Top Holiday Lights Celebrations Across America

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We love the holiday season, when cheery lights, Christmas decorations, menorahs, colorfully wrapped presents and the most imaginative retail displays illuminate downtowns around the world, regardless of whether there’s sun or snow outside. For many, 'tis the season to nest with family, bake and decorate (see our directory of U-Pick Christmas tree farms for ideas), then head out refreshed on holiday adventures. Many of you will stay close to home, a bonus for those who choose to avoid the 3% more travelers -- 30 million -- passing through already crowded airports this season. Others will take the big family vacation of the year and reunite with loved ones.

So whether you’re planning a staycation or a vacation -- sleeping in a hotel, renting a villa or camping at the in-laws -- make adventuring your family's gift to each other, and explore like a local.

Top Holiday Lights And Christmas Decorations In America

This roundup of the top holiday displays across America compiled with Taking the Kids is your guide you to the best and brightest public events. We hope you'll share your finds and photos with us, using the tag #starrylights. Cheerio!


The ABQ Biopark Botanic Garden hosts the “River of Lights,” New Mexico’s largest walk-through holiday production featuring giant sculptures created by millions of twinkling lights and more than 500 dazzling displays. November 25-December 30 (closed Dec. 24, 25). Kick off the holiday season with Albuquerque's Twinkle Light Parade, featuring dozens of sparkling floats (December 5), and experience a true New Mexican tradition with the city’s annual Luminaria Tour (December 24).


Orange County has lots going on at the holidays. At the Disneyland Resort, merry magic means festive décor, classic park attractions and special treats such as "Disney Viva Navidad Street Party". Check out the "Holiday Time at the Disneyland Resort" guided tour, and take a nap so you're ready for "A Christmas Fantasy" parade and "World of Color – Season of Light" evening shows. November 10-January 7.


“Lights on the Bay” is a drive-through holiday light show at Sandy Point State Parkwith more than 60 stationery and animated displays including a glowing lighthouse and blue crabs on Chesapeake Bay. November 18-January 1.


In Zilker Park, the annual Trail of Lights (a USA Today Top 10 Holiday Celebration) winds through 1.25 miles of scenes composed of multi-colored twinkling lights; a 155-foot conical tree made entirely of lights is at its center. Get a preview at the casual 2.1 mile fun run (Dec 2nd). Lots of eats in this foodie town, plus kids activities, local crafts vendors and photo opps. December 9-23.


Find 50 booths of crafts, gifts, food and drinks at the new European-style Christmas Village in Baltimore at Inner Harbor West Shore Park. It's back after drawing more than 150,000 visitors in its first few years. November 23-December 24.


The Holiday Tree Lighting in Boston Common (November 30) is one of several tree-lighting ceremonies in Bean Town. Others take place at the Massachusetts State House, Faneuil Marketplace and Copley Square. Check out the Freedom Trail Holiday Stroll; this special tour is offered at 3:30pm, Thursdays to Sundays only during November, December and January (except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Days). After your costumed guide explains Boston holiday traditions, take the family to the Omni Parker House Hotel for hot chocolate or tea with a slice of the yummy Boston Cream Pie invented there.


Don't miss an Ozark Mountain Christmas which features over 300 displays, and drive-through night displays including the 2½-mile long "Shepherd of the Hills Trail of Lights." At the Silver Dollar City amusement park, five million lights help celebrate an “Old Time Christmas” from November 4-December 31) with a parade, 1,000 decorated trees, and a five-story special effects Christtmas Tree, only one of Branson's many holiday events.


The “Lights of Dyker Heights” attracts 100,000 visitors to view amazing decorations. Come visit between 5pm and 9pm to meet the locals. November 30-December 30.


The annual “Holiday Festival of Lights,” considered one of the top 20 events in the Southeast, features millions of lights arranged in over 700 displays along a three-mile route. Visitors will also enjoy attractions like a Festival Train, an old-fashioned Victorian Carousel, Santa's Sweet Shoppe and more. November 10-January 1.


