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A central street in Leavenworth, WA, that's decorated with Christmas lights.
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The 15 most dazzling Christmas light displays in the USA

These over-the-top Christmas light displays are guarenteed to put a twinkle in your eye

Written by
Emilee Lindner
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Blame it on Santa, the absurd amount of sugar cookies we consume every December, or the smell of fresh balsam in the house—the holidays tend to put a twinkle in our eye, and it makes us go over the top when it comes to Christmas light displays in the USA.

Across the country, there are suburban streets from Los Angeles to Chicago that overflow with so much holiday spirit they light up like Times Square every Christmas season, incorporating as many tiny bulbs as there are dollars in our national debt. Glittery, shimmery, illuminated wonderlands can make us forget all about our problems (ahem, including the aforementioned) and transform crusty parking lots and off-season fairgrounds into magical moments of joy.

Put the below exhibits on a checklist and make sure to hit up every single one, because this year's best Christmas light displays will be gone in a flash.

RECOMMENDED: the best Christmas towns in the USA

Callaway Resort & Gardens, Pine Mountain, GA

Composed of a whopping 8 million lights, Callaway Resort & Garden’s Fantasy in Lights is like no other display in the country. Guests can walk, drive, or ride (an open-air Jolly Trolley is most popular) through nearly 2,500 acres of illuminated landscape. Mystical scenes like Enchanted Rainbow Forest and Firefly Cove set the display apart from traditional Christmas-themed displays throughout the country, and a massive Magical Field of Lights (almost two football fields long) features a 10-story tree that’s bigger than most buildings.

Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, NY
Photograph: Teddy Wolf

Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, NY

When most people think of Christmas lights in New York, their minds go immediately to the tree at Rockefeller Center and the shop windows on Fifth Avenue. But deep within Brooklyn, there’s a winter wonderland that requires so much wattage you’d think the Griswolds took over the streets. Christmas completely consumes the Dyker Heights neighborhood in south Brooklyn from Thanksgiving until January, where massive front yard displays (yes, some New Yorkers have real yards!) range from specific themes—like illuminated Christmas toys or millions of icy blue lights—to a hodgepodge of all things Christmas. If you're visiting, take a look at our handy Dyker Heights Christmas Lights 2021 Guide for all the deets.

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Bellingrath Gardens and Home, Theodore, AL
Photograph: Courtesy of Bellingrath Gardens & Home

Bellingrath Gardens and Home, Theodore, AL

Not far from Alabama’s coast, Bellingrath Gardens and Home’s 65-acre campus lights up every year with over 3 million lights from late November to early January. The Magic Christmas in Lights features an “underwater” tunnel (cue The Little Mermaid soundtrack) that twinkles with fish and crabs surrounded by a swath of blue “water” lights. Peep out the tunnel window and you’ll see an illuminated igloo complete with roly-poly polar bears and a few other surprises, too: the display honors southern favorites like the MoonPie (iykyk), Mardis Gras, and Coca-Cola. There are over 1,100 set pieces in this massive exhibit, which requires three full-time employees working year-round to pull off.

34th Street, Baltimore, MD

At any other time of year, the 700 block of 34th Street in Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood might not ring any jingle bells. But during Christmas season, the area, which is nicknamed Miracle on 34th Street, is the talk of the town. Ever since 1947, the year the movie of the same name premiere, residents have put their own unique twist on traditional Christmas decorations, featuring anything from a vinyl record Nativity scene to a hubcap Christmas tree. Expect lots of crabs (this is Maryland, after all), and keep your eyes peeled for the kitschy pink flamingos (a nod to Baltimore’s own John Waters).

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Hersheypark, Hershey, PA
Photograph: Hersheypark

Hersheypark, Hershey, PA

Believe it or not, Hersheypark, otherwise known as the sweetest place on earth, gets even sweeter around the holidays after it installs over 5 million holiday lights for its annual Christmas Candylane celebration. But the real light show might be Hershey Sweet Lights, a separate two-mile drive just outside the park through wooded trails that sparkle with 600 animated light displays (made with a total of 2 million LED lights). It's best to tack this onto a day inside the park, where you might spot Santa and his reindeer enjoying the rides and, of course, some Hershey kisses.
Austin Trail of Lights, Austin, TX
Photograph: Shutterstock

Austin Trail of Lights, Austin, TX

The Austin Trail of Lights transforms Zilker Park into an otherworldly jungle of rainbow trees. More than 2 million bulbs light up 90 glittering trees and a massive drive-through tunnel. Enjoy this year’s trail from the luxury of your car (due to COVID precautions) or book a private party with free hot cocoa and sugar cookies for your guests. In previous years, the trail event included live entertainment, a Ferris wheel, and a carousel decked out in lights.

