Note: All travel is subject to frequently-changing governmental restrictions—please check federal, state, and local advisories before scheduling trips.
Does it make you mad when department stores flood their shelves with holiday merch the day after Halloween? Not us! We believe that the sooner the holiday season kicks off the better, and that’s because from coast to coast, the US becomes awash in festive activities—from glittering boat parades to drag queen spectaculars! So much so that we’ve created an advent calendar of holiday activities for travelers—one for each day in December leading up to Christmas.
The eight nights of Hanukkah (Nov 28–Dec 5) begin early this year and once again San Francisco celebrates the beloved Jewish holiday with its annual Bill Graham Menorah Project, a daily lighting of its giant menorah in Union Square (presented virtually, as well).
If you thought the Griswolds went overboard lighting up their home for the holidays, wait until you stroll the streets of Fayetteville, Arkansas. Lights of the Ozarks (Nov 20–Jan 1) features more than 400,00 downtown lights, plus holiday music and winter treats for all.
If you’re wine-swilling moves are boss, head to charming Walla Walla, Washington for Holiday Barrel Tasting Weekend (Dec 3–5). Think three days of wine, art, food, and music. Bonus: The annual Walla Walla Parade of Lights happens the same weekend!
Instead of a holly jolly Christmas, how about a Holly Folly (Dec 3–5) one in Provincetown, Massachusetts, featuring the Holly Folly Shop, Hop and Stroll, the Jingle Bell Run and Champagne Brunch, and a holiday performance from the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus?
All aboard! Sunny Tampa, Florida goes all in this season thanks to its Winter Village at Curtis Hixon Park (Nov 19–Jan 2) where visitors can order a festive beverage from Icicle Craft Kitchen, lace up for ice skating with views of the Tampa Riverwalk, snag gifts from the Winter Village Shops, or ride the Curtis Hixon Choo Choo.
Skip skiing and instead head to Christmas at Gaylord Rockies (Nov 19–Jan 2) in Aurora, Colorado. This resort dazzles with its over-the-top lobby, snow tubing, a gingerbread decorating corner, and its multi-sensory experience Mission: Save Christmas Featuring Elf.
The best place to ice skate in the country is… Honolulu, of course! Lace up at Winter Wishes (Dec 1–24) at the Hawaii Convention Center which gets the full holiday makeover. Also check out the Chinatown Winter Walk and 37th Annual Honolulu City Lights.
The city of North Pole, Alaska (near Fairbanks) is most famous for… wait for it… Christmas! Head to the Santa Claus House where visitors can shop Santa’s Workshop, snap a photo with Santa in his sleigh, and visit the Antler Academy—where the reindeer live.
Talk about holiday spirit: A Country Christmas (Nov 12–Jan 2) at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Resort in Nashville offers 3 million festive lights, carriage rides, carolers, pics with Santa, wintry activities at Pinetop Village, and an Oak Ridge Boys holiday show.
Can Disney’s Magic Kingdom get even more magical? Yeah, it can thanks to festive good times (beginning Nov 12) at the Orlando park including seasonal decor, limited-time treats, light projections, and a new event featuring character sightings and fireworks. Get your advance tickets here and earn Orbucks travel dollars to boot.
You’re brave right? If so, don some gay apparel (a red Speedo is preferable) and hit the streets for the Santa Speedo Run, a one-mile dash through metro Atlanta. If you’re even braver you can do the run in Chicago or Boston, where the event originated. Brrrrr!
Brace yourself. There’s a year-round holiday shop in Michigan that’s 1.5 times the size of a football field. Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth is the largest of its kind and offers everything from indoor and outdoor decor to nativity scenes, Santa suits, and more.
Heading to Sin City for a Christmas Veg-cation? If you’re feeling the need for speed, head to Glittering Lights (Nov 12–Jan 9) at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This drive-thru holiday spectacular features 3 million lights and 170 lighted trees spread across a 2.5-mile track.
While Houston‘s animals snooze, stroll a 125-foot tunnel of light, sit on an ice throne, and take a socially distanced photo with Santa at Zoo Lights (Nov 15–Jan 9) , an annual tradition at the Houston Zoo.
‘Tis the season to werk it! Join hosts Trinity the Tuck and Monét X Change in Tulsa for the gender-bending spectacular A Drag Queen Christmas. Not in Oklahomo? (Oh wait, it’s Oklahoma.) No problem; this show is touring throughout the holiday season.
Even in sunny SoCal, it’s best to don a sweater at night, especially while watching festively decorated yachts, boats, and kayaks sail along the harbor for the 113th annual Newport Beach Christmas Light Cruise (Dec 15–19), a beloved Orange County tradition.
How about a bird’s eye view of the holidays? After sipping wine and sampling snacks at Strawbale Winery in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, board a chopper for Twilight Flights, a helicopter ride over the city and the Falls Park Winter Wonderland. Reservations required.
Numerous cities have them, but who would turn down an Ugly Sweater Bar Crawl in the Blue Ridge brew capital of Asheville, North Carolina? Admission includes a holiday tee, discounted drink prices, a digital map of the crawl, and the Ugly Sweater After Party.
Head to historic Olvera Street in Los Angeles, and join the city’s vibrant Latino community for Las Posadas (Dec 16–24), a nine-night celebration of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem that features bilingual caroling, piñatas, and live entertainment.
Need a skull ornament atop your tree or tooth-shaped earrings for that special someone? Head over the Blue Genie Art Bazaar (Nov 19–Dec 24) an annual holiday fixture in Austin, Texas, and home to all kinds of weird and wonderful merch crafted by local artisans.
Definitely more naughty than nice is the Allways Lounge & Theatre, a queer cabaret space tucked away in the Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans. Strap yourself in for one night only for All I Want for XXXmas is You: A Tribute to Mariah Carey (in drag, of course).
Ever dreamed of dashing through the snow past thousands of wild elk? Pack on the layers for Sleigh Rides on the National Elk Refuge (Dec 14-23, and through spring) in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and wave to hundreds of grazing elk, plus coyotes, foxes, bison, and more.
Shopping for last-minute gifts? Look no further than Christkindlmarket (Nov 19-Dec 24), an annual Chicago tradition inspired by the city’s German immigrants and featuring grilled brats, spiced wine, festive music, and vendors from Germany hawking handcrafted Christmas ornaments.
Wonder if Santa Claus hangs out in Santa Fe? If you’re spending the holidays in New Mexico, head to the Spanish-tinged capital for its annual Christmas Eve Farolito Walk in which gallery-lined Canyon Road is lit with thousands of farolitos—aka glowing lanterns.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year… in NYC. Head to Midtown to view the iconic Rockefeller Christmas Tree, stroll past the ornate display windows at Bloomie’s, Macy’s and Sax, then subway it over to Brooklyn to explore the dazzling Dyker Heights Holiday Lights.
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