Get into the holiday spirit outdoors and admire holiday decorations and lights from a socially distanced walking path.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, though things may not feel as festive this year thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. The CDC recently released special guidelines for holiday travel and gatherings and officially recommends staying at home, celebrating with the people you live with and holding virtual get togethers.
That said, there are still a few places around the U.S. where you can get into the holiday spirit outdoors and admire holiday decorations and lights from a socially distanced walking path. Here’s where to celebrate the holidays safely this year—just remember to book your tickets online ahead of time, wear a mask and stay at least six feet away from anyone outside your group while you’re there.
New York City
While getting a glimpse of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is a little more complicated this year, it’s not impossible. First, you’ll need to scan a QR code with your smartphone when you arrive in Rockefeller Center. Then, as part of a new “virtual queuing” process, a text message will let you know what time to come back to one of the viewing entrances, where you’ll wait your turn on one of the social distancing markers. Be aware that groups are limited to four people at a time and once you reach the main viewing area, you’ll only have five minutes to take photos and have a look. Visit daily for free through early 2021.
The 2.5-mile drive-through light show at the New Hampshire Speedway in Loudon features 400 different lighting displays with snow-covered mountains in the background.
Celebrate the holidays Victorian style at Billings Farm & Museum, where you can try your hand at candle dipping, watch traditional holiday cooking demonstrations, create your own gingerbread ornaments—or just head straight to the onsite Dairy Bar for cider donuts—from December 19-24 and December 26 to January 3.
At Ocean City, Maryland's Winterfest of Lights guests must stay two meters apart while exploring zillions of sparkling holiday lights, animated light displays, and a 50-foot holiday tree on display along a paved path in Northside Park. The Annmarie Sculpture Garden is transformed into an outdoor wonderland until January 1st with many light sculptures of wild animals, winter wonderlands, musical holiday scenes, and magical beings.
Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia
The White House isn’t the only place in the nation's capital that’s getting in on the holiday spirit. Civilians can enjoy the undeniable festive energy in the District through New Year’s Day by visiting the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. The National Menorah will be lit throughout Hanukkah.
Mask-wearing is mandatory at the Downtown Holiday Market on F Street NW between 7th and 9th Streets. Shop from more than 70 Black-owned and local businesses Tuesday through Saturday through December 23. About 25 minutes away in Vienna, Virginia, celebrate the season at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens’ Winter Walk of Lights. Stroll the one-way half-mile path full of holiday lights and festive decorations, admire the Fountains of Lights and watch as the “sing to me” tree’s lights dance along with all your favorite holiday tunes. Timed tickets must be purchased online ahead of time and are available on a limited basis, while the event takes place nightly through January 3.
Treat yourselves to a lovely half-mile walk through the woods, toast marshmallows around the fire, shop for presents at the Artisan Christmas Market, donate canned goods to help others, meet Santa and his elves—he’ll be attending virtually December 21 and 22—and feast your eyes on more than 500,000 lights during the Illuminights Winter Walk of Lights at Explore Park. Purchase timed tickets online or by phone to access this event, which runs through December 23 and from December 26 to January 3.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Head to Virginia Beach for a unique beach-themed holiday lights display. At the Holiday Lights at the Beach, you’ll drive on the Atlantic Ocean boardwalk that has been transformed into a nautical lights display, including a surfing Santa, until January 3.
Aiken, South Carolina
Enjoy more than two miles of beautifully lit paths with over 100,000 lights and holiday decorations at Christmas in Hopelands Gardens. This year, the colorful displays will be lit up all December long to help keep spirits bright. Admission is free so pay it forward and bring along some canned goods for those in need. Visit through December 23 and December 26-27 but dress warm, as shuttle service isn’t offered this year to allow for social distancing—you’ll need to park nearby at the Green Boundary Club and enter on foot.
South Walton, Florida
If you’re in the Florida panhandle, don’t miss 12 Nights of Lights at The Village of Baytowne Wharf, located about halfway between Pensacola and Panama City Beach in South Walton. Three free light shows happen every hour on the hour starting at 6 p.m. each Wednesday, Friday and Saturday through Christmas and you can catch a complimentary concert Wednesday nights between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Now through December 23 and from December 26-31, the Space Center in Houston is hosting Galaxy Lights, a technological holiday celebration featuring kinetic light shows, choreographed light and music sequences, an interactive light pad, a large light tunnel and the chance to see a film about astronauts celebrating the holidays in space, among other themed attractions. Galaxy Lights requires its own tickets, which can be purchased online, and takes about 90 minutes to fully enjoy.
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Dolly Parton’s Dollywood features an award-winning spectacle, set in the backdrop of the Smoky Mountains. The festival features over 5 million lights, and even include fireworks this year.
Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
Visit the Tree of Light, a 55-foot silver maple tree decked out in 30,000 lights near the River Walk in Wisconsin Dells, now through mid-January. It’s the perfect time and place for a wintertime stroll, with special performances by the Wisconsin Dells High School Choir and Band or visits from Santa happening most evenings through December 26.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in the jolly ole fella’s namesake town—Santa Claus, Indiana! Get in on the holiday joy by driving through The Santa Claus Land of Lights show that depicts the story of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer at the largest campground light show in North America. For more themed light displays cruise through The Christmas Lake Village Festival Lights on December 12th and 19th covering nine miles of residential light displays with houses decked out with baubles inspired by everything from The Grinch to polar bears.
Celebrate the holiday season Western-style this year in Cheyenne, where you can get your letter to Santa stamped by an Elf and see the mail get picked up by a Pony Express rider, visit holiday horses at Santa’s Saloon and Stables, hear Cowboy Carolers sing and meet Mr. Claus by the fire at Kringle Ranch, part of an event by the Little America Hotel & Resort. Check the calendar for more Old West holiday festivities happening through December 31.
Sonoma County, California
Cue that legendary piano music and celebrate trees of all shapes and sizes all December long at Windsor’s annual Charlie Brown Christmas Tree Grove. This year, more than 200 trees were decorated by neighborhood families, classes, small businesses and community groups for you to enjoy on a socially distanced stroll through Windsor Town Green.
San Luis Obispo, California
Don’t miss San Luis Obispo’s annual Light Up Downtown event, featuring outdoor photos with Santa, a socially distanced scavenger hunt, a holiday window contest among local businesses and an assortment of lit up Christmas trees and holiday scenes on display in Mission Plaza.
The Polar Express in Carson City, Nevada drive-through lights experience is operating until Christmas Eve. The brilliant light show will feature Santa, Mrs. Claus, and dozens of elves busy at work as they prepare for Christmas. Guests are encouraged to wear their favorite holiday pajamas and bring hot chocolate as they travel through the North Pole experience.
Get into the Mele Kalikimaka spirit at the 24th anniversary of Kauai’s Festival of Lights. The displays use recycled and reclaimed materials at the Historic County Building park and can be enjoyed until New Year’s Day. Millions of colorful lights illuminate the park’s looming coconut palm trees wrapped in colorful lights as well as upcycled decorations including aluminum can flowers and water bottle butterflies.
Make the best of the holidays at the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix. The gardens offer a dash of holiday magic with 8,000 hand-lit luminaria bags and thousands of white twinkle lights. Las Noches de las Luminarias includes pre-recorded carols to enjoy during the experience. Guests can capture memories with a touchless, complimentary virtual photo booth experience with options of photos, GIFs, or Boomerangs. In Lake Havasu City experience London Bridge Resort's Festival of Lights—the Bridgewater Channel is lit up with over 500,000 lights that set the water aglow and spark the holiday spirit.