With the holidays in full swing, one of the most exciting festive activities a family can do together is go out and see some spectacular holiday lights. You could just take a drive through a local neighborhood but if you really want to have an evening to remember and “wow” the whole family, get out and take them to see Christmas lights at a nearby park. These sites are where you will find some of the most impressive light displays in town. We have compiled a list of the top 15 parks around the United States where you can expect to find the most dazzling holiday light displays of the season, so take a gander and if you are lucky enough to live nearby one of these fantastic holiday spectacles make sure to visit them in person, too.
1. ABQ Biopark Botanic Garden (Albuquerque, New Mexico)
The Biopark Botanic Garden in Albuquerque, New Mexico is famous for having the most brilliant holiday displays in the state. They annually host a festival known as the “River of Lights”, during which you can experience millions of Christmas lights sparkling all around you, as well as a music synchronized light show, and hundreds of glowing animated lights displays. In addition to all that fun, they also have holiday nature crafts, a model railroad, and a polar bear express ride that takes you to meet Santa himself. They even host a few parades throughout the holiday season, so you can admire twinkling floats in action that people have worked on all year.
2. Sandy Point State Park (Annapolis, Maryland)
Next up, we have the Sandy Point State Park with its “Lights on the Bay” display that has been going on for over 25 years in Annapolis Maryland. Unlike the River of Lights, this is a display you can experience through the comfort of your vehicle. Families and friends can enjoy more than 60 spectacular stationary and animated displays along the scenic shore of the Chesapeake Bay.
3. Zilker Park (Austin, Texas)
In Austin, Texas, the “Trail of Lights” has earned itself a spot on the USA Today's list of Top 10 Holiday Celebrations list. The Trail of Lights are not your average light display, and it is the community that makes that possible. There are events throughout the season that include live music, food, movie showings, a car show and even a meet and greet with the cheerleaders of University of Texas. The trail of lights and all its volunteers from the community truly bring the Christmas spirit to the families of Austin Texas.
4. Inner Harbor West Shore Park (Baltimore, Maryland)
In Baltimore Maryland, during this time of the year you can enjoy the Christmas Village. This is an indoor and outdoor market inspired by European Christmas traditions. Here, you can find vendors that cook European dishes served during the Holidays as well as crafts, unique gifts, and beautiful lights.
5. James Island County Park (Charleston, South Carolina)
The next holiday spectacle on our list is the Holiday Festival of Lights, located in Charleston, South Carolina. This destination offers visitors over 700 light displays, a festive holiday train you can view them from, a Victorian carousal, 50-ton holiday sand sculpture, giant greeting card displays made by local students, a rock climbing wall, a marshmallow roast, and more. It is one of the best Christmas light events in the Northeast and you can find it all at the James Island County Park.
6. Pere Marquette Park (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
This year marks the 20th year anniversary for Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s Holiday Lights festival in the Pere Marquette. They offer a huge holiday show as well as a lighting ceremony, and free cocoa and cookies. If you can’t get enough holiday spirit by just visiting one park rest assured that the Pere Marquette Park is just one of three parks that offers a holiday spectacular in this city. Ride the free jingle bus to take a tour of the Cathedral Square and Zeidler Union Square to continue the celebration with more holiday lights.
7. The Oaks (New Orleans, Louisiana)
The list could not be complete without including the “Celebration In the Oaks” festival in New Orleans, Louisiana. This holiday event is located at City Park which is famous for its breath-taking oak trees, hence the name of the festival. The entire park is filled with incredible light sculptures, bedazzled trees, and an amusement park equipped with a tilt-a-whirl ride, bumper cars, a faris wheel and 14 other rides. This park hosts over 150,000 visitors every winter, and unlike most other holiday light displays they have their own team of about 7 light engineers that spend all year creating the marvelous light décor all around the park. In addition to the hand-crafted lights and the rides, you can also expect to find local Cajun dishes, marshmallow roasting, colossal cotton candy, a “snow show”, yoga classes under the lights, meet and greets with Santa and even a special night of the week where dogs are welcome to the park. In a town that is dedicated to celebration it is no surprise that they have one of the best celebrations on this list.
