8 U.S. Destinations That Go Over-the-Top for the Holidays

See recent posts by Lara Grant

Considering that holiday decorations seem to spring up the day after Halloween, it's safe to say people (and marketers) look forward to the Christmas season. Twinkling lights, snowmen, and gorgeously embellished trees fill the streets, creating an undeniably jubilant atmosphere. We love squeezing in as many holiday-centric festivities as possible -- from attending holiday parades to ice skating around a grand Christmas tree -- and we're always looking for a new place to put us in the holiday spirit. While most cities are bound to have a few holiday events taking place in November and December, we've rounded up those locales that really fill the season with as much garland and gingerbread as they can muster. So grab your merriest sweater and head to one of the eight cities that make our list of the most holiday happy destinations in America. 

1. New York City


New York City is a picture-perfect holiday getaway. Despite the dropping temps, tourists flock to the city for the many Christmas and holiday events. Top activities include catching the Rockettes in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, visiting Rockefeller Center to see the 78-foot tall tree decorated in lights, and ice skating in Bryant Park while surrounded by pop-up shops. Be sure to grab a hot chocolate and stroll along Fifth Avenue to view the holiday windows at retailers like Bergdorf Goodman and Henri Bendel. 

Related Link: Hotels With The Best Value in New York City

2. Orlando, Florida

Photo Courtesy of Jeff Christiansen via Flickr

Photo Courtesy of Jeff Christiansen via Flickr

Looking for the most family-friendly Christmas experience? It’s hard to beat Disney World in Orlando. From November 8 to December 18, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party will be going on at the theme park; seasonal decorations and thousands of lights fill Magic Kingdom park. The parade is a magical event where visitors can catch Mickey, Santa, elves, and friends marching to holiday music. There’s also a fireworks show and a Nutcracker performance by Goofy and the gang, and Main Street will be covered in snow. The Holidays Around the World at Epcot showcases traditions from around the world, and includes a candlelight processional. With all this and more, Disney World may very well be the happiest holiday place on Earth.  

3. Branson, Missouri

Photo Courtesy of Branson Convention and Visitors Bureau via Flickr

Photo Courtesy of Branson Convention and Visitors Bureau via Flickr

Branson, Missouri is best known for sites like Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, Titanic Museum, Silver Dollar City theme park, and dozens of theaters. But during the holiday season, from November to New Year’s Day, Branson transforms to Ozark Mountain Christmas. Called the Live Music Show Capital of the World, the Missouri town puts on many themed performances. Other activities include Shepherd of the Hills Trail of Lights, a two-and-a-half-mile-long light display; the Branson Scenic Railway’s Polar Express Train Ride; and Christmas shows and the Holly Jolly Christmas Light Parade in Silver Dollar City, which is decorated with five million lights and 1,000 trees. 

Our Hotel Pick: Best Western Center Pointe Inn

4. Washington, D.C.

Photo Courtesy of Anthony Quintano via Flickr

Photo Courtesy of Anthony Quintano via Flickr

If you’re visiting the nation’s capital during December, a photo op at the National Christmas Tree is a must. The lighting ceremony is a televised event with performers, including Aloe Blacc and Tori Kelly this year, and of course the President and First Family lighting the grand tree; it requires tickets, but all other days for viewing the tree is free. Around it is the Pathway of Peace, a collection of state and territory trees with unique ornaments, as well as moving model trains. Another holiday-happy event in Washington, D.C. is ZooLights at the Smithsonian Zoo, where live music and holiday shopping takes place amongst more than 500,000 LED lights.

Related Link: The 7 Best Holiday Markets in the U.S. This Season

5. Nantucket, Massachusetts

Photo Courtesy of Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism via Flickr

Photo Courtesy of Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism via Flickr

What began in 1973 as a way to prevent locals from having to head to Cape Cod to do their holiday shopping, the Nantucket Stroll has grown to be a fun, family-friendly event in December. This year, festivities kick off the day after Thanksgiving with caroling and the illuminating of hundreds of trees lining downtown streets. The main weekend takes place December 4 through 6; on that Saturday, the Nantucket Town Crier will ring in the Christmas Stroll, and then lead everyone to the wharves to welcome Santa and Mrs. Claus, who arrive via a Coast Guard vessel. 

Our Hotel Pick: The Vanessa Noel Hotel is open year-round. 

6. Woodstock, Vermont


Vermont is already a postcard-worthy winter destination, with cozy cottages and snow-covered trees, but a weekend-long Christmas celebration makes it a must-visit. Called Wassail Weekend, the event includes a parade of over 50 horses and riders dressed in holiday costumes making their way through the town center. Additionally, Billings Farm & Museum, a dairy farm designed to authentically represent an 1890 farmhouse, hosts events throughout December where visitors can make historic ornaments and enjoy treats baked in a wood stove. 

Our Hotel Pick: The Woodstock Inn and Resort

7. Solvang, California

Photo Courtesy of Solvang Conference & Visitors Bureau

Photo Courtesy of Solvang Conference & Visitors Bureau

Located 45 minutes from Santa Barbara, Solvang is a small Danish town with a population under 6,000. During December, the city transforms into a Christmas village; shops in Danish-style buildings along the main road are decorated with lights and trees. The Julefest (pronounced yule-fest) event includes a tree lighting ceremony with live music, a caroling sing-along, and dancing ballerinas. Santa will also be present for free visits. The main parade takes place on December 5 at 11 a.m.

Want to make a weekend of it? The Hamlet Inn is located on the main road, just a four-minute walk to Solvang Park, where most events will be taking place.

8. Santa Claus, Indiana


Yes, a city in Indiana is actually named Santa Claus. While it isn’t responsible for the making of millions of toys and delivering them in one night (that’s the North Pole’s job, of course), the city does provide a lovely holiday experience. Three hours from both Nashville and St. Louis, it’s home to the world’s first theme park, Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari. In addition to the Santa Claus that greets visitors, in town there’s the Santa Claus Museum, the Santa Claus Post Office, the Santa Claus Christmas Store, Santa’s Stables, Christmas Lake Golf Course, and Santa’s Candy Castle, where visitors can be connected to the North Pole and chat with an elf. If your kids (or you!) are in love with jolly Old St. Nick, Santa Claus, IN is the perfect Christmastime destination. 

Travel Tip: When you’re Christmas’d out, head 10 minutes west to Lincoln City, where Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home is located.

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