We love the holiday season — the decorations, starry lights, religious displays and multicultural celebrations that light up cities and towns everywhere from November to January. Take the kids, the whole family, to see the best and the brighest on display all over.

Yes, this holiday season will be different. Despite the rise in the vaccination rate, many will avoid big parties or family gatherings to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Many of us will forsake winter holiday vacations and skip seeing family abroad if there are flights involved.

Stay safe this holiday season

If you attend big holiday celebrations in any community, you’ll likely be required to wear a face covering indoors, keep six feet apart from other families and reserve an entry time in advance.

Allianz Global Assistance offers Epidemic Coverage

Many families worry that when they travel, they may get sick, or even stuck if the situation changes, far from home. Now, an epidemic coverage endorsement is available in certain annual travel insurance plans. As a world leader in travel protection, Allianz Global Assistance focuses on travelers’ current concerns, which is why it recently made changes to many of its travel insurance plans to include epidemic-related covered reasons. The new Epidemic Coverage Endorsement expands benefits for certain losses related to COVID-19 and any future epidemic. You can find more details here. for “Epidemic Coverage Endorsement” on your Declarations of Coverage or Letter of Confirmation to confirm that your plan includes this endorsement. Terms, conditions, and exclusions apply – benefits vary by policy and are not available in all jurisdictions.

Spread Joy for the holidays

We will still enjoy the spirit of the holiday season.

Bring a tin of home baked cookies to elderly neighbors or send to those you won’t get to see. Volunteer to respond to Santa letters or do work in your community. Help a neighbor or make decorations for your tree. Go green and make it one your family picked themselves (see our directory of U-Pick Christmas tree farms for ideas).

Go out and enjoy the starry lights displays.

Europe’s Christmas Markets are back!

A Croisieurope river cruise is a great way to see Europe's Christmas Markets
A Croisieurope river cruise is a great way to see Europe’s Christmas Markets

We are delighted to report that as vaccination rates increase, many of Europe’s top Christmas Markets are reopening. As it has for years, the France-based CroisiEurope river cruise company makes the discovery of these authentically magical holiday markets comfortable and easy. Specially outfitted river cruisers with shallow draughts are able to sail right to the heart of the most beautiful Alsatian and European Christmas markets. In the Alsace, along the Danube or on the Rhine, do not miss Croisieurope’s favorite Christmas destinations. If you’re not ready to visit Europe this season, wrap up one of their private barge trips in France and put in under the family tree for 2022. With their early booking option, take 15% off per person for cruises booked by Dec. 31 with code EARBOOUS.

TOP U.S. HOLIDAY LIGHTS, DECORATIONS AND FESTIVALS FOR 2021

This roundup of the top holiday displays across America was compiled with The Family Travel Forum and is your guide to the best and brightest public events. We hope you will share your finds and photos with us by using the tag #starrylights. Here’s to getting the kids out to at least one of these memorable events this season!

ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO

The ABQ Biopark Botanic Garden hosts the River of Lights, New Mexico’s largest walk-through holiday production. Winner of USA Today’s Best Botanical Garden Holiday Lights 2020, it features giant sculptures created by millions of twinkling lights and nearly 600 dazzling displays. Come weeknights or earlier in December to avoid crowds. Nov. 27-Dec. 30, 2021

ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA

Holidays at the Disneyland Resort is the most magical time of the year and the merry festivities have returned through Jan. 9, 2022. Guests will enjoy a distinctly Disney holiday experience with beloved traditions that include the return of A Christmas Fantasy” Parade, “Believe… In Holiday Magic” fireworks spectacular, and the breathtaking Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle, all at Disneyland Park. At Disney California Adventure Park, the heartwarming celebration comes alive with Disney Festival of Holidays, “Disney ¡Viva Navidad!” and the merry motor-themed holiday décor on Route 66 in Cars Land.

