You may think that tropical South Florida would scoff at winter holiday celebrations, since all our snow is fake (and melts quickly in the 80-degree weather) and it's rarely cold enough to have chestnuts roasting on an open fire – if anyone had a fireplace.
But what we are missing in snow and ice, we make up for in lights, with lots of public light displays throughout Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and surrounding areas. When you think of Christmas and Hanukkah displays, you may not think of the tropics, but light displays in tropical gardens are a favorite Florida holiday spectacle. We're not talking just a few houses shining bright, though Floridians do love getting their holiday decorations out of storage and lighting up their palm trees. We also have entire botanical gardens filled with light displays, some of them extremely elaborate.
With perfect weather in December, walking around these light displays in the evening is a wonderful Miami and Fort Lauderdale holiday tradition. Each year, the displays get bigger, brighter and more creative.
Here are nine of South Florida's favorite holiday light displays:
NightGarden at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
This event is three times the size it was last year. The light show transforms Miami's premier botanic garden into a world of fantasy, with a Wise Talking Tree, Archimedes, flying fairies, holographic butterflies, an augmented reality Fairy Quest challenge and more. Tickets are $33 for adults and $26 for children 10 and younger. Advance reservations are suggested. Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, 10901 Old Cutler Road, Coral Gables, FL 33156.
Jungle Island Luminosa
Luminosa is a unique new take on a Chinese lantern festival, spreading 34 giant lantern exhibits over 13 acres of tropical plantings. Exhibits include a South Beach Art Deco scene, a reproduction of a popular spot in Miami's Wynwood neighborhood, towering orchids, flowers, jellyfish, parrots and more, plus a 114-foot panoramic rendition of an iconic Miami destination decked out in Chinese graffiti art. The event also includes a Winged Wonders show and a Chinese acrobat show every night. Admission is $35 for adults and $27 for children 10 and younger. Jungle Island, 1111 Parrot Jungle Trail, Miami, FL 33132.
Zoo Lights at Zoo Miami
Larger-than-life animals made of lights are the highlights of this Zoo Miami light display, which runs selected weekend nights in December. The 3D experience includes animal-shaped light displays, thousands of illuminated trees and holiday music, plus animal encounters, Snowman's Riverboat rides and interactive music. Admission is $15.95 (plus tax). Zoo Miami, 12400 SW 152nd St, Miami, FL 33177.
Pinecrest Gardens Nights of Lights
Nights of Lights at Pinecrest Gardens features more than 60 larger-than-life light installations spread throughout the tropical garden. The event also includes activities for children most nights and musical performances and movies on selected nights. Admission is $7. Pinecrest Gardens, 11000 SW 57th Avenue, Pinecrest, FL 33156.
Santa's Enchanted Forest
This longtime Miami attraction bills itself as the "world's largest holiday theme park." The family-owned attraction has been drawing adults and children of South Florida since 1982, meaning that Miamians who visited as children now take their own children. It includes not only light displays, but also carnival rides, food, and shows. Admission is about $40 for adults and $30 for children ages 3 to 8. There are also season passes available.
Symphony of Lights at Gulfstream Park
The Village of Gulfstream Park shopping area celebrates the holidays with 250,000 lights that dance to holiday music from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra every hour on the hour from 6 to 11 p.m. There is no admission charge, and parking is free. Gulfstream Park, 901 S. Federal Highway, Hallandale Beach 33009.
Flamingo Gardens Garden of Light
Flamingo Gardens decorates its gardens and arboretum with tens of thousands of lights creating holiday scenes. This year, the garden added a 3-D Projecting Mapping Show with lights and music. Admission is about $15 for adults and $10 for kids ages 3 to 11. Flamingo Gardens Botanical Garden and Everglade Wildlife Sanctuary, 3750 S. Flamingo Rd, Davie, FL 33330.
Holiday Fantasy of Lights in Tradewinds Park
This drive-through holiday lights experience is a favorite at Broward County's Tradewinds Park. The attraction includes miles of animated holiday displays and illuminated trees. You can also buy 3-D glasses at the park entrance to enhance the experience. Admission is $18 per car, with discounts available some nights.
Holiday Lights Cruise With Water Taxi
Fort Lauderdale's Water Taxi offers a cruise down the Intracoastal Waterway to look at the lights of the mansions along the way. The popular cruise includes live music every night and a cash bar with holiday cocktails. Tickets are $30 for adults and $15 per children 5 to 11. Reservations are required, and the sailings sell out quickly. Fort Lauderdale Water Taxi, 335 SW Sixth Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33388.
Are we missing anything? We’d love to hear your comments about our list or some of your favorite holiday light displays in South Florida!