If you are ready to fully immerse yourself in the holiday season, these towns offer the winter wonderland you are looking for
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.
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 the Holly Jolly Light 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. 24- Jan. 7
St. Augustine, FL
St. Augustine's annual Nights of Lights has been listed among the top ten holiday light displays in the world by National Geographic. It takes two months to prepare. St. Augustine’s Nights of Lights features millions of tiny white lights that create a magical atmosphere in the Nation’s Oldest City, and it's free of charge. The festival kicks off with Light-Up! Night on November 18 at 6 p.m. The City of St. Augustine is offering a Free Park & Ride Shuttle on select days during the Nights of Lights Season and you can even tour the lights by land or sea.
Dates: Nov. 18-Jan. 31
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 that tells the story of the town, and 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.
Silver Dollar City | Branson, MO
There's no shortage of seasonal entertainment at Silver Dollar City. The 1880s-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 reindeer, moving train carriages, stars, snowflakes, and a giant tree.
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. 4-Dec. 30
During the holiday season, Pittsburgh lights up with magnificent holiday decorations and dazzling lights that add to the sparkle of the already beautiful skyline. You'll find numerous holiday markets, themed pop-up bars, and events that bring even more joy to the spirit of the season. From outdoor shopping and toasty refreshments to indoor exhibits and bites for the whole family, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the holidays in Pittsburgh. Also, be sure to make plans to glide across the glistening ice rink at PPG Place.
Dates: Nov. 18-Jan. 7
Virginia's Blue Ridge
Holiday travelers will love exploring Virginia’s Blue Ridge during what locals have dubbed their “fifth season” when the Roanoke Valley transforms into a glittering wonderland for the holidays. In addition to world-class outdoor adventure, standout culinary offerings, and cozy accommodations, there are a myriad of family-friendly festivals and arts events to get the festive spirit going.
- Dickens of a Christmas (first three Fridays of Dec.) – tree lighting, dog shows, local vendors, live holiday performances and more in Downtown Roanoke.
- Illuminights (Nov. 18-Dec. 29) – walk through a trail of more than 650,000 lights displays, just off the iconic Blue Ridge Parkway. Also features an Artisan Market, s’mores making, and more! Perfect for little ones.
- Elmwood on Ice (Nov. 22-Jan. 28) – outdoor ice skating in the heart of Downtown Roanoke.
Christmas in Newport | Newport, RI
This seaside town goes all out for the season, stringing lights along the harbor and wharves, and 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 to walking tours, museum experiences, teas, and even musical programs, any day of the week. Kid-friendly highlights include the Reindeer Games and meeting Santa.
Dates: Dec. 1-31
During the holidays, the Holy City transforms into a real-life Charles Dickens scene with garlands of greenery embellishing historic mansions, magnolia wreaths hung on wrought-iron gates, and twinkling lights wrapping around trunks of Palmetto trees. Enjoy magical events like James Island’s Annual Holiday Festival of Lights (Nov. 10 – Dec. 31) featuring over two million dazzling lights, the 2023 Drayton Hall Oyster Roast (Dec. 3), a longtime favorite of local families and visitors alike, and Charleston Jazz Orchestra’s Holiday Swing (Dec. 2), showcasing winter classics and holiday favorite hits.
The Holy City’s most awarded hotel, French Quarter Inn, invites travelers to experience the charm of the holidays in Charleston with the ultimate festive accommodations in its Sleigh Bell Suite. Available throughout the month of December, this decked out suite with garland and mistletoe will feature an in-room eggnog bar, a special ornament delivered at turndown, classic holiday movie screenings, and so much more.
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 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: Select dates Nov. 17-Dec. 24
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. 4- Jan. 1
Since 1927, this town has been celebrating Christmas in a major way. Over 300,000 lights and 100+ set pieces are on display every night at dusk. Every Saturday there is live music, kids' activities, fireworks, and more. Book a time for cookies with Santa. Make sure you're there on Dec. 2 for the 96th Annual Christmas Festival.
Dates: Nov. 18-Jan. 6
Brasada Ranch | Bend, OR
Located just outside the 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 cozy carriage ride (just to name a few). It’s easy to handpick a winter weekend to make your family's wishes come true. Book soon to get the weekend you want at this Pacific Northwest favorite.
Dates: All of December
Related: Your Epic Central Oregon Vacation
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. 1. 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. 14) 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.
Dates: Dec. 1-26
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 are 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.
Dates: Nov. 23 -Jan. 1
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.
Dates: Nov. 6 - Dec. 31
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.
Dates: Nov. 21-Dec. 31
Christmas by the Sea | Ogunquit, ME
For the past 30+ 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, a Christmas parade, hayrides, mulled cider and wine tasting, fireworks, beach bonfires, and for those who dare—a polar bear plunge!
Dates: Dec. 8-10
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 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.
Dates: Wednesdays and Sundays, Dec. 3-17
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.
Additional reporting from Allison Sutcliffe and Emily Meyers