For the first time, guests are invited to gather with family and friends to enjoy a celebration of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ new musical comedy, “Encanto,” inspired by the people and cultures of Colombia. This joyful, limited-time experience brings a new cultural perspective to the immersive “Disney ¡Viva Navidad!” festivities at Disney California Adventure, with live entertainment, interactive photo opportunities and special appearances by Mirabel, the young hero from the film, which opens only in theaters Nov. 24.

Holidays at the Disneyland Resort extends to Downtown Disney District and Hotels of the Disneyland Resort with traditional décor and festive treats adding to the merriment.

ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND

Lights on the Bay is a drive-through holiday light show at Sandy Point State Park comprised of more than 60 stationary and animated displays including a glowing lighthouse and blue crabs on Chesapeake Bay. Tickets are $20 per car; don’t forget to buy the 3D glasses so the displays really pop! Nov. 21, 2021-Jan. 2, 2022.

ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA

The Vanderbilt family moved into the Biltmore estate Christmas Day, 1895. Every holiday season, America’s largest home still turns out a 35-foot-tall Christmas tree, hundreds of thousands of twinkling lights and lavishly decorated interiors. All of Asheville goes all out. See the multi-sensory “Van Gogh Alive,” the Omni Grove Park Inn’s 29th Annual National Gingerbread House Competition and the walk-through “Winter Lights” at the North Carolina Arboretum. Make time for the “Winter Tree Carnival” at Rabbit Rabbit, a walk-through exhibit where nonprofits and local businesses decorate and display evergreens to highlight their cause. Select nights Nov. 5, 2021-Jan. 1, 2022.

AUSTIN, TEXAS

The 57th annual Trail of Lights at Zilker Park, voted a USA Today “Top 10 Holiday Celebration,” is drive-through only this year. Yet the backseat crowd can easily enjoy more than 2 million lights, 90 lighted trees and more than 70 other holiday displays and lighted tunnels. Tune in your radio for holiday music and history. Nov. 27-Dec. 31, 2021.

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND

Experience the German-style Christmas Village in Baltimore at Inner Harbor West Shore Park. Look for more than 50 local and international vendors outdoors selling traditional crafts, glühwein, hot pretzels and more. There’s also a heated indoor tent. Come weekdays for free admission. Open Nov. 20 to Christmas Eve.

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS

Take your pick of holiday lights across Boston starting Nov. 22 when Christopher Columbus Park is transformed into a magical light garden with 50,000 LED lamps. Traditionally, the tree at Faneuil Hall Market Place is the tallest decorated tree in the Northeast. That lighting is Nov. 30; others will take place at Copley Square (Nov. 29), the Boston Common (Dec. 2), and the North End (Dec. 3.) Join the Freedom Trail Holiday Stroll and discover how Boston’s holiday traditions evolved.

BRANSON, MISSOURI

Do not miss an Ozark Mountain Christmas that features over 300 exhibitions including drive-through night light displays such as the 2½-mile long Trail of Lights at The Shepherd of the Hills. More than 6.5 million lights and 30 live shows daily help families celebrate an Old Time Christmas at the Silver Dollar City amusement park from Nov. 6-Dec. 30. Make time for the new Broadway style shows: “Home for Christmas” and a restaging of “Dickens’ Christmas Carol.” Call ahead about Branson’s many traditional holiday events including live shows and the chance to ride the Polar Express.

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK

The Lights of Dyker Heights in Brooklyn attracts 100,000 visitors to view amazing decorations. Expect to see massive, professionally wired light displays that start blinking the weekend after Thanksgiving, though locals say to see the most lights come in Mid-December. If you’re walking, be sure to wear your face covering and leave plenty of space for others to enjoy the lights at a distance. And ask the kids to bring a few dollars to contribute to a local charity since many homes collect them.

CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA

The annual Holiday Festival of Lights, considered one of the top 20 holiday lights events in the Southeast, features millions of lights arranged in over 750 displays along a three-mile route at James Island County Park. After driving through, park to take advantage of marshmallow roasting, a carousel, train rides and more. Open from Nov. 12–Dec. 31, 2021.

