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.
This holiday season, families will gather together, enjoy parties, celebrate long-delayed milestones and seek out local festivities. Don’t forsake winter holiday vacations due to sharply rising air and hotel costs. Instead, read on to find fun in closer-to-home locations.
CELEBRATE STRESS-FREE, TRAVEL WITH CONFIDENCE THIS HOLIDAY SEASON
Those traveling South for sun and sand should know that weather forecasts are less reliable due to above average water temperatures in the Atlantic and this year’s El Nino (a weather pattern of warmer water in the Pacific Ocean.) Travel stress-free this holiday season with a travel insurance policy that may cover travel disasters due to environmental changes, Iceland’s volcanoes or even manmade emergencies. As a world leader in travel protection, Allianz Global Assistance focuses on travelers’ current concerns, so many of their travel insurance plans include epidemic-related covered reasons. (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. And if you haven’t already done so, wrap up an annual travel insurance policy for the whole family and gift it now. You don’t need a disaster to impact your vacation plans – a delayed flight, lost luggage or family illness ed storm can do it too. An annual plan from a company like Allianz likely covers these events so be sure to check your policy details or get in touch with their agents before purchasing. Terms, conditions, and exclusions apply – benefits vary by plan and are not available in all jurisdictions.
We anticipate that this holiday season, families will return to gathering together, enjoying parties and local festivities. While many of us will forsake winter holiday vacations due to sharply rising costs, Americans are also more resilient about finding fun in closer to home locations.
PICK A TREE, SPREAD JOY, PLAY OVER THE HOLIDAYS
Go green for real and make this one a tree your family picked themselves, either from national forests to help groom firebreaks, or from a small business tree farm. Our directory of U-Pick Christmas tree farms is packed with resources for all 50 states.
Kindness is the new gift card! Involve everyone in 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 tins of home baked cookies to the elderly in your community 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.
Let imaginations soar. Stuff a stocking with a hard copy of the clever Tennessee Playcation Guide and a tiny kit to build one of their building-brick landmark attractions. Challenge kids to design their own tour of the state. Why not a road trip that includes Chattannooga, Gatlinburg, Memphis and Pigeon Forge (see below)?
And no matter what, get out of the kitchen and enjoy a starry lights display.
TOP U.S. HOLIDAY LIGHTS, DECORATIONS AND FESTIVALS FOR 2023 – ALBUQUERQUE TO AUSTIN
This roundup of the top holiday displays across America plus the best and brightest public events was compiled with Taking the Kids. We hope you will share your finds and photos with us by using the tag #starrylights when you post to social media. 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. 25-Dec. 30, 2023
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. 10, 2023-Jan. 7, 2024
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. 19, 2023-Jan. 1, 2024.
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. 27-Jan.2 with limited public viewings) and the walk-through “Winter Lights” at the North Carolina Arboretum. Nov. 17-Dec. 31, 2023 with three nightly entry times.
The 59th 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, 2023.
HOLIDAY LIGHTS, DECORATIONS AND FESTIVALS – BALTIMORE TO BROOKLYN
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. 18 to Dec. 24, 2023.
Take your pick of holiday lights across Boston starting Nov. 20 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 Boston Common (Nov. 30), 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 weekend nights Nov. 17-Dec.30) 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, 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. Select nights Nov. 1, 2023-Jan. 7, 2024.
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 for them. Free. Nov. 24, 2022-Jan. 1, 2023.
AMERICA’S BEST HOLIDAY LIGHTS, PARADES AND CHRISTMAS CRUISES FOR 2023 – CHARLESTON TO CRUISES
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, 2023.
The grand Rock City Garden’s Enchanted Garden of Lights returns for its 29th 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. 17, 2023-Jan. 6, 2024. Among many other local events, the free, self-guided Holiday Trail of Lights leads to 12 city attractions and one of the world’s longest pedestrian bridges at Walnut Street, which are decorated with millions of twinkling lights throughout the holiday season.
