There’s nothing like the joy of spending the holidays at home surrounded by friends and family, but a holiday vacation discovering local seasonal traditions and festivities comes in at a pretty close second. From ice skating and light displays to holiday markets and more, these are the best holiday vacation destinations where you can bet on unforgettable holiday experiences.
Houston’s mild temperatures are ideal for a spin around Discovery Green’s ice rink or strolling through Magical Winter Lights, a festival with carnival rides, acrobatic performances and eight themed sections brought to life with lanterns. For a true Houston original, check out Rudolph’s Lightshow Drive-thru or celebrate the holidays with the Nutcracker at the Houston Ballet.
Eight thousand luminaria bags transform the Desert Botanical Garden into the Las Noches de las Luminarias Festival, featuring musicians, warm drinks and yummy gourmet treats. Party it up at Alice Cooper’s Annual Christmas Pudding; its stage has seen rock legends such as KISS and Joan Jett. Then learn about American Indian culture with live music, dance and art during the annual Holidays at the Heard.
LA lets you live out all your Christmas fantasies, starting at the Descanso Gardens Enchanted Forest of Lights, where atmospheric installations immerse you in a Christmas fairytale. Then enjoy the Marina del Rey Holiday Boat Parade and fireworks show, or watch holiday favorites at nightly outdoor movie screenings hosted by Yuletide Cinemaland, complete with onsite food trucks selling movie night snacks, hot chocolate and mulled wine.
If a white Christmas is on your wishlist, you’ll likely find it in Denver. The first stop is the German-inspired Christkindlmarket to fill up on glühwein, knödel and Viennese apple strudel while shopping for crafted artisan gifts, followed by the Après Ski Holiday Market at the trendy Dairy Blocks. For an outdoor holiday adventure, head to Echo Mountain for its annual Tubing with Santa event.
Play in Santa's Enchanted Forest, billed as the world’s largest holiday theme park, featuring more than 100 rides, events and activities. Grab a picnic basket for the New World Symphony during outdoor WALLCAST concerts at SoundScape Park. Visit Jungle Island, immersed in Miami’s tropical landscape teeming with exotic animals, for special holiday exhibits and events.
National Geographic named Callaway Gardens’ Fantasy in Lights as one of the best 10 Christmas light displays in the world. And Atlanta’s World of Illumination is said to be the world’s largest drive-thru animated light show. Don’t miss the Chinese Lantern Festival at the city’s zoo and Margaritaville’s Lakeside Lights Spectacular, famous for its 575-foot-long snow tube slide and carnival rides.
Winterland at Gallagher is a standout, as it lets you skate inside of Wrigley Field. Discover global holiday traditions at the Museum of Science and Industry’s Christmas Around the World event. Take in a show at the Lookingglass Theatre for Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” or the Chicago Children’s Theatre’s production of the Beatrix Potter Holiday Tea Party.
Stop by Baltimore’s “Miracle on 34th Street'' tradition in Hampden, a charming neighborhood of row houses decked out in holiday displays. Learn about local history on the Holly Jolly Trolley touring Harbor East, Fells Point and downtown Baltimore. Stroll (or eat) through a candy-themed festival at Center Plaza, then head to Banneker-Douglass Museum in Annapolis to take part in the Annual Kwanzaa Celebration.
Multiple holiday events across Charlotte and neighboring areas make this city an ideal family holiday destination. Board the Polar Express™ for the North Pole via the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, where dancing chefs serve cookies and hot chocolate before Santa makes an appearance to hand out gifts. Then take the kids to Clara’s Trip: A Cirque & Dance Nutcracker Story at the Booth Playhouse at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center for a contemporary take on the Christmas classic.
Show some love at the Made in Philadelphia Holiday Market, supporting local artisans and crafters while checking off your Christmas shopping list. Then kick back with seasonal fireside cocktails at Rothman Cabin, a ski-inspired chalet. Tee off at Chilly Philly Mini Golf, part of Winter in Franklin Square. Stick around for the spectacular Rivers Casino New Year’s Eve Fireworks on the Waterfront.
Get into the holiday spirit at Grotto’s Festival of Lights, said to be the largest Christmas choral festival in the world, with more than 160 nightly holiday concerts throughout the season. Watch decorated boats travel the Columbia River and Willamette River during the Christmas Ships Parade. Or ring in the holidays at the majestic Pittock Mansion to the festive sounds of the “Music Makes the Season” exhibit.
Get a little weird this holiday with a trip to Austin. Stop by Armadillo Christmas Bazaar for music, art, drinks and shopping. Then head to the Eleanor for Miracle on 5th Street, a wacky Christmas-themed pop-up bar. Join Alamo Drafthouse’s holiday movie parties; they include sing-alongs and themed food menus. Go out in style at Mozart’s Coffee during the annual Christmas Light Show, which features a silent disco party this year.
When it comes to unique holiday experiences, this small town in Utah packs a punch. They begin at the Park City Main Street Historic District with nine interactive life-sized snow globes and continue at Deer Valley’s annual Torchlight Parade, which sees the resort’s Synchronized Ski Team, outfitted with Christmas lights and torches, illuminate the mountains for a one-of-a-kind performance. Park City Mountain Resort also hosts a merry affair, Silver Sky Nights, with treats, live music and fireworks. End your trip soaking at Homestead Crater — a geothermal hot spring inside a gaping limestone rock.
Don’t stop: Fly direct, as layovers are opportunities for delays.
Pack right: Leave space in your luggage if you plan to do holiday shopping.
Check hours: Some non-festive sights on your holiday travel destinations list may be closed.
If Chicago or Denver are on your list, choose Avail car sharing to get to your holiday travel destination stress-free. You’ll avoid the seasonal rush at car rental counters with express check-in at our neighborhood locations and get on your way in minutes. You’ll get a clean, reliable car with 24/7 roadside assistance and Allstate insurance at no extra cost so you can enjoy your trip with peace of mind.