With the holidays around the corner, most of us think of visiting home, but it can be one of the most magical times to visit other cities too. It’s not just Europe who knows how to do Christmas right. Whether you make it a family trip or explore on your own, here are the best places to spend Christmas in the US to help you plan your holidays.
Note: Seems like a lot of events are up in the air this year. Make sure you check each site for the most updated info.
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Last Updated: October 28, 2020
17 Best Places to Spend Christmas in USA
On our last visit to New York, I was disappointed that we left just as they were starting to put up the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. Now that we live in NYC, we’re determined to have the full holiday experience.
Movies and TV make New York City to be the quintessential place to spend your Christmas getaway. You can gaze at all the lights, ice skate at the Rockefeller Center or Central Park, see the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, or enjoy the laser light show at Grand Central Station. Also, don’t forget to check out the Christmas villages and markets.
2. Christmas Town USA, North Carolina
When: Lighting ceremony is on Nov 30, 2018 at 5pm-6pm. Lights stay until Dec 26, Hours are M-F 5:30pm to 9:30pm, Sat and Sun 5:30pm – 11pm.
Right outside of Charlotte, NC, this town is known as McAdenville most of the year, but each December, they change the name to Christmas Town USA. There are over 375 trees, 450,000 lights, and they hand out free hot chocolate and kettle corn to the first 1,000 attendees each night!
It’s free to view the Christmas lights since it’s literally the entire town.
Note: Prepare yourself for a lot of traffic.
What better way to spend Christmas than with the National Christmas Tree in Washington, D.C. This tree is just south of the White House and has been lit every year since 1923. Surrounding the tree are 56 smaller trees representing the 50 states, 5 territories, and the District of Columbia.
4. Chicago, Illinois
The Windy City has their own giant tree, millions of lights fill the Magnificent Mile, and there’s a German Christmas market filled with everything you can think of.
photo: Choose Chicago
Enjoy the mild winters in Orlando and visit one of the most magical places on earth! It’s no wonder that it also makes it one of the best places to spend Christmas in the US. Disney World gives their parks an extra dose of cheer during the holidays, and it doesn’t hurt that you can visit the beach in just a couple of hours.
The city that is always full of lights shines even brighter during the holiday season, and each hotel does its own take on the season. Don’t forget to stop by Bellagio’s botanical gardens. We think they have the best decorations on the Strip.
Did you know you can spend Christmas at the North Pole without leaving the United States? Thousands of letters are sent to the Santa Claus House every year, and he even writes back. You may even be able to catch the Aurora Borealis!
photo: Kit Leong / Shutterstock
8. Vail, Colorado
Get a guaranteed white Christmas by visiting this ski town. They get so excited about the fresh powder that they celebrate with live concerts during Snowdaze.
9. Nantucket, Massachusetts
If you want to spend your holidays in New England, Nantucket is the perfect spot. The annual Christmas Stroll is a special event where you can shop amidst dozens of decorated Christmas trees, do a wine tasting, enjoy carolers, or partake in home tours.
If trees are your thing, be sure to check out the Whaling Museum where there are 80 decorated trees.
A couple of years ago, we drove up to Asheville to experience a candlelight Christmas at the Biltmore Estate with Jacob’s side of the family.
It was magical. The entire estate is decked out in holiday decor but the highlight is the large Christmas tree in the Banquet Hall along with 55 other intricately decorated trees.
You can immerse yourself in all the Biltmore Estate holiday events, but Asheville is also a fun city to explore on its own.
11. Carmel by the Sea, California
This quaint coastal town is perfect for any wine lover. Enjoy the lights, walk along the beach, and stop into any of the dozens of spots to do a wine tasting.
12. Park City, Utah
This ski town starts it celebration in late November with its Electric Parade where they light up everything! Enjoy the slopes, walk through town, and if you’re around on Christmas Eve, keep your eye out for Santa. He spends the day skiing the slope the leads a parade down the PayDay trail.
13. Williamsburg, Virginia
Williamsburg is full of history. Visit Jamestown to celebrate the holidays like the colonists, or if you’re looking for something more up-to-date, Busch Gardens has its very own Christmas Town.
14. La Jolla in San Diego, California
Celebrate the holiday season in a wetsuit surfing the waves, enjoying farm-to-table food, or shopping at the high-end and beachy shops in La Jolla. Don’t forget to check out the annual Christmas parade too!
Our favorite thing to do is to ice skate near the beach at Hotel del Coronado.
15. Branson, Missouri
The historic downtown shopping center is the place to be during the holiday season in Branson. The Branson Scenic Railway is transformed into the Polar Express. And since it’s known as the Live Music Show Capital of the World, there is plenty to keep you busy!
If you’re looking for a real winter wonderland experience, Jackson Hole is the place to go. You can fill your time with one of many winter activities, like skiing, snowshoeing, sleigh rides, and more. Plus, you’ll be right next to Grand Tetons National Park and Yellowstone National Park.
