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Holiday Lights 2011

100 Miles of Lights display at Newport News Park in VA
100 Miles of Lights display at Newport News Park in VA

Wherever you find yourself this holiday season, stop and enjoy a holiday light display. Make it a family tradition. Here are big and smaller ones in cities and towns around the country. Let us know if you have a favorite you’d like us to add by posting a comment below. Be sure to include the name of the town, state and a link to the light display’s site if there is one. We’ll make sure to include it in next year’s listings.

ALBUQUERQUE, NM – The Rio Grande Botanic Garden hosts New Mexico’s largest walk-through holiday light show, “The River of Lights” featuring giant sculptures of plants, animals and seasonal themes created by hundreds of thousands of lights. Visit between November 26 and December 30 (closed on December 24 and 25).

ANNAPOLIS, MD – “Lights on the Bay” is a drive-through holiday light show at Sandy Point State Park along Chesapeake Bay, where there are stationery and animated displays. Visit between November 19 and January 1. 

ATHENS, OHIO where you can hike through the forest to view 100,000 plus lights at “Holiday Trail of Lights” in Lake Hope State Park in southeast Ohio. Visit from December 1 to 31.

AUSTIN, TX – Zilker Park’s “Trail of Lights,” a mile long stretch with seasonal scenes composed of multi-colored twinkling lights, will be on display from December 9-18. Additionally, there is an annual “Armadillo Christmas Bazaar” featuring work by artists and artisans plus musical performances from December 14-24. 

BOSTON, MA features the largest Christmas Tree in New England, and the 70th annual lighting ceremony will take place on December 1. Take a Freedom Trail Holiday Strollwith a costumed guide and end your tour with hot chocolate or tea with Boston Cream Pie at the Omni Parker House Hotel. This tour is offered at 3:30pm, Thursday to Sunday from November 18 to January 31.

BRANSON, MO –Silver Dollar City celebrates “Old Time Christmas” with a 5-story special effects Christmas Tree from November 5 to December 30. 

BROOKLYN, NY twinkles with the “Lights of Dyker Heights,” a neighborhood (between 83d and 86th streets from 11th to 13th Avenue between Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst) that attracts 100,000 visitors to view amazing decorations. 

CHARLESTON, SC celebrates the “Holiday Festival of Lights” in James Island County Park where you will drive (or take a train ride) three miles through over two million lights and hundreds of displays. Visit from November 10 to January 1.

CHARLOTTE, NC – Charlotte Motor Speedway is excited to bring the holidays to life this winter season with the return of “Carolina Christmas,” a spectacular drive-through Christmas light park and village located at the legendary superspeedway. Featuring more than 600 light displays boasting 3 million lights, the event also offers a Christmas Village with a realistic Bethlehem-themed village, a Festival of Trees, photos with Santa and areas with food and music. This year, the route of twinkling lights is extended, giving visitors extra miles of Christmas cheer! Come experience it from November 23 to December 31.

CHATANOOGA, TN – Rock City Garden’s “Enchanted Garden of Lights” celebrates its 17th year with more than 30 holiday scenes and over a million lights. Visit from November 18 to December 31 (closed Christmas eve). 

CHICAGO, IL boasts “The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival” with a Mickey Mouse Parade on November 19, and more than one million lights along Michigan Avenue. The Museum of Science and Industry illuminates “Christmas Around the World” and “Holidays of Light” with more than 50 trees and displays to reflect worldwide holiday traditions from November 17 to January 8. “Christkindlmarket,” a German-American Holiday Market is celebrating its 16th year in Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago from November 23 to December 24. 

CLEVELAND, OH – Head to Nela Park, home of GE’s Lighting Division in East Cleveland to see thousands of lights illuminate buildings along Noble Road. Visit between early December and New Years Day. 

FRISCO, TX – More than 150,000 lights sparkle and shine as visitors walk or drive through “Christmas in the Square.” This is the largest holiday lights and music show in North Texas, and includes hot air balloons, a trackless train, visits with Santa and a Christmas marketplace. Visit from November 25 through the first weekend in January.

GALVESTON ISLAND, TX – The largest holiday lighting festival on the Gulf Coast, “Festival of Lights at Moody Gardens” features a mile-long trail of more than 100 lighted holiday scenes, shows, visits from Santa and a “Snow Zone” for kids from November 12 to January 1. 

GATLINBURG, TN is where the 22nd annual “Winter Magic” light displays will feature animals indigenous to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Visit from November 9 to February 28.

GREENSBORO, NC – Head to the Sunset Hill neighborhood to see hundreds of Lighted Christmas Balls, made by the community, that float through the trees. Those touring are invited to bring non-perishable food items to donate – last year over 4,000 lbs. of food was collected.