CHATTANOOGA, TENNESSEE

The grand Rock City Garden’s Enchanted Garden of Lights returns for its 27th year with more than 30 illuminated holiday scenes. Visit Santa in his office and shop Downtown Yuletown for unique finds. Dates are Nov. 19, 2021-Jan. 2, 2022. Among many other local events, the Holiday Trail of Lights features 12 major city attractions with millions of twinkling lights, some of which stay lit from Nov. 15, 2021-Jan. 17, 2022

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

A key Chicago event, the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival returns Nov. 20, 2021. The Museum of Science and Industry will celebrate Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light will feature more than 40 trees decorated by volunteers to represent various cultures and holiday traditions. The festivities run Nov. 17, 2021-Jan. 3, 2022.

CLEVELAND, OHIO

Enjoy Kringle’s Inventionasium Experience. This walk-through experience with costumed characters leads through Mr. Kringle’s top secret laboratory where visitors invent new toys in a fun STEAM activity. There are four levels of ticket pricing; open Nov. 20-Dec. 24, 2021 The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo has an all-new drive-through Wild Winter Lights display with more than a million lights and holiday displays including the Enchanted Forest and Conservation Trail. Nov.16, 2021-Jan.3, 2022.

COEUR D’ALENE, IDAHO

Be wowed by holiday music performances and more than one million lights on the largest on-the-water holiday light display in the U.S.. The lakefront Coeur d’Alene Resort runs “Journey to the North Pole Cruises” three times each evening. This 40-minute cruise offers spectacular views of the holiday light displays. Enjoy a visit or book a resort overnight package between Nov. 27, 2021- Jan. 2, 2022.

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO

The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo illuminates over one million holiday lights, 85 light sculptures plus crowd-warming firepits to make the annual Electric Safari very festive. A bonus: Select indoor animal exhibits will remain open during the event. Electric Safari happens 24 nights between Dec. 3-Jan. 1, 2022. Nearby, The Broadmoor is also known for its million holiday lights—and life-sized Gingerbread creation, different each year, as well as cooking demonstrations and small group holiday entertainment.

Carnival Mardi Gras holiday decor
Carnival Mardi Gras holiday decor

CRUISE VACATIONS FOR THE FAMILY

Cruise over the holidays for a stress-free vacation where you can share special shows, meals and decorations without doing all the work. Go now when kids are eligible for vaccines and ships may not be so crowded. Given the havoc wreaked upon cruise itineraries by the pandemic, you will want to consult with a cruise specialist about the many sailings and deals to choose from. Are you putting a cruise aboard Mardi Gras, Carnival’s newest and most innovative ship, under the tree this year? Taking the Kids loved their Mardi Gras cruise. We look forward to the debut of Rotterdam, Holland America’s flagship vessel entering service in the Caribbean. She’s a luxe Pinnacle class ship for fewer than 2,700 guests and boasts more than $4 million in artwork and historic artifacts on board. If you plan quickly (book by Nov. 18 for select sailings through May 31, 2022), you can take advantage of HAL’s Kids Sail Free promotion which allows ages 5- 17 to use the third and fourth bunks to cruise for free. Other ships from Carnival and Princess will also be sailing the Caribbean, a favorite winter destination. Our annual family cruise guide, updated with the latest public health guidelines, has all the information you need to choose the best cruise and itinerary for your family.

DENVER, COLORADO

The Mile High City goes all out for the holidays, including the Mile High Tree and downtown’s “Grand Illumination.” Book tickets to live holiday classics like “A Christmas Carol” and “The Nutcracker.”  Catch a 110 foot-tall immersive art installation, the Denver Botanic Gardens’ Blossoms of Light, a tradition for Coloradans with light displays that are sound reactive. “Zoo Lights” transforms the Denver Zoo with more than a million lights. In addition, look for celebrations at Denver Union Station, new events like Luminova Holidays (Elitch Gardens first-ever holiday event) and festivities at all the mountain resorts. Nov. 19, 2021-Jan. 3, 2022.

