holiday lights

Prepare to be dazzled: Don’t miss these 9 holiday light displays

Kids love peering through car windows and admiring the bright lights of neighborhood displays.

We do, too!

So we can just imagine the looks on their little faces when they see these amazing holiday light extravaganzas. Each is special in its own way. And many include family-friendly activities for even more fun.

A dusting of snow adds to the beauty of Phipps’ outdoor garden display. Photo by Paul G. Wiegman.

1. Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens

The spectacle of Phipps’ Holiday Magic! Winter Flower Show and Light Garden runs through Jan. 12. This year’s theme, a Festival of Trees, offers a tree carousel display, bright poinsettia trees and a floating forest of sparkling trees reflected in water. Look for the topiary reindeer in the frozen forest and the Rainbow Glow Tree, 8-feet tall with 15 branches of color.

The outdoor Winter Light Garden takes on an enchanted aspect with a tunnel of lights to walk through, glowing orbs, magical trees with light dripping from the tips of branches, and paths lined with bright stalks of crystal colors.

Pick up a pair of Holiday Hologram Glasses that use the science of holographic diffraction to reveal festive snowflakes while looking at the LED light displays.

Kids will have fun exploring Garden Railroad’s “Farms, Food and Family” model train exhibit and its interactive features. Free-with-admission activities include Santa visits, live performance nights and family programs for kids with crafts, storytimes and pot-a-plant activities.

Timed tickets are required to help plan your visit and prevent overcrowding.

Kids will love riding in Louis the Locomotive at Lumaze.

2. Lumaze: Lost in Lights

A giant, 100,000-square-foot warehouse in the Strip District is filled with an indoor holiday light display called Lumaze: Lost in Lights. This new exhibition features 2 million lights within “A Fairytale Christmas” theme.

Stroll through lighted trails and discover treasures in the holiday market. Food trucks will be on hand with lots of delicious choices. Watch the schedule for live entertainment and visits from Santa.

Kids can enjoy hands-on fun with interactive activities and a Gingerbread House Playground. Ride in Louis the Locomotive, a trackless train, or set little ones on a Bouncy Reindeer. Jumping and tapping on the LED hopscotch and swings change colors in a way that re-invents these classic activities.

Lumaze, in 31st Street Studios, will operate through Jan. 4.

holiday lights
When visiting Kennywood Park’s Holiday Lights, kids can indulge in their favorite amusement park concessions.

3. Kennywood Park

In its ninth season, the sparkling display of Holiday Lights at Kennywood Park has grown to nearly 2 million lights. Kids can watch the nightly tree-lighting ceremony of the tallest Christmas tree in Pennsylvania, measuring a towering 90 feet, plus a 10-foot tree-topping ornament. At the lagoon, a light show choreographed to music runs every 30 minutes.

New this year, kids can settle in to watch “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer 4D” in the warmth of Kennywood’s 4D Theater. Kids will experience the sights, smells and sensations on-screen along with the Rudolph and Hermey the Elf.

Stop in the Penny Arcade, which houses the Pittsburgh Independent Hi-Railers model train display, or hop a ride on the Journey with Thomas for a train tour of the park.

Thomas Town attractions, Kiddieland rides, plus Noah’s Ark and the Merry-Go-Round will be in operation for the little ones. Even more thrills can be found on favorites like the Turtle, Kangaroo, Pirate Ship and Ghostwood Estate.

Holiday Lights is open Fridays through Sundays until Dec. 22, then nightly from Dec. 26 to 30.

Penguins at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh are ready to welcome kids to holiday festivities.

4. The National Aviary in Pittsburgh

During the National Aviary’s Holiday Lights and Late Nights, the Aviary will show off its light displays until 9 p.m. on Wednesdays through Dec. 18. Beginning at 5 p.m., expect live entertainment games and crafts, plus the chance to explore the Aviary’s lush, tropical displays.

The entire Aviary, both inside and out, is swathed in lights, including life-size penguins and a family of swans that are over 6 feet tall. Softer, thematic lights glow in the bird habitats. Pink lights, for example, are matched with flamingos.

Special holiday and penguin-themed events include photos with Santa and a penguin, holiday brunch with Santa and penguin guests, plus Holiday Penguin Camps to keep kids learning and having fun over winter break.

holiday lights
Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland in Pittsburgh is one of six locations across the country.

5. Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland

Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland at the Big Butler Fairgrounds is one of six locations across the country. The 3-mile, drive-through light show is elaborately choreographed to holiday music played on your car’s radio. Check out the new “Santa’s Safari” display, where Santa and his buddies frolic while on vacation.

