Visit one of these local experiences where the holiday spirit is alive and joyous.

By Erica Sloan
December 09, 2020
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Big family gatherings and indoor festivities may be fraught with risk due to the pandemic, but we do have some good news for yuletide revelers: the holidays do not have to be put on hold. Thanks to the ingenuity of Christmas fanatics nationwide, the season's cheerful mainstays—like dazzling light shows and snow-dappled displays—will live on in creative new formats designed to keep all visitors a safe distance apart. Here, these activities and events across the country will lift your spirits and safely channel all things merry this year.

drive through christmas lights archway
Credit: Classic Stock / Getty Images

Nights of 1,000 Lights

The manicured grounds, tiled fountains, and flower beds that comprise Sherman Library & Gardens, in Corona del Mar, California, take on a new kind of beauty after dark at Nights of 1,000 Lights. A technicolor tunnel will lead you down a brick-lined pathway to a series of twinkling displays and a photo-worthy Christmas tree. Mild weather throughout the season also makes enjoying a drink or snack in the Sherman's open-air café a breezy delight, while timed tickets and reduced capacity ensure the event stays fully COVID-friendly. It runs for 10 days, from December 11 to 13 and 17 to 22, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. each evening. Tickets are $15 for members and $25 for non-members.

Festival of Lights

Road trip to the scenic, snow-capped Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina, and take in close to 30,000 dazzling lights without leaving your car at Chetola Resort at Blowing Rock's free Festival of Lights. Stop by at dusk for the start of the show or drive in any time before 10 p.m. A new nativity scene accompanied by a merry melody, an appearance by Rudolph, and a performance of ice skaters on Chetola Lake bring the event oh-so-magically to life. If you're planning to visit around dinner time, you can also make an advance reservation at Timberlake's Restaurant, and chow down on warming dishes like glazed ham and butternut squash ravioli. The drive-through show starts lighting up the night on November 29 and continues until January 31.

Journey Borealis

If you married a multimedia art show and a holiday lights display at an outstanding 300-acre sculpture park, you'd get Pyramid Hill's Journey Borealis, in Hamilton, Ohio. The most striking part: It all comes together through collaborations between the park and local creatives, like Cincinnati-based artist Pam Kravetz, who teamed up with yarn-bombing collective The Bombshells to knit and crochet colorful tree wraps installed along the route. A soundtrack created by members of the Cincinnati Boy Choir and the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra accompanies the display of more than 1,000,000 lights when you access it via the free smartphone app, Echoes. The geo-located audio adjusts as you wind through the 2.5-mile-long journey, encouraging you to trip the light fantastic at every turn. The experience runs from November 20 to January 3, Mondays to Thursdays from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. ($20 per carload), and Fridays to Sundays from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. ($25 per carload); for members, the cost is always $15, and on Tuesdays, it's free to all Hamilton residents.

Lighting of the Vines

Oenophiles, take note: The second annual Lighting of the Vines at Bluemont Vineyard, in Bluemont, Virginia, pairs a sparkling toast with a joyful illumination of 10,000 vines lining the mountains of rolling Loudoun Valley. Up the ante by making a reservation at The Stable for the winter holiday dinner—a four-course meal accompanied by made-on-site wine and classic Christmas tunes, for $99 per person. You can enjoy the vineyard lighting in December, Thursdays to Sundays at 5:30 p.m., or special winter dinner on Saturdays at a 5:30 p.m. seating.

Christmas at the Moonlite

A unique chance to watch a live production during the pandemic, Barter Theatre has adapted the historic Moonlite Drive-In as its COVID-friendly venue to perform classic Christmas musicals in one-act shows this season. Each evening during Christmas at the Moonlite, which runs on select dates from November 27 to December 23, the troupe puts on two performances—Frosty, The Musical at 6 p.m. and Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol at 8 p.m.—which you can view from your car and applaud by way of honking your horn, instead of clapping. In keeping with the fully touchless experience, you'll access the sound via your car stereo and the program on your smartphone. Tickets start at $20 per adult and $10 per child, and tick upward from there for the best parking spots in the lot.

Winter Woods Spectacular

If you loved Louisville's Jack O' Lantern Spectacular, you'll flip for the Christmas version. At Winter Woods Spectacular in Iroquois Park, you'll motor past 500 Christmas trees and 120 custom-built stained-glass windows arranged in fantastical, holiday-themed scenes. Millions of lights brighten the half-mile path through the woods, while a dreamy soundtrack fills the experience with the mystical, magical energy of the winter solstice. The route is open nightly from November 27 to January 2, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sundays to Thursdays and 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The price is $35 per vehicle, and all proceeds benefit the Louisville Parks Foundation.

Sparkling Lights at the Breakers

As part of the first-time-ever Sparkling Lights at The Breakers event, the façade of The Breakers mansion will be illuminated by thousands of lights and the grounds outfitted with 28 glittering spruces. You can choose to remain outside for your full visit, wandering the bright pathways and listening to holiday music, or pop inside The Breakers for a self-guided tour using a single-use printed script or The Breakers audio-tour app. On the one-way route, you'll pass by ornate mantlepieces and wreaths, dining tables awash in period china, and of course, the mansion's signature 15-foot-tall poinsettia Christmas tree. Purchase a ticket that includes both outdoor and indoor access to The Breakers ($26 per adult and $8 per kid), or plan to visit both The Breakers and The Elms mansion—a five-minute drive away and decked out in its own elaborate décor—with a duo ticket ($32 per adult and $9 per kid). The Breakers is open from November 21 to January 10 (the outdoor lights turn on daily at 4 p.m.), and The Elms is open from November 21 to January 3.

