Everyone has their traditions each year for the holidays and if you’re like most Americans, that includes a lot of travel time to see family. But this year, my husband and I decided to do things a little differently. Instead of heading home to Richmond for Christmas, we’re packing up the kiddos and taking a little trip to a ski lodge – just the four of us. With all the pressure and stress of a hectic work life, and the chaos of large, boisterous family gatherings, we just need some decompression time. And don’t get me wrong – there’s a lot of love there. But this year, it’s time for a break.

And this got me thinking.  How many people seek out the same thing? The magic twinkling lights along tiny shops and the guaranteed white Christmas? And the better question is how many places out there can really deliver this experience? I was definitely surprised by the answer. So many stellar places to visit to have a little holiday magic….

Aspen, Colorado

It’s no wonder Aspen is such a hit with holiday travelers, and not just for the ski and snowboarding crowd. After hitting the slopes, stop into The Little Nell for what is arguably said to be the best cup of hot cocoa before taking a stroll along the boutique shops to pick up a last minute gift or two. Carolers are often found in the Hotel Jerome to get you in the holiday spirit, and you can also check the Chamber of Commerce, which schedules quite a few holiday events – most of them free to the public.


Woodstock, Vermont

Like straight out of a Christmas card, Woodstock, Vermont creates that warm-hearted charming experience of a welcoming small-town of just 3,000. On its annual Woodstock Wassail Weekend, visitors will be serenaded by a parade of carolers as they gather to light the town tree and Yule log. Plus those historic homes open to the public, offering a peek inside – the cherry on top for those history and architecture buffs.


Naples, Florida

Clearly, the snow birds who migrated south have been dreaming of a white Christmas. Merry gazers will find the Naples official holiday tree, as well as an evening manmade snow fall in the evenings during Thanksgiving week. From there, the holiday experience includes shopping for loved ones in the boutique shops bedecked in twinkle lights with holiday window displays that compete in holiday decorating contests. There’s also a Christmas parade with Santa and Mrs. Claus.

On Naples Bay, revelers can find their favorite spot in a local restaurant and watch pontoons, speed boats, crabbers, you name it, all decked out in colorful and bright lights in a joyful parade. The Ritz-Carlton Naples also has a teddy bear tea with Santa (ummm…adorable!), and has a giant life-size gingerbread house. While it’s not what you would first think of as a typical cold, snowy holiday town, Naples competes with full holiday cheer.


Williamsburg, Virginia

Rich in history, Williamsburg offers a holiday experience steeped in Colonial traditions. From settlement era dress and hats to fife and drum processions to chasing wild turkeys to caroling by torchlight…even the people watching is obviously quite the experience. The big event for the holidays in Williamsburg is the Grand Illumination on December 3, during which fireworks and and a gun salute display as well as musical performances. And if the colonist traditions aren’t your style, check out Busch Gardens’ Christmastown for a theme park version of a mini European holiday experience tour.


La Quinta Corporation

Park City, Utah

Park City‘s holiday vibe is fun and eclectic, with a focus on ski slope light shows and Santa appearances. And I’m not talking about cheesy appearances in the ski lodge. It’s become a serious tradition here for the big resorts like Deer Valley Resort to host some seriously spectacular torchlight parades flanking Santa as he goes on a legit ski run down the snowy mountain. These events usually have fantastic light shows with holiday music, and are completely free to the public. Park City also hosts the Electric Parade, where a bevy of cars, trucks, trolleys, and bikes parade down Historic Main Street decked out in holiday lights as onlookers sip hot cocoa.

Deer Valley Resort

New York City

Of Course! How could the big apple not be on this list?! I have a separate article on the best  holiday lights in NYC – there are some great spots, but in the big city, there are so many great holiday events within reach. Plus, there are so many hotels, parks, and buildings that put out the lights that really, wherever you go, you feel the holiday spirit. There’s the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, the Bryant Park Winter Village (offering both a Christmas market and skating rink), the Santa Suit 5K for the avid runners, and the famous Radio City Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular. But even just walking through snowy Central Park and looking at all the twinkle lights of the surrounding city has a bit of a magical feel. I mean, it was good enough for MaCaulay Culkin, right?


Monterey, California

This California coastal town is jam packed with festive activities to get you and your loves ones in the holiday spirit. To kick the Christmas season off, Santa sleighs in with his reindeer to Cannery Row for the tree lighting. Kids get to take selfies with Santa, his reindeer, and experience the carolers and balloon artists. There is also a parade of lights including marching bands, floats, and classic cars.

But the real holiday event that sets Monterey apart is the Christmas at the Inns. Each day the bed and breakfasts and inns of Pacific Grove as well as Carmel-by-the-Sea open their doors to welcome guests into their cozy homesteads, including live entertainment and holiday fare. Similarly, Christmas in the Adobes offers revelers a chance to celebrate Christmas in the style of the 19th century. 20 Adobes are decked out in lights, offering live entertainment, 19th century era garb, and provisions. And if that’s not enough, take a 2.5 hour trip to the Hearst Castle for a serious holiday experience with a tour of media mogul Mr. William Randolph Hearst’s former home is adorned with holiday décor.


Stockbridge, Massachusetts

Norman Rockwell fans, classic car fans, and small town lovers, this one is for you. The town that made Norman Rockwell a famous name in the art world (or was it Norman Rockwell that made this town pseudo famous?) puts on quite a painting worthy Christmas each year. The small town of Stockbridge pays tribute to the artist with a weekend celebration of a classic vintage Christmas that could very well be taken straight from the painting of a Rockwell. From classic cars to carolers, from festive lights to horse drawn carriages, from Santa’s visit to holiday fare, it’s all included as the quintessential small town Christmas depicted by Norman. A perfect little weekend holiday getaway.

Norman Rockwell; Pinterest

Orlando, Florida

For those with small children or those who just have a love for all things magical Disney, there is always sunny Orlando, Florida. The temperature is warmer, and the experience is almost guaranteed to be very entertaining. Disney World puts on Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, featuring a festive parade as well as a holiday themed fireworks show as well as a majestic man made snowfall on Main Street. And really, isn’t that the best of both worlds? It snows, but you aren’t freezing, and you don’t have to shovel anything. Epcot hosts the International Festival of Holidays, where you get to experience how the holidays are spent (and tasted!) around the world.  The castle is all lit up in thousands of twinkle lights, and as the sun sets, and the fireworks begin, it really does seem like a magical Christmas.



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  1. Christina A. Reply

    I love that list–some really great ideas! <3 I'm pretty partial to Williamsburg myself!

  2. Visiting New York city is definitely on my bucket list. Visiting New York during the holidays would be very amazing!

  3. I would add Asheville, NC to see the Biltmore decorated for the holidays.

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