A Mom's Guide to An Evening Out at the Festival of Lights

Maggie Lott



Now that Christmas is a few days past and the majority of us are on that lull in work between Christmas and New Years, now is a great time to enjoy the many fun holiday activities with your kids that are still running here in Charleston. 


One that has been around for ages is the Festival of Lights. James Island County Park is transformed into a winter wonderland that could rival the North Pole itself. Kids of all ages love the Festival of Lights. If you are looking to plan an evening there, here is a great place to start.



Before You Go, Eat!

Be sure to get you and your minions fed before you go, trust me. Sometimes lines can be long and cars drive slow throughout the park and nothing makes you want to scream than your kids screaming about food. James Island County Park is located off of Riverland Drive and close to many area restaurants. You can go for a nice dinner or something casual. Here are a few places that you could pick from:

  1. Paisano’s- Located on Camp Road, they have the best pizza. I’m not kidding, after trying them at a nephew’s birthday party, I refuse to eat any other pizza.
  2. Zia Taqueria- These guys are right by The Terrace movie theater and have phenomenal tacos and margaritas. They have kids items as well for those of you who have little ones who will only eat “cheese triangles”.
  3. Bohemian Bull- Huge draft beer menu and incredible food. They are on Folly Road past the park but are only a 5-minute drive so it’s not too bad.
  4. Melvin’s- This one is a personal family favorite and where we went this year. You can’t beat BBQ and burgers and fries.


James Island Festival of Lights

The Festival of Lights is going on now through January 1st. They are open every day of the week from 5:30 to 10 (weekdays) and 11 (Friday and Saturday). They are open rain or shine since the majority of it is a driving tour.

Tickets for the festival are based per person. If you have anywhere from 1-15 guests it is $20 per vehicle or $15 Monday through Thursday with a donation. They love food donations that will all go to the Lowcountry Food Bank. If you plan on renting a bus with 16-30 guests it is $40 on the weekdays and $50 on the weekends and if you over 31 guests, $100 on the weekdays and $150 on the weekends. One way I got around that this year was by buying a Gold Pass. If you are a parent in the Lowcountry, I can’t say enough about this. It’s $85 and it gets you into all of their parks year-round as well as admission to several festivals and events, like this one.

The Lights

Once you start on the path of the lights, you will notice they are everywhere. On the ponds, in the trees, there are a few you drive through as well. You will see some familiar Charleston sights like the Charleston Row, the Yorktown, a joggling board and a great tribute to our old bridge and new bridge. You will also go through different themed sections like under the sea, candy land, and dinosaurs.

Visiting the North Pole or AKA “Doing the Stuff in the Middle”

While on your drive you will see certain places to stop and park and enjoy the sights in the middle. You will see signs for Lot A, B, or C and they are typically found on the left. Park your car and enjoy walking through some lights. In the middle, there are a few things to see and do.

The Carousel

This is a great place to start as well as meet any family and friends who may have lost you in line while in your car. It has all sorts of animals for your child to choose from as well as some benches if you just want to sit. Tickets are $1 per person and parents can ride free with your kid.


There are all sorts of sweet treats at the Festival of Lights. This year they have Funnel Cakes but the one thing most people gravitate to is the giant marshmallows. They have fire pits spread out nearby that you will see many crowded around either warming up or roasting a huge marshmallow.


The Santa that you see at the Festival of Lights is hands down one of the best. He is super patient and you can just tell he loves being Santa. Now I’m not going to lie to you, the line is usually pretty long but it can move fairly fast. I think we waited last night for about 30 minutes. If you have wiggly kids, the area where Santa is is pretty big and they can run around while you wait. Another thing that makes the whole experience fantastic is also the photographer. He can make your kids laugh and you will have some of the best photos. The prices can be a bit much but I have always gotten the cheapest 5x7 that they offer, scan it, and send it to relatives.

As you can see, the Festival of Lights should not be missed during the holiday season, especially if you have kids. One trip and you will see why it has been named one of the best festivals not only in the US but around the world too!