For many, the “oohs” and “aahs” of the holiday season involve eyes all aglow with twinkle lights. In JAX, the lighted beauty of our cities and attractions can grow the hearts of even the grinchiest of Grinches. And with so many displays around the region, visit one on each of your 12 days of Christmas.
One cannot miss the Nights of Lights in St. Augustine which has been heralded for their light displays with coverage from National Geographic Traveler, CNN Travel, USA TODAY and Coastal Living. Each year, more than three million lights are used in illuminating the nation’s oldest city, on buildings, in and around foliage and along the bayfront. Witness this spectacle by foot, car, carriage or guided tours. The two-month celebration ends Jan. 29, 2023. Locals tip: make any dinner reservations in advance when hoping to dine in the Old City during NOL. Restaurant wait times can take hours!
Northeast Florida’s beaches also light up the skies during the holiday season. Flagler Beach’s Starry Nights returns this year with lights all along A1A on businesses, residences and the Flagler Beach Municipal Pier at sundown daily through the end of January. A driving tour map can be found on the event website. And Jacksonville Beach’s Seawalk Pavilion and Latham Plaza are radiant with decorated lifeguard chairs and scenes through Jan. 1 in the 10th annual Deck the Chairs. The free event raises money for local nonprofits through the business-sponsored chairs, but also serves an educational purpose. Beaches Go Green’s Octopus Garden is a kid-friendly environmental awareness project in which the giant creature for which the garden is named was created using single-use plastics.
Speaking of animals, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens’ illuminated favorite, ZOOLights, combines a self-guided tour of lights and sounds throughout the zoo. The event enthralls guests with a multimedia light and musical experience including moving structures, performances, Santa (for the kiddos) and, of course, lights! The zoo comes to life at night each weekend through Dec. 24. Locals tip: The events sells out annually, so purchase your tickets in advance.
For 38 years (!), the tradition of classically lit streets and sidewalks has fueled the holiday spirit in Riverside and Avondale with their annual Luminaria. The 20,000+ candles lining the historic districts are a beautiful sight to behold, but the after-party extends the fun! The event, held this year on Dec. 11, brings about a block party of sorts along St. Johns Avenue in The Shoppes of Avondale with an uncoordinated parade of holiday well-wishers in their decorated cars, golf carts and trailers filled with hay and revelers!
One of the most impressive displays of neighbor collaboration during the holidays takes place in the non-descript Blackhawk Bluff neighborhood located off Girvin Road in Jacksonville’s Intracoastal West. The drive-through attraction has been wowing streams of cars for 17 years with canopies of lights. Tip: expect long lines of cars to get into the neighborhood, but the traffic is pretty steady.
Think there’s no snow in Florida? Think again! At Jacksonville Arboretum & Botanical Gardens in the Arlington neighborhood of Jacksonville, experience “snowfall” and lighted holiday installations throughout the grounds at the annual Dazzling Nights celebration. Upon entry, the Moroccan lanterns lead guests to snow machines in a forest, a giant star tunnel and an 8,000-square-foot lighted maze all while sipping hot cocoa or craft beer. Bring your camera and best friends – this is an Instagram-worthy holiday experience.
Before you’re “rocking around the Christmas tree,” make sure to check out one (or all) of the ways to get in the festive mood. With all the lighting up in the region this holiday season, it’s hard to feel down when closing out the year.