A certain kind of magic materializes during the holidays—the streets come to life, ablaze with twinkling lights, snowmen and the jingling of bells.
Never mind that we're all grown up—holiday lights never seem to lose their enchanting effect. Come winter, it's one of the traditions we look most forward to, and finding the most dazzling displays is our seasonal treasure hunt. So don't you tarnish your seasonal spirit with a fretful online search. We've put together a handy Bay Area guide to the most stunning, colorful, and extravagant lights in the area.
Holiday Lights and Sights, San Francisco
(Courtesy of Hornblowers Classic Cable Cars via Facebook)
What could be more festive than taking in holiday lights from the comfort of a classic cable car? This 80-minute themed holiday tour is led by a guide who will show you all the sights—Fisherman's Wharf, North Beach, Chinatown, Union Square, Financial District, The Embarcadero and Pier 39. Added bonus: partake in a joyous singalong while wearing a Santa hat. // 190 Napoleon St. (Bayview), get tickets ($39) at classiccablecar.com.
Tom and Jerry's House, San Francisco
Every year, for over 30 years, couple Tom Taylor and Jerome "Jerry" Goldstein light up their home in a glorious display of lights and decorations. The pièce de resistance is the massive, 65-foot, fully-festooned Christmas tree in the front yard. Added bonus: Kids can hang out with Santa, everyday through Christmas Eve. // 6:30pm to 9:30pm everyday to visit Santa, lights will be on display until Jan 1st, 3650 21st St. (Castro), more information at Facebook..
Christmas Tree Lane, Alameda
In the East Bay, the houses on Christmas Tree Lane in Alameda are remarkable to say the least. You can see home after home, gleaming and sparkling with endless neon brilliance. Santa will be in attendance, every night (weather permitting) // Visit Santa from 6:30pm to 8pm through Dec 23rd, lights will be on display through Dec 31st, 3200 block of Thompson Ave. (Alameda), more information at Facebook.
Holiday Circle of Lights, Oakland
Mountain View Cemetery is also getting into the holiday spirit (no pun intended) with its Holiday Circle of Lights. There, you will behold a giant Nutcracker soldier, reindeer sled, snowmen, skaters, a carriage scene, a train of toys, and of course, stunning lights in abundance. //5pm to 9pm everyday until January 1st, 5000 Piedmont Ave.(Oakland), mountainviewcemetery.org.
Zoo Lights, Oakland
via East Bay Loop
This holiday season, the Oakland Zoo will explode with dazzling lights all around—see the new laser light show on the gondolas that soar over the zoo or music-themed light show. Santa, too, will be there to join in the fun on select days. Added bonus: you can warm up with hot cocoa and homemade s'mores at Flamingo Plaza. //Dec 1st-23rd, 26th-31st, Jan 1st, $10 for adults, $9 for children (2-14) and seniors (65-75), children under 2 and adults 76+ get in free, oaklandzoo.org.
Rombeiro's Christmas House, Novato
When it comes to holiday lights, more, bigger, and brighter is always better. The Rombeiro's Christmas House has been the embodiment of these festive wishes for 26 years. Added bonus: visitors can tour the inside of the house, and get a free candy cane. // free, 34 Devonshire Dr. (Novato), more information on Yelp.
Widmer World, Pleasanton
Widmer World is Bob and Susan Widmer's grand homage to the holidays. Their first scene, of Santa, Mrs. Claus, and the reindeer, was constructed in 1980; since then they have expanded to 30 displays with lights that are sequenced to music, motorized items, and several other seasonal delights. // free, 3671 Chelesea Ct., (Pleasanton), widmer-world.com.
Mickey Mouse Christmas House, San Rafael
No need to go to Disneyland; Mickey is in full effect in Marinwood. Three generations of the Mize family have been involved in bringing joy to the masses through their intricate house decorations, featuring more Mickeys than one can count. Sadly, because of the family's desire to simplify, this season of festive holiday lights will be the last. This is your last chance to see a San Rafael classic. //free, 417 Blackhouse Rd. (San Rafael), More information at Facebook.
Fantasy of Lights, Los Gatos
At the Fantasy of Lights in Los Gatos, you can see the sparkling sights from the cozy comfort of your own car. Listen to holiday music while you take in over 50 themed displays at Vasona Lake County Park. // 333 Blossom Hill Road (Los Gatos), Get tickets ($20 per vehicle, $50 per oversized vehicle) at eventbrite.com, sccgov.org.
Christmas Tree Lane, Palo Alto
Christmas Tree Lane in Palo Alto is another gilded stretch that will have you driving and walking by in glee. Several abodes are alight and brimming each night with seasonal decor. The tradition goes back to 1940, when it all began as Christmas Fairyland Lane. // 5pm to 10pm, Dec 16th to Dec 31st, 1705 Fulton St.(Palo Alto), christmastreelane.org
Chestnut Street Houses, South San Francisco
The cars line up, bumper to bumper, to to take in the Chestnut Christmas Lit Houses' breathtaking lights, decor, and window displays. The houses at Parkway Estates in South San Francisco go all out every year; once a house even featured a motorized, rotating Christmas tree completely covered in teddy bears. // free, 501 Woodside Ct., (South San Francisco), more information at Facebook.