SLO's 'Light Up Downtown' kicks off for the holiday season

Dec 2, 2020

The holiday event 'Light Up Downtown' kicked off this weekend in San Luis Obispo, but because of the pandemic, things are a bit different this year.

Mission Plaza lights up at night with decorations of holidays trees and has areas for photo-ops, like a giant picture frame wreath and two tall pink flamingos in front of a surfboard wearing Santa hats.

Nickie Gilman, a San Luis Obispo mother of a three-year old, has taken her son downtown a couple times so far for something to do during pandemic closures. 

“I think they are beautiful, I really appreciate what the city is doing," Gilman said. "Just with all the limitations, still giving us something to come and enjoy.”

This year, Santa’s House still sits in its usual spot, but instead of Santa himself there's a note informing people that Santa is stuck in the North Pole this year. There’s a life-size photo of him for people to take a picture with instead.

There’s also a mailbox for children to write a letter to Santa, and they’ll get a letter back.

“We totally understood," Gilman said. "I think it’s really cool they still set up the house and we can write a letter.”

Also missing this year due to COVID-19 concerns is the carousel. A 20-foot rainbow light tunnel illuminates the plaza in place of it. 

“It’s a little sad. I think it would be nice if there was a presence, just even for the people walking [by],” said a San Luis Obispo resident who gave his name as Marlin. 

This year is definitely different in the plaza, with markers on the ground telling people to keep their social distance, Santa not coming and the annual downtown December parade being canceled, but Marlin said he’s glad there is still an attraction to get into the holiday spirit during a pandemic.

“This is the end of the year pretty much, and everyone wants to get past it, but everyone's trying to make the best of it," Marlin said. "Anything helps at this point.”

Bettina Swigger with Downtown SLO said although this year is tough and a live-person Santa could not safely take pictures with children, there is still plenty to enjoy this season.

“For the most part, children will find ways to be surprised, delighted and lit up with what you give them," Swigger said. "There are absolutely ways to create magic, and magic is all around us when you look through the world in the eyes of a child.”