The Best Christmas Lights in Every State
Whether you live in Texas, Tucson, or North Pole, Alaska, it just wouldn’t be Christmas time without twinkling lights. Bulbs blinking red and green or classic white have become a part of our American identity, a symbol of prosperity and end-of-the-year celebration as much as the birth of Jesus.
In fact, Christmas lights have a history that dates all the way back to the pagan rituals of northern Europe. The custom of the Yule Log, a bonfire of sorts, was first recorded in the 12th century, and is thought to have served representation of hope that the sun would once again shine brightly, ending the darkness of December. Throughout the years, the winter light tradition changed forms from the early Yule Log to candles on the German Christmas tree—perhaps the most flammable iteration—to the LED version of holiday cheer we have today.
But the evolution is still going strong, and we’ve come a long way from a incandescent strands weaved through the branches of a few front-yard pines. And while some communities invoke rules over what colors your bulbs can be, hoping to keep things classy, others are pushing the limits of creativity ... and the electric grid.
So whether you prefer a sophisticated crèche or a synchronized song-and-dance extravaganza or an underground drive-through experience, here the best Christmas light displays in every state.
For two decades, Bellingrath Gardens and Home has been the place to see holiday lights in Alabama, and this year’s display lives up to the reputation with more than 1,100 set pieces, and 3 million lights spread throughout the 65-acre estate. This incredible light shows runs nightly through Dec. 31 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
With a name like North Pole, going all out on Christmas decorations is practically in the town charter. Stop by Santa Claus House where “It’s Christmas every day!” for photos with the world's largest Santa, his whole reindeer team, and the big man himself. Next door, Christmas in Ice features frozen slides and an intricate ice maze, and beautifully lit ice sculptures abound.
No pines or spruces in your state? Simply make do with what you have à la Chandler, Arizona’s Tumbleweed Tree. A 50-plus-year-old-tradition, the community centerpiece is, quite literally, a pile of nearly 1,000 tumbleweeds formed into a tree shape, sprayed with white paint, dusted with 65 pounds of glitter, and adorned with 1,200 lights. It’s truly a sight to be seen.
For years, the brightest lights in Little Rock belonged to the Osbourne Family Spectacle—that is, until Disney came knocking and took the display to Florida. Now, visitors have to get their Christmas fix at the Arkansas State Capitol Building, which is decorated with wreaths, outlined with white bulbs, and filled with school choirs singing throughout the month of December.
Unofficially called Candy Cane Lane, the intersection of Oxnard and Lubao in the Woodland Hills neighborhood of L.A. is decked out with Christmas spirit, even if sunny and 75 doesn’t quite scream winter wonderland to you.
Colorado is known for another unusual “tree” tradition, the lighting of the ski tree. Every December, the Telluride community donates recycled skis for a ceremonial "ski burn" in honor of the Norse god Ullr, the patron saint of skiers. Prefer a more traditional display? Check out the Denver Botanic Gardens for their annual Blossoms of Light event.
Hartford, Connecticut’s Holiday Light Fantasia celebrates the full gamut of winter celebrations with larger-than-life scenes depicting not only Christmas but also Hanukkah and New Year's Eve. Drive through the animated displays in Goodwin Park, and keep an eye out for Flurry, a puppy donning a Santa hat, hidden amongst the lights.
In Delaware, the name DuPont holds some serious weight, and that goes double when it comes to Christmas decorations. Three of the best displays in the state can be found in DuPont mansions: Yuletide at Winterthur, featuring a Christmas tree decorated with 60+ varieties of dried flowers, the French-inspired Holidays at Hagley Museum and Library, and Nemours Mansion & Gardens, which showcases ornaments dating back to the early 1900s.
Disney World might be called "The Most Magical Place On Earth” all year round, but it certainly kicks the pixie dust up a notch during the holidays. Hotels are decked out with Christmas trees, and gingerbread-themed decor, Cinderella’s castle gets a Frozen-themed makeover, and with fireworks, a themed parade, and even snow flurries, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is certainly worth the additional admission fee.
With a million bulbs illuminating their iconic manor house ruins, the light displays at Adairsville's Barnsley Resort are a much-loved holiday tradition in Georgia. Stop by for self-guided walking tour, or book a Christmas-themed weekend getaway at one of the property's estate cottages.
The Waikele neighborhood lights — a multi-house, synchronized holiday experience spearheaded by the Yoshida family — has become so popular that it was contender on The Great Christmas Light Show on ABC. There are shows daily from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. and the light show typically runs through early January.
Setting itself apart from the other displays in the state, Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene features lights on a lake. Take one of the resort’s Journeys to the North Pole cruises to see the site’s massive floating Christmas tree and the 1.5 million bulbs reflected in the water as well as a fireworks display. Or, book a room for a little R&R at the on-site spa.