HALLANDALE, FL’s Village at Gulfstream Park will present “Symphony in Lights,” a spectacular dancing light display choreographed to the holiday music of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. The event features more than 250,000 lights affixed to buildings and three trees that are choreographed to strobe, twinkle, fade, sparkle and burst by renowned light artist Carson Williams. It also requires 2,000 watts of sound, 47,000 feet of cable and 2 tons of holiday décor! Come see the second annual presentation from November 12 through December 31. 

HERSHEY, PA lights up with two million twinkling lights. The centerpiece isHersheypark’s “Christmas Candylane” through which the park is transformed with rides, Hershey characters, Santa and reindeer. Hershey’s “Sweet Lights” is a 2.3 mile drive-thru spectacle with animated, illuminated displays. Visit from November 18 to December 31.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN celebrates the“Circle of Lights” for the 49th year with 26 gigantic toy soldiers and sailors, 26 giant peppermint sticks and thousands of lights in the trees. The opening ceremony is November 25, and it runs through early January. Many Indianapolis attractions are offering free admission on one of the 12 days leading to Christmas.

KANSAS CITY, MO – The “Season of Lights” at Country Club Plaza is an 82-year tradition with 80 miles of lights decorating 15 blocks of the city featuring 150 shops and restaurants. The Mayor’s Christmas Tree at Hallmark’s Crown Center, meanwhile, is 100 feet – taller than those on display at the White House and Rockefeller Center. The lighting ceremony will take place on November 25. 

MARSHALL, TX welcomes families to the 25th annual “Wonderland of Lights.” Featuring more than a million lights in hundreds of displays in the historic town square, the festival also features outdoor ice skating and other family-oriented activities from November 23 through January 1.

MILWAUKEE, WI – The “Holiday Lights Festival” includes 500,000 lights, 360 wreaths, 35 animated sculptures and 17 Movavian Stars along Wisconsin Avenue. Visit from Thanksgiving to January 13. During December, check out “Candy Cane Lane,” a stretch of four blocks just north of Oklahoma Avenue in West Allis, one of Milwaukee’s neighborhoods. 

McADENVILLE, NC – Visit the town of McAdenville, where virtually every home is decorated, is famous throughout the state for its holiday lights between December 1 and December 26. 

MYSTIC, CT – “Christmas by the Sea” at Mystic Seaport is where you can stroll through the decorated 19th century village, sing sea chanteys, and hear stories of holidays told aboard historic vessels. You can also print a Christmas Card or souvenir toy and build a creation at a Gingerbread Workshop. Visit from November 26 to January 2. 

NEW ORLEANS, LA – “Celebration in the Oaks” takes place in City Park and has a walking tour with millions of lights throughout the Botanical Garden, Storyland, a children’s theme park and nightly musical entertainment. Opening November 25 (weekends only in November), then nightly from December 2 to January 1 – closed December 24 and 31.

NEWPORT NEWS, VA — Set in Newport News Regional Park, the award-winning Celebration in Lights is Virginia’s first and longest-running drive-through light event.  This spectacular two-mile drive illuminates the beauty of the park’s forests, fields and ponds with over 750,000 lights and 200 displays, including the animated “Winter Wonderland” and “Santa’s Enchanted Kingdom.”  Multi-colored snowflakes, leaping reindeer, whimsical toys and more provide a kaleidoscope of dazzling color.  Admission fee $10 for cars, $60 for buses. 

NEW YORK, NY has not only got the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree (Lighting Ceremony is on November 30) but, at 32 feet tall, the world’s largest menorah at Grand Army Plaza (5th Avenue and 59th Street) (lit every night from December 20-27), and the New York Botanical Garden’s “Holiday Train Show”with miniatures of NYC landmarks made entirely out of plants, and more from November 19 to January 16.

NIAGARA FALLS – where the Canadian side has a drive-through Festival of Lights ” with 3 million tree and ground lights featuring 125 animated displays. Visit from November 5 to January 31.

OCEAN CITY, MD – “Winterfest of Lights” in Northside Park with a mile-long path of illuminated displays, Santa, caroling and more. Visit from November 17 to January 1. 

OCEANSIDE, CA – Oceanside Harbor is one of the best spots to view the “Parade of Lights” – decorated fishing boats, sail boats, yachts, kayaks and dingys, all lit up for a spectacular procession on December 10 from 6-9pm. Holiday shopping just got easier. Visit the Holiday Sunset Market every Thursday evening in December from 5-9pm where you’ll find amazing gifts, and enjoy carolers, pony rides, face painters, and more. 

