The best Christmas vacations in the U.S. include small, cold-weather towns, big cities with beaches and sun, and quirky destinations that are entirely built around the holiday season.
I’ve teamed up with a group of my fellow bloggers to put together a diverse list of options for those looking to visit somewhere new this Christmas. Some of these destinations are easier to visit than others, given the current health situation (I wouldn’t recommend getting on a plane right now!) But all are worthy of being on your list of ideas for this holiday season and those to follow.
From the Christmas-crazed towns of Leavenworth, Washington and Santa Claus, Indiana to the iconic holiday markets of huge cities like Chicago and Boston, let’s take a look at the top options for American holiday getaways. Here are the spots that two dozen travel bloggers and I believe are the best Christmas vacations in the USA!
Big-City Christmas Getaways
Theresa from Your Chicago Guide explains why the Windy City is such a great holiday destination:
Chicago is a magical place any time of year, but it’s especially enchanting at Christmas. The city gets decked out during the holidays, making it perfect for a fun getaway. The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival begins the festivities the weekend before Thanksgiving. Costumed characters, marching bands, and celebrities parade down Michigan Avenue, and there’s also discounted shopping along the famed district, providing an opportunity to get gifts for loved ones.
Speaking of gifts, don’t miss a trip to Macy’s on State Street. Formerly Marshall Field’s, a trip to the Walnut Room is a tradition for generations. The Christkindlmarket is like taking a quick trip to Nuremberg. Vendors come from all over the world to sell their handmade wares, and you can’t leave without trying some traditional German cuisine.
In Millennium Park, the city’s Christmas Tree shines bright next to a festive outdoor skating rink. Lincoln Park Zoo is also lit up; strung with millions of lights, ZooLights is one of Chicago’s most popular Christmas traditions.
Another favorite is Winter Wonderfest at Navy Pier. This carnival-like event turns Festival Hall into a winter wonderland. All of this, plus incredible dining and hotels for a range of budgets make Chicago one of the best places places to vacation over the holidays.
New York City, New York
Lyndsay from The Purposely Lost tells us about the NYC Christmas experience:
There’s nothing quite like New York City during the holiday season; it’s truly one of the best Christmas getaways in the United States. The city embodies the seasonal cheer on every street corner.
For the most famous of New York City seasonal sites, head to Rockefeller Center to find the Christmas Tree, as well as the popular ice skating rink. At Saks Fifth Avenue across the street, you can watch the storefront light up with a timed lighting display with music every 10 minutes. Then, walk uptown along Fifth Avenue and admire the festive holiday window displays.
If you’re interested in staying close to this area, check out The Peninsula Hotel. It’s right off Fifth Avenue and appreciated for its incredible Christmas displays.
You can also experience some of the unique Christmas events by taking a holiday tour in New York City. Take a trip to see the Christmas light displays in Brooklyn, or to visit iconic holiday movie site. There’s even a Christmas-themed river cruise.
Are you looking to do a bit of Christmas shopping? There are many holiday markets all around the City. Bryant Park, Columbus Circle, Union Square, and the Oculus all have beautiful markets with artisan shops, perfect for finding one-of-a-kind gifts and souvenirs.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Margarita from DownshiftingPRO describes a New Orleans Christmas:
In your mind’s eye you can picture floats with elaborate, colorful decorations and merrymakers throwing beads towards the crowd. Alas, it is not yet Carnival but the small heritage houses are still decked to the nines for the festive season. Christmas time is as much a colorful celebration as Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
Among the highlights are the bonfires on the levees across the Mississippi River lighting the way for Papa Noël (Santa Claus) to deliver presents Christmas eve.
Gearing up for Christmas, you may want to see the annual large scale lightshow and sound installation offered during the LUNA Fête in the CBD, or Central Business District. It is nothing short of magical.
Walk around the French Quarter and head to Jackson Square in front of St. Louis Cathedral for some old fashioned caroling. Candles and song sheets are passed out for community participation. Afterwards, stop by the famous Café du Monde for some chicory coffee and sugar-coated beignets. Yum!
Look for a “reveillon” meal, traditionally served after a midnight mass, it has been reinvented with a New Orleans twist of duck and andouille gumbo or shrimp remoulade and pecan pie. You will never have a bad meal in this town. As always “laissez les bons temps rouler” and enjoy Louisiana’s most famous city during the holiday season.
Krystianna from Volumes & Voyages explains the appeal of a Boston Christmas:
The best Christmas getaway in the United States is Boston, Massachusetts! This beautiful city is located right on the eastern coast and is filled with so many fun activities, especially in December.
