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.
We anticipate that this holiday season, families will return to gathering together, enjoying parties and local festivities. Of course, many may forsake winter holiday vacations due to sharply rising costs. But Americans are also more resilient about finding fun in closer to home locations.
CELEBRATE WITH CONFIDENCE THIS HOLIDAY SEASON
If you attend big holiday celebrations in any community, try to stay six feet apart from other families. You may be required to reserve an entry time in advance and, at some events, to wear a face covering indoors.
Many families worry that when they travel, they may get sick, or even stuck if the situation changes, far from home. As a world leader in travel protection, Allianz Global Assistance focuses on travelers’ current concerns, which is why they made changes to many of their travel insurance plans to include epidemic-related covered reasons. The Allianz Epidemic Coverage Endorsement expands benefits for certain losses related to COVID-19 and any future epidemic. You can find more details here. Please, look 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 plan and are not available in all jurisdictions.
PICK A TREE, SPREAD JOY FOR THE HOLIDAYS
We enjoy the spirit of the holiday season. Help your block put up Christmas lights or plan a school toy drive to share the season’s bounty.
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).
And go out and enjoy the starry lights displays.
TOP U.S. HOLIDAY LIGHTS, DECORATIONS AND FESTIVALS FOR 2022
This roundup of the top holiday displays across America plus the best and brightest public events was compiled with The Family Travel Forum. We hope you will share your finds and photos with us by using the tag #starrylights when you post to social media. Please suggest other memorable holiday lights experiences in the comments below.
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. A past winner of USA Today’s Best Botanical Garden Holiday Lights, it features giant sculptures created by millions of twinkling lights and nearly 600 dazzling displays. New this year on select nights, a Santa’s Magical Experience package offers a build-your-own s’mores station, Santa meet ‘n’ greet and a plush keepsake animal. Nov. 26-Dec. 30, 2022
Many families believe Holidays at the Disneyland Resort is the most magical time of the year. Guests enjoy a Disney Festival of Holidays, the Latin-themed Viva Navidad!, special dining, holiday décor at Carsland and more. Beloved traditions include “A Christmas Fantasy” Parade, the “Believe… In Holiday Magic” fireworks spectacular and the breathtaking Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle. Look for more holiday theming at Downtown Disney and the Disneyland Resort hotels. Nov. 11, 2022-Jan. 8, 2023
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. 20, 2022-Jan. 1, 2023.
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 impressive edibles at the Omni Grove Park Inn’s Annual National Gingerbread House Competition (Nov. 28-Jan.2 with limited public viewings) and the walk-through “Winter Lights” at the North Carolina Arboretum. Select nights Nov. 4, 2022-Jan. 8, 2023.
The 58th annual Trail of Lights at Zilker Park, voted a USA Today “Top 10 Holiday Celebration,” is back this year. 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. Dec. 8-23, 2022.
Experience the authentic German-style Christmas Village in Baltimore at Inner Harbor West Shore Park. Outdoors, more than 50 local and international vendors sell traditional crafts, gingerbreads, bratwurst, hot pretzels and more. Start at the Christmas Gluhwein Pyramid, a tall tower for gluhwein sellers. The concept began in the Ore Mountains of Saxony, where ornament makers decorated the towers in lights. Visitors buying traditional German mulled wines, spiked drinks and hot chocolate made it a central gathering place. Come weekdays for free admission. Nov. 19 to Dec. 24, 2022.
Take your pick of holiday lights across Boston starting Nov. 21 when the Christopher Columbus Park Trellis Lighting transforms it into a magical light garden with 50,000 blue LED lamps. Traditionally, the tree at Faneuil Hall Market Place is the tallest decorated tree in the Northeast. Tree lightings take place at Copley Square (Nov. 28) and the Boston Common (Dec. 1), when the tree annually gifted by Nova Scotia is lit and kicks off the lighting of 80 other trees nearby. Join the Freedom Trail Holiday Stroll (select nights Nov. 18-Dec.31) and discover how Boston’s holiday traditions evolved.
