The holiday season will be here before we known it, and while the holidays may be different this year, there will surely be celebrations. We’ve asked some of our favorite travel writers to share where to celebrate the Christmas holidays in the USA (and we’ve also covered the best places to celebrate Christmas around the world). The recommendations for where to go for Christmas in the USA have us wanting to book a ticket and visit all of these Christmas destinations just to see the decor.
Where to Go for Christmas in USA
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Holiday Events in the South
As a native Atlantan, the Christmas season is easily my favorite time of year. There are so many different things to do around the city. For Christmas light displays, there’s the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s popular “Garden Nights, Holiday Lights,” Lake Lanier Islands’ “Magical Nights of Lights” (where we had our first kiss 10 years ago!), and Stone Mountain Christmas, where a whole village is lit up with holiday cheer.
Take a day trip to Callaway Gardens, whose “Fantasy in Lights” was named one of the Top 10 Christmas Light Displays in the World.
If culture is your thing, there’s the German Christkindl Market at Atlantic Station, the frou-frou designer rooms of Christmas at Callanwolde, the Alliance Theatre’s annual production of A Christmas Carol, and the Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker.
If quirk is more your speed, try the Victorian Holiday at historic Oakland Cemetery, the Ugly Sweater Run for charity at Piedmont Park, or Horizon Theatre’s campy Waffle Palace Christmas. No matter how you prefer to celebrate the holiday, Atlanta is one of the best places to visit for Christmas in the USA! –(Bret Love & Mary Gabbett of Green Global Travel)
What a better place to travel for Christmas than Grapevine, Texas, the Christmas Capital of Texas? This small town is big on holiday fun, with more than 1,400 events in 40 days. These range from musical light shows, holiday movie nights, the Parade of Lights to the North Pole Express on the Grapevine Vintage Railroad and Gaylord Texan ICE!, a winter wonderland created entirely of ice.
Some of my favorite activities included making my own Christmas ornament at Vento Glass Blowing Studio, sampling the hot chocolate bar at Dr. Sue’s Chocolate, and singing along to some of my favorite Christmas carols during a concert at the Palace Theatre.
For those looking for fun photos to commemorate the holidays, head to Liberty Park in downtown Grapevine, which is decked out with fun decorations for the holidays. Sit with Santa, sneak a kiss at the Mistletoe Booth or pose with the oversized Christmas ornaments that are spread throughout the park. This is the perfect spot to snap a photo for your Christmas cards.
Of course, you can’t go wrong with shopping in the many stores and boutiques in downtown Grapevine or just strolling along, taking in all the holiday decorations. And don’t miss the newest place to stay in Grapevine, Hotel Vin, walking distance to everything! (Karon at This Girl Travels)
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Head to the middle of the country to experience a holiday trip like no other. Oklahoma City at Christmastime is surprisingly modern, chic, and a foodie’s paradise.
To start off, visit the Holiday Pop-up shops which offer incredible local shopping inside makeshift igloos – so bring your pocketbook. Stop by Katiebug’s for gourmet hot chocolate or some of their famous homemade marshmallows. For Christmas light extravagance, stroll or drive down Automobile Alley. It’s there you’ll spy the entire street lit with holiday lights strung from top to bottom.
For epic holiday fun head to Myriad Botanical Gardens, where a glass sphere conservatory complete with light show will dazzle your eyes inside and an ice skating rink will entice you outside. Perhaps the most beautiful spot to visit during the holidays is none other than the Oklahoma City National Memorial. A Christmas wreath is set upon each chair honoring those who were killed in 1995 during the bombing. Debra of Finding Debra
While a White Christmas is a rarity in Nashville, the holiday season in Music City is still bursting with all things holiday magic and well worth a visit during the holiday season. There are tons of festive events, parades, and family-friendly holiday goodness – here are a few of our favorites:
The Country Christmas at The Gaylord Opryland Resort where the entire hotel is transformed into a winter wonderland. There are magical light displays throughout the hotel (free to the public), a holiday Seuss-themed playground made entirely of ice and holiday activities, music performances and events all season.
We also love Cheekwood’s Holiday Lights where millions of bulbs are strung throughout the mansion and botanical gardens. Cheekwood also hosts Santa’s live reindeer (and some weekend’s the jolly old elf makes an appearance too), s’more’s pits and holiday carolers along with stalls selling hot chocolate and hot toddy’s for those (occasionally) chilly Nashville nights!