For most of the winter, there are multiple pop-up ice skating rinks around the city. These are a lot of fun for the whole family and really help to keep the Christmas spirit alive. There are many different locations, but the best place to go ice skating is the new pop-up rink that goes up in front of 401 Park near Fenway Park. This rink is right in front of Time Out Market, which is a huge food hall filled with some amazing restaurants and cafes. It’s honestly one of the best places to eat in Boston.
The popular Quincy Market also gets all lit up for Christmas. This is honestly the most Christmasy area of the whole city in December. At the beginning of the month, a giant tree is set up and everyone comes and listens to live music. It’s one of the best days of the year in Boston! All of the trees around this area also get wrapped with bright Christmas lights, which just makes it even more festive.
Lastly, the fun ornament store Christmas in Boston is a must if you visit during the winter. It’ll make you feel like you are in a winter wonderland! Be sure to grab a Boston ornament as a souvenir for your trip.
Lindsey from Seven Day Weekender tells us about holiday activities in the nation’s capital.
The first thing that may come to your mind when it comes to Washington DC are the monuments, museums, and landmarks. But did you know during the holiday season it’s all about the magnificent trees, beautiful decorations, classic and unique holiday performances, and seasonal food & drink?
A visit to DC during the holiday season has an almost Charles Dickens type charm. The history and architecture make it even more festive by the multitude of ornately decorated trees, over-the-top decorations and multitude of events unique to the city.
One of the best things about visiting DC during the holiday season is that it’s not an overwhelmingly large city, so you can experience almost everything you want in a long weekend. Although the National Christmas Tree gets the attention of a nationwide TV broadcast, the tree inside of the Library of Congress is the one that will take your breath away.
A stone’s throw from the Library of Congress is the U.S. Botanic Garden, which at this time of year displays the beloved annual Holiday Train Show featuring famous DC landmarks and buildings made entirely of plant materials. From the U.S. Botanic Garden, Union Station is a quick scooter or Capital Bikeshare ride away and features three huge wreaths outside the building – trust me they are worth the stop.
Looking for more holiday activities in Washington DC? In the evening you can fill your time with a DIY walking tour of the city, hitting all of the ornately decorated spots including CityCenter, the oversized nutcrackers at Old Ebbitt Grill and the Downtown Holiday Market.
All of that walking is going to give you an appetite, which you must fill at local mainstay Astro Doughnuts (for their over-the-top seasonal creations), followed by tiki food and festive drinks at the Santa’s Sippin Surf Shack pop-up at Archipelago.
Derek and Mike from Robe Trotting describe Philly during the holiday season:
Philadelphia is one of the best American destinations for a festive holiday getaway. During the Christmas season, the city is illuminated with decorations and lights strung across every Philadelphia street. In Philly’s famous LOVE Park, a Christmas market pops up in December. The park is a perfect photo spot all year long, but nothing beats it during the Christmas season.
Across from LOVE Park is Philadelphia City Hall’s Dilworth Plaza which hosts a winter ice skating rink and more vendors. You’ll find the gorgeous Philadelphia Christmas Tree inside of City Hall courtyard where you can also enjoy a hot chocolate from the surrounding food and drink stands.
There’s even more Philly Christmas fun inside the Macy’s Department Store on Market Street. Of course it’s busy with holiday shoppers, but on the third floor is Macy’s Dickens Christmas Village. Travelers of all ages love walking through scenes from A Christmas Carol depicted by realistic animatronic figures. Stick around for the daily light shows and visit Santa Claus who occupies Macy’s each year.
If you have a few days in the city, discover more Christmas fun with some day trips from Philadelphia. A must-see attraction just 30 minutes from Philadelphia is Longwood Gardens and their holiday displays. The venue is an enormous botanical gardens complex that dazzles visitors with Christmas light displays, poinsettia exhibits and even holiday performances.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Harshi and Aman from Trot.World tell us why Vegas is one of the best U.S. cities for Christmas:
Las Vegas is in party and celebration mode all year round. So of course the city will raise its celebration quotient during the most important time of the year. Celebrating Christmas in Las Vegas is like celebrating it in multiple countries and cities, due to the presence of iconic structures from around the world like NYC, Paris, Egypt and more.
There are so many fun ways you can get into the Christmas spirit here in Las Vegas. Attend the iconic Bellagio water fountain show synchronized to the tunes of Christmas songs, marvel at the 65-foot giant Christmas tree at the Venetian, or ice skate at Cosmopolitan, which converts its pool into a skating rink with real ice, plus snow showers and s’mores by the fire.
