Do you travel over the holidays? I’m not talking about going to visit family, but traveling for travel’s sake. Even if I’ve been to a destination before, I’ve discovered that I truly love to visit again over the Christmas season. This year, I’m sharing the top U.S. Christmas destinations, both near and far.
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What’s in My Bag – Holiday Travel Edition?
Before diving into the top U.S. Christmas destinations, it’s important to consider what you’ll pack along for the trip. Whether traveling by road, air, or train (check out the train from Seattle to Leavenworth), you’ll want to make sure your bag is packed with all the necessities.
In my post, What’s in My Bag – Holiday Travel Edition, I share all my favorites from water bottles to extra phone chargers.
If you are a caregiver and traveling with several generations, or are one of the 65 million Americans that experience some level of bladder leakage, you’ll also want to pack Depend® FIT-FLEX® Underwear. Extra stress is not something that you want to deal with during the holidays, and you can have peace of mind if you’re protected with Depend®. Bladder leakage shouldn’t stop you or those you love from traveling during Christmas or any time of year.
Top U.S. Christmas Destinations
From the North to the South and the East to the West, I’ve got the top U.S. Christmas destinations to put on your winter travel bucket list.
Here in Dallas/Fort Worth you’ll discover a suburb hustling and bustling extra hard with creativity during the holidays. Grapevine, Texas has actually earned the nickname the “Christmas Capital of Texas” with its 1400 Christmas events in 40 days, attracting visitors throughout Texas and beyond. There’s so much to do and see that families make it a yearly tradition to visit and experience it all.
Though right in the middle of a huge metroplex, Grapevine actually has a quaint small town feel to it. One only has to walk up and down Main Street with its antique shops, gazebo, and train depot to realize it. But don’t let that charming personality fool you, as just around the corner from Main Street you have sprawling resorts like the Gaylord Texan (here) and Great Wolf Lodge (here) filled to the brim with tourists and staycationers (is that a word?)!
Families will enjoy the North Pole Express and remember this adventure for years to come. Ask me how I know! Dress the kids up in pajamas as you take off on the most magical Christmas train conjuring up images of the famous Polar Express. Kids will even be gifted a silver bell from Mrs. Claus. Grab tickets early as this sells out quickly.
While in the Main Street area, ride the vintage carousel or consider participating in the Grapevine Christmas Passport, where for a small fee you can make a piece of metal tinsel for your tree or stamp a gift tag at the blacksmith’s shop.
Snowland at Great Wolf Lodge provides so much fun, in addition to all the regular waterpark activities. One of our family traditions is heading to the Gaylord Texan resort, where you can completely immerse yourself in so many holiday activities that you might never leave the premises. From Christmas themed escape rooms to ice skating and from character breakfasts to snow tubing on real snow, there’s something for everyone. BUT, the highlight of any trip to the Gaylord Texan at Christmas is ICE, where over 2 million pounds of ice is carved into breathtaking themed sculptures in a 9 degree atmosphere (coats are provided)!
Read all about our adventures –> Gaylord Texan Must Do Activities and Best Dallas Christmas Events.
When I think of Leavenworth, Washington, I think of Christmas. If there is ever a U.S. destination to travel to during December, it is Leavenworth. Settled within the Cascade Mountains, you’ll discover a Bavarian village filled with every magical element of Christmas imaginable. It is simply enchanting.
Approximately 2 hours from Seattle, Leavenworth is ideal for both adults and children. You’ll enjoy snowfalls amidst twinkling Christmas lights and sledding right in the middle of town. While carriage rides are available, I recommend enjoying a rare horse-drawn sleigh ride instead. You might just find yourself singing, “Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go.”
Don’t forget to make a stop at the Christkindlmarkt, Nutcracker Museum, and Reindeer Farm. Yes, I said Reindeer Farm, where you can feed these antlered friends whom you’ll want to take home with you and meet the big man himself, Santa Claus.
Find a hotel stay here.
Santa Claus, Indiana
The name itself tells you this is one place you want to be in December. Known as “America’s Christmas Hometown,” – Santa Claus, Indiana has a lot to live up to and I think it’s a must-visit for a fun, wintry trip up north. Consider booking a stay at Santa Claus Lodge.
This small town near President Lincoln’s boyhood home personifies Christmas with an actual Santa Claus Museum and Village. Be sure to make a stop at the Santa Claus Christmas store where you’ll grab a souvenir to decorate your home for years to come. In the evening you’ll want to drive the 12 miles through the Santa Claus Land of Lights.
The best activity may not even be one where you have to make the trip to Indiana. For it is here where you can send a letter to Santa Claus year round and get a personalized reply (sent in December). That address: PO Box 1, Santa Claus, Indiana 47579. You’re welcome. 🙂
New York City, New York
Years ago I took an epic trip with all the girls in my family during the first week in December. It might have been fifteen degrees outside, but we had the time of our lives and learned that the Big Apple most definitely is the place to be during the holidays.