A key Chicago event, the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival and parade – this year led by Mickey and Minnie Mouse — return Nov. 18, 2023 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. 18, 2023-Jan. 7, 2024.
Enjoy the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo walk or drive-through Wild Winter Lights exhibit with more than 1.5 million lights and holiday displays including the Enchanted Forest, Santa’s Workshop and the brand new dynamic musical light shows featuring a 50-foot tree as well as a show directly on Waterfowl Lake. Nov.15-Dec. 30, 2023.
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 between Nov. 14, 2023- Jan. 2, 2024.
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. Select nights Dec. 1, 2023-Jan. 1, 2023.
Carnival Cruise Line has a lot to celebrate during this holiday season. The cruise line’s newest Excel class ship, Carnival Celebration, is homeporting at PortMiami with the line’s second BOLT roller coaster. With so many new ships on the horizon for 2024 and 2025, it’s time to think about putting a family cruise vacation under this year’s holiday tree or menorah. There are many options for bucket list adventures, different cruiser styles and budgets and even extraordinary flop n’ drop beach vacations at ports of call around the world. Our annual family cruise guide, updated with the latest family amenities and facilities, has all the information you need to choose the best cruise and itinerary for your family.
TOP HOLIDAY LIGHTS, FESTIVALS AND CHRISTMAS MARKETS FROM DENVER TO THE DANUBE IN EUROPE
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 and thrill rides at Elitch Gardens’ Luminova Holidays, and festivities at all the mountain resorts. Check out TakingtheKids’s web story here. Advance timed tickets required. Nov. 17, 2023-Jan. 7, 2024.
EUROPE AT CHRISTMAS
Between late November and Christmas Eve, don’t miss the chance to experience one of Europe’s top Christmas Markets together. The France-based CroisiEurope river cruise company makes it comfortable and easy to discover authentic holiday markets. Shop, dine and be entertained as lights twinkle and, if you’re lucky, snowflakes fall on historic town squares. CroisiEurope’s canal boats visit European Christmas Markets in French Alsace,while luxury river cruisers explore the holiday décor of other European cities. Holiday rates including everything but beverages are 25% off on most December sailings and several itineraries offer kids’ discounts. The four-day Alsation Wine Route cruise (rates begin at $857) visits 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. With only 11 cabins accommodating up to 22 passengers, a canal barge trip in France is the perfect option for a unique friends and family vacation. The Neckar Valley’s top Christmas Markets in Strasbourg and Heidelberg star on a five-day CroisiEurope route with rates from $1543 per person. Classic five-day Danube River cruises call on the stunning markets in Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava for just $1334. Go now to avoid another crazy-busy summer season or wrap up one of their barge trips and put in under the family tree for 2024. Discounts apply! Use the code BOOK2024 to save an extra 10% by booking before a CroisiEurope cruise by Dec. 1, 2023. Or go big, and take 15% off 2025 Mekong and Southern Africa river adventures for early bookings made by May 31, 2024 (BOOK2025).
MORE U.S. HOLIDAY DECORATIONS AND FESTIVALS FOR 2023 – GALVESTON TO IOWA
GALVESTON ISLAND, TEXAS
The mile-long Holiday in the Gardens at Moody Gardens is the largest holiday destination in the Southwest. Look for the Dancing Tree of Light, Ice Land, 3D movies and a 4D Rudolph show, fireside s’mores, ice skating, snow tubing down a 100-foot-long Arctic ice slide and breakfast with Santa Claus. Nov. 18, 2023-Jan. 6, 2024.
Enjoy the annual Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade of lighted floats and holiday characters on Dec. 1, 2023. 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. Smoky Mountain Christmas at Dollywood is legendary, with more than 6 million gleaming holiday lights around the theme park, a drone light show and a train to watch them from. Ride the new Big Bear Mountain, catch some of the 40 live shows, visit markets stocked with locally made crafts and Santa’s rustic cabin. Holiday festivities select days Nov. 4, 2023-Jan. 6, 2024.