Keep a watch out for Santa skiing at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort!
17. Leavenworth, Washington
We’ve only been out to Leavenworth in the summer for bouldering, but this small Bavarian town becomes the Village of Lights during the holidays. The buildings and trees covered in over a half a million lights. It’s a lot of fun for the whole family, and you can even meet reindeer or walk through the traditional German Christmas market.
Fun Fact: Leavenworth doesn’t have any historical ties to Bavaria but it was instead a great way to reinvent the city and promote tourism.
photo: Checubus / Shutterstock
Map of Best Christmas Destinations
More Places to Spend Christmas in USA
- Ann Arbor, MI – KindleFest, Sing-along with Santa, Holiday Parade
- Atchison, KS – Christmas parade, Winter Wonderland pageant, sleigh rides.
- Chippewa Falls, WI – Irvine Park Christmas Village, Wonderland Parade, Christkinldmarkt
- Crown Point, OH – Festival of Lights
- Duluth, MN – Bentleyville light display
- Elkhart Lake, WI – Old World Christmas Market, horse-drawn wagon rides, breakfast with Santa
- Frankenmuth, MI – Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, Christkindlmarkt
- Minneapolis-St Paul, MN – Holidazzle, SantaCon, Holiday Tours at Governor’s Residence.
- Red Wing, MN – Holiday stroll, sleigh rides, parades
- Santa Claus, IN – Land of Lights, Annual Parade
- Zoar, Ohio – Zoar Village
- Atlantic City, NJ – Tropicana tree lighting ceremony, the Irish Pub decorations
- Bernville, PA – Koziar’s Christmas Village
- Bethlehem, PA – Christmas City Stroll, Christkindlmarkt, carriage rides, Outdoor Village’s igloos, Lehigh Valley Zoo Winter Light Spectacular
- Cape Cod, MA – Train to Christmas Town, decorated lighthouses.
- Cape May, NJ – West Cape May Christmas Parade, Winter Wonderland at Congress Hall, trolley rides
- Corning, NY – Parade of Lights, Centerway Square tree
- Essex, CT – Holiday Train Show, North Pole Express
- Lake Placid, New York – Village Stroll, Main Street decorations, free lift at Whiteface Mountain if you dress like Santa.
- Mystic, CT – Lighted Boat Parade, Holiday Carnival, Downtown Holiday Stroll & Luminaria, Festival of Lights, SantaCon
- New Hope, PA – North Pole Express
- Newport, RI – Christmas in Newport festival, Showfish Igloo Dining Experience
- Ogunquit, ME – Christmas by the Sea
- Stockbridge, MA – the town re-creates the Norman Rockwell painting, “Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas.”
- Woodstock, VT – Woodstock Inn, Wassail Parade
- Andalusia, AL – Christmas in Candyland
- Annapolis, MD – Lights on the Bay
- Austin, TX – Austin Trail of Lights
- Bardstown, KY – My Old Kentucky Home Candlelight Tour, Barton 1792 Distillery’s Making Spirits Bright tours
- Beaufort, NC – Beaufort Christmas Parade, Crystal Coast Christmas Flotilla
- Beaufort, SC – Annual Christmas Parade
- Blue Ridge, GA – Santa Express and Santa Pavilion
- Canton, MS – Canton Christmas Festival, historic downtown lights, carousel rides
- Charlottesville, VA – Lighting of the Lawn, The Barracks Road Annual Holiday Parade, Wells Fargo Holiday Heritage Parade
- Delray Beach, FL – Old School Square Christmas Tree
- Denton, NC – Christmas on the Farm
- Franklin, TN – Dickens of a Christmas Festival
- Fredericksburg, TX – Christkindlemarkt, German Christmas Pyramid, parades
- Greenville SC – Santa’s electric sleigh rides, Maine St skating rink, Festival of Trees competition
- Helen, GA – Lighting of the Village, Hardman Farm, Christkindlmarkt
- Lewisburg, WV – Greenbrier Resort lights and decorations
- Myrtle Beach, SC – Nights of a Thousand Candles
- Natchitoches, LA – Festival of Lights
- Oxford, MS – Gingerbread Village, Ornament auction, parade
- St Augustine, FL – Nights of Lights, Holiday Regatta of Lights
- Thomasville, GA – Victorian Christmas
- Altadena CA – Christmas Tree Lane
- Anchorage, AK – Holiday Lights in the Garden, Zoo Lights
- Aspen, CO – 12 Days of Aspen, Ullr Nights
- Breckenridge, CO – Lighting of Breckenridge, Race of the Santas, Ullr Fest
- Colorado Springs, CO – Santa Express Train, Miramont Castle, Acacia Park ice rink, Festival of Lights Parade
- Durango, CO – Polar Express
- Lake Tahoe, CA – Heavenly Holidays Family Festival, Merry Wonderland, Borges sleigh ride, carriage rides.
