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Holiday Festival of Lights: Experience Charleston Like a Local
(Even If You Are One)

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The turkey is eaten. The fall leaves decorating the trees now scatter the ground, and perhaps snow does, too. But make no mistake, the holiday joy has just begun with the James Island Annual Festival of Lights

‘Tis the season, after all!

If you find yourself in the subtropical South Carolina—or if you are a resident—snow is a rare sight. But that doesn’t mean that winter doesn’t come, and a few of the creature comforts that adorn it. We’re referring to twinkling lights galore, of course.

Let the sun set on historic downtown Charleston and multicolored lights replace it. Palmetto trees (not palms!) wrapped in fairy lights, awnings laced with incandescence, and the neon glow of carefully decorated trees in windows. And, of course, the grand finale: James Island’s annual Festival of Lights.

The History

James Island County Park employees are known for their dedication and ingenuity, and Rich Raab embodies that.

Hailing from West Virginia, Raab has dutifully worked at the county park for decades and is perhaps most well known for eighteen things he constructed on the park grounds back in 1990: holiday light displays. This of course was the beginning of what now spans 3 miles and runs an electric bill of $1,000 per day.

Rich Raab still plays a vital role in constructing and refurbishing many of the light displays you’ll see on Adventure Sightseeing’s tour, and his workshop has been lovingly dubbed “Santa’s Workshop”.

The Experience

Your tour begins at the Visitors Center in the heart of historic downtown Charleston. This long brick building that was once a train station, welcoming travelers from near and far, continues this tradition with you.

And this is only the beginning.

Meet your driver. He, she, or they have a long and established career in touring Charleston with grace, humor, and of course, loads and loads of facts about Charleston and its surrounding areas. Your driver is here to ensure that your time here is unforgettable, and of course the vehicle is there to ensure your time is comfortable in the climate-controlled bus this time of year.

Once you’ve departed from your meeting point, be sure to watch the changing views out of the large windows. Once you cross the James Island Connector, your views will morph from urban cityscape to tree canopies and marshes. The best part of taking a trip to the Festival of Lights with someone else driving is that you don’t have to worry about the traffic, which such a large event inevitably attracts.

Welcome to the James Island County Park! By day it’s known for scenic walking trails and reasonably priced kayaking, but starting in mid-November, by night it’s known for the Holiday Festival of Lights.

And what a festival it is.

Featuring over 750 light displays over the course of a 3-mile drive, you’ll want to savor every moment, which your driver will encourage you to do via driving this loop more than once. Look out—you likely missed something the first drive around. Partially through one loop, you’ll be dropped off in Winter Wonderland with a s’mores kit in hand—and so very much to do.

The Food

Stepping off the bus, you’re first greeted by firepits perfect for roasting those marshmallows you have in your s’mores kit. Wandering deeper into the Winter Wonderland brings you more and more food options, from kettle corn to hamburgers, and of course, some good old-fashioned hot chocolate.

The 50-ton sand sculpture depicting a holiday scene replaces any need for snowmen as you wander closer toward Santa’s Sweets Shoppe, located on the completely accessible second floor of the nearby building. Enjoying such a masterpiece is certainly a way to drum up an appetite, so come have a caramel apple!

Mind you, Santa’s Sweets Shoppe has more than simply caramel (and chocolate-dipped) apples. Pick up some candy, fresh-baked pastries and cookies, and even hand-dipped ice cream. Who could say no to such temptation?

Even more awaits you at Santa’s Village, which is linked to the Winter Wonderland by simply a stroll through the enchanted walkway. Here you’ll find funnel cakes, the best chicken sandwich, and more hot chocolate, among many other delectable treats. But be sure to save a bit of money for the next must-do activity at the Holiday Festival of lights!

The Shopping

Right next door to Santa’s Sweets Shoppe is, naturally, his attic. Santa’s Attic is stuffed full of holiday goodies, all available for purchase! Looking for just that special something? This gift shop might just fit the ticket.

If you’re still searching, why not check out the aptly named Incredible Gift Shoppe? Truly incredible and filled with all manner of joy, from toys to ornaments to fandom gifts galore! Two years later and my Ravenclaw brooch from the Incredible Gift Shoppe is still pristine.

More of an experience than a toy, for only $3 you can purchase tickets to ride the holiday train, which provides an up-close look at the lights, including some that can only be spotted on this train.

After you’ve perused these shops and perhaps gifted yourself the Festival of Lights annual tree ornament, trek through the enchanted walkway to find yourself with yet more options.

Of note for any kids participating in the holiday tour will be the Reindeer Workshop, where you can build and then adopt your very own reindeer, straight from Santa’s Village itself! Of course, you can also purchase photos with the red-donned man himself as well as the experience of scaling the rock wall at the county park.

Happy Holidays to All!

You’ve explored Winter Wonderland, perused Santa’s Village, and done a hefty bit of Christmas shopping to boot. You’ve seen more holiday lights than you can fathom. All this means it’s time to head home.

Your driver will drop you off where you were picked up at the start, and you can rest easy. Perhaps have a cup of tea before you drift off, and let visions of sugarplums dance in your head.

Or perhaps you’re a night owl, ready to move on to the next fantastic spot. The answer is Carmella’s, of course.

Whatever your plans after your Adventure Sightseeing tour of the Holiday Festival of Lights, we are very glad you have chosen us as your local, family-owned tour company to discover Charleston and its many surprises.

And of course, we’ll see you next time!

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