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 and ride the Polar Express steam train. 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 or hit the water park at Great Wolf Lodge.. Nov. 20, 2023-Jan. 8, 2024.
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. 10, 2023-Jan. 1, 2024.
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. 2) is supported by 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, 2023.
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 Jingle Rails 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. 18, 2023-Jan. 15, 2024.
IOWA’S MOUNT PLEASANT
Iowa families love the Jolly Holly Lights show with more than 100 different light sculptures. The show is free and visitors are encouraged to donate to Make-A-Wish Iowa. In Keokuk, City of Christmas includes 150 lighted displays with one million+ lights and accompanying music score. 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 state’s largest holiday light display. Nov. 22-Dec. 31, 2023.
AMERICA’S TOP HOLIDAY LIGHTS DISPLAYS FROM LAS VEGAS TO McADENVILLE
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA
Las Vegas is bigger than ever at the holidays, an unforgettable nighttime wonderland featuring seasonal 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. 24-Dec. 31, 2023.) For more shows and holiday ideas, check out the fun and entertainment-packed Vegas.com calendar of holiday events. Nov. 16, 2023-Jan. 7, 2024.
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 6.5 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. 10, 2023-Jan. 1, 2024.
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, storytime with Mrs. Claus and more at a Very Merry Festive Garden. Plus, two estates of the rich and famous (Deering and Vizcaya) are redone with Insta-worthy Christmas decor. Nov. 10, 2023-Jan. 8, 2024.
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. Catch “Navidad 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. 16, 2023-Jan. 8, 2024.
The city of Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival takes place in Pere Marquette Park, Zeidler Union Square and Cathedral Square. At the Nov. 16 kickoff, meet Santa, ride the Jingle Bus and catch live acts along with 500,000 LED lights that transform the streetscape with sparkling rooflines. Find the larger-than-life sculptues on Wisconsin Avenue’s Ornament Trail. Watch for the drone aerial show, harp lamp lighting and décor suspended above downtown intersections. Nov. 16, 2023-Jan. 1, 2024.
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, 2023.
HOLIDAY LIGHTS AND DECOR FOR 2023 – NEW ORLEANS TO NEW YORK
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. 23-Dec. 30, 2023.
NEWPORT BEACH, CALIFORNIA
The 115th 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. 13-17, 2023. Holiday Light cruises sail the shoreline Dec. 1-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, 2023-Jan. 8, 2024. 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.
MORE HOLIDAY CHEER AND FESTIVITIES FOR 2023 – OCEAN CITY TO PINE MOUNTAIN
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.16-Dec. 31, 2023.
Orlando, the theme park capital of the world, has something for everyone. Walt Disney World welcomes guests with holiday cheer, festive shows and lavish decor at all four theme parks. 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. 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, meet Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, admire the dancing Sea of Trees in the lagoon 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. (All on select dates between Nov. 7, 2023-Jan. 3, 2024.)
PALM DESERT, CALIFORNIA
The 450-acre Living Desert Zoo celebrates the 31st 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, 2023.
PAWLEYS ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA
Nights of a Thousand Candles, honored for “Favorite Botanical Garden Holiday Lights” by USA Today Top 10, comes 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. 25, 2023-Jan. 1, 2024.
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 VisitPhilly.com for the latest on their holiday events. Nov. 3-Feb. 25, 20234.
PIGEON FORGE, TENNESSEE
The entire town becomes a winter wonderland during the city’s annual drive-through Pigeon Forge Winterfest. The Wonders of Light Walking Trail and separate Winterest Driving Tour of Lights run 6 miles along the river and boasts dozen of large light sculptures and holiday décor. Pet and wheelchairs welcome. 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. 9, 2023-Feb. 18, 2024.
