16 of the Most Magical Christmas Light Displays Around the Country
Every small town, city, and metropolis across the nation has their own special traditions to celebrate the holiday season—but in some places, the residents wait all year long for Christmas to go full-on Clark Griswold with lights galore. The key word here is lights, really, since all of the following locales are known for their awe-inspiring, over-the-top Christmas light displays. Each is an attraction in its own right, with millions of twinkling bulbs on display for locals and visitors alike to enjoy each holiday season.
Some of the Christmas light displays and holiday events on this list are admittedly kitschy, but that only adds to their charm, especially when you consider the community of Christmas enthusiasts they have inspired. Many cities and towns have neighborhoods—or even a row of houses on a single street—that come together in a unified holiday spirit in the weeks leading up to December 25. Oftentimes, there is no admission fee or even recognition of these homeowners elsewhere, but families travel time and time again to these installations of decorations, wreaths, and lights because they feel right at home. You'll surely find a front door that looks festive to all of the holiday visitors who come knocking here.
Other events are rooted in yearly tradition and offer an exciting curation of Christmas lights. Winter may cause plants and flowers to go into hiding, but botanical gardens across the nation burst into light every December; and while frigid temps may not allow you to ride a roller coaster, the same can be said for local theme parks. Take a tour of these extravagant displays by foot or by car, too—in one case, you can skate through the display itself. They may even inspire a decorative display of your own making. After all, it's never too early to decorate for Christmas. These secretive spots are worth visiting during the holiday season, but if they're hundreds (or thousands) of miles away, we promise that even Google Images does them dazzling justice.
Branson is known for completely transforming itself into an all-out Christmas experience across the small city, but the staff at Silver Dollar City outdo themselves every year by adorning their quaint Midwestern buildings with 6.5 million Christmas lights. You'll find more than a dozen lighted Christmas trees, plenty of traditional Christmas bites (including roasted chestnuts!), and a nightly parade featuring Rudolph the Reindeer and other classic characters.
The nine families that live on the Crown Point cul-de-sac in this sleepy northeastern Ohio town have put their houses on the national map by turning each one into a blitz of outrageous Christmas bling. A free event for all families, wander down the cul-de-sac and through the lighted arches for ultimate holiday spirit; Santa appears every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday throughout December.
There's so much to see in our nation's capital during the holiday season, but the biggest Christmas party gets underway at the Smithsonian National Zoo. Every December, zookeepers adorn their sprawling grounds with more than 500,000 LED Christmas lights, transforming the wild space into a dazzling winter wonderland. While most of the zoo animals aren't involved in the special holiday celebration, you'll find a solar-powered carousel that features 58 different species of animals, including leopards and sloths.
The magic really is in the air when you visit Richmond's Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in December; its grand grounds play host to a breathtaking light show unlike any other. This year's theme for the Dominion Garden Festival of Lights is "Magic in the Air," and the light displays are inspired by things that fly inside the gardens—it features more than one million Christmas lights in various colors as well as specially curated botanical decorations. Plus, you can enjoy live music, holiday dinners, and fire pits complete with hot chocolate for the whole family.
Holiday organizers transform historic Franklin Square Park in Philadelphia into an electric spectacle, opening the bright landscape to the public for free, which has been enjoyed by more than 700,000 people since 2013. There are about 80,000 twinkling lights in the park that sparkle against a holiday soundtrack, which plays while visitors taste delicious Christmas treats from vendors that are open through New Year's Eve.
Boothbay Harbor, Maine
Not too far from Martha's own Skylands estate, the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden is a prime example of Maine's natural beauty. Buried beneath piles of snow, the gardens are home to a sea of Christmas lights during December; and they're not the only place to spot brilliant hues of electric color in the area. The Botanical Garden invites its neighbors to get in on the fun, so you're guaranteed to see a few bright homes on your way into the main event.
McAdenville, North Carolina
The month-long visual and musical spectacle put on by a local textile mill has earned this place the nickname "Christmas Town USA."
If you love a synchronized Christmas show, the World of Illumination drive-through experience is perfect for the whole family. Located inside the Tempe Diablo Stadium just outside Scottsdale, families can pile up in a car together and slowly make their way through this dazzling display of lights while listening to synchronized holiday tunes. There are more than two million lights to see.
The Enchant Christmas event takes place in three different American locales in December—it debuts in Washington, D.C., this year, and event representatives are calling it the "world's biggest holiday light maze." But Enchant has been spellbinding visitors in the Seattle area for years, featuring a larger-than-life holiday light display with 80-foot tall Christmas trees surrounded by a maze-like skating rink. Take in twinkling displays while skating with friends and family, or simply wander through the display's interior with a treat in hand.
Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
The Coeur d'Alene Resort has been putting on a see-it-to-believe-it Christmas light show since 1986—there are over 1.5 million lights among the resort's buildings and hundreds of fireworks that light up the night sky, too. After you've taken in carolers performing on the docks, you can embark on a journey to the "North Pole" cruise, which transports you to a floating tundra full of lights, a Santa Claus performance, and a floating Christmas tree, to boot.
Brooklyn, New York
The Dyker Heights neighborhood creates one of the most stunning Christmas light shows of the season in New York City. While Rockefeller Center attracts throngs of tourists, locals will come here to see extravagant and wonderful decorations that homeowners have set up to celebrate the holidays. From musical light shows to statuesque Nutcracker Kings, the "Dyker Lights" as they've been dubbed will amaze and delight 100,000 visitors who stop by every year.
The Rocky Mountains are picturesque as can be during the entire holiday season, but the snowy landscape is lit up in December by Denver's Botanic Gardens annual Christmas lighting show. Known as the Blossoms of Light, local horticulturalists turn their attention to a half-mile path that winds through the gardens' 24 acres—it's chock-full of Western plants, from cottonwoods to Ponderosa pines. Take a picturesque stroll on the path and take in more than just beautiful winter flora.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Despite being nestled in an arid climate, Albuquerque's Botanic Gardens truly makes it feel like Santa has taken a Southwestern vacation. Located in the BioPark section of the gardens, the "River of Lights" uses eight miles of extension cords and two million bulbs—40 percent of which are eco-friendly LEDs—to create its walk-through light show. There are 400 light sculptures modeled after moving animals, and the gardens' train line is converted into a "Polar Bear Express" that chugs through the park lined by all of it's classic luminarias.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
If you didn't already know, South Dakota's very own Sioux Falls is named after a beautiful 123-acre greenspace smack in the middle of the city—and yes, there are massive falls to see. Before Christmas, the falls become jolly themselves as they're cast in jubilant shades of green and red, and every tree in the city's central park is styled with bright Christmas lights. Holiday music from a local radio station is piped into the park's walkways, where nightly shows are synced up to the flashing lights.
Woodland Hills, California
The homeowners of the informal Candy Cane Lane, nestled among Lubao and Oxnard Streets in Woodland Hills, California, have established one of the most elaborate holiday lights displays in California. Each home is themed differently, but families decorate their yards with large lighted figures, such as Santa Claus or the Nutcracker, and add candy canes, gingerbread houses and more for a wonderful drive-by holiday experience.
One local man illuminated his Arlington home in 1976; now, all 200 or so on the two-mile Lake Interlochen loop do, drawing thousands of visitors each and every year. You'll slowly drive past all of these local's diehard Christmas displays.