Do not miss an Ozark Mountain Christmas that features over 300 exhibitions including drive-through night light displays such as the 2½-mile long Shepherd of the Hills Trail of Lights and the 2-mile Let There Be Lights Trail at Promised Land Zoo. More than 6.5 million lights, 1,000 trees and 30 live shows comprise an Old Time Christmas at the Silver Dollar City amusement park (Nov. 1-Dec. 30), the “Best Theme Park Holiday Event” in a USA Today 10Best Readers’ Choice poll, Call ahead about Branson’s many traditional holiday events including live shows and the chance to ride the Polar Express. Nov. 1, 2022-Jan. 7, 2023.
BROOKLYN, NEW YORK
The Lights of Dyker Heights in Brooklyn attracts 100,000 visitors to stroll past amazing private house 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. Ask the kids to bring a few dollars to contribute to a local charity since many homes collect funds. Free. Nov. 26, 2022-Jan. 1, 2023.
CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA
The annual Holiday Festival of Lights, considered one of the top 20 holiday lights events in the Southeast, features two million lights arranged in over 750 displays along a 3-mile route at James Island County Park. After driving through, park to take advantage of marshmallow roasting, a carousel, train rides and more. Don’t miss the Winter Wonderland’s 50-ton sand sculpture. Nov. 11–Dec. 31, 2022.
The grand Rock City Garden’s Enchanted Garden of Lights returns for its 28th year with more than 30 illuminated holiday scenes. Visit Santa in his office and shop in Downtown Yuletown for unique finds. Advance tickets and reserved entry time required Nov. 18, 2022-Jan. 1, 2023. Among many other local events, the free, self-guided Holiday Trail of Lights leads to 12 city attractions which are decorated with millions of twinkling lights, some of which stay lit until Feb. 1, 2023.
A key Chicago event, the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival and parade return Nov. 19, 2022 to start the shopping season. The Museum of Science and Industry celebrates 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. 19, 2022-Jan. 3, 2023.
Enjoy Kringle’s Inventionasium Experience. This walk-through immersive experience among 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. 19-Dec. 23, 2022. The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo has a walk or drive-through Wild Winter Lights exhibit with more than 1.5 million lights and holiday displays including the Enchanted Forest and Conservation Trail. Nov.15-Dec. 30, 2022.
COEUR D’ALENE, IDAHO
Be wowed by holiday music performances and more than 1.5 million lights on the largest on-the-water holiday light display in the US. 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. Meet reindeer on the lawn, carolers in the lobby or catch the Travolta Family Show. Enjoy a visit or book a resort overnight package including two cruise tickets, cookie delivery, storytime with Elves and a resort credit from $289/N between Nov. 15, 2022- Jan. 2, 2023.
COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO
The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo illuminates over one million holiday lights, 85 light sculptures plus crowd-warming firepits and hot cocoa stands to make the annual Electric Safari very festive. A bonus: Indoor animal exhibits will remain open during the event. Advance timed tickets required select nights Dec. 2, 2022-Jan. 1, 2023. Nearby, The Broadmoor is also known for its lavish décor including a million holiday lights, garlands, trees and life-sized Gingerbread creation, different each year. Book the Holiday Show Dinner, cooking demonstrations or small group holiday parties. Nov. 26, 2022-Feb. 1, 2023.
CRUISE VACATIONS FOR THE FAMILY
Carnival Cruise Line has a lot to celebrate during this holiday season. Carnival Celebration, the cruise line’s newest Excel class ship, made her maiden voyage from Southampton, UK to her new home at PortMiami as the culmination of the cruise line’s 50th birthday year. Carnival Celebration accommodates more than 5,200 guests, and features six unique zones, including the new Miami-themed 820 Biscayne, travel-inspired The Gateway, and the stunning Celebration Central. We love that she’s the second ship to host the award-winning BOLT roller coaster and use an environmentally-friendly Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) propulsion system which debuted on Carnival’s Mardi Gras. Look for year-round, week-long cruises to the Eastern and Western Caribbean from PortMiami beginning Nov. 21. With Carnival Celebration, Carnival Luminosa which started sailing from Brisbane, Australia this month and three more ships due by 2025, it’s an exciting period of growth unlike any other in Carnival’s 50-year history. There are many cruise options. 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.