Go wild this holiday with a visit to the Lincoln Park ZooLights in Chicago. An annual Windy City tradition, the zoo features animal-themed light displays, holiday crafts, and musical light shows, in addition to ice skating and special family-friendly nights with free rides on the Lionel Train Adventure and AT&T Endangered Species Caousel.
Like North Pole Alaska or Christmas Cove, Maine, Santa Claus, Indiana has a big name to live up to. In honor of the town's moniker, residents go big with Land of Lights, the largest campground holiday light show in North America, which features over a mile of light displays.
Iowa’s Jolly Holiday Lights reign supreme in The Hawkeye State. Featuring a 2.5 mile ride through over 100 light displays, a trip to Jolly Holiday Lights is also a gift to charity as 100% of admissions fees are donated to Make-A-Wish Iowa.
The honor of best Christmas lights in Kansas undoubtedly belongs to Illuminations at the Botanica Witchita. Over 2 million lights completely overhaul the gardens into a Christmas-themed show.
Kentucky’s lights shine the brightest quite literally underground. At Lights Under Louisville, MEGA Cavern is transformed into a 30-minute Christmas-themed car ride lit by over 2 million bulbs.
It just isn’t Christmas in New Orleans until the lights at Celebration in the Oaks flip their switch. Every year, more than 165,000 visitors pour into City Park to see the hundreds of thousands of lights twinkling throughout the oak groves. Don’t leave before you take a ride on the antique wooden carousel and get a good look at "The Cajun Night Before Christmas" display.
Gardens Aglow at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens isn’t your typical Christmas light experience, but more like a magical, glowing forest to explore. Open through Dec. 31, this is your best opportunity to watch nature come to life through hundreds of thousands of lights.
Baltimore's 34th Street is a Christmas celebration to the extreme. Every house on the block house participates with light displays ranging from the traditional (candy canes and Christmas trees) to the uniquely Baltimore (Mr. Boh, Poe the Raven, and good old Chesapeake crabs).
Massachusetts’ Bright Nights, a collaboration between the City of Springfield, and Spirit of Springfield, a private non-profit organization, has been bringing light to Forest Park for over 20 years. Can’t make it out this year? Check out the site’s live webcam, or the virtual tour of glowing displays like Seuss Land, the Nativity, an American flag, and winter woods, in addition to scenes celebrating Kwanzaa and Hanukkah.
A real-life Polar Express, Michigan’s Huckleberry Railroad takes guests on a holiday-themed ride, passing by Christmas lights, and ending at the Crossroads Village, where artisans make vintage crafts, and The Coldwell Opera House features live entertainment, and old Saint Nick is even on-hand to visit with children.
America's largest free walk-through lighting display, Bentleyville features 5 million lights spread over the parks 20 acres. Before Christmas, take pictures with Rudolph and Mr. and Mrs. Claus or, visit on Dec. 26 — the final night of the season — to send off the holiday season with a fireworks show.
Featured on ABC’s 2018 edition of The Great Christmas Light Fight, the Richardson Light Show is a family affair that provides free fun to the entire community. With over 100,000 LED lights and 250 inflatables, this experience is one of the merriest in Mississippi.
Branson, Missouri’s Silver Dollar City is regularly hailed as one of the best Christmas destinations in the country, a title well-deserved considering the park features over 6.5 million lights and a thousand Christmas trees. Plan your visit around Rudolph's Holly Jolly Christmas Light Parade, with musical floats illuminated by 200,000 LED lights, then stop by Rudolph's Christmas Town for a chance to meet Bumble, the abominable snow monster, Clarice, and the red-nosed deer, himself.
The tagline for the Omaha Holiday Lights Festival is “See downtown dazzle" and with over 40 blocks of bulbs, it certainly lives up to that promise. Once you’ve had your fill of the twinklers, stop by to see Santa, or strap on your skates for a spin around the Capitol District Ice Rink.
Kick your Christmas up a notch at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a 2.5-mile course featuring over three million lights and 400 animated displays. But lead-foots, take a breath before you floor it—the event isn’t on the racing track, so speed limits are still enforced.
The Christmas decorations in Portsmouth, New Hampshire are delightfully vintage-inspired with gingerbread-style lights and costumed carolers.
For some of the best Christmas lights in New Jersey, head to Egg Harbor Township to experience the magic of Storybook Land. Here, Santa lights the park nightly at 5 p.m., bringing to life thousands of lights that spread cheer across the Garden State.
At ABQ BioPark's annual River of Lights event, the twinkling displays — featuring millions of bulbs — are just one part of the park’s festivities. Catch a performance by local musicians and check out the model trains, then hop aboard the Polar Bear Express for hot cocoa, sweet treats, and the chance to visit with Santa.
