For many families, one of the most treasured traditions of the holiday season is driving by places that have gone all-out decorating with Christmas lights, tinsel, reindeers, and more.
This December, take a family drive to visit one of these homes or public places, all of which are definitely worth the trip.
Another idea: Make the trip even more memorable by taking a family photo at each destination—antler headbands and Christmas sweaters optional.
Tips for viewing private homes
- The biggest and best houses get tons of visitors. Dress for the weather and plan to walk a few blocks from your car to the home.
- Try not to go at peak viewing times, which are weekends and every day from 7–9 pm.
- Make sure you go when the lights are on; most homes are lit from dusk until around 9:30 or 10 pm.
- If you want to see Santa or experience other special activities at the home like carolers, plan your visit for the weekend.
- Keep an eye on the forecast before piling into the family car, as electrical lights will need to be covered and turned off in inclement weather.
- Many of these homes collect money for charitable causes or just to help with the cost of putting on the elaborate light shows, which can add hundreds and even thousands of dollars to the electric bill.
- Remember: Some of these are private homes. Please respect neighboring properties and other homeowners who are lucky—or unlucky—enough to live near one of these dazzling displays.
Light Displays at Public Venues
Turtle Back Zoo’s Holiday Lights
560 Northfield Avenue, West Orange
The zoo is illuminated with 100,000 bulbs creating 40 animal and holiday displays. Runs nightly from 5–9 pm, November 29–January 1; closed December 24–25. Admission is free, but the zoo collects charitable donations of non-perishable food and unwrapped new toys. For more information, visit turtlebackzoo.org.
Historic Smithville Holiday Light Show
Route 9 and Moss Mill Road, Smithville
Lake Meone has an orchestrated light show that includes 120 Christmas trees set afloat in a magical “parade of trees.” Runs from November 28–January 6, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, 5:30–8:30 pm. Free. Learn more at historicsmithvillenj.com.
Grounds for Sculpture Winter Lights
18 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton
The Grounds for Sculpture becomes a winter wonderland with thousands of twinkling lights decorating the park. Visitors can stroll the paths to enjoy the trees and buildings dazzling with holiday magic from Nov. 30–Dec. 28. Park admission required. There are also tram rides available Dec. 6–28 on Friday and Saturday nights from 5–8:30 pm, free with park admission. Rides are first-come, first-served and cannot be guaranteed. Learn more at groundsforsculpture.org.
Palmer Square Holiday Lights
One Palmer Square East, Princeton
In the heart of Princeton, Palmer Square Green is filled with holiday lights, festive fresh garland, red velvet ribbons, and a 65-foot tall Norwegian spruce adorned with over 32,000 dazzling lights.
Storybook Land Christmas Fantasy with Lights
6415 Black Horse Pike, Egg Harbor Township
Through December 30, the amusement park is lit-up with over 1 million lights, and all of the rides, attractions, and snack bars are open. Visitors will find Santa and Mrs. Claus taking up residence in their home through December 23. Open daily through December 30; park is closed December 24–25. Hours and admission prices vary; visit storybookland.com to learn more.
Shady Brook Farm Holiday Light Show
931 Stony Hill Road, Yardley, PA (use “Morrisville” for GPS directions)
Millions of lights transform farmland into a magical scene at Shady Brook Farm. Filled with whimsical light displays and beloved characters, visitors can experience the light show from their own car or by taking a horse-drawn hayride. Open daily through January 5, dusk to 10 pm. Depending on day of week, pricing varies from $20–25 per car and $12 per person for wagon rides.
For more information, visit shadybrookfarm.com.
Private Homes and Neighborhoods
Mercer Street, between Chapel Avenue and Route 38
Neighboring homes have been waging a friendly competition to see who can boast the biggest and brightest lights, and clearly the winners are the visitors who get to see this holiday spectacle. While you’re there, also check out the houses on Deer Road, near Chapel Avenue, which have homes covered in lights and lawns filled with holiday inflatables.
225 Plainfield Road (across the street from Charlie Brown’s restaurant)
This house is garnished with lights and more lights, with over 16,000 LED lights in all. Tune your radio to 90.5, as the lights are computerized to music, with songs programmed down to the second. And as if that’s not enough, the homeowner even grows a beard for the holiday season.
21 Philips Avenue
Bob Martel has been hosting “Martel’s Winter Wonderland” for more than 20 years. Traditionally, the lights run throughout December until Christmas Eve, with frequent weekend visits from Santa. Make sure you don’t miss the additional displays in the back of the home as well.
North Avenue, Pitman Grove section
The Hagerty family and their neighbors work together in a joint effort to create a “Winter Wonderland” that has grown every year for more than a quarter of a century. The enchantment now spreads out over the yards of eight-plus homes. Lit nightly from 5:30–9 pm during the week and 5:30–10 pm on weekends. Prepare the kids for a potential celebrity sighting: Santa and Mrs. Claus are there on many Friday and Saturday nights.
4 Debbie Place at Crestmont Drive
The mind-boggling lights display at “that house in Rockaway” has a special touch—a desk in the front yard where kids can write their very own letters to Santa. And, while they’re there, they can watch their wishes travel to Santa’s sleigh up on the rooftop. f
Editor’s note: We confirmed all the lights listed here as we went to press, but unforeseen events can occur. As always, we urge readers to do a bit of research before heading out with the kids if you can. Enjoy your holiday-lights tour!
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