When Thailand is too far, there’s always the traveling lantern festival called The Lights Fest. My friend put this festival on our radar and we immediately bought tickets for The Lights Fest in Northern California this Spring. Ever since learning about lantern festivals in school (and, let’s be honest, that scene in Tangled), attending one has been on my bucket list.
We packed up a car with blankets, snacks and water, and drove to Willows, a small town outside Chico to attend The Lights Festival. Was it magical? Of course! Was it all smiles and rainbows? No, not even close. We prepared well, but there are still some quirks about this event that we learned, which I want to share with you so you can have a fun, safe and happy night at the lantern festival! These are 9 things to know about The Lights Fest before you go!
The Lights Fest events happen all over the United States. It’s a music festival/lantern festival that takes place in remote areas near metropolitan cities. It’s a unique experience for those who can’t go to Asia to attend an authentic lantern festival, but it’s not as seamless as it looks on Instagram. If you’re thinking of going, or already have tickets, make sure to read through my tips below!
Got questions? DM me on Instagram @thewhimsysoul and I’ll be happy to help!
9 Things To Know About The Lights Fest Before You Go
A Wagon Is A Must
We each were loaded up with bags, blankets, snacks, water, our cameras. We had to walk in about .7 miles from the parking lot, uphill in 80+ degrees and sun. It wasn’t the easiest location to get to. The smart people brought wagons so they could dump everything into something on wheels. I would have appreciated a heads-up from the company that a hard walk was required to get into the grounds. If you are able to bring a wagon, do so!
Bring Your Own Food + Water
They will have food trucks, but the food is pricey. Instead, bring your own snacks and a lot of water. Our festival of lights was on a hot, sunny day in California, so we brought close to a gallon of water per person so make sure we weren’t dehydrated.
Again, the festival will be out in the middle of nowhere in a field so it’s safe to launch firey balls of paper. This means there will NOT be any shade! Smart people brought tents or umbrellas to shelter themselves while we waited for the sun to set. We baked. PS – make sure to bring sunscreen!
The parking lot filled up VERY quickly, so I was happy we got there early. This also provided us the chance to pick out where we wanted to sit in the field for optimal photos, views and enjoyment. We picked a spot towards the back with a great view of the lanterns and far away from heavy foot traffic. People kept rolling in the entire afternoon. The company claimed to close the gates at 6pm, but people were still arriving, so if you don’t want to sit in a field all day, I gander you can come later and still take part.
There will be music playing all day. We had an awkward magician for a while doing magic tricks for kids, which was really odd since most of the attendees were adults. The music bed area was really loud so I’m happy we didn’t grab seats near the stage. Eventually, as it got dark, proper musicians came to perform on stage.
Security…Not So Much
So security here was a joke. They barely looked in our searched our bags. In all the communications from The Lights Fest, they claimed they would be checking carefully for alcohol and other banned items. In reality? I saw a grand total of 2 security staff for a festival of 6500+ and they only glanced in our bags. We saw a few other people drinking wine. I think that’s what most people snuck in, but it was a bit concerning that they didn’t try harder to inspect people’s bags- this is a festival involving fire that floats, sober people seems like something that should be a priority.
It’s Not That Safe
Again, a lantern festival is all about lighting paper lanterns and sending them up in the sky. The wind picked up really quickly during our launch and by the end, things were getting dicey. I felt like everyone was constantly chasing down lanterns that were either on fire or about to hit someone in the head and light their hair on fire.
I was disappointed in the management for their lack of safety preparations and instructions/tips on safely launching lanterns. Instead, they sort of just said “alright go!” to a huge crowd of people who have never lit a paper lantern before. Don’t let this discourage you from going, just be prepared for some possible unsafe moments and keep alert during the launch. Stay alert!
Photos Are Hard
We knew it would be hard photographing the festival, but boy, was it even harder! The lanterns are hot and have to be held just right so they don’t catch on fire in your hands. We found it very very hard to get a good photo that wasn’t blurry and was also properly lit. Tripods weren’t a big help, because you have to be mobile as the lanterns move quickly. Just a warning that taking photos will be hard!
