Near and far, small towns and big cities are aglow with the magic of twinkling holiday lights.
Winterfest Lights up Ocean City
Nov. 18 thru Jan. 2 See shining lights by the seashore as Ocean City is first to turn on its holiday lights. Start your tour at the inlet lot, traveling through the Tunnel of Lights, a gleaming archway of 800,000 tiny bulbs. Take a turn down Baltimore Ave., from 15th to 32nd streets, through the Avenue of Trees, featuring elaborate illuminated wreaths and old-fashioned decorations. Arrive at Northside Park, off 127th St. and Isle of Wight Bay, where luminous displays of the Twelve Days of Christmas and fairytale friezes lead you to the Winterfest Village. Enter the heated tent for hot cocoa, browse through Yukon Cornelius’ Gift Shop and sit with Santa at his beachside getaway for a photo (ends Dec. 23) and last-minute gift requests. Pay for passage aboard the Winterfest Express and tour the mile-long illuminated boardwalk, featuring a classic carol soundtrack ($4/riders 10 & up; free Christmas day). 5:30-9:30pm Su-Th; 5:30-10:30pm FSa at Northside Park 127th St. & the Bay, Ocean City. $4 park admission: 800-626-2326; www.ococean.com.
Lights on the Bay
Nov. 20 thru Jan. 2 Lights on the Bay transforms Sandy Point State Park into a gleaming winter wonderland, featuring more than 60 elaborate animated displays. Cruise thru two twinkling miles to see North Pole scenes, a twinkling Up North Village scene, Candy Cane Lane, a giant 16-foot, red, teddy bear, midshipmen and Chessie, the Bay monster. With Holospex glasses, the show becomes 3-D with secret, hidden images. Kids hunt for clues on a driving scavenger hunt. On Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 25) and Saturdays and Sundays in December, Santa sits with kids to hear holiday wishes (5-10pm; thru Dec. 24). More magic: during the drive, your car radio picks up Santa’s Christmas signal. For a romantic night, call the Annapolis Carriage Company for a moonlight ride thru the illuminations (410-267-6656). Come a day early for a new perspective at the Dashing thru the Show 5K run (Nov. 19). Clip Bay Weekly $4 discount coupons for weeknight trips. 5-10pm rain or shine, including holidays at Sandy Point State Park. $14/car; $50/bus; $3/3D admission while supplies last. Benefits Anne Arundel Medical Center. 443-481-3161; www.aahs.org.
Columbia Plays a Symphony of Lights
Nov. 22 thru Jan. 2 More than 70 gigantic light sculptures and elaborate animated scenes line the Symphony Woods in Columbia. Drive the 1.4-mile path thru toy soldier displays, Mother Goose vignettes and Santa’s workshop at the 17th annual festival. This year, groups stroll thru the park on guided walks Nov. 29 thru Dec. 22. ($10/walker; rsvp; 4:30-5:45pm). The dazzling drive benefits Howard County General Hospital. 6-10pm at Symphony Woods, Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia. $20/car: 410-740-7840; to save on your illuminated excursion, go online for coupons. www.hcgh.org/drivethrough.
Watkins Festival of Lights
Nov. 26 thru Jan. 1 Cruise a 2.5-mile loop thru Watkins Park’s winter wonderland. Over a million lights form dazzling displays of archways, fairytale characters and holiday scenes. New this year: a centerpiece tree, a dancing forest and a holiday riverboat. Help spread the holiday cheer by bringing canned goods to donate to local food banks. For a frugal and festive holiday, buy a multi-visit pass that grants you admission to the twinkling drive three times for the price of two trips ($10). Nightly 5-9:30pm at Watkins Park, Rt. 214 to Watkins Park Dr., Upper Marlboro. $5/car or van; $10/multi-visit pass; $15/mini-bus; $25/bus; free Dec. 25: 301-699-2456; www.pgparks.com.