A carriage ride through Central Park all bundled up with views of The Plaza hotel is a perfect way to start off your December visit. Follow that up with ice skating at Rockefeller Center underneath the famed Christmas tree. Since Christmas is a time for gift-giving, be sure to enjoy a little shopping. Strolling down 5th Avenue just got more exciting with holiday storefront decor and unbelievable window scenes, but don’t forget to stop by Macy’s and ride the escalators until you find Santa!
Make reservations at the iconic Tavern on the Green for a memorable dinner and grab tickets to see the Rockettes Radio City Music Spectacular. Don’t forget to book a hotel with an ideal location here.
Anaheim, California and Orlando, Florida – DISNEY!
Disney knows how to do holidays unlike any other. There are significant differences between the parks come holiday time too, making a trip to both Florida and California a necessity for any Disney fan.
Disneyland Resort (California):
Head to the original theme park where Walt Disney started it all. A trip to Disneyland during the holidays is an adventure like no other, complete with holiday fireworks. Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle is completely transformed (be sure to walk through the castle – a little known attraction that is unique to California). Get a front row seat to A Christmas Fantasy Parade, where Disney characters will join Santa in a truly spectacular event that has my favorites, the toy soldiers, marching right alongside the floats on Main Street, U.S.A.
Did you know that the Haunted Mansion gets a makeover during the holidays, but only at Disneyland? Yes, you’ll find it completely transformed and inspired by Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas both inside and out. My favorite holiday decor? Hands down you cannot beat the sight of the iconic facade of It’s a Small World. The nightly lighting is something to see and only at Disneyland Resort.
Walk across the entrance and head into Disney California Adventure Park where you’ll discover Carsland in a whole new light, meet Santa in Redwood Creek, and complete elfish games along the way. It’s in this park where you’ll enjoy some extra special magic honoring different cultures. Disney Festival of Holidays has food and entertainment celebrating Kwanzaa, Latino traditions, and more. Do yourself a favor and grab a Disney Festival of Holidays Sip and Savor Pass!
Grab discounted tickets and book nearby hotels here.
Walt Disney World Resort (Florida):
With four theme parks, navigating your way through Walt Disney World Resort at Christmastime can be incredibly exciting. Though the holiday to-do’s seem endless, there are two absolute musts. First, attend the ever-popular Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, a special ticketed event where you can enjoy all the fun of Disney’s Magic Kingdom and then some. Special characters and shows along with some snowfall on Main Street (YES!!) and complimentary holiday treats will make this an evening to remember. Second, head over to Epcot for a performance unlike any other with the Candlelight Processional. A celebrity narrator, accompanied by a choir and 50-piece orchestra, tells the story of the birth of Christ.
Grab multi-day discounted tickets and book nearby hotels here.
San Antonio, Texas
There’s something everyone must do during a visit to San Antonio (other than visit The Alamo) – take a river cruise along the famed San Antonio Riverwalk. As beautiful as it is regularly, it becomes something extraordinary during the holiday season. A hotel stay along the Riverwalk is a must this time of year with great proximity to fabulous restaurants.
Take a short drive to SeaWorld San Antonio for a glance at the largest Christmas light display in Texas with over 9 million lights. From holiday shows to dinner with Santa and Mrs. Claus, you will be entertained, but for those of us who celebrate the birth of Christ, SeaWorld San Antonio shares the story through music and decor throughout the park. Truly unique and not experienced at many other theme parks in the country. Find discounted tickets here.
A trip to Washington, D.C. is a must for Americans, and at Christmastime, it’s a spectacular place to be. Snowfall makes the monuments and national landmarks even more breathtaking and the city becomes a photographer’s dream.
There is no shortage of impressive Christmas trees. Be sure to visit The Library of Congress and Union Station for indoor trees and include a trip to the White House Ellipse to see the always stunning National Christmas Tree with nightly performances during the holidays. Take time to enjoy the boat parade on the Potomac River and sign up for a truly unique candlelit tour at George Washington’s Mount Vernon. This year, you can enjoy the “World’s Largest Christmas Light Maze” at Enchant, something Dallas was privy to in years past and a huge hit.
Be sure to read up on my Guide to a Perfect Weekend in Washington, D.C. and find the best location for a hotel stay. I highly recommend either The Willard or Capital Hilton, both of which I’ve stayed at and have ideal locations for walking to attractions.
Sara Phillips says
I’ve always wanted to visit Santa Claus, Indiana! This is a great list, though, and I’ll use it to plan for our next winter road trip!
Jacquelyn Cannon says
I would love to visit Grapevine Texas during the Christmas holiday. I have relatives in Fort Worth, Texas and would visit them also.