Make your Christmas brighter with a visit to the Florida Panhandle during the holiday season. With a variety of events scheduled throughout the region, it'll be easy to get into the "ho-ho-ho"-holiday spirit.
From First City Lights Festival to Christmas on the Coast holiday concerts to Victorian Holiday Traditions tours and more, Pensacola is bustling with holiday festivities during Winterfest. Board the trolley for the Winterfest Performance Tour (times and prices vary, Nov. 25 and 26, Dec. 2, 3, 9, 16, 17, and 18, 850-583-1365.) See the Blue Angels at the 34th Annual Pensacola Christmas Parade (5:15 p.m., Dec. 10, downtown). Welcome in the New Year at the family-friendly 2017 Pensacola Pelican Drop.
Celebrate the season with the animals at Gulf Breeze Zoo in Gulf Breeze during Zoo Lights 2016 (5 - 9 p.m., with the last admission at 8:30 p.m., Nov. 25 - 27, Dec. 2 - 4, 9 - 24 and 26-27, $10 per adult, $10 per child, $5 for zoo members, 850-932-2229). The 50-acre zoo shines brightly with thousands of holiday lights and displays. On certain nights you can enjoy special events like ice sculpting demonstrations, Navarre Rotary chili cook-off and more.
Presented by the Destin History and Fishing Museum, the 30th annual "Holiday on the Harbor" Lighted Boat Parade (6 p.m., Dec. 11, bad weather date Dec. 18, 850-837-6611) presented by the Destin History and Fishing Museum is free to the public. The parade can be viewed along Destin's harbor westward to the bridge and ends with a firework display sponsored by HarborWalk Village.
The reflection of over three million lights off Lake DeFuniak during Christmas Reflections (5 - 9 p.m., Nov. 25 - Dec. 31, $3 per person; children under 6 free, 850-974-6774) in DeFuniak Springs warms everyone's hearts through the holidays. Choose to either walk the one-mile loop or drive to enjoy the lights and the displays. Horse-drawn carriage rides are offered by High Horse Farm LLC on certain dates. For dates and rates of carriage rides, view High Horse Farm LLC's Facebook page at facebook.com/highhorsefarmllc.
"Every Christmas Story Ever Told" (various times, Nov. 22 - Dec. 29, $25 per adult, $10 per child, ages 12 and under, 216 Quincy Circle, Seaside. 850-231-0733) presented by the Seaside Repertory Theater (REP) is a whimsical take on everyone's favorite Christmas stories. Prepare yourself for 90 minutes of laugh-out-loud fun with jokes and silliness. Armed with props and costumes, REP actors send up everything from Charles Dickens to Dr. Seuss, Jimmy Stewart to Chewbacca, while staying on message about the holiday season.
The Village of Baytowne Wharf at Sandestin Beach and Golf on Miramar Beach is South Walton's holiday hot spot. In addition to ice skating at Baytowne on Ice (through Feb. 10, various dates and times, $11 to skate minutes, $3 to rent skates, 9300 Highway 98 W., Sandestin. 850-267-8180), you can enjoy "12 Nights of Lights" light show (6, 7 and 8 p.m., Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, Dec. 2 until Christmas, Events Plaza). Following on Wednesdays is the Holiday Concert series (7 - 9 p.m., Dec. 7- 21, Events Plaza Stage.)
"Beach Home for the Holidays" (Nov. 25 - 26, free Aaron Bessant Park adjacent to Pier Park, 600 Pier Park Drive) in Panama City Beach features s'mores, Santa, Christmas tree lighting and concerts, including Wynonna Judd in "A Wynonna and the Big Noise Christmas." This year's free event take places at Aaron Bessant Park adjacent to Pier Park. Other holiday happenings throughout December include Broadway Christmas Wonderland (7:30 p.m., Dec. 19, $40, $45, $50, Marina Civic Center. 8 Harrison Ave., Panama City, 850-763- 4696) and the New Year Eve's Beach Ball Drop (Dec. 31, Pier Park. 600 Pier Park Dr., Panama City Beach, 850-236-9974)
New Year's Eve is twice as nice in Port St. Joe and Mexico Beach during "New Year's Eve Celebrate Twice." Ring in 2017 in Port Saint Joe on Eastern Standard Time, and then board a trolley to nearby Mexico Beach on Central Standard Time to enjoy another countdown. Festivities also include a scavenger hunt to collect items needed for New Year's Eve and fireworks in both places.
Carrabelle's Holiday on the Harbor and Boat Parade of Lights (noon until 9 p.m., Dec. 10) provides live entertainment, shopping and other festive activities. The boat parade begins at 6:30 p.m., and can be viewed from any spot along the riverfront.