ORLANDO, FL – Orlando has got it all – glittering trees, fireworks and more from Disney World at “Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party”(on select nights between November 8 and December 18); Epcot’s “Holidays Around the World” with celebrity narrators and a candlelight processional (from November 25 to December 30); to Sea World’s”Christmas Celebration” (from November 25 to December 31), and Macy’s Holiday Parade and “Grinchmas” at Universal Studios (from December 3 to January 1.)

PALM DESERT, CA whereLiving Desert, a 450 acre museum, zoo and botanical garden presents the “WildLights Festival” featuring thousand of lights that turns the desert into an after dark wonderland. Come for games, rides and other activities, and a train ride through the display. Presented on select evenings between November 23 and December 31. 

PAWLEYS ISLAND, SC where Brook Green Gardens “Nights of a Thousand Candles” features 5,500 candles illuminating garden paths, festive holiday lights, handbell ringers and carolers on December 2-3, 9-10 and 15-17. 

PIGEON FORGE, TN puts up more than five million holiday lights in gigantic displays during “Winterfest”which you can enjoy from the comfort of your heated Pigeon Forge Trolley from November 8 to February 26. Additionally, the Dollywood theme park adds another four million lights to illuminate the park and special entertainment during its Smoky Mountain Christmas including Dollywood Christmas on Ice from November 5 to December 30. 

PINE MOUNTAIN, GA southwest of Atlanta is where, for the 20th season, Callaway Gardens Resort will present 8 million lights stretching more than five miles from November 18 to December 30. 

PORTSMOUTH, NH hosts“Vintage Christmas” with sparking lights and a festival of strolls and shows on December 3-4, 8-11 and 17-18. A free Vintage Christmas Trolley shuttles patrons around the historic seaport. Visit Strawbery Banke Museum, a living history museum celebrating holiday traditions from around the world and join a Candlelight Stroll (December 3-4, 10-11 and 17-18), where you can experience the sights, sounds and smell of a traditional New England Christmas. 

RICHMOND, VA- “Tacky Light Tour” is a local tradition where people dive, or even rent buses or limos to take the tour.

RIVERSIDE, CA is home to the 19th annual “Festival of Lights” at the historic Mission Inn Hotel and Spa. Free and open to the public, it features 3.6 million lights, more than 400 animated figures, horse-drawn carriage rides, Santa and reindeer sightings plus entertainment. The event runs from November 25 through January 8. 

SAN ANTONIO, TX where 1.8 million lights sparkle along the San Antonio River Walk from November 25 to January 1. 

SAN DIEGO, CA boasts “Garden of Lights” in San Diego’s Botanic Garden with over 100,000 lights illuminating all of the displays (from December 8-30) and the “Holiday of Lights” at the Del Mar Fairgrounds north of San Diego with more than 400 family-oriented light displays (from November 24 to January 1).Legoland also touts an annual “Holiday Block Party” with a 30-foot tall Christmas tree constructed of 245,000 green Legos displaying Lego ornaments, Lego Santa and reindeer, lights and holiday music throughout the park from November 25 to December 24.

SARASOTA, FL – For eight days, the historic Crosley Estate will be transformed into a glittering holiday wonderland to celebrate the 15th Annual “Festival of Trees,” showcasing dozens of beautifully decorated Christmas trees, wreaths, and displays by the area’s top designers and decorators. The festival also features rare exhibits of antique Crosley automobiles, Crosley radios, a gingerbread house contest, tours of the historic Carriage House, and a vintage model train. Visit from November 30, 2011 thru December 7, 2011

SEDONA, AZ is celebrating the 21st anniversary of its “Red Rock Fantasy” light show with over two dozen displays and a million lights from November 17 to December 21. 

SPRINGFIELD, MA – hosts the 16th annual presentation of “Bright Nights,” New England’s premier holiday lighting exhibit. This 3-mile long driving route through historic Forest Park is filled with exhibits and displays such as Seuss Land (Dr. Seuss was from Springfield), North Pole Village and Jurassic World created with holiday lights. The event will run from November 23 through January 1.

STANWOOD, WA is hosting “The Lights of Christmas,” held annually at Warm Beach Camp. The grandest holiday event in the Pacific Northwest, it offers displays of more than one dazzling million lights, a life-size nativity scene, five entertainment stages (music ranges from Victorian caroling to country and bluegrass), pony rides, Polar Express train rides, Santa Claus, Bruce the Talking Spruce, Joyland Toy Shop, a petting farm, holiday gifts and crafts, plus affordable food and snacks for the family. The festival will run on December 1-4, 8-11, 15-23 and 26-28. 