In Speed City, it's more than appropriate to drive through the Speedway Christmas event at the legendary Charlotte Motor Speedway where 3,000,000 lights, music, and Christmas Village with a petting zoo, and horsedrawn carriage rides welcomes kids of all ages. Also check out movie nights with screenings of "Frozen" and other favorites on a 16,000 square foot, high definition screen from November 18-January 8. This town also boasts an outdoor ice rink, Christmas parades, holiday laser lights and more.


Rock City Garden’s “Enchanted Garden of Lights” returns for its 23rd year with more than 30 illuminated holiday scenes. Families will also enjoy live entertainment in the North Pole Lounge, cookie decorating, and Sugar Plum Fairy makeovers for the kids. Booking a Dinner with Santa package gets you a meal and a VIP entry pass. November 17-January 6. Additionally, the new "Holiday Trail of Lights" featuring eight major points of interest featuring millions of twinkling lights debuts on November 17.


Key Chicago events include “The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival” which begins its 26th year on November 17 and 18 in Pioneer Court. Festivites include a visit from Santa, live music, and a parade on November 18 from North Michigan Avenue to Wacker Drive, followed by fireworks. Mickey and Minnie Mouse will serve as the Grand Marshalls of the Parade. The Museum of Science and Industry celebrates “Christmas Around the World” and “Holidays of Light” with more than 50 trees decorated to represent various cultures and holiday traditions. November 16-January 7.


GE’s Lighting Institute is in Nela Park where thousands of lights illuminate buildings along Noble Road. Early December to January 1.


Enjoy holiday music performances and more than 1.5 million lights on the largest on-the-water holiday light display in the United States. The lakefront Coeur d’Alene Resort runs three nightly “Journey to the North Pole” cruises past a soaring, floating Christmas tree, all the way to Santa’s Workshop. Be there when Santa calls out the names of the "nice" children onboard; cruises run Thanksgiving to New Year's Day.


The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is decorated with over one million holiday lights and 85 light sculptures, making the "Electric Safari" very festive. Check the website for selected dates between December 8 and January 1. Drop by the historic pink Broadmoor Hotel nearby for a hot chocolate and admire its annual White Lights Ceremony, with live music and more. December 9-January 1 (excluding New Years Eve).


There’s so much competition in the cruise industry that the major cruise companies go all out to lure holiday travelers with special décor, celebratory meals, festive activities and even church services of almost every denomination. Picture all the fuss like a huge drive-through holiday lights display... but at sea. Cruising with Kids will tell you all you need to know.


Texans do everything big, so no surprise that "Big D" is Dallas' citywide holiday celebration. From museum to shows, to ice skating and a ride on the North Pole Express in Fair Park and at the Arboretum, there's lots to enjoy. November to January.


More than 175,000 lights illuminate the 13th annual “Christmas in the Square,” the largest holiday lights and music show in North Texas. November 24-December 31. Go ice-skating and see the "snow flurries," guaranteed to fall every 15 minutes on Fridays and Saturdays.


The three-mile-long “Festival of Lights” at Moody Gardens boasts 100 animated light displays along with an outdoor ice rink, snow-tubing down a 100-foot long Arctic ice slide and photos with Santa Claus. November 11-January 7.


Enjoy the42nd annual “Fantasy of Lights” Christmas Parade with lighted floats, equestrian units and Santa Claus on December 1. The Winter Magic kickoff Chili Cookoff is November 8 and festivities run through January 31.


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. Join "Christmas Carol of Lights" (November 20), follow the town's "Light Show Spectacular" (November 22-January 7), shop at Christmas Markets in the historic downtown, catch some seasonal shows and vintage holiday movies, and head to Christmas on Main for holiday entertainment and more, weekends November 24-December 23. In addition to themed events at the Gaylord Texan and Great Wolf Lodge resorts, visitors to Grapevine can visit with talking reindeer at the visitor information center, and ride a vintage railroad running Christmas Wine Tours to local wineries or, for the little ones, a North Pole Express.


The town of Hershey does its own 2-mile “Sweet Lights” drive-through attraction while Hersheypark’s Christmas Candylane include visits with Santa’s reindeer, holiday lights, themepark rides and entertainment. Check for dates between November 10-January 1.


