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 festive displays around the country, you won’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, open November 26, 2020 through January 1, 2021, 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.com | 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: Days Inn by Wyndham Hartford/Closest DowntownHoliday 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.” A one-hour cruise costs $100 for the first two people and then $30 per person (up to six per gondola). You can book this experience year-round.

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: Golden Sails Hotel | Best Western of Long Beach | Hyatt Regency Long Beach

3. Journey Borealis, 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. This year’s holiday light display, called Journey Borealis, winds 2.5 miles in a virtual art extravaganza that showcases local talents, including BLINK Cincinnati creator Brave Berlin. With more than 1 million lights and animated projections, the multimedia display will 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. The light show will be set to the music of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra and the Cincinnati Boychoir for an immersive experience. Visit between November 20, 2020 and January 3, 2021.

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 | Courtyard Hamilton | 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. The festival is open nightly from November 27 through December 31, 2020 with the exception of Christmas.

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 Shady Grove - Gaithersburg - Rockville | Holiday Inn Express & Suites Germantown - Gaithersburg | Gaithersburg Marriott Washingtonian Center

5. Christmas in Color, South Jordan, Utah

Photo courtesy of Christmas in Colors

Lights, camera, action! This year's Christmas in Color takes place at the Sale Lake County Equestrian Center in South Jordan, Utah. You'll be dazzled by 1 million lights all synchronized to music. All you need is a radio in your car and you can pipe the music in as you drive through the merry display. The attraction is popular so buy for tickets in advance (they go on sale soon). A portion of the proceeds benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation that helps children facing critical illness.

Plan your trip: Visit Salt Lake Visit Utah

Driving distances: 20 minutes from Salt Lake City, Utah | 1 hour from Ogden, Utah | 2 hours 45 minutes from Green River, Wyoming | 4 hours and 20 minutes from Grand Junction, Colorado

Where to stay: Hampton Inn Salt Lake City/Sandy | Holiday Inn Express & Suites Sandy - South Salt Lake City | Hyatt House Salt Lake City / Sandy

6. The Christmas Lite Show, Comstock Park, Michigan

At Comstock Park, you have the perfect excuse to get out of the house and enjoy some incredible holiday cheer. With more than 1 million LED lights and 50 animated displays, you'll be dazzled throughout the nearly 2-mile drive through this year’s Christmas Lite Show. Plus, it’s open on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas day and New Year’s Eve, so the fun never stops. If this is your first time, it’s recommended to allot at least 30 minutes to enjoy the entire loop. The $25 admittance fee is per carload, so you can bring your entire family along for the ride, too. The drive-thru begins November 25, 2020 and ends on January 2, 2021.

Plan your trip: Experience Grand Rapids | Pure Michigan

Driving distances: 15 mins from Grand Rapids, Michigan | 2 hours 30 minutes from Traverse City and Detroit, Michigan | 3 hours from Chicago, Illinois | 4 hours from Milwaukee, Wisconsin | 5 hours from Cleveland, Ohio

Where to stay: Red Roof Inn Grand Rapids Airport | Comfort Suites Grand Rapids North| SpringHill Suites Grand Rapids North

7. Aurora Festival of Lights, Aurora, Illinois

Visit Aurora, Illinois, for a community-focused holiday lights experience from November 27 through December 27, 2020. Now in its 14th year, the Aurora Festival of Lights in Phillips Park features more than a mile of lighted displays. With new exhibits every year, you’ll never know what to expect. Previous years’ displays included holiday trains, giant snowflakes and more. Though the holiday light show is free, the organizer accepts donations that benefit local charities. Prior recipients of funds supported organizations such as the Urban Youth Ministry, Suicide Prevention, ShelterBox, Hesed House, Mooseheart School, Mts. Runn Church, African Men of Unity, local Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, a food pantry, local scholarship funds and more.

Plan your trip: Enjoy Aurora | Enjoy Illinois

Driving distances: 1 hour from Chicago, Illinois | 3 hours from Chicago, Illinois and Springfield, Illinois | 3 hours 30 minutes from Indianapolis, Indiana | 4 hours 30 minutes from Des Moines, Iowa | 6 hours from Columbus, Ohio and Minneapolis, Minnesota

Where to stay: Red Roof PLUS+ Chicago - Naperville | AmericInn by Wyndham Oswego | Herrington Inn & Spa

Travel discounts for NEA members