GALVESTON ISLAND, TEXAS

The 3-mile-long Festival of Lights at Moody Gardens is the largest holiday destination in the Southwest, boasting dozens of animated lights displays. Look for the Dancing Tree of Light, movies, snow tubing down a 100-foot-long Arctic ice slide and photos with Santa Claus. Visit in real life from Nov. 20, 2021-Jan. 2, 2022.

GATLINBURG, TENNESSEE

Enjoy the annual Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade of lighted floats and holiday characters on Dec. 3, 2021. The parade lineup includes marching bands from all over the East, large balloons, dancers, musicians and much more. Look for arts ‘n’ crafts shows, special concerts and socially distanced dining. Christmas at Dollywood is legendary, with more than 5 million gleaming lights around the theme park, fireworks, 40 live shows, festive markets stocked with locally made crafts, a Smoky Mountain cabin for Santa visits and more. Select days Nov. 10, 2021-Jan. 2, 2022.

GRAPEVINE, TEXAS

They call this little Western town near Dallas the Christmas Capital of Texas because it has millions of twinkling lights and more than 1,400 events in 40 days, starting with the Carol of Lights at Thanksgiving. Tour the town’s Western sights and pick up some history with a “Christmas Passport – Elf Adventure” hunt. Each year, the Gaylord Texan resort features a holiday-themed extravaganza with over 50,000-sq.ft. of colorful, glowing holiday-themed lights, characters and scenes plus a Snow Tubing hill made with real snow, Ice-Skating Rink, Build-Your-Own-Snowman activity and a Christmas Carousel. Nov. 12, 2021-Jan. 2, 2022

HERSHEY, PENNSYLVANIA

A winter wonderland will beckon you at Hershey Sweet Lights, a holiday drive-through spectacular. Enjoy more than 600 massive illuminated, animated displays glowing along two miles of forested trails from the comfort of your car. The Sweet Lights Trolley, where conductors share chocolate and carols, is another option. It guides you to Hershey Park Christmas Candylane which features more than 5 million lights, 50+ theme park rides including Candymonium, and a visit with Santa and his reindeer. Open Nov. 12, 2021-Jan. 2, 2022.

HONOLULU, O’AHU, ISLANDS OF HAWAII

The Aloha holiday spirit shines throughout the annual Honolulu City Lights festival. This year’s plans may be limited to drive-by viewing of the lights and special online events. The Waikiki Christmas Trolley is a fun way to enjoy them and do some Christmas window shopping. Waikiki Beach Walk is also the site of many events.

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA

This town goes all out by illuminating the Circle of Lights at Indiana Soldiers and Sailors Monument with nearly 5,000 lights. This year the lighting will be kept to weekends only, but the Monument still will be surrounded daily by toy soldiers, sailors and peppermint sticks. Look out for The Santa Trolley and special holiday events in Broadripple, Carmel and at the Conner Prairie Museum. Don’t miss the Christmas Quest, a search to discover how St. Nick became Santa Claus, showing at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. (Advance tickets now required; open Nov. 26, 2021-Jan. 2, 2022.

