When you think of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, what comes to mind? The lake? Potatoes? (FYI: nobody grows potatoes in northern Idaho!)
How about Christmas?
Every year, on the day after Thanksgiving, this little city puts on a parade and holiday light show that rivals any big city offering. This year marked the 26th anniversary of the event, and it just keeps getting better. USA Today took notice a few years ago, ranking the celebration #4 in the country for Best Public Lights Display. Not too shabby!
The evening starts with a lighted parade that makes its way through the picturesque downtown. As Santa rides past at the end, bystanders fall in behind him, following his lit up fire truck to the Coeur d’Alene Resort. Dickens-style carolers sing Christmas favorites, welcoming the thousands of people crowding into the park in front of the resort.
Because this has been happening for a quarter century, many people know to bring candles or get them there. As the strains of “Silent Night” begin, the candles get lit and everyone sings together. It’s quite moving to be there, shoulder to shoulder with what feels like the entire population of North Idaho, thousands of candles lighting up the night, voices joining on this familiar melody.
And then the fireworks begin. I totally love fireworks. LOVE! They blast over the lake, lighting up the sky for an awesome show. To top it off, as the last rockets fade, more than 1.5 million lights come to life on trees and buildings around the area. It’s an incredible sight.
The entire celebration takes less than two hours, but if you want to go, you need to plan ahead. Parking fills up fast. Many people end up leaving their cars blocks away and walking to Sherman Avenue, the heart of the parade route. The later you get there, the further you’ll probably have to walk.
Pro tip: The parking garage at the Coeur d’Alene Resort costs $5 for the first hour and $2 for each hour after. BUT, if you eat at one of the resort restaurants, you get $9 off the parking fee, so that basically means your first three hours are FREE. So if you’re planning to eat out anyway…That’s way better than running five blocks to feed a parking meter on the street, and much cheaper than the city parking lots as well. And bonus: the parking garage is also a fantastic vantage point for seeing the lights and fireworks.
And speaking of eating at a restaurant, be sure to make a reservation WAY ahead of time. Restaurants fill up quickly once the event is over, so if you don’t have a reservation, you might be looking at a 45-minute to 2-hour wait. In addition to the numerous restaurants on the resort property, downtown Coeur d’Alene has a lot of really good restaurants lining Sherman Avenue. And don’t be afraid to venture a few blocks off the main street. You’ll find Chinese, Italian, pub grub, bistros, pizza, sandwiches, bars, fine dining — a wide variety of tasty food.
For a completely different perspective on the holiday lights, you can take a cruise that lets you watch the fireworks and lighting ceremony from the water. Just keep in mind that while the parade and lighting ceremony are free, the cruise is not 🙂
One more pro tip for you: If you go on the cruise, dress warmly!! Coeur d’Alene often has snow by Thanksgiving and when you are out cruising on the water, it can get downright frigid. Even if there’s no snow on the ground, standing on the deck of a boat that’s moving quickly across a cold lake…you’ll want to make sure you’re in a jacket that will keep you warm.
Fun Fact: Coeur d’Alene set the world record for having the tallest living Christmas tree back in 2009.
Accessibility: Downtown Coeur d’Alene is completely accessible, with paved sidewalks, curb cuts and easy access to the Centennial Trail, a 23-mile paved pathway for walking, jogging and biking that goes all the way to the Washington state line. Most shops and restaurants are accessible as well, though there are a few with stairs. If you make dinner reservations ahead of time at a place you aren’t familiar with, just ask if they have an accessible entrance. The cruise is also fully accessible.
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