Where was Christmas Vacation filmed?
Summit County, Colorado; Los Angeles, California
American, Ranch, Schools/Colleges, Studios, Retail
Americana/Anywhere America, Classic Car, School
About Christmas Vacation
Who doesn’t want a perfect Christmas celebration? You’ve got colorful decorations, a festive meal, family guests to celebrate with, and gifts for the young and young at heart under a massive Christmas tree. What could ever go wrong, right? Unfortunately, it isn’t always a smooth holiday for the Griswold family as a series of catastrophic events turn their big Christmas celebration into a disaster.
Understand the true meaning of the holiday season through National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. This 1989 classic comedy film will make you giggle and laugh, but you’ll also feel frustrated yet amused by the main character’s continual bad luck. Let’s look back at some of the funny scenes in Chrismas Vacation (spoiler alert!) and explore the locations where the movie was filmed.
On their way to a Christmas tree lot in the country, Clark and a truck driver play a dangerous game of cat and mouse. The car gets stuck under a logging truck, leaving him no choice but to veer the car off the road and jump hundreds of feet. Then the tree they got is too big for their living room, breaking the windows and destroying some parts of the room, and the obnoxious family guests arrive. The 25,000 imported Italian twinkle lights won’t turn on, Clark gets trapped in the attic while hiding some holiday presents, and the list of unfortunate events goes on.
What Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) wants, no more than anything in the world, is for them to have a pleasant, old-fashioned family holiday festivity. But not everything goes according to his plan. Although many of the comic turns are predictable, you can’t help but laugh at the silliness of the situations.
Christmas Vacation Locations
The 1989 cult comedy National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is set in Chicago, so it’s only natural to assume that the storefronts, streets, and even the family’s house are within the city. Sure, some exterior film shoots were taken in Chicago.
However, it filmed most of its scenes in Colorado, especially the ones featuring the mountainous valleys and big alpine trees. In fact, the movie's opening scenes where you see the Griswold family singing Christmas songs on the road begin in Colorado.
Do you plan to visit the Christmas Vacation location and go on a tour? You must head to the town of Breckenridge, and other parts of the Summit County, as many scenes from the movie were shot there. Summit County is located approximately 1.5 hours west of Denver, known for its impressive mountain ranges and major ski areas.
This Colorado County comprises four internationally-recognized resorts, and its mountains are only a thirty-minute drive from each other. Its surrounding high-alpine areas provide plenty of adventures like skiing, climbing, snowmobiling, snowboarding, and more. These make it an ideal backdrop for the Griswold family’s Christmas adventure in the classic film.
Like most movies, the crew also built a Christmas Vacation film set. They headed to California to shoot some of the movie’s important scenes at the studio in Burbank.
The Christmas Vacation is not the first National Lampoon’s Vacation film. It’s actually a comedy film series adapted from a short story entitled Vacation ’58 written by John Hughes. The first movie was National Lampoon’s Vacation, which was released in 1938 and followed by European Vacation two years later. It was also one of only two Christmas films released in 1989.
The driving scene in Christmas Vacation
Colorado 9, Silverthorne, Colorado
Who would forget the iconic opening scene of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation? The Griswolds are heading to the country to get a tree for their old-fashioned family Christmas celebration. The couple is happily singing a Christmas song when they encounter some crazy truck drivers and find themselves underneath a timber lorry.
How terrifying it must have been for them! So you can understand when Clark’s wife, Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), starts reciting the Lord’s Prayer while adding the lines “And forgive my husband. He knows not what he does.” Luckily, everyone is safe, and they are only a short walking distance to their destination.
This road scene was shot north of Silverthorne, close to Maryland Creek Ranch. There’s nothing much to see along the road but a sprawling grassland. Also, watch out for wildlife like elk, mule deer, and bears, especially during winter as they migrate to the valley. But you can visit the nearby Maryland Creek Ranch, situated west, off of Highway 9, to see the animals.
It's not easy to take public transportation on this rural highway. So if you want to explore this Christmas Vacation filming location, renting a car or bringing your vehicle is the easiest and most convenient way.
The Christmas tree scene in Christmas Vacation
Breckenridge Golf Club, Breckenridge, Colorado
After the disastrous journey, their station wagon looks like it falls from the sky because it lands over the white cloud-looking snow. When it hits the Trees sign with an arrow, at least we know they’re at the right spot. As if nothing happened, the family heads to the Alpine forest to find the Griswold family Christmas tree.
After a long freezing walk and Audrey’s (Juliette Lewis) frozen lower extremities from the waist down, they finally spot the perfect Christmas tree. Then Clark declares that the tree is “the symbol of the spirit of the Griswold Christmas.” But because they forgot to bring a saw, they have no choice but to uproot the gigantic tree, which sadly we didn’t see in the movie.
The scene where you see them standing in front of a gigantic tree was shot at the Breckenridge Golf Course. The car's landing was also at the same Golf Club, located near Georgia Pass on Tiger Road. The Breckenridge Golf Course is nestled in the stunning, glacier-sculpted Upper Blue River Valley, featuring breathtaking views of the mountains around.
