Driving around to view Christmas light displays is a time-honored tradition for many families. Here's a roundup of some of the most extravagant in every state in recent years. Just be thankful you're not paying the electric bills, which one homeowner estimated at hundreds of dollars a month.
The Huntsville Botanical Garden offers an annual Galaxy of Lights, a glimmering 2.5-mile course that features more than 200 light displays, as well as hot chocolate and coffee tents. Special exhibits include a holiday village, a magical twinkling icicle forest, and the 12 days of Christmas. Drive-through nights continue through Dec. 31. Admission is $20 or $25 per car depending on the night.
Alaska has brutally long nights during winter, but that means the holiday lights stay on longer in North Pole, a suburb of Fairbanks. Through Jan. 9, the Christmas in Ice festival features illuminated ice sculptures -- including "twirlers," which spin kids around for a unique light-viewing experience -- and other holiday-themed activities for all ages. Admission is $9 for adults, $6 for kids 6 to 12, and $5 for seniors.
In this desert city, households on the 3600 block of Comstock Drive join forces to produce a huge daily show of lights and music -- 110,000 lights and 300-plus strobe lights connected by more than 50,000 feet of wire -- from Dec. 1 to Dec. 30. The residents have been known to invite guests for hot chocolate, caroling, and marshmallow roasting on some days, and donate contributions to the local Make-A-Wish Foundation branch.
In Arkansas this holiday season, head to Batesville, northeast of Little Rock. During December, Batesville's downtown and Riverside Park are illuminated with about 1 million Christmas lights, as well as animated displays and a 32-foot snowman. Activities also include a temporary ice skating rink in the park.
Homeowners around the intersection of Oxnard and Lubao streets in L.A.’s Woodland Hills neighborhood have coordinated every year since 1952 to hold an informal "Candy Cane Lane" competition for outdoing one another with Christmas, displays starting the second Saturday of December and lasting through the end of the year. Elsewhere in the state, the Fabulous Forties in Sacramento (bounded by 40th and 48th streets and J Street and Folsom Boulevard), Eucalyptus Avenue in San Carlos, Thompson Avenue in Alameda; and "Christmas Card Lane" in San Diego all have their fans.
Denizens of the Meadows neighborhood in Castle Rock, halfway between Denver and Colorado Springs, channel "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" by holding an annual Winter Night Lights Home Lighting Contest. Guests can drive through the community from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Dec. 14 to see the creative, over-the-top designs of homeowners trying to top their neighbors -- after picking up a map and free cookies and hot chocolate.
A 2-mile drive through "Holiday Light Fantasia" at Goodwin Park in Hartford uses more than 1 million lights and displays to celebrate cross-cultural festivities, with sections devoted to Hanukkah, New Year's, and Three Kings Day, along with Christmas. Unlike most other displays on the list, this one charges for entrance: $15 per car. Proceeds benefit the local Channel 3 Kids Camp.
The Faucher family has achieved renown for 30 years of dedication to extravagant Christmas shows, using about 100,00 lights to illuminate their home for an impressive holiday scene at 1054 Red Lion Road in New Castle, dubbed the largest private show of Christmas lights in the state.
Professional lighting designer Don Weaver is up to more than 110,000 animated lights at 3832 Marquise Lane since starting the tradition some nine years ago. But it's the use of music that makes the display stand out: He's spent about 170 hours making sure the lights and music sync up and hundreds of dollars buying the rights to songs, so visitors can post videos without copyright worries, he once told a local paper.
"Christmas in the Grove" might sound familiar; its creators, Tony and Katie Paradowski, competed on ABC's "The Great Christmas Light Fight" in 2013 -- winning a $50,000 grand prize. They've kept up the tradition of outfitting their home at 1428 Oak Grove Drive with more than 115,000 lights and snowflakes, giant constructions of trees, and digital animation. Visitors can tune in to 87.9 FM on a car radio for music synced with the display. The family says proceeds are donated to the nonprofit ALS Association.
Stan Oshiro once told a local newsletter he spends five months of the year on his Punalights display at 15-2053 18th St. in Keaau, using vacation time for some of the 21 eight-hour days needed for the most intensive work. He has reported collecting thousands of pounds in food donations and thousands of dollars for charity.
“Subtle” isn’t a word you’d associate with this display. Last year, Jeremy Morris’ bright, noisy Christmas mega-show in the West Hayden Estates subdivision included live animals, such as goats and camel, as well as costumed Bible characters, a choir, carolers, and more than 200,000 lights. Morris later sued his local homeowners association over attempts its to stop the extravaganza.
In this city about 50 miles west of Chicago, the residents of Lehnertz Avenue join forces to offer a religious Christmas experience. Visitors can drive through the neighborhood to see displays focusing on New Testament stories (enter from the west to get the story chronologically) with each house narrating a different part of the story and playing Christmas music. Commenters on Facebook say the drive is a beloved family tradition for many folks in the area.
