Three Old Florida locales – Mount Dora, St. Augustine and the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park – work to outdo all others in holiday lights and décor.
It’s a shame the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas are so full of shopping and events, because this is a terrific time to enjoy Florida’s natural beauty.
One way to squeeze in a weekend is to combine the outing with your holiday celebrations. These three spots are also excellent places to hike, kayak, bicycle and explore Florida historic sites.
Sure, every community has decorations and parades, but these three destinations stand out. Their Old Florida setting complements their over-the-top holiday decorations.
Mount Dora Christmas Lights Festival
Mount Dora is always having a weekend festival. (Here’s a good guide to Mount Dora and its special events.) But the city’s Christmas lights festival lasts for a month and includes a wide variety of events.
Mount Dora decorates with three million lights. They flip the switch on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017 and there are a series of holiday events on the weekend of Dec. 1-3, 2017. Friday, Dec. 1, 2017, is the Christmas Walk, a holiday street party from 6 to 9 p.m. On Dec. 2, there’s a holiday parade at 10 a.m. and a lighted boat parade at night. On Dec. 2 to 3, 2017, you can tour several of Mount Dora’s most gracious homes, decorated for the holidays. (Tickets are $20 in advance; $25 at the door.) There are many other events, including riding with Santa on the historic 1907 Orange Blossom Cannonball steam train.
St. Augustine Nights of Lights
When St. Augustine turns on the lights on Nov. 18, 2017, it stays lit up all the way through Jan. 31, 2018. Like Mount Dora, the Oldest City estimates it has 3 million lights. (By city ordinance, all holiday lights in the historic and residential areas must be white.) One of its most spectacular displays is lighting up the iconic and historic Bridge of Lions.
St. Augustine’s holiday decorations have been ranked among the 10 best holiday light displays by National Geographic, and they can enjoyed by land and sea – there are boat tours, horse and carriage rides, pedicabs or trolley tours.
One key event is the Dec. 9-11, 2017, holiday tour of historic inns and bed and breakfasts. Tickets are $45 and are good for all three days of the event. A less expensive tickets ($25) good for three weekdays, Dec. 11-12-13, is being introduced this year.They can be purchased at the holiday tour website. On each day, a dozen inns open their doors and offer samples of dishes from various local restaurants and shops. (The inns are different each day.)
Festival of Lights at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park
Mount Dora and St Augustine each claim 3 million lights and they are whole cities. This state park claims it displays 5 million lights! People travel many miles to see the lights that outline the majestic oak trees and historic buildings in this park along the Suwanee River. The park museum, which looks like a mansion from “Gone With the Wind,” is decorated too. There is also a gingerbread village, a candy cane forest, a Santa’s workshop and an array of crafts.
Each weekend night there are craft demonstrations, a bonfire, free hot cocoa, popcorn and marshmallow roasting, a holiday sing-along and, of course, Santa. Admission is $3 per person.
New this year: Monday through Thursday are being called Silent Nights and are an effort to reduce lines and noise to create a more intimate experience for visitors. Admission on these nights is $2.
The display is the shortest of the three, beginning Dec. 1, 2017 and ending Dec. 24, 2017. The park is closed Dec. 25 and the night of Dec. 24 is for driving-through only.