Whether you’re a golfer or not, a novice or a seasoned veteran, this Golf Course is worth visiting. You’ll undoubtedly be inspired by the course design and its surrounding beauty. It offers different programs and lessons to help you with the game’s fundamentals and take your golf to the next level. It’s an ideal place to learn and enhance your skills.
The nearest bus stop from the Golf Course is the Revette Drive stop. The first bus that travels to North Breckenridge - Golf Course is Frisco – Breckenridge Bus.
The department store scene in Christmas Vacation
Bullocks Wilshire, Los Angeles
Do you remember Clark’s awkward conversation with the lingerie saleslady at the department store? This time, the Griswold family is out to do Christmas shopping. Later, Rusty (Johnny Galecki) appears and finds his dad flirting with the saleslady and Clark embarrassing himself in front of the woman and his son.
Featured in this scene was the Bullocks Wilshire in Los Angeles, California. It was LA’s spectacularly crafted art deco gem with a special place in LA history. It was established to house the chic Department Store and became one of the country’s first art deco structures when it opened in 1929. Its name was synonymous with style, luxury, and elegance for over sixty years.
Unfortunately, the Bullocks Wilshire Department Store is no longer in operation. It was closed permanently in 1993, marking the end of a thriving era. The good news is that the building is not entirely closed to the public. The Bullocks Wilshire building is now part of the Southwestern Law School. Though it isn’t open every day to visitors, it hosts a special Open House once a year, allowing visitors to see its beautiful architectural details, rooms, and artwork.
The school is located three blocks east of Vermont Avenue on Wilshire Boulevard. If you plan to catch the subway, you’ll have to take the Purple Line or the Red Line to the Wilshire/Vermont Station.
The parents of the parents’ arrival scene in Christmas Vacation
Warner Bros. Ranch, Burbank, California
The list of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation film scenes won’t be complete without mentioning the arrival of Clark and Ellen’s parents. The doorbell rings, showing every family member’s reaction and implying an impending doom. It was probably the most chaotic minute of their lives.
The sense of dread those doorbell rings create is perfect for the disaster waiting for the family as soon as they open their door. But it’s also one of the best scenes in Christmas Vacation. It’s something that would make us laugh even minutes after the scene has passed.
You don’t have to go too far to visit the Griswold residence where this legendary scene was captured. The filmmakers used a sound stage at Blondie Street in the Warner Bros. Ranch in Burbank, California, to shoot the exterior of the Griswold family.
Located about a mile north of Warner Bros. Studio Lot, the Warner Ranch has been featured in numerous hit films and dramas over the decades. The Ranch serves as an outdoor backdrop for various shows and movies with its iconic exterior elements and sets. It may not be as open as the Warner Studio lot with regular tours and visits. But you can also explore the Ranch by scheduling your visit.
Clark trapped in the attic scene in Christmas Vacation
Summit Middle School, Frisco, Colorado
While everyone is asleep early in the morning, Clarks, still in his pajamas, goes to the attic to hide the Christmas presents. But his mother, Nora (Diane Ladd), puts back the stairs leading to the attic, leaving Clark trapped inside. A few minor accidents later, he saw his family drives off to go shopping and have lunch.
You might think that the attic was a sound stage built at the house on the Warmer Ranch, but it wasn’t the case for this scene. It was actually a set that the crew put together in a high school on a gymnasium floor. It’s also where they shoot the part where Clark watches their old home videos.
The high school used for the attic scene is now the Summit Middle School. It’s a public school in Frisco, Colorado, in a fringe rural setting with an 801 student population. Since it’s a working school, it’s best to go to the main office before entering the campus. It is close to several bus stops and can be reached by taking buses 204, FF1, DASH, and SKIP.
The sledding scene in Christmas Vacation
Walmart, Frisco, Colorado
Clark shows off the “new non-caloric silicon-based kitchen lubricant” that his company has been working on. “It creates a surface five-hundred times more slippery than any cooking oil,” he emphasizes as he sprays it on his metal saucer sled. True to his words, it’s so slippery that it doesn’t stop even after sliding through a small cabin and dodging traffic on the road.
The sledding part where he rides down the hill was filmed on Peak 8 at Breckenridge Ski Area, while the road section featured in the later scene is in Frisco. However, Clark’s sledding adventure didn’t end there. He couldn’t stop until he reached the Walmart Parking Lot.
The filmmakers used different locations for this scene, but if you’re on a film tour and want to do some shopping in Frisco, the Walmart at Summit Boulevard still exists today. Besides the main store, it houses a pharmacy, photo center, deli, a 24-hour charging station, and other services. The closest station to Walmart Frisco is only two minutes from the store.
Watching the movie and touring the Christmas Vacation locations will really feel like a holiday vacation. You will be taken you different types and styles of places, from schools and studios to a golf course and ski resort. Once you’re done visiting the film sites, you can walk or drive around Summit County or bring your friends for kayaking, hiking, or mountain biking.
It's also essential to note that making the movie provides career opportunities for the residents. Many Breckenridge locals were actually hired to work during the shoot. That’s why not only did National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation bring visitors to the place, but it also became an economic advantage for the town.