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. The traditional show adorns a garden of 50,000 cacti with 8,000 glowing, hand-lit paper lanterns. Nov. 24, 2023-Dec. 30, 2024.
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. Nov. 17, 2023-Jan. 1, 2024.
TOP HOLIDAY LIGHTS DISPLAYS AND DÉCOR VIEWING FOR 2023 – REDDING TO SYRACUSE
The Redding Garden of Lights is a smart, modern interpretation of holiday displays celebrating 4 years at Redding’s Turtle Bay McConnell Botanical Gardens. Cross the town’s illuminated Sundial Bridge to find a 10-acre wonderland with a new model train town, glowing swings, music and animation. Befitting Turtle Bay Exploration Park’s environmental mission, larger than life lizards, tortoises and butterflies occupy the Australian Garden. Imagine a 30-foot igloo at Polar Palace with 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. Or go posh, and rent your own igloo for eight to enjoy fresh, hot pizzas, unlimited non-alcoholic beverages, sweet treats, holiday souvenirs and more. Redding is a fun town for active families. Get to the park early and let the kids run around the many outdoor play spaces. For a special overnight package (use Code ZE2) including an upgrade to the Concierge Level, breakfast, evening reception and Redding Garden of Lights tickets, check into the Sheraton Redding Hotel at Sundial Bridge. Select nights Nov. 17, 2023-Jan. 7, 2024 plus special New Year’s Eve event.
Since 1992, the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa, a historic AAA-Four Diamond hotel, has ignited its annual Festival of Lights. 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. Open Nov.18, 2023-Jan.7, 2024.
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 to rest your feet. Don’t miss the Ford Fiesta de las Luminarias 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 select December nights 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. Nov. 24, 2023-Jan. 7, 2024.
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. 10 and 17. 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.17, 2023-Jan. 7, 2024.
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. 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 40 installations in 17 neighborhoods created by more than 40 artists. Nov. 8, 2023-Jan. 31, 2024.
Start your visit at the delightful Pike Place Market where the 28th annual Magic in the Market kicks off the season Nov. 25. 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. 24-Dec. 31, 2023.
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. 22, 2023- Jan. 1, 2024.
SYRACUSE, NEW YORK
Wegman’s Lights on the Lake, is a 2-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 grand finale. Stay tuned to the local radio station for holiday surprises. All entry is by advance purchase tickets to limit crowds. Nov. 13, 2023 -Jan. 12, 2024.
CHRISTMAS LIGHTS AND HOLIDAY FESTIVALS FROM VIRGINIA BEACH TO WRIGHTSVILLE – LAST BUT NOT LEAST BY ANY MEANS
VIRGINIA BEACH, VIRGINIA
Holidays Lights at the Beach requires a drive down Atlantic Avenue to see the Boardwalk illuminated in separate nautical, holiday and adventure themes 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. 17-Dec. 31, 2023.
There are many options to enjoy the holidays in the nation’s capital, including the 101st anniversary of the National Christmas Tree and the National Menorah on The Ellipse. Trees decorated with handmade ornaments from 56 U.S. states and territories surround it. Explore lawn displays and sparkling gardens all over town. Georgetown GLOW illuminates the posh neighborhood with fantastic light sculptures. 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. 17-Jan. 7, 2024.
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. 10, 2023-Jan. 7, 2024.
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 weekend. Two long-running traditions over the past 40 years include the 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. 24-Dec. 21, 2023.) Of course, nearby Myrtle Beach in So. Carolina does the holidays big time, including a Winter Wonderland and new Family Fun Zone and Santa sightings along the famous boardwalk. Nov. 16-Dec. 22, 2023.
Happy Holidays! Please add your favorite lights displays and decorations in our Comment section.
|Wherever you see ads or images within this special FamilyTravelConsulting.com travel section, the advertising and custom content has been brought to you by our sponsors. All other content and opinions are based upon the authors’ actual travel experience and knowledge.|
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.