Rise of the Jack O’ Lanterns at Descanso Gardens

dragon (Custom)

When I first heard about Rise of the Jack O’ Lanterns, a garden path dotted with carved and painted Jack O’ Lanterns, I imagined something quaint, like a small town holiday parade. I was not prepared for what a big extravaganza it is. I was also not prepared for the intricate craftsmanship and large-scale sculptures built with dozens upon dozens of pumpkins. There is a free-standing sculpted dragon over 50 feet long made entirely out of carved, illuminated jack o’ lanterns.

The location at Descanso Gardens where the 2 and 210 meet in Montrose is not as far away as it sounds at first. There is also ample free parking. The first part of the event is an entryway where you can buy snacks and countless toys that light up, flash and twirl. It opens up to a wide, paved walk where you can watch master jack o’ lantern carvers at work. Since you are kind of antsy to get into the exhibit, you may not want to stay long enough to really appreciate their artistry. At the end of the exhibit, you can go back to the beginning if you like, so you can watch the carving and you can ask the carvers all of the questions you thought of during the walk.

Photo essay after the jump

When you enter the 1/3-mile-long scenic walking trail, everything is pitch-black. And I mean bump-into-your-neighbor pitch black. There were a lot of children, and even the smallest ones did not seem the least bit afraid. None of them were fussy or crying. In my opinion, the only potentially scary thing was the intense Halloween music, sort of Andrew Lloyd Weber meets the theme from “Halloween.” As I was leaving, one of the dads comically and dramatically sang along, “Dun, dun, da DUNNN da DUNNN…” so I was not the only one it made an impression on.

Speaking of families with kids, many couples were employing a trick where one parent lit up the child with their phone while the other parent clicked a picture. They told me they were able to get some really nice shots that way. There is no flash photography in the exhibit, so I was impressed with their ingenuity.

As for accessibility, it is an easy path, even for small children and out-of-shape grown-ups. I asked a few people who use wheelchairs how they felt, and they said the trail wasn’t ideal, but it was manageable. The only people who might have difficulty are older people who use canes or walkers. It is dusty, and there are a few ruts and bumps, so I do recommend sneakers. There are a lot of guides on hand to help you navigate your way.

Be prepared for a big crowd. It is easiest if you enter with an easygoing, unhurried attitude and surrender to the slow-moving line of people passing the exhibits. If you decide to slip through the middle and hop from exhibit to exhibit without waiting, like some people do, you are going to have a frustrating time, step on some feet, and risk a dangerous stroller incident. People don’t only have strollers they push in front of them, there are unexpected little invisible wagons pulled behind, so seriously, don’t be in a hurry.

It really is worth the wait. It is hard to describe the pure awe I felt standing in front of an enormous tree once I realized it was decorated with countless jack o’ lanterns, something they accomplish with “their own version of Christmas lights.” The huge dinosaurs are also kind of mind-blowing. I asked whether some of the sculptures used a wooden backing or chicken-wire. I was told that a few sculptures need a little help, but they prefer to use only jack o’ lanterns whenever possible.

This is a don’t miss opportunity that could easily become an annual tradition for your family. It would also be a nice date night, and anyone with a crafty or artistic bent would be in heaven. The event runs Thursdays through Sundays until November 1st. Besides Descanso Gardens, there will also be a Rise of the Jack O’ Lanterns attraction at Santa Anita from Friday, Oct 9th  through October 26th on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Tickets range from $22 to $28. You can get a promo code for a discount here. Entry times start at 6:30pm and end at 9:30 Thursdays and Sundays or 10:30pm Fridays and Saturdays. Once you are inside, your time is unlimited. Get your tickets here.

Elise Thompson

About Elise Thompson

Born and raised in the great city of Los Angeles, this food, culture and music-loving punk rock angeleno wants to turn you on to all that is funky, delicious and weird in the city. While Elise holds down the fort, her adventurous alter ego Kiki Maraschino is known to roam the country in search of catfish.
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