DAYTON EATS: Holiday lights and the restaurants to pair with them

For the last 140 years onlookers have delighted in the sights of holiday lights since inventor Edward Johnson first rolled them out in 1882.

It’s long been studied and shown that the holidays and the sights and sounds associated with them lead to an increase in the hormone dopamine that means a very happy boost.

And, if you’re anything like me, a happy boost can work up an appetite.

It’s the time of year to get more than a twinkle in your eye thanks to sparkling light displays as far as the eye can see.

Here are some light displays to take in during the month of December and a worthy restaurant to pair with the visual delights.

Legendary Lights of Clifton Mill

75 Water St., Clifton

This is a favorite thanks to more than 4 million lights covering what seems like every square inch of Clifton Mill, the covered bridge and even part of the gorge. It’s a feast for the eyes.

Cost: $10 Monday through Wednesday and $15 Thursday through Sunday, children under 3 are free

More info:

Where to eat: Mills Park Hotel, 321 Xenia Ave., Yellow Springs

What to eat: Head to Ellie’s inside of the Mills Park Hotel to enjoy some dinner before or after the lights. The Marry Me Chicken ($20) bathed in a cream sauce with sundried tomatoes, galic and parmesan served with rice and asparagus and the porck chops ($20) in a dijon gruyere cream sauce are on the decadent side while a shrimp scampi ($19) and oven roasted salmon ($22) offer a break from the glut of holiday calories

A Carillon Christmas

Carillon Historical Park, 1000 Carillon Blvd., Dayton

You don’t need any more reasons to go besides that incredible 200-foot Carillon Tree of Light. There are plenty of other reasons when it comes to a trip to Dayton History, but this is number one, two AND three.

Cost: The tree is free. Entry to the park is $14 for adults, $12 for seniors, $1 per child ages 3-17 and free to children 2 and under.

More info:

Where to eat: When at the Carillon, one should dine at the Carillon and with the 1850s-era inspired Carillon Brewing Co. serving food daily from 11 a.m.-9 p.m., it’s ready to serve.

What to eat: The “Wurst Platter” ($17) served on a bed of sauerkraut and served with potato wedges.

Downtown Jingle Lights

Main Street and E. Monument Ave., Dayton

Now through Jan. 1, see downtown streets transformed into an interactive, drive-thru light show, choreographed to the beat of your favorite holiday tunes. Tune your radio to 105.3 FM as you drive the route or walk the sites.

Cost: Free

More info:

Where to eat: Jollity, 127 E. 3rd St., Dayton

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Credit: Alexis Larsen

What to eat: Jollity seems like a spot named for this time of year. Bonus: The frequently rotating menu never seems to disappoint. A comforting herb quinoa bowl ($19) with curry cauliflower, roasted eggplant, orange tahini and sunflower furkikake (a crunchy seasoning) topped with a soft boiled egg ($3), crispy mackerel ($13) or pan seared scallops ($14) packs all the flavors in a beautiful package.

Whispering Christmas

Fort St. Clair Park, 135 Camden Rd., Eaton

The event will operate as a drive-through only, with Santa waving from the gazebo as visitors pass through in their vehicles.

Cost: $5 donation per vehicle is encouraged

More info:

Where to eat: Keep the savings going with a stop at the Red Mule Inn, 501 E. Main St., Eaton

What to eat: Have a burger made your way at this hole in the wall. The prices on the menu match the cost of the light show and the beer is served up cold. It’s not fancy, but it will do if you find yourself in need of a place to stop.


1763 Hamilton Cleves Rd., Hamilton

Journey BOREALIS — previously Holiday Lights on the Hill — is a 2-mile drive-through a display of more than a million lights at the fantastic 300 acre Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park in Butler County.

Cost: $25 per vehicle, $15 for members of the park

More info: or

Where to eat: Fretboard Brewing and Public House, 103 Main St., Hamilton

What to eat: Southern fried chicken ($17.50) served with mac and cheese, house-made pickles and honey mustard sauce. Make it Nashville hot for $2 more.

Holiday in Lights

Armco Park, 1223 OH-741, Lebanon

Holiday in Lights is built with over 1 million lights and over 250 light displays, and has been an established holiday family tradition in southern Ohio for over 32 years.

Cost: $20 per vehicle, $60 for 15-passenger vans or larger. Add special effects glasses for $2 or get 3 for $5.