The aloha holiday spirit shines through the annual Honolulu City Lights festival on December 2. Families will find Christmas tree lighting, an electric light parade, keiki rides, food booths and more. The Waikiki Holiday Parade which honors the survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor, is held every year since 1998 on the Friday after Thanksgiving. It features thousands of marchers, multiple bands and entertainers. The 1.5 mile route is along oceanfront Kalakaua Avenue.


This town goes all out: illuminating the Indiana Soldiers and Sailors Monument with about 5,000 lights for its annual “Circle of Lights,” offering free admission to many attractions on one of the 12 days before Christmas, and featuring holiday exhibits at its impressive Children’s Museum. November 24-January 7.


While residents sip gluhwein at “Christkindlmarket Des Moines,” two hours east, a town is aglow with 75 light sculptures in the huge "Mount Pleasant Festival of Lights," which includes a huge animated toy factory and stretches for more than a mile. Just 75 minutes away in the Amana Colonies, visitors can study more than 40 decorated live evergreens in Tannenbaum Forest and visit Santa and his reindeer. Look for a 16-foot handcrafted German-style Christmas pyramid and a Nativity scene. Several evenings, the Old Creamery Theatre presents “A Christmas Carol" -- fun for all ages. And 90 minutes away in Davenport, the Quad City Arts Festival of Trees draws 100,000 spectators to see 100 designer trees, 14 special events and the largest helium balloon parade in the Midwest, all raising money for local arts programs, November 16-26.


Take in all of KC’s winter holiday family events such as the outdoors "KCP&L Plaza Lights" at glittery Country Club Plaza. Now 87 years old, the nation's oldest and one of its most elegant malls and the lights rimming all its shops and rooftops are spectacular. There are also lights all over the Crown Center complex, showcasing a 100-foot-tall Christmas tree covered with 7,200 lights. Don't miss a visit to see the Holiday Express Train on display at Union Station and many more holiday activities. November 25-January 1.


You won't find snow, but there's plenty of spirit around town if you count the windows along Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. This Time Out holiday lights guide has a great roundup for those who want to drive some neighborhoods. Tops of all, the “Candy Cane Lane“ is an eight-square block neighborhood affair in Woodland Hills at Lubao and Oxnard Streets, organized annually since 1952. December 9-31 until 10pm weeknights, 11pm weekends.


The holidays stay in Vegas like everything else, but that doesn't mean that families won't find plenty to cheer about in hotel, shops and restaurant decor. From November 24-January 7, the Las Vegas Natural History Museum will host its 11th annual "A December to Remember" exhibition, with programs that highlight how different world cultures and religions celebrate friendship and family at this time of year. Check the calendar of events to find family-friendly activities and and seasonal entertainment.


The 29th annual “Wonderland of Lights Festival“ brings hundreds of holiday light displays, outdoor ice-skating, a live variety show, a Santa's Workshop, carriage rides and more. November 22-December 31.


Downtown Milwaukee celebrates a “Holiday Lights Festival” with animated light displays, elaborately decorated themed trees, the 91st annual Milwaukee Holiday Parade, a Christkindlmarket, and performances such as ELF, The Musical. The $1 per ticket Jingle Bus tour is ideal for baby and grandparents. November 20-January 1.


Another small town that competes with big cities is McAdenville, whose decorated neighborhoods get jammed with the traffic of admiring homeowners. December 1-26 from 5:30pm-9:30pm weeknights, till 11pm weekends.


Go Victorian as Mystic Seaport presents "The Nut-Cracker Sweets," set on Christmas Eve of 1876 at Lantern Light Tours. November 24-December 23.


NOLA’s City Park, a Southern belle with centuries-old live oaks draped in festive Spanish moss, twinkles with hundreds of thousands of lights as part of the annual Celebration in the Oaks holiday lights festival. Drop by the art museum's free sculpture garden to take some family portraits, and take out a paddleboat for a great city view. November 24-January 1 (closed November 27-30, and on Christmas Eve and New Years Eve).


