Holiday street parties spread good cheer with live music and local star power on Saturday night

By Christina Campodonico

Photo by Venice Paparazzi

An Oscar winner, a Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer and a Grammy winner have all done the honor of turning Venice’s iconic light-up sign over Windward Plaza into a festive display of red and green for the holiday season. (Anjelica Huston, Robby Krieger and P!nk, respectively.)

This year actor Matthew Modine (a.k.a. Private Joker in Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” and shadowy government scientist Dr. Brenner on “Stranger Things”) flips the switch with L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin at 8 p.m. on Saturday.

Venice Chamber of Commerce President George Francisco is “thrilled” that Modine, a longtime Venice resident, will be involved in this year’s holiday lighting of the Venice Sign.

“What makes the event special is that we don’t light up a tree like in Rockefeller Center, we light up a sign — which is kind of goofy — and we have engaged celebrity residents, who enjoy coming out and expressing what Venice means to them,” says Francisco, who’s also put together a lineup of topnotch talent for the holiday celebration, starting at 6 p.m.

The Kenneth Brian Band, featuring drummer Steve Ferrone and rhythm guitarist Scott Thurston (both members of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), headline the event with Beach Boys founding member Al Jardine stopping by for a guest performance. Sultry jazz vocalist Apryll Aileen and Santa Monica-based wunderkind violinist Kiev Morales round out the musical lineup.

During the sign lighting celebration, the annual Muscle Beach Toy Drive is collecting unwrapped gifts for local youth in need, and more than 50 local sponsors are setting up exhibition tables along Windward Plaza. The Venice Art Crawl is displaying artwork by local school children competing for prizes in the annual “My Venice Holiday” Poster Contest.

“We’ll have a full street of activities,” says Francisco, who suggests that a snowstorm of sorts may be headed to the beach that night. (“We might get a blizzard,” he hints.)

If you can’t wait to get the party started, nearby Abbot Kinney Boulevard is hosting a holiday-themed First Friday event on Friday (Dec. 1) and a Holiday Stroll and Snow Day on Sunday (Dec. 3).

Also on Saturday night, Santa Monica’s Main Street is getting dolled up for its annual window decoration contest and holiday event. Take a stroll to enjoy music and carolers from the Samohi
choir and Santa Monica Symphony, but be sure to keep your smartphone handy and Insta open.

Local merchants have decorated their shop windows in the spirit of the season, and participants will judge the People’s Choice winner. Snap photos of your favorite windows, upload them to Instagram with #mainstreetsmholiday and you’ll be entered to win a prize for your photography skills. The photo with the most likes wins.

Turn your attention to real life when Main Street turns the switch on not one but two tree lightings, starting at 6 p.m. A traditional Christmas tree is lit at the California Heritage Museum (2612 Main St.) between 6 and 6:15 p.m., then Santa leads a candlelight procession down Main Street to the Edgemar Center for the Arts (2437 Main St.), where the famed Shopping Cart Tree holds court.

Previous iterations of the tree — a 23-year tradition by designer and Main Street Business Association chairman Anthony Schmitt — have involved up to 84 shopping carts, some 1,500 lights and about 4,000 zip ties. This year’s tree is 35 feet tall and made up of 92 shopping carts, held together with hose clamps.

“The tree is quite the holiday miracle, bringing the community together and reaching the world as a topic of design and creativity,” wrote Schmitt in an email.

Expect the Shopping Cart Tree to light up between 6:30 and 6:40 p.m. on Saturday, but Main Street festivities continue later into the evening, with local shops hosting parties and holiday specials until 9 p.m.

The spirit of the season continues in downtown Culver City next Thursday (Dec. 7), when local merchants hand out festive holiday treats and, during a visit from Santa Claus, the town lights up a 22-foot Rocky Mountain pine with 7,500 energy efficient LED lights.


The Venice Sign party happens from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday (Dec. 2) at Windward Plaza (1 Windward Ave.) in Venice. Visit for info. Main Street’s holiday event happens from 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday (Dec. 2) on Main Street between Bicknell and Pier Avenues. Visit Downtown Culver City’s Tree Lighting Celebration starts at 6 p.m. Thursday (Dec. 7) at Town Plaza (the intersection of Culver Boulevard and Van Buren Place).