December nights are long. And cold. But also bright! The switches have been flipped on the area’s holiday light shows, from The Grotto with its concert series to the Oregon Garden with its skating rink and snowless tubing hill. (We still have to wait for the quadrant-clogging traffic event that is Peacock Lane, as the neighborhood light extravaganza off SE Stark Street doesn’t begin until December 15—the first three nights are pedestrian-only.) Here are a few area standbys that all about the glow.
A fundraiser for the Sunshine Division, the food and clothing assistance nonprofit that’s a partner of the police bureau, Winter Wonderland at Portland International Raceway began on Black Friday and runs through January 4. For $20 to $25 per carload, people can cruise past “12 Days of Christmas” tableaux, dinosaurs, a rather sad Hanukkah-Kwanzaa section, and one very phallic lighthouse. Opening night was Bike the Lights, with no cars allowed, and on December 2 and 3 the event is foot traffic only, with dogs welcome. Non-car nights, which run $7 per person 13 and over, feature a warming tent and food carts, including an official Pronto Pup van. Pro tip: Maximize time in North Portland with a stop at the Miracle of a Million Lights ($5–8 per person) or cruise the Kenton neighborhood to find an amazing free private light display at the corner of N Brandon and Terry and a wishing tunnel near N Tyndall and Hunt.
The lights flickered at the Oregon Zoo on the weekend before Thanksgiving for BrewLights, a ticketed beer fest with blinking-light taster glasses and a seriously sticky coating of beer on the walkways (there were also puddles of, um, other things), before giving way to the more wholesome annual ZooLights celebration. The display is rich in selfie opportunities, with walls, benches, hearts, and tunnels ready for visitors to hashtag the heck out of them. The lights are on through January 5, with tickets running $10 to $20 per person, with an additional cost to ride the ZooTrain.
Feel more like a road trip? Find Oregon’s most concentrated holiday light display near Coos Bay at Shore Acres State Park. Open 4 to 9:30 pm nightly from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve, the annual Holiday Lights at Shore Acres packs more than 300,000 LED lights into the old Simpson estate’s five-acre, English- and Japanese-inspired formal gardens. With each display sponsored and assembled by a local business or community group in the close-knit region, the event can feel a little bit like crashing someone else’s family reunion, but in a good way. Admission is just the usual $5 state park parking fee. On weekends and other busy nights, be ready to wait in a line of cars at nearby Sunset Bay State Park until there’s room in the Shore Acres lot. Pro tip: Stop in town at the Coos Head Food Co-Op and pack a picnic, and then hit Shore Acres in daylight to catch the sunset before the lights come on (and claim a parking spot before the lineup).
Where to stay: Some of the closest lodging to Shore Acres is between Coos Bay and Charleston at Bay Point Landing, an RV park that also rents Airstream trailers and gorgeous mod cabins along the calm bay. A central lodge building houses a lounge with shuffleboard and magnetic wall Scrabble, a pool and fitness center, meeting space, and a shop selling both fancy 1927 Smores kits and a more everyman Honey Maid–Hershey’s bundle.