Tired of the holiday hype? The somber colonial era is the focus of Christmas in Newport, where, for 47 years, locals have adhered to holiday traditions such as only decorating with clear bulbs (to simulate candlelight), even on the posh Victorian shops of Bellevue Avenue. Daily activities range from Lantern Walking tours of restored colonial homes in the Point and Historic Hill neighborhoods; to door decorating contests, elegant celebrations at landmarked Gilded Age mansions, handcraft sales, choral concerts, and workshops to write holiday cards to military serving at sea. Any event listed in the program is free, as mandated by this very active community charity, unless admission benefits a non-profit institution or cause. December 1-31.


Stay ashore for the 109th Annual Christmas Boat Parade, when anything that floats-- from electric Duffy's to kayaks to yachts -- gets decked out in bells, bows and lights. More than 100 decorated boats sail a 14.7-mile route to Bay Island on five nights at 6:30pm. There will be a fireworks display on the first night at Newport Pier, and on the last night at 9pm, at Balboa Pier. Over 1 million viewers will watch the parade from the shore; check their site for a map of viewing locations. December 13-17.


From the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree (lighting on November 29) to the world’s largest menorah at Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza (December 12-19), to the New York Botanical Garden’s “Holiday Train Show” (miniature NYC landmarks made entirely out of plants) from November 22-January 15, to the 1½ ton, 300-square-foot village made entirely of edible gingerbread at the New York Hall of Science (November 11-January 15) in Queens -- New York does the winter holidays big. Check out the great store windows and visit NYC & Company for the latest holiday events.


This December, a holiday celebration is happening in Downtown Niagara Falls USA. Join the Jingle Falls USA festivities on Saturday, December 2, 9 and 16, and participate in daylong activities from Santa’s arrival by helicopter to ice carvings, a street hockey tournament, photo opportunities with live reindeer and more. Warm up around fire pits or head indoors and shop local vendors at the Holiday Marketplace. Also be sure to visit the Fatima Shrine Festival of Lights where you can stroll through 15 acres of spectacular holiday lights (November 19– January 6). Cross the Rainbow Bridge to the Canada side for the “Winter Festival of Lights,” aptly supported by Ontario Power Generation, which accepts donations to offset the huge electricity bill. November 18-January 31.


Northside Park hosts the “Winterfest of Lights” incorporating scenes of your child’s favorite fairy tales; easily accessible via the Winterfest Express. November 16-December 31.


Oceanside Harbor’s “Parade of Lights” boat procession takes place on December 9. Tis the Season to Shop Local (November 25-December22) and the Merry Makers Fair (November25-26) will feature local vendors, handcrafted gifts, music, singing and activities.


Orlando has it all for those who plan ahead. At SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration, families will find a winter wonderland where you can meet Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and see ice skaters twirl on a frozen lake. And, for and additional $29, each family member can have a reserved seat at all the shows. Visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter dressed up for the holidays, and watch Dr. Seuss' lovable “Grinchmas” steal the show at Universal Studios (November 18-January 6). Makers should be sure to catch a “Christmas Bricktacular” at Legoland Florida, featuring a huge Lego Christmas tree (December 2-3, 9-10, 17-17 and 23-25). Disney World pulls out all the stops with “Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party” which rocks the place on select nights (November 9-December 22); Disney Hollywood Studios will present "Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!," and we love the caroling concerts and candlelight processional at Epcot’s “Holidays Around the World” (November 19-December 30) too.


The 450-acre Living Desert is decked out for the “Wild Lights Festival“ that blankets its botanical gardens and educational displays in thousands of lights. Come for festive games, entertainment, carousel rides and visits with Santa Claus. Selected nights from November 24-December 24.


Brook Green Gardens’ "Nights of a Thousand Candles" uses the glow of 5,500 hand-lit candles to light garden paths, as bell ringers, light sculptures, glass sculptures and carolers entertain guests. November 30, December 1-2, 7-9, 14-17.