IOWA’S MOUNT PLEASANT

Go see the Mount Pleasant Festival of Lights on select nights at the Midwest Old Threshers campgrounds. More than 100 light sculptures will light up 60 acres of the park along a 1.6-mile trail — what is described as the largest holiday light display in Iowa. Nov. 24-Dec. 31, 2021

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI

Do not miss Kansas City’s winter holiday family events including the Country Club Plaza Lights, a local tradition for nearly a century. This 15-block holiday spectacle features thousands of glimmerings, jewel-colored lights that accentuate every dome, tower and window of the Spanish-inspired shopping district. The 100-foot Mayor’s Christmas Tree towers over Crown Center nearby to the delightful collection of miniature trains running at Union Station.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA

Las Vegas is back in business as an unforgettable nighttime wonderland featuring holiday entertainment and attractions. Feast your eyes on glittering lights at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and join carolers at the “Holiday Experience at the Park.” The Bellagio, Aria and Cosmopolitan hotels all have festive attractions, most free of charge. Plan an outing to “Magical Forest at Opportunity Village” which raises money for the disabled. For more holiday  ideas, check out the fun and entertainment-packed Vegas.com calendar of holiday events. Nov. 26, 2021-Jan.2, 2022

LOUSIVILLE, KENTUCKY

It’s not every town where you can experience holiday lights underground but that’s just what Louisville Mega Caverns offers. Lights Under Louisville is back with more than 4 million lights arranged in 40 themed displays, 10 very cool mapping projections and 900 illuminated characters in a vast complex of caves. Explore it all safely on a merry 25-minute drive in your own vehicle through one mile of cavern passageways. If that’s not enough, book the zipline, ropes course or tram tour Advance tickets required. Nov. 12, 2021-Jan. 2, 2022.

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN

The downtown Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival will return to Pere Marquette Park with 500,000 LED lights that transform the streetscape with sparkling rooflines, harp lamp lighting and suspended décor above downtown intersections. The animated lights festival runs Nov. 18, 2021-Jan. 1, 2022.

MCADENVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA

McAdenville is a small town that really knows how to compete with big cities. Christmas Town USA, in its 66th year, is back and just as glittery as ever. Get your cameras ready for the Nativity scene and holiday trees lit in the downtown area. Once again, decorated trees will line Christmas Town Lake and best of all, it’s free! Dec. 1-Dec. 26, 2021.

MYSTIC, CONNECTICUT

Take a journey back in time to Christmas Eve 1876 at Mystic Seaport. Begun last year, the socially-distanced Lantern Light Village re-enactment features costumed characters, light displays and  many musical surprises such as the chance to meet Santa. (Not recommended for children under 5 years.) Enjoy this New England holiday tradition safely over seven days in December. Book a horse-drawn carriage ride and make holiday crafts together. Dec. 10-Dec. 22, 2021.

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA

Celebration in the Oaks is a time-old tradition popular with kids, adults, locals and visitors to New Orleans. More than 25 acres of the park’s famous moss-covered oaks are blanketed in more than a million twinkling lights and light displays that you can see through the 2.25-mile driving tour. This year, look for Bike Nights for two-wheel touring and sample the Carousel Gardens Experience, a small midway with rides for all ages. Nov. 25, 2021-Jan. 2, 2022.

NEWPORT BEACH, CALIFORNIA

The 113th annual Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade has it all. In addition to one of the largest decorated boat parades in the country, there are elaborate Christmas light displays on waterfront estates competing in their “Ring of Lights” contest. Hundreds of decorated ships of all sizes also compete for top awards in over a half dozen categories. The boat parade sails nightly Dec. 15-19, 2021.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK

New York celebrates the winter holidays with enthusiasm. Exciting attractions include the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and the world’s largest Menorah at Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza. New York Botanical Garden’s adorable Holiday Train Show (miniature NYC landmarks made entirely out of plants) is back this year from Nov. 20-Jan. 23, 2022. Additionally, the surprising all-lights outdoor attraction, NYBG GLOW, will take place 25 nights between Nov. 24 and Jan. 22, 2022. Of course, it’s free to check out the amazingly animated or sparkling LED-lit Fifth Avenue store windows with your brood. Visit NYC & Company for current details on holiday events.

OCEAN CITY, MARYLAND

Northside Park hosts Winterfest of Lights that incorporates scenes from popular fairy tales. Come take the expanded, more than a half-mile stroll with holiday surprises along the way. See the 50-foot Christmas tree put on a light show. Masks are recommended because of the crowds. Closed Monday and Tuesday; Wednesday is bring your pet night! Nov.18, 2021-Jan. 2, 2022.