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 LED 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, the 4 million lights at Luminova Holidays (Elitch Gardens first-ever holiday event) and festivities at all the mountain resorts. Advance timed tickets required. Nov. 18, 2022-Jan. 7, 2023. Check out our webstory about last year’s Denver lights
ESTES PARK, COLORADO
YMCA of the Rockies – Estes Park Center is located on more than 850 acres adjacent to Rocky Mountain National Park. In addition to family-friendly winter activities that range from new winter hikes and guided snowshoe trips to campfires, ice skating, sledding and more, the Estes Park Center hosts a “magic in the Mountains” holiday celebration. Festivities include Santa sightings and a hands-on Santa’s Workshop, where families can create handmade gifts, decorate cookies, participate in gingerbread house contests, campfire carols and storytime with hot chocolate and cookies, and more. The property also hosts a New Year’s Eve Family Dance, with a DJ, NYE crafts and an early ball drop at 10pm. After long, full days of festive and adventurous activities, guests can take a self-guided tour of the drive-through Christmas Village which features the property’s cabins fully decorated for the season with hundreds of holiday lights. Affordable accommodations range from comfortable hotel-style lodge rooms to multi-bedroom private cabins, and most cabins are dog-friendly, so the whole family can join in on the fun – even Fido! Nov. 26, 2022–Jan. 1, 2023.
MORE U.S. HOLIDAY LIGHTS, DECORATIONS AND FESTIVALS FOR 2022
EUROPE’S CHRISTMAS MARKETS ARE BACK
With the strength of the U.S. dollar, there’s never been a better time to experience one of Europe’s top Christmas Markets. As it has for years, the France-based CroisiEurope river cruise company makes the discovery of these authentically magical holiday markets comfortable and easy. This year, their French Canal Boats are calling on Christmas Markets in French Alsace. One cruise starts in Strasbourg and sails past the beautiful Parc de l’Orangerie created by André Le Nôtre, the landscape architect who designed the park of the Palace of Versailles. Visit historic Eguisheim by coach for an authentic Christmas Market full of local handcrafts. At the secret wine cellars known as Hospices de Strasbourg, pause for a tasting of the rare wines stored there, then join a guided walking tour to Strasbourg’s famous Christmas Markets. The other full-service, fully crewed barge itinerary sails to Colmar. This four-day holiday cruise includes visits to the Christmas ornament exhibit at Kaysersberg. In the medieval town of Riquewihr with its half-timbered homes and cobblestone streets, shop the traditional Christmas Market and sample favorite treats. Colmar is known for its picturesque canals and the Choco-Story chocolate museum. Rates including everything but beverages start at $1,185 pp; take 20% for children under age 9. 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 2023.
GALVESTON ISLAND, TEXAS
The mile-long Festival of Lights at Moody Gardens is the largest holiday destination in the Southwest. Look for the Dancing Tree of Light, the Caribbean themed Ice Land, 3D movies, a Cirque Joyeux holiday show, fireside s’mores, snow tubing down a 100-foot-long Arctic ice slide and photos with Santa Claus. Nov. 19, 2022-Jan. 7, 2023.
Enjoy the annual Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade of lighted floats and holiday characters on Dec. 3, 2022. 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 seasonal dining treats. Christmas at Dollywood is legendary, with more than 6 million gleaming lights around the theme park, a train to watch it from, fireworks, 40 live shows, festive markets stocked with locally made crafts, a Smoky Mountain cabin for Santa visits and more. Select days Nov. 5, 2022-Jan. 3, 2023.
Located between Winter Park Ski Resort and Rocky Mountain National Park, YCMA of the Rockies – Snow Mountain Ranch provides holiday magic in the mountains. For the festive holiday tree-cutting experience, an annual tradition for many, guests purchase a tree-cutting ticket and head out on a winter adventure to find the perfect Christmas tree in the forest. Permit, hand saws, twine and complimentary holiday crafts included. Throughout the holiday season, Snow Mountain Ranch is a cozy, winter wonderland filled with holiday lights and decor, hosting festive events such as holiday-themed crafts, hot cocoa and hot apple cider, holiday story time, cookie decorating and horse drawn sleigh rides. Guests can stay in affordable and spacious hotel-style lodge rooms, private multi-bedroom cabins or large, reunion style cabins with up to 7-8 bedrooms and two kitchens, a perfect place to enjoy the holidays with family and friends.
