December on the Gulf Coast is kind of the best thing ever. Christmas is just over three weeks away, and highs today across the coast are in the mid-to-high 70s. Holiday cheer and beach days in the same month? What more could anyone ask for?
We may not have snowmen here on the coast, but we know how to get into the holiday spirit, with no shortage of ways to celebrate. Here’s some of the great things to do this December across the Gulf Coast:
Celebration in the Oaks
Each year, more than 165,000 visitors pour into New Orleans’ sprawling City Park for the Celebration in the Oaks event, an annual tradition in the city. Staff members and volunteers spend about eight months preparing for the event each year, which has been called one of the most spectacular holiday light festivals in the country.
Take the train or wander through the winter wonderland at your own pace. While you’re there, get a breathtaking view of the lights and the New Orleans skyline on the ferris wheel, or ride the hand-carved horses at the park’s 100+ year old carousel. Tickets are $8 to enter; train tickets and rides are sold separately.
November 27–January 2 • 6:00-10:00 p.m. (11:00 p.m. on Fri./Sat.)
New Orleans City Park
1 Palm Drive
New Orleans, LA 70124
More info: http://neworleanscitypark.com/celebration-in-the-oaks
Magic Christmas in Lights @ Bellingrath Gardens
If New Orleans is a bit too far, head to Bellingrath Gardens in Theodore, Ala., just south of Mobile. The old Southern estate and its beautiful 65-acre gardens are open year-round, but each December, more than three million lights come on for the annual “Magic Christmas in Lights” event — named one of the “10 Best Public Light Displays in America” by USA Today.
In addition to the light displays, the Bellingrath Home is decorated in holiday finery and poinsettias, and nightly choral performances are held on the home’s South Terrace. Tickets range from $7-$24.
November 27–January 2 • 5:00-9:00 p.m.
12401 Bellingrath Gardens Road
Theodore, AL 36582
More info: http://bellingrath.org/experiences/events/magic-christmas-in-lights/
Ice skating? On the Gulf Coast? Yep. In October, Mobile mayor Sandy Stimpson announced “Riverside Ice,” a seasonal ice skating rink at Cooper Riverside Park. With an awesome view of the downtown Mobile skyline and the Mobile River, it’s a truly unique place to skate.
The rink, sponsored by Airbus, will be open daily through January 12. Tickets are $8 for kids 12 and under, and $10 for everyone else.
If you’re located elsewhere on the coast, there are a few other options to get your ice skating fix, including Wharf on Ice in Orange Beach, Baytowne on Ice in Sandestin, and Public Skate Sessions at the Pensacola Bay Center.
November 14–January 12 • Hours vary
Cooper Riverside Park
South Water Street (between Convention Center and GulfQuest Museum)
Mobile, AL 36603
More info: http://riversideice.com/
Winter at the Wharf
The Wharf in Orange Beach has a full slate of activities planned as part of its “Winter at the Wharf” celebration. The Wharf on Ice skating rink is completely covered and open rain or shine through January 10. Tickets to skate are $10, or you can snag combo tickets to skate and ride the ferris wheel for $13.
In addition to the rink, Winter at the Wharf also features horse and carriage rides, photos with Santa, a holiday edition of The Wharf’s SPECTRA light and sound show, and a live animal nativity trail exhibit, complete with camel rides and a petting zoo!
November 23–January 10 • Hours vary
4830 Main Street
Orange Beach, AL 36561
More info: http://www.alwharf.com/
Pensacola Saenger Theatre Events
Pensacola’s Saenger Theatre has something for everyone this December.
This Friday, December 4, the Saenger hosts broadway star Ashley Brown and the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra for a special “Home for the Holidays” performance. The following night, the Choral Society of Pensacola presents its annual performance of Handel’s Messiah.
December 11-13 features the Pensacola Children’s Chorus and their annual “Christmas on the Coast” performance, the last under longtime directors Allen and Susan Pote. The following weekend, Dec. 18-20, Ballet Pensacola will stage a performance of The Nutcracker.
Last but not least, on December 21, the Nebraska Theatre Caravan comes to town for a performance of the Charles Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol.”
Pensacola Saenger Theatre
118 South Palafox Street
Pensacola, FL 32502
More info: http://www.pensacolasaenger.com/
Downtown Pensacola is transformed into Christmas Town each December, with Winterfest’s fleet of trolleys guiding visitors through the magic. The play-like Performance Tour features 16 scenes ranging from a Living Nativity to the Polar Express, while Santa’s Holiday Express is a fun half hour of songs and stories of Christmas.
After your tour, enjoy free Reindeer Games in “Plaza Wonderland” and get your photo taken with Santa. Ticket prices vary.
November 27–December 23 • Hours vary
Old Escambia County Courthouse
223 South Palafox Street
Pensacola, FL 32502
More info: https://pensacolawinterfest.org/
Gulf Breeze Zoo Lights
The Gulf Breeze Zoo puts its own spin on the traditional holiday light display, covering the 50-acre zoo in thousands of lights, including a new environmentally-friendly solar light display set to debut this year.
Most of the animals are asleep, but you can catch glimpses of them as you tour the grounds or take the zoo train. If you’re looking to catch Santa, you’ll want to visit on a Sunday; he’s scheduled to drop in on Sunday, Dec. 6, 13, and 20. Tickets are $5 for members and $10 for non-members.
November 27–December 27 • 5:00-9:00 p.m.
Gulf Breeze Zoo
5701 Gulf Breeze Parkway
Gulf Breeze, FL 32563
More info: http://www.gbzoo.com/Events/SpecialEvents/ZooLights
Santa Drop at the Flora-Bama
Where in the world can you watch Santa jump out of an airplane? At the Flora-Bama, of course.
At the legendary bar straddling the Florida-Alabama line, families can watch as Santa parachutes down onto the beach before getting a picture with him. Activities, free sweets, hot chocolate, and juice are available for the kids, along with Flora-Bama’s famous bushwackers for the adults.
Saturday, December 12 • 10:00 a.m.
17401 Perdido Key Drive
Pensacola, FL 32507
More info: http://www.florabama.com/events/flora-bama-santa-drop
Pensacola Christmas Parade
The Cox Pensacola Christmas Parade is set to roll through Downtown Pensacola on Saturday, December 12. The annual event typically draws more than 50,000 people each year to see more than 90 entries, marching bands from Escambia County, New Orleans and Mississippi, and the world-famous Blue Angels flight team. This year’s parade should be better than ever after the debut of downtown Pensacola’s new Christmas lights.
Proceeds from the parade benefit area high school marching bands.
Saturday, December 12 • 5:15 p.m.
More info: http://www.coxpensacolachristmasparade.org/index.html
Destin Harbor Boat Parade
If a traditional parade isn’t your thing, head to the Emerald Coast for the 28th annual Destin Harbor Boat Parade. The harbor will be filled with holiday cheer as visitors enjoy the floats that actually float, live music, children’s arts and crafts, and hot chocolate.
The parade gets underway at 6:00 p.m., but if you want to head down a little earlier, Santa will be posted up at the HarborWalk Village’s Main State from 12:00-4:00 p.m. As a bonus, the parade is followed by fireworks at 8:00 p.m.!
Sunday, December 13 • 6:00 p.m.
10 Harbor Boulevard
Destin, FL 32541
More info: http://www.emeraldcoastfl.com/things-to-do/upcoming-events/destin-harbor-boat-parade-1/