You might think that denizens of the City of Neon see too many lights year-round to bother stringing up extras during the holidays. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only do thousands of residents festoon their homes and apartments with electric decorations, several local off-Strip landmarks flip the switch on major light displays this time of year. Here are five worth-a-journey holiday light displays.
Springs Preserve. For the second time since its opening two years ago, the Springs Preserve has illuminated its desert gardens with hundreds of thousands of holiday lights. If you haven’t taken the opportunity to visit the Preserve yet, the Winter Lights Festival is the perfect chance to get acquainted with the Vegas valley’s newest major family attraction. In addition to the spectacular light display, you can get last minute “green” shopping done at the gift shop and enjoy carriage rides, strolling entertainment and holiday treats. Location: 333 S. Valley View Blvd. between US 95 and Alta Drive, Las Vegas. Open Fridays to Sundays 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. through December 21, daily 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. from December 22 to 30 (closed Christmas Day). Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for children ages 5 to 17 and free for Annual Pass members and children 4 and under. Entry includes admission to all museums and galleries. [Map]
Ethel M Chocolate Factory and Cactus Gardens. Forrest Mars Sr., the patriarch of the Mars candy and food empire, created a world-class desert botanical garden in what looked like the middle of nowhere back in 1981. Now in the middle of Green Valley, the cactus still sparkles every December with half a million very carefully-placed Christmas lights. You may not see snowmen in this winter wonderland, but you can talk to Santa and try Ethel’s scrumptious chocolate. Location: 2 Cactus Garden Drive, Henderson. Open daily 5-10 p.m. (except Christmas Day) through January 1. Admission is free, and so is a taste of chocolate. [Map]
Palm Memorial Parks. Cemeteries may not seem like a great place to go to get into the holiday spirit, but make an exception for these. Every year, menageries of animals constructed out of white Christmas lights sparkle to life at the memorial parks at 7600 S. Eastern Avenue and 6701 N. Jones Boulevard. Peaceful and beautiful, the displays offer a quiet break during the hustle and bustle of the season. Open from dusk until midnight, December 1 to 31. Admission is free. [Map]
Gift of Lights. This well-loved Vegas tradition is an electrical parade in reverse. Instead of sitting on a curb to watch the lights roll by, you drive your car through a dazzling route in Sunset Park. Made up of cleverly-constructed animated displays sponsored by businesses and organizations from all over the Vegas valley, the Gift of Lights also features twinkling tunnels of lights at both ends of the route. You can tune your car radio to a special station for holiday music while you enjoy your drive-through, and refreshments are also available. Location: Sunset Park, 2601 E. Sunset Road, Las Vegas. Open 5:00 to 10:00 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and holidays and from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays through January 4. Admission is $13 per car. Buses are $1 per person with a $13 minimum. [Map]
The Magical Forest. Steve Fey has written all about this long-standing tradition for Living Las Vegas, but this list wouldn’t be complete without another mention of Opportunity Village’s annual holiday festival. In addition to lights, you can enjoy rides, hot cocoa, and the warm feeling that you’ve supported a wonderful organization. Open through Dec. 30, including Christmas Day; 5:30 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 5:30 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The Magical Forest is located at 6300 W. Oakey Blvd., adjacent to the College of Southern Nevada. Admission for children (ages 3 to 11) is $7.50, and for adults (12 and over), it’s $9.50. [Map]