ORLANDO, FLORIDA

Orlando, the theme park capital of the world, has something for everyone. Celebrating 50 years, Walt Disney World welcomes guests with holiday cheer, new shows and lavish decor at all four theme parks – Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. Plus, Disney Springs and all the Disney Resort hotels are decked out for the season. Celebrate at Disney World Nov. 8, 2021-Dec. 21, 2022. Over at Universal Studios Florida, you can count on Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley being decorated as part of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Expect to see huge floats and balloons from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Even if Grinchmas is your preference, you’ll find new holiday shows, meals, souvenirs and more, with hotel rates from $88/night to celebrate. Nov.13, 2021-Jan. 2, 2022

Elsewhere in and near Orlando: The “Dazzling Lights” at Harry P. Leu Gardens is a hi-tech family-friendly, three-quarter mile outdoor interactive experience. At SeaWorld’s “Christmas Celebration,” you will be able to meet Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and see ice skaters twirl on a frozen lake. LEGO fans should celebrate at “Holidays at Legoland” to catch special shows, LEGO characters, plenty of twinkling lights and a Kids New Year’s Party. (Select dates from Nov. 19, 2021-Jan.9, 2022)

PALM DESERT, CALIFORNIA

The 450-acre Living Desert will be bright for the 29th annual Wild Lights Festival when they blanket the botanical gardens with thousands of lights. Hunt for a herd of life-size, luminescent animal lanterns; explore glittery pathways and stroll through the popular tunnel of lights flashing to holiday music. G-model trains, with more than 3,300 feet of track, will be decked out as well. Nov. 23- Dec. 30, 2021.

PAWLEYS ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA

Nights of a Thousand Candles, recently named “Best Christmas Lights in South Carolina” by Travel + Leisure Magazine, will come alive amid the soft glow of more than 2,700 hand-lit candles and countless sparkling lights. Located in Murrells Inlet at the sculpture filled Brookgreen Gardens, experience holiday cheer while listening to festive music, toasting friends and family and admiring the plantings. Nov. 26, 2021-Jan. 6, 2022.

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA

For crazy homegrown lights, nothing beats Miracle on South 13th Street, a Philadelphia neighborhood that blows its electricity budget nightly in December. The delightful and free Macy’s Christmas Light Show starring the famous Wanamaker organ is back in person (along with Dickens’ Village on Floor 3.) Back too, are dozens of light shows, outdoor rinks and neighborhood displays. Skate at the ice rink at Dilworth Park, shop at the European style Christmas Village in LOVE Park and stroll Franklin Square’s “Electrical Spectacle: A Holiday Light Show.” Don’t miss the Gingerbread Competition at Peddler’s Village or the new Tinseltown Holiday Spectacular at the Fairground. We love Philadelphia’s hotel deals which give visitors BOGO tickets to 33 attractions and free parking. Check out VisitPhilly.com for the latest on their holiday events. Nov. 1-Dec. 31, 2021.

PIGEON FORGE, TENNESSEE

The entire town of Pigeon Forge creates a winter wonderland for locals and guests alike to enjoy during the city’s 32nd annual Smoky Mountain Winterfest celebration of the season. Nov. 13, 2021-Feb. 14, 2022. In addition, Dollywood theme park is a must-see with more than 5 million lights and a 50’ tall tree on exhibit during “Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas.” Make time to see special holiday shows, taste culinary specials, watch local Appalachian artisans making gift items, sample rides, a nightly Parade of Lights, hotel specials and more. Nov. 6, 2021-Jan. 2, 2022.