How cool is it to have all this variation on your Christmas getaway in one place? You can also devour the hearty buffets serving Christmas themed dishes and desserts and go resort/hotel hopping to marvel at the magical decorations. Every resort here in Las Vegas tries to outdo the others with their extravagant Christmas themed decorations.
This was just a glimpse. Check out all the fun things you can do in Vegas besides gambling, whether traveling solo or as a family with children. Christmas is all about being with your loved ones, so get away with your crew to this extravagant city for the holiday season.
Los Angeles, California
Constance from The Adventures of Panda Bear describes why LA is one of the best places to go for Christmas:
Spend a weekend in Los Angeles this holiday season. Not only is the weather warm, but experiencing some winter sun is the best way to get out of the snow and cold. The Los Angeles area is perfect for visiting the beach in the winter, but also great for checking out glorious Christmas decorations for some festive flair.
Santa Monica and Venice have some of the most famous beaches in California, the namesake Santa Monica State Beach and Venice Beach. Enjoy amusement park rides on the Santa Monica Pier just off of the beach or see the colorfully decorated Third Street Promenade.
Aside from Venice Beach, enjoy the beautiful winter decorations from the residents of the Canals of Venice. Each year there is a competition for the best decorated house and there is even a Venice Canals Holiday Boat Parade occurring on the first Saturday every December.
For an amazing light show, check out Los Angeles Zoo’s LA Zoo Lights. This event occurs annually during the holidays with beautiful animal-themed displays of festive lights. The Descanso Gardens of Enchanted Forest of Light is another great place to check out. The botanical garden lights up at night during the winter season with technicolor light displays. Los Angeles is one of the best places to explore during the holidays.
Warm-Weather USA Holiday Vacations
Jess from I’m Jess Traveling writes about the beauty of a Hawaiian Christmas:
Imagine snow capped mountains and frosty cheeks… then think of the complete opposite – that’s Maui. Everyone should experience this tropical paradise during the Christmas season for several reasons.
The first being that it’s whale season! Every year over 10,000 North Pacific whales migrate from Alaska to the warm, shallow waters that surround Hawaii to give birth to their young. The best way to experience the whales is on a whale watching tour. You’ll learn all about the Pacific whale as you watch mothers teach their calves how to breach and frolic in the ocean.
Travel Tip: Booking popular activities, Maui accommodations and dinner reservations ahead of time is crucial as it’s the busiest time of the year.
Another obvious but awesome reason to vacation on Maui during the holidays is the weather. Maui’s average temperature during the holidays is 70-85 degrees depending on what part of the island you’re on. If you’re coming for the heat stick to West or South Maui. These areas have the best beaches and you’re guaranteed to find the sun.
Spend Christmas Day surfing with Santa and eat Christmas Dinner on the rooftop of Fleetwood’s on Front Street. As you enjoy your meal watching the sunset, you’ll find yourself wishing that every Christmas was a Hawaiian Christmas after all.
Charles from McCool Travel describes the fun and quirky Christmas sights in the Sunshine State:
Even though there is no snow to be found in South Florida—OK, Miami saw snow one time (I was there)—it is definitely a quirky place to celebrate Christmas. A primary reason to visit South Florida during the holiday season is to escape the cold weather back home. Do not worry though, Christmas spirit is alive and well in South Florida and maybe more so than anywhere else.
But that holiday spirit is just a little different here. Look for Santa Claus wearing pink pastel clothes in Palm Beach, beach sand snowmen, tropical themed trees in hotel lobbies, and tall palm trees everywhere wrapped in strings of white lights (color lights would be too gauche).
South Florida residents have particular pride in going overboard with holiday decorations — filling every available inch of their properties with plastic figurines, lights and lighted doo dads, and every kind of traditional Christmas and winter representation. Growing up in Miami, I thought this paradigm made sense because so many South Florida residents transplanted from New York, New Jersey, Michigan, and other cold weather states.
Add to that people from vibrant cultures of Latin America and around the world creates even more South Florida holiday quirkiness. Wear your best guayabera and huaraches to Christmas service, followed by a traditional soccer game with family or friends (shorts and bare feet), then deep sea fishing, and dinner outside, capped by an evening swim in your pool.
Perhaps nothing screams Christmas in South Florida more than boat parades. Winterfest Boat Parade in Fort Lauderdale is the traditional start of South Florida’s holiday season. Dozens of South Florida communities host boat parades; Lighthouse Point/Pompano Beach claims the oldest version. Key West has their own boat parade plus a bevy of other Christmas events. While there, look for Christmas trees decorated with lobster traps, fishing buoys, and other nautical and maritime themes.