Philadelphia will be aglow this holiday season. Experience the magic of the holidays and celebrate traditions new and old at the Franklin Square Holiday Festival. Watch the Electrical Spectacle Holiday Light Show presented by PECO and warm up with comfort foods, sweet treats, seasonal beers, and hot beverages. Additional highlights include special events on #FranklinSquareFridays, Santa Saturdays, and musical performances on Seasonal Sounds on Sundays. The Franklin Square Holiday Festival takes place at 6th & Race Streets. There's also a classic Holiday Light Show at Macys in Center City and a German-style Christmas Village from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve in LOVE Park. November 9 –December 31


As you drive along in a heated trolley, ask the kids to guess the number of lights (5 million) in this resort town’s gigantic “Winterfest” (November 7-February 28) and compare that to what’s on display at the Dollywood themepark’s annual Smoky Mountain Christmas Festival (November 4-January 1) (4 million) packed with shopping, concerts and events such as the "Parade of Lights" with floats and characters.


The Callaway Gardens Resort’s playful Jolly Trolley runs through a “Fantasy of Lights” composed of 15 displays and eight million lights and includes giant toy soldiers, an enchanted rainbow forest, and Firefly Cove. November 17-January 6.


The “Vintage Christmas in Portsmouth” festival in this small New Hampshire town features a Candlelight Stroll with costumed interpreters. December 1-23.


This college town produces the “Tacky Light Tour” each winter, a local tradition featuring festive light displays, lawn decorations, and animated scenery. Selected dates between Thanksgiving to New Years Eve.


For a high-class tradition, enjoy the 25nd annual “Festival of Lights” at the Mission Inn Hotel and Spa. Five million lights, 200 animated characters, the world's largest mistletoe, horse-drawn carriage rides and appearances by Santa regale overnight guests and visitors; reservations recommended, especially for the elf tuck-in service. There's an outdoor ice-skating rink, holiday vendors and live entertainment. For it's "Sweet 25" anniversary there will be a new Candy Stroll and candy decor. November 24-January 6.


San Antonio’s River Walk is the place to be on November 24 for the Ford Holiday River Boat Parade. From November 23-December 31 there's lots to see and do at the Christmas Light Festival. You can also enjoy the Fiesta de las Luminarias, a river walk stroll lit by 2,000 luminarias on December 21-2, 8-10 and 15-17.


This action-packed, family-friendly city presents the Botanic Garden’s 125,000-light “Garden of Lights,” fun events at the San Diego Zoo (December 2-23 and 26-30), and more holiday cheer in Legoland, whose New Years Eve celebration begins at 6pm instead of midnight with a replica of the ball dropping in New York's Time Squares (done in Legos, of course), followed by fireworks. At SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration (November 18-January 6 ), see "The Happiest Christmas Tree" in Rudolph's Christmastown, visit Santa's Christmas Village, and get tickets for "O Wondrous Night," an all-live nativity musical. Bring a sweater and don’t expect beach weather!


The City by the Bay has holiday lights, public art, special events, and more holiday cheer beginning November 19 at the annual "Pier 39 Tree Lighting Ceremony" at the waterfront marketplace. Snowflakes on Market (November 20-December 31) creates a Path of Gold lights with over 290 sparkling snowflakes. Glittering palm trees adorn Union Square, which hosts the city’s Macy's Christmas Tree and Bill Graham Menorah from November 24-January 1. Illuminate SF is the city's annual light art festival, with 37 illuminated artworks in 16 neighborhoods done by 34 top light sculptors. Checkout the schedule of free walking tours that includes ones departing Union Square at 5pm Dec. 15, Tender Nob at 4:30pm Dec. 29, as well as from Fisherman's Wharf, Fridays at 5:00pm through Dec. 30. Families may prefer to download the site's map and plan a scavenger hunt so kids can tick off the best and the brightest they find.


The wildly popular Polar Express that runs on the vintage Saratoga & North Creek Railway draws thousands to this cute Victorian town. Expect the kids (most dressed in pajamas) to love the North Pole station where Santa and elves welcome the train. Selected dates in November and December.


