Photo by Thomas Alexander (see more on Flickr )

If you're looking for an alternative to happy hour at a local bar, consider Cocktails @ the Conservatory .

It's held at the Franklin Park Conservatory every Thursday evening from 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m. (except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day). There's no cover and parking is free.

The holiday season is a great time to go since the Conservatory is decked out with beautiful holiday lights and decorations, including a 15-foot tall poinsettia tree. I attended with a friend and we enjoyed music by Encore Entertainment and delicious hors d'oeuvres (let's just say I can never turn down food from Cameron Mitchell ).

The best part was seeing Light Ramient II , the Palm House light installation by award-winning artist James Turrell . It was chilly outside, but well worth stepping outdoors for a few minutes to take a look at the color-changing lights. Seeing the Palm House illuminated against the night sky was breathtaking.

I'll definitely be back the next time I'm looking to kick off the weekend early.