It Lasts 10 Minutes
You spend all day driving out to the middle of nowhere and then even more time sitting in a field all for 10 minutes of lantern time. They blow away or blow our very quickly. I think ours lasted no longer than 20 minutes. It goes by in a flash!
But, yes, it was magical. There is nothing like looking up in the sky and seeing thousands of lanterns floating above you as they blast that one song from Tangled. I would go again in a heartbeat, but I would be way much prepared this time.
Pssst: Lantern Festivals weren’t invented by the movie Tangled or for young people to take photos of to put on Instagram. Asian cultures have been throwing lantern festivals for thousands of years. If you want to learn more, start at this Wiki page.
I hope this helps you plan a fun and safe lantern festival! Leave a comment below if you have any questions!
Question: can someone without a ticket still be admitted to the event, knowing they will not receive a lantern ? Seems security is weak. Do you require a ticket to participate?
Hey! They still checked tickets at the gates – if I remember correctly, it was a wristband. You do need a wristband to participate (that’s how you pick up your lantern!)
What about kids? Is okey to take them or better wait a few more years? ?
My kids are 5 & 4 years old
We saw a lot of kids there! I think it’s more about how mature they are. The pre-show is like a low-key outdoor concert – lots of music, you chill on the blanket. Very kid-friendly! That being said, I personally am not sure if it would be safe for small kids once the lanterns are lit. The wind picked up during our visit and the lanterns were really hard to control, almost lit people’s hair on fire.
So, if you think you’re kiddos can listen to directions, then I think they should be fine and safe! But if not, you may want to hold off a bit.
I do think they would love it, though! Especially if they liked tangled.
What time did this all end at night?
I want to say around 10pm?
When did they actually start lighting the lanterns? I’m surprising my girlfriend with this and it’s a few hours away so I don’t want us to have to wait around the whole festival for it.
They launch them after sundown (whenever it’s dark) so it varies by time of year! Then they also wait to make sure the wind level is safe as well. If you don’t want to sit all day, plan to get there maybe 1 hour before sunset to budget enough time to get into the grounds, find a spot, grab a drink, etc before the lanterns start!
Do you remember if they are tickets available for purchase at the event? I have purchased tickets in advanced but need to purchase an extra, just wanted to see if they sell them at the event too?
You know, I’m not sure because we didn’t need to buy any at the event but I would reach out to Customer Service!
Did you checked with customer support if you can but tickets on the event day?
Hi I was wondering how many people attend the event? I cant buy my tickets until next week which will be roughly 3 weeks away from the event. I guess my question is will they sell out before I can buy my ticket 3 weeks in advance? I already booked a hotel too that way we wont drive home so late as we are about 4 hours away from where it’s being held in nor cal
Hi! I’m not sure exact number but easily a couple thousand it was pretty large. But they were still selling tickets at the gate when we went so I think you’ll be fine!
Hello I was wondering If you could possibly make a least for things to bring and ideas for a date to this event?
Will I still be allowed entry into the event at 7:30 or do they stop letting people enter at a certain time?
i am wondering this too! pls reply
This was really helpful! Helped me add a few more things to my list 🙂 Thanks for this!
What exactly should we bring to the event chairs’ food? And do they have handicapped parking?
I am a wheelchair user and curious if this would be a rough ride and if there are accessible bathrooms??
I’m about to experience my first one of these! Thanks for all the tips. I landed on your website as I was writing my packing list and plans. This is a really helpful post. I didn’t know we could bring tents so that’s a lifesaver tip from you right there!
What was the bathroom situation like? I’m assuming portapotties being that’s it’s in the middle of nowhere, but was it relatively clean or did it become a hot mess eventually?
You guys got a lot of amazing photos. I’m hoping I can get some good ones, but it’s just me and my partner so it’ll be hard to take photos and participate. I’m bringing a tripod and setting the video to just take it at a wide angle… hoping for the best!