If the weather is decent (87% chance), then put down the top on your rental car, drive into the Everglades, and take an airport ride. You might see Santa’s sleigh being pulled by eight gators!
Sam from My Flying Leap explains the appeal of a desert Christmas in Phoenix:
When you think of Christmas, you’re probably thinking of beautiful snow-capped mountains and cold temperatures where you can see your breath. Chances are you’re not thinking of a place like Phoenix in the desert — which is exactly why you should visit during the holidays.
Phoenicians adapt beautifully to what they have available and there are few better places to revel in Christmas festivities. You can enjoy the lovely temperate weather where the lows are generally in the 40s while taking in the holiday celebrations. Have you ever seen lights on cacti and palm trees? It’s charming as well as a little funny to see.
Downtown Phoenix really puts on the holiday touches with Christmas lights, bows, and wreaths providing a festive glow. There is even an ice skating rink downtown with your favorite Christmas tunes playing. If you’re picturing Manhattan’s Rockefeller Plaza surrounded by lit cacti and palm trees in the desert version of the classic, you’ve got it!
There are plenty of other ways to ring in the season in Phoenix. The Phoenix Zoo puts on a tremendous lights display, the Desert Botanical Garden has the magical Las Noches de las Luminarias with festive lights and live musical performances in the beautiful desert scene. And many of the cities in the metro areas light up their downtowns and host parades. They even have online maps available of neighborhoods that really light up and are worth seeing. There’s a lot of things to do in Phoenix throughout the year, but Christmastime may just be your favorite.
San Diego, California
Maria from San Diego Explorer describes the holiday season in that city:
San Diego, CA has some really fun and unique things to offer over the Christmas Holidays, especially if you are looking to escape the cold. Temperatures are usually in mid 50s to low 60s and sunny, but they are also known to reach the mid 70s – the perfect temperature to go out and explore.
San Diego will get you a seemingly paradox Christmas. Got a surfboard and skis for Christmas? No problem! In San Diego, you can try them out in one day. Maybe that is why we celebrate the start of the Christmas season in San Diego with the arrival of Surfin’ Santa rather than Christmas carols. And did you know that we have an actual ice skating ring on the beach. Nothing cooler than hitting the ice, while looking at palm trees and hearing the ocean waves crash in the background.
Another fun event – usually the first weekend in December – that will put you in the Christmas spirit is December Nights in Balboa Park – our San Diego Christmas Market. You will find beautiful Christmas lights and decoration, booths selling treats and gifts, Glühwein and delicious snacks. Parking is nightmare, so I recommend taking either public transportation or Uber/Lyft.
Did you know that Theodore Seuss Geisel aka Dr. Seuss lived the majority of his life in San Diego? Each year, the Old Globe in Balboa Park – a replica of the Globe Theatre in London – puts Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! on its schedule and I highly recommend it.
San Antonio, Texas
Daisy from Beyond My Border describes a Texas Christmas:
San Antonio is a gorgeous city in Texas and one of the best destinations to spend Christmas in the US. Resting on the southern end of the country, San Antonio is home to pleasant weather, vibrant culture, and beautiful scenery. Its charming streets, captivating riverwalk, and exciting festivities are some of the reasons why this city is one of the best in the United States.
There are many fun things to do in San Antonio. It has vast historical significance and houses a number of sites that you should visit. Be it a stroll through the Alamo or a walk around the National Historical Park, you will find plenty to learn and more to see. For a pleasant outing during the holiday season, a visit to the Market Square and a skate around the Rotary Ice Rink are great ways to celebrate.
The best place to visit in San Antonio is the Riverwalk. This beautiful pedestrian promenade is lined with cafes and restaurants. The spirited atmosphere is amplified by live music, performances, and colorful river cruises that glide down the San Antonio River. During the Christmas Season, you can watch groups performing along the river during the Ford Holiday Boat Caroling event and enjoy the 100,000 Christmas lights that light up the Riverwalk for Ford Fiesta De Las Luminarias.
Plan ahead and enjoy your time here, you will not regret it!
Palm Springs, California
Monica from This Rare Earth uncovers the highlights of Palm Springs at Christmas:
One of the best Christmas getaways on the West Coast is to the quiet Palm Springs area, a two and a half hour drive from Los Angeles. The stars of Hollywood began to visit Palm Springs in the 1920’s and 30’s, making it popular well beyond those living in Southern California. The retro homes and quaint neighborhoods make this retreat a far cry from L.A. traffic and crowds.