Gingerbread Houses To-Go

Recreate Chatham Bars Inn's beloved gingerbread house-making workshop from home with this special pickup: The pastry team at this inn in Chatham, Massachusetts, will bake and assemble your cookie abode as part of its new Gingerbread Houses To-Go program, and pack it up with an assortment of sweet treats resembling siding, stucco, and décor. Recruit the littlest members of your bunch, gather 'round the kitchen table, and get building. You'll just need to reserve your set in advance by contacting the inn's concierge (concierge@chathambarsinn.com), and schedule a pick-up on select dates in December. The cost per home is $65.

Christmas at the Caverns

To kick your Christmas celebrations over the top, take a trip 180 feet below ground. At Natural Bridge Caverns, in San Antonio, Texas—a breathtaking limestone cave system formed by prehistoric water passages—Christmas is a major event. As part of Christmas at the Caverns, a 5,000-square-foot maze to find Rudolph and a third-mile trail of holiday lights will delight kids and kids-at-heart, while a 30-foot Christmas tree forms the ideal backdrop for a family photo. Adventure seekers can level up the experience with a ride above Texas Hill Country on the Twisted Trails Zip Rails & Ropes Course, zooming over almost 700 feet of track at a dazzling 6 stories in the air. Or, soak in the unique acoustics (and blissful 70-degree temps) of the caverns with a Christmas concert orchestrated by area choirs. The experience runs on select dates from December 5 to 23, and tickets cost $20 per adult and $15 per child; Twisted Trails and the Christmas concert are each an additional $13 per person, and a portion of all proceeds is donated to the San Antonio Food Bank.

Holiday Lights at Salt River Fields

Scottsdale's Salt River Fields may be most famous for their role as the spring-training grounds for the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies—but come the holiday season, the 140 sweeping green acres become the setting for a full Christmas experience. At Holiday Lights at Salt River Fields, drive through 1.2 miles of dancing Christmas lights synchronized to holiday tunes accessible via a local FM radio station. Or, reserve the VIP experience for your small group to hop aboard a photo-ready electric carriage and roll through the lights in style. The event runs from November 23 to December 31, and tickets cost $36 per car on weekdays, $46 on weekends, and $60 on holidays; the VIP experience begins at $300 for a group of up to six people and includes a skip-the-line fast pass.

Garden Glow

More than one million lights and wintry projections set the Missouri Botanical Garden a-twinkle at Garden Glow, an after-dark spectacle that takes you along a pathway through this St. Louis park. The flicker of snowflake-lights on the sides of garden structures and colorful orbs floating in ponds illuminate the way, and food-and-drink stands offer warming treats to fuel the walk. Pick up hot cocoa and s'mores or indulge in a festive beverage like a Merry Manhattan (whiskey, vermouth, bitters, and holiday-spiced syrup). The event runs from November 11 to January 2 (with the exceptions of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day), and is restricted to 25 percent capacity to ensure adequate distancing. Tickets cost $20 per adult and $10 per child, with discounts available on bargain nights (select dates between November 12 and December 17) and family nights (Wednesdays from November 11 to December 9).

Snowflake Lane

A dusting of snow every few minutes turns Bellevue Way into Snowflake Lane, bringing all the magic of a white Christmas to Bellevue, Washington, no matter the weather. Walk or drive along this street—which slices through shopping-and-dining district, The Bellevue Collection—and take in joyous Christmas decorations and dancing lights galore. If you have little ones, consider making an appointment for a contactless photo with Santa, who will be stationed at a desk and donning a festive mask in the Bellevue Square Center Court. Or, purchase a to-go gingerbread kit, and reserve a time to visit the candy shop at the KidsQuest Children's Museum (Bellevue Square's second level), where you'll select the sweets that you'll use to deck out your cookie house at home. Set the Christmas tone by tuning into the virtual lighting of the center's 30-foot holiday tree (live on November 27 at 5 p.m., or via the recorded version anytime afterward). Snowflake Lane and visits with Santa will run from November 27 to December 24, while reservations for the gingerbread pick-up will be available from December 16 to 19.

Holiday in Paradise

Snow may not ever make an appearance in West Palm Beach, Florida—but that doesn't put a damper on this southern hotspot's festivities. The world's top sand sculptors converged on the city's waterfront this month to create this year's iteration of Sandi: a 35-foot, 700-ton tree made entirely of sand. Stop by Holiday in Paradise (otherwise known as Sandi Land) to ogle the masterpiece from a safe distance, and marvel at 100 tons worth of other sand sculptures, too, including a larger-than-life flamingo named Hope. Nightly light shows running from December 5 to 31 (every 15 minutes from 6 to 10 p.m.) will illuminate Sandi and include a new synchronized display with the city's just-completed Centennial Square Fountain. Bring along the kids for a socially distanced pancake breakfast on December 19 at 9 a.m. (tickets are $5 per person), or for sing-along and story time with Sandi on December 20 at 5 p.m.; after both events, they'll have a chance to text their wishes to Santa, who will be positioned inside a snow globe this year for extra-safe photo ops.

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Anonymous
December 11, 2020
Shadrack's Christmas Wonderland 2020- Sevierville, TN