America's 17 Best Streets for Christmas Lights
We all have that one neighbor who goes absolutely bonkers during the holidays, covering their house with so many LED lights and reindeer that you can see the place from space. That neighbor is, undoubtedly, the best. But in some neighborhoods there’s a Clark Griswold at every address, and year after year, these neighborhoods transform into the places to be if you want to peep Christmas lights en masse.
The best streets for luminescent holiday cheer come in all sorts of flavors (and are often called Candy Cane Lane, it seems). Some pit neighbor against neighbor in a competition to see whose holiday cheer beams brightest. Others are historic traditions dating back a century, while others still are lucrative charity events that contribute to the spirit of giving through a sea of bright plastic Santas.Every city’s got its standout, but these—in no particular order—are the best places in America to tour over-the-top Christmas lights.
The holiday showdown at this sprawling suburb of Phoenix isn’t so much a neighborly competition as it is a collaborative effort. Residents coordinate their displays to coincide with music, timing their bright animatronic reindeer to fly along with a special radio broadcast. Tune your car radio and listen as you drive through, or just stroll by and enjoy the show with nothing but the joyous sounds of the season. The lights are up through New Years Day.
Every night at the stroke of 4:30 pm, Arthur Street goes from a sleepy northeastern residential area to a brightly colored sea of joyful Christmas lights. The top show in the Boston area is free to the public, but as this is the season of giving, organizers are also accepting donations in support of Boston Children’s Hospital.
Tacky Lights Tour
Rather than limiting its displays of sunglasses-sporting Santas, animatronic dolls, and greeting cards used as outdoor decorations to one street, Richmond instead honors the best of the worst with a city-wide driving tour. The annual Richmond Times Dispatch’s Tacky Lights Tour provides visitors with a mapped, two-hour loop around the city where they can catch some of the most eye-shielding holiday festivities in the world. Think of it as a more electrified, city-wide version of an ugly sweater party.
Candy Cane Lane
West Allis, Wisconsin
What began as a way to cheer up a cancer-stricken neighbor by wrapping trees up like candy canes in the ‘80s has transformed into a 300-home extravaganza and a hell of a fundraiser. Each year, the Milwaukee suburb raises hundreds of thousands for Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer, making this an event where you’re participating in the spirit of giving and the spirit of gawking.
Imagine sitting through an hour of Metroplex traffic on the commute back to your quiet suburban home, only to find another, equally gridlocked traffic jam leading onto your street. Such is the plight of residents of this neighborhood in northwest Arlington, where Texas-sized light displays draw equally impressive crowds throughout the entire holiday season. The tour has proven so popular, the city posts special rules and sets up traffic patterns to ensure the chaos is minimized. Still, local residents, for the most part, seem to enjoy the spectacle, as it’s been going strong since 1976.
Candy Cane Lane
Woodland Hills, California
There are a lot of streets that refer to themselves as “Candy Cane Lane,” though unlike the one in the new Eddie Murphy movie, this one probably does so because it has a much nicer ring than “Candy Cane Intersection.” That's actually a more accurate description of this annual competition between the residents of Lubao and Oxnard Streets inWoodland Hills, who made this valley town famous long before the Kardashians arrived. LA’s premiere Christmas spectacle is one of the city’s biggest winter draws (which is really saying something), though residents kindly request you finish your gawking by 10 pm during the week (11 pm on weekends).
The award for most illuminated street in the East Bay goes to the 3200 block of Thompson Avenue in Alameda. Every year Santa posts up in the median, where kids—after posing with some of their favorite inflated cartoon characters and watching the occasional performance from the Dancing Christmas Trees—can hit the old man up for a new Teddy Ruxpin or whatever kids are asking for these days.
NE Park Road
Around a short bend in the road near northeast Seattle’s Ravenna Park is a tucked-away row of homes that was easily the brightest spot in town until the Seahawks got good. And even though the Seahawks have returned to irrelevance, the displays on Seattle’s version of Candy Cane Lane are still the top Christmas stop for every family in the city, twinkling away since 1949.
Plunked in the middle of Southeast Portland, Peacock Lane feels a lot more like old-school Ramona Quimby Portland than it does post-Portlandia hipstertropolis. On this residential street, people line up en masse to take pictures in front of Santa statues and nativity scenes in front of nearly every single house. This shimmering beacon of light in the rainy winter has drawn holiday cheer-makers for a full century, making it one of the most enduring relics of the “Old Portland'' that the Portlanders love to pretend doesn’t exist anymore.
Christmas Card Lane
Rancho Penasquitos, San Diego, California
In perhaps the greatest combination of Spanish-Mediterranean architecture and gaudy Christmas lights on Earth, San Diego’s best street for Christmas lights features over 200 Spanish-Mediterranean mansions decked out in their Christmas best starting at Twin Tails Dr. and Black Mountain Road.
Brooklyn, New York
Brooklyn may be America’s hipster hotbed, but you wouldn't know it walking through this part of the borough post-Thanksgiving. In what many say is the best residential street in the country for Christmas lights, the very unironic stately brick houses of Dyker Heights are draped with lights and life-size Santas, not to mention nutcracker statues, sleighs, and other Christmasy cheer.
Located in central Tucson, the neighbors in historic Winterhaven have brought the voltage every year for the past seven decades with their annual Festival of Lights, which is one of the city’s biggest non-gem-related events. Bring a donation for the local food bank, then go on foot, hop a trolley or take a hay ride to peep a dizzying array of lights in the cool desert air.
The Hampden section of Baltimore boasts some of the city's most impressive row houses, and directly after Thanksgiving it becomes the city’s very own Miracle on 34th Street. Residents have been stringing lights across these homes for nearly seven decades, along with putting up other creative decorations like giant lit-up crabs, an overhead train, and snowmen made from bicycle rims.
The end of the line for Sacramento’s old street car was this historic neighborhood between 40th and 48th streets (and J Street and Folsom Boulevard) in East Sac. It's where Sacramento’s oldest and grandest mansions (like the old Reagan home, for example) live up to their “fabulous” moniker, dressing up in their finest lights and showcasing their early 20th-century grandeur.
While Philly’s South 13th Street is the best urban holiday light display in Philly, if you're talking about big houses draped in bulbs, nobody beats the 2700 block of Smedley Street between 16th and 17th (and Moyamensing and Oregon Avenues). Its displays have earned it the simple-but-impressive nickname of “The Christmas Street”.
The section of Austin’s 37th Street between Guadalupe and Home showcases probably the most impressive Christmas light display in all of Texas (aside from the one on Rainey Street, if it actually existed). What started out as a creative way to display leftover lights found at frat houses has become an annual tradition that draws thousands of visitors.
Lights Under Louisville
Want an alternative to driving slowly through a neighborhood and staring at strangers’ houses? Try driving underneath the Louisville Mega Cavern, an old limestone mine decked out with 40 holiday displays. The display boasts lasers, a holographic santa, 900 characters, 6,500,000 points of light, and only a slight chance of encountering the South’s version of Gollum. And as a bonus? You can see the lights during the daytime, too.