Mount Dora, St. Augustine and Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park work to offer the best Christmas lights in Florida
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 go all out to have the best holiday lights in Florida in a charming non-commercial setting.
Mount Dora Christmas Lights Festival
Mount Dora is always having a weekend festival. (Here’s our 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 during the Thanksgiving weekend.
Light Up Mount Dora kicks it off from 3:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 26, at the downtown lakefront in Evans Park. Santa will arrive by boat and after dark, there will a fireworks display near the lighthouse.
The center of the Christmas lights is downtown Donnelly Park, but there are lights throughout the town, including around the Christmas tree in Sunset Park. There’s a fun lights exhibit (with moving displays) around the marina and boating center.
During 2021, we visited Mount Dora on Thanksgiving weekend and the streets were busy with people admiring the lights and going to and from the many restaurants and bars downtown. The park was full of families with kids, many of whom were licking ice cream cones from the popular nearby Scoops on 5th. (On the other hand, traffic was intense. There were waits for tables at restaurants and the town was packed.)
Mount Dora has a series of holidays events:
- Friday, Dec. 2, 2022: Mount Dora Christmas Walk, an evening geared to Chirstmas shopping and dining. Shops are open until 9 p.m.
- Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022 at 10 a.m.: The 60th Annual Mount Dora Christmas Parade
- Saturday Dec. 3, 2022 at 7 p.m.: The Lighted Board Parade
- Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022 from 5 to 9 p.m.: Christmas snow in the downtown Donnelly Park.
Mount Dora keeps its lights shining through January.
More details about Christmas in Mount Dora
St. Augustine Nights of Lights
St. Augustine turns on the lights on Nov. 19, 2022 and they stay lit up all the way through Jan. 31, 2023. 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, trolley tours, golf cart tours and more. Old Town Trolley’s lights tour departs nightly beginning at 6 p.m. from the Visitor Information Center. You can find a variety of tours on land and water listed here.
Two favorite photo spots are the Bridge of Lions and the the Plaza de la Constitución, a central park in downtown St. Augustine, where there is a Christmas tree and live music on weekends.
Festival of Lights at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park
Mount Dora and St. Augustine are whole cities of decorations, but this state park decorates so extensively that thousands of people come 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.
The lights will twinkle from Dec. 9 to Dec. 24, 2022.
Here’s how it will work this year, according to Andrea Thomas, park service specialist:
- This year, tickets are per person (vs per car) and will be $4. (Children under 3 are free.) You do not pay an additional entrance fee to the park.
- You can view the lights from dusk until 9 p.m. Last ticket is sold at 8:30 p.m.
- Santa will be back this year! Another family favorite, the model train display, is not available this year.
- Every night except Dec. 24 will be a “Holiday Magic Night” with complementary hot cocoa, popcorn and marshmallow roasting by a bonfire. The evening of Dec. 24 is a “Silent Night” with just viewing of the lights but no other activities.
More resources for Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park:
- Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park and it’s page on the holiday lights event.
- Book a campsite at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park
- Book a room near Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park
Make holidays plans: Florida Rambler’s 2020 Holiday Boat Parade Calendar
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The author, Bonnie Gross, travels with her husband David Blasco, discovering off-the-beaten path places to hike, kayak, bike, swim and explore. Florida Rambler was founded in 2010 by Bonnie and fellow journalist Bob Rountree, two long-time Florida residents who have spent decades exploring the Florida outdoors. Their articles have been published in the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, The Guardian and Visit Florida.