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Winter lights spectacularWinter lights spectacular

Twinkling lights add to the magical wonder of the holiday season. Cities, resorts, theme parks, and zoos host light festivals that dazzle the young and young at heart while offering fun activities. Here are some light festivals and displays you might be interested in flying to with the family.

  • Shining nutcrackers line wooded lanes as part of the Fantasy in Lights display at Callaway Gardens in Georgia. The annual attraction is one of many similar events throughout the nation. Photo courtesy of Callaway Gardens.
  • Cars line up to drive through a tunnel of lighted snowflakes at Oglebay's Winter Festival of Lights in Wheeling, West Virginia. Photo by Alyssa Cobb.
  • EAA AirVenture isn't the only time to fly into Oshkosh, Wisconsin! Check out the town's popular lights display. Photo courtesy of Oshkosh Celebration of Lights.
  • Christmas Town in Busch Gardens' Virginia and Florida locations is said to be among the largest light displays in the country. Photo courtesy of Busch Gardens.
  • The LA Zoo transforms into a lighted wonderland from mid November to early January. Photo courtesy of LA Zoo Lights.
  • Snack on hot doughnuts and listen to carolers as you take in The Lights of Christmas Festival, dubbed the largest display of lights in the Pacific Northwest. Photo courtesy of Warm Beach Camp.


Gardens Aglow: New England Today dubs Gardens Aglow at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay among the best places in New England to see Christmas lights. Walk through the gardens boasting more than 650,000 lights. In addition, Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor deck their towns with lights to welcome travelers to their shops, restaurants, and hotels. Gardens Aglow runs Thursdays through Sundays, Nov. 15 to Dec. 31 (but it is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve). Fly in to Brunswick Executive Airport about 30 miles away.


Hersheypark Christmas Candylane: To sweeten up the holidays, visit Hersheypark in Hershey, Pennsylvania, where families enjoy rides and also visit Santa, all in a park decorated with more than 4 million lights. Children can enjoy breakfast or lunch with Santa, and stop by reindeer stables. According to Herseypark, even Rudolph is on site for an up-close look. In addition to the park, drive through two miles of trails called Hershey Sweet Lights, which features about 600 animated displays. If you need to satisfy your sweet tooth, stop in Hershey’s Chocolate World. Hersheypark Christmas Candylane is open from Nov. 16 to Jan. 1, 2019. Fly in to Capital City Airport, about 20 away.

Oglebay Winter Festival of Lights: The Oglebay resort in Wheeling, West Virginia, started its festival in 1985. The feature has grown to cover 300 acres of land with 90 lighted displays and one million lights. New this year, spectators can don 3-D glasses, called Sleigh Bans, to watch the displays come to life. In addition to the lights festival, Oglebay offers breakfast and pictures with Santa, Santa’s Reindeer Training School, trolley tours, and more. The festival runs Nov. 9 to Jan. 1, 2019. Wheeling Ohio County Airport is about five miles away.


An Old Time Christmas at Silver Dollar City: This Branson, Missouri, theme park boasts more than 6.5 million lights. Highlights include a special effects Christmas Tree that’s five stories tall, a Christmas In Midtown Light Spectacular, and a light parade that features Rudolph. Also, hop aboard the Frisco Sing-Along Steam Train to listen to music while winding through the Ozark Mountains. Most attractions are open from Nov. 3 to Dec. 30, but Christmas in Midtown and the steam train are open through Jan. 1, 2019. Fly in to Branson Airport, about 20 miles away, or M. Graham Clark Downtown Airport, about 15 miles away.

Oshkosh Celebration of Lights: In the aviation world, Oshkosh, Wisconsin, is known for its summer extravaganza—EAA AirVenture. Fly in this holiday season to visit Menominee Park and drive through 1.2 miles of holiday lights, some of which reflect off Lake Winnebago. If you’d rather see the lights by horse-drawn carriage, you can reserve a ride for certain dates. The celebration runs from Nov. 23 to Dec. 31. Fly in to, you guessed it, Wittman Regional Airport.


Callaway Resort and Gardens Fantasy in Lights: Known as “The South’s Christmas Tradition,” the Fantasy in Lights has been ranked one of National Geographic’s Top 10 Light Displays. Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia, launched its light spectacular in 1992 with five scenes designed by former Disney employees. The show includes more than a dozen scenes and 8 million lights. Drive or hop on the Jolly Trolley to go through Christmas Tree Lane, March of the Toy Soldiers, Enchanted Rainbow Forest, Snowflake Valley, and more. The resort offers overnight packages and plenty to do from golfing to spa experiences, in addition to touring the famous gardens. Fantasy in Lights runs Nov. 16 to Jan. 5, 2019. Fly in to Harris County Airport in Pine Mountain, less than five miles away.

Busch Gardens Christmas Town: Christmas Town features 10 million lights, shows, pictures with Santa and Rudolph, and more. At Busch Gardens’ Tampa, Florida, location, walk through a tunnel of lights, Poinsettia Parkway, Flamingo Way, Cheetah Walkway and Plaza, and Morocco pathway. (Busch Gardens’ Williamsburg, Virginia, location boasts an equally extensive Christmas Town.) Christmas Town opens Nov. 17, check the website for dates and times. Fly in to Tampa Executive Airport, less than 10 miles away.


Holiday Lights on the River Walk: The River Walk in San Antonio, Texas, is a must-visit any time of year, but it is a real treat during the holidays when it is adorned with more than 100,000 lights hanging from bald cypress trees. Each year, the event kicks off with the Ford Holiday River Parade the day after Thanksgiving (tickets required only for the parade). The lights are on from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m., Nov. 23 to Jan. 6, 2019. Fly in to Stinson Municipal Airport, less than 10 miles away.

LA Zoo Lights: Enjoy a night at the zoo with millions of twinkling lights including lighted snowflakes, a disco ball forest, animated elephants, and t tunnel of lights. LA Zoo Lights covers a large area of the zoo and can take one hour to 90 minutes to walk through. Check out the lights between Nov. 16 and Jan. 6, 2019. Bob Hope Airport in Burbank is about seven miles away.


The Lights of Christmas: With more than one million lights displayed over 15 acres, The Lights of Christmas at Warm Beach Camp in Stanwood, Washington, claims to be the “largest holiday lights display in the Pacific Northwest that combines live entertainment, children’s activities, food, holiday shopping and more.” In addition to the lights festival, enjoy a live theatre performance, “A Christmas Carol…More or Less,” while eating a five-course meal during dinner or Sunday matinees. Pony rides, a petting farm, nativity, entertainment stages, and Santa appearances offer something for everyone in the family. Housing accommodations can be reserved in advance. The festival runs on select dates Nov. 29 through Dec. 29. Fly in to Arlington Airport about 15 miles away.

Alyssa J. Miller

Alyssa J. Cobb

AOPA Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor
AOPA Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor Alyssa J. Cobb has worked at AOPA since 2004 and is an active flight instructor.
Topics: Travel, US Travel

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