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Dazzling December: Holiday Events Across Florida’s Gulf Coast

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The holidays have arrived! What better place to enjoy the season than Florida’s Gulf Coast where the holiday spirit is in full swing from Lakewood Ranch to Longboat Key and Boca Grande to Bradenton. We are bringing you a selection of our favorite events, attractions, and performances to bring in good cheer.

Lighted Boat Parades

Sarasota Holiday Boat Parade of Lights | December 10, 6pm
One of the highlights of the holiday season, head to downtown Sarasota to view the 31st annual boat parade. The best areas for viewing are Marina Jack, Bayfront Park, City Island, and Centennial Park.

LEDE PHOTO PLEASE 12/14/02---(Photo by Nicole Fruge', digital image) A 106 foot motor yacht named Impulse passes by the dolphin sculpture at Bayfront Park during the 18th annual Boat Parade of Lights Saturday night. The boat, operated by Roy Hodges of Longboat Key, won first place in the 31 feet and over category. For more parade results click SNN will rebroadcast the parade at 8 pm Monday.

Manatee River Holiday Boat Parade | December 10, 6:30pm
Celebrate the season along the Manatee River in Bradenton as boats trimmed with holiday decor light up the night. The best areas for viewing are the Green Bridge Pier, Riverhouse Reef & Grill, Riverwalk, and Pier 22.

Holiday Events and Attractions

Holly Days and Mangrove Lights | December 1 – 31
Experience the beauty of Historic Spanish Point in Osprey during the holiday season. Miniature white lights on majestic trees and in mangroves lends a magical holiday ambiance. Regular admission applies.  Learn more at

Festival of Lights – Florida Style | November 20 – December 31
Enjoy daily viewing of tropical themed Christmas decorations and lights throughout Fishermen’s Village Mall, Resort and Marina in Punta Gorda. For more information visit

Holiday Nights at Ca’ d’Zan | December 8, 15, 22, & 29
Visit the majesty of the Ringling Museum in the Museum Area at historic Ca’ d’Zan where the mansion is all decked out for the holidays including the 10′ tall tree that stands in the Grand Court. 5 p.m. – 8 p.m. Tickets $5 – $10. Free for members and free with “Art After Five” admission. Visit to purchase tickets.

Holidays Around the Ranch | December 9
Meet Santa Claus, Dickens Carolers, and watch the lighting of the spectacular tree at Lakewood Ranch Main Street in Lakewood Ranch. Learn more at

North Port Poinsettia Parade | December 10, 5pm
Located on North Port Blvd in North Port, the one-mile parade’s theme changes each year. This year’s theme is “Candy Canes and Carols.” Begins at Greenwood and North Port Blvd. and moves north to Appomattox Blvd.

Lighting of the Lighthouse | December 10, 5:45pm-8:30pm
Ring in the holiday season at the Annual Lighting of the Lighthouse in Boca Grande. Complimentary event serving wine and appetizers featuring live entertainment. Hosted at the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse & Museum, 880 Belcher Rd., Boca Grande, FL.

The Gamble Plantation Christmas Open House | December 11, 10am-4pm
Get a glimpse of Christmas long ago in Ellenton with decorations, live demonstrations, military re-enactments and more. Tours are free but donations accepted. Gamble Plantation Historic State Park, 3708 Patten Ave, Ellenton. For more information: 941-723-4536.

Lights in Bloom | December 16 – 30, 6pm-9pm
Lights in Bloom in Sarasota at Selby Gardens offers visitors a stroll through magical gardens filled with beautifully lit flowers, butterflies, dragonflies and more. The tropical paradise includes miniature garden trains, Santa and his elves (before Christmas Eve), plus nightly live entertainment. For tickets, visit

Christmas on Historic Bridge Street | December 17, 4:30-8:30pm
Experience the holidays island-style on Anna Maria Island from Bridge Street with Dickens Carolers, live entertainment, Santa and his sleigh, a hot chocolate bar, silent auction, artisan vendors and more.

Chanukah Celebration | December 27th, 6pm – 10:30pm
Celebrate the festival of lights at Lakewood Ranch Main Street hosted by Chabad of Bradenton. Highlights include design your own dreidel, doughnut decorating, meet Judah Maccabee, hot latkes, live music and raffles. To learn more:

Culture and Entertainment

Memories of Christmases Past Concert | December 10
The Charlotte Chorale presents holiday-themed choral music with over 65 voices at the Charlotte Performing Arts Center in Port Charlotte. For more information, visit:

Bob’s Your Elf | November 30 – December 18
The Lemon Bay Playhouse in Englewood presents “Bob’s Your Elf”, a comedy by Norm Foster about an elf who must help out a small town with their Christmas pageant. For more details, visit:

Too Hot to Handel | December 11
Add an electric spark to your holiday season with Too Hot to Handel – the gospel version of Handel’s classic, Messiah. Presented by Gloria Musicae in collaboration with the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe and live orchestral music, head to the Sarasota Opera House for a take on Handel’s Messiah unlike you’ve ever heard! For tickets, visit:

Crosley Theater |  December 12 – 23
Delight in Carols and Classics at the Powel Crosley Estate in Bradenton. Take a tour of the 1920’s historic mansion set along the bayfront and enjoy carols and classic stories like “A Christmas Carol” and “Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins”. For more information, visit and watch our Saunders in 60 Holiday Special filmed at this annual event.

George Balanchine’s Jewels | December 16 – 17
The Sarasota Ballet presents the premiere of a masterful full-length work performed to live music from the Sarasota Orchestra. A ballet in three parts, enjoy a history of classical dance in France, Russia and America with music from Faure, Stravinsky, and Tchaikovsky. Purchase tickets at

The Sarasota Ballet – George Balanchine’s Jewels from The Sarasota Ballet on Vimeo.

A Christmas Carol | December 16-21
Venice Theatre in Venice presents “A Christmas Carol”, a musical version of Dickens’ classic tale following Ebenezer Scrooge. For tickets and more information, visit

Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker | December 19, 3pm & 7pm
What holiday season wouldn’t be complete without the Nutcracker?  Enchant the whole family with larger-than-life magical props, a 60-foot growing Christmas tree and spectacular Russian-made costumes and sets. Head to for details.


It’s not too late to plan your holiday vacation in Sarasota, visit for a look at vacation rentals.  What are your favorite holiday-themed events in Sarasota, Manatee, and Charlotte County? Are there any events we missed? Comment below to add to the conversation.

Dazzling December: Holiday Events Across Florida’s Gulf Coast was last modified: December 6th, 2016 by Kathryn Parks