We get as giddy as Clark Griswold when it comes to glorious holiday light displays. One of the cheeriest aspects of the season is taking the fam out to behold all of the festive twinkling lights that make everyone’s eyes sparkle. From boats bedazzled in a pirate theme in the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights and Jungle Bells at the Zoo to neighborhoods and family homes that really go the extra mile to shine––read on to see where to look on the bright side at dazzling light displays.

photo: Howard C. via Yelp 

Christmas Card Lane, Rancho Peñasquitos

Nothing says larger than life than the colossal cards that grace these landscaped lawns. Your little angels will sing with joy at the hundreds of giant Disney greetings on display. Clippity-clop on a horse-drawn carriage or warm-up to a bountiful bonfire. Dawdle or drive-down this magical street. Neighborhood lights up the first weekend in December.

Insider’s Tip: Best time to go is between 7-8 p.m. (it’s crowded, but all lights are on).

Oviedo Street, just off Black Mountain Road
Rancho Penasquitos, Ca

photo: California Christmas Lights

Carlsbad Home Offers Lights AND a Personalized Letter from Santa!

For a truly charming experience, take your little elves to mail their very own letter to Santa at his real mailbox located at 6646 Elegant Tern Pl. in Carlsbad. Santa actually writes back a free personalized letter to each kiddo (include your home address for a response)! According to the California Christmas Lights website, this personal residence boasts multiple illuminated features (as seen above) that will draw many ooohs and aaahs. A light-up Cookie Monster out front offers cookies and the mailbox has a tin of candy canes to sweeten the outing.

Read more about the Carlsbad mom who decks out this house and knows the true meaning of the holiday spirit here.


Good to know: Santa’s mailbox is located curbside from Dec. 1 through Dec. 23rd so his elves have ample time to receive the letters before Christmas Day.

Dates: Dec. 1-26th, 5:30-9:30 every night.


photo: Mario G on Yelp

Belardo Lights, Tierrasanta

This one-house masterpiece at 5306 N. Belardo Dr. is truly a must-see. It started in 2006 as a way for the Schimka family to give their two autistic sons, Brandon and Stephen, their very own light show for the holidays. This labor of love has more than 100,000 lights and is a heartwarming tradition for many families and continues to be an anxiously anticipated event each holiday season. Tune your car radio to 106.1 FM to hear holiday music played in sync with the lights.

Date: The house lights up starting Nov. 25th at 5:30 p.m.

Online: belardolights.com

photo: Garrison Street Stacie M. via blogspot.com

Garrison Street Lights, Point Loma

These luxurious hilltop estates have spectacular views and go all-out during the holiday season—it’s a 3D sparkling extravaganza. You’ll be amazed at the sheer number of lights as you stroll down this splendid street. Lights go on at dusk and off at 10 p.m. through December.

Garrsion Street, crossroad at Chatsworth
Point Loma, Ca

photo: Rachel Cobb/San Diego Botanic Garden

Garden of Lights, San Diego Botanic Garden

Twinkling lights wrap the boughs of the beautiful Botanic Garden. Pitter down the path (strollers welcome) and feel encircled by the delightful displays. More than 125,000 sparkling lights illuminate the flora of this fantastic 37-acre urban oasis each evening––resulting in a truly magical holiday experience. Beyond the lights, nightly entertainment includes blues and jazz bands, artisanal pizza and pasta, coffee and treats, Nutcracker displays and on certain evenings holiday carolers, horse-drawn wagon rides, snow for sledding and hot mulled wine. Santa will be at the Garden for visits Dec. 2-23. Your family is sure to get into the holiday spirit surrounded by all these fabulous festivities.

Insider’s Tip: The horse-drawn wagon is very popular and an extra fee, so be prepared for a short wait.

Dates: Dec. 2-23 & 26-30, 5-9 p.m
Cost: $15/adults; $5/kiddo; free for kids under 3; additional fees for some activities

San Diego Botanic Garden
230 Quail Gardens Dr.
Encinitas, Ca 92024
Online: sdbgarden.org/lights

photo: Carmel Mountain Kevin B. via Flickr

Carmel Mountain Ranch

Almost 100 homes on this friendly residential street turn up the wattage and amp up the brightness to really shine. You can drive on out to what is known as one of the best neighborhood light displays in the county. Cocoa, cookies and music can be found in this happenin’ hood. When the weather is right, some say Santa’s red fire truck is spotted scurrying little elves down the street.

Fairway Village at Stoney Gate Place
Starts around Dec. 10-Jan. 2
Time: dusk-10 p.m.

photo: Robert P. via Yelp

Knob Hill, San Marcos

Clocking in at over 85,000 lit-up lights, hundreds of fun-figurines and a whole lot of electrical wiring, this Knob Hill neighborhood is a go-to for brilliant displays. Santa is known to show up nightly for about a week before his special day to hand-out candy canes and hear wishes from his little helpers.

Lights-on between 5-9 p.m. nightly Nov. 24-Dec. 30

1639 Knob Hill
San Marcos, Ca 92069

Online: christmasonknobhill.com

photo: Marv Sloben/San Diego Bay Parade of Lights 

San Diego Bay Parade of Lights

San Diego is known as a sea-worthy city and the annual San Diego Bay Parade of Lights brightens the water like never before. This year’s parade is themed: “Arrgh! A Pirate’s Christmas” and will have more than 80 lavishly decorated boats touring the bay on the evenings of Dec. 10th & 17th. You can behold this free event from multiple locales, watching brilliantly bedecked boats buoy your holiday spirit. The two-hour long route travels through some of San Diego’s most treasured waterfront destinations including Shelter Island, Harbor Island, the Embarcadero, Seaport Village, the Pier at Cesar Chavez Park and the Ferry Landing in Coronado. Dress warmly––it can get quite nippy on these nautical nights.

Good to know: USA Today named the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights a candidate for “Best Holiday Parade” in the U.S.!

Dates: Dec. 10 and 17 beginning at 5:30 p.m.
Online: sdparadeoflights.org

photo: San Diego Zoo

Jungle Bells at San Diego Zoo

Take a walk on the wild side at the San Diego Zoo’s Jungle Bells holiday extravaganza. In addition to seasonal decor, animal experiences, costumed characters and live entertainment, there are two light-centric offerings that are sure to wow your little monkeys. In the “Celebration of Lights” music and light experience, hundreds of strands of colorful lights will dazzle viewers as the giant holiday tree is lit up. This 5-minute long show occurs at the zoo entrance every 30 minutes from 4:55-7:55 p.m. The “Carol of the Jungle Bells” Light Experience features a medley of holiday tunes and dancing lights combined to enchant and delight. This 5-minute show takes place on Koalafornia Boardwalk every 30 minutes from 4:25 to 7:25 p.m.

Dates: Dec. 8 – Jan. 1

2920 Zoo Dr.
San Diego, Ca

Online: zoo.sandiegozoo.org

Where do you go to be dazzled by Christmas lights? Share in the comments.

—Leah R. Singer & Beth Shea