It’s hard to resist the nostalgia of the holidays, and when it comes to family outings, you can’t beat a mix of old-time charm and high-end glitz. We’re talking winter wonderlands offering dazzling light displays, ice rinks, seasonal tunes, festive merrymaking, sweet treats and that all important meet and greet with the main man, Santa. Our top picks from all over the country are just perfect for a magical holiday getaway—especially before the kids get too big. See them all below.
Santa Claus, IN
If your little ones are questioning the existence of Santa, it's time to get out your GPS. In Indiana, there's a town named after the magical gift-giving Christmas visitor, and as you'd imagine, the folks there take the town's namesake pretty seriously.
There's a Santa Claus Museum which tells the story of the town, there's Santa’s Candy Castle for sweet treats and a chance to log on to the North Pole Network and chat with an elf. In December there are roasted chestnuts, a Santa parade, a light display and even dinner with Santa! Check the schedule for details and don’t miss the Santa Claus Christmas Store, filled with holiday collectibles and a thrill-seeking ride at the year-round Holiday World Theme Park.
Dates: Nov. 22–Dec. 2018
Silver Dollar City - Branson, MO
There's no shortage of seasonal entertainment at Silver Dollar City. The 1880's-style theme park offers a blend of old-time celebrations with dizzying light displays that will shine in your memory for decades. The place is decked out for the holidays with glittering lights in the shapes of angels, animated reindeers, moving train carriages, stars, snowflakes and a giant tree.
As well as the rides, there's Rudolf's Christmas Town, where kids can meet Rudolf, play games and decorate cookies. There are seasonal musical productions and a living nativity as well as an interactive show for kids featuring a 12-foot singing Christmas tree. In Santa Claus Lane, kids meet the man himself. And if those weren't thrills enough, a new roller coaster's opened this year called Time Traveler that claims to be the world's fastest, steepest and tallest complete circuit spinning roller coaster. Hold onto your Santa hats!
Dates: Nov. 3-Dec. 30, 2018
North Pole Experience - Flagstaff, AZ
Take your little elf on a journey to the North Pole with the North Pole Experience in Flagstaff. Families board a trolly to travel through a magic portal into Santa's woodland workshop among towering pine trees. Santa's warehouse is a hands-on experience where families work alongside elves to build toys and learn all Santa's secrets.
There's the mail room, the sleigh hangar, a mission control center, radar systems, access to the factory floor, a trip to Elf University, a visit with Mrs. Claus, plus cookies and snowman soup in the bakery. Each child then gets to meet Santa himself, plus a digital photo for the family and a teddy bear to take home. The host hotel is the Little America but The North Pole Experience works with many area hotels to accommodate families. Come for the holiday cheer, but stay for the extra winter amenities Flagstaff has to offer, like skiing, and exploring the Grand Canyon.
Dates: Nov. 16-Dec. 28, 2018
Colonial Williamsburg - Williamsburg, VA
People travel from all over the country to celebrate the holidays in Colonial Williamsburg. The living history museum is known for going all out in the winter to dial back the clock and create memorable holiday moments from the past—in the present.
There's costumes, merrymaking and messages of hope as well as fireworks and historic events. Tour the city with a knowledgeable guide and experience the Christmastide season, listen to traditional tribal stories during Midwinter Story Time or lace up your skates and take your little ones for a twirl at Liberty’s Ice Pavilion. The options are endless. Get the jingle on them all before you plan your trip!
Dates: Nov. 9-Dec. 30, 2018
Big Cedar Lodge - Ridgedale, MO
Tucked away in the Ozark Mountains is a luxe resort that pulls out all the stops during the holiday season. The cozy log cabins come with their very own Christmas tree and elf visits. Kid-friendly activities abound, there's the Sleigh Bell Scurry (a holiday-themed scavenger hunt), an ice skating rink, sing-a-longs, storytelling and cooking with Mrs. Claus, the Great Gingerbread Build-Off contest, and the 12 Days of Christmas: daily activities that countdown until the big day!
Most impressive is the larger-than-life Gingerbread Village, with tiny houses, trees, and other details that mimic resort sites. The Happy Holidays Family Package includes a choice of lodging (cabin or main lodge), family pictures, Christmas goodies, a take-home ornament, and all the other trimmings.
Dates: Nov.- Dec. 2018
Snowfest - Park City, UT
There's plenty of good cheer to be had in snowy Park City and the arrival of Santa by chairlift in early December kicks off the festive celebrations. Bring the little ones to see his descent into town on the historic Town Lift, (decked out with lights) and enjoy hot cocoa and a photo with the big man. A week later, Snowfest gets underway with 16 days packed with live music and activities, including ice sculptures, roasted s’mores, and the reappearance of Santa.
Many activities are free including the annual torchlight parade on Christmas Eve which heralds Santa's arrival during his big night of gift giving. Accommodation is available through Vail Resorts.
Dates: Dec. 15-Jan. 6, 2019
Radio City Christmas Spectacutlar - New York City, NY
If there's a show that will make even a Grinch go gooey for the holidays, it's the Rockettes in New York City. Manhattan manages to have a magic all its own in the winter and the show that celebrates it all is the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Little ones get to see live animals on stage, festive musical numbers, high-kicking Rockettes dressed as toy soldiers, and yes, the 3D arrival of Santa before he magically steps on stage! There's so much joyful sparkle, you'll be lit up inside for days! For other fun ideas for families in New York, see our itinerary for three perfect days in the city here.
