Lights in Bloom at Selby Gardens' downtown campus
Holly Days and Mangrove Lights. Photo courtesy of Historic Spanish Point.
Holiday Lights. Photo courtesy of Sarasota Jungle Gardens.
Enander’s Winter Wonderland (Photo: Beth Luberecki)

Sarasota Holidays: Let There Be Lights

See where to go for a glowing good time after dark this holiday season

We may not have snow in Sarasota County. But we definitely know how to celebrate a bright Christmas, decorating our homes and well-known local sites with all kinds of twinkling touches. Get in the holiday spirit by visiting one of these spots that light up the night at this time of year.

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

A daytime trip to Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota can include a walk among the banyan trees and close encounters with orchids and other flowering plants. During the holiday season, you can also head to the gardens after the sun sets for the annual Lights in Bloom event.

More than two million lights decorate the 15-acre site, creating glowing tunnels and accenting the branches of the gardens’ many trees. Dazzling flowers line walkways, while technicolor butterflies and dragonflies float overhead. There are also nightly visits from Santa (before Christmas Eve), children’s activities, and festive food and drink options.

This year’s event takes place on 18 nights between December 14 and January 4 from 6 to 9 p.m. Tickets are $25 for adults, $7 for children ages 5 to 12, and free for children under 5. For a special evening, guests can purchase tickets for the “Selby Experience” ($150 for adults, $40 for children ages 4 to 12) on December 21, which includes reserved parking, a buffet and open bar, and early entry to the light display.

University Town Center

University Town Center in Sarasota is a must-visit for holiday shopping. But it’s also a great place to see more than four million lights shaped into everything from Christmas trees to rowing crews that are lit every evening from November 15 through January 6.

There’s no charge to enjoy the luminous displays of Holidays on the Green. But if you want to add to the fun, you can also go ice skating and “snow” tubing, ride a carousel, or take a horse-drawn carriage ride (various fees for activities). Fireworks light up the sky every Saturday evening during the holiday season at 9 p.m.

Trolley Tours

Sit back and enjoy the ride on local trolley tours that take in some of Sarasota’s best illuminated displays. Sarasota Trolley offers its Holiday Lights Tour at 6 and 8:15 p.m. throughout December ($15 per person). Grab one of the wooden seats on the open-air, vintage-style trolleys and check out the bright lights of our pretty city.

From December 6 through 31, SRQ Trolley’s Holiday Tour of Lights departs nightly at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. ($15 per person). A soundtrack of holiday tunes is played during the excursions, and guests can bring their own beverages along.

Also, check out Discover Sarasota Tours to see what's on their seasonal schedule of trolley tours in the area!

Enander’s Winter Wonderland

The lights go on at Enander’s Winter Wonderland on December 13 and remain lit through January 1. This family-run display on Mission Valley Boulevard in Nokomis has become a must-do holiday tradition for many in the area, and for good reason. Featuring around 400,000 lights, it includes scenes depicting seasonal staples like Santa and his elves along with kid-friendly faves like Cinderella and dinosaurs. This year listen for new songs accompanying the “dancing” Christmas tree.

It’s free to stroll the property from 6 to 10 p.m. and admire the family’s handiwork. Parking can sometimes be challenging on Mission Valley Boulevard; respect neighbors’ no-parking requests.

Downtown Venice

Downtown Venice is absolutely aglow this time of year. Lights wrap the towering palm trees that line Venice Avenue, creating a cool effect that’s totally Instagram-worthy. Additional lights hang from lampposts in the shape of poinsettias, gift boxes, and other holiday symbols.

An illuminated animal menagerie sits in front of Venice City Hall, featuring everything from Florida wildlife (like an alligator and dolphin) to more exotic creatures (like a camel and rhinoceros). After checking out that display, stroll through the Venice Arboretum at West Blalock Park to admire its trees strung with lights and other decorations for the holiday season.

In the Neighborhoods and on the Water

Visitors can take their own DIY tours of Sarasota-area neighborhoods that have become known for their light displays over the years. Spots to check out include the Cedar Hollow and Colonial Gables neighborhoods in Sarasota.

Holiday boat parades also take to the water at this time of year, featuring boats alight with plenty of seasonal sprit. The Venice Christmas Boat Parade of Lights glides down the Intracoastal Waterway on December 7, while the Sarasota Holiday Boat Parade of Lights takes place December 14 in Sarasota Bay.