nighttime experience unlike anything else in Los Angeles, featuring a one-mile walk through unique lighting experiences in some of the most beloved areas of Descanso Gardens,” the park promises.

Enchanted Forest
The Garden of Good Fortune is just one of several environments to explore at the Descanso Gardens Enchanted Forest. Photo by Jake Fabricius

Another great light party can be found along the San Francisco waterfront at the science museum/arts venue the Exploratorium. ‘Glow: Discover the Art of Light’ continues through January 29.

“Six artists illuminate Pier 15 with light sculptures big and small, inviting you to connect and get inspired in their glow,” the nonprofit Exploratorium writes.

“Explore the galleries for captivating new light art by Anila Quayyum Agha, Craig Newswanger, and Sally Weber and returning favorites by Luke Jerram and Burt Libe. In Bechtel Gallery 3, splash in waves of light with ‘The Last Ocean,’ Jen Lewin’s monumental, luminescent landscape created from recycled ocean plastics. Experiment with color, shadows, and more in the Seeing and Reflections gallery.

In the mood for some magical and musical times with the young people in your life? Though even without young people along, a fine production of ‘The Nutcracker’ is always a pleasure. This is the 57th season for the San Jose Dance Theatre’s production, and one such performance on the morning of December 16 is an abbreviated version aimed at young children. Performances run through December 18.

'Glow' at San Francisco’s Exploratorium features light art by six artists in a series of environmental displays. Courtesy of the Exploratorium.

For those modernists among us, the venue itself is an attraction. San Jose’s Center for the Performing Arts is a curvaceous, Frank Lloyd Wrightian classic, designed not by the master but by a longtime Wright associate, William Wesley Peters of Taliesin Associated Architects.

Not every wintertime holiday needs a holiday theme, of course. Dragons are not something you’ll find affixed to most Christmas trees. This season, the mid-century modern-styled Sacramento Zoo is hosting ‘Dragon Discovery.’

“The exhibit is very popular with families and people of all ages and is included with the price of zoo admission,” says Leslie Kirrene, the zoo’s marketing director.

The event runs through February 26.

“Experience fourteen towering dragons from all corners of the globe,” the zoo urges. “Avoid the deadly gazes of the basilisk and the cockatrice. Become one of the few to lay eyes on the secretive Ice Dragon. Admire the plumed serpent form of Quetzalcóatl.”

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