Nov. 26, 27; Dec. 3 thru Jan. 1 Drive into an enchanted forest at Gaithersburg’s 15th annual Winter Lights Festival. The 3.5-mile, illuminated road features more than 380 light displays — including 65 animated vignettes — capturing the winter woods, teddy bearland, a Victorian village and the North Pole. Walk or run thru the illuminations Nov. 20 ($25; rsvp). This year, buy a pair of optical glasses for a new view on the animated and illuminated vignettes. 6-10pm Nov. 26 & 27; 6-9pm Su-Th & 6-10pm FSa. Closed Mondays and Christmas Day. Seneca Creek State Park, 11950 Clopper Rd., Germantown. $14/F-Su; $12/Tu-Th: 301-258-6350; www.gaithersburgmd.gov/winterlights.
14th Annual Garden of Lights at Brookside
Nov. 26 thru Jan. 9 More than 940,000 lights bloom this walk-thru illuminated interpretation of the four seasons. Amble past displays of swimming geese and flying cardinals, watch a hungry bunny stalk a gardener sowing seeds and tremble at the sparkling monster. This year explore an 11-foot giraffe covered in 9,000 lights. Escape from the seasons in the visitor center for cocoa in the auditorium where musicians perform free 6:30-8:30pm. View an elaborate train display created by The South Conservatory and Train Exhibit, bordered by poinsettias, evergreens and flowering plants (free 10am-5pm). Celebrate an early New Year at the garden’s First Night celebration, featuring crafts, music, lights tours and an early countdown to 2011 (open until 10pm Dec. 31). To brighten the holidays for others, bring a non-perishable food item to the garden’s food drive. Light show closed Dec. 24 and 25 as well as Jan. 3 thru 6. 5:30-9pm (last car admitted 8:30pm); 5:30-10pm SaSu and Dec. 31 at Brookside Gardens, Wheaton. $20/car M-Th; $25/car F-Su (cash only): 301-962-1453; www.brooksidegardens.org.
Miracle on 34th Street ~ free
Nov. 27 thru Jan. 2 The residents of Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood perform a decorating miracle, defying rising energy costs on the 700 block of 34th Street. Thousands of lights sparkle from homes, holiday statues wave to passersby and a gleaming hubcap tree welcomes in the season at this homemade holiday wonderland. The heavy, slow traffic that floods 34th may make a car tour more taxing than festive. Park a few blocks away and walk the glowing expanse of sidewalks to appreciate the holiday feel. Strolling viewers beware: People soliciting donations for their power bills are not members of the Hamden light crew. dusk-11pm; dusk-dawn Christmas Eve & New Years Eve at 700 block of 34th St., Baltimore: 410-659-7300; www.christmasstreet.com.
Chesapeake Beach Beacons Beckon
Nov. 28 thru Jan. 1 Mother Christmas and special guest Santa Claus light the town Christmas tree and start the illuminations tour Nov. 28. Beach Elementary students sing as Santa passes out treats. 6pm lighting at Town Hall, 8200 Bayside Rd., Chesapeake Beach: 301-855-8398. Enter your home, business or boat in the Brightest Beacon on the Bay competition by calling Town Hall by Dec. 10. Judging Dec. 13. Thruout the season, drive thru Chesapeake Beach to see the Bayside town aglow with illuminated displays.
Baltimore’s Monumental Occasion ~ free
Dec. 2 thru Jan. 1 Venture into Charm City Dec. 2 for a monumental occasion: the 39th annual lighting of Baltimore’s Washington Monument. The obelisk — the first monument to George Washington begun in the U.S. — is the center of an opening-night holiday street fair, featuring musicians, refreshments and street performers. Heralding the big moment, local choirs sing holiday tunes, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake flips the switch and hundreds of tiny lights are dimmed by the flashes of a spectacular fireworks show. 5:30pm street fair; 7pm ceremony; 7:20pm lighting. Mount Vernon Place, 600 block of North Charles St., Baltimore: 410-244-1030; www.godowntownbaltimore.com.
Twinkling Temple ~ free
Dec. 3 thru Jan. 1 The Mormon Temple shines bright over the Washington area in the annual Festival of Lights. More than 500,000 lights and 18 decorated holiday trees twinkle around the temple, which features a life-sized outdoor Nativity scene and nightly music performances. This year hear live performances from the Suzuki Flute Ensemble, Lisa Hopkins Seegmiller, The Bells at Mt. Vernon Handbell Choir and the Northern Lights Dance Orchestra (full schedule at www.dctemplelights.lds.org). 10am-10pm temple open; dusk-10pm lights; nightly outdoor music 7pm & 8pm (and 9pm by demand) at The Mormon Temple, 9900 Stoneybrook Dr., Kensington: 301-587-0144.