Holiday markets pop up throughout the city, horse and carriage rides flock local neighborhoods for more light viewing, there is a sweet family holiday parade downtown to start off the season, and there is even a North Pole Express Excursion Train run by the Tennessee Central Railway Museum through December. (Sarah at The Wandering Rumpus)
Orlando, Florida (Walt Disney World)
We absolutely love Walt Disney World during the holiday season. There is something just so magical about seeing the theme parks and hotels all decked out for the holidays. Where else will you find so many Christmas attractions for kids?
The week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is one of the busiest times of the year to visit Disney World. Parks are decorated as early as November and the first couple of weeks of December are one of the least-crowded times to visit.
Don’t miss Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. The parades are Christmas-themed, there are special holiday treats, and the nightly fireworks are set to festive holiday music and Christmas carols to keep you in the holiday spirit.
The weather in Orlando can be unpredictable at that time of year, but chilly in Florida is still a lot warmer than many other places. Plus, seeing Cinderella’s Castle sparkle in holiday lights is sure to warm up even the Grinchiest heart. (Corinne at Have Baby Will Travel)
Pawley’s Island, South Carolina
Located seventy miles north of Charleston and 25 miles south of Myrtle Beach, Pawley’s Island is the perfect South Carolina getaway. From the laid-back lifestyle to untouched beaches, it is amazing to be there with the little ones during the holidays!
Brookgreen Gardens Light Up the New Year event, with thousands of hand-lit candles, holiday lights, and music, is a bucket list destination for anyone that loves Christmas! Brookgreen Gardens is a 9,100 acre sculpture garden and wildlife preserve.
Atalaya Castle is next, be sure to listen to the audio tour, it will help you appreciate it even more. We also would recommend visiting Atalaya before Brookgreen Gardens, as the owners donated that land and a lot of Anna Hyatt Huntingon’s sculptures are there (you will have a newfound sense of appreciation!).
Huntington Beach State Park is around the corner from Atalaya Castle and every New Year’s Day there is a two mile hike led by a Park Ranger – great with kids! Dominique of Well Traveled Child
And while you are there, don’t miss these awesome things to do in Myrtle Beach with kids.
Holiday Celebrations in the Midwest
The holidays are a wonderful time to visit the Windy City. Holiday festivities kick off with the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival the week before Thanksgiving. Ice skating is a huge attraction in the city with an outdoor rink at the Peninsula Chicago and a skating ribbon at Maggie Daley Park.
Don’t miss the Chicago holiday season highlight, the traditional German Christkindl Market in Daley Plaza. There’s a Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas shop with hand crafted ornaments, some glühwein, and even Santa and the Christkind. Be sure to go on weekdays early in the season or first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds.
Those looking for more cultured events should head to one of the local theaters for the Nutcracker, A Christmas Carol, or It’s A Wonderful Life (performed as an interactive 1940s radio show).
Want to get your girlfriends together? Try a holiday tea at The Drake, The Ritz, or the Russian Tea Room. The Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute are decorated for the holidays and are a fun treat for all ages.
Want to head outside? Don’t miss the Morton Arboretum’s Illumination with its completely decorated trees and holiday musical accompaniment. The Chicago Botanic Garden has Wonderland Express with its model trains and Chicago landmarks in miniature. Both the Lincoln Park Zoo and Brookfield Zoo have holidays light events to celebrate all season long. Chicago will always be one of our favorite places to go for Christmas. (Kirsten of Kids Are A Trip)
More than 100,000 people will gather on Monument Circle the Friday after Thanksgiving to celebrate the lighting of 4,784 lights strung from the Indiana Soldiers and Sailors monument. Millions of sightseers will take in this brilliant spectacle throughout the holiday season, lit through early January. Travelocity named the Circle of Lights® one of the top five “must-see Christmas trees” in the nation. We think its one of the best places to visit during Christmas.
Other Indianapolis attractions include Lights at the Brickyard where visitors can see over 2.5 millions lights along the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Winterlights winter wonderland at Newfields with its beautifully decorated gardens, and Christmas at the Zoo the oldest holiday lights exhibit at a zoo. (Patricia at Savvy Traveling)
Santa Claus, Indiana
A visit to Santa Claus, Indiana during the holiday season goes unmatched as parades, pancake breakfasts, light displays, and endless festive events take center stage during their Christmas Celebration. Local organizations get caught up in the holiday spirit with special events such as storytime with Santa, gingerbread house contests, cookie baking, and more.
Discover the charm of this holiday town by sending a special letter to Santa at the original Santa Claus Post office and then exploring how the town got its iconic name at the Santa Claus Museum and Village. Peer inside the original church adored for the holiday before snapping a photo of the impressive 22-ft solid concrete Santa Claus Statue.
