The holiday season will soon be upon us, so we’re seeking out some of the best holiday events in the U.S. We’ve teamed up with travel expert, Kirsten Maxwell of Kids Are A Trip and our team of Gnational Gnomads to find some favorites around the country to put on your wish list this season.
One of my favorite winter holiday destinations is Leavenworth, Washington. This Bavarian-themed town goes all out for Christmas. There is often an abundance of snow, lots of Christmas lights, horse-drawn sleigh rides through town, kids sledding, and to top it off, you’ll often see large groups of people walking through town each evening caroling. It’s a magical destination during Christmas that will surely put you in the holiday spirit!
-Mike Shubic, Mike’s Road Trip
Grapevine is the Christmas capital of Texas with over 1,400 events in 40 days spanning the holiday season. From the North Pole Express on the Grapevine Vintage Railroad to holiday shopping in historic downtown while holiday lights sparkle, the city puts on a magical display. The Gaylord Texan transforms into a winter wonderland in November and December. The property is decorated elaborately and offers a variety of holiday activities. Guests can snow tube on an indoor hill, have cookies with Mrs. Claus, go on a a scavenger hunt, and more. The main attraction is Ice! a room full of frozen sculptures created from over 2 million pounds of ice. It’s quite a sight to see!
-Meagan Wristen, Mommy Travels
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe is enchanting during the holidays with lights hanging from the the town’s adobe buildings and farolitos (small paper bags filled with sand and candles) lining the sidewalks, giving off a beautiful glow. Holiday events include GLOW at the Santa Fe Botanic Garden and Las Posadas, a Mexican tradition re-enacting Joseph and Mary searching for a room in Bethlehem. The entire town takes part in the event. On Christmas Eve, the town (and visitors) come together for the Farolito Walk where they sing carols and celebrate the season.
One of the most beautiful spectacles to experience in Philadelphia isn’t actually in the city at all. After you have seen the Christmas lights display and organ performance at Macy’s (the old historic John Wanamaker’s Department Store Building), head south of the city into the Brandywine Valley to view the garden displays and holiday lights in Longwood Gardens. Every year, half a million lights are set up to celebrate the season. Visitors will be delighted by the decorated trees, each year boasting a different theme. The Children’s Garden is a great place for kids to get hands on, and there are live concerts in the Conservatory throughout the season. At night, the gardens light up and become one of the most talked about shows in the Mid-Atlantic region. Watch the fountain shows and wander the light displays as carolers stroll by singing the songs of the season. Just make sure you bundle up. It can be chilly, but don’t worry. There is plenty of hot cocoa and coffee available in the cafe, as well as outdoor fire pits to keep you warm.
-Keryn Means, Walking on Travels
Christmas is my favorite time of year in Arizona. The weather is a balmy 68 degrees and you can go ice skating. Really! Christmas at the Princess—the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess—brings ice skating, snow making, more than 3 million lights and a four-story musical tree from late November through early January to the desert. The enchanted wonderland is fun for the entire family, where you can jump on the Princess Express Train and see the lagoon lights, enjoy the Christmas characters, a winter carnival, and make s’mores at the fire pits.
-Susan Lanier-Graham, Wander With Wonder
Asheville, North Carolina
Every year, the Omni Grove Park Inn hosts the National Gingerbread House competition showcasing amazing creations made from this holiday treat. It’s a spectacle not to be missed. The Biltmore Estate goes all out and decorates 55 Christmas trees and the entire estate from top to bottom. The estate’s Candlelight Christmas Evenings feature live musical performances in a setting reminiscent of the first Vanderbilt family Christmas in 1895. Winter Lights at the North Carolina Arboretum features 500,000 LED lights on a walking tour through a beautiful winter wonderland.
New York City, New York
Everyone knows New York City is famous for its tree and ice skating in Rockefeller Center, but did you know the city brings back subway cars from the 1930s through 1970s (complete with vintage posters and ads) which you can ride around the holidays? The Holiday Nostalgia Train usually runs from the Sunday after Thanksgiving through Christmas along the F line. Last year the MTA also had historic buses driving through the city to spread the holiday cheer. This year’s dates haven’t been released yet, but a ride will definitely put you in the holiday spirit.
-Sher Jordan, Sher She Goes
Chicago pulls out all the stops when it comes to the holidays. There’s ice skating and caroling at Millennium Park, Christmas light overload at the Lincoln Park Zoo and Morton Arboretum, and theatrical performances such as A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life to captivate visitors of all ages. Favorites include the German Christkindlmarket and Christmas Around the World at the Museum of Science and Industry featuring over 50 trees and displays representing holiday celebrations in countries around the world.
Southern California Theme Parks
The Disneyland Resort is celebrated throughout both parks with a gigantic Christmas tree welcoming you as you walk into Disneyland. Walk down Main Street and you’ll pass shops adorned in festive décor offering holiday foods like candied apples decorated as Mickey Mouse wearing a Santa hat. At the end of the street, you’ll see the castle decorated in a winter wonderland.
Knott’s Berry Farm offers holiday classics in their Birdcage Theatre with stories like “A Gift of the Magi” and “A Christmas Carol.” This time of the year also brings Snoopy out on the ice for my favorite ice show, “Merry Christmas, Snoopy.” Don’t forget to pick up a Snoopy-shaped cookie to go with that boysenberry latte.
-Pattie Cordova, Living Mi Vida Loca
New Orleans, Louisiana
As if seeing the French Quarter decked in holiday lights isn’t magical enough, the city goes a step further with some uniquely New Orleans events. A few days before Christmas, residents and visitors join together in Jackson Square to sing carols by candlelight. Candles and song sheets are shared through the crowd and then the singing begins in earnest. The Creole Queen Paddlewheeler has Holiday Tea with Papa Noel. Families can enjoy treats, face painting, magic, and even hold a live alligator!
Beaver Creek/Vail, Colorado
Each year, my family and I choose a ski destination to visit for the holiday between Christmas and New Year’s. One of our favorite places to go is the Colorado ski towns. With so many to choose from, we found that one of our favorites was Beaver Creek with a day trip to Vail. Both towns are completely decked out in “Christmas Cheer”, so with both places, you really cannot go wrong. And with Vail being only a quick trip (25 miles) from Beaver Creek, you can enjoy two cities in one ski holiday trip.
-Cacinda Maloney, Points and Travel
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