We don’t have snow but we do have lights for the Christmas season in the Tampa Bay area. But not all light shows are worth the hassle and traffic. We rounded up some holiday gems that the locals love.
Chick-fil-A on Waters Avenue: A fast food joint in Tampa has become a Christmas institution after more than 25 years of decking out its drive-thru, parking lot and building with nearly 1 million lights. The restaurant’s Instagram page @chickfila_waters even touts visits with Santa every Friday night after Thanksgiving. The lights are on display from 6-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday at 6299 W. Waters Ave., Tampa.
River of Lights tour: While a drive down Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa has some very pretty houses, why not get a view of the holiday decorations from the river? Pirate Water Taxi has a River of Lights Tour from downtown Tampa that offers a waterfront view of holiday displays, and also storytelling, singalongs, floating holiday displays and a special visit to Santa’s elf. Every child will have an opportunity to write a letter to Santa and drop it off in Tampa’s only floating mail buoy. Tickets start at $25 for kids and $35 for adults, and children will receive a holiday gift during the ride. 333 S. Franklin St., Tampa. piratewatertaxi.com.
Holiday Lights in The Gardens: The already lush Largo gardens get even prettier for the holidays, when the Florida Botanical Gardens are dressed up for its annual holiday lights event. It features 1 million twinkling LED lights in a multitude of colors. Vibrant laser lights and lighted figures round out the display. There will be free kids activities in the new Majeed Discovery Garden every Monday and Friday evening throughout the month of December. The suggested donation for admission is $10, and free for children 13 and under. 12520 Ulmerton Road, Largo.
Lights of Lake Park: For nearly 30 years, a route of elaborately decorated homes has raised donations for Suncoast Hospice in memory of a neighbor who died of cancer. Motorists have dropped more than $1 million into buckets as they cruise a 3-mile stretch through the Lake Park Estates, Wieker, Lakeside Estates and Lake Seminole Village neighborhoods. Runs from 6-10 p.m. nightly from Dec. 1-31. Route starts at 10742 95th St. N., Seminole. 727-523-3420. lightsoflakepark.com.
Marie Selby Gardens: Tickets are now on sale for Marie Selby Botanical Gardens’ annual Lights in Bloom holiday light show. Ranked among the 10 best botanical garden holiday light displays in the country by USA Today, the walk-through show features more than 2 million lights and other holiday and botanical decorations along the walkways and throughout gardens of the 15-acre downtown Sarasota campus. The event will run select nights from Dec. 8 through Jan. 3. Tickets may be purchased online at selby.org or in person at the welcome center. $30; $15 for ages 5-17. 1534 Mound St., Sarasota.
Planning your weekend?
Subscribe to our free Top 5 things to do newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Tampa Bay’s Festival of Lights: Beginning Thanksgiving Day and running through New Year’s Eve, the Hillsborough County Fairgrounds leads visitors through more than 1 million lights along a 2-mile drive. Favorites such as the Pirates of Tampa guarding the entry to the 110-foot drive-thru animated tunnel, the Florida-themed alligators and airboats and lively animals frolicking are joined by a new dip “Under the Sea,” sparkling with blue lights and playful aquatic creatures. Santa’s Village has treats and activities, including holiday-themed rides, a winter market that’s open every night, and the Hometown Hillsborough Historical Village, complete with firepits where families can make s’mores. The weekends bring visits with Santa, Santa’s workshop with craft stations, Santa’s Barnyard, camel rides, holiday movies and live entertainment. $25 per car. Hillsborough County Fairgrounds, 215 Sydney Washer Road, Dover. hillsboroughcountyfair.com/tampa-bay-festival-of-lights.
Largo Central Park: One of Pinellas County’s most luscious public parks is drenched in more than 2 million lights in a 70-acre area that invites strolling. There’s also a Ferris wheel and a carousel ($6 or 10 rides for $50), and food and drinks for sale in the nightly festivities. 101 Central Park Drive, Largo. playlargo.com.
Symphony in Lights: The Shops at Wiregrass’ holiday light show features an hourly “snowfall” and more than 250,000 LED lights choreographed to holiday favorites by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. The show runs hourly from 6-9 p.m. through Dec. 31. Free. 28211 Paseo Drive, Wesley Chapel. theshopsatwiregrass.com.
Christmas Lane in Plant City: The Florida Strawberry Festival fairgrounds have been transformed into a place to wander and wonder in a festive atmosphere lit up with 1.5 million lights and more than 200 Christmas trees from 4 to 40 feet tall. In addition to an elaborate light maze, there are also rides, food, live entertainment and a kids’ zone. Santa, Mrs. Claus and Rudolph will also be there for pictures. Admission is $8.85, $7.08 for ages 4-12. It is open 6-10 p.m. Nov. 24-26, Nov. 30-Dec. 3, Dec. 7-10 and Dec. 14-24. Parking is free at the festival fairgrounds at 2508 W. Oak Ave., Plant City. christmaslane.com.
Festival of Lights: Sarasota’s University Town Center is decked out with a massive number of festive lights, plus multiple Christmas trees and fun lighted displays like kayakers on the water. A nightly light show is set to choreographed music, every 30 minutes starting at 6:30 p.m. There will be a fireworks show every Saturday night in December at 9 p.m., and you can take a horse-drawn carriage ride ($10) Thursdays through Sundays to check out more than 50 charity-trimmed trees. The Girl Scouts of Gulfcoast Florida’s Gingerbread Festival, Dec. 1-19, will display more than 150 gingerbread houses crafted by local schools, businesses and nonprofit organizations. 257 N. Cattlemen Road, Sarasota. utcsarasota.com.