You are never too old to enjoy Christmas lights, and there are plenty of places in the nation to gaze in awe at the dazzling displays. Many thanks to Y! Travel for these top destinations for holiday lights.
When it comes to Christmastime magic, it seems that “34th Streets” across the country are a bona fide breeding ground for just that. Just look to Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood each holiday season, where for more than 60 years, a charming block of row houses on 34th street has been transformed into what’s been dubbed “Christmas Street” and the “Miracle on 34th Street.” Residents come together in a labor of love to bedeck their properties with a holiday hodgepodge of larger-than-life snow globes, flashing angels, musical trains, and blinking lights galore – a handful of the homes will even allow visitors inside to peek into their indoor Christmas wonderlands, as well (November 26–January 1; free; www.christmasstreet.com).
Try and coordinate your visit with the colorful “Parade of Lighted Boats,” an event where more than 50 vessels festooned with holiday lights illustrate Baltimore’s nautical and Christmas spirit on December 3 (free; www.fpyc.net). Plus, new for 2011, the harbor-front Power Plant building will shine with holiday lights, lasers, and 3D effects during early evening hourly show times (now–December 31; free; www.itsawaterfrontlife.org).
Newport Beach, CA
For more than a century, Newport Beach’s “Christmas Boat Parade” has delighted spectators with a “Christmas-sea” feeling all its own. A fine flotilla of some 200 vibrantly decorated vessels, from multimillion-dollar yachts right down to simple canoes, glides through Newport Harbor as holiday music and costumed carolers fill the air with melodious merrymaking. The brilliant boat parade (it’s the oldest one in the country) attracts close to a million viewers; it’s held nightly from December 14 through December 18 and lasts about 2.5 hours – show up on the closing night for a fireworks finale. Viewing areas for the beaming 14-mile boat route are on the public beaches and establishments bordering the Balboa Peninsula, the Fun Zone amusement area (where you can hear live commentary from Captain Mike Whitehead, the official voice of the parade), and Balboa Island.
What’s more, many harbor-front homeowners and businesses participate in the annual “Ring of Lights” contest, showcasing their own elaborate holiday displays, while providing a striking backdrop to the boat parade (free; www.christmasboatparade.com). Well worth a detour, the historic Mission Inn Hotel & Spa in Riverside (set less than 50 miles away) is the setting for an extravagant showing of more than 3.6 million holiday lights in its “Festival of Lights” event; expect 400-plus animated figures, live reindeer, and even snow machine-produced flurries – come on opening night for a fireworks display, to boot (November 25-January 8; free; www.festivaloflightsca.com).
Nestled in southwestern Missouri’s scenic Ozark Mountains, the city of Branson transforms into a veritable winter wonderland each holiday season, bursting at the seams with lavish light displays and dozens of Christmas spirit-infused shows and events. For the most gleeful glitz, head to the 1880s-style theme park Silver Dollar City, site of “An Old Time Christmas,” with an elaborate light-and-music show showcasing no fewer than 4 million radiant lights and 1,000 decorated Christmas trees. Highlights include the musically inclined 5-story Special Effects Christmas Tree, which, along with the surrounding square, beams with over a million lights that “dance” to select Christmas tunes; there’s also a holiday light parade with light-embellished musical floats that runs twice each evening (now–December 30, closed Christmas Eve and Christmas; park admission of $55 adults and $45 ages 4 to 11 applies; www.silverdollarcity.com).
Shift gear for some yuletide cheer at the “Branson Area Festival of Lights Drive-Through,” a mile-long drive set aglow with some 175 luminous displays (now–January 2; $12 per vehicle; www.explorebranson.com), or opt for the “Trail of Lights,” winding through a 160-acre historic homestead, complete with themed sections, holiday music, and more than 4 million colorful Christmas lights – don’t miss the “Santa’s-eye view” from the atop the 230-foot-high tower (now–January 2; $10 adults, $5 ages 4 to 16; www.trailoflights.com).
San Antonio, TX
San Antonio’s River Walk is always a hotbed of activity, but the holidays take it to new heights, particularly so in 2011, with the infusion of 20 times more Christmas lights (thanks to the city’s move to more energy-efficient LED lighting). You’ll find the bulk of the 1.8 million holiday lights garnishing nearly 200 trees (done up with 10,000 bulbs apiece) and on 20 holiday-hued bridges, all brightened up even further by carolers bellowing their tunes nightly from passing river barges (singers perform November 26– December 18). The festivities kick off on November 25 (and run through January 1), when the switch is flipped and the “Ford Holiday River Parade,” complete with an entourage of lit-up festooned floats, unfolds.
The quarter is also home to the luminous “Fiesta de las Luminarias” on select weekends (December 2–18), whereby some 6,000 luminarias (candle-lit paper lanterns) symbolically light the way for the Holy Family. Come by after December 3, and you’ll also get to ogle the “River of Lights” spectacle, featuring over 100 underwater lights and fiber optic-outfitted water features along the new Museum Reach section of the River Walk (free; www.thesanantonioriverwalk.com). In conjunction with the amped-up display, the city is additionally holding its inaugural “Light Up Downtown Holiday Contest” in 2011, which has downtown business owners competing for the most creative holiday light displays – and your starry-eyed attention.