What gets you into the holiday spirit more than Christmas music? Driving around looking at holiday lights while listening to Christmas music. We’ve put together a list, with the help of locals, of the best holiday light displays in Greater Des Moines. The list has been checked twice and includes where to go, when, how much tickets are, and where to grab a bite to eat or some hot cocoa for your evening of merriment.
Want to hear the story of the gingerbread boy? (Rhetorical question, of course you do.) Head over to Richland Court in Ankeny, where this suburban neighborhood transforms into a holiday lane, with each festively lit home having signage that tells the story of the gingerbread boy. Bring your best non-perishables, as every weekend, Santa and Mrs. Claus collect canned goods for Food Bank of Iowa.
Where: SE Richland Court, Ankeny
When: December 1 – 31
Where to eat: Leaning Tower of Pizza, 512 SW 3rd Street, Ankeny
One of the most popular holiday light events, Jolly Holiday Lights is at a new location with a new format. Now located at the Outlets of Des Moines, you can stroll through the lighted displays throughout the outdoor mall. (Shop ‘til you drop, then enjoy the lights right in front of you.) Some displays can also be seen from the parking lot. So, yes, you can still stay warm in your car and drive around the parking lot to see the lights. Starting at 5 p.m. each day and running until 30 minutes before the mall closes, there will be a Lights to Music Show. Buy a Jolly Holiday Lights coupon book to help with your holiday shopping and support Make-A-Wish Iowa. Ticketed events throughout Jolly Holiday Lights include the Jolly Holiday Lights 2023 Kickoff Ceremony, Breakfast with Santa at the Outlets, Train Ride at the Outlets, and Sip and Shop Night at the Outlets.
Where: Outlets of Des Moines
When: November 17, 2023 – January 7, 2024; closed November 23, December 25. Mall hours.
Tickets: Free; ticketed events throughout the holiday season.
Where to eat: Burger Shed, 500 Bass Pro Drive Northwest, Altoona
Beaverdale Holiday Lights
More than 50 homes in Beaverdale do their best Clark Griswold impression, competing for bragging rights in this annual light show. Subtlety is not an option, as light displays, both cutting edge and classic, light up the neighborhood. There’s even a sign at the entrance that tells you what radio station to turn it to in order to sync up with the light displays.
Where: Ashby and Wallace Avenues, East and West of Beaver Avenue
When: 6 – 9 p.m. through December 31
Where to eat: Motley School Tavern, 1903 Beaver Avenue, Des Moines
Historic Valley Junction
Not only can you enjoy more than 125,000 lights, but you can also get your holiday shopping done at Historic Valley Junction’s cool vintage and handmade stores, and then refuel at one of their unique bars and eateries. Check out Jingle in the Junction on Thursday, December 15 and 22 from 5 – 9 p.m. for extended shopping and in-store specials, mailbox to the North Pole, and a seasonal selfie spot!
When: 5 p.m. – Midnight through January 1
Where: Fifth Street and Railroad Ave, West Des Moines
Where to eat: Mitzi’s, 206 5th St, West Des Moines
Head out to Urbandale for this brand new light experience - Miracle on 86th Street. Explore Charles Gabus Memorial Tree Park and take in more than 50,000 holiday lights and light displays. There will also be a large custom-built train, an ice skating rink, and more.
Where: Charles Gabus Memorial Tree Park
When: November 21 – January 8
Tickets: Free, certain ticketed events
Where to eat: Coci Cucina, 1975 NW 86th St, Clive
It doesn’t get much more magical than this! The Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad’s popular Santa Express train, named one of the 30 Best Holiday and Christmas Trains in the US, is a one-hour round trip journey to the quaint but festive “North Pole.” Along the way you’ll hear the story of Santa’s Scenic Valley Ride, sing Christmas carols and enjoy hot chocolate and cookies. This unique experience has become a memorable family tradition for families across Iowa. Pro-tip: Holiday pajamas are encouraged, no matter your age!
Where: Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad and Museum
When: Fridays – Sundays, November 24 – December 8
Tickets: $25 for Classic Coach Car or $50 for First Class Coach
Where to eat: Jimmy’s BBQ Pit, 717 Story Street, Boone
Living History Farms brings “Santa’s Rock n Lights – Drive Through Light Show” to Greater Des Moines. Visitors will travel through the mystical dinosaur world and over 700 feet of tunnels, including the techno rainbow tunnel. Tune your car radio to the station synced to the show lights for an immersive, full-sensory experience!
Where: Living History Farms
When: November 24 – December 31, 5 – 9 p.m.
Tickets: Start at $29.99 per vehicle
Where to eat: The Machine Shed, 11151 Hickman Road, Urbandale
Returning this year, Reiman Gardens in Ames unveils “Winter Wonderscape” - a walk-through light show in the outdoor gardens. The gardens feature a variety of immersive light displays throughout 17 acres. Walk through brightly lit tunnels, meander through fantasy lights falling like stars, view massive disco balls twirling to laser lights, enjoy a 20’ wide fountain and a wide array of other sparkling wonders.
Where: Reiman Gardens
When: Thursdays – Saturdays in December, 5 – 8 p.m.
Tickets: $15 adult general public, $13 adult members and ISU students, $7 youth (ages 2 – 12), and free for ages under 2
Where to eat: Hickory Park, 1404 S Duff Avenue, Ames
Need to distract the kids on Christmas Eve so Santa can make his pit stop? Head over to the Waterbury neighborhood in Des Moines, where lighted luminaries line the sidewalks of Waterbury Road on Christmas Eve.
When: December 24
Where: Waterbury Road in Des Moines
Where to eat: El Fogon, 1250 8th Street, West Des Moines
Windsor Heights Lights
Around 120 homes participate in Windsor Heights Foundation’s annual holiday lighting contest each year. Nothing brings out the creative displays like a little friendly competition among neighbors.
When: December 6 — January 1 from 6 - 9 p.m.
Where: South of Hickman Road, Franklin Avenue, Marylynn Drive and 72nd Street
Where to eat: Mi Patria, 1410 22nd Street, West Des Moines
Each holiday season, the Drake neighborhood receives a colorful makeover with what they call Dogtown Lights. It’s a great way to explore the growing entertainment district around campus (and maybe convince your kids to go to school close to home). Go Bulldogs!
Where: University Avenue between 23rd and 25th streets in Des Moines' Drake neighborhood
When: November 11 – December 11
Where to eat: Lucky Horse Burgers and Beer, 2331 University Avenue, Des Moines