Venture to Santa’s Candy Castle to attempt their Fire & Ice Challenge, which features their signature frozen hot chocolate and “Fire” popcorn then end the day roasting chestnuts over an open fire. A visit to Santa Claus is a perfect way to get into the Christmas spirit! Stephanie of Consistently Curious
DON’T MISS THE 25 BEST CHRISTMAS HOTELS FOR THE ULTIMATE HOLIDAY EXPERIENCE!
Holiday Events in the West
Colorado Springs, Colorado
If you haven’t visited Colorado Springs for Christmas, your family is missing out on so many holiday things to do. It’s just 90 minutes from Denver, offering that getaway-feeling without the long drive or flight. Yet for families not living in Colorado, their airport is small and easily navigated without long security lines.
Visit Santa and his elves at the North Pole, Home of Santa’s Workshop, a Christmas-themed mountain amusement park with rides and attractions. Open year-round, it is located on the Pikes Peak Highway, also gifting your family with amazing views.
The surrounding Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak region offers many more holiday themed activities. Ride the Royal Gorge Railroad with Santa. Finish up your shopping at the the Holiday Market. Take the kids to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, the highest altitude zoo in the U.S., for their electric safari with sparkling lights. Experience a winter wonderland with a sleigh ride at the Lazy C Guest Ranch.
During the holidays, splurge on a room at The Broadmoor, where the entire property is bathed in Christmas lights, and the hotel lobby features themed holiday displays. Don’t miss the winter lights at the Broadmoor Falls for the perfect end to your holidays in Colorado Springs. Diana Rowe of TravelingInHeels.com
Jackson, Wyoming is a picturesque mountain town in the foothills of the majestic Teton Mountain Range in the valley known as Jackson Hole. Popular among avid skiers and snowboarders, this charming ski town is even more magical around Christmas. White lights are beautifully strung across the streets and illuminate the town square.
Winters in Jackson Hole can get extremely cold. Despite the cold temperatures, a stroll down the covered, wooden sidewalks in downtown Jackson is a great way to spend a brisk winter afternoon. Duck into a coffee shop and grab a hot cocoa, or shop for locally made crafts in one of Jackson’s many mom and pop shops.
At Christmas time, the historic Wort Hotel in the heart of Jackson is beautifully decorated with lit garland, poinsettias, and a large Christmas tree in the lobby. It’s the perfect place to stay for a cozy holiday getaway!
If visiting Jackson Hole with kids, go for a snow tubing adventure at Kings Tubes Park or take a sleigh ride through the National Elk Refuge where you’ll ride past hundreds of wild elk that roam the valley. Melissa of Parenthood and Passports
Santa may swap his sleigh for an outrigger canoe when dropping off gifts for the children of Kailua Kona but, that doesn’t mean a Hawaiian Christmas is without traditional trappings. The historic village of is decked out with lights, tinsel and Christmas trees. Visitors may spot penguins and other Arctic creatures sporting grass skirts as well. The Kailua-Kona Community Christmas Parade kicks off the season. This year’s theme, “A Story Book Christmas” is sure to be a sight as it travels along Ali’l Drive, Kona’s main drag.
If you need a little snow in your Christmas Holiday, head to Mauna Kea. There won’t be enough powder to ski or snowboard, but you’ll get your fill. Tour companies will provide visitors with warm gear, so there’s no need to pack it.
Traveling during Christmas time doesn’t mean your family has to forgo the Nutcracker Ballet or Christmas Eve services either. The West Hawaii Dance Theatre and Academy accompanied by the Kamuela Philharmonic Orchestra presents a visually stunning family-friendly Nutcracker production. Christmas Eve candlelight services at Mokuaikaua Church, Hawaii’s first Christian church, feature a “Silent Night” hula. So, stop dreaming of an island Christmas — go enjoy it! Mele Kalikimaka (Merry Christmas!). (Kristine Dworkin from Trekaroo)
If you are looking for other places to explore in Hawaii, check out what do do in Kauai!
Las Vegas, Nevada
We think Las Vegas is one of the best family Christmas destinations in the USA. Many people think Las Vegas can’t be a Christmas destination, but it certainly is. You get the holiday spirit without the cold weather.
As you walk around Las Vegas, you’ll see the Christmas spirit everywhere. Even the light show at the Bellagio joins the festivities with holiday-themed music.
You can also go ice-skating at the LINQ Promenade. This would be the perfect time to ride the world’s largest Ferris wheel. The Bellagio Conservatory changes their display to Christmas decorations, that’ll have your little ones excited for Santa. You can also take a trip to Magical Forest where your kids can walk through tens of thousands of lights while enjoying some holiday treats.