Move over Rockefeller, the real highlight of New York’s Christmas spirit is out in Dyker Heights. Homeowners in the Brooklyn neighborhood are said to have an unspoken competition, continuing to up the ante annually with over-the-top lights, professionally created displays and inflatable lawn ornaments.
Tanglewood’s Festival of Lights is extremely popular, and with good reason. The beautiful countryside park is filled with over a million lights, which visitors can explore by car, tractor-pulled hayride, or horse-drawn carriage. While you’re in the area, stop by Wake Forest University to see the stunning traditional Moravian star lit above Wait Chapel.
Every December Spring Lake Park sparkles with thousands of twinkling lights, all a part of the annual Holiday Lights Drive. Guests to the park can "Mingle with Kringle" on select nights and even catch an ice carving demo scheduled throughout the season that runs until Dec. 27.
At Ohio’s famed Clifton Mill, 3.5 million lights illuminate the building, the gorge and nearby trees, but the real highlight is a 100-foot "waterfall" of lights. After viewing the display, peek inside Santa's Workshop, where you might even find the big guy checking his list.
Two million lights decorate Rhema Bible School during the holidays, with walk-through tunnels, an illuminated nativity scene, and a Christmas tree forest delighting the more than 200,000 visitors they expect to draw this year.
The houses on Peacock Lane in southeast Portland deck the halls in a major way, featuring not only lights, but also animated trees, nativity scenes, inflatable snowmen, and, as the name requires, illuminated peacocks. But don’t plan on just driving by. Because of the crowds, the best way to see the lights is by foot.
If you’re looking for an influx of Christmas cheer in Philadelphia, head to the 1600 block of South 13th street, stat. Nearly every house on the block decorates to the nines with over-the-top lights, garlands, inflatable snowmen, and flying reindeer, earning them the much-deserved nickname, The Miracle on South 13th.
For many, the more Christmas lights the better. But a holiday trip to the Newport Mansions offers up a refined and subtle approach to the holiday magic that transports you back in time to a world without LED lights timed to EDM remixes of Christmas classics.
Candles might not burn as bright as LED-lights, but that doesn't mean Brookgreen Gardens Nights of a Thousand Candles are any less magical. Grab a warm apple cider and stroll through the grounds, which are illuminated by more than 5,500 hand-lit candles, and the lights 60,000 lights decorating a massive 80-foot-tall fir.
During the holidays, South Dakota's state capitol is a veritable forest of Christmas cheer with nearly 100 decorated trees filling the rotunda and three floors of the government building. During your visit, keep an eye out for the wooden nativity, which are thought to be nearly 125 years old.
Home to the original Country Christmas, The Opryland Hotel has evolved from a simple light display to a veritable winter wonderland, with 2 million twinkling lights, acres of decorations, an indoor winter wonderland made with 2 million pounds of ice, and "Cirque Dreams Holidaze" a "Broadway musical, new cirque adventure, and family show" wrapped into one. Make the trip out from downtown Music City for the day or stay on-site in a room that overlooks the hotel's massive indoor garden, also decked out for the holidays.
Choosing just one Christmas spectacle was difficult for Texas — I guess there is something to that “everything’s bigger” slogan — but eventually Austin’s Trail of Lights rose to the top of the Lone Star State. More carnival than Christmas light display, the event features a Ferris wheel, community performance stage, light tunnel, and food trucks as well as decorated dinosaurs and a massive jackalope. Hey, Austin has to stay weird, right?
With half a million lights and a 100-foot tree, Wisconsin’s Oshkosh Celebration of Lights is one of the hottest tickets in town. Even better, the event collects non-perishable food items for the United Way.
While the concept of a drive-through display is nothing new, Utah's Christmas in Color is taking the idea to a whole new level with light tunnels, dancing snowflakes, and synchronized music-and-light sequences featuring over a million LED bulbs.
Large-scale displays are few and far between in Vermont, so here we choose to highlight the Woodstock Wassail Weekend, a holiday celebration filled with a capella performances, over 400 luminaries, and that old-school version the Christmas light: the yule log.
Sure, Virginia has plenty of pristine houses decorated with all-white strands, but Richmond’s famed Tacky Lights Tour is just so much more fun. For years the Richmond Times-Dispatch has published a list for the best tacky lights houses in town. Take a look at the 2018 line-up, here.
With over a million lights spread across 15 acres, The Lights of Christmas is the largest Christmas lights display in the Pacific Northwest. Need we say more?
Oglebay's Winter Festival of Lights is one of the country's largest displays, stretching over 300 acres at the Wheeling resort. See the full scene (which includes light tunnels, Peanuts characters, and a depiction of the "Twelve Days of Christmas") from the comfort of your car, or opt to take a trolley ride.