After the decadence of Thanksgiving and the spendy month of December, it’s nice to get a little something nice for not much money. Looking at beautiful displays of holiday lighting is free and can make fantastic memories. For the cost of hot chocolate and the gas to drive to these locations, families can experience wonder and awe that will fill them with spirit. A few of these options do cost a bit but will be well worth it to make the journey and the expense.
One needn’t celebrate Christmas or even wait until Christmas Eve to enjoy the lovely holiday lights, however. There are a few neighborhoods and special cites to view the most elaborate and fantastic displays. And because the sun goes down early, there is plenty of time to take a walk or a drive to visit them before bedtime.
Christmas Tree Lane — Alameda The 3200 block of Thompson Lane in Alameda boasts a long tradition of going all out for the holidays. The houses in this area are bedecked with adorable and nostalgic decorations. Visitors must park and go on foot, where they may run into Girl Scouts selling treats. Santa will be there, too, from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. until December 23. Donations for Santa time are suggested, but families take their own photos. Lights will be on until New Year’s Eve. The event has a Facebook page for more information. 3200 Thompson Lane, Alameda
The Spirit of Christmas —San Jose The Winchester Mystery House, a historical landmark rich with stories, offers unique and magical holiday tours. The grounds and the manor are twinkling with 100,000 lights. There will be Christmas carolers, Victorian characters, Santa Claus and more. Starting Thanksgiving and going until New Year’s Eve, there are both daytime and evening tours. Check the website for schedule and pricing. Winchester Mystery House, 525 S. Winchester Blvd., San Jose. 408-247-2101, www.winchestermysteryhouse.com
Mountain View Cemetery — Oakland It may seem odd to see a cemetery festooned with holiday sparkle, but this cemetery was designed by the same man who designed New York’s Central Park. It’s a treasure to the area, and the daily 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. lighting displays, called the Holiday Circle of Lights, are wondrous. 5000 Piedmont Ave., Oakland. www.mountainviewcemetery.org
Widmer World — Pleasanton In 1980 this display started with a plastic Santa and some lights. Now it’s a one-acre festival of lights, with special effects, computer animation, a penguin village and some other crazy stuff. It is intense! Running December 1-31, every night from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. 3671 Chelsea Ct., Pleasanton. www.widmer-world.com
Marinwoods Mickey Mouse House — San Rafael The Mize family are Disney fanatics and have been collecting memorabilia since the 1970s. Their home becomes an awesome display, protected from little hands by plexiglass, so kids can get close without getting in trouble! The home has its own Facebook page for times and dates. 417 Blackstone Dr., San Rafael
Morgan Family Christmas Light Show — Newark This 15-minute-long light show works like a drive-in movie. Park in view of the show, and set the radio dial to 87.9FM to hear the music that goes with the show, which features 10,000 lights. Shows every 15 minutes from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights. 36811 Gum Ct., Newark
Classic Cable Car Holiday Lights — San Francisco Hop on a cable car that is decked out in decorations, receive a free Santa hat to wear on the ride and take this 70 minute-tour of San Francisco landmarks, all lit up for the holidays. Sing-a-longs are bound to happen. Departs from Fisherman’s Wharf. Bring a blanket and a camera. Tickets sell out fast, so book in advance. 190 Napoleon St., San Francisco. 415-922-2425, www.classiccablecar.com