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Moonlight Forest at the LA Arboretum

by Kayla Caldwell

You know that enchanted garden scene in “Coraline,” where the flowers are all glowing, and everything is beautiful and pure magic? The LA Arboretum’s Moonlight Forest is probably the next best thing to actually being able to step into that moment in film.

Running Wednesday through Sunday from November 9 until January 12, Moonlight Forest transforms the arboretum into a world of enchantment, with interactive elements, photo ops, giant, animatronic light displays, mind-blowing Chinese performers, and a food court full of food trucks, cocktails, and funnel cake.

The stunning displays were created by artisans from the Sichuan Province of China, and each feature a helpful sign (in both English and Chinese), that tells you a bit about the featured animal or plant, as well as its importance to China.

For example, did you know that in China, the butterfly is a symbol of love and a happy marriage? I certainly didn’t, but I was more than happy to learn that heartwarming fact. These informative boards also dubbed the penguin display, “Antarctica Gentleman,” which was the cause of one of many delighted gasps I made while walking through the arboretum.

Every time I turned a corner, or entered a new path, I was completely overwhelmed with how beautiful the display really was. One section has a giant tunnel shaped like a shark, conjuring images of the biblical story of Jonah and the whale.

One of my favorite vignettes had to be the large daisies, which flanked a tree covered in stunning butterflies. The delicate creatures flapped their wings as the lights slowly changed colors, illuminating them in a veritable rainbow so entrancing, you couldn’t help but to stare.

There’s also a section dedicated to the Chinese zodiac, with each animal getting their own, glowing display. Not sure which animal you are? No worries - the displays feature all of the birth years associated with each animal, as well as a brief description of the traits associated with them. I happen to be the year of the horse, which is “the grand and strong animal of the twelve!”

The gift shop features works of art you can take home with you, as well as an abundance of absolutely adorable panda merch and toys that light up like the displays. I had to actively stop myself from buying a pair of wearable fairy wings that lit up. The shop also happens to be located by the stage, which featured amazing acts of acrobatics as well as a man who did a traditional Chinese face-changing performance. I had never seen one before, but now I can conclusively say it is quite impressive and entertaining.

Two of the most show-stopping pieces were probably the massive peacock (that is also a photo op), and a dragon built over water, equipped with flashing lights and a fountain. However, I was pretty partial to the “Fairy ball,” which featured a field of pink, twinkly lights, leading up to a stunning crescent moon. The board by this display encourages, “Walk through the colorful fairy balls of light and feel the magic!” And feel the magic, we did.

It’d be hard not to, with such imaginative, colorful creations at every turn. To put you even more into the holiday spirit, the food court features hot chocolate (which can be spiked for those of age!). I helped myself to some before heading to the glowing swings, which offered a bit of childlike fun as well as an adorable photo op.

If I shared my full appreciation for the LA Arboretum’s Moonlight Forest, it could fill a tome, so this will have to suffice, as I hope you will venture over to Pasadena and check out the magic for yourself.


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