You can skip cooking this year and go to the many buffets on the strip. Everyone gets to eat what they want, and you don’t have to clean up the mess. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Families will love the Global Winter Wonderland in Las Vegas. It is the only time you will be able to see the major attractions in the world in one place. Imagine seeing the White House, Eiffel Tower, Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Egyptian Pyramids, the Taj Mahal, and the North Pole. You can see all of that and more at the Global Winter Wonderland, its the perfect way to cap off your time in Las Vegas with kids.
Vegas is the perfect place for families to go for Christmas. Itzafamilything
Leavenworth is just a few hours away from Seattle, but as you pass thru the Cascade Mountains, you will feel transported to another country. Leavenworth is consistently voted one of the best places to go with kids for Christmas. Surrounded by snow-covered peaks, this Bavarian-themed town feels truly magical at Christmastime. Not only will you enjoy beautiful Christmas lights on all of the Bavarian buildings on Front Street, but there is a dramatic light display throughout the city park.
Kids will enjoy taking advantage of the sledding hill under the twinkling lights. Once they have worked up an appetite, grab a German sausage at Munchen Haus and then head to the Gingerbread Factory for hot chocolate and the most delicious gingerbread cookies. Don’t miss the two story the Kris Kringle Christmas store to pick out a new ornament for your tree.
Just outside of town, kids will love a visit to the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm to meet the animals or take a photo with Santa and his sleigh. (Jen at Thrifty Northwest Mom)
San Francisco, California
There are no White Christmases in San Francisco thanks to its temperate winter weather. What the City by the Bay lacks in snow, however, it makes up for in holiday spirit. The center of holiday action is always the city’s shopping district, Union Square. The season begins there after Thanksgiving with the lighting of the enormous Union Square Christmas tree. Union Square also erects a temporary ice skating rink and plays home to Santa in the world’s second largest Macy’s facing the square.
San Francisco is always a popular holiday travel destination, so the city’s finest hotels compete to outdo one another every year. The Fairmont San Francisco builds an enormous two story gingerbread house in its lobby. The Westin St. Francis creates not one – but two – castles of sweets in theirs. Many luxury hotels offer decadent holiday high teas on weekends, most of which are kid-friendly family traditions.
The holiday theater scene in San Francisco is always bustling as well. The San Francisco Ballet performs the Nutcracker annually, and the American Conservatory Theater’s performance of A Christmas Carol has been running for 42 years straight. For local flavor, the holiday version of the irreverent musical revue Beach Blanket Babylon is a can’t-miss. (Leslie at Trips with Tykes) *Don’t miss these fun things to do at Fisherman’s Wharf if you have time!
While Seattle doesn’t always get a White Christmas, it’s definitely full of holiday cheer! And there are so many kid-friendly Seattle Christmas activities that are totally worth a holiday vacation to Seattle.
Enchant Christmas and Lumaze are two large-scale holiday light events with Christmas Markets, visits with Santa, and epic light displays. The Fairmont Olympic Hotel has the most adorable Teddy Bear Suite, where you can take Christmas photos of your kids in a room full of fluffy teddy bears. And in their lobby, they have their annual Festival of Trees plus a life-size gingerbread house you can walk through. It smells amazing!
Speaking of gingerbread, the Seattle Sheraton has their annual Gingerbread Village with incredible gingerbread displays based on a theme that changes every year (it’s been Star Wars and the Grinch in the past.)
Westlake Center has an outdoor carousel and artists market with handmade gift items. And Pike Place Market has an outdoor Santa photo op that’s completely free! Seattle is one of the greatest places to celebrate the holidays in the Pacific Northwest! Marcie of Marcie in Mommyland
Holiday Events in the East
One of the best places to visit during the Christmas season in the USA is Boston, MA. This Northeastern seaside city can be a festive winter wonderland, but it most certainly will be magical during the holiday season. Some of the best activities to enjoy include a showing of Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker at The Opera House, one of the spectacular and kid-friendly performances of this iconic show.
Ice skating on the Frog Pond in the Boston Common is a favorite of locals, as is seeing the grandeur of spectacular Christmas Tree in the same location. Faneuil Hall is also the site of another huge Christmas tree and is also the location of Blink! Holiday lights and music show.
For a festive holiday stroll and some last-minute shopping, the Boston Winter Holiday Market in Government Center is a great way to enjoy the season and get into the spirit while strolling the vendor stalls, live entertainment, and delicious foods.
One of the more special Boston holiday traditions include a holiday tea where kids bring a toy for charity. The immensely popular Teddy Bear Tea at the Four Seasons collects bears for charity and offers little ones a joyful celebration including special guests.