Hilton Hotels are offering holiday packages to the Big Apple which include discounts to the Rockettes and Dr. Seuss' The Grinch as well as other perks.
Dates: Nov. 9- Jan.1, 2019
Merry Weihnachten, y’all! Mix an old world German Christmas with warm Texas hospitality, and you get Christmastime in Fredericksburg. The light-filled Marktplatz has a hand-carved, festive, wooden centerpiece and there are events like the annual Tannenbaum Ball, along with vintage-style shops filled with one-of-a-kind treasures.
The kids will love the outdoor ice rink, the Light and Nicht Christmas Parade, seasonal theater and live music.
Dates: Nov. 23-Jan. 6th, 2019
Hotel Del Coronado - Coronado, CA
Between Thanksgiving and the New Year, the lawn at San Diego's Hotel del Coronado transforms into a beautiful beachfront ice rink. This year, gold medalist Tara Lipinski will be on the ice on Saturday, December 15th. There are 16 fire pits and various lounges around the rink where you can sip on cocoa or spiked coffee.
For little ones, there's plenty of festive entertainment including stocking and story events, brunch with Santa, Victorian tea parties, holiday-infused bonfires and movies on the beach plus a lighting of the menorah in The Del’s lobby to celebrate the eight nights of Chanukah.
Dates: Nov. 22-Jan. 1, 2019
Canyon Road Farolito Walk - Santa Fe, NM
On Christmas Eve, internationally famed Canyon Road blossoms in candlelight during this beloved annual celebration. The adobe-gallery lined road is decorated with thousands of farolito—homemade candle lanterns and luminarias—or small bonfires. See exceptional works of art inside century-old adobes, enjoy the comforting hot chocolate, cider and traditional biscochitos in the art galleries, and keep warm singing carols by the luminarias along the way.
Date: Dec. 24, 2018
58th Annual Georgetown Christmas Market
For two weekends, this historic town nestled in the snowy mountains of Colorado transforms into a Victorian Christmas village. As you wander along the snowy streets, expect to find chestnuts roasting on open fires, carolers dressed in Victorian costume and horse-drawn carriages clopping through the quaint downtown.
And don’t forget special appearances by St. Nicolas, plus a daily St. Lucia procession for all to enjoy. Docents are also on hand to take families through tours of the town’s two historic hotels, the Hamil House and Hotel de Paris, as well as answer questions about some of the other well-known landmarks you’ll find here. It’s a throwback holiday experience you won’t soon forget!
Dates: Sat. Dec. 1 to Sun. Dec. 9, 2018
Christmas by the Sea - Ogunquit, ME
For the past 30 years, this tiny hamlet by the sea has welcomed thousands of visitors on the second weekend in December for its Christmas by the Sea celebration. The event starts with the city tree lighting, complete with cookies and carolers, on Friday. Over the next couple of days, the celebration is filled with all sorts of fun: crafts for kids, Christmas parade, hayrides, mulled cider and wine tasting, fireworks, beach bonfires, and, for those who dare—a polar bear plunge!
Dates: Dec. 7-9, 2018
A Victorian Christmas - Nevada City , CA
Horse-drawn carriages? Check. Carolers caroling? Check. Plenty of candy canes and other holiday goodies? Check! No one does a Victorian Christmas Celebration like Nevada City, a small California town nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. During the month of December, the downtown streets are blocked to through traffic and open to bustling holiday activities: jugglers, carolers, food vendors and more. There’s a photo op with Santa at the end of Broad Street, the Nevada City Craft Fair for holiday shopping and even chestnuts roasting over an open fire. Find out more from our Insider’s Guide here.
Dates: Dec. 9-23, 2018
Holiday Magic at Smuggler's Resort - Jeffersonville, VT
Ski bums of all ages can carve out a new holiday tradition on the slopes of Smugglers’ Notch. And the resort’s December Holiday Magic Getaway package is the way to do it. When you book between Dec. 8 & 25, you can add all kinds of reindeer games (like the Candy Cane Scramble, Smuggs Winter Carnival, a Cookie party and more!) to your time on the slopes. Add in extra special events on the winter solstice (think: fire and drum performers) and Christmas Eve (Santa arrives in the Torchlight parade, followed by a fireworks display) and you’ve got a pretty magical experience no matter when you travel.
Dates: Dec 7-25th, 2018
Skypark at Santa’s Village - Skyforest, CA
SkyPark at Santa’s Village You don’t have to leave the country to pay a visit to the North Pole, in fact, you don’t even have to leave Southern California. Just outside of Lake Arrowhead you’ll find a winter wonderland where Santa and plenty of fun in the snow await. If your idea of a snow day is not so much skiing and sledding, as it is simply playing, then this is the place to be. Besides the snow itself, your kids will be filled with winter wonder over the twinkling beauty of the village and, of course, the big man himself, Santa. If you need a break from stomping around in the snow, there is also ice skating, a train ride, and plenty of yuletide-themed festivities. Tickets are $49 for kids 4-12, and $59 for adults. Kids 3 and under and adults 80 and over are free, in case you want to bring the grandparents along too. “Cool” tip: Call ahead before you make your trek to ensure that there is snow on the ground. Skypark at Santa’s Village 28950 Highway 18 Skyforest 909-744-9373 Online: skyparksantasvillage.com photo: Skypark at Santa's Village
—Emily Meyers & Allison Sutcliffe