Moonlight Forest/Magic Lantern Art Festival – Arcadia, CA

Night Lights

Moonlight Forest/Magic Lantern Art Festival – Arcadia, CA

Tracy and I have seen the light.  Actually, we have seen the lights.  On a smokey (thanks to Southern California’s massive wildfires) evening, we traveled to the Los Angeles County Arboretum in Arcadia to walk through the Moonlight Forest/Magic Lantern Art Festival, which will run through January 12, 2020.  It turned out to be a bright idea.

Over the past few years, we have visited a couple of similar type events at Descanso Gardens and the Los Angeles Zoo, but this display of colorful creatures and picture-perfect places hit it out of the park.  From dancing carrots to beautifully lit pagodas to a giant dragon to dangerous dinosaurs to seemingly every animal on the planet, this event dazzled the senses.   From the Arboretum website: “Masterfully crafted lanterns beckon you into the gardens.  The magnificent lanterns reflect three themes; Nature, Children’s Garden, and Chinese Culture, all of which embrace the mission and communities of the Arboretum.” 

Of course, to honor the more than 200 peafowl who make the Arboretum their home, there were some giant peacocks lit in a myriad of colors.  Fortunately, they didn’t ruffle any feathers.

A giant peacock also marks the spot where you drive in to the parking area.  While we waited in line for our 5:30 entry, real peacocks lined up on the roof above us like planes taking off at LAX.  About every 90 seconds one would gain the courage to jump off the roof, dive bomb the crowd and then magically spread its wings and fly to nearby trees.  Kids enjoyed it, while their parents feared for their lives.


We had purchased tickets online (a good idea since the nights sell out quickly) and walked through the Peacock Greeter entrance a little earlier than our scheduled 5:30 time slot to check out more than 60 exhibits.

The Dragon Light Tunnel signaled a colorful start to the evening.  A sign stated that “China is the hometown of the dragons.”   Maybe that’s why they call it Chinatown.


Not too far away the legendary Chinese goddess of the Moon Chang’e (her real name) was doing her thing.  Her husband Houyi once shot down nine suns that were “scorching the earth,” something I missed in my history class, but would make for a cool movie.

Speaking of giant peacocks. This guy dwarfed those of us who had our picture taken with him.  In my infinite wisdom, since Thanksgiving was approaching, I first thought this was a turkey.   When I told Tracy that, she nearly knocked the stuffing out of me.

Each exhibit contains a sign explaining what it means.  It seems that in Chinese culture, peacocks symbolize loyal friends and good luck.  The giant peacock was named the Bodhisattva of King Damming by Buddha.  I’m not sure, but I think it spent the rest of its life listening to Steely Dan records.


We marched over to a replica of the Terracotta warriors and horses.  The originals were discovered east of the Mausoleum of the first Qin emperor in 1974.


The Fish of Abundance caught our eye, and we were hooked.  We know it was salmon enchanted evening here.  The only thing missing at this exhibit was some music by Vince Gill.  The ground here was a little uneven, and I began to flounder.


After walking under the Red Welcome Arch, the night started going to the dogs … 

… these Dragon Dogs caught our eye. 


The Color Changing Frog was ribeting …


… while the row of bananas held a certain a-peel.

The Kung Fu Tea reminded me of the Confucius saying, “Sometimes cup to runneth over is not good.“  This Kung Fu Tea is steeped in tradition.

The Dancing Carrots got down to their roots, and, of course, could see much better in the dark than the other fruits and vegetables on display.

There was a cool Imperial complex that made you think you were looking at the real thing.


For a second I thought I was at a Jimmy Buffet concert.


We followed the Voice of the Forest, and for some reason I felt Tuckered out.


Dinosaurs lined the walkway, but remember they will be extinct in early January.  The T-Rex had me going into a rendition of Bang-A-Gong.


I’m talon you, I thought the Owl Family was a hoot. 


Patience grasshopper!

Since this dragon lives by the sea (ok, it’s a pond), we thought this could be Puff.  The dragon, according to the sign, “embodies the spirit of the Chinese culture and is a symbol of dignity, strength and power.”

This playful exhibit teetered on panda-monium that I couldn’t bear to watch for too long.

The Candy Tunnel was sweet … and one of the most colorful exhibits.

There were lovely lit flowers throughout.


These sea urchins didn’t seem as dangerous as the real things.


Speaking of dangerous, remember I said some of the ground was uneven?  Well, as I attempted to take a long range photo of one of the exhibits, I took a misstep and found myself grappling with a prickly pear hedge.  I fought the prickly pear, and the prickly pear won.  For the next few minutes Tracy was picking sharp needles out of me.  There’s still one embedded in my finger.

We dove under the sea in the Ocean Tunnel.


While inside, I found myself under attack.  “You’re gonna need a bigger boat!”


We ventured out to the Serengeti Plain.  The elephants will always remember this display.


I would have walked a mile to see this guy, but it did make me wonder why the Moonlight Forest is closed on Hump Day (open Thursday – Sunday).

We quickly slithered by this venomous individual.

Zebras always show their stripes, and we’re better for it.


This family stuck its neck out to be here.

The Merlion is a mythical creature with a lion’s head and the body of a fish.  It’s the official symbol of Singapore.

From in front of Queen Anne’s cottage …

…we got a great shot of the 70 foot long, 30 foot tall, dragon across the lagoon.

A swoop of cranes emerged, although Frazier and Niles were nowhere to be found.

Hey, hey, we’re the monkeys, one who looked sad that the banana display was so far away.


There was live entertainment, as well, featuring dancers and jugglers.

Buck Owens would have had one of these by the tail.

The inhabitants of this exhibit took great Pride in it.

Hippos always look hip.

We strolled through the colorful Octopus Garden …


.. while he just decided to grin and bear it.

We were now on the backstretch, knowing these last displays would be our swan song.


The pandas in this display looked a little bamboozled …


While this guy thought the whole thing a croc.

Global warming put these animals in imminent danger.


These guys dressed up for the evening in their tuxedos

Our friend was happy being here, because he formerly worked at the local Shell station.

People from Miami enjoyed this display.


A couple of more interesting exhibits featuring the lives and traditions of Chinese families, and our 90-minute tour of the Moonlight/Forest/Magic Lantern Art Festival was over. 


We thought about a drink at the Dragon Bar, but since we were draggin’ ourselves, we felt it time to leave.

Tracy and I enjoyed ourselves immensely and highly recommend it.  Kids were having a blast ands were the parents.  As you can see it is quite photogenic, and everyone had a camera or phone out throughout the experience.


One small danger is the ground can be a little uneven, so watch your step.   Oh, you might also be on the lookout for strollers.  I nearly wiped out about a dozen toddlers.

By the way, even if you don’t come to the festival, the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden is a fantastic way to spend a day.  It’s beautiful (spring is my favorite time). 

And be sure to say hello to the real peacocks!

During the summer, it hosts a music series headed by the talented and witty Michael Feinstein.

If near Arcadia in the next two months, check this place out for a night of fun at The Moonlight Forest/Magic Lantern Art Festival. 

It’s an illuminating experience.

Moonlight Forest/Magic Lantern Art Festival
Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden
301 North Baldwin Avenue • Arcadia, CA 91007
Buy Tickets Online
Adult $25 ($4.43 fee) • Seniors $23 ($4.32 fee) • Age 3 – 17 $20 ($4.15 fee)
Entry times: 5:30 p.m., 7 p.m., 8 p.m. (closes at 10 p.m.)
Parking: free


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