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Clifton Mill, Clifton, OH
Photograph: Shutterstock

Clifton Mill, Clifton, OH

This tiny town in Ohio—with an overwhelming population of about 150–has one of the most unique light displays in the country. Christmas lights cover the town’s historic Clifton Mill and the surrounding gorge, riverbanks, bridges, and trees to create a literal waterfall of light. There’s a synchronized light and music show on the covered bridge, not to mention a miniature display featuring Clifton village itself. Grab some hot cocoa inside the mill and peek into “Santa’s workshop” to watch as he prepares for Christmas Eve and loads up his sleigh.

Land of Lights, Santa Claus, IN
Photograph: Spencer County Visitors Bureau

Land of Lights, Santa Claus, IN

Yes, there’s a town called Santa Claus in Indiana. And yes, it’s one of the best Christmas towns in the USA. Is it really any surprise this town gets lit during the holidays, too? Nope. At The Santa Claus Land of Lights, a 1.2 mile drive-through experience at the Lake Rudolph Campground and RV Resort, you’ll see brilliant LED-rendered Christmas characters like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer himself, albeit with a few twists. Expect to chuckle when you catch Rudolph clip-clopping on a treadmill or Santa jetskiing—although this town takes Christmas seriously, it’s certainly in on the joke.

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Christmas Tree Lane, Altadena, CA
Photograph: Michael Juliano

Christmas Tree Lane, Altadena, CA

Leave your sunnies and sunscreen at home. Altadena’s Christmas Tree Lane, just one of LA’s many Christmas activities, is something of a marvel for SoCal—majestic deodar cedar trees that line the street (also known as Santa Rosa Avenue) bring an all-around alpine vibe that’s a complete 180 from LA’s typical landscape of palm trees. The conifers have been lit up for the holidays for over 100 years, and the California State Landmark is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

ZooLights, Chicago, IL
Photograph: Christoper Bijalba/Lincoln Park Zoo

ZooLights, Chicago, IL

Although Chicago has a range of beautiful Christmas lights, ZooLights is certainly the crème de la Chi Town. Found at the Lincoln Park Zoo, the spellbinding display includes a swirling candy cane lawn of lights synced to “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” and dancing light tunnels to walk through. And, because it’s a zoo, you’ll spot plenty of LED-lit animals, like hanging monkeys and dancing seals, as they roam the grounds. And, if you’re hoping to dazzle your special someone, the zoo also offers a proposal package for anyone hoping to pop the question amidst millions of sparkling lights.

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Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, Boothbay, ME

A slightly newer tradition that’s no less impressive, the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens’ Gardens Aglow has been lighting up Maine for the last seven years. Previously a walking tour throughout five acres of botanical gardens, Gardens Aglow was recently converted into a driving tour for COVID safety (and considering how cold Maine gets, we doubt anyone is complaining). The displays glow just as bright, however, with 60 miles (repeat: 60 miles!) of lights strung up across the scenery.

Nights of Lights, St. Augustine, FL

Although St. Augustine forgoes multi-colored bulbs for its Nights of Lights, its historic downtown—lit up in all white lights—is no less transfixing. Head to Plaza de la Constitucion, a market where locals have sold goods since the 1500s. Here, strings of bulbs drape from the market’s trees to form a heavenly canopy. Visitors can see the lights by land (via the Old Town Trolley or Ripley’s Red Train), by sea (on a boat tour), or even by air in a helicopter.

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Village of Lights, Leavenworth, WA
Photograph: Shutterstock

Village of Lights, Leavenworth, WA

In the past, the town of Leavenworth held a “Christmas lighting” ceremony every weekend, flipping a switch to light up the entire city center—however, as the events grew in popularity, they decided to keep the lights on every night in December. The Bavarian village-themed downtown looks magical covered in snow and surrounded by mountains, with every building and tree lit up as far as the eye can see during its annual Village of Lights celebration. And as if this Christmas town couldn’t get more idyllic, there’s even a sledding hill to round out the charm.

Jolly Holiday Lights, Altoona, IA

For over 25 years, the team behind Make-A-Wish Iowa dreams up Jolly Holiday Lights, a spectacular display that raises money in order to grant wishes for sick children. What started as a small fundraiser has bloomed into a two-mile drive that funds about 80 wishes per year (one wish alone turned a 7-year-old cystic fibrosis patient into a superhero for a day). The whimsical displays are divided up by theme, including Holiday Hoedown (with lights like “Cowboy Riding Polar Bear”) and Santa’s Out of Office (featuring “Santa’s RV Retirement”). The wholesome display and its excellent cause will warm your heart like a candy cane latte.

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Peacock Lane, Portland, OR

Join this quaint neighborhood it carries out a tradition that began in 1932. The small four-block street, located in southeast Portland, is lined with Tudor Revival and English Cottage homes that serve as the backdrop to a nearly ninety-year-old Christmas light destination. While some homeowners hire professional decorators, many residents of Peacock Lane build their own displays—sometimes with nontraditional Christmas characters like the “Fa La La La Llamas,” or pop culture staples like the Muppets and Star Wars. Feeling the classics? Fear not: you’ll spot plenty of holiday characters like Frosty, the Grinch, and St. Nick himself.

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