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All is calm, all is bright. In some cases, really bright.

Here are seven of some of America’s most over-the-top holiday light displays.


St. Augustine’s Nights of Lights. Photo courtesy of St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra, & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau.

St. Augustine, Florida: During Nights of Lights, the 450-year-old city illuminates its landmarks with white lights in a display that’s been called one of the world’s 10 best. The festivities include a bunch of special events, such as carriage and boat tours, outdoor concerts and more.

Blossoms of Light in Denver, Colorado

Blossoms of Light in Denver, Colorado | Flickr Creative Commons: Amy Aletheia Cahill

Denver, Colorado: Denver Botanic Gardens sets the scene for a classy holiday with Blossoms of Light. The flora becomes even more inviting when it’s illuminated with thousands of lights, including a spot named the Romantic Gardensfull of aromatic plants and plum trees. (Can you say marriage proposal spot?) There’s also live entertainment on select nights, and visitors can purchase 3-D HoloSpex glasses to enhance their view of the lights.

Tacky Lights Tour in Richmond, Virginia

Tacky Lights Tour in Richmond, Virginia | Flickr Creative Commons: Taber Andrew Bain

Richmond, Virginia: On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Richmond Times-Dispatch‘s annual list lovingly named the Tacky Lights Tour. Houses must have at least 40,000 lights to make the list; some are tasteful, some downright tacky. The newspaper alerts homeowners that they’ll be included, so when you embark on a self-guided tour of the eyesores, you’ll be laughing with them—not at them.

Glittering Lights | Photo courtesy of Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Glittering Lights | Photo courtesy of Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Las Vegas, Nevada: There are drive-through light shows… and then there’s Glittering Lights at Sin City’s Motor Speedway. Roll down your windows, turn up your windows and cruise around the 2.5-mile track that proves the Vegas Strip isn’t the only part of town that glistens.

Christmas in Los Angeles

Christmas in Los Angeles, California | Flickr Creative Commons: Loren Javier

Los Angeles, California: Come to see the stars, but stay to see the lights. Downtown L.A. Walking Tours offers a nightly Holiday Lights Tour showcasing how the City of Angeles celebrates the season. Stops include the Broad Museum, Grant Park with its illuminated fountain, Nutcracker Village at California Plaza and more.

CheapTickets-Clifton Mill-Ohio-Christmas-lights

The lights of Ohio’s Clifton Mill combine old-school technology with new-school glitz. Photo by Tina Lawson/Flickr Creative Commons.

Clifton Mill, Ohio: Millions of lights brighten up this 19th-century the mill, gorge, riverbanks, trees and bridges. The decor includes a Santa Claus Museum, light show synchronized to music on the old covered bridge, 100-foot “waterfall” of twinkling lights and more. Legendary Lights is located about 40 miles southwest of Columbus.


Everything’s bigger in Texas, even the holiday lights. Photo of Austin’s Trail of Lights by Mark Scott/Flickr Creative Commons.

Austin, Texas: The city’s Trail of Lights gets more elaborate every year. Zilker Park’s display now includes a 155-foot-tall artificial Christmas tree, ferris wheel and carousel. It’s one of the largest holiday events in Austin, with live performances, a lighted tunnel and more.

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Tagged: City, Family, Festivals, Florida, Holidays, L.A., Las Vegas, Seasonal

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Reno, Nevada. A town that’s been spittin’ gold for more than a century in more ways than one. Its place in history and on travelers’ radars has shifted constantly since before its founding, when it served simply as a pit stop where pioneers on their way west could stock up before taking on the rugged Sierra Nevadas by way of the Donner Pass. (Unfortunately for the members of the Donner Party, the trading posts didn’t spring up until a few years after they passed through). It didn’t take long for the settlers to discovergold in the hills surrounding what would soon become Reno, and the area solidified a spot it still holds as a destination for those looking to make a quick buck. As the mining boom waned in the 20th century, attention turned more toward the city proper.

