Joy to the World
Seriously, we need every reason to celebrate and sing for joy this year. As the holiday season approaches, it may feel daunting to plan fun outings, especially with pandemic concerns and restrictions still in place. But facing a winter without lights? That won’t fly. Enter the drive-through Christmas light show. Many locales are turning their parks, gardens, and zoos into sparkly wonderlands you can enjoy from the safety and comfort of your car. Be sure to reserve tickets online, then load up the whole family. Thermoses of hot cocoa highly recommended.
Kayla Stikeleather, thelightsofchristmas.com
The Lights of Christmas, Stanwood, Washington
About an hour north of Seattle is a winter wonderland worthy of a long car ride. Open through Dec. 30 (check the website for specific dates and times), A Drive-Thru Christmas is Snohomish County’s answer to your kids’ pressing question: What are we doing for Christmas this year? With over a million lights, this festival has drawn visitors since 1996 and is known as the largest Christmas light show in the Pacific Northwest.
Kayla Stikeleather, thelightsofchristmas.com
Magic of Lights at Jones Beach State Park, New York
At Jones Beach State Park just outside Manhattan there is a holiday sight to behold, with twinkling lights as far as the eye can see. An easy getaway by car from anywhere in the city, Magic of Lights is a safe family outing featuring LED technology and digital animations—all of which you experience from inside your car. At the end of this difficult year, what better way to celebrate than driving through the darkness, beautifully alight?
Gardens Aglow, Boothbay, Maine
In years past, botanical gardens displayed winter lights meant to be enjoyed on foot. This year’s a little different. Due to COVID-19, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens has evolved its Gardens Aglow light show into a drive-through feast for the eyes. With over 500,000 LED lights decorating the majestic New England landscape, it’s easy to see why this venue is rated a #1 by TripAdvisor.
The Elf on the Shelf’s Magical Holiday Journey, Pomona, California
“Go big or go home” could easily be LA’s tagline, and this magical adventure in Pomona, Calif. is no exception. The website even offers a perfectly reasonable explanation for why Santa’s sleigh has landed on the West Coast: He needs your kids’ help to build more Christmas spirit! With that mission in mind, visit The Elf on the Shelf’s website for ticket information, and remember that this limited edition drive-thru extravaganza is running only through Jan. 3.
Alex j. Berliner/ABImages
Bentleyville, Duluth, Minnesota
Minnesotans know cold, and traditionally, Bentleyville has been host to America’s largest walk-through winter light show. Not this year. Minimize your risk and maximize your pleasure with a drive-through experience (just $10 per car). No details will be spared to ensure a memorable time is had by all. Santa’s helpers will be deployed to provide popcorn and hot cocoa, and children 10 and under will receive a free knit hat and cookies upon entry.
Entwined, San Francisco, California
If you’re looking for something unique and artistic to do this holiday season, check out Entwined, San Francisco’s answer to a winter wonderland. Located in Golden Gate Park, this isn’t strictly a drive-thru show, but visitors will be expected to socially distance outdoors. Sculptures made of thousands of LED lights fill visitors with wonder and awe, enhancing the beauty of nature with effects including raindrops, lighting and thunderstorms, and luminous tree canopies.
Wild Winter Lights, Cleveland, Ohio
Your kids may miss the animals in the zoo, but they don’t have to miss out on Christmas joy. At Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, over a million lights have transformed your favorite critters’ habitats into Wild Winter Lights. Drive through Candyland, the Enchanted Forest, and Santa’s Workshop, with plenty of “ooo”-ing and “aaah”-ing from the backseat. The Zoo also allows walk-throughs, though attendance is limited and masks are required. For the smoothest experience, book tickets in advance online.
Rockin’ Christmas, Glendale, Arizona
Jingle Bell Rock’s got nothing on Glendale, Ariz. For an unforgettable Christmas, drive through the Westgate Entertainment District, which features a mile-long symphony of sight and sound. Watch musical notes literally jump to life before your eyes, along with a grooving Santa, and millions of rainbow colored lights. (Also a great opportunity to embarrass your kids with your wicked dance moves.)
Magic of Lights, Daytona Beach, Florida
No snow? No problem! Just head to Daytona International Speedway for Christmas, Florida style. Running through Jan. 2, over a million lights will grace the famous racetrack—the perfect venue for a drive-through light show. A little insider tip: You can drive through the show twice on Wednesdays, savoring displays like the Enchanting Tunnel of Lights, Candy Cane Lane, and Snowflake Forest. Wear your Santa hats and bring eggnog to share.
Lights of Joy, Branson, Missouri
We’ve maybe never been in greater need of pure, unbridled joy. Spark that Christmas cheer by visiting Branson, Mo. and marveling at the Lights of Joy. The LED extravaganza is open through Jan. 2, and features a 1.5-mile immersive light show. Lights of Joy provides ways to keep joy alive through charity, too. Joy and generosity? That’s the true spirit of the season.
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