By Julianne G. Crane
Writer’s Note: During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are highlighting places that can be safely experienced from the road or in an outdoor public space such as a park or college campus. If you know of cities with outstanding public art collections, or unique places, please let us know.
Many communities across America are planning free holiday lights celebrations; however, this year events are a little different. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, responsible organizers are limiting celebrations to socially-distanced holiday decorations or drive-through light displays. Visitors are being asked to follow all current state and locally mandated protocols.
“Nights of Lights” – St. Augustine, Fla.
More than three million tiny lights outline almost every building and walkway in the 144-square-block St. Augustine historic district during the free holiday event.
“Nights of Lights” traces its origins in the nation’s oldest city back to the traditional Spanish practice of displaying a white candle in windows during the Christmas holidays, says VisitStAugustine.com. “The stunning lights reflect the city’s 450-year history and illuminate the beautiful cityscape.”
Because of COVID-19, the traditional Opening Night Ceremony will not be held this year. However, the lights come on a week earlier than usual and run through the end of January 2021. The longer run allows more time for people to visit and take in the beauty of the nights.
If you go:
When: Nightly, Sat., Nov. 14 – Sun., Jan. 31, 2021
Time: Lights turn on at 5:30 p.m.
Where: Historic St. Augustine District
“Christmas Tree Lane” – Fresno, Cal.
As the story goes, it all began 100 years ago. Back in 1920, a child died in a home on North Van Ness Boulevard. That Christmas, a tree in front of his home was decorated to honor the child’s memory. Each year more lights have been added and “Christmas Tree Lane” continues to grow.
This year 140 houses and more than 300 trees along a two-mile stretch of North Van Ness Boulevard in the Fig Garden neighborhood will be decorated and open to vehicle traffic only. Because of COVID-19 this year there are no walking nights. Driving Christmas Tree Lane is a safe way for families to celebrate the season – at a social distance.
Visitors, including RVers, can drive “Christmas Tree Lane” between Shields and Shaw Avenues, Dec. 1 through Christmas night.
If you go:
When: Nightly, Tues., Dec. 1 – Christmas
Time: Sun. – Thurs., 6 – 10 p.m.; Fri. – Sat., 6 – 11 p.m.
Where: Fig Garden neighborhood, enter North Van Ness Boulevard (flowing northbound only) at Shields Avenue.
Cost: Free, but organizers accept donations.
Information: 559-348-9200, ChristmasTreeLane.com
“Festival of Lights” – Riverside, Cal.
The magical “Festival of Lights” returns for its 28th year with more than five million twinkling lights. The 2020 event will feature socially-distanced displays and holiday decorations in downtown Riverside and the dazzling lights on the historic Mission Inn Hotel grounds.
There will not be a “switch-on ceremony” and no vendors, attractions, or programming during the event.
“Tour the beautiful interior décor in our exquisite castle setting,” encourages the Hotel website, “and be sure to visit the life-size gingerbread house and the elaborately decorated live 19′ Christmas tree that are both displayed in the lobby.”
If you go:
When: Nov. 27 – Dec. 31, 2020
Where: Mission Inn Hotel, 3649 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside, CA 92501
Information: 951-683-7100, riversideca.gov/fol/