And no Boston Christmas event is complete without a performance of the Holiday Pops concert, a fantastic event to get into the music of the season performed by the world-renowned Boston Pops, special guests, and led by the brilliant Keith Lockhart. With so many Christmas festivities, Boston is a wonderful city to enjoy the holidays. Keri of Bon Voyage With Kids
New York City, New York
People would always ask me if I’m going somewhere for the Holidays. My answer would always be a definitive, “No!” I never knew why anyone in my great City of New York would want to go anywhere else during this time of year.
New York City is the arguably the most exciting place to be during Christmastime. Restaurants are decorated to the hilt and the energy is unmatched.There are quintessential destinations such as visiting Macy’s Santa World to skating at Rockefeller Center’s most famous rink, under the most famous Christmas tree.
Choruses can be heard from every church doorstep and jingles are played in every store. The world-famous Rockettes kick up their heels at Radio City Music Hall, while the New York City Ballet performs the Nutcracker Suite at the famed Lincoln Center.
Okay, you may not be into the cultural thing. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy Christmas in New York. Go instead to Rolf’s German Restaurant, or Pete’s Tavern, where Old New York show all its glory in a down-home pub atmosphere. After a few eggnogs, you’ll find yourself a bit more cultured. (Andrew and Brenda from Dish Our Town)
The City of Brotherly Love always rolls out the red carpet for the holiday season. Christmas in Philly is magical for all ages. City Hall is dressed up and ready to welcome you to the annual Christmas Village, with an ice rink and carousel for the whole family to enjoy.
Anyone who grew up in Philadelphia will remember the old Wanamaker’s department store organ show. Thankfully, when Macy’s took over the shop, they continued the Christmas traditions with the Macy’s Christmas Light Show that happens throughout the day. Take the kids to see the window displays before scouting out your spot within the store. We personally like the view from the second floor, but get there early. The crowds do gather. While one parent holds a spot, the other can take the kids to see Santa.
Down on the river the Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest is where you want to be at night. Lights are up, hot cocoa is keeping frozen toes warm, and locals and visitors alike are skating around the pier as the DJ plays musical highlights from across the decades.
Other events and holiday decor you don’t want to miss include the Franklin Square Holiday Festival and Electrical Spectacle Holiday Light Show, the official Christmas tree at City Hall, and the Comcast Holiday Spectacular, a super hi-res LED show combining the Pennsylvania Ballet’s The Nutcracker, a sleigh ride over the city and a sing-along. Check the VisitPhilly.com website for more details, times and locations. Many events are free and you don’t want to miss any of them.
Looking for a day trip outside of Philadelphia? Head south to Longwood Gardens to see one of the most beautiful Christmas displays in the country. Each year the garden picks a new theme, and we hear this year will be “the Christmas Tree Reimagined.”
Trees are sure to be hanging from the ceilings of the conservatory and we can’t wait to pop in to take a look. Make sure you stay until after dark to see the lights throughout the garden. Bundle up the kids and grab hot chocolates in the cafe as you stroll through millions of light displays across the grounds of this historic DuPont estate. (Keryn Means of WalkingOnTravels.com)
Christmas in Washington, DC is magical. From Christmas markets to tree lightings and boat parades, there is always something to do, especially on the weekends.
Book your hotel early if you want to come to the Nation’s Capital for the National Tree or U.S. Capitol tree (our favorite) lighting ceremony. If you want to tour the White House, grab your tickets ASAP, as it books up and the process isn’t always simple.
Get a little exercise on the outdoor National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden ice skating rink. You can also see Mount Vernon by Candlelight, a very unique view of George Washington’s home during the holidays, with 18th century dancing, cider, cookies and more. Keryn of DC Travel Mag
Williamsburg, Virginia is one of our favorite places to travel for Christmas holidays. The Historic Triangle area of Jamestown, Yorktown, and Williamsburg holds various events in the month of December to celebrate Christmas.
The town has a tree lighting ceremony, cookies with Santa, a lighted boat parade, a Christmas market, an ice skating rink, and holiday decorations all around. There are even special presentations at Colonial Williamsburg, the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, and the Jamestown Settlement showcasing colonial Christmas traditions.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg also has a special ticketed event from Mid November to early January called Busch Gardens Christmas Town. It is considered one of the largest light displays in the world. In addition to the ten million lights, Busch Gardens offers most of their rides, and special holiday shows, activities, and food. If you’re planning a visit to Williamsburg with kids during the holiday season, Busch Gardens Christmas Town is a must-see.
From the historic areas to the modern sections, the entire Williamsburg area comes alive with Christmas spirit during December. It truly is one of the best places to visit during Christmas. Margie of DQ Family Travel