Journalist Annemarie Dooling was born in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, in a house with a tomato garden and a view of 13th Avenue. She spent her teen years trying to get out of family trips to see the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights because of the prospect of sitting in crowds with her extended family. But this year, surprised at the crowds and the group tour costs, she wrote us a guide on how to visit Dyker Heights for the holidays and enjoy the neighborhood like a local.
If you’re traveling down to south Brooklyn to see the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights, chances are you may not be familiar with the neighborhood or have only passed through it for the annual holiday displays. But whether you’ve visited before or are seeing these amazing feats of home decorating for the first time, plan ahead to spend time in the neighborhood.
Aside from being Brooklyn's undisputed home of the holidays for decades, Dyker Heights and its surrounding neighborhoods are steeped in Italian American history that most New Yorkers ignore. Meet the locals, grab an espresso and spend an evening soaking up the seasonal cheer.
How to get there
The homes that decorate for the holidays, better known as the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights, are located between 83rd and 85th streets, and 10th and 12th avenues. To visit Dyker Heights, your best bet is to take the D train to 79th Street and walk through residential Bensonhurst from 16th Avenue. Alternatively, you could take the R to 86th Street and Fourth Avenue and stroll past Dyker Beach Park. Both areas are well-lit enough to walk through in the evening hours.
Driving down isn’t impossible, and your best bet for parking is on 13th or 14th avenues. There’s free street parking on 14th Avenue on a residential strip and metered parking until 7 p.m. on 13th Avenue. Attempting to park on 10th, 11th or 12th avenues is a recipe for punishment — you’ll be competing with foot and car traffic.
Getting dropped off? Stop on 86th Street and walk over.
If you absolutely must drive through, prepare to wait in traffic up and down each block. It’s possible, but gets very crowded, especially with the increased tour group presence of recent years.
Yes, you also have the option to take a bus tour that will drive you from Midtown to Dyker Heights. However, these tours take up room on the sidewalks and narrow streets, and buses use up parking usually reserved for locals. Tour groups can also run as expensive as $75 — and that’s money that could be spent on sweet, sweet cannolis.
When to go
While it seems like the holidays have snuck up quickly, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is a great time to visit. Most crowds go right before Christmas, and while other neighborhoods clear out during the holidays, Dyker Heights is full of local families that live in Brooklyn year-round and give their homes holiday glow-ups into the new year.
Remember that Christmas Eve is a major holiday for Italian Americans and shops in the area will likely be closed.
The must-see homes
The Spata home on 84th Street and 12th Avenue attracts the longest lines of revelers. For decades, families have come to sit on Santa’s lap or take photos amid a sparkling cascade of toy soldiers.
At 83rd Street and 10th Avenue, the Mangano home also attracts crowds for its bright, colorful display. But between these two points you’ll come in contact with towering soldiers, dripping icicle lights and buildings covered in pastel-colored net lights.
Make the most of your visit
Whichever day you visit, it’s worth it to come before the sun sets and line up at Pastosa Ravioli’s flagship shop (7425 New Utrecht Ave.) for fresh pasta to take home. Just a few blocks from the festivities, Tasty Pastry Shoppe (8216 13th Ave.) is open until 8 p.m. most weekdays through the holidays. While this shoebox of an eatery feels like a Neapolitan Willy Wonka fantasy, it’s as well-known for its sugar- and gluten-free specialties as it is for its cakes, pastries and hot drinks. Carry out a rainbow cookie and hot chocolate for an energy boost as you walk the holiday strip.
For healthy snack choices, La Bella Marketplace (7907 13th Ave.) is an Italian grocer with a full classic deli counter where you can get sandwiches, salads, veggie slices and more. Across the street, Cavatappi (8024 13th Ave.) and Something Greek (7724 13th Ave.) offer sit-down meals. Once the major businesses on 13th Avenue close around 8 p.m., there isn’t much in the neighborhood, but nearby Bay Ridge is open late.
How to prepare
Don’t forget your scarf. You’ll be walking a very crowded sidewalk for a while, so bring gloves, sweaters and everything you need to be warm in hand. Some homes have lines to walk up and take your picture, but most are just well-decorated, beautiful single-family houses you can enjoy at your leisure.
If you’re going as a large group, remember you’ll be sharing the sidewalk with neighbors just trying to commute home or carry their groceries, so leave space. Families with strollers may have a bit of a challenge maneuvering, but plenty show up with kids in wagons and have a great time.
Though the children in wagons, flashing cameras and joyous decor can make Dyker Heights feel like an amusement park, it's a normally quiet, residential neighborhood filled with families that have called the area home for generations, so please respect their privacy and space. Don’t take photos inside homes or look in windows. Respect the boundaries of neighbors who don’t have lights up. Don’t leave trash on people's property, and make sure to be aware of your surroundings. For residents, it can feel like the neighborhood has suddenly become Times Square. Please remember the fellow New Yorkers who call sleepy Dyker Heights home all year, and imagine what it feels like to suddenly have tour buses park outside of your front door.