Every December, one of the most exciting (and most affordable!) activities to do during the holidays is to load everyone up in the car and tour the area Christmas light displays. Considering the longstanding tradition of winter-related festivities in Milwaukee, you may already have a favorite lit-up house, neighborhood or park. Yet in order to make it easier for you and yours to enjoy the spirit this season, here’s a list of the best holiday light displays in and around the city.
Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival
Location: Downtown Milwaukee
Times: Various —be sure to check the event calendar first
While the Holiday Lights Festival includes hundreds of events, its best feature may be the dazzling array of lights. This year, the city has strung up massive chandelier sculptures above Downtown intersections along Wisconsin Ave. and Mason St. Sure to impress, these chandeliers are more reminiscent of The Palace of Versailles than Milwaukee. (Yet, unlike Versailles, they are free to see.) Consider taking a drive — or, preferably, a stroll — along Wisconsin Ave. anytime after 5 p.m in order to take in the sights.
“Candy Cane Cove” is also on display in Pere Marquette Park, a “Santa’s Lighted Lodge” has been erected in Zeidler Union Square, and Cathedral Square Park has been transformed into “Community Spirit Park.” Featuring over 75 trees decorated by local schools and nonprofits, the “Spirit Park” display is a particularly entertaining and educational place to bring children.
Note: If you’re not in the mood for driving or walking, the “Jingle Bus” is available to ride for only $2 a person. The 40-minute bus ride will take you past the most brightly decorated scenes downtown.
Miller Valley Holiday Lights
Location: Miller Brewery Tour, 4251 W State Street
Times: Nov. 30-Dec. 22, Holiday Lites show starts every 20 minutes from 4:40 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
For the 14th year in a row, Miller Valley will be holding its free Holiday Lites show. If you’ve missed it in the past, this is a good time to start a new tradition: it’s the largest light display of its kind in the Midwest! The show is part of a special mini-tour, which includes a trip into the mysterious Miller Caves. Plus, once the light show is finished, there’s still plenty of fun to be had inside. Beer sampling, including a special holiday chocolate lager, is available for all adults 21 and older. There’s also a drawing for prizes and a gift shop to explore, meaning that you can check the names of the beer-lovers in your family off your holiday shopping list.
Candy Cane Lane
Location: West Allis, from Montana Ave. on the north to Oklahoma Ave. on the south, and from 96th St. on the west to 92d St. on the east
Times: November 23 – December 26, M – F: 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., Sa – Su: 5 p.m. – 10 p.m.
For over 30 years, a group of neighbors in West Allis have joined forces to collect donations for an organization fighting childhood cancer. In order to raise money, the neighborhood goes all out with dazzling light displays and decorations. While there isn’t a fee to drive past the whimsical, festive houses (with your mouth agape), they do ask for small donations from each car. There are also separate sponsors and events going on each night; consider checking the calendar first to see if there’s a particular group that interests you. There’s nothing better than getting into the Christmas spirit while also giving back.
Location: Ingleside Hotel, 2810 Golf Rd. Pewaukee
Times: December 1 – 31, Su – Th: 5 p.m. – 9 p.m., F – Sa and Holidays: 5 p.m. – 10 p.m.
Claiming to be Wisconsin’s largest outdoor drive-through lights display, Country Christmas is no less than a total winter wonderland experience. Besides the hotel itself being transformed with glittering lights, admission will get you a trip through the mile-long trail and entry into the “Christmas Village” and “The Streets of Bethlehem.” The trail itself features over a million holiday lights, as well as animated figures, idyllic miniature cities and giant teddy bears. Concession areas are available where gawking guests can purchase refreshments or use the restrooms.
The entry fee is $15 for a carload of people on Sunday through Thursday. On Fridays, Saturdays or holidays, it’s $20. Consider buying tickets ahead of time, or just purchase them on-site at the ticket booth.
Location: Anywhere there’s internet available!
Time: M – Su: 5 p.m. – 10 p.m., Live stream
In the past, those who weren’t able to visit local light displays simply had to miss out on a very special, very Midwest experience. Today, one kind-hearted (and innovative!) Milwaukee homeowner is allowing their Christmas lights to be broadcast via a computer, tablet or smartphone by visiting MKElights.com. From the comfort of your couch, you can even select which lights to turn on in realtime by clicking on the buttons that various decorations correspond to. While a live stream of the lights might not inspire the same sense of wonder, it’s surprisingly relaxing — and free from the icy chill of winter weather! Most importantly though, it makes holiday cheer accessible to almost everyone.