Kansas City makes a good showing for free residential holiday displays. The Deckard family has tended to outdo themselves -- and their neighbors -- at 2309 South 49th St., possibly because they start in September. Prepare for some traffic.
Go Christmas caving at the Louisville Mega Cavern. Between Nov. 17 and Dec. 31, this tourist attraction is transformed into an enormous holiday light display. The half-hour drive through "Lights Under Louisville" spans 17 miles and features more than 2 million lights and 850 illuminated characters. Visitors must pay $27 per carload, although a coupon is available for $5 off on certain days.
The historic city of Natchitoches, the oldest settlement within the 1803 Louisiana Purchase area, has thrown a Christmas Festival for some 90 years. Residents use more than 300,000 lights to decorate their homes and properties along Cane River Lake, and visitors can tour the displays free. Some special events (through Jan. 6) cost a few dollars per person.
Locals love the Norton Lights display at 213 Canterbury Lane, begun in 2006 when brothers Jon and Stan competed to see who could make the best yard display. Now family members run Christmas and Halloween light shows using computerized animation and radio syncing. Donations at the Christmas show, which runs from mid- to late December, have gone to the Make-A-Wish Foundation in Maine.
Known as "Christmas Street," West 34th Street in the Hampden area of Baltimore has made a tradition of glitzy displays for 71 years. The online real estate brokerage Redfin has repeatedly named it one of the country's top displays, noting that visitors will find the most lights at the 700 block between Keswick Road and Chestnut Avenue through Jan. 1.
New England's biggest Christmas tree is at Boston's Faneuil Hall Marketplace, and it lights up to the tunes of the Boston Pops and other performers Nov. 29 through Jan. 1. Called Blink!, the free shows use more than 350,000 LEDs on and around an 85-foot Norwegian pine tree from New York state -- hardly the only out-of-town visitor to stop by the shopping destination this holiday season.
It's hard to pick the best of the best local displays, but the holiday lights on York Avenue in St. Paul -- with the Schultz Family Lights at 1526 York Ave. at the center -- feature 11 yards decorated with Christmas figures and more than 60,000 lights choreographed to music at 91.5 FM, "The Rockin' Rudolph." The households show the lights from 5 to 10 p.m. daily through Dec. 31.
The Richardson Light Show is a family-oriented drive-by Christmas display that got its start about 17 years ago. This year, the Richardson family expects to have over 250 inflatables, over 100,000 LED lights, hundreds of lighted wireframe characters and messages, a 23-foot animated tree, and more. The lights are synchronized to music and the music is broadcast by radio at 99.9 FM.
Candy Cane Lane has been going for more than a decade, transforming Murdoch Avenue in the St. Louis Hills neighborhood into a stretch of lights, inflatables, sand sculpture, and sometimes even holiday movies projected onto an inflatable screen (not to mention free candy canes). There's usually no more than one or two houses dark and undecorated. The local Fox affiliate reported that one lead organizer was pulling out last year, but that other residents said they would keep the tradition alive.
Jeremy and Melissa Vanek bought their house at 15055 Meredith Ave. with Christmas displays in mind. That was in 2003, and they've been adding lights and complexity ever since -- especially since attending a three-day conference for Christmas lighting enthusiasts in 2007, according to their website. By now visitors can enjoy 30,000 lights strung along some two miles of extension cords. Also in Omaha, check out Wood River Drive, where there are also plenty of lights.
The Strip isn’t only place in Sin City that glitters this time of year. The annual Glittering Lights show features more than 3 million of lights and 500 animated displays. This year, the show at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway runs until Jan. 7. Admission is $20 per car during the week and $30 on weekends.
The Gift of Lights at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway gets a rave review from NewEngland.com for its elaborate decorations and setting. This is a drive-through light show with more than 1 million lights stretching over two miles. The event is in gear through Dec. 31 (except Dec. 4 and Christmas), and the admission of $20 per car is $2 cheaper for each car bringing at least three non-perishable items to donate to the Loudon Food Pantry.
New Jersey does grandiose, showy Christmas decor right. In Hamilton, don't miss 21 Phillips Ave., where owner Bob Martel's self-named "Winter Wonderland" continues to impress. The Pitman Grove area features another "Winter Wonderland" on North Avenue, headed by the Hagerty family but now spreading across several neighboring yards. Santa stops by both.
The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is an icon that Big Apple visitors can enjoy for free, but the outer boroughs have holiday spectacles, too. In Brooklyn, Dyker Heights puts on a neighborhood extravaganza (83rd to 86th streets between 11th and 13th avenues) that inspired a PBS documentary called "Dyker Lights" in 2001. The Pelham Gardens area of the Bronx holds the strange and wonderful home of the Garabedian family, collectors of dolls, nativity scenes, and curios stylized as a holiday soiree since 1974 at 1605 Pelham Parkway North at Westervelt Avenue.
