Saturday, December 17, 2022

Let SDBG Light Up Your Life This Holiday Season

By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt. Photos by Maurice Hewitt 


Full Moon over Lightscape

The brightest initials in our area right now are SDBG—San Diego Botanic Garden—where you can stroll through an extravaganza of multicolored lights, illuminated trees and inventive installations called Lightscape. It’s a great way to spend a chilly evening this holiday season.

For the past year, Ari Novy, SDBG’s president/CEO, has been meeting with representatives of Culture Creative, a U.K.-based company that works with Sony Music to create lighting festivals—including Lightscapes individually designed for botanic gardens. And on a full-moon evening earlier this month, my husband and I were lucky enough to walk the mile-long Lightscape trail with him.

Ari Novy in the Winter Cathedral

Lightscape first appeared in the U.S. at Chicago Botanic Garden in 2019 B.C.—Before Covid—and Novy was there to see it. He was immediately interested and began talking with Culture Creative shortly after. But when the pandemic made long-term plan-making impossible, he had to wait awhile before committing to the project. 

“We needed to have a full 12 months to work out the logistics and last year we were finally ready to start,” he said. “Working with their team was great. They’re really creative; they’re all plant people, and they’re artists and tech pros too. I wanted our plants to be co-stars along with the lights, so there’s always an interplay between the plants and the lighting.” 

Neon Strings

There are 12 artful installations—Novy calls them vignettes. “It’s a play in 12 acts, with a rising and falling arc, like in storytelling.” But individual trees can also be stunning, and he says visitors have been “newly amazed” by trees that take on a whole different look with expressive lighting.

Transformed trees

“Everything is unique to our space,” he added. “So if you go to see Lightscape in Chicago, Los Angeles or Brooklyn, you’ll be seeing something else.”

His personal favorites are the Neon Tree and the “trippy” Laser Forest and he’s already beginning to think about next year’s Lightscape, which will definitely include two super-popular installations: the Winter Cathedral and the Fire Garden.

Neon Tree

One view of the Laser Forest

Fire Garden

But this year’s event isn’t over yet. Over 80,000 tickets have been sold so far, but there are more left to sell, and visitor response has been so enthusiastic that they’ve decided to extend Lightscape beyond its originally announced end date January 1, 2023. The new end date is now January 8.

Oh, yes…there’s music playing along the trail… though I’d have liked a little Bach interspersed with the pop-rock and holiday tunes. And there are food and drink concessions, but we were too involved with what we were seeing to stop for that kind of sustenance. Our personal favorites?  We shared Novy’s love of the Laser Forest, which gives an otherworldly look to the Bamboo Garden, always one of our favorite spots at SDBG. And we shared the general enchantment with the Winter Cathedral, designed by Australia-based MandyLights, whose website proclaims: “We create outstanding visual experiences.”

In fact, all of Lightscape is an outstanding visual experience, especially if you’re willing to slow down and give yourself a chance to spend time with what you see. We saw all ages enjoying themselves, even infants in strollers…and their grandparents. To sum up our experience in a word: deLIGHTful!



Fire Lily

San Diego Botanic Garden
230 Quail Gardens Dr. Encinitas      
Now through January 8, 2023
Book timed tickets in advance at
Cost: $15-$29 +parking fee.
There are 3 different parking lots, so 3 different ways to start and end your walk.
Hot tip: For smaller crowds, choose an entry time after 7pm.

You may still be able to get tickets for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day Eve, and whatever the weather, Lightscape will shine.

Lonnie Burstein Hewitt is an award-winning author/lyricist/playwright who has been writing about arts and lifestyles in San Diego County for over a dozen years. You can reach her at

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