Admission includes a stop at Santa’s Village, where hot cocoa and a kid-friendly menu of snacks – kettle corn, funnel cakes and hot pretzels – are available. Write a letter to Santa during your visit. Carnival-style amusements like Tubs of Fun, the Elephant Ride and Polar Express Train are part of the entertainment lineup.

Locally, Shadrack’s benefits the Dollar Energy Fund. The light show operates daily through Jan. 6, including holidays.

holiday lights
New this year at Oglebay, 3-D Sleigh Bans offer holographic technology that magically transforms lights.

6. Oglebay

The Oglebay Winter Festival of Lights, a skip and a jump across the border to Wheeling, W. Va., is one of the largest light exhibits in the country. The 6-mile, drive-through display covers more than 300 acres with lines of lights and 89 features, running through Jan. 5. Must-see lighted characters include Willard the Snowman, Cinderella Arriving at the Ball and the Dinosaur Park.

The 3-D Sleigh Bans — think Ray-Bans – return this year in a family four-pack. Holographic technology magically transforms lights into a whole new experience. The four-pack includes admission to the display, a season pass, four Sleigh Bans and $25 worth of coupons for shops and attractions.

Fidgety kids can be released from their booster seats to wander through The Frosted Hilltop. That’s where you’ll find the Snowflake Express Train Ride and the Frosty Wagon ride. Lighted hanging baskets and flowers line the brick pathways of the Gardens of Light. The Christmas Tree Garden glows with three dozen lighted trees. The Frosted Hilltop offers shops, too, where a sweet tooth can be indulged.

Oglebay’s Good Zoo offers encounters in Santa’s Reindeer Training School (reservations suggested). The zoo patio is the site of the Rockin’ Holiday Lights Show and the Holiday Laser Show with lights dancing in time to holiday music.

There are loads more activities for kids at the Wilson Lodge, including photos with Santa. All tuckered out? Relax with hot chocolate in front of a crackling fire.

holiday lights
Henry Hemlock, the talking Christmas Tree, makes a new friend.

7. Overly’s Country Christmas

Henny Hemlock, the talking Christmas tree, is the darling of kids visiting Overly’s Country Christmas in Greensburg. Henny strikes up conversations and elicits giggles with his corny jokes. (What do you get when you cross a snowman with a vampire? Frostbite!) Kids have fun on horse-drawn carriages, in Santa’s Workshop, and riding the Kids Express train. Roasting marshmallows at the bonfire is another highlight.

Every display in this walkable Christmas wonderland was conceived and built by community volunteers, school groups, and clubs. Visitors are guided through 1.5 miles of fencing, all dolled up with more than 16,000 LED lights and 85 bows. The village and light displays number over a million lights, with four miles of audio cable connecting speakers to the central sound system.

The tradition started in 1956 at Harry Overly’s beautifully decorated home. The grandeur eventually expanded into the surrounding seven acres, attracting visitors from all over. Through the first 35 years, $1 million was collected from visitors and donated to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and children’s medical services at Westmoreland Regional Hospital. Since its move to the larger space of Westmoreland Fairgrounds in 1993, the charitable nature continues with donations benefitting several organizations through Share the Magic, Family Giving, and community outreach.

Overly’s operates daily through Dec. 30, except for Dec. 9, 24 and 25.

holiday lights
Play miniature golf within a holiday-themed light display at Fun Fore All.

8. Fun Fore All

Through Jan. 2, kids can play 36 holes under the bright glow of Fun Fore All’s Holiday Lights Mini Golf in Cranberry. Fun Fore All’s two courses – the Holly Jolly Cave Course and Very Merry Lighthouse Course – are all glammed up to a shimmering playable, walk-through display with tunnels of light and animated themes, like Under the Sea, Victorian Christmas, and Penguins.

Watch for special events like the “Star Wars”-themed A Galaxy Fa La La Away and A Very Merry Grinchmas Dessert Party. And you’ll have a blast at the New Year’s Funtastic Eve.

The whole shebang benefits The Highmark Caring Place.

The snow-covered mountain setting gives Seven Springs Holiday in the Highlands a special touch.

9. Seven Springs Mountain Resort

At Seven Springs’ Holidays in the Highlands, visitors enter through a brilliant tree-lined passageway of more than a million lights over two miles. The Laurel Mountain setting is a beautiful one, with a scenic background of snow-covered slopes. The Holiday Light Display will shine through Jan. 19.