8. Northside Park (Ocean City, Maryland)
Take a trip over to Ocean City, Maryland for their Winterfest of Lights in Northside Park. The 58 acres of light displays here are perfect for children as they typically involve displaying scenes from famous fairy tales. There are also parades and events that take place for whole family can enjoy. Some of the events held here include, carriage rides with Santa, firework shows, and ice skating.
9. Forest Park (Springfield, Massachusetts)
One of the best light displays in America goes to Springfield, Massachusetts and their Bright Nights festival in Forest Park. It's a three-mile walk and includes displays that fall into categories like winter garden, Jurassic Park, Happy Holidays and Springfield. They too, host events including crafting, horse drawn carriage rides, a Santa meet and greet, and a supper with Santa night. This spectacle was made possible by the City of Springfield’s Department of Parks, Buildings & Recreation Management and the Spirit of Springfield, a private non-profit organization, and it has been running now for 23 years.
10. Plaza de la Constitucion Historic Center (St. Augustine, Florida)
St Augustine Florida is one of the oldest cities in America, and they hold their “Night of Lights” celebration right in the heart of their history at the Plaza de la Constitucion. Here you will find as many as 3 million classic white Christmas lights. They hold seasonal events such as the Holly Jolly Holiday Trolley, Santa’s Big Red Christmas trains, and even a sip and stroll where visitors are invited to drink wine and walk around the seasonally decorated scenery.
11. Tradewinds Park (Coconut Creek, Florida)
In Coconut Creek, Florida, Tradewinds Park hosts the Holiday Fantasy of Lights event. It is a 3-mile drive-thru experience, so you can relax from the comfort of your car while the colors and lights dazzle you and your friends/family. They also have a special night where you can bike thru the park, and another night that runners can participate in a 5K thru the dazzling lights. One unique thing about this park is that some of the lights hear are optimized to be viewed with 3-D glasses, which they provide with you with upon entry. If you visit the park on a Friday be sure to stop by at the food truck invasion afterwards.
12. McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park (Scottsdale, Arizona)
In Scottsdale, Arizona at the McCormick-Stillman Railroad park you are invited to take a ride on the parks 7.5-gauge train through the wonderful light sculptures and tunnels of this park. There's also live music, visits from Santa, model railroad building, and a carousal. This park is the perfect holiday destination for a kid (or an adult) with an affinity for trains and Christmas.
13. Vasona Lake County Park (Los Gatos, California)
Fantasy of Lights is a festival held in Vasona Lake County Park in Los Gatos, California. The festival is hosted by Santa Clara County Parks organization, which is one of the largest regional park systems in California. They pride themselves with creating an incredible light display while raising awareness and consciousness about the rich natural resources of the national/regional parks in California by using environmentally friendly LED lighting. They have a 1.5-mile drive through animated light displays as well as a staggering 90-foot tree. On select nights during the season, you can do a walk thru of the holiday trail rather than viewing from your vehicle.
14. Atlanta Botanical Gardens (Atlanta, Georgia)
Get a whole new take on Christmas spirit at the “Garden Lights, Holiday Nights” event located at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. This event features music, a tunnel of lights, an Ice Goddess, the Radiant Rainforest, model trains, train rides for kids, and several larger-than-life plant giants from Imaginary Worlds: Once Upon a Time, bedazzled in holiday lights. If you’re a dog lover lucky enough to be in Atlanta during this time of year, then their reindog parade is for you; during this parade you can catch sights of pooches frolicking in their finest holiday wear. Lastly, you won’t miss out on the classic Santa visit here but you may be surprised to find that their version of this spectacle features a botanical Santa dressed in green with a head wreath.
15. Old School Square (Delray Beach, Florida)
The last holiday spectacle on our list can be found in Delray Beach Florida in historical Old School Square, here you will find a 100-foot Christmas tree covered in brilliant rainbow lights with a big glorious star at the very top. One special thing about this event is that you can actually go inside the tree and view hand crafted dioramas of classic Christmas scenes like Santa sipping cocoa, elves making toys, reindeers resting in a pasture, and a tiny Christmas town. The tree isn’t the only reason to visit the event, there is also live music, a playground, a carousal, professional photos with Santa, Christmas caroling storytelling, a kwanza celebration and a menorah lighting. They even have an exciting parade where Santa himself comes to town in a helicopter.