PHOENIX, ARIZONA

Combine a temperate climate, golfing and beautiful resorts surrounded by desert — add twinkling lights — and you have the allure of Phoenix-Scottsdale during the holidays. “Las Noches de Las Luminarias” returns to Desert Botanical Garden — a traditional show of 8,000 glowing, hand-lit paper lanterns among the 50,000 cacti. This year, glass visionary Dale Chihuly will present new monumental works in the gardens. Families traveling with anyone on the spectrum may prefer the all-silent evening of Dec. 21. Open Dec. 3-Dec.31 2021.

PINE MOUNTAIN, GEORGIA

The Callaway Resort & Gardens playful Jolly Trolley runs through a Fantasy in Lights featuring 15 displays and eight million lights decorating the 2,500-acre property. Seasonal displays include Christmas Village, giant toy soldiers, an enchanted rainbow forest and Firefly Cove. Book ahead for limited capacity tickets as this display was voted one of National Geographic’s “Top 10 Light Displays” in the world. Accommodation packages available. Nov. 19, 2021-Jan. 3, 2022.

REDDING, CALIFORNIA

Walk across the famous Sundial Bridge designed by Santiago Calatrava – itself a beautifully lit sculpture after sundown – to see the Redding Garden of Lights. This fresh, modern interpretation of classic holiday lights displays is spread across 10 acres at McConnell Botanical Gardens and features carolers and booths selling food, drink and holiday presents. Redding is fun for active families; get to Turtle Bay Exploration Park early and let the kids run around the many outdoor play spaces. If you didn’t stop for free s’mores at the firepits, stay for a real treat – a farm-to-fork meal on the deck of Mosaic, the park’s terrific restaurant. Select nights Nov. 19-Dec. 31, 2021.

RIVERSIDE, CALIFORNIA

The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa, a historic AAA-Four Diamond hotel, will reignite its 29th Annual Festival of Lights celebration this fall. USA Today named this festival the “Best Public Lights Display in the Nation.” The free, six-week-long holiday extravaganza features holiday lights, animated characters and more. This year, slow down to admire the mission-style resort’s historic architecture and enjoy a hot cocoa with your family. The public is welcomed back and able to make this an overnight staycation as well. Open Nov. 26, 2021-Jan.6, 2022.

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS

San Antonio’s River Walk is the place to enjoy more than 100,000 lights artfully adorning the bald cypress trees. It’s all free and you can book an outdoor café meal or opt for a Holiday Lights Cruise with caroling (Dec. 2-23) to rest your feet. Don’t miss the Ford Fiesta de las Luminarias (Dec. 3-19, 2021) which features more than 2,000 of the traditional Mexican Christmas lanterns which were originally just a candle set in sand. (Events Nov. 12, 2021-Jan.9, 2022) Christmas at the Caverns runs 10 nights in December at Natural Bridge Caverns, where kids can take spelunker classes, tour the 1/3 mile-long holiday lights within this huge cave, sing carols and roast s’mores to benefit local food banks. 

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA

The city of San Diego loves the holidays. “San Diego Bay Parade of Lights” features more than 80 lavishly decorated boats sailing by the shores on two Sundays, Dec. 12 and 19. This very family-friendly city presents the Botanic Garden’s 125,000-light Botanic WonderlandSeaworld’s Christmas Celebration is a holiday party worth waiting for, with festive shows, music, a towering sea-themed Christmas tree and more. Enjoy Jungle Bells, the immersive Aurora 3D experience and animal cheer at the San Diego Zoo. Select nights Nov.12, 2021- Jan. 2, 2022.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA

The City by the Bay was recently voted TimeOut’s Top City in the World and we agree. Check out the top San Francisco holiday attractions including lights, public art, special events and more. Boost the cheer at Pier 39, around City Hall and in Union Square where huge trees, thousands of specialty lights and ornaments abound. Ride the cable cars, double-decker sightseeing buses and the SkyStar Wheel in Golden Gate Park for a sky-high view of the starry lights. Light art brightens block after block of San Francisco for the Illuminate SF Festival of Light with more than 40 installations in 17 neighborhoods created by more than 30 artists. Nov. 27, 2021-Jan. 6, 2022.

