“Then it seemed to me that the Sierra should be called, not the Nevada or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light. And after ten years of wandering and wondering in the heart of it, rejoicing in its glorious floods of light, the white beams of the morning streaming through the passes, the noonday radiance on the crystal rocks, the flush of the alpenglow, and the irised spray of countless waterfalls, it still seems above all others the Range of Light.” – John Muir, from The Yosemite
If there is any one season that stands out for its show of lights it must be the holiday season. Are you looking for a holiday experience that’s like a Christmas card sprung to life? Do want a picturesque winter setting with an old-fashioned, small-town atmosphere? Well, look no further than Bishop, California.
This characteristically western American town, situated in the heart of the Eastern Sierra, is charming and whimsical at any time of year. Christmastime brings added charm with festive holiday events that light up the town in celebration of the season of giving.
Set in a winter wonderland scene like no other in the country, where the broad expanse of the Owens Valley rises up to the snow-capped crests of the White & Inyo Mountains to the east and the Sierra Nevada to the west, Bishop is especially picture postcard perfect during the holidays.
Night Parade & Fun Run
The place and time to start your countdown to Christmas is downtown Bishop at on the first Saturday in December at 4pm!
The Night Parade gets underway at 4:30pm at High Country Lumber and rolls on down Main Street to Bishop City Park. It’s a short distance of 0.6 miles that’s lined with townsfolk who’ve come to cheer on the community members who’ve entered sparkling parade floats in this festive annual tradition.
Pick your spot along Main Street to watch the brightly decorated trucks, cars, fire engines, motorcycles, horse- and mule-drawn carriages, marching bands, folks on foot in festive costumes, and, of course, Santa – as they all wend their way to the Bishop City Park for the big tree lighting ceremony that follows. Even a few local Police, Sheriff and Highway Patrol vehicles join in the parade fun with flashing lights and raucous sirens. Santa should always have an escort like this!
The Annual Santa Run presented by Bishop Rotary starts at 4:15pm (15 minutes before the parade start) in front of the Bishop Visitor Center & Schat’s Bakkery. It’s a one-mile family fun run to raise funds and awareness for ‘End Polio Now’ – a Rotary International program. Run it. Walk it. Roll it. Give it your best shot during the season of giving. Entry fee is $10 and Bishop Rotary will provide hot chocolate and Christmas treats. Dress in your best imitation of a reindeer or elf or any Christmas character and win a prize!
Insider Tip: Get ahead of the game by stopping in at the Bishop Visitor Center early in the day to get your free Street of Lights map – your passport to an evening full of fun and prizes. Keep reading to find out more!
As the tail end of the parade passes you by, head on over to the Bishop City Park for the official big tree lighting ceremony. The switch is flipped at 5:30pm to signal the start of Christmas present and herald the holidays for all. Music will fill the air and delectable treats like hot cocoa, coffee, cookies and candy will be available to tantalize your taste buds and sweeten the evening.
Insider Tip: Santa will be at the Bishop Visitor Center from 4:30 – 6pm to listen to the secrets and wishes of all the kiddies in the land.
Street of Lights Merchant Night (Canceled 2021)
As if all that weren’t enough, the night continues with lights, music, food and fun. Now take a leisurely stroll along the half-mile of downtown Main Street where the local merchants will be open late to participate in the Street of Lights. Stop at a warming fire along the way and join in the caroling. Pop into your favorite store or visit one that’s new to you and see what’s on offer on this special night.
Participating shops, restaurants, galleries and businesses will have great deals and a happy holiday atmosphere. Local musicians will perform at many of these venues and the sights, sounds, and smells of the yuletide will mingle with the frosty winter air.
Santa will be cruising the street too, getting his Christmas groove on, so keep a lookout for a fun photo op with the jolly holiday man.
Insider Tip: Remember to keep your Street of Lights map with you and stop in at as many of the participating businesses as you can to get it stamped. This is your ticket to enter the huge holiday raffle for a chance to win wonderful prizes and the grand prize of $500 cash.
On on the second Saturday in December, take a magical train ride on the Railroad Express. Visit the Laws Railroad Museum and Historic Site, just 6 miles north of Bishop and ride the rails into Christmases past.
Laws Railroad Museum and Historic Site celebrates the rich history of the Owens Valley railroad and tells of a time when this station was the heart of a once bustling western town. Do you believe in holiday magic and that wishes really do come true? Of course you do. Take a trip back in time on the Railroad Express.
It happens only once a year and it’s a day of family fun with Santa and Mrs. Claus for you (your inner kid) and all kids. Celebrate the season with caroling and story telling, crafts and refreshments, and a host of angels and elves onboard the restored Death Valley Railroad Car. Gates open at 10am with fantastical railway adventures going on until 4pm. Dress warmly it could be frosty.
Insider Tip: Get your Railroad Express admission tickets early at the Bishop Visitor Center and don’t miss out on your ‘Golden Ticket’ to a trip through seasons past. Read more about the Railroad Express here.
Christmas Décor and Gift Ideas
The well-established art scene in town makes shopping for unique gifts in local shops and artists’ studios an enchanting experience. The inspiration for art and craft in this area is frequently drawn from the surrounding beauty. Find a perfect creation, an art masterpiece, or a simple treasure as a tribute to, or memento of, the happy holidays in ‘the range of light.’
In addition to the Street of Lights night, arts and crafts are regularly on show and available for sale in the coffee shops, bookstores, sporting goods stores, and galleries along Main Street. Read about the many art establishments and cultural activities in and around Bishop in a previous blog “London. Paris. New York. Bishop.” and another “Made in Bishop” that showcases more arts and artists of our area.
Insider Tip: Bishop is a treasure trove of murals. Stop in at the Bishop Visitor Center for a map guide (or download it here) for a self-guided walking tour of the marvelous murals that are surprise gifts of our charming town.
Eat. Drink. Be Merry.
Christmas is merriest with family, friends, food, and the occasional spirits of Christmases past and present. Drink responsibly and ensure that the spirit of your Christmas future is a safe and happy one.
Bishop boasts a heavenly selection of fine food and drink. Take a look at this previous blog post, “A world of good food in the Eastern Sierra” for inspiration on your holiday celebration. The holidays also serve up a delicious helping of entertainment, such as live music, karaoke, choirs, and open mic nights, which are presented at venues throughout the town.
Insider Tip: The Cardinal Village Christmas Festival, from Thanksgiving to the last weekend before Christmas, is the merriest, frostiest, sweetest, snowiest place for a mountain of Christmas fun. Find out more here.
Happy Holidays in the Range of Light
Don’t settle for a small town lurking in a big city. Come experience a real small town set in the wide-open spaces of a quintessential American landscape – especially one in the inimitable Range of Light.