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. Go for a spin on the huge Peace Plaza Ice Rink. Tour the town’s Western sights and pick up some history with a “Christmas Passport – Elf Adventure” hunt. Stay at the Gaylord Texan resort and immerse your family in over 50,000-sq.ft. of colorful, glowing holiday-themed lights, characters and scenes plus a Snow Tubing hill made with real snow. Nov. 18, 2022-Jan. 8, 2023.
A winter wonderland will beckon you at Hershey Sweet Lights, a holiday drive-through spectacular. From the comfort of your car, enjoy more than 600 massive animated displays glowing along 2 miles of forested trails. The Sweet Lights Trolley, where conductors share chocolate and carols, is another transport option. It guides you to Hershey Park Christmas Candylane which features the NOEL light show with more than 250,000 dancing lights synchronized to Christmas music. Lights bedeck the theme park rides including Candymonium. Meet all of Santa’s reindeer and stay longer with hotel and camping packages. Open Nov. 11, 2022-Jan. 1, 2023.
HONOLULU, O’AHU, ISLANDS OF HAWAII
The Aloha holiday spirit shines throughout the annual Honolulu City Lights festival. This year’s Electric Light Parade (Dec. 3) will be a big one, with food trucks and shave ice vendors standing by to feed the crowds. Check out the gorgeous illuminated palm trees and winners of the decorated wreath contest. Much of the illuminated area is walkable but some parts may be limited to drive-by viewing. The Waikiki Christmas Trolley is back as a fun way to enjoy them and do some Christmas window shopping. Waikiki Beach Walk is also the site of many events. Dec. 2-Dec. 31, 2022.
This town goes all out illuminating a statue in the Circle of Lights to make it the ‘world’s largest tree.’ The statue is located at the popular Indianapolis Soldiers and Sailors Monument, itself surrounded by toy soldiers, sailors and peppermint sticks. Newfields, the contemporary art museum and gardens, puts on a glittery, well choreographed Winterlights event nightly. The Festival of Lights showcases 30 decorated evergreens outside the Indiana Historical Society. Ride a gondola above the Orangutan Center to see the thousands of lights and beacons illuminating the zoo. There’s a train show at the Eiteljorg Museum, special events at the Children’s Museum. Look out for The Santa Trolley and special holiday events in Broadripple, Carmel and at the Conner Prairie Museum. Select nights Nov. 11, 2022-Jan. 7, 2023.
IOWA’S MOUNT PLEASANT
Iowa families love Adventureland Park in Altoona which hosts the Jolly Holly Lights show with more than 100 different light sculptures. Ticket proceeds benefit Make-A-Wish. Time permitting, go see the Mount Pleasant Festival of Lights on select nights at the Midwest Old Threshers campground. More than 100 light sculptures cast colors and shadows and shapes over 60 acres of the park along a 1.6-mile trail — what is described as the largest holiday light display in Iowa. Nov. 23-Dec. 31, 2022.
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA
Las Vegas is bigger than ever at the holidays, an unforgettable nighttime wonderland featuring holiday entertainment and attractions. Feast your eyes on “Glittering Lights” at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Join carolers at the “Holiday Experience at the Park.” The Bellagio, Aria and Cosmopolitan hotels all have festive outdoor attractions, most free of charge. Plan an outing to “Magical Forest at Opportunity Village” which raises money for the disabled (select nights Nov. 25-Dec. 31, 2022.) And, don’t forget the Underground Donut Tour through the city’s hip Arts District, operating weekends. For more shows and holiday ideas, check out the fun and entertainment-packed Vegas.com calendar of holiday events. Nov. 16, 2022-Jan. 6, 2023.
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 6 million lights arranged in themed displays, 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. Or, take their 30-minute Christmas Express and leave the driving to them. If that’s not enough, book time on the zipline or ropes course. Advance tickets required. Nov. 11, 2022-Jan. 1, 2023.
