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All is merry and bright as Costa Mesa’s fairgrounds host 2nd annual Night of Lights OC

A view through one of the light tunnels of the North Pole during Night of Lights OC at the O.C. fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.
A view through one of the light tunnels of the North Pole during the Night of Lights OC at the O.C. fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Now that Thanksgiving has passed, those in search of some wintertime fun need look no further than the O.C. fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, where the mile-long drive-through experience Night of Lights OC returns for its second year.

With more than 1 million LED lights, the immersive spectacle features dazzling holiday-themed vignettes connected by animated light tunnels and visual special effects synchronized to tunes visitors can listen to through their smartphone or car radio.

And, for those wishing to help local families in need, elves from the nonprofit Power of One Foundation (POOF) will be accepting donations of unwrapped toys for kids through Dec. 12.

Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris and OC District 2 Supervisor Katrina Foley, from left, on Tuesday at Night of Lights OC .
Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris and O.C. District 2 Supervisor Katrina Foley, from left, on Tuesday flipped the switch at a preview for Night of Lights OC in Costa Mesa.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Local elected officials flipped the switch on the whole works Tuesday during a special preview designed as a soft opening for the event, which opens Friday and runs through Jan. 2.

Jessica Strydom, marketing and social media manager for Night of Lights OC, said visitors will get an up-close look at the North Pole Village, Steam Engine Springs and Santa’s House, which includes more than 30,000 lights.

“There’s a story, a narrative, to the entire event and everyone in the vehicle is asked to engage in the experience,” she said. “There’s a storyline with characters, and we really want people to interact with it.”

Last year’s inaugural event — created by the producers of Winter Fest OC, who wanted to create a safe holiday option for people during the wintertime coronavirus surge — was a success, attracting 47,725 vehicles in one month.

When planning this year’s celebration, organizers surveyed visitors to see what kind of format might have the most appeal and were surprised by the feedback.

A snow angel on stilts waves to passing cars Tuesday during a preview of Night of Lights OC at Costa Mesa's O.C. fairgrounds.
A snow angel on stilts waves to passing cars Tuesday during a preview of Night of Lights OC at Costa Mesa’s O.C. fairgrounds. The event opens Friday and runs through Jan. 2.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“A majority of our guests loved the drive-through experience so much they asked for it to come back,” Strydom said. “It’s like a vintage experience — it takes you back to going to the drive-in [movie] and being with your family. I think that’s something people really love.”

The opportunity to help families in need by delivering hand-wrapped toys to one of several POOF elves is another new feature this year. Shawnee Witt, the nonprofit’s vice chair and operations director, said qualifying families will be invited over two nights to enjoy Night of Lights OC and receive donations. The goal is to collect at least 5,000 toys.

“We’re so excited to have the community support us to spread some holiday cheer this year,” she added.

Night of Lights OC tickets range from $39.99 to $74.99 for vehicles of up to five. Upgrades are available for vehicles with six to nine visitors, and seasonal snacks, desserts and beverages may also be pre-ordered online. For more, visit nightoflightsoc.com.

Santa C greets guests during a preview Tuesday for Night of Lights OC.
Santa Claus greets guests during a preview Tuesday for Night of Lights OC at the O.C. fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

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