In 1931 when Nevada made open gambling legal and passed some of the most liberal divorce laws in the country, Reno shot to the top of destination lists for a whole new demographic. Intercontinental railroads and then highways made travel to Reno simple. It became “The Biggest Little City In The World.” The people kept coming and the casinos kept being built.

Of course now the old mining villages are all but ghost towns, divorce laws are liberal everywhere and “Reno 911” isn’t even filmed there. But the casino industry is still going strong, and Reno continues to hold plenty of appeal for travelers, especially those on a budget. It is far cheaper than Las Vegas and its history is debatably richer. Here are some sure-fire ways to do Reno right and cheap.


Hot August Nights in Reno

The Hot August Nights celebration in Reno, Nevada. Photo: Rick Cooper – Flickr

Hot August Nights — When it was founded in 1986, this hot rod festival set out to celebrate America’s love affair with rock ‘n’ roll and cars, and to fill a tourism hole in August. Hot rods from around the country spill into the city for an event-filled week in August (this year’s festival is Aug. 2-7). Cars parade down Virginia Street and music fills the dance halls and restaurants. Most of the events are free to attend, and proceeds from the festival go to charity.


Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe, Nevada. Photo: Don Graham – Flickr

Strayaway from Lake Tahoe — One of America’s premier outdoor destinations is less than 40 miles from Reno. Lake Tahoe is full of classy outdoor activities at any time of year, drawing constant crowds from around the world with a little extra money to spend on their getaways. The crowd it attracts is a tasteful one, and many who vacation there make a day trip out of visiting Reno. Driving into Reno provides a cheap activity, giving people an excuse not to spend money that day on the boat rental or ski pass. Plus, if they’re lucky, they might just bring home more loot than they came with.

The Great Reno Balloon Race.

The Great Reno Balloon Race. Photo: Ken Lund – Flickr

 Spectate the Great Reno Balloon Race — Held at Rancho San Rafael Park just west of the University of Nevada, Reno, this is one of the largest free hot air balloon festivals in the world. More than 125,000 spectators and 100 hot air balloons turn out for the three-day spectacle, which includes daily balloon glows and launches. Next year’s festival is scheduled for Sept. 9-11.


The National Bowling Stadium

The National Bowling Stadium in Reno, Nevada. Photo: Bryce Edwards – Flickr

Visit the National Bowling Stadium — This is where things get quirky in Reno. “Bowling is kind of a big deal in Reno,” the stadium’s website says. Clearly, if they need a whole stadium for it. Created with the tournament bowler in mind, the National Bowling Stadium has 78 championship lanes and is the only facility of its kind in the world. Ithosts a slew of events and championships, or people can just pop in for a game. If you’re going to bowl, you might as well do it right.


Washoe County Courthouse

The Washoe County Courthouse in Reno, Nevada. Photo: Ken Lund – Flickr

Pilgrimage to Washoe County Courthouse — It’s always important to pay homage to the history of the cities you visit, and that’s especially true with Reno. The Washoe County Courthouse, built in 1910, was the hub of America’s divorce industry during the first half of the 20th century. Divorcing couples were spending $5 million a year in Reno. More than 4,800 divorces were processed in Northern Nevada in 1931, the majority of them through this courthouse. So go visit the courthouse and pay homage to the place that facilitated the end of thousands of unhappy marriages.


Peavine Peak

Peavine Peak near Reno, Nevada. Photo: MikeJamieson(1950) – Flickr

Traverse Peavine Peak — Peavine Peak, named so for the pea vines early prospectors found growing on the northeast flank of the mountain, is one of the most dominant geological features of the Reno area. Miles of hiking and bike paths cover the mountain, and its varied geography creates plenty of challenge for the outdoor enthusiast. The mountain is under stewardship of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, but access to its trails is free.

Tagged: Cheap Tips, Festivals, FREE!, Tips & advice

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If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then some landmarks should be downright charmed. If you don’t have the time or money to see the real thing, then opt for one of these faux versions of tourists attractions that are often imitated and nearly duplicated.

