From Seattle to the Big Easy, San Diego to Colorado Springs, these 16 towns know how to dress up for the holidays.
ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico: The Rio Grande Botanic Garden hosts New Mexico’s largest walk-through holiday light show, “The River of Lights” featuring giant sculptures of plants, animals and seasonal themes created by millions of lights. Nov. 24-Dec. 28 (closed Dec. 24-25).
AUSTIN, Texas: Zilker Park’s “Trail of Lights” is a mile-long stretch with seasonal scenes composed of multi-colored twinkling lights. Dec. 16-23.
FRISCO, Texas: More than 175,000 lights sparkle at “Christmas in the Square,” the largest holiday lights and music show in North Texas. It includes hot air balloons, a trackless train, visits with Santa, a snow-machine-created winter wonderland and a Christmas marketplace. Nov. 23-Jan. 6 (closed Christmas Day).
GALVESTON ISLAND, Texas: The largest holiday light festival on the Gulf Coast, “Festival of Lights at Moody Gardens” features a mile-long trail of more than 100 lighted holiday scenes, shows, visits from Santa and a “Snow Zone” for kids. Nov. 12-Jan. 1.
MARSHALL, Texas: The 26th annual “Wonderland of Lights” features more than a million lights in hundreds of displays in the historic town square, outdoor ice skating, carriage rides pulled by Clydesdale horses, a polar challenge obstacle course, Santa’s Workshop and more. Nov. 21-Dec. 31.
NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana: “Celebration in the Oaks” is a walking tour through City Park to see millions of lights throughout the Botanical Garden, Storyland, a children’s theme park and Carousel Gardens, an amusement ride area. Nov. 23-25 and nightly from Dec. 2-Jan. 1 (closed Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve).
OCEANSIDE, California: Watch the decorated fishing boats, sail boats, yachts, kayaks and dinghies at the “Parade of Lights” on Dec. 8 from 6-9pm.
PALM DESERT, California: Living Desert, a 450-acre museum, zoo and botanical garden, presents the “WildLights Festival” featuring more than 750,000 lights. Games, rides, activities, and a train ride through the display. Select evenings Nov. 21-Dec. 31.
RIVERSIDE, California: The 19th annual “Festival of Lights” at the historic Mission Inn Hotel and Spa features 3.6 million lights, more than 400 animated figures, horse-drawn carriage rides, Santa and reindeer sightings plus entertainment. Nov. 23-Jan. 15.
SAN ANTONIO, Texas: Some 1.8 million lights sparkle along the San Antonio River Walk. The Ford Holiday River and Lighting Ceremony will take place at 7 p.m. Nov. 23 and will feature illuminated floats with celebrities, bands and costumed participants. Nov. 23-Jan. 1.
SAN DIEGO, California: “Garden of Lights” in San Diego’s Botanic Garden will sparkle with more than 100,000 lights Dec. 8-23 and 26-30 and the “Holiday of Lights” at the Del Mar Fairgrounds north of San Diego will have more than 400 family-oriented light displays. Nov. 24-Jan. 1.
SEATTLE, Washington: Toyland Village on the Waterfront features more than 50 larger-than-life toy-themed holiday displays. Nov. 26-Jan 2.
SEDONA, Arizona: The 22nd anniversary of Sedona’s “Red Rock Fantasy” light show features more than two dozen displays and a million lights. Proceeds benefit local charities. Nov. 15-Jan. 5.
STANWOOD, Washington: “The Lights of Christmas” Warm Beach Camp is the grandest holiday event in the Pacific Northwest. It includes more than one million lights, a life-size nativity scene, five entertainment stages (from Victorian caroling to bluegrass music), Polar Express train rides, Santa Claus, and more. Nov. 29 and Dec. 2, 6-9, 13-16, 18-23 and 26-29.
WILLIAMS, Arizona: This charming western town is where the Grand Canyon Railway takes families on the “Polar Express” for a night-time trip from Williams to the “North Pole,” a Christmas village where Santa and his reindeer welcome visitors.
Eileen Ogintz is a leading national family travel expert whose syndicated column Taking the Kids is the most widely distributed column in the country on family travel. She also is the author of seven family travel books. Special thanks to Becca Tasch for her invaluable research assistance on this story.
Check out all 52 Holiday Lights displays across the country:
Or see them all in our gorgeous ezine, 52 Holiday Light Delights