December is the perfect month to visit Palm Springs for several reasons. Situated in the middle of the Mojave Desert, the triple digit temperatures finally subside and sunny days become more bearable once winter comes around. Activities like biking and hiking in the desert are much more enjoyable! But for the Christmas holiday in particular, Palm Springs is a hidden gem.
The Palm Springs Festival of Lights Parade is hosted in early December every year, and the 1.25 mile parade route attracts thousands each year. Retro cars, marching bands from across California, and giant floats roll through the streets, all covered in sparkling Christmas lights. The star of the show is Santa Claus himself, pulled on a giant sleigh of reindeer.
The production airs every year on NBC Palm Springs and it is quite the celebration. I am a huge fan of the desert, and seeing it decked out in Christmas wrappings is a sight.
Disney World, Orlando, Florida
Jenn from Will Save for Travel provides the details on a Disney Christmas:
While spending the Christmas season at Disney World might seem odd to some, I think it’s the perfect place to get into the holiday spirit!
Although it can be busy at Christmas, the parks are perfectly decorated with large Christmas trees, themed decorations, special events and food.
We loved spending an evening at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, at Magic Kingdom. There is a special fireworks show, parade and free cookies and hot chocolate. Cinderella Castle is completely covered in lights, which adds to the magic! It is a separate ticket from the normal day time tickets, so usually there are less people and you can get on rides with a much shorter wait time.
Over at Epcot, you can experience the Festival Of The Holidays. There are food booths serving traditional foods from many different countries, and storytellers to share Holiday traditions from other cultures. Of course you can meet Santa and Mrs. Claus for the perfect family holiday photo!
All in all I would recommend Disney at Christmas to anyone. It’s pretty special to watch it “snow” on Main Street, USA, when it’s usually above 80F!
Santa Barbara, California
Ciara From Wellness Travel Diaries explains why Santa Barbara is one of the best Christmas vacations in the USA:
Situated on the breezy coastal front of the Santa Ynez Mountains in California is the city of Santa Barbara. Year round, this beautiful destination has mild temperatures, evergreen trees, and pristine white Spanish style buildings. Visiting the charming city of Santa Barbara for a Christmas getaway can be a special experience because this beachy town turns into a festive attraction for either family fun or romantic getaways.
During the winter season, Santa Barbara hosts a variety of festive events. There’s the Santa Barbara Trolley of Lights, a jolly trolley illuminated with sparkling lights. Along the route there’s carolers, sweet hot cider, and delightful Christmassy sights to admire. Additionally, there’s the Santa Barbara Parade of Lights, an annual parade of brightly lit boats, and fireworks set off into the wintery sky. The best spot to view this parade is on the harbor.
Another activity is the Holiday Parade found on State Street. Imagine exquisite floats decorated with dazzling lights, talented performances, and lively music as the parade rings in the holiday season. Also situated downtown is La Arcada. I love visiting this quaint shopping area and embarking on a Christmas stroll to enjoy the cheery ambiance provided by carolers, the turtle pond, all with fresh popcorn in hand.
Lastly, located outside of the city is the town of Solvang. Known for its Danish inspired architecture this town during the holidays transforms into a Christmas wonderland, similar to the fairy-tale European Christmas markets with festive lights and fresh Danish goodies.
Small-Town Christmas Vacations in the US
Katie & Ben from Two Wandering Soles describe one of the best Christmas vacation spots in the Northwest:
Just over 2 hours from Seattle, the small town of Leavenworth, Washington makes for a magical winter getaway. Known for its kitschy but cute Bavarian-themed buildings, you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported to a quaint European mountain town.
One main draw during the winter season is the Christmas lighting ceremony that takes place each Friday and Saturday during the month of December. Visitors gather in the main street of town, and one by one, the buildings light up. If you’re really in the Christmas mood, check out the Nutcracker Museum or do a little holiday shopping at the many boutiques that line the main street.
If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, there’s plenty of things to do in Leavenworth outside of downtown. For an adrenaline rush, head to nearby Stevens Pass to hit the slopes or rent a snowmobile and explore hidden snow-covered trails. Or if you want to take it at a more relaxed pace, there are plenty of peaceful trails for snowshoeing or cross country skiing. For those traveling with kids, there are plenty of places for sledding and even horse-drawn carriage rides through the nearby countryside!
At the end of the day, warm up with a cup of cocoa at one of the many cute cafes in town, or enjoy the evening at a local brewery. Don’t forget to pair your beer with a German sausage or pretzel for the full Leavenworth experience!
Insider Tip: Be sure to book your guesthouse well in advance because weekends during the Christmas season are a popular time to visit Leavenworth. Bonus points if you can score one with a hot tub!
