WHAT: Lights of Love
IT’S: A walk-through light exhibit in the cactus garden outside Ethel M Chocolates in honor of Valentine’s Day
OPENED: Jan. 30, 2021
WHO’S BEHIND IT: Ethel M Chocolates, Market Director Viviana Dickieson and Garden Curator Steve Bowdoin
FUN FACT: Lights of Love requires about a half-million lights, which is actually less than the winter holiday display, which uses a little more than 1 million lights.
LOCATION: 2 Cactus Garden Drive, Henderson
HOURS: Daily | 5 to 10 p.m.
INSTAGRAM: An exhibit as sweet as candy.
Bright Lights Leading Up to Valentine’s Day
Who needs Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory when you can visit Ethel M in Henderson? The boutique chocolate company, founded by the same family behind Mars candies, has been a local favorite since 1980. Guests can visit the gift shop, see the products made through a self-guided window tour and, perhaps best of all, explore the 3-acre botanical cactus garden outside.
The garden features more than 300 species of trees and plants year round, but it really comes alive during the winter season—first for the annual Christmas-themed holiday lights display and, now, for Lights of Love in honor of Valentine’s Day. The exhibit showcases romantic designs in red, pink, purple, blue and white and runs from Jan. 30 to Feb. 14.
While the winter holiday display is festive and over the top, Lights of Love is more about atmosphere, mood and tone. It’s a relaxed walk through the park that’s perfect for families or a couple on a date night. The exhibits change from year to year under the watchful eye of Steve Bowdoin, who’s been garden curator for 13 years. He says commercial-grade Valentine’s-themed light fixtures aren’t widely available, so much of what’s seen in the cactus garden is made by hand or modified from Christmas lights.
A New Display of Social Distancing
Bowdoin and the Ethel M team faced an unprecedented challenge to make sure Lights of Love followed social-distancing guidelines this year. Reservations are now required covering a group up to six people with a $5 donation to Three Square food bank. Temperature is taken at check-in, and masks need to be worn at all times, with guests moving in one direction from beginning to end. There’s a limit of 240 people per hour, although it’s highly unlikely you’ll see that many even during peak periods.
Feed. Me. Chocolate. Please.
Of course, no visit to Ethel M is complete without trying some chocolate, which is made with simple, natural ingredients and no artificial additives. The gift shop is operating as usual with formal sit-down chocolate and wine tastings at 4, 6 and 8 p.m. leading up to Valentine’s Day. A virtual at-home version is also available. You can even order Ethel M’s signature hot chocolate (made with real dark chocolate shavings and milk) online in advance and have it handed to you upon arrival at the cactus garden.
Free with an online reservation and $5 donation to Three Square, which covers a group of up to six people. Prices vary for chocolates and other treats in the gift shop. Sit-down guided tastings begin at $65 per person.
The annual Lights of Love display is the perfect excuse to get out of the house during the tail end of the winter. The lights shine just as bright as ever, and the new social-distancing guidelines don’t take anything away from the experience. If anything, the exhibits are more condensed, making an even more dramatic impression. Just make sure to bundle up (and order some of that awesome hot chocolate) to stay warm.