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10 can’t-miss holiday light displays in Sonoma County

As COVID-19 cases rise to new highs in Sonoma County, holiday plans look very different than normal. But there is still a perfect pandemic-safe way to get into the festive spirit: viewing holiday lights.

This year, some light show devotees found themselves even more inspired than ever to spread some Christmas cheer with their neighbors.

Living on a vineyard property, Santa Rosa grape grower Russ Messana has put up only a few strings of lights in the past. But after wildfire smoke damaged his crop this year, Messana started brainstorming ways to keep himself busy and put a smile on neighbors’ faces over the holiday season. After months of planning, he has transformed two of his barns at 2020 Riebli Road into magical Christmas decorations.

“And I was thinking, you know, with this coronavirus thing, why not do something that people can sit there and watch?” Messana said. “They can park and watch it and they’re inside their cars and they’re safe.”

Messana spent three weeks setting up the lights. With the help of two friends, he was able to synchronize the lights with music, which plays on a radio station. The show lasts 30 minutes.

“Actually, I thought it turned out really neat,” Messana said. “This is not something I've ever done to this extent.”

Messana found himself with some extra space on his property after he lost three barns in the Tubbs fire of 2017 and could only afford to replace two. Now, that space is a parking lot for people to watch the light display from their cars.

He hopes the light show will provide a safe alternative for people to enjoy some holiday spirit during shelter-in-place orders.

"What actually started it was giving people a place to go at night watching the lights, without congregating with other people or contaminating other people if they possibly could,“ Messana said. ”I mean, we don't want that to happen.“

To help you plan your own tour of holiday lights, here are 10 of our favorite light displays in Sonoma County this year:

2020 Riebli Road.: For his first year ever making a Christmas light display, Russ Messana’s show is unbelievable. Two barns are adorned with colorful lights, creating a 30-minute long show that syncs up to music on a radio station. Parking is available to sit in cars while the show goes on.

Yulupa Avenue and Hartley Drive: This area is truly magical. Dubbed “Christmas Tree Lane” by a sign at the intersection of Yulupa and Hartley, most of the neighborhood houses are lit and creatively decorated. Many have different themes, including Peanuts cartoons, “Home Alone” and even minions. You can drive down the street and explore the streets or even just park and walk around if you’d like to take your time.

Santa Rosa High School: The high school’s student government has put together a light show called “Pandy’s Holiday Lights.” The drive in front of the school is lined with decorated trees, each sponsored by a SRHS family, organization or local business. The drive-thru will be open nightly through Dec. 19 at 1235 Mendocino Ave. in Santa Rosa.

9511 Lazy Creek Drive, Windsor: An illuminated sign reading “WINDSOR STRONG” sits on top of the garage at this fantastic display. The entire yard is dripping with colorful lights, and a walkway down the middle is the perfect spot for photos. A snow machine is sure to make children cheer and the decorators even put out buckets of free mistletoe.

4461 Drury Lane, Santa Rosa: This house has tons of unique and creative parts of its display, including a sleigh, teddy bear Ferris wheel and mini candy cane factory. If you visit on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday night, you can watch the North Pole Express, a train that takes teddy bears and dolls to the North Pole. The interactive display is for all ages and the property has space to explore the different aspects.

1444 McGregor Ave., Petaluma: This Petaluma house is adorned with decorations, including a huge lit-up Christmas tree. The yard is chock-full of decorations that really shine at night.

7367 Circle Drive, Rohnert Park: Reindeer, a sleigh and even Santa himself (in mannequin form) are all present at this extravagant house. You can use provided hand sanitizer and sit in the sleigh for pictures or stay in your car and tune to the radio station channel that syncs up with the lights. Two or three neighbors participate together, making the display even more epic.

5400 Santa Teresa Ave., Santa Rosa: The Miller Family is undoubtedly dedicated to their holiday lights. Even though they moved houses this year, they are still setting up their light display that syncs to radio station music on 94.3 FM. One of the coolest parts of their exhibit is their website, themillerlights.com, which goes into detail about the technicalities of how the show is planned.

1228 Emily Ave., Rohnert Park: “Nelson’s Northpole” has synchronized music and nearly 60,000 lights. There’s also an adorable mistletoe photo op out front. The house has a 12-foot Christmas tree made out of lights on its roof and a series of illuminated arches in the driveway. The Nelson family also runs a Facebook page to keep visitors updated. Some neighbors within walking distance also have decorations up.

115 Walnut Court, Santa Rosa: Walnut Court has been known for its Christmas spirit for years. This year, most of the houses on the cul-de-sac have some lights but the house that shines the most is 115 Walnut Ct., which has been decorating for 30 years There are 18 hidden elves you can find and “Peanuts” characters hanging out in the driveway.

Did we miss your favorite local display? Share your suggestions by leaving a comment below.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this story misspelled Russ Messana's name.

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