Dazzling Drive-thru Holiday Light Displays

For a hearty dose of holiday cheer, check out these winter wonderlands without leaving your car.

by NEA Member Benefits


‘Tis the season to deck the halls, wrap gifts, host parties and bake cookies. Why not spice up your holiday to-do list with a dash of tinsel and a pinch of twinkle? At these five festive displays around the country, you don’t even have to go walking through the winter wonderland. You can instead sip a thermos of hot cocoa ensconced in your sled—er … car—as you soak in the spirit of the season.

1. Holiday Light Fantasia, Hartford, Connecticut

Photo courtesy of Channel 3 Kids Camp

Wind through 2 miles around Hartford, Connecticut’s Goodwin Park to see more than a million lights twinkling with holiday cheer. Animated displays and plenty of whimsical characters get into the spirit of the season celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year and Three Kings Day. Kids can even play a fun scavenger hunt by looking for Flurry, the adorable holiday dog, nestled among the displays. The drive-thru is just $15 per car and, in the spirit of holiday giving, proceeds benefit an area camp for financially and physically disadvantaged kids. 

Plan Your Trip: Hartford Has It | Connecticut Office of Tourism

Driving Distances: 1 hour from Worcester, Massachusetts | 1 hour 40 minutes from Providence, Rhode Island | 2 hours from Boston, Massachusetts | 2 hours from New York, New York

Where to Stay: Red Roof Plus+ Hartford Downtown (be sure to use your NEA Member discount!) | Holiday Inn Downtown Hartford | Hilton Hartford

2. Canals of Naples, Long Beach, California

Photo courtesy of Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau

Save the sleigh for Santa. Grab a gondola instead! You and your family can get away on a real Italian-style gondola to Naples Island and soak in the holiday spirit California style. Your gondola leisurely navigates the waters of the canals as you get to see stunning mansions along the coast adorned in their holiday best. Reserve a spot on a traditional gondola or spring for a larger Carolina boat. Top off the evening with a traditional favorite: an area performance of “The Nutcracker.” 

Plan Your Trip: Visit Long Beach | Visit California

Driving Distances: 30 minutes from Los Angeles, California | 2 hours from San Diego, Santa Barbara and Palm Springs, California | 4 hours 15 minutes from Las Vegas, Nevada

Where to Stay: Super 8 Long Beach | Best Western | Hyatt Regency

3. Holiday Lights on the Hill, Hamilton, Ohio

Photo courtesy of the Butler County Visitors Bureau

Pyramid Hill in Hamilton, Ohio, is a park spread across more than 300 acres of gently rolling hills, close to Cincinnati. The annual holiday light display winds more than 2 miles in a round-trip, and, in keeping with the mission of the park, tastefully mixes up the festivities with nature and the large ornamental sculptures. Special lighting effects add an otherworldly aura to the park as bushes glow with the delights of the winter wonderland and cast dazzling light formations on the lake. Photo courtesy of the Butler County Visitors Bureau

Plan Your Trip: Butler County, Ohio | Cincinnati, USA | Ohio

Driving Distances: 40 minutes from Cincinnati, Ohio | 2 hours from Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis, Indiana; Louisville, Kentucky; and Lexington, Kentucky | 4 hours from Cleveland, Ohio

Where to Stay: Red Roof Inn & Suites, Middletown-Franklin (be sure to use your NEA Member discount!) | Courtyard Marriott | Hampton Inn Cincinnati-Northwest/Fairfield

4. Winter Lights Festival, Gaithersburg, Maryland

Photo courtesy of the City of Gaithersburg

Can’t make it to the real North Pole? Not a problem. You can visit the themed equivalent in Seneca Creek State Park in Gaithersburg, Maryland. A 3.5-mile drive takes you past more than 380 illuminated displays and 65 animated vignettes. Check out additional themed sections including Winter Woods, Teddy Bear Land and Victorian Village.

Plan Your Trip: Gaithersburg | Maryland

Driving Distances: 45 minutes from Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland | 2 hours from Wilmington, Delaware | 2 hours 30 minutes from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania | 3 hours from Richmond, Virginia

Where to Stay: Comfort Inn | Holiday Inn | Residence Inn Marriott

5. Christmas in Color, Provo, Utah

Photo courtesy of Christmas in Colors

Lights, camera, action! This ain’t any old holiday lights. Provo, Utah, really jazzes things up with 1 million lights all synchronized to music. Understandably, the attraction has proven pretty popular so springing for tickets in advance is a wise idea. Kearns, Utah, hosts a similar shindig as well, so take your pick of fun festivities synchronized just in time for the most wonderful time of the year.

Plan Your Trip: Provo Visitor Information Center | Visit Utah

Driving Distances: 45 minutes from Salt Lake City, Utah | 1 hour 30 minutes from Ogden, Utah | 3 hours from Green River, Wyoming | 4 hours from Grand Junction, Colorado

Where to Stay: Hampton Inn | Marriott Hotel & Conference Center | Sundance Mountain Resort

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