Combine the appeal of a temperate climate, golfing and beautiful resorts, with cactus decked out in twinkling lights and reindeer on front lawns, and you get the Phoenix-Scottsdale area. "Las Noches de Las Luminarias" lights up the Desert Botanical Garden with a huge show of 8,000 glowing, hand-lit paper lanterns. During Christmas at The Princess, the Scottsdale hotel glistens with holiday splendor featuring a four-story musical tree that plays 17 songs to 70,000 synchronized lights, plus the Desert Ice Skating Rink (made of real ice), S’mores Land with the Polar Ice Glide and a new Build-A-Bear Pop-Up Shop, 4.5 million dazzling Lagoon Lights, new Copper Canyon light & music show, Santa’s Secret Headquarters and holiday friends such as Peppermint Penguin, Princess Noel, Graham the s’more, Shivers the yeti and Selfie Elfie. Package rates start from $199 per night with a $50 daily resort credit, VIP access to rides and one hour early-entry to the festival. A portion of proceeds from this vacation package will benefit #LoveUp, a non-profit organization dedicated to children in foster care. November 22-December 31.


Westlake Park has its holiday carousel, Seattle Center offers ice skating, and, from November 24-January 1, Woodland Park Zoo is packed with carolers and 600,000 LEDs shaped like animals for “WildLights.” During the 68th Annual Argosy Christmas Ship Festival (November 24-December 23), the Argosy will sail with an onboard choir to serenade 65 waterfront communities. Holidays in Seattle has a listing of more events and attractions. November 25-January 1.


New England’s most imaginative holiday lighting exhibit brings Seuss Land (this is author Theodor Geisel’s hometown), North Pole Village, and Jurassic World to the three-mile “Bright Nights” festival, which also offers horse-drawn carriage and wagon rides. The whole city is lighting up in solidarity. November 24-January 3 (closed November 30 and December 1).


The annual “Lights of Christmas” celebration is said to be the grandest holiday event in the Pacific Northwest, with lights, five entertainment stages, kids activities, food and shopping. November 30-December 3, and December 7-10, 14-17, 19-23 and 26-30 from 5 to 10pm.


The “Holiday Lights in the Park” has more than 60 light sculptures and animated displays in Phalen Park, and all proceeds from this fun family event are donated towards advanced safety training for police officers. November 22-January 1.


Lights on the Lake” sparkles over Onondaga Lake Park with its two-mile, drive-through extravaganza featuring Land of Oz, Fantasy Forest and a Fairytale Grand Finale from November 15-January 7. Special events include a Lights on the Lake Stroll (November 13) and a Lights on the Lake Dog Walk (November 14).


After 30 years, this “Victorian Christmas” has grown from twinkling lights to a Victorian Museum and Craft Village, a Winter Wonderland for children with carolers, chestnut roasting, marshmallow toasting,carriage rides and more. December 14 and 15.


On December 2, Virginia Beach offers "Holiday Parade at the Beach," and from November 23-December 31 you won’t have to leave the Boardwalk to enjoy the town’s 40-foot-tall Christmas on the beach and enjoy the "Holiday Lights Merry Mile." Virginia Beach also joins Richmond, Williamsburg, Newport News, Hampton, Norfolk and Portsmouth with holiday displays and a lineup of events for the state’s annual "100 Miles of Lights."


The nation’s capital celebrates in winter: the lighting of the National Christmas Tree (November 30) and the National Menorah (December 12), and, all season, the snowtubing, Panda photo ops and outdoor ZooLights at the National Zoo (Nov 24-January 1, except Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Eve). Experience the traditional decorations that grace Christmas at Mount Vernon and meet a Christmas camel. November 24-January 6.


Travel back 200-300 years at the Historic Triangle to learn how holidays were celebrated. Colonial Williamsburg’s “Grand Illumination” events include Christmas Decoration walking tours, caroling in the revolutionary city plus concerts and musical performances, storytelling, and traditional tavern dinners. Busch Gardens’ Christmas Town celebrates with Santa’s Workshop theming all over the park, the largest light display in North America, rides, shows and more. Revolutionary-era Yorktown and 17th century Jamestown have special events, too. Check for active dates, December 1-31.

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