While the Texas weather may not resemble a storybook Christmas, there are still ways to get into the holiday spirit. For many Houstonians, it’s a holiday tradition to pile into the family car and cruise throughout the neighborhood (or city) in search of homes with spectacularly lighted displays while enjoying Sunny 99.1’s annual programming of Christmas music 24/7. And since we do everything bigger in Texas, there are plenty of lights to see throughout the city.
Here are 10 areas across the city that offer (mostly) free lighted Christmas displays. Some are best viewed as drive-bys, while others should be enjoyed as a walking excursion while sipping hot chocolate with your loved ones. No matter how you do it, these lighted displays are sure to bring a smile to your face this holiday season.
This year marks the Christmas Ranch’s 31st anniversary of stringing up lights. Official light count: 277,678. Yeah, that’s a whole lot of lights! And the best part is the grounds are a drive thru Christmas display. Christmas Ranch’s lights will flicker out after New Year’s, so stop by while you can. It’s located at 14651 FM1725, Cleveland, TX 77328. Hours are 6:00 - 10:00 p.m., Sunday - Thursday and 6:00 - 11:00 p.m., Friday - Saturday. Hint: Santa will be greeting all families at the gate with candy canes on Dec. 19, Dec. 23, and Dec. 24, from 7:00 - 9:00 p.m.
In 1998, two neighbors got the idea to wrap up a few objects near the Gazebo at Highway 3 and 44th Street. Today, the Festival of Lights has gotten so big that the community moved it to Paul Hopkins Park. Their goal is to ensure fun for the whole family, and make it easier for visitors to enjoy the lights by providing a free shuttle service from Dickinson Plaza Shopping Center. This community also offers free admission and parking. For $1 - $5, visitors can take a picture with Santa, decorate cookies or purchase snacks while exploring the park. The display is open nightly until Dec. 31, 2015.
During this time of year there’s more to check out at the zoo than just the animals. Houston Zoo strings up more than two million lights on its property to bring you a memorable night. (Imagine all of the oak trees adorned with lights!) In addition to the lights, you can step inside a giant snow globe to snap a few photos, explore a “magical” jungle decorated in psychedelic black lights, lasers and inflated fabric plants, take a spin on the Wildlife Carousel, decorate gingerbread cookies with the family, and hear a few carolers perform the holiday classics. Zoo Lights runs from Nov. 20, 2015 - Jan. 9, 2016, from 6:00 - 10 p.m on weeknights, 6:00 - 11:00 p.m. on weekends. They are closed Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Tickets start at $9.95 for Zoo members, or $14.95 for nonmembers.
This family has been busy stringing up elaborate light displays since 2005. Today, their home features more than 70,000 lights all programmed to more than 50 different songs. Each night of the week features a different theme— e. g., Wednesdays are Rock N’ Roll Christmas and Thursdays are for the country Christmas classics—so you can visit their home more than once to enjoy a new experience. To enjoy the sights and sounds, just tune your radio to FM 94.1 and stay within 200 feet of their home. And the fun doesn’t stop there. The Johnsons have snow and bubble machines, a Christmas gazebo, and Santa Claus has been known to stop by on Saturdays. The Johnsons are at 14811 Cypress Meadow Drive Cypress, Texas 77429. Hours vary, but typically run from 5:30 - 10:00 p.m., weather permitting.
This event debuted this November, and is considered the largest light festival in Houston AND the largest lantern festival of its kind in the United States. It sets itself apart from other holiday light displays because it’s inspired by traditional Chinese lanterns that are transformed into larger-than-life remakes of well-known landmarks. Themes include Africa, America, Asia, Australia, Dinosaur Land, Europe and Magical (pictured above). And to every Houstonian's delight, the America section will feature a Texans display, Western stockyards, among other “Texan-esque” displays. Tickets are $16 for children and $27 for adults. Hint: Purchase your tickets online for Mondays - Thursdays for a 10% discount.
Stop by 9595 Six Pines Drive for a nightly “performance” by the Market Street Christmas tree. The 70-foot tree is decked out in more than 25,000 lights that twinkle in synchronization to holiday tunes. After you enjoy the show you can take a horse-drawn carriage ride for $10, from 6:00 - 9:00 .m. When you’re done, you can take advantage of the nearby shops and finish your last-minute shopping, which are open late this month.
Cross the bridge to enjoy the Moody Gardens’ 14th Annual Festival of Lights. It’s one of the largest holiday displays in the area, as they string up more than one million lights within 100 different sound-enhanced animated light displays. There’s also an outdoor ice skating rink (rentals are $7), an arctic ice slide, train ride, holiday buffet, and more. Admission is $10.95 and includes the ice skating rink. The Festival’s hours are 6:00 - 10:00 p.m. nightly, and runs through January 10, 2016. You can also visit the Rainforest, Aquarium and Discovery pyramids for an additional $7 each after 6:00 p.m.
This is another display you can interact with by tuning your radio to FM 107.1. Moss Lights boasts that its 21-minute show is powered by more than 80,000 lights, across 26 different breakers. Instead of focusing just on the holiday classics, Moss Lights is inspired by the movies, as last year’s display was synchronized to the Pirates of the Caribbean theme song. And boy, was it something! Of course, you can still get a taste of Christmas with “Carol of the Bells,” too. Moss Lights is at 540 Southampton Lane, League City, Texas 77573. (Note: some GPS systems may require you to input “540 S Hampton Lane.”)
Head out to the Willowbrook area to enjoy Prestonwood Forest’s Nite of Lites, Dec. 5 - 27, 2015. It’s said this neighborhood has been creating elaborate light displays since the 1970s, so they take competition pretty seriously: they compete for more than just bragging rights, as awards include Best House 2015 (7718 Roebourne Lane), Best Block 2015 (7400 Bairnsdale Lane), Best Mailbox 2015 (8215 Birchglen Lane), and more. After you’ve viewed the neighborhood lights, you can cast your vote for your favorite lighted display until December 26. The winner will receive the 2015 People’s Choice award. You can start at Prestonwood Forest Drive, just off of Texas Highway 249
River Oaks, Inner Loop
Houston’s upscale neighborhood needs no introduction, as everyone’s heard tales of (or seen) the awe-inspiring giant Oak trees covered in twinkle lights. Just start along River Oaks Boulevard, off of Buffalo Speedway, and then venture out to Inwood and Bellmeade streets to see the oaks and the stately homes in all their LED-lite-up glory.