When it comes to holiday decorating, the First Coast pulls out all the stops with brilliant light displays and unique neighborhood traditions that are sure to delight children and even the grumpiest adults. Here is a sampling of some of the region’s holiday light hotspots for you to explore this month.
Girvin Road Lights
Where: Blackhawk Trail on Jacksonville’s Northside. Blackhawk Trail on the east and west sides of Girvin Road, about a half mile south of Wonderwood Drive.
Stop for some hot chocolate or pumpkin spice latte at the Krispy Crème on Atlantic Boulevard then head north on Girvin Road to the Blackhawk Bluff neighborhood.
You’ll stay in your car for this magical experience. Everyone will be oohing and ahhhing as you drive slowly beneath a canopy of wrapped trees, twinkling stars and colored lights draped like necklaces over the street.
Neighbors shoot the light strands into trees with bows and arrows to string them up—not just in their own yards, but from home-to-home across the street.
This has been a holiday tradition since residents jumped into the decorating frenzy roughly a dozen years ago. They say the smiles, waves and joyful faces make the hefty electric bills all worthwhile. Make sure to follow Blackhawk Trail on both sides of Girvin Road.
Christmas in Beaches Town Center
Where: The end of Atlantic Boulevard, where the road meets the ocean.
Hand painted surf boards, life-size Christmas presents and twinkling palm trees create a breezy holiday atmosphere at the Beaches Town Center.
Here the holiday season kicks off at 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6 with a bike parade led by people in fuzzy red caps, shorts and flip-flops, followed by music and dance performances, hay rides and
a trackless choo choo train around the Town Center.
Children can decorate cookies at Joseph’s Pizza, get their faces painted at Shorelines Gifts and join a Dangling Donut game at Jewels by Lubeck while adults shop for gifts at Red Daisy, Bali Cargo and the Attic at Archway.
Santa and Mrs. Claus will arrive by sleigh when the Christmas tree is lit at 6 p.m.
The lights and decorations stay up until the second week of January. Since parking is limited, visitors may want to park several blocks away and take the Beaches Trolley, which stops every 15 minutes at multiple stations along
Atlantic Boulevard and Third Street.
For more information visit beachestowncenter.com
Luminaria in Riverside Avondale
Where: Riverside Avenue Christian Church at 2841 Riverside Ave. Also along Park Street, Riverside Avenue, the shops of Avondale and throughout the historic neighborhoods.
The streets will be glowing when Riverside and Avondale residents celebrate the 32nd annual Luminaria, with block parties and a parade of people in whacky vehicles shooting marshmallows at spectators. The luminaries stretch for about a five mile radius, and it is one of the most beautiful times of the year to visit one of our region’s most fantastic historic neighborhoods. The traditional lighting of the lanterns will start at sundown on Sunday, Dec. 20.
Central to the celebration is a live nativity with real animals and actors portraying Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus on the lawn in front of Riverside Avenue Christian Church. The live nativity will run from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. while songs of the season and choral performances take place in the sanctuary. Children can meet Santa and scarf down some cookies and hot cider.
The program is a joint effort by neighborhood churches and Riverside Avondale Preservation.
For more information, visit riversideavondale.org.
The Festival of Trees
Where: The Shops of the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort
The Shops of the Amelia Island Plantation are a wonderful place to explore during the holidays. A canopy of twinkle lights and The Festival of Trees will be up through the month of December. Local charities have decorated Christmas trees on display throughout the Shops. Visitors can vote on the one they like the best, and will be able to donate to that cause. You and the family can spend an evening dining at some of the restaurants located in the shops while enjoying the festivities. The Omni is also hosting gingerbread house workshops in their lobby on the weekends from Nov. 27 through Dec. 25. These are sure to fill up fast so call to make your reservation at 904.432.1466
For more information, visit ameliaislandplantationblog.com
St. Augustine Nights of Lights
Where: Along King Street and the heart of historic St. Augustine.
Millions of tiny brilliant lights twinkle from the broad oaks at the Plaza de la Constitucion, the Bridge of Lions and Flagler College, transforming this historic Spanish colonial town into a magical place.
The locals aren’t the only ones who think so. In 2011 and 2012, National Geographic selected St. Augustine Nights of Lights as one of the top ten lighting displays in the world.
You can witness the illumination by foot, bicycle, pedicab, the Old Town Trolley, the Ripley’s Red Train, or by horse and carriage. Another special way to soak up the sparkly, festive atmosphere is to stay overnight at one of the city’s bed and breakfasts.
St. Augustine also hosts several events to celebrate the holidays, including a Christmas Parade at 10 a.m. Dec. 5 and the Holiday Regatta of Lights at 6 p.m. Dec. 12. The regatta is best viewed from the St. Augustine Bayfront, or from an upstairs restaurant like Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grille or Meehans Irish Pub.
The Nights of Lights will remain active through Jan. 31.
For more information, visit simplystaugustine.com/st-augustine-nights-of-lights/