When the days grow short, holiday lights start twinkling. We’ve tracked down a number of the biggest or most entertaining light displays around the West; some are near, some are far but all are worth seeing.
Holiday party boats galore: The 111th Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade winds for 14 miles through Newport Harbor with 100 lighted and decorated sailboats, yachts, canoes and kayaks. Highly adorned upscale homes provide an illuminated background for the boats. Sailors and homeowners compete fiercely for “best” prizes in various categories.
Tip: The parade begins with a fireworks show at Newport Pier at 6:15 p.m. Dec. 18. A fireworks display at Balboa Pier at 9 p.m. Dec. 22 concludes the annual event.
When: Dec. 18-22
Cost, info: Free to watch, Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade
Live entertainment includes Dickens-style carolers and other musicians. For a fairy-tale experience, ride Cinderella-style in a horse-drawn carriage festooned with hundreds of tiny LED lights.
Tip: Breakfast with Santa on Dec. 14 and 21 includes visits with Santa and Sugar Plum Fairy ballerinas (additional charge).
When: Nov. 29-Dec. 31
Nearly two miles of one-way road, 140 homes, 300 trees, 2½ million lights and thousands of visitors make Christmas Tree Lane a festive and free stop during the holiday season.
The 97-year-old tradition of holiday cheer began with decorating a tree in honor of a child who died and has grown to a huge event with giant candy canes, snow people and other decorations.
Tip: Dec. 3 and 11 are walk-only nights; no cars allowed. (Don’t tell Santa, but the rest of the year the street is North Van Ness Boulevard.)
When: Dec. 3-25
Cost, info: Free, (559) 348-9200, Christmas Tree Lane
The Illuminate SF Festival of Light, although not strictly red and green, features 44 light installations along the SF Light Art Trail and in 17 neighborhoods.
Grace Cathedral’s evocative new 100-foot-tall cone of light above its labyrinth entrance invites guests to lie within it or stand outside the cone to participate in a 15-minute show with synchronized sound and light. Dates for 2019 are sold out; check the website for 2020 dates.
Five new 15-foot-tall Seeing Spheres at the new Chase Center look like vintage silver ornaments.
The Exploratorium features Glow, with seasonal kinetic sculptures and installations that can be viewed as gigantic holiday ornaments.
The Bay Lights, a nearly two-mile, ever-changing lighted stretch of the Bay Bridge, is reminiscent of four gigantic snow-covered holiday trees.
Tip: The Holiday Lights & Sights Lucky Tuk Tuk Tour carries five passengers — sipping hot cocoa and singing holiday karaoke — in a small, brightly lighted electric vehicle to see illuminated sites.
When: Most take place Nov. 28-Jan. 1. The Exploratorium installations run Dec. 5-Jan. 26. Tuk Tuk, Nov. 29-Dec. 30.
Cost, info: Most installations are free, but tickets are required for some. Exploratorium, (415) 528-4444; $29.95 for adults; 65 and older, teacher or student 18 and older, and youth 13-17, $24.95; children 4-12, $19.95; 3 and younger free. Tuk Tuk, (415) 851-9190. $75 for adults and $55 for children 5-11. Children 4 and younger not permitted.
A world of green becomes a multicolored fantasy universe at the 10th Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens Festival of Lights. Stroll the pathways with brilliant lights depicting sailing ships and various animals.
Check the website for a schedule of bands. Dec. 15 is holiday karaoke night; Dec. 22 is ugly sweater night.
Tip: A free parking shuttle is available.
When: Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays Nov. 29-Dec. 1, Dec. 6-8, 13-15 and 20-22
Cost, info: Adults $10, children 16 and younger free. (707) 964-4352, Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens Festival of Lights
Shore Acres State Park near Coos Bay hosts its 33rd Holiday Lights at Shore Acres with 325,000 multicolored LED lights spread throughout seven botanical gardens covering 7 acres. Visitors can listen to choirs, watch animated displays and see Santa. The gardens and Japanese lily pond were built by lumber baron Lewis Simpson in the early 20th century.
Tip: Sunday through Thursday evenings are less busy. Bring rain gear, but the website says, “The lights are beautiful in the rain!”
When: Nov. 28-Dec. 31
Cost, info: Free entry; parking $5. (866) 888-6100 or (541) 888-2472, 33rd Holiday Lights at Shore Acres
As many as 60 illuminated boats are expected to cruise along the Columbia and Willamette rivers in the 65th Christmas Ship Parade. Boat-watchers may see Santa’s sleigh, giant snow people, holiday whales and even red-hot sports cars depicted in lights on the flotilla. Check website for times and locations.
Tip: Restaurants along the river have good views, so make your reservations early.
When: Dec. 5-7, 10-15 and 17-22
Cost, info: Free, 65th Christmas Ship Parade
Enchant Christmas, described as the “World’s Largest Christmas Light Maze,” covers nearly 100,000 square feet. Snow gently falls on guests as they meander past huge light sculptures and under illuminated arches in T-Mobile Park. After wandering, visitors can browse the Christmas Market featuring more than 70 local artists and merchants.
Tip: Guests also find an ice-skating trail and a kid zone.
When: Through Dec. 29
Cost, info: Enchant Christmas. Adult admission is $19.99; 65 and older and youth 14-17, $16.99; and children 4-13, $14.99.
The Lights of Christmas features more than a million lights creating scenes of snowcapped mountains, holiday trees, swans, reindeer, tunnels, sailing ships and angels at Warm Beach Camp, an hour north of Seattle.
Guests strolling the 15 acres can hear live bands and carolers. Kids can ride the Warm Beach Express train; talk with Bruce the Spruce, the talking tree who’s mastered corny jokes; visit the petting farm; decorate cookies; and meet Santa.
When: Nov. 29-Dec. 1, Dec. 5-8, 12-15, 18-23 and 26-29
Cost, info: (800) 228-6724, Lights of Christmas. Adults, $18; military and 60 and older, $14; youth 4-12, $13; 3 and younger, free.
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
The 33rd Holiday Light Show offers several lake cruises, including a 40-minute “Journey to the North Pole” to see Santa’s Toy Workshop at the Coeur d’Alene Resort. Visitors see Santa, Mrs. Claus, elves, snow people, costumed “reindeer” and more than 1½ million lights creating more than 250 figures and displays. The tour ends with a fireworks display over the lake.
When: Nov. 29-Jan. 1
Cost, info: (855) 703-4648, 33rd Holiday Light Show Lake Cruises. Check website for prices.
The critters get festive at ZooLights at the Phoenix Zoo. Two million sparkling lights outline trees, create illuminated “ceilings,” and form peacocks, lions, tigers, hippos, flamingos, monkeys and even creatures such as giant butterflies and hummingbirds, unicorns and dinosaurs you wouldn’t see in the actual zoo. Hundreds of animated displays provide information, and kids can see live reindeer up close.
Tip: The Wildlife Lantern Safari features 60 handcrafted animal sculptures all aglow.
When: Nov. 27- Jan. 19
Cost, info: (602) 286-3800, ZooLights at the Phoenix Zoo. From $14.95.
More than 2 million colored lights illuminate the 55th Austin Trail of Lights, which includes 90 illuminated trees and more than 70 other festive displays. The Trail of Lights, held at Zilker Park, presents additional parties and activities on some evenings.
Tip: Thousands of runners in holiday costumes are expected on Dec. 7 for a 2.1-mile Fun Run; Movies in the Park play on Dec. 12.
When: Dec. 10-23
Cost, info: Austin Trail of Lights. Prices vary but some evenings are free.