Hotspot Miami boasts gorgeous beaches, an outdoor lifestyle and lots of holiday family activities. More than 100 rides plus shows, games, Christmas karaoke and a super-tall tree have made Santa’s Enchanted Forest a South Florida tradition for 38 years. Our favorite Fairchild Tropical Gardens features amazingly festive nighttime illuminations. Plus, two estates of the rich and famous (Deering and Vizcaya) are redone with Insta-worthy Christmas decor. For a a quieter beach, pool with cabanas, playground and tennis courts, book a fully stocked family suite at the oceanfront Seacoast Suites just north of South Beach. Bonus: Take 20% off for booking 3+ nights. Nov. 9, 2022-Jan. 8, 2023
Lights displays, festive trees, shop windows, live music and more greet holiday-goers in Memphis. The city’s Planetarium-Museum of Science and History displays beautifully decorated trees during the Enchanted Forest Festival of Trees Nov. 19 to Christmas Eve. Catch “Naviidad Spectacular,” “The Nutcracker” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” live. At Graceland, book ahead for live concerts of Elvis’ Christmas Peace album, holiday house tours and special packages at the 450-room Guesthouse at Graceland hotel. Nov. 17, 2022-Jan. 8, 2023
The city of Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival takes place in Pere Marquette Park, Zeidler Union Square and Cathedral Square. At the Nov. 17 kickoff, meet Santa, ride the Jingle Bus and catch live acts along with 500,000 LED lights that transform the streetscape with sparkling rooflines. Watch for the drone aerial show, harp lamp lighting and décor suspended above downtown intersections. Nov. 17, 2022-Jan. 1, 2023.
MCADENVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA
McAdenville is a small town that really knows how to compete with big cities. Christmas Town USA, in its 68th year, is just as glittery as ever. Get your cameras ready for the downtown Nativity scene and hundreds of holiday trees lit with 1.5 million red, white and green lights. Once again, more decorated trees will line Christmas Town Lake. Best of all, it’s free! Dec. 1-Dec. 26, 2022.
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
Celebration in the Oaks is a time-honored tradition popular with kids, adults, locals and visitors to New Orleans. More than 25 acres of City Park’s famous moss-covered oaks are blanketed in more than a million twinkling lights and light displays. Drive the 2.25-mile illuminated tour or stroll the decorated Carousel Gardens to see the carousel, botanical gardens and enjoy 18 rides at the small midway. Nov. 24, 2022-Jan. 1, 2023.
NEWPORT BEACH, CALIFORNIA
The 114th annual Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade has it all. In addition to one of the largest decorated boat parades in the country, elaborate Christmas light displays on waterfront estates compete 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 only Dec. 14-18, 2022. Holiday Light cruises sail the shoreline Dec. 2-Dec. 31 so you can ogle the beautiful homes and contest winners.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
New York celebrates the winter holidays big time. Popular 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. 18, 2022-Jan. 14, 2023. Accompanying it is the all-lights outdoor attraction, NYBG GLOW. The Bronx Zoo is also featuring puppetry, lanterns and light sculptures of favorite animals. Timed advance tickets required. It is always free to check out the amazing puppetry, robotics, animation and sparkling LED lights of 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 more than a half-mile stroll with holiday surprises along the way. See the 50-foot Christmas tree put on a light show. The 39th annual Christmas Parade takes place Dec. 3. Closed Monday and Tuesday; Wednesday is bring your pet night! Nov.17-Dec. 31, 2022.
Orlando, the theme park capital of the world, has something for everyone. Celebrating 50 years with many new attractions, Walt Disney World welcomes guests with holiday cheer, festive shows and lavish decor at all four theme parks. Plus, Disney Springs and all the Disney Resort hotels are decked out for the season. Over at Universal Orlando Resort, you can count on the annual Macy’s holiday parade and winter décor at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Book Universal’s two-park Holiday Tour ($79.99) for priority access to holiday events and Grinch attractions. Expect new holiday shows, meals, souvenirs and more, with 30% off hotel rates when you book 5-night stays.
Elsewhere in and near Orlando: Dazzling Lights at Harry P. Leu Gardens is a hi-tech family-friendly, three-quarter mile outdoor interactive experience. Dezerland Park is aglow with 1.5 million lights and synchronized music as part of I Drive’s Christmas Nights in Lights. At SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration, you will be able to meet Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, admire the dancing Sea of Trees in the lagoon and see ice skaters twirl on a frozen lake. The holiday lights and live entertainment event Night of a Million Lights that benefits Give Kids the World Village takes place at Island H2O Live! at the Margaritaville Resort this year. 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. (All on select dates between Nov. 8, 2022-Jan. 3, 2023)
PALM DESERT, CALIFORNIA
The 450-acre Living Desert Zoo celebrates the 30th annual Wild Lights Festival by blanketing 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. Advance timed tickets required. Nov. 22- Dec. 30, 2022.