ZooLights at the National Zoo
Dec. 3 thru Jan. 2 The National Zoo goes wild for the holidays with a menagerie of more than 50 LED light-sculptures highlighting species under the zoo’s protection. Stroll thru the illuminated walkways decked out with thousands of lights, hear live music, listen to zoo keepers and warm up with hot chocolate, cider and other seasonal treats. Every evening, after you enjoy the holiday glow, learn how you can make your holidays green with tips and tricks from PEPCO. Keep the wild fun going with a visit to the Small Mammal House, Great Ape House, Reptile Discovery Center, Think Tank and Kids’ Farm, which stay open late during ZooLights. The zoo lights up Friday thru Sunday thru Dec. 12, then nightly thru Jan. 2. No lights Dec. 24, 25 or 31. The National Zoo, 3001 Connecticut Ave., Washington, D.C. $8: 202-633-4240; www.fonz.org/zoolights.htm.
Annmarie Garden in Lights
Dec. 3 thru Jan. 2 As the sun sets over the sculptures that line the paths of Annmarie Garden, intricate light displays glow. Stroll through a quarter-mile, garden-crafted, winter wonderland featuring underwater fun, traffic jams, prehistoric thunder lizards, dancing Michael Jackson, a fairy tale scenes, pirates and a menagerie of animals. Pick up a map and a holiday I Spy program to search the lights for hidden images. Closed Dec. 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, 24 and 25. Annmarie Garden, Dowell Rd., Solomons. $5: 410-326-4640; www.annmariegarden.org.
Lighted Adventure Park USA
Dec. 5 thru Jan. 1 Drive thru a mile-long musical light show at Adventure Park USA’s new attraction: Christmas Wonderland. The show features animated Christmas lights timed to traditional Christmas music. Tune your car radio to the station and drive thru the moving musical extravaganza. 6pm at 11113 West Baldwin Rd., New Market. $25/car; $50/minibus: 301-865-6800; www.adventureparkusa.com.
Capitol Tree Aglowfree
Dec. 8 thru Jan. 1 Have a capital time in Washington, D.C., as the glimmering Holiday Christmas Tree illuminates the U.S. Capitol lawn across from the reflecting pool. On Dec. 9, President Obama gives a message of peace, and then Baltimore-born Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi illuminates the tree. This year’s 65-foot tree comes from the Equality State of Wyoming and is adorned with 5,000 western-themed ornaments made by the state’s school children. The tree — Wyoming’s first donation to the capitol — is the size of a six-story building. At 5pm Dec. 9, raise your voice with songs of the season at a concert featuring local and national acts. Then walk to the Botanical Gardens for a reception featuring Wyoming-style seasonal festivities. Along with the capitol tree, The Equality State donates 75 trees to government offices and buildings. Thereafter, the tree shines nightly from dusk-11pm at the Ellipse, south of the White House, Capitol Hill: 202-208-1631; www.capitolchristmastree2010.org/.
National Christmas Tree Shines ~ free
Dec. 9 thru Jan. 1 No line for tickets for this year’s illumination; instead, log on to www.thenationaltree.org to join the lottery for free tickets. After the Dec. 9 illumination, the President’s Park welcomes all seasonal spectators. Stroll thru a grove of 57 festive trees — one representing each state, our five territories and the District of Columbia — lining the path to the towering national fir, a gargantuan designed each year by Chesapeake Country’s own Hargrove Inc. The National Capital Trackers lay rails for an intricate railway system circling the base, featuring a winter wonderland scene and complex models. Feel the warmth of the season at the ferociously crackling Yule Log pit. At Santa’s workshop, children visit the jolly old elf and plead for their spot on the Nice List. Local musical groups and dance companies add to the holiday hullabaloo, with several concerts each day. Dec. 14-24: 6-8:30pm M-F; 1-8:30pm SaSu. See the trees and trains daily 11am-11pm at Ellipse, south of the White House: 202-208-1631; www.nps.gov/whho.