- Mammoth Lakes – Village Night of Lights, December Full Moon Snowshoe Tour
- Nevada City, CA – Victorian Christmas
- Newport Beach, CA – Boat Parade
- Ogden, UT – Electric Light Parade, Christmas Village
- Prescott, AZ – Courthouse plaza lights, Sharlott Hall Museum open house
- Seattle, WA – Enchant Christmas
- Sheridan WY – Christmas Stroll
- Sierra Madre, CA – Kersting Court giant snowman made from snow trucked in from the mountains.
- Solvang, CA – Julefest, Lights on Copenhagen Drive, Solvang Park, Alisal Road
- Taos, NM – Luminarias at Taos Pueblo
- Telluride, CO – Schmid Ranch, Ullr’s Ceremonial Ski Burn, Holiday Prelude, Torchlight Parade
More Places to Have the Best Christmas Vacations in US
- Grapevine, Texas
- Gulf Shores, Alabama
- Healdsburg, California
- Kirtland, Ohio
- Laguna Beach, California
- Mumford, New York
- Naples, Florida
- Paradise, Pennsylvania
- Paso Robles, California
- Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
- Pine Mountain, Georgia
- Portland, Maine
- Portsmouth, New Hampshire
- Santa Fe, New Mexico
- Skaneateles, New York
- Santa Rosa Beach, Florida
- Sonoma, California
Top 10 American Christmas Traditions
In case you didn’t know, Christmas is celebrated on December 25 and commemorates the birth of Jesus.
Today, traditions are a blend of religion and culture.
- Christmas Cards – they started in England in 1843. Prior, they sent private notes to wish each other Merry Christmas, until Sir Henry Cole decided to hire an artist to design a card. Did you know Christmas is the number one card-selling holiday of the year?
- Carol Singing – songs about Christmas, typically religious in nature. Some popular carols are Jingle Bells, O Holy Night, Away in a Manger, and O Little Town of Bethlehem.
- Lights – cities will decorate their buildings and trees, and people will decorate their homes with Christmas lights. Originally, they lit candles to signify the light of Jesus, which was then replaced by electric lights.
- Drive Around to See Christmas Lights – My family used to drive us to the most festive neighborhoods.
- Hide the Christmas Pickle – hanging a pickle on the tree and the first person to find it gets an extra present.
- Cookies and Milk for Santa – this tradition dates back to Norse mythology but became popular in America during the Great Depression to show gratitude.
- Meals – Traditionally is similar to Thanksgiving with turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce.
- Ugly Sweater Party – This party trend started in Vancouver, but now everyone is in on it.
- Gingerbread Houses – You can decorate them with the family or one of my friends likes to throw parties where you compete on who can build the best.
- Cookie Swaps – This date back to the 1800s, which traditionally were ladies-only events where you bring your own favorite cookies to the event and exchange them so you can take home a variety.
The Christmas in America song actually talks about many of these traditions.
Where Does it Snow on Christmas in the US?
Though it’s never a guarantee, to get the highest chances of a white Christmas, these are the best spots that have had a history of snowing on Christmas Day.
- Alaska – Anchorage, North Pole
- California – Lake Tahoe (also in NV), Mammoth Lakes, Yosemite
- Colorado – Aspen, Crested Butte, Steamboat Springs, Telluride
- Idaho – Sandpoint
- Illinois – Chicago
- Massachusetts – Boston
- Michigan – Marquette, Munising, Sault Ste Marie
- Minnesota – Duluth, International Falls, Minneapolis-St Paul
- Montana – Bozeman, Missoula, Whitefish
- New Mexico – Red River
- New York – Lake Placid, NYC, Utica
- North Dakota – Bismarck
- Washington – Winthrop
- West Virginia – Snowshoe
- Wyoming – Jackson Hole
What is the tallest Christmas Tree in the US?
Last year in LA, Citadel Outlets erected a 115 ft tree. Just to give you a reference, the Rockefeller tree is only 77 ft and the National Christmas Tree is 30 ft. They’ve had the tallest Christmas tree for the past 6 years (to the best of their knowledge).
Prior, the world’s tallest cut Christmas tree on record was 221 ft at Northgate Shopping Center in Seattle in the 1950s.
Don't Forget to Pack These
Are we missing any amazing Christmas destinations in the US? Have you spent any time in any of these cities during the holiday season? What did you think? Did you feel more of the Christmas spirit? Does your city belong on here? We would love to explore more ideas and see how your hometown does the holidays (you can link them in the comments section below).
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“Discovery consists not of seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes” – M. Proust
Esther + Jacob
Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, which is one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found both near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They explore a new city in depth every year and currently base themselves in NYC.