The holidays just are not the same without beautiful light displays and festive events to look forward to all season long, from the day after Thanksgiving through the New Year. While the holiday season can be a stressful time for many, there is also lots of seasonal fun to lighten the mood. With all the stress associated with finding the perfect gifts, decorating the house, fighting traffic near the malls, and family gatherings, it is nice to have a few stress-free holiday events and celebrations to look forward to each year. Below are 16 of my favorite holiday celebrations that are well worth traveling for. Perhaps you are lucky enough to already live in the area. Enjoy the list and feel free to share some of your favorite holiday events!

1. Lincoln Park Zoo Lights

Holiday lights at Lincoln Park in Chicago, Illinois

Lincoln Park Zoo’s annual holiday lights extravaganza, featuring 2 million colorful lights (no boring white lights here!), is one of Chicago’s most festive and beloved holiday traditions. The best part of all is that admission is only 5 bucks, a big bargained compared to the $20+ fee at most other big city zoos. Asides from taking in the dazzling lights display, you will also be able to watch an amazing choreographed music & light show, sip specialty holiday drinks, take your pic with Santa, watch amazing ice sculpture carving demonstrations, and ice skate (for a small fee).

Lincoln Park is a really small zoo (especially compared to the gigantic Brookfield), however, the zoo still holds its own with a few nice exhibits including a fantastic underwater polar bear viewing. And, you really cannot beat the wonderful setting with Chicago’s magnificent skyline as the backdrop. The nice aspect of this zoo lights event over others is that the entire zoo is open as opposed to a small section, so the lights are more spread out and you also get to see more of the animals. Lincoln Park is home to plenty of indoor exhibits, so even if it is super cold out, you are bound to see a few animals.

If you happen to be visiting Chicago during the holiday season, the Lincoln Park Zoo Lights is a must add to your holiday bucket list. It’s one of the best light events in the city and it will cost you nothing! If you are looking for something a bit more low key, be sure to check out the Adult’s Only Night. This event requires a special ticket, however is worth it for the peace and quiet minus the kids. Other annual zoo holiday events include Brewlights (a craft beer fest), Holiday Market (over 30 vendors selling holiday goods), and a festive New Year’s Eve celebration.

More pics and details on Lincoln Park Zoo Lights

Address: 2001 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60614
Dates: Check the LPZ website for details.
Admission: $5, Free on Mondays

2. Prescott Square Courthouse Lights

Prescott AZ courthouse Christmas lights

Each year, the small community of Prescott, Arizona, a small Central Arizona city which sees an attractive mild 4 season climate, lights up their historic downtown with over a million lights adorning the beautiful grounds of the Yavapai County Courthouse. The 60+ year old festive celebration draws crowds from all around the state. Many Phoenix residents make the 2 hour drive up to enjoy the colder weather and small town ambiance.

Prescott is one of the most charming small towns in Arizona due to a number of factors including old-fashioned Victorian architecture, a quaint small town ambiance not found elsewhere in the state, festive community events throughout the year, and an an abundance of local businesses. Because of these factors, Prescott is officially recognized as “Everybody’s Hometown.”

And there’s much more to do for the holiday season than solely walk around the beautiful downtown. Prescott has a whole lineup of seasonal activities including a gingerbread display and ice skating at the Prescott Resort, a fantastic drive-thru light show at Fain Park, a holiday lights parade, a Zoo Lights fest, and a festive mall light display featuring over a half million lights.

A night out enjoying the beautiful light displays and holiday events, trying out a new local restaurant and browsing the shops downtown makes for a pretty fun night out. Add in some chilly December weather (bundle up at night as the temps usually drop into the low 30’s) and the slight chance of snow, and you really will not have to question Prescott’s distinction as Arizona’s Christmas City!

More info on Prescott’s lineup of holiday events 

Location: 120 South Cortez St. Prescott, AZ 86303
Dates: Check the Prescott website for details.
Admission: Free

3. A Christmas Story House & Museum

A Christmas Story House in Cleveland OH

In Cleveland, you will find the actual house that was used to film the timeless holiday classic A Christmas Story. For those of us who grew up watching the classic and continue to enjoy the 24 hour marathon every Christmas Eve, it really is a treat to explore the house in person. Each room in the house has been restored to resemble actual scenes from the movie. Fans will have an overwhelming sense of nostalgia at the familiar scene setups including the leg lamp in the window and the turkey dinner at the kitchen table. As of 2016, this movie is already 32 years old! Crazy to think how fast time flies by!

During the tour, you will learn unique facts about the cast, crew, and filming process. Your tour guide will also share some hilarious stories from the filming days long ago. The tour is not at all boring, but rather educational & entertaining at the same time.

Asides from touring the house, you will also be able to take a look at actual props and rare behind the scenes photos in the attached A Christmas Story Museum. There is also a wonderful gift shop with every souvenir possible – a great place to load up on cute holiday knick knacks for yourself or anyone on your holiday gift list who is also a fan.

If you really want a unique experience, plan your visit around the yearly 5k/10k, which starts at the house and takes you on a fun filled course past several memorable film sites including the Jack Cleveland Casino (old site of Higbee’s Department Store where Ralphie visits Santa). This is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for fans to get into the holiday spirit by running a unique race themed to one of the best holiday movies of all time.

Lots of people dress up in crazy costumes – you might run past an athlete dressed as a leg lamp, so it really is a fun race, as opposed to your standard 5k. Even better, all runners receive a special medal featuring a scene from the movie. And the best part of all is that you will receive free admission to the house for all your effort! In 2016, Ian Petrella, who played Randy, will be making an appearance and signing autographs for fans!

12 unique facts about A Christmas Story

More info and pics from my “A Christmas Story” house tour 

Location: 3159 W 11th St, Cleveland, OH 44109
Dates: The house is open year-round (minus major holidays) from 10am-5, 7, or 9 depending on date & time of year.
Admission: Adults are $15, Seniors are $14, and Kids 3-12 are $11.