It’s time to pull out your sense of whimsy and all the warm clothes because it’s Winter Wonderland season! Our carefully curated list includes spots where you’ll hear the ring of sleigh bells, wander down lanes full of glistening snow and see a few thousand sparkling Christmas lights. Whether you’re looking for a Santa-extravaganza, a beachside holiday getaway or slopes that boast the freshest powder around, you’re sure to find a new Christmas hot spot you and the kids won’t want to miss. Scroll down to see them all.
Christmas in Newport - Newport, RI
This seaside town goes all out for the season, stringing lights along the harbor and wharves, trimming historic Victorian houses with wreaths and window candles. The real focus of this winter destination, though, is goodwill toward others. What started back in 1971 has turned into a whole-town extravaganza featuring holiday-themed events and activities every day of December. Each event fits into one of two criteria—being free to the public or benefiting a charity. The town raises thousands of dollars each year, and visitors get to enjoy everything from the tree lighting (on Dec. 1st) to walking tours, museum experiences, teas, and even musical programs, any day of the week. Kid-friendly highlights include the Reindeer Party and meeting Santa.
Dates: Dec. 1-31, 2019
Jekyll Island Resort Club - Jekyll Island, GA
If your holiday wish list includes island time, Jekyll Island should be on your list. Its sunny beaches, warm weather and historic charm fit the bill perfectly. The holiday packages at Jekyll Island Resort Club make finding the balance between hunkering down at a lush resort and exploring the town it’s in easy. All month long, families can take full advantage of the resort’s special events. How about breakfast with the Grinch? Or a holiday movie night? A must-do event is Christmas Twilight Tour. Whether you sign up for the resort’s outstanding holiday happenings or venture out to explore the historic island, you won’t be disappointed.
Dates: Nov 30- Jan 1, 2020
Santa Claus, IN
If your little ones are questioning the existence of Santa, it's time to get out the 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. 20–Dec. 2019
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. Hold onto your Santa hats!
Dates: Nov. 2-Dec. 30, 2019
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. There's the mailroom, 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 and will score a digital photo 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. 15-Dec. 24, 2019
Koziar’s Christmas Village – Bernville, PA
Imagine historic houses paired with over a million twinkling lights as a backdrop to this winter destination that’s drawn locals and out-of-state visitors for over 70 years. If you visit, expect lots of holiday cheer, dazzling light displays, and run-ins with various Christmas-themed characters that’ll keep the kids busy and wide-eyed as you wander.
Favorite stops to grab a cup of cocoa or warm up after you’ve made the lake loop include: Santa’s Post Office, the old fire station and the old fashioned toy Shoppe. Remember to snag a pic with Santa and Mrs. Claus while you’re there too. Bundle up to experience this inventive village on the lake!
Dates: Nov. 2- Jan. 1, 2020
Brasada Ranch - Bend, OR
Located just outside winter wonderland city Bend, Oregon, Brasada Ranch will be trimming the trees and putting their best Christmas foot forward to elevate their already amazing family game. In addition to their everyday perks, like horseback riding, indoor sports and babysitting services, December’s resort activities will include family favorites like decorating ornaments, stockings and gingerbread houses; story time with one of Santa’s favorite elves, and heading out on a holiday horseshoe hunt (just to name a few). It’s easy to handpick a winter weekend to make your family wishes come true. Book soon to get the weekend you want at this Pacific Northwest favorite.
Dates: Dec. 14-26, 2019
Christmas Town, U.S.A. - McAdenville, NC
No holiday is complete without visiting Christmas Town, U.S.A. in December. The town of McAdenville, North Carolina goes all out during the holidays, starting with a spectacular tree lighting on Dec. 2. From there, it’s fully-lit houses (over 160 at last count) and the historic McAden Mills Bells Tower playing holiday classics for all to hear, as visitors wander through the neighborhoods to enjoy display after display. In the center of town, you’ll find over 250 evergreens wearing more than half a million lights to light the lovely walking path that goes around the lake.
Don't miss special events like the Yule Log Ceremony (Dec. 12) and the parade that follows. Psst … we hear Santa will be making a special appearance at the end of the route to greet his biggest (and smallest) fans.
Dec. 2-Dec 26, 2019
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 in order to 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. 27, 2019-Jan. 1, 2020
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 holiday packages are an easy way to stay at this impressive resort, and they include cute extras like family scavenger hunts, poolside breakfasts, a personalized Christmas gift and a family photo opp from the Big Cedar Photography Studio.
Dates: Nov.-2 Dec. 31, 2019
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. 20,2019-Jan. 2, 2020
Radio City Christmas Spectacular - 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.
Dates: Nov. 8,2019- Jan.1, 2020
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. See our insider's guide to this charming Texas Hill Country city here.
Dates: Nov. 22, 2019-Jan. 5, 2020
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 sunny skating hot spot is the inspiration for the resort's Skating by the Sea holiday packages that include perks like outdoor s'mores and fire pits, music and rink-side eats while you skate and views that you simply can't find anywhere else.
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 lighting of the menorah in The Del’s lobby to celebrate the eight nights of Chanukah.
Dates: Nov. 22, 2019-Jan. 5, 2020
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, 2019
60th Annual Georgetown Christmas Market - Georgetown, CO
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.
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: Dec. 7 & 8, 15 & 16, 2019
Christmas by the Sea - Ogunquit, ME
For the past 33 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. 13-15, 2019
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. 8-18, 2019
Smuggler's Resort - Jeffersonville, VT
Ski bums of all ages can carve out a new holiday tradition on the slopes of Smugglers’ Notch. When you book a FamilyFest package, 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. Plus, saving around $400 on regular pricing is an early Christmas gift for parents. 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 6-25th, 2019
Skypark at Santa’s Village - Skyforest, CA
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 both Santa and 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 for you. 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.
—Allison Sutcliffe & Emily Meyers