The nostalgic holiday season is in full swing, welcoming chunky scarves, peppermint mochas, gift-giving anxieties, and an endless loop of agonizingly cheerful Christmas songs on every radio station. Whether your tree has been up since November, or you’re already looking forward to spring weather, a silver lining of the season for anyone should be the dazzling light displays in cities throughout the country. You don’t have to celebrate Christmas to enjoy these charming exhibits, a labor of love extended to visitors who sometimes travel hundreds of miles to revel in their glow. Nearly every major U.S. city has its own cultural take on holiday decorations, from New Orleans’ Cajun-inspired decor to Alaska’s North Pole celebration. If you’re looking for a little something extra to put you in the spirit this year, consider checking out these famously well-received light shows.
Smithsonian’s National Zoo, Washington, D.C.
At ZooLights, powered by PEPCO, go walking in a winter wonderland 🎄 under the twinkle of 500,000 environmentally friendly LED lights! Enjoy one-of-a-kind holiday fun, including late-night animal viewing, snowless tubing, make-your-own s’mores and life-sized lit animal silhouettes. PLAN YOUR VISIT: https://nationalzoo.si.edu/events/zoolights.
There’s no better place to celebrate the holiday season than in our nation’s bustling capital. This free event, located in the heart of the National Zoo, features more than 500,000 colorful and environmentally friendly LED lights. The long-running demonstration takes place through the new year and includes live music, warm winter food, and holiday shopping opportunities. Check out the zoo’s European artisan market in mid-December, offering handmade clothing, jewelry, home accessories, and art.
Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver, Colorado
This affordable annual event is a longtime tradition in Denver, attracting families from all over the country. Featuring an interactive light display built with sound-reactive, animated LED lights that are sure to warm the psyche, organizers of the Blossom of Lights festival have something for all ages, including holiday foods, drinks, and souvenirs. Roughly an hour from Denver are an array of world-famous ski-resorts, making northern Colorado your premier holiday destination this, and every, year.
Considered the largest Christmas store in Michigan since 1945, this warehouse-style Christmas mecca is your one-stop-shop for everything holiday related. Featuring ornaments for all professionals, animal-lovers, and quirky relatives, it’s easy to lose an entire day in Bronner’s. After you’re done shopping, you’re treated to a drive-thru display of thousands of lights and decorations. The larger city of Frankenmuth is a classic Bavarian vacation destination, starring traditional lodging and German architecture. Don’t leave before grabbing a slice of the city’s aperitive chocolate fudge.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas, Nevada
On display for more than 20 years, Las Vegas’ Glittering Lights is Nevada’s largest drive-thru light show, offering millions of brilliant lights packed into a two-and-a-half-mile course. Ranked one of the country’s best holiday spectacle by a number of travel and news organizations, Glittering Lights is just another reason to cheat the winter chill in Las Vegas this season.
Los Angeles, California
Light up the night at Lightwave Lake! There are still Enchanted: Forest of Light tickets available from Jan. 2–4. Tickets to Enchanted must be purchased online in advance. Get yours now at enchantedLA.com ✨ #enchantedLA . #lightwavelake #lightart #lightshow #enchanted #enchantedforest #enchantedforestoflight #lightswitch #lightswitchdesign #december #lacañadaflintridge #losangeles #socal #california #descansogardens #nofilter
This mile-long walking tour includes interactive light displays you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in southern California, or beyond. Located in the heart of the beloved Descanso Gardens, an internationally-renowned collection of rare and seasonal horticulture, this festival is a holiday staple for both tourists and locals.
New Orleans, Louisiana
The New Orleans’ City Park is celebrating its 31st year hosting the Celebration in the Oaks, a cultural anomaly among Christmas light shows. Each of the park’s lush oaks are blanketed in hundreds of thousands of impressive light displays, covering more than 25 acres of the park, including its botanical garden and amusement park. Many of the displays feature a Cajun twist, with bayou-inspired Night Before Christmas renditions and crocodile arrangements.