Heather from Raulerson Girls Travel tells us why the town of Rochester is worth visiting:
Small towns sometimes make a big deal about the holidays, and no one does it better than Rochester, Michigan. Their Big, Bright Light Show rivals the ones in the bigger cities with over one million colored lights on display. Each night during the holiday season, the lights turn on in front of every building along Main Street and it is your job to find your favorite color to get your photo taken in front of it.
Besides the light display that people drive for miles to see, each store has decorated their windows with holiday cheer and complete for the best presentation. “The Home Bakery” has won first place several times with their massive display of Disney themed edible creations that take over 700 hours to make. Some of the previous designs have been Frozen, Beauty and the Beast, Star Wars, and the Minions. You will definitely want to see what they create each year.
Another special holiday treat that Rochester offers is the larger than life gingerbread display at the Royal Park Hotel. Just a short walk off Main Street and you will be surrounded by gingerbread and candy dreams.
But wait, that isn’t all this small town has to offer. To kick off the holiday season, the neighborhood comes out and celebrates Lagniappe, which is Creole for “a little something extra.” The store owners on Main Street offer a little extra to their customers during this event.
And to help you jumpstart your Christmas shopping, visit the Kringle Market where you can find wreaths, gifts, drink hot cocoa, visit with Santa, and even roast marshmallows. With all of the special attention to detail, Rochester, Michigan, is the perfect small town to visit during the holiday season.
Tori from Tori-Leigh.com explains the Christmas appeal of Bethlehem, PA:
Tucked away in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley sits the small town of Bethlehem, affectionately called America’s own Christmas City. It’s no surprise that visitors flock to Bethlehem during Christmas and through the winter.
Bethlehem offers a large array of Christmas-themed activities in its small downtown area. Most popular is the Christkindlmarkt, Bethlehem’s very own German inspired Christmas Market. Find handmade holiday gifts, glass-blowing demonstrations, and live holiday music. Just outside the market are the famed Bethlehem Steel Stacks, which are up-lit with holiday colors, and the National Museum of Industrial History.
Downtown Bethlehem offers even more Christmas cheer! Take a Christmas City Carriage Ride, stroll Historic Bethlehem with a local guide, pop into Moravian Book Shop, the oldest in the country, or visit Christmas City Village, a small outdoor pop up shopping area with more handmade goods and treats.
Niche restaurants, pubs and breweries line the streets of downtown Bethlehem, as well. The 1758 Sun Inn not only offers self guided tours of the historic Inn, but Christmas City themed spirits and cocktails, while McCarth’s boasts authentic Irish fare to warm you up after a cold walk. Most establishments are, of course, decorated beautifully for the holidays.
If you’re looking for a charming holiday themed getaway, look no further than Bethlehem PA, and immerse yourself in the Christmas spirit.
Mammoth Lakes, California
Allison from She Dreams of Alpine describes why Mammoth Lakes is one of the best places to visit during Christmas:
Mammoth Lakes is the perfect winter wonderland, and outdoor lovers truly couldn’t find a better place to celebrate Christmas. Skiing is the obvious attraction in this California mountain town, with Mammoth Mountain and June Mountain offering terrain for all levels with stunning views of mountain scenery all around. Even if you don’t ski, you will find so many other things to do in Mammoth Lakes during the holidays.
Bundle up against the cold, and explore in the snow by cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, or lace up your skates and take a spin around the Mammoth Ice Rink. For kids or the young at heart, Woolly the Mammoth presides over a weekly parade in December and brings the holiday spirit to Santaville in the days leading up to Christmas.
When you’re ready to warm up, visit one of the many aprés hot spots in Mammoth Lakes. 53 Kitchen & Cocktails offers hearty American food to fill you up after a day of playing in the snow, as well as house-infused and barrel-aged cocktails to provide some seasonal cheer. A must-visit in Mammoth Lakes is Schat’s Bakery, a European-style deli offering amazing sandwiches, breads, cheese, and more to fuel all your wintery adventures.
If you celebrate snow, you’ll definitely get in the holiday spirit in Mammoth Lakes this winter!
Vicky of Buddy The Traveling Monkey tells us why Ocala is a magical place during the holidays:
We think a great place to vacation during the holidays is the city of Ocala, Florida. Located in Central Florida, there are a lot of fun things to do in Ocala as well as the surrounding area. With highs in the 70s and lows in the 40s, it’s the perfect place to escape the much colder weather from up north.
There are plenty of parks nearby where you can go hiking or biking and with so many springs in the area, it’s easy to rent a kayak and spend a day on the water. There are also a few museums in Ocala, where you can learn about the history of the city and Central Florida.
