Light It Up: Top Spots For Christmas Lights
For most of us, a row of dangling LED icicles along the roof of the house is plenty. Shows you’re in the holiday spirit and sets December apart from the rest of the dreary, unlit year.
But some people want to show a little more holiday spirit. Or, a lot more holiday spirit.
It’s difficult to pinpoint what makes a family spend thousands of dollars on light strands, complicated technical linkages and an inflatable Santa scrubbing his back in a bath tub. Days and weeks prepping and setting up. And that final electricity bill of the year is nothing to sneeze at, either.
Maybe it’s a compulsion to stand out, to show that while others go through the motions, you are seriously committed to the season. Or maybe it’s an altruistic act, giving hundreds, or thousands, of people a little more joy in their life, thanks to your gratuitous display of glowing glory.
Whatever the reason, we owe these people thanks for their efforts. And the best way to show your appreciation is a slow cruise in the car past their houses, eyes wide with wonder.
DO YOU KNOW ABOUT A GREAT LIGHT DISPLAY? TELL US (AND EVERYONE ELSE) IN THE COMMENTS BELOW!
Barcarrota Boulevard, downtown Bradenton
From the South Florida Museum to the Central Library follow Barcarrota Boulevard along the Manatee River for the best stationary display of holiday lights in Bradenton. Every year local businesses sponsor glowing works of yuletide joy that include everything from elves and nutcrackers to a towering real Christmas tree to a jack-in-the-box to Santa getting ready to cruise Old Main Street on his motorcycle. You can double your pleasure by first watching the sunset at nearby Pier 22 or while spending with your children in the playground area of beautiful Bradenton Riverwalk, which can also be entered via Barcarrota by the museum. – Wade Tatangelo
7411 17th Ave. N.W., Bradenton
Homeowner Steve Watson says he has been decorating his house in northwest Bradenton during Christmas for the past 25 years. The large, bustling lawn features everything from Snoopy to an inflatable snowman to a nativity scene to a Christmas tree surrounded by presents. After admiring the Watson home head east on 17th Avenue to Riverview Drive, continue going east and you should find the sidewalks lined with luminaria. – Wade Tatangelo
5212 12th Avenue Drive West, Bradenton
The Friendly City’s most famous residential light display is a delightful little road in West Bradenton that has so many wonderfully decorated homes it has long held the title of “Christmas Street.” The home at 5212 12th Ave. Drive West gets our vote this year for Griswoldian greatness thanks to its row after row of rooftop-covering light strands, finely trimmed brushes covered in lights, swirling light patterns in the lawn and numerous inflatables, including the adorable “North Pole Reindeer Stable.” After circling through 12th Avenue (there’s a U-turn area at the end of the road) get back on 51st Street and head south for a minute and then turn west again onto 18th Avenue Drive West for another batch of impressive light displays. – Wade Tatangelo
4724 Spinnaker Drive, Bradenton
The Inlets subdivision off East State Road 64 in Bradenton has a spectacular “Christmas Street” of its own on Spinnaker Drive. Our favorite home, and it was tough picking one, is at 4724 thanks to the lights flickering to Christmas music being played for passersby. Definitely worth parking the car, getting out and taking the sidewalks up and down Spinnaker to fully appreciate the detailed displays adorning the many homes covered in the Christmas spirit. – Wade Tatangelo
Colonial Gables, corner of Bee Ridge Road and Woodmont Dr., Sarasota
This neighborhood has long been a mainstay of holiday lights, with all the streets well worth exploring for the prevalent and sizable displays. There are two standouts, however, starting down Hayden Blvd. (turn right as you enter off of Bee Ridge). This homeowner has surrounded the sidewalk with twinkling arches, filled the sizable yard with set pieces and done an impressive job on the house itself. Continue down Kingswood Drive and turn onto Cedarwood Drive for a street where massive lit arches soar over the road and most of the houses are bedecked with plenty of bright spirit. – Brian Ries
East Mark Dr., Sarasota
Showing how one dedicated decorator can inspire neighbors, East Mark Drive has a host of serious light displays – from inflatables to arches – culminating in an incredible masterpiece at the end of the lane, complete with multiple Grinches and thousands of lights that twinkle in tune to a lively Christmas soundtrack. – Brian Ries
Grace Baptist, 8000 Bee Ridge Road, Sarasota
This church out east of I-75 on Bee Ridge Road has made a name for its light display in recent years, thanks to an almost overwhelming number of highflying, color-changing displays throughout the property. It has been toned down a bit this year, but it’s still one of the most impressive displays in the area, with lots of conical light trees surrounding a glowing nativity. Make sure to pay attention for a few minutes, as the displays change color and intensity over time. – Brian Ries
Enander Family House, 2281 Mission Valley Blvd., Nokomis
Bob and Sandy Enander’s home is off the beaten path in Mission Valley Estates, but it’s well worth the trip this time of year.The Nokomis family has decked the walls, the yard, the trees and even the roof in Christmas cheer and festive lights – more than 175,000 of them. The 2-acre property features more than 400 lit figurines of all shapes and sizes.
“It got out of control about 16 years ago,” Bob Enander said of the display that started out modestly about 28 years ago. Every year, the family project grows a little larger and gets a little more crowded.
This year, the Enanders switched all the displays to LED lights, a conversion that started around Halloween. He said his college-age sons brought their buddies home to help put all the figurines together and change over to the more energy-efficient lights. Enander estimates that the change will bring an 85 percent reduction in electricity usage.
Enander, wearing a red-and-white Santa cap, greets visitors with “Merry Christmas!” as he hands out peppermint candy from a large bowl.
On Sunday evening, the display was packed with families, young children, middle-aged couples and older folks, including some in wheelchairs.
Enander invites them all onto his property with well-marked signs on where to start. How long they stay enjoying the whimsical display is up to them, but each night the lights go out at 10 p.m.
There is plenty to see, including:
Noah’s Arks with elephants, lions and giraffes.
Animated elves making toys in Santa’s workshop
Sea creatures, including leaping dolphins
Firefighters and police cars
Nativity scene with Three Wise Men
Snow – a motion-activated machine blows faux snow on passers-by
Parrots in the trees, flamingos on the ground and a few neon green alligators. It is Florida, after all
You can see Santa just about everywhere – in a hot-air balloon, a blimp, a helicopter, a boat and resting in a chair. This year, a lighted inflatable Santa was taking a bath in a tub near the Port-a-potty.
The roof of the house is the high-tech star of the show, featuring more than 10,000 lights, including a helicopter and a likeness of the Statue of Liberty. Enander said his son programmed the blinking lights to synchronize with the music of seven different Christmas songs.
Why do they go to such extremes?
“It’s our way to get everyone in the Christmas spirit,” Enander said.
— Vicki Dean
You don’t have to seek out the best displays by yourself. Local trolleys will do all the work for you.
SRQ Trolley tours leave from the Regions Bank parking lot at 4041 Cattlemen Road, Sarasota and run twice a night at 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Reserve seats for $15 atsrqtrolley.com or 538-1414.
Trolley Bus Sarasota runs two tours: one in Sarasota on Wednesday-Sunday that leaves from the same place as SRQ Trolley (Regions Bank, 4041 Cattlemen Road, Sarasota) at the same times (6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.), as well as a new Venice light tour on Monday and Tuesday nights at 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., leaving from Venice Marketplace (1564 US 41 Bypass, Venice). Seats are $15 and can be reserved at trolleybussarasota.com or 726-4251.