As winter break approaches, lights begin to line houses, and parents start searching for any excuse to get out of the office; it’s starting to feel like that extra special merry time of year. From desert destinations to colder communities, we are your one stop shop for holiday travel inspiration. These family-friendly towns will make you feel right at home, or give you the ultimate city slicker experience you’ve been searching for. Whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, New Years or anything else in between, these magical holiday destinations are sure to reignite the spirit of family this winter.
North Pole, Alaska
If your kids say they’re too old to believe in Santa Claus, a visit to North Pole is in order. There’s nothing like reliving your childhood and tapping back into your imagination at this year-round holiday extravaganza. Only a 15 minute drive out of Fairbanks, North Pole comes alive with the spirit of family every winter season. Ice sculptors from around the world travel to participate in the annual Christmas in Ice Contest. The Winter Festival is a kid favorite with breathtaking fireworks, a candle-lighting celebration and the crowning of the King and Queen of North Pole. Stop by the North Pole Post Office to see elves hard at work responding to the annual 400,000 letters addressed to Santa. Take some time out of the chilly Alaska winter wilderness at some of the world-renowned restaurants in town, some of which have been featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”. Whatever you decide to do in North Pole, don’t forget to keep your eyes to the sky for the Aurora Borealis Northern Lights!
For an escape from the cold and snow, say aloha to Kauai this holiday season. This Hawaiian island is an outdoor enthusiasts dream with nine distinct wilderness preserves, and even though the weather may not match the season, there are plenty of winter adventures in store. Surf with Santa at the 22nd annual Kauai Festival of Lights, a free family photo op that teaches you about the culture of the island and the true meaning of togetherness. Dance away Thanksgiving dinner at the Christmas Luau at Kamokila Village, taste the diverse flavors of the islands at Friday Art Night or unwind with a live ukulele performance by the ocean. For an explosive end to the year, go to the famous Poipu Beach Park for a free family-friendly movie followed by the annual New Year’s Eve Fireworks Celebration. If this sounds like your kind of holiday getaway, make sure to book early! December is one of the busiest times on the island. Hau’oli Makahiki Hou!
San Francisco, California
Experience the uniquely Northern Californian charm of San Francisco during the winter. This bustling metropolis is jam packed with kid-friendly things to visit, eat and do. Stop by Fisherman’s Wharf for fresh seafood, decadent chocolate and the magical tree-lighting ceremony. If you love a good show, plan a concert trip to the San Francisco Symphony to hear award-winning artists showcasing holiday favorites. Try not to overload on sugar at the towering gingerbread houses decked out with lights, ornaments and tasty treats on Nob Hill. Snow may be scarce in the California climate, but you can still ice skate! The Embarcadero Center hosts an annual carnival where you can skate and slide to your heart’s content. Walk through the famous Haight and Ashbury neighborhood and see if you can spot psychedelic Santa, a local favorite. If it’s not too chilly, trek across the Golden Gate Bridge for a once in a lifetime view of the bay. Don’t forget a pair of good walking shoes.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Have an extra special holiday season at Jackson Ho-ho-hole in Wyoming. This tiny town is one of the best vacation destinations, and their seemingly endless winter activities explain why. Snuggled in the Grand Teton National Park, you and your family can get up close and personal with wildlife at the National Elk Refuge while enjoying a horse-drawn sleigh ride. Ski the slopes with Santa and his reindeer on Christmas in Jackson Town Square, practice your best belly laugh with a musical dinner theatre show at the Jackson Play House and warm up by the fire with free hot cocoa. Start your new year off with a bang with Jackson’s mountain torchlight parade, a special Glow Worm parade for kids and an awe-inspiring fireworks display to wrap up the festivities. With plenty of special discounts going on, you’re sure to find something to brag about when you get home.
Taos, New Mexico
For a December desert destination, plan a visit to Taos, New Mexico. The town celebrates Yuletide in Taos from Thanksgiving to New Years, giving you plenty of time to take advantage of these unique celebrations. Take a walking tour of the candle-lit farolitos (small paper lanterns) amongst the falling snow, a tried and true New Mexican tradition. Visit the annual Yuletide Arts and Crafts fair or twirl the night away at the Twirl Aglow Party, a kid and family favorite. Purchase your own handmade art at the TaosFolk famous pop-up store, witness the 31st annual tree lighting in the town plaza and listen to local stories under the stars at the Lighting of Ledoux. For all you animal lovers out there, say hello to Santa Paws, a Christmas benefit featuring the Stray Hearts Animal Shelter. With Native American and Latino influences, holidays in New Mexico are a uniquely cultural experience that we encourage you to try at least once – and Taos is definitely the place to be.
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston redefines the true taste of southern charm, and the winter season is no exception. Trek through three miles of over 2 million shimmering lights at James Island County Park’s Holiday Festival of Lights. This tradition brings local landmarks to life and is open every evening, rain or shine, through January 1st, 2019. Explore the Winter Wonderland, roast marshmallows, ride the carousel or go on a train ride through the park. Laugh the stress of the season away with the Charleston Christmas Special, sample delicacies at Wine Under the Oaks, or step back in time with the Family Yuletide in the Stable Yards. For more interactive fun, be a part of your own dinner show with We Three Thieves, where audience members take on characters at a fancy dinner party. For the perfect family-friendly way to bring in the new year, attend the Happy New Year, Charleston in Marion Square. The Holy City sure knows how to celebrate the holy holidays.
You may already know better than to discuss politics at Thanksgiving dinner, but that doesn’t mean you can’t visit our nation’s capital this holiday season. Washington D.C. in December is truly magical, as there are a multitude of celebratory light displays across the city. Cross visiting the National Christmas Tree off your bucket list, and see if you can count all 56 handmade ornaments representing the US states and territories. Visit in time for the lighting of the National Menorah on December 2nd, and indulge on some free latkes and hot donuts. Reconnect with your wild side at the Smithsonian ZooLights. For adults, mark your calendars for BrewLights, an immersive craft brew featured experience. You’d be a grinch if you missed Georgetown GLOW, a breathtaking light-art exhibition in D.C.’s most historic neighborhood. The Downtown Holiday Market is worth multiple trips, as you just have to try all the food, drinks, and desserts the vendors offer. D.C. is always teeming with people, but you could be teeming with holiday spirit.
New York, New York
No one celebrates the holidays like New York, New York. Instead of watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV this year, plan a trip with you and your little ones to get all of what this city has to offer. Light the world’s largest Hanukkah Menorahs to kick off the Jewish Festival of Lights at the Plaza Hotel. Stop by the Rockefeller Center for the famous Christmas Tree lighting or skate away the day at The Rink at Rockefeller. Embrace the diversity of the city with the Brooklyn Nutcracker, a dance genre bonanza that adds a twist to the classic tale. NYC is full of the world’s best and brightest, and New Year’s Eve is no exception. Bring in 2019 with family and fun at the Times Square Ball Drop, but don’t forget to bundle up for the bitter cold. For a fantastical fireworks display, line up along Prospect Park’s West Drive for the best view of the Grand Army Plaza Fireworks Display.