Christmas in the South: Five Must-Visit Winter Wonderlands

Growing up in the Midwest, Christmas time was equal parts Christmas tree, gifts and snow! Lots of cold temps, warm fires and plenty of holiday cheer are some of my memories from back home.

As a Georgia transplant, my current Christmas season has two of the three parts from my childhood memories. We still decorate the Christmas tree and provide gifts but the snow is clearly missing. But, even without the falling snow,  these high-temperature  Christmas seasons aren’t low on holiday cheer! Trade in the white snow for white sandy beaches and join me in celebrating Christmas-the Southern way!

Sumter, South Carolina

This is the city to visit to experience the state’s largest FREE light display. The annual Fantasy of Lights will be shining all month long and your family and friends can take the drive through this winter wonderland at no charge. Plenty of holiday cheer, at no cost.

Located at the Swan Lake Iris Gardens in Sumter, there will be thousands of lights leading the drive-through route.  Annual favorites on display this year include the floating Christmas tree, Santa’s village and angels.

The opening ceremony is set to take place December 1st at 6pm, which will end with the drive-through gates opening for the public.

The month-long schedule for the Fantasy of Lights is as follows:

  • Sunday-Thursday, until 9pm
  • Friday and Saturday, until 10pm

Jekyll Island, Georgia

Have a Holly, Jolly Jekyll Island experience you won’t soon forget. Beaches,  Christmas lights covering Live Oaks, fireworks, light parades…so much to do this holiday season at the island! No matter the dates you pick to visit, there will be plenty of excitement, wonder and entertainment to keep you and your group busy.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • 1,000,000+ light bulbs
  • 350+ light displays
  • 45,000 lights on the Great Tree

The festivities run November 25th through January 8th, making this holiday season the best time of the year.  Whether you are visiting for a weekend, week or month, the entire stay can be merry and bright.

Take a ride on the Holly Jolly Lights tour and take in the impressive light displays within the Historic District. Join in the light parade on December 10th. Catch fireworks on two occasions: December 22 and December 29th.  Cruise up to a family-friendly movie at the old drive-in movie where your crew can catch the holiday favorite, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. 

A non-holiday highlight of this island is the sea turtle rehabilitation center. Take a tour of the facility and learn about the care being given for injured or sick sea turtles.

For more details on the island’s holiday schedule, or to purchase tickets, visit here.

St Augustine, Florida

The nation’s oldest city brings the holiday cheer, and then some! For a spectacular Christmas celebration, look no further than the coastal city that has been voted in  as one of the top 10 holiday lights display within the world by National Geographic.

The downtown St Augustine neighborhood is transformed into a walking winter wonderland. Free to meander, free to park and free to shuttle to and from multiple stops (on select days), this holiday location offers a deal too good to pass up.

Running now until January 29th, 2023, guests to the city can enjoy all the twinkling lights that highlight the Spanish Colonial structures. For the best displays and best picture-taking opportunities, keep these two specifics in mind:

  • The Plaza de la Constitución- Get the perfect holiday selfie in front of the Christmas tree in the center of the plaza.
  • The Bridge of Lions-Walk the bridge to gaze back at the sparkling reflection of the lights along the water.

Fly into the Jacksonville International Airport and then take a quick jaunt down the St Augustine.

South Padre Island, Texas

Christmas time in South Padre Island (SPI) is a glorious time. Sparkling lights that match the sparkling ocean water. Tropical weather, lighted boat parades and plenty of other surprises are on hand, reminding us all that everything is better in Texas (or so they say).

Find out when and where activities will be held, including a street parade, a paw parade, ice rink skating, a holiday orchestra and much more. Head over to this website for all the  juicy details.

Panama City Beach, Florida

This list of Christmas holiday celebrations wouldn’t be complete without my favorite city to visit:  Panama City Beach (PCB).  Aside from  offering miles and miles of relaxing beach, PCB brings the holiday season to the forefront each and every year.

See the lights, do some last-minute Christmas shopping and just let the relaxing atmosphere throughout PCB keep you running on beach time. No worries, no deadlines, just Christmas cheer far and wide: Florida style.

Have you visited one of these cities during the holidays before? Leave your favorite memories in the commments!


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