Top 10 Destinations for Holiday Lights
The holidays are just around the corner, and there’s nothing like an electrifying display of holiday lights to charge you up for the season and zap you with that jolly-good Christmas cheer. Luckily for us, there’s no place in the world that does holiday lights quite like the good ol’ U.S. of A., and we’ve rounded up a merry mix of small towns and sprawling cities that do it best.
From East to West, from dazzling Disney displays to brilliant boat parades, sparkling city skylines to mesmerizing megawatt-lined drives, when these top 10 destinations for holiday lights flip the switch, they mark the spectacular start to the holiday season, guaranteeing spectators a sparkling dose of over-the-top holiday spirit.
The Big Apple is known for doing things bigger, better, and brighter, and the holidays are no exception, what with the city’s wondrous window displays, holiday concerts and events, bustling holiday markets, ice-skating rinks, chestnut-roasting street vendors, and seemingly endless street-to-street stream of shining holiday lights.
While you can hardly turn the corner without glimpsing a generous glimmer, some illuminations are simply not to be missed: Start with Rockefeller Center’s iconic towering tree, set aglow with some 30,000 bulbs that glisten down upon the ice-skating rink, bugling lit-up angels, and wide-eyed tourists through early January (lit November 30; free; www.rockefellercenter.com). Tree-lighting fixes (all free) abound – try the South Street Seaport (lit November 25; www.southstreetseaport.com), Lincoln Center (lit November 28, www.winterseve.org), Washington Square Park (lit December 7; www.washingtonsquarenyc.org), Bryant Park (lit November 29; www.bryantpark.org), or the Metropolitan Museum of Art (lit November 29; www.metmuseum.org); or, catch the lighting of the world’s largest Chanukah menorah – at 32-feet high and 4,000 pounds – on the southeastern corner of Central Park on December 20. Other highlights include downtown’s wonderful Winter Garden, where 45-foot-tall palm trees are offset by 100,000 white lights (lit November 29–January 8; free; www.artsworldfinancialcenter.com) and the dangling dozen of illuminated 14-foot stars at the Time Warner Center (now–January 3; free; www.shopsatcolumbuscircle.com).
Look to the city’s outer boroughs, too, for unique takes on holiday lights: We especially like the ostentatiously decorated homes (expect larger-than-life motorized displays, inflatable decorations, and a gargantuan gaggle of glaring lights) in Brooklyn’s Italian-American neighborhood of Dyker Heights (free). Overwhelmed on where to start? Sign up for an organized tour: CitySights NY offers 2.5-hour “Lights of the Holidays” tours of Manhattan (runs November 28–December 30, except Christmas; $44 adults, $34 kids ages 5 to 11; www.citysightsny.com), while A Slice of Brooklyn offers a Brooklyn-based “Christmas Lights and Cannoli Tour,” on select dates in December ($55 adults; $45 children under 12; www.asliceofbrooklyn.com).
For more than a century, Newport Beach’s “Christmas Boat Parade” has delighted spectators with a “Christmas-sea” feeling all its own. A fine flotilla of some 200 vibrantly decorated vessels, from multimillion-dollar yachts right down to simple canoes, glides through Newport Harbor as holiday music and costumed carolers fill the air with melodious merrymaking. The brilliant boat parade (it’s the oldest one in the country) attracts close to a million viewers; it’s held nightly from December 14 through December 18 and lasts about 2.5 hours – show up on the closing night for a fireworks finale. Viewing areas for the beaming 14-mile boat route are on the public beaches and establishments bordering the Balboa Peninsula, the Fun Zone amusement area (where you can hear live commentary from Captain Mike Whitehead, the official voice of the parade), and Balboa Island.