The Getaway
America's Most Enchanting Christmas Light Displays

Noel is a cherished time of the year, not just because friends and families gather after months apart; communities band together to create light displays of astounding beauty. Christmas light shows etch themselves into our memories when we're young and less cynical, and we revisit that sense of being spellbound every year in December when new displays go up to mark the festive season. Some neighborhoods and venues put on a show with renowned aplomb, and travelers come from far and wide to view the fruits of their efforts.

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01 Bellingrath Gardens, Theodore

Since 1995, Alabama's been flexing its Southern charm at Bellingrath Gardens and Home. It takes three full-time employees to create a visual feast that lasts just over a month.

You can honor the time and effort with a visit to see the "underwater" tunnel and multiple set pieces, but the estate is closed on federal holidays. Tour the historic home, snap pics with St. Nick, and be inspired by the glitter.

02 Peacock Lane, Portland

For nearly a century, Peacock Lane in Southeast Portland has waved a wand and transformed into a street straight out of a fairytale. For many, a walk here during Christmas is a trip down memory lane, but modern pop culture references are also tucked into the residential display—Star Wars imagery or characters from the hit Disney movie Frozen are familiar sights.

You may appreciate the pedestrian-only approach and free hot cocoa and cider sweeten the deal. Charitable donations are welcome to support miscellaneous causes.

03 34th Street, Baltimore

The Hampden neighborhood has hosted a uniquely local Christmas light display for the last few decades. The so-called Miracle on 34th Street is dazzling and features creative spins on iconic Noel imagery. You might see a Nativity scene made from vinyl records, or a hub cab spruce, Maryland crabs, a purple hippo, and illuminated wreaths underneath strings of lights.

Neighbors spend months planning to put up a display that tens of thousands of people come to see, and they do it out of the goodness of their hearts and perhaps a little friendly competition. That's the kind of community spirit that makes the holidays so wonderful.

04 Callaway Gardens, Pine Mountain

Callaway Resort and Gardens in Georgia is known for transforming its outdoor space into an utterly enchanted forest. Take a stroll through the magical 2,500-acre landscape or ride the Jolly Trolley past millions of lights, and you'll understand why the winter holidays capture the imagination like no other time of year.

You'd have to be a real grinch not to be impressed by the world-class wow factor. Callaway does spectacle the American way—it reaches for the stars and delivers.

05 Dyker Heights, Brooklyn

When you're done taking pics near the Rockefeller tree or gazing at the elaborate department store displays, head to Brooklyn. Between 11th and 13th Avenues and from 83rd to 86th St, you'll find one of the best festive displays in sparkling New York City.

Expect a ton of Christmas motifs, from Santas, reindeer, and snowmen to giant nutcrackers, angels, and snowflakes. There's a guided tour if you're keen.

06 Zilker Park, Austin

Zilker Park gets a supersized Texas extravaganza. The Trail of Lights is a carnival slash light show that's been perfecting its craft since 1965.

You can drive through, and all your passengers under 12 will have their faces pressed to the windows to catch every detail in the multicolored trees and tunnels. It's a beloved holiday tradition, and hundreds of thousands make the mini-pilgrimage for this longstanding "Yule Fest."

07 Clifton Mill, Clifton

Clifton is a small town in Ohio that punches way above its weight during Christmas. After all, fewer than 200 people live here but come December, millions of lights are strung across the historic Clifton Mill and its riverbanks in a glimmering cascade.

It's like witnessing a gingerbread house come to life, and the synchronized music show and Santa workshop add to the cheerful atmosphere. This place turns into a winter wonderland with the flick of a single switch.

08 Zoo Lights, Chicago

Chicago is one of the coldest cities in the country, but the Christmas lights display at the Lincoln Park Zoo will warm you right up. A combo of cute animals and twinkly lights? Resistance is futile.

Go for the lights and stay for the live ice sculptures, joyful carols, train rides, and s'mores. The Chicago Botanic Garden also has a much-admired and frequently sold-out lightscape if you're in the area.

09 Boat parade, Newport Beach

Few of the Christmas light displays on this list will move and keep on moving. The Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade sees various water vehicles glammed up in festive regalia, and they float through Newport Harbor for a few days every December.

It's free, so arrive at Lido Isle timeously for a good viewing spot.

10 Brookgreen Gardens, Murrells Inlet

This sculpture park and wildlife preserve in South Carolina does Christmas lights differently by using thousands of hand-lit candles to give the gardens a Bridgerton-like glow-up for one night only. Seeing the candles on the water's surface is particularly special, and the willow trees are lit by more modern means and resemble shimmery waterfalls.

Tickets to this exclusive event are expensive but include beverages and fancy snacks.

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