With a nickname like "Christmas Town USA," McAdenville, a small town outside Charlotte, had better deliver on holiday decor -- and it does. This town's massive winter overhaul, begun in 1956, involves 375 lit trees and hundreds of thousands of lights maintained by local volunteers, including most of the area's 650 or so residents. The free display (Dec. 1-26) draws some 600,000 visitors a year.
Impressive options abound throughout the state, but Seabury Avenue in Fairview Park, outside Cleveland, takes the fruitcake thanks to resident Bill McVicker, who’s continuing the work his grandfather began more than five decades ago. McVicker’s efforts have caught on and spread well-beyond his Seabury Avenue neighborhood as he’s organized the purchase and distribution of 2,000 strands of sidewalk lighting (100,000 LEDs, all told). Around town, some 400 houses and City Hall are decorated with the “Sidewalk Garland Lights” that Seabury Avenue is known for, McVicker said.
A display on the 2100 block of North Markwell Avenue in Oklahoma City has spread across several houses, while the Downs family strings up more than 18 miles' worth of lights at 2900 72nd Ave. SE and collects donations for the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. Both are synchronized to music that plays on car radios.
Peacock Lane in Portland has earned fans for a street-decorating tradition dating to the 1920s with lights, trees, nativity scenes, Santas, and more -- along with record-breaking crowds that sometimes cause police street closures -- from Dec. 15 to Dec. 31. The street of Tudor houses has been named a National Historic District.
The Conway Christmas Lights Extravaganza at 265 Maple Valley Road is a spectacular annual light show seven evenings a week during the holiday season. Fanatic Joey Conway combined forces with buddy Tyler Horrocks in years past to build amazing structures, such as Queen Elsa's fabulous tower from "Frozen" and a display with a "Polar Express" walk-through train car.
Falls Park on the Big Sioux River may merit a visit any time of year, but the holiday season adds a particular enchantment. Besides hanging more than 350,000 lights and decorating hundreds of trees and landmarks, the park brings in live reindeer and sets the mood with holiday music for car radios at 97.7 FM. Entrance remains free during the Winter Wonderland (through Jan. 7).
Christmas lighting enthusiasts in the Nashville metro area unite for massive residential displays in two locations: Sparrow Street in Spring Hill and Old Charlotte Pike in Franklin. Viewing is free, but donations are requested to benefit the nonprofit GraceWorks Ministries. The two events use a combined 80,000-plus lights.
Quirky, eclectic Austin offers residents a Trail of Lights, a 1.25-mile tunnel made of lights leading to holiday activities such as a Ferris wheel and carousel -- all told, 40 displays of 2 million lights up from Dec. 9 to Dec. 23 in Zilker Park. It's free to enter until Dec. 15. It’s also free Dec. 18-19. Other days, general admission is only $3.
Sure, the folks at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. throw up some pretty decent holiday decor. But the residents of the surrounding suburbs give them a run for their money. The website Holly's Tacky Christmas Lights features some of the biggest spectacles, as well as some professional displays, in Fairfax and beyond.
Hip Seattleites know to head to the Olympic Manor neighborhood near Greenwood for a holiday light spectacle. Inflatables, lights, and Christmas trees line the streets, and dozens of homes in the area participate. Start at NW 85th Street and 23rd Avenue NW and watch for limousines making the rounds through the neighborhood.
For a spectacular lights display in Bluefield, visit the Holiday of Lights at Lotito City Park. More than 900,000 lights decorate more than 100 acres of the park and a 1.5-mile driving path. This year, guests can also enjoy walk-through nights every Sunday, and there are hayrides with hot chocolate every Saturday for $3. Besides that, admission to the Holiday of Lights is free, but the park will accept cash donations for operational costs and canned goods for the Bluefield Union Mission.
Madison's Olin Park hosts the free "Fantasy in Lights," a 29-year tradition open dusk to dawn through Jan. 2, while the Green Bay Botanical Garden hosts the WPS Garden of Lights, where there are a quarter-million lights in amazing variety, Santa, and a campfire to warm up by. A visit costs $9 for adults and $5 for children up to 12. But it's not everywhere you encounter a 60-foot walk-through caterpillar.
Cheyenne hosts a slew of holiday events, including a Holiday Lights Tour Dec. 11-24 where visitors can catch a trolley spotlighting the most lavishly decked out houses in town. Buy tickets in advance -- $12 for adults, $6 for children -- for evening tours leaving from Sears at Frontier Mall. The Historic Governors' Mansion at 300 E. 21st St. has a free light display and historical exhibit of old-fashioned gifts called "Tinsel Through Time: Remember When."