WHERE TO TRAVEL: THE TOP 10 LESSER-KNOWN (BUT JUST AS BRIGHT!) HOLIDAY LIGHTS IN THE US

Many travelers are familiar with the beautiful holiday lights at historic US locations such as Rockefeller Center in New York, but what about lesser known sites with just as much shine to celebrate?  The Society of American Travel Writers, Travel’s Most Trusted Voices, presents the top 10 holiday lights sites you may not have heard of, but that are definitely worth a visit!

1) Kauai, Hawaii: This year marks the 16th Annual Festival of Lights on Kauai.  This event is Kauai’s largest holiday event and celebrates Christmas decorations created from recycled materials.  Hundreds of thousands of lights illuminate Kauai’s Historic Park, and inside the Historic County Building travelers can enjoy lighted decorations and also visit Santa and Mrs. Claus.  The Festival runs through December 24.  www.kauaifestivaloflights.com

2) Kansas City, Missouri: This year the Country Club Plaza celebrates its 83rd annual lighting ceremony.  The Plaza is considered America’s first suburban shopping center, and continues its rich history by celebrating the holiday lights with a variety of concerts and performances.  www.countryclubplaza.com/Events/Plaza-Lights

3) Charlotte, North Carolina: You don’t have to be a NASCAR fan to enjoy a “Speedway Christmas” at Charlotte Motor Speedway.  Now in its third year, the famous superspeedway features more than 800 holiday displays made up of more than 3 million holiday lights.   www.charlottemotorspeedway.com/tickets/speedway_christmas

4) St. Augustine, Florida: America’s oldest city features festive, beautiful illumination that annually attracts travelers.  The holiday lights illuminate the stunning architectural beauty of St. Augustine and the homes, buildings and streets that reflect 500 years’ worth of history.  www.floridashistoriccoast.com/nights

5) Newport Beach, California: The 104th Annual Newport Beach Boat Parade has boat owners in Newport Beach “deck the hulls” of their seagoing vessels and seaside homes for the annual celebration.  The event features approximately 200 elaborately decorated boats and draws more than 1.5 million spectators each year.  This year’s parade takes place December 19 to 23. www.christmasboatparade.com

6) Cleveland, Ohio: General Electric’s name is synonymous with lighting, so it’s no surprise the company puts on a dazzling display for the holidays at its lighting division headquarters here.  Nela Park, a National Historic Site consisting of 20 Georgian Revival-style buildings, is awash with lights from early December until New Year’s Day. www.gelighting.com/LightingWeb/na/resources/lighting-institute/overview

7) Albuquerque, New Mexico: The annual Old Town Luminaria Tour is a New Mexican tradition that takes travelers through historic Old Town, the city’s cultural center, with five museums and more than 100 shops, galleries and restaurants, a festively ornamented Albuquerque Country Club and other hot spots around the city.  Beautifully lit paper sacks adorn rooftops and walkways to light up the holiday season for a display that is not to be missed.  www.cabq.gov/transit/programs-and-projects/special-events/luminaria-tour

8) Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee: Three neighboring towns in Sevier County – Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg – unite to offer millions of winter-themed lights for Smoky Mountains Winterfest from early November through February. Special tours go past hundreds of custom-made themed displays. Designs include snowflakes, rocking horses, waterfalls, trains, bears, a gristmill and toy soldiers, all lining the parkway leading to Great Smoky Mountains National Park as well as gracing the wooded side roads looping around Gatlinburg’s famed Arts & Crafts Community. The Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge adds million more lights for its holiday event called “Smoky Mountain Christmas.”  www.VisitWinterfest.com

9) Louisville, Kentucky: “Lights Under Louisville” in Louisville Mega Cavern is the world’s only underground holiday light show.  Travelers can take in the sites by driving the 30 to 40 minute ride through 17 miles of underground passageways, which feature over 800 lit characters with over 2 million points of light.  www.louisvillemegacavern.com

10) Pine Mountain, Georgia: Callaway Gardens puts on a great twinkling holiday display, another drive-through experience with more than 8 million lights showcasing 15 holiday themed scenes.  A Christmas Village and a Snow Globe gift shop add to the holiday flavor, and on December 30, the final night of the event, travelers can ride bikes along 5 miles of trails, including the sound and light shows around Robin Beach.  www.callawaygardens.com