PAWLEYS ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA
Nights of a Thousand Candles, previously 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 electric lights. Located in Murrells Inlet at the sculpture filled Brookgreen Gardens, experience holiday cheer while listening to live music, toasting friends and family and admiring the plantings. Nov. 26, 2022-Jan. 1, 2023.
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.) Catch some of the many light shows and neighborhood displays. Skate at the riverfront ice rink, shop at the European style Christmas markets and stroll Franklin Square’s “Electrical Spectacle: A Holiday Light Show.” Don’t miss the kite-shaped lights that honor Benjamin Franklin. Check out the Tinseltown Holiday Spectacular at the Expo Center. We love Philadelphia’s hotel deals which give visitors attraction tickets, restaurant gift certificate and free parking. Check out VisitPhilly.com for the latest on their holiday events. Nov. 1-Dec. 31, 2022.
PIGEON FORGE, TENNESSEE
The entire town becomes a winter wonderland during the city’s annual drive-through Pigeon Forge Winterfest. The new Wonders of Light Walking Trail runs 6 miles along the river and boasts dozens of large light sculptures and holiday décor. Pet and wheelchairs welcome Nov. 10, 2022-Feb. 19, 2023. 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 holiday shows, try culinary specials, watch local Appalachian artisans making gift items, sample rides, a nightly Parade of Lights, hotel specials and more. Nov. 10, 2022-Jan. 2, 2023.
Combine a temperate climate, golf and beautiful resorts — add twinkling lights — and you have the allure of Phoenix-Scottsdale during the holidays. “Las Noches de Las Luminarias” lights up Desert Botanical Garden Dec. 1-31, 2022. The traditional show adorns a garden of 50,000 cacti with 8,000 glowing, hand-lit paper lanterns. Head to Six Flags Hurricane Harbor for the drive-through, musical, light-flooded Rockin’ Christmas by World of Illumination, among many other theatrical events. Nov. 16, 2022-Jan. 1, 2023.
PINE MOUNTAIN, GEORGIA
The Callaway Resort & Gardens’ playful Jolly Trolley runs through a 7-mile Enchanted Forest at Fantasy in Lights. This winter spectacular uses 10 million lights to decorate the 2,500-acre property. Seasonal displays include a new Callaway Christmas Village, giant toy soldiers 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 from $239/N. Nov. 18, 2022-Jan. 1, 2023.
The Redding Garden of Lights is a smart, modern interpretation of holiday displays celebrating 3 years at Redding’s Turtle Bay McConnell Botanical Gardens. Over a 10-acre zone, look for Magical Mosaic, an interactive space designed for young children with set pieces and radiant meteor lights guaranteeing great photo ops. Peppermint-scented breezes accompany a walk down the colonnaded Candy Cane Lane. Befitting Turtle Bay Exploration Park’s environmental mission, larger than life lizards, tortoises and butterflies occupy the Australian Garden, while the 30-foot igloo at Polar Palace has its own snow. Relax over a drink or hot cocoa, stop for s’mores at the firepits, join carolers and visit booths selling holiday presents. Redding is a fun town for active families; get to the park early and let the kids run around the many outdoor play spaces. You can’t sleep closer than the Sheraton Redding Hotel at the Sundial Bridge next tothe famous Santiago Calatrava-designed walkway that leads to this unique experience. Their Garden of Lights package includes deluxe accommodations and two adult tickets to the Garden of Lights experience. Kids tickets are $15; under age 4 enters free. Select nights Nov. 18, 2022-Jan. 8, 2023 plus special New Year’s Eve event.
The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa, a historic AAA-Four Diamond hotel, will reignite its 30th annual Festival of Lights this fall. USA Today named this festival the “Best Public Lights Display in the Nation.” The hotel’s free 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 welcome to make this an overnight staycation (rooms from $319/N) as well. Open Nov. 25, 2022-Jan.6, 2023.
SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS
San Antonio’s River Walk is the place to enjoy more than 100,000 lights artfully adorning the bald cypress trees. Come Nov. 25 for the holiday parade and illumination, and you can book an outdoor café meal. Stroll freely or opt for a Holiday Lights Cruise with caroling (Dec. 1-23) to rest your feet. Don’t miss the Ford Fiesta de las Luminarias (weekends Dec. 2-18, 2022) which features more than 2,000 of the traditional Mexican Christmas lanterns (originally just a candle set in sand) lining the riverbank. Christmas at the Caverns runs 12 nights Dec. 3-23 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. Ticket fees benefit local food banks. Nov. 25, 2022-Jan. 9, 2023
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. 11 and 18. This very family-friendly city presents the Botanic Garden’s million-light Lightscape with tunnels, fire, sculpture and sound installations. Seaworld’s Christmas Celebration is a holiday party worth waiting for, with festive shows, falling snow, music, fireworks, 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.14, 2022- Jan. 8, 2023.
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA
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. Don’t miss the Macy’s holiday windows with SF SPCA dogs and cats available for adoption, Thursday to Sundays Nov. 18-Jan.1 from noon to 5pm. Ride cable cars, double-decker sightseeing buses and the SkyStar observation wheel in Golden Gate Park. Light art brightens block after block of San Francisco for the Illuminate SF Festival of Light with more than 60 installations in 17 neighborhoods created by more than 40 artists. Nov. 9, 2022-Jan. 31, 2023.
Start your visit at the delightful Pike’s Place Market where the 27th annual Magic in the Market kicks off the season Nov. 26. Shop the amazing handcrafts vendors and sip eggnog. Ride the rails at the Northwest Railway Museum where the Santa Limited runs two-hour festive tours on 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 40 offshore communities to deliver holiday cheer. Winterfest at Seattle Center showcases live music performances, videos and kid-centric activities while maintaining the stunning lights on its campus. Nov. 25-Dec. 23, 2022.
The 2 1/2 -mile Bright Nights festival at Forest Park is listed on People.com as “One of the Top Ten Holiday Happenings in America.” Expansions since the first season back in 1995 include more light displays in the woods, a Supper with Santa, choral groups, wagon and carriage rides past the Garden of Peace display. Wander through Seuss Land which commemorates Springfield’s hometown hero, author Theodore Geisel. Nov. 23, 2022- Jan. 1, 2023.
SYRACUSE, NEW YORK
Lights on the Lake, is a two-mile, drive-through show in Onondaga State Park. Watch out for spectacular holiday displays, the 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. 14, 2022 -Jan. 14, 2023.
VIRGINIA BEACH, VIRGINIA
Holidays Lights at the Beach requires a 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. 18, 2022-Jan. 1, 2023.
There are many options to enjoy the holidays in the nation’s capital, including the 100th anniversary of the National Christmas Tree and the National Menorah on The Ellipse. Explore lawn displays, sparkling gardens and twinkling facades all over town. In addition, experience the traditional decorations, crafts, caroling and life at an 18th-century home at nearby Mount Vernon. Weekend Candlelight Tours are very special too. Nov. 26-Dec. 18, 2022.
Explore Colonial Williamsburg the first three weekends in December, when “Grand Illusions” takes place. Reminiscent of 18th-century celebrations with the firing of guns and fireworks, it’s fun and historic way to kick off the holidays. Historic Williamsburg glitters with an array of 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 and catch the park’s 20 rides and coasters including the new, multi-launch Pantheon. Select dates Nov. 11, 2022-Jan. 8, 2023
WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH, NORTH CAROLINA
Just north of Myrtle Beach, this popular beach town attracts more than 50,000 viewers for the North Carolina Holiday Flotilla each Thanksgiving. Two long-running traditions include the Nov. 26th maritime parade featuring decorated power yachts, sailboats and small watercraft followed by fireworks. Meanwhile, on land at Airlie Gardens’ Enchanted Airlie, 35 acres of forest and walking trails burst into sparkling light shows and holiday music to welcome strollers. (Nov. 25-Dec. 22, 2022.) Of course, nearby Myrtle Beach does the holidays big time, including a Winter Wonderland and new Family Fun Zone and Santa sightings along the famous boardwalk. Nov. 17-Dec. 23, 2022.
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