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Everyone loves holiday lights to brighten up the evening after a month of short, and often dreary, December days. Lots of cities have official holiday displays that are professional and amazing, but often  the amateur displays found in residential neighborhoods across the country are even more impressive. Some are highly orchestrated and others are purposefully random. But they will all give kids and adults alike, the perfect dose of holiday joy.

RELATED: 7 tropical escapes that bring huge holiday cheer

NOTE: Most of these displays attract big crowds and several are in compact urban neighborhoods. Take public transit when you can.  If you do drive, plan to park a few blocks away, explore on foot and dress for the weather.


Dyker Heights | Flickr CC: Philipp Alexander

1. Brooklyn, NY

The houses in Dyker Heights are large by New York City standards and holiday decorations have surpassed keeping up with the Joneses to flat out outdoing them. Think professional decorators, Frank Sinatra tunes and giant nutcrackers, soldiers and Santas. It’s New York chutzpah in lights. Houses are scattered around the neighborhood but if you want to park and walk, focus on 11th to 13th avenues between 83rd and 86th streets.  If you don’t want to make your way deep into Brooklyn on your own, book a bus tour.

 STAY The Red Lion Hotel in Gowanus offers easy access to subways, dining, Manhattan sightseeing and Dyker Heights.

 

Photo courtesy of Tacky Lights & GardenFest of Lights

2. Richmond, VA

The city of Richmond offers two options for impressive neighborhood light displays. Homes around Monument Avenue offer a plethora of “traditional” decorations­: Think white lights, evergreen ropes and decorated trees that are bright and cheerful but with a dollop of restraint. Across town, Walton residents take pride in offering their “tacky lights experience” where they cram front yards with all the waving Santas, blinking reindeer and multi-colored lights they can squeeze in.

Fit families can take in the best of the tacky lights during the nighttime 6K CarMax Tacky Light Run on December 9. A Santa tracker bib and holiday hat help get runners in the spirit.

STAY The Graduate Richmond offers close proximity to both neighborhoods as well as other Richmond attractions. Weather permitting, you can try to spot the lights from its rooftop beer garden.

3. Billings, MO

This might be the most spread out display of lights but residents offer a Facebook page with updates website with a map to help you find all the houses and even provide a scavenger hunt for kids. More than 35 ranch houses deck themselves out with minions, penguins, Star Wars and Disney characters, elves, American flags, nativity scenes, present-filled coaches and more all in lights.

Stay: The Northern Hotel is modern, stylish and in the center of town. Warm up by the lobby lounge fireplace, grab breakfast at the onsite Bernie’s Diner or cocktails at plush lobby bar.

 

Flickr CC: Michi W

4. Woodland Hills and Pasadena (Los Angeles), CA

If a neighborhood earns the moniker Candy Cane Lane, you know the holiday decorations are bound to be impressive. A handful of blocks around Oxnard and Lubao streets form Candy Cane central, where residents do all they can to give their palm trees and stucco homes that feeling of Christmas with lights, trains, Santa Claus tableaus and even giant blow-up rubber ducks.

If the crowds in Woodland Hills are too much, head to
Upper Hastings Ranch in Pasadena, where homeowners between Sierra Madre Blvd and Michilanda Ave organize themes by street. One might be all about candy canes, another replete with snowmen or famous Christmas story characters. Look for an official “lighting” in early December.

STAY Even in December you can sneak a little beach into your California visit if you stay in a waterfront neighborhood like Santa Monica. The Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel is everything you want in a pool: gorgeous ocean views, sunsets and soothing seaside-themed décor in the lobbies and rooms.

5. Philadelphia PA

The Miracle on South 13th happens in the heart of Italian South Philly (specifically the block between Morris and Tasker streets). Look for a real North Pole, curbside trains, a strolling gingerbread man and row houses adorned with every kind of Christmas light and inflatable you can imagine.

STAY The Franklin Hotel at Independence Park puts you in the Old City, near good dining and historic sights, and a stone’s throw from South Philly. It even has a pool.

ALSO: Stuff your stocking with travel rewards when you join Orbitz Rewards today!

  1. Flickr CC: Daniel Ramirez

6. Waikele, Honolulu, Hawaii

You definitely won’t have a white Christmas in Hawaii, unless you count the beach sand.  But residents along Anapau in the Waikele neighborhood do their best to conjure a North Pole feel with lights in the shapes of snowmen, trains, wreaths, wise men, shooting stars and more. Better still, the whole street blinks in a coordinated show set to music. And how nice to get to enjoy it all without being bundled against the cold!

STAY The Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk offers a location near the beach with a nice pool and patio, free breakfast and roomy rooms.

 

Flickr CC: Patrick Gillespie

7. Baltimore, MD

No house is left out of the bling on “Christmas Street,” 34th Street between Chestnut Ave and Keswick Road in quirky Hampden (a ‘hood beloved by film director John Waters). For more than 70 years residents have mixed traditional holiday lights with local quirks like a hubcap Christmas tree and an ode in lights to Maryland crabs. You might even see a nod to local writer Edgar Allen Poe.

STAY Sitting on one corner of the inner Harbor, The Hyatt Regency Baltimore has good size rooms and onsite parking and is well located for all the other dining and sightseeing you might want to do while you’re in town.

 

8. Portland OR

Peacock Lane in southeast Portland is a block of 1920s Tudor homes that stretch from Belmont to Stark streets. Look for C-3PO dressed like Santa, giant Grinches and at least a few peacocks as you stroll along. If you’re lucky, a local resident might offer you some cocoa or hot cider while you admire their holiday handiwork.

STAY Downtown Luxe Apartments offers good value right near Pioneer Square. Its’ 8-units include kitchens, living space, modern décor and lots of light.

 

Flickr CC: Jim Trottier

9. West Allis, Milwaukee, WI

You’ll feel a distinct December chill at the Midwestern Candy Cane Lane that raises money for a local charity. Holiday cheer spreads from 96th Street to 92nd Street between Montana and Oklahoma avenues. Trees become candy canes, snowmen, lights, and reindeer sleights abound. Santa often makes an appearance. It’s a cheerful display that stops well short of tacky.

STAY The central Milwaukee Athletic Club offers great value with two pools, two onsite restaurants and roomy rooms with a comfortable old-school feel. It’s near all the museums, shopping and theater you might want to check out while you’re in town.

10. Cape May, NJ

This seaside town of Victorian Homes, pedestrian zones and quaint inns doesn’t have a centralized light display. But so many of the houses look made from ginger bread at any time of the year, so getting them dressed up for Christmas doesn’t take much. Look for giant wreaths, ropes of evergreens, big red ribbons, swaths of white light and lots of tasteful holiday cheer, particularly on Columbia Avenue and Washington Street. Walk on your own, take a candlelight walking tour, hop on a trolley or enjoy the lights from a horse-drawn carriage. 

Stay: Cape May is known for its cozy B&Bs, so spend a night in one of those Victorian confections, such at the very Victorian Mason Cottage. It’s central, has cozy rooms, and offers guests a full breakfast.

Tagged: California, Hawaii, Los Angeles, Midwest, Milwaukee, New York, Philadelphia, Portland

Eileen Gunn

Eileen Gunn

Eileen is a long-time journalist and the founder of FamiliesGo! She has traveled to five continents and would like to reach the remaining two soon.
Eileen Gunn

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