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON

Renew holiday traditions in Seattle by supporting local businesses. The place to start, of course, is delightful Pike’s Place Market where the 26th annual Magic in the Market kicks off the season. Shop the amazing handcrafts vendors, sip eggnog, then ride the rails at the Northwest Railway Museum. The Santa Limited runs two-hour festive tours December weekends. If you prefer the high seas at this popular cruise port, join the “Christmas Ship Festival.” A decked-out cruiser with a choir onboard visits all the Seattle offshore islands to deliver holiday cheer. Ride with them, board a follow boat to remain more distanced, or watch from an onshore viewing area. (Nov. 26-Dec. 23, 2021) The five-week Winterfest at Seattle Center is back, showcasing virtual and in-person performances, videos and kid-centric activities while maintaining the stunning lights on its campus. Nov. 26-Dec. 31, 2021.

SPRINGFIELD, MASSACHUSETTS

The 2 1/2 -mile Bright Nights festival at Forest Park event is listed on People.com as “One of the Top Ten Holiday Happenings in America.” Expansions since the first season back in 1995 include new light displays in the woods, a Supper with Santa, chorals groups, wagon and carriage rides past the Garden of Peace display, a fun Jurassic World and through Seuss Land which commemorates Springfield’s hometown hero, author Theodore Geisel. Nov. 24, 2021- Jan. 2, 2022.

SYRACUSE, NEW YORK

Lights on the Lake is celebrating more than 30 years. It is a two-mile long, drive-through show in Onondaga State Park. Watch out for spectacular holiday displays, larger-than-life Land of Oz, twinkling Fantasy Forest, colorful section arches, and a fairytale magic grand finale. Stay tuned to the local radio station for holiday surprises. All entry is by advance purchase tickets to limit crowds. Nov. 15, 2021 -Jan. 14, 2022.

VIRGINIA BEACH, VIRGINIA

Holidays Lights at the Beach allows you to drive down Atlantic Avenue to see the Boardwalk illuminated as nautical, holiday and adventure lands while a soundtrack plays on your car radio. See festive fish, musical crabs and a 40-foot-tall Christmas Tree made of dancing lights. Pause for supper at one of the many seafood cafes on the way. Then, prepare for selfies with the elves who join the Boardwalk’s surfing Santa. Nov. 19, 2021-Jan. 2, 2022.

WASHINGTON, DC

There are many options to enjoy the holiday lights in the nation’s capital, including the National Christmas Tree and the National Menorah on The Ellipse, both open for in-person celebrations. Explore lawn displays, sparkling gardens and twinkling facades all over town. In addition, experience the traditional decorations, caroling and life at an 18th-century winter encampment at Mount Vernon. The Candlelight Tours are very special too. Nov. 26- Dec. 19, 2021.

WILLIAMSBURG, VIRGINIA

On a guided Art-Full Tree holiday tour, explore the galleries of the Colonial Williamsburg Art Museum, see the ornaments on the Museum’s decorated tree and then create an ornament to take home. Historic Williamsburg glitters with holiday activities. Enjoy musical performances, abundant decorations in keeping with the period, a yule log and stories from other countries. Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown also have seasonal décor and programming. While you are in the area, visit Busch Gardens’ Christmas Town. Select dates Nov. 26, 2021-Jan. 4, 2022

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH, N.C.

To the north of Myrtle Beach, this popular beach town attracts more than 50,000 viewers for Flotilla Week each Thanksgiving. The two long-running traditions start with the North Carolina Holiday Flotilla Nov. 27– a maritime parade featuring decorated power yachts, sailboats and small watercraft followed by fireworks. On land at Airlie Gardens’ Enchanted Airlie, stroll 35 acres of forest and walking trails while listening to holiday music. Nov. 29-Dec. 22, 2021.

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