Downtown Ocala is especially fun during the holidays. The square has a lovely gazebo and it’s all decorated in festive lights and decorations. There is live music in the evenings and a giant Christmas tree.
Of course, probably the main attraction in Ocala during the holidays is the annual Christmas parade. Locals take this event very seriously, and line the streets of the parade route with chairs and blankets hours before it even starts. There are a lot of floats, with Santa making an appearance at the end. Ocala truly is a magical place during the holidays.
Park City, Utah
Written by Quirky Travel Guy
Only 20 miles from Salt Lake City, Park City is one of the best ski towns in Utah, and it totally embraces the Christmas spirit. Snowfest at Park City Resort runs through January 5, offering parades, fireworks, and more. Running through December 23, the North Pole Express at Heber Valley Railroad is a 90-minute joyride that provides guests hot cocoa, cookies, and a train ride through town.
There’s nothing like being in the mountains during the holidays! Walk around the adorable business district for shopping and dining. Head to Park City Mountain Base Area for the city’s outdoor ice skating rink. Skate around and enjoy the views of the pine trees and mountains.
The town also has various film and theater events in late December for its out-of-town guests. Look for performances of The Nutcracker and screenings of It’s a Wonderful Life. You will definitely not run out of things to do here if you make this your choice for a Christmas vacation spot!
Written By Quirky Travel Guy
Yes, I’m including the entire state of Vermont on this list. Folks who live in the Northeast are fortunate to be within driving distance of such a beautiful state.
Holiday visitors to Vermont have several options. You can set up your homebase in one of the bigger cities, such as Burlington, which has a 50-foot Christmas tree and lots of galleries and shops decked out in Christmas lights. Woodstock and Manchester also offer holiday festivals and events.
Or, book a cabin somewhere in the woods or along Lake Champlain. I can’t imagine a cooler Christmas than being with the family in a cozy remote cabin with a dusting of snow outside.
Vermont also has lots of offbeat fun for my fellow quirky travelers, such as the moose statues of Bennington and the Ben & Jerry’s factory tour.
Written by Quirky Travel Guy
Whitefish is my favorite town in Montana. Its cozy, small-town vibe and mountain scenery make it a great December getaway, and one of the best Christmas vacations in the US mountain states.
There’s a surprisingly large downtown area here, so you can spend a great deal of time just walking around, looking at the immaculately-decorated streets, and visiting the boutique shops. Don’t miss the Christmas Eve Torchlight Parade at Whitefish Mountain Resort!
Whitefish is surprisingly accessible – you can get there directly on Amtrak from Seattle in the west or Chicago in the east. While you’re in town, be sure to visit Glacier National Park! Most of the park is closed during the winter, but you can still drive the first 11 miles of famed Going-to-the-Sun Road, which looks even more spectacular when it’s covered in a blanket of snow.
Offbeat and Unexpected Christmas Destinations
Wendy of The Nomadic Vegan uncovers the appeal of Mobile during the holidays:
If you’re looking for a place that’s full of the Christmas spirit but enjoys mild winter weather, then the coastal city of Mobile, Alabama is a great choice. Just keep in mind that you’re not likely to have a white Christmas here, as it only snows about once every five years. And sometimes it’s even warm enough to wear shorts on Christmas day! Of course, if you use your imagination, the white sand dunes on the beach at nearby Gulf Shores do kind of look like piles of snow.
A must-visit in Mobile at any time of year, but especially at Christmas time, is the Bellingrath Gardens and Home. For the entire month of December, these expansive gardens are decorated in millions of Christmas lights. The historic Oakleigh mansion in downtown Mobile also puts on a special Christmas program, including storytelling by living history reenactors dressed in period costumes. This one is usually for one day only, though, so plan your trip accordingly.
And while you’re in town, you’ll definitely want to try out some of the fantastic restaurants in Mobile. You’ll find establishments offering a wide variety of cuisines for all budgets, including plenty of vegetarian and vegan options.
Fairbanks & North Pole, Alaska
Kay from The Awkward Traveller writes about the joys of an Alaska Christmas:
If you’re looking for a Christmas getaway in the U.S, it doesn’t get more “Winter Wonderland” than reindeer farms, dog sled rides, the Northern Lights, and maybe even a visit from old Saint Nick himself. Welcome to Fairbanks, Alaska.
As the second largest city in Alaska, Fairbanks is one of the most Northern major cities in the world, just a few hours south of the Arctic Circle. But during Christmas time, the city really comes alive at the start of the Winter Solstice Celebration. Storefronts and street lamps are decorated with lights, tinsel, and garland.
