K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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Like a Christmas card come to life, many towns go all out for the holidays from coast to coast, hosting a variety of special holiday events. Whether you’re a fan of Christmas markets, twinkling lights and décor, Christmas parades, or anything else related to December’s festivities, there is a wealth of options to enjoy this season across the country. If you don’t live near one of them, these events are all worth planning a trip around.
Just across the floating bridge from Seattle, Bellevue hosts Snowflake Lane where you can experience the wonder of falling snow, dazzling lights, festive music, toy drummers, and dancers in a nightly parade of holiday floats that won’t cost you a thing. Running from Friday, November 24 through Sunday, December 24 in 2023, onlookers will gather on the sidewalks between Bellevue Square and Lincoln Square from NE 4th to NE 8th Streets every night at 7 p.m. with free parking garages available.
As TIME magazine, wrote, “When the San Francisco Ballet company performed the first complete version of TheNutcracker in the U.S. on Christmas Eve, 1944, they had no way of knowing that in time it would become as American as leaving the milk and cookies out for Santa.” Since then, it’s become a mainstay on holiday calendars throughout the country, but there is no production that can compare to the original. The San Francisco Ballet will perform it once again this December at the Warm Memorial Opera House and as it’s one of the hottest tickets of the year, you’ll need to get yours early. Shows run from December 13 through December 30 in 2023.
The Napa Valley Wine Train runs all year long, but it offers a special festive twist for the Christmas season featuring seasonal bites and peppermint tea Fridays through Sundays between December 1 and December 31 in 2023. The private vintage rail car will be decked out in its holiday finest for the three-hour journey. It includes a sparkling wine toast, and a selection of fine steep teas, including peppermint tea along with coffee. You’ll also enjoy a demi-tasse portion of soup and a petite salad course with seasonal enhancements, finger sandwiches, scones, and accompaniments, and signature mini-desserts with a holiday twist. Extra enhancement options are available too.
Morro Bay is a charming town along California’s Central Coast home to the iconic Morro Rock where countless sea otters float by and humpback whales leap out of the Pacific beyond during the migration season, which includes December through mid-February. You’ll enjoy another big show after dark in early December with the annual Lighted Boat Parade. The procession features decorated yachts, fishing boats, and other vessels all competing for prizes, while the Winter Wonderland area along the Embarcadero hosts a Santa House and live performances. Hot cocoa and baked goods will be available too. For the best view, other than getting out on the water yourself, grab a seat at one of the waterfront bars or restaurants.
The former mining town of Georgetown is nestled in the Rockies just an hour’s drive west of Denver. It’s one of the top destinations during the holidays as it will be transformed into an enchanting wonderland, snow or not. There are Christmas shops that are open year-round but the annual Historic Georgetown Christmas Market is one of the best in the region. It’s a great place to find unique, hard-to-find gifts and enjoy a variety of attractions. There’s an annual tree lighting, vintage horse-and-carriage rides, a bonfire to gather around while sipping hot chocolate, and Santa visits too. The holidays are also a great time for a ride on an old-fashioned steam locomotive via the Georgetown Loop Railroad which travels the canyon to another historic mining town, Silver Plume. “Santa’s Lighted Forest” is the special Christmas-themed train.
College Station, Texas hosts Santa’s Wonderland, a Texas-sized event as the largest Christmas experience in the state. The light-covered village features 40 acres of light displays and at Santa’s Town, kids can meet the man himself. Enjoy delicious food, hay rides, and live music, and pick up a special holiday gift. If you visit after dark, you can experience it all under the nightly snowfall. It runs from November 10 through December 30 in 2023.
The Biltmore Estate is magnificent at any time, but it’s extra special during the holidays. From early November through the first week of January, visitors enjoy Candlelight Christmas Evenings with the 8,000-acre estate and 250-room house decked out with holiday decor. There’s a massive decorated spruce tree and the front lawn and dozens of Christmas trees throughout the house, along with 30,000 holiday lights and more than 150 candles. Enjoy live performances of popular holiday songs, special holiday menus in the restaurants, and commemorative Christmas wine at the winery.
Not surprisingly, Bethlehem hosts a fabulous Christmas market, running on select days from November 17 to December 17 in 2023. A German-inspired market, hence the name, Christkindlmarkt, it’s all about classic old-world traditions with artisans and craftspeople like glassblowers who create special holiday treasures that make great gifts or decor for your home. There will be thousands of unique handmade offerings, including beautiful pieces by German ornament manufacturer Käthe Wohlfahrt. There will also be a new ice rink for memorable spins on the ice.
The village of Stone Mountain really comes to life during the holidays with over two million lights, live performances, tasty food and drink, and more. A parade will travel through the streets, starring Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus and there’s a 4D, shortened version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer complete with effects like snow falling from the ceiling and chilly winter breezes. You can also take a ride to the top of admission for a magnificent view of the Atlanta skyline and the city’s twinkling lights and tube down a snowy hill at Snow Mountain. It all takes place on select dates between November 11, 2023 and January 2, 2024.
Looking like a snow globe around Christmas, the Bavarian village of Leavenworth sits at the easter edge of the Cascade mountains, providing a magical wonderland during the holidays. Its Christmas Lighting Festival includes holiday characters, old-fashioned caroling, and an endless array of sparkling lights. There will also be live entertainment, crafts for kids, photos with Santa, Christmastown merchandise, gingerbread houses on display, and much more, and more. It takes place between November 24 and December 24 in 2023, although the light display stays up through February.
Bardstown is especially picturesque, so much so that it’s landed at the top of lists of the most beautiful small towns in the country. During the holiday season, which starts with Light Up Bardstown, it’s even more enchanting. The town’s Christmas tree and Main Street will be illuminated and in Christmas Corner, the kids can get their faces painted. Throughout December, My Old Kentucky Home, its famous 1818 mansion, will be spectacularly decked out and open for tours of its themed rooms, enjoyed while costumed performers sing your favorite holiday songs.
The town of North Pole near Fairbanks is at its best around Christmas time. While you can always drive down streets like Santa Claus Lane and Kris Kringle Drive, in December, the annual North Pole Christmas in Ice event is held in the winter ice park next to Santa Claus House. There will be spectacular Christmas-themed works of ice and a competition of ice sculptures created by local and international carvers. It also includes ice slides and twirlers along with lots of color to illuminate the dark nights of winter. Those short days and long, dark nights also mean you might get to marvel at the northern lights.
While there won’t be any snow falling from the clouds in Kissimmee, Gaylord Palms ICE! ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ offers an icy wonderland with larger-than-life ice sculptures created by master ice sculptors who spend weeks chipping away at two million pounds of ice. Taking place from November 17, 2023 through January 3, 2024, prepare to bundle up as the 20,000-square-foot space is kept at a constant 9 degrees Fahrenheit to preserve the chilly environment.
Alexandria was founded in 1749 by Scottish merchants and named after Scotsman John Alexander who owned the land that became Alexandria. The city continues to honor that history with its iconic Alexandria Scottish Christmas Walk Parade. A fun and festive time for all, it features dozens of Scottish clans dressed in colorful tartans who make their way through the streets of the picturesque Old Town alongside pipe and drum bands from across the region, terriers and hounds, and more.