ST. PAUL, MN – IBEW presents “Holiday Lights in the Park” with more than 50 huge holiday light sculptures and animated displays in Phalen Park from November 22 to January 1. 

SYRACUSE, NY where “Lights on the Lake” is celebrating 22 years of two-mile long drive through one of the largest and colorful light shows in the Northeast. Visit between November 17 and January 8 , except on New Years Eve. 

THOMASVILLE, GA is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its “Victorian Christmas” with 22,500 twinkling lights, and and army of nutcrackers, Victorian garbed carolers, horse-drawn carriages, performances, a specially-made huge red velvet chair for St. Nick and more. The festival, which will bring snow to southwest Georgia, will be held on December 8 and 9. Additionally, from November 25 through December 31, Flower Foods’ presents its annual “Christmas in Lights” on the company’s grounds. Features include a Victorian village, an animated train and thousands of lights and holiday music. 

VIRGINIA BEACH, VA is one of six Virginia cities featuring “100 Miles of Lights” with displays from its capital city to the ocean, including Richmond, Williamsburg, Newport News, Hampton, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Virginia Beach, from November 24 to January 1. “McDonalds’s Holiday Lights at the Beach” along Virginia Beach’s Ocean Front Boardwalk include a 40-foot tall tree on the beach and for over 30 blocks, people can drive or walk to see the “Fanta-Sea” of Lights from November 18 to January 1. 

WASHINGTON, DC is where you can see the National Christmas Tree (lighting ceremony is on December 1), and lightshow “Pathway of Peace” on the Ellipse at dusk through January 1.  The National Menorah celebrates the First Night’s lighting on December 20. “Zoolights” at the National Zoo is where the fun begins with thousands of eco-friendly lights, activities, musical performances, rides on Thomas the Train, and ice-skating weekends November 25 to December 11, and nightly December 16 to January 1 (except Christmas Eve and Day, and New Year’s Eve).  Experience a historic Christmas at Mt. Vernon with a candlelight tour and caroling on selected evenings from November 25 to December 18. 

WILLIAMS, AZ is where the Grand Canyon Railway takes families on the “Polar Express” for a night time trip from Williams to the “North Pole,” a Christmas village where Santa and his reindeer welcome visitors.

WILMINGTON, NC hosts the “Island of Lights Festival,” where families can walk one mile around the lake to view lighted displays, drink free cocoa and maybe hobnob with Santa from November 25 to December 31.

This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. Ron Smith

    In Clovis CA, there is a neighborhood that has an an annual tradition of lights that is totally voluntary, no organization from the neighborhood. About 125 homes in the area with at least 120 fully decorated. Thousands of cars drive through nightly, with horse drawn carriages senior busses walkers, it is truly a beautiful event. Located at Peach and Alluvial area.

  2. art wojciehowski

    Duluth Mn has an entire Bayfront park decorated with millions of lights and a 120 foot tall Christmas tree. The display is called Bentleyville and is located on the waterfront by the Aquarium and is visited nightly by thousands of people for free with optional goodwill offerings to pay for electricity. Hot chocolate and cookies are also provided free.

  3. Penni

    This was our third year to return to Callaway Gardens in Pine Mtn, Ga. It is truly an awesome experience for young and old. The eight million lights are breath taking. This has become a family tradition for us. It is worth the trip from anywhere in the south to see this amazing production. The staff is so friendly and helpful. We love it!

  4. Richard

    Put Clifton Mill, in Clifton (Greene County) Ohio on your “must see” list. Millions of lights decorate an old grain mill and the gorgeous surrounding terrain. You might want to check out their website, http://www.cliftonmill.com/, to make sure the display will be operating. Because of a deluge rain fall this week in western Ohio, about 1/4 of the display was destroyed by flood waters, but the latest info is they plan to be dry, functional, and open this weekend.

  5. Gail

    They left out Opryland in Nashville, Tennessee. It is absolutely unbelievable.

  6. Edwin Adorno

    Yes, Bentleyville up in Duluth MN definitely deserves to be in your top 5 list! It is HUGE and features free cocoa and cookies, popcorn and marshmallow roasting pits (marshmallows provided.) So much fun – but dress warm!

  7. Mark

    Awesome display we take the family and friends EVERY YEAR!!!

  8. Tom Buck

    Oglbay Park in Wheeling WV has one of the best you will ever see. Miles of lights artistically played out through the rolling hills of West Virginia. If you like lights there are none finer.

  9. Loretta Baker

    Is there anything near Melbourne, Florida?

  10. Connie

    Melbourne, FL: The Rotary Club has a light display at Wickham Park on Parkway in Melbourne, called the Space Coast Lightfest. Check out their website.

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