 Related: 5 stunning U.S. scenic drives 

Leaning Tower of Pisa replica in Niles, IL

Italy isn’t the only place where you can eat great pizza and take a selfie in front of an off-kilter landmark. At 94 feet tall, this suburban Chicago knockoff stands at about half the size of the actual Italian treasure. Built as a utility tower in 1934, in the late ’90s the tower added a fountain, reflection pool and other upgrades just in time for a visit from its sister city, which is—you guessed it—Pisa, Italy.

Leaning Tower is Pisa replica in Niles, Illinois. Credit Jimmy Thomas/Flickr.

Leaning Tower is Pisa replica in Niles, Illinois. Credit Jimmy Thomas/Flickr.

Trevi Fountain replica in Las Vegas, NV

What happens in Vegas… originally happened in Rome, Italy. Sin City is home to several clones of the Baroque masterpiece. The best-known sits outside Caesars Palace, where you can dine at—wait for it—Trevi Italian Restaurant. There’s also a lesser-known version of the ornate fountain inside the Fendi boutique at Crystals at CityCenter, where the handbags are legit but the fountain is most definitely a knockoff.

Trevi Fountain replica at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Credit Bert Kaufmann/Flickr.

Trevi Fountain replica at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Credit Bert Kaufmann/Flickr.

Statue of Liberty replica in Birmingham, AL

About 2 million tourists flock to Ellis Island each year. Skip the lines and ferry ride by heading south to this bronze duplicate that’s one-fifth the size of the real statue. Like the New York statue, Birmingham’s version of Lady Liberty was made in France and has a continuously burning flame. In 1958, businessman Frank Park Samford commissioned the clone to sit atop the building of his company, Liberty National Life Insurance. Today, the statue stands in Liberty Park.

Statue of Liberty replica in Birmingham, Alabama. Credit Wikipedia.

Statue of Liberty replica in Birmingham, Alabama. Credit Wikipedia.

White House replica in McClean, VA

You can’t buy an election, but you can buy the White House—or at least a private home just outside Washington, DC, that’s modeled after the real thing. The 15,000-square-foot replica has six bedrooms and seven bathrooms, compared to the actual White House’s 55,000 square feet, 16 bedrooms and 35 bathrooms. In 2012, the foreclosured property sold for just $865,000.

Eiffel Tower replica in Paris, TX

Not everything’s bigger in Texas. This iron structure stands at 65 feet tall, compared to the French icon, which boasts a staggering 986 feet. But the Texas version is topped with a giant red cowboy hat, which makes for a kitschy photo op as you stretch your legs along U.S. Highway 82. The Boiler Makers Local #902 in built it there in 1995, more than a century after the French landmark was erected.

Eiffel Tower replica in Paris, Texas. Credit Kevin/Flickr.

Eiffel Tower replica in Paris, Texas. Credit Kevin/Flickr.

Parthenon replica in Nashville, TN

This Southern gem was built for Tennessee’s 1897 Centennial Exposition—which sounds old, until you realize that construction on the actual Parthenon in Greece began in 447 BC. But Nashville’s full-scale replica is more than just a pretty facade; it also houses the city’s art museum.

Parthenon replica in Nashville. Credit Will Powell/Flickr.

Parthenon replica in Nashville. Credit Will Powell/Flickr.

Stonehedge replica in Maryhill, WA

While the purpose behind England’s Stonehenge remain a mystery—altar? astronomical observatory? burial site?—the origins of this knockoff are more certain. In 1918, land developer Sam Hill erected his version of Stonehenge as a memorial to the fallen soldiers of World War 1. The Druids used actual stones, but 5,000 years later, Hill opted for the convenience of reinforced concrete slabs.

Stonehenge replica. Credit Wikipedia.

Stonehenge replica. Credit Wikipedia.

Tagged: International, Las Vegas