More info:

Where to eat: The Golden Lamb Restaurant and Hotel, 27 S. Broadway, Lebanon

What to eat: Chateaubriand slow-roasted beef tenderloin served with crushed red potatoes, sauteed leeks, bacon, aged white cheddar, roasted broccolini and cabernet jus ($39 95).

Land of Illusion Christmas Glow

8762 Thomas Rd., Middletown

This drive through has more than 3.8 million lights over the course of the two-mile long trek with more to experience and enjoy afterwards depending on how much time you have and how willing you are to brave the elements.

Cost: $9 per person, children 3 years and under get in for free.

More info:

Where to eat: Bourbon’s Craft Kitchen and Bar, 2231 N. Verity Pkwy., Middletown What to eat: Chicken Lettuce Wraps ($13.50) served with elote corn, fire roasted salsa, grilled chicken, pickled onions, cilantro, ancho chili crema and lettuce cups with some dynamite shrimp ($12) or try a truffle and smoked gouda steak burger ($16) with housemade bacon jam.

Light up Middletown Smith Park

500 Tytus Ave., Middletown

For more than 20 years, this drive through event has been dazzling goers. Featuring a million lights and animated displays it will be open through New Year’s Eve.

Cost: Donations are encouraged.

More info:

Where to eat: Bourbon’s Craft Kitchen and Bar See details above.

Christmas Ranch

3205 S. Waynesville Road, Morrow

Walk through more than 1 million shimmering lights and hang out at some of Santa’s favorite haunts including holiday shops and a bakery.

Cost: $22 per vehicle; $33 for vehicles with 10 or more passengers; Reservations required

More info and reservations:

Where to eat: Burgitto Bistro, 6373 US-22, Morrow

What to eat: Any burgitto you choose. What exactly is a burgitto you ask? The burgitto consists of a ¼ lb. steak burger, filled with a variety of toppings such as the classic vegetable fillings, Cincinnati style chili, shrimp, or even the fried green tomatoes, American, Swiss or pepper jack cheeses and condiments. It is then wrapped in a flour tortilla and grilled to a crispy warm state of being.

Holiday Lights at Lost Creek Reserve

2385 E. St. Rt. 41, Troy

This scenic drive-through featuring over 60 light displays is open through Dec. 23.

Cost: $10 per car

More info:

Credit: Lisa Powell

Credit: Lisa Powell

Where to eat: Agave & Rye, 2 N. Market St., Troy

What to eat: Slow-braised beef birria tacos ($15.95) with guajillo chilies, oaxaca cheese, cilantro, onion and dipping consommé.

Woodland Lights

Countryside Park at Washington Twp. RecPlex, 895 Miamisburg-Centerville Rd.

With lights covering 10 acres, there’s plenty of eye candy in this winter wonderland. There’s a half-mile path to take them in, on or opt for a train ride.

Cost: $9 Children under 2 are free. Season passes are $20 each.

More info and to pay in advance:

Where to eat: The Chop House, 7727 Washington Village Dr., Washington Twp.

What to eat: A big old steak — whatever cut you prefer — or the chargrilled shrimp and crab cake ($18) if you are looking to go light.

Park Lights at Caesar Ford Park

520 S. Stringtown Rd., Xenia

Drive through Caesar Ford Park and see over 250 LED light displays from the comfort of your car. You’ll wind your way through a Winter Wonderland, North Pole Car Show, Winter Farm and Festive Festival, then wave to Santa at the North Pole on your way out.

Cost: Free

More info:

Where to eat: Nick’s Restaurant, 1443 N. Detroit St., Xenia

What to eat: The award winning chicken wings (5 for $8.99, 10 for $15.99, 20 for $29.99 and 30 for $39.99 tossed in one of Nick’s award winning sauces including Fire in ya hole, Nick’s Famous Sweet Hot Damn, Nick’s Awesome BBQ Sauce, Original Hot, Spicy Garlic, On The Fence, General Zen, Honey Mustard, Mild and Nick’s own Dry Rub. There’s plenty of other menu items to tempt, but if you’ve never had the wings they are worth ordering up.

Dayton Eats looks at the regional food stories and restaurant news that make mouths water brought to you by contributing writer Alexis Larsen. Share info about your menu updates, special dinners and events, new chefs, interesting new dishes and culinary adventures. Do you know of new exciting format changes, specials, happy hours, restaurant updates or any other tasty news you think is worth a closer look at? E-mail Alexis Larsen at with the information and we will work to include it in future coverage.

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