You can fly directly into the Fairbanks airport, and since there isn’t too much public transportation, renting a car is advised. While winters in Fairbanks are cold, the city is well equipped for snow and the roads are maintained and clear, allowing visitors a safe driving experience. Running Reindeer Ranch is a family-owned farm that offers reindeer walks, reindeer yoga, and sometimes even unique reindeer milk soap. Dog sled rides are also popular, and Chena Hot Springs offers rides from their kennel of retired and rescued sled dogs.
Just outside of Fairbanks is the small town of North Pole, where you can visit Santa’s workshop, which is more like a huge holiday gift shop, but on weekends Santa will pop in!
There are more relaxed things to do in Fairbanks Alaska as well, like browsing Indigenous boutiques and cozying up in a cafe. Then once the sun goes down, you can head off to one of the many parks to get a view of the Northern Lights – the perfect end to any holiday celebration.
Asheville, North Carolina
Stephanie from Explore More Clean Less describes the holiday season in Asheville:
Asheville, North Carolina is a wonderful getaway during Christmas and winter break! It rarely snows but gets cold enough to feel like winter, letting visitors see the mountains and explore safely without several layers of gear (you can even plan on taking an easy Asheville hike with temperatures this mild).
On top of the everyday easy access to nature and thriving arts scene, there are several unique Christmas events that are special for the season. The downtown area puts up lots of lights while street musicians play holiday tunes, making it a perfect place to spend the day wandering before you check out the famous National Gingerbread House Competition at the nearby Omni Grove Park Inn! Grab snacks from the giant gingerbread house themed concession stand before browsing all the entries from little kids up through adults.
For those willing to go outside, the North Carolina Arboretum hosts an annual winter lights display that makes for an exciting evening. The gardens are given a holiday makeover, with more than half a million twinkling lights lining the paths and sculpted into creative shapes.
The main Christmas attraction, The Biltmore Estate, is over the top decorated including the memorable miniature Biltmore gingerbread house, countless lights, and over 50 decorated Christmas trees both inside and outside the house. Add on a horseback carriage ride or stay late for the carolers to make it an extra special day.
Santa Claus, Indiana
Written by Quirky Travel Guy
Few cities in the USA have as much Christmas spirit as Santa Claus, Indiana, aka “America’s Christmas Hometown!” Even in the summer, Santa Claus is a fun place to visit to see all the Santa statues and businesses around town, including the Holiday World theme park with roller coasters and water slides.
But the holiday season is an especially cool time to come. Check out the Santa Claus Christmas Store for one of the best selections of holiday ornaments and gifts you’ve ever seen. Swing by the Santa Claus Museum and Village, and pop into Santa’s Candy Castle with the kids.
If you live in the Midwest, consider adding Santa Claus to your list of the best Christmas vacations in the US!
Mackinac Island, Michigan
Written by Quirky Travel Guy
Midwesterners wondering “Where should I go for Christmas in the USA?” should consider this wonderful Michigan island. It’s a popular resort area that makes for an incredible vacation destination any time of year. But things really come alive during the holidays.
You won’t find any chain restaurants here, nor any cars. It’s just bicycles and horse carriages! The don’t call it “The Jewel of the Great Lakes” for nothing. Check out the shops and experience the many awesome Mackinac Island restaurants as you explore the island.
HGTV once named Mackinac Island one of the 10 best Christmas destinations in America because of the beautiful scenery and old-fashioned feel. If you plan to be in town during the annual Christmas Bazaar (early December) or New Year’s Eve celebration, be sure to book early, since lodging can fill up fast.
Written by Quirky Travel Guy
Of course I’m including my hometown of Pittsburgh on the list! It’s such an underrated city, and the holiday season is a fun time to visit. My favorite holiday activity is ice skating on the temporary outdoor rink at PPG Place, which has a giant Christmas tree right in the middle on the rink!
There’s also Pittsburgh Christmas Market in Market Square, and the display of hundreds of gingerbread houses in the Grand Lobby of the City-County Building. If you want a really romantic view, head to Mt. Washington, which overlooks the entire city.
You won’t get to kayak on the three rivers in December, but you can still take advantage of the Steel City’s other attractions, like the Mt. Washington Overlook, the Andy Warhol Museum, and Phipps Conservatory, which offers a Winter Flower Show. And you can soak in the unmatched local sports culture by attending a Penguin or Steeler game (if you can snag a ticket!)
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best Christmas vacations in the U.S.? Leave a comment with your favorite destinations!