Whether you are looking for beautiful winter sunshine, snowy mountain adventures, or just oodles of Christmas magic, there is the perfect place for you in the USA. To help you choose, here are 20 of the best places to visit in December in the USA…
Leavenworth, WA – a Bavarian-style winter break but in the USA
For a quintessential Bavarian holiday, you might not think of Washington State as an ideal location! Think Again! Nestled in the snowy peaks of The Cascade Mountains, just over a hundred miles north of Seattle, is the stunning little town of Leavenworth. The town was originally a logging town and the headquarters of the Great Northern Railway until 1925 when the track was rerouted and the town’s economy plummeted.
The town continued to decline until the’50s when a committee was formed and the remodeling began. Now it is a perfect replica of a Bavarian town complete with German beer, Bavarian cuisine, reindeer and Christmas markets, and a completely unique Nutcracker Museum! The town has a multitude of activities on offer all year round but in December you get to enjoy the crisp winter wonderland and all that it entails; snowmobiling perhaps? If you love kitsch you’ll love this picturesque little anomaly of a town! Easily one of the most magical places to explore in December in the USA!
Durango, Colorado – for a gorgeous snowy December break in the USA
This is a wonderful December destination in the USA and outdoor enthusiasts will love Durango, an old Wild West town with stunning views of the rugged San Juan Mountains. The interestingly named Purgatory Resort offers 1605 acres of terrain, with trails for skiers of all levels and abilities. If skiing isn’t for you then no fear, there are numerous trails for hiking and biking too. Head out into the Weminuche Wilderness and The Animas River Gorge for climbing and hiking galore!
You can choose an easy stroll around the Piedra falls trail or really challenge yourself with The Highland Mary Lakes Cunningham Gooch Trail, which takes in the Needle Range and some high altitude lakes! If you’d rather enjoy the views from a cozy cafe or sipping a craft beer from one of Durango’s six brewing companies you can do that too.
For history lovers there’s plenty to do, take a ride on the historic Rio Grande Railway, learn about the ancestral Pueblo tribe in the Mesa Verde National Park, find out about the Railroad at the interactive Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Museum or about the town’s more underground past on a Horsefly History Tour. Finally, top off a winter visit on the Polar Express, Santa and Reindeers included. There is something for everyone here, it is the perfect winter getaway for the whole family.
New York – one of the best cities to visit in December in the USA
We can all picture iconic winter scenes in the big apple from numerous films and tv shows but nothing can compare to experiencing it first hand. This is an amazing place to visit in the USA in December as nothing beats a hot apple cider at Bryant Park after a nostalgic skate on the city’s only free ice rink or a snowy stroll around Central Park.
Maybe you’ll wrap up warm and relive the full Tom and Meg fantasy by visiting the top of The Empire State, or maybe you’ll keep it low-key with a takeaway coffee and a winter stroll along the famous High Line. You must visit the famous Christmas Tree at The Rockefeller center, a tradition that has been running since the Great Depression…perhaps you’ll head to the Top of The Rock whilst you’re there. Of course, there’s Santaland at Macy’s…immortalized in Miracle on 31st Street and later The Santaland Diaries by David Sedaris.
I know none of these things are under the radar but it’s New York, so what the hell! Of course, if you really want to get hip then there’s shopping in the historic Meat Packing District and cozy bars and cafes in East Village. To escape the crowds of Manhattan why not cross the famous Brooklyn Bridge and enjoy low-key art galleries, farm-to-table foodie spots, vintage flea markets, or sledding in Prospect Park. December is a great month to visit but just as an aside, if you’d prefer to see Manhattan without the crowds then try early January. Most of the seasonal fun is still happening but the Christmas vacationers have gone and you can enjoy quieter streets, smaller queues, and cheaper flights!
Williamsburg, Virginia – a quaint and pretty December destination
Together with Jamestown and Yorktown Williamsburg forms one point of Virginia’s Historic Triangle. The town is of great historic significance being the place where, in 1776, George Wythe signed the American Declaration of Independence. It is also the home of America’s second oldest University after Harvard; William and Mary College was established in 1693 and still accounts for a large slice of the town’s population.
The whole of the historic center of Williamsburg is now a living history museum with its old colonial buildings perfectly restored and costumed employees serving you in its shops and cafes. At Christmas time the picture-perfect town becomes even more beautiful as it is utterly transformed by twinkling lights and decorations. Coated in a layer of powdery snow it is something like a fairytale to behold. History and architecture are the main draw and the Art Museums of Williamsburg display rare examples of Native American Art as well as a fine selection of artifacts from the town’s colonial history.
This is the perfect town for a gentle and relaxing romantic December winter break in the USA, with plenty to keep you occupied in and around it. Thrill-seekers can even head to the iconic Busch Gardens theme park for a ride on some European-themed rollercoasters! The park is usually closed over the winter months but will remain open all year in 2021 to aid recovery from the economic hit of Covid-19.
Gaylord Opryland Resort, Nashville – seriously incredible lights and celebrations
If authenticity is your thing then this probably isn’t your cup of tea, but if you just want an all-out festive Christmas extravaganza then head on over! During the December and the Christmas Season Gaylord Opryland Resort, Nashville Tennessee is literally transformed with more than 3 million lights, ice tunnels, an indoor ice skating rink, carriage rides, grotto’s, scavenger hunts…the list goes on!
When you have exhausted everything the resort has to offer you can head into Nashville and soak up the vibes of the legendary ‘Music City’, which itself will be resplendent with twinkling lights and festivities to suit every Christmas palette. A wow-inducing December break!
Aspen Colorado – for December festivities and a beautiful white Christmas
Probably the most famous winter resort in the USA, Aspen has long been on the map thanks to the numerous celebrities that holiday there. This iconic Alpine town with the slopes of Aspen Mountain rising from the midst of its quaint Victorian center is a real winter wonderland, a magical place to visit in December in the USA and spend the festive season.
Think cozy log cabins, hot toddies, and full-on Victoriana with lights and trees and carollers galore. The four ski resorts that make up the bulk of the town cater for all abilities…novices and families should head to Snowmass or Buttermilk Mountains and more advanced skiers will enjoy the challenges of Aspen Mountain and The Highlands.
Of course, if skiing is not your thing there are numerous other snowy delights on offer; snowboarding, cross country skiing, ice skating at one of the beautiful outdoor rinks. For the even more sedate there are snow plough tours, sleigh rides, and plenty of cozy cafes, renowned restaurants and bars, screenings, and boutique shopping to explore. All of it is set in a stunning mountain location with snow-laden spruce trees, crisp white peaks, and bucket loads of Christmas charm.
Wentworth Mansion, Charleston, South Carolina – offer a Victorian style Dickens Dinner
For the perfect blend of history, literature, and luxury the Dickens Dinner and the Progressive Dinner at Wentworth Mansion are probably unrivaled. The Annual Dickens Dinner will transport you back to the Victorian era with storytelling and feasting in a completely authentic Dickensian setting.
The Progressive Dinner has the quirky addition of a horse and carriage which will ferry you between courses in the historic colonial center of Charleston. Wentworth Mansion is a luxury hotel designed flawlessly to transport you back to the 1800s, I’m talking fireplaces, amazing decor, Tiffany glass, and opulent four-poster beds, all within walking distance of most of the city’s main attractions. After your four-course meal, you can take a stroll through the quaint streets of downtown and ogle the Christmas displays and decorations twinkling off the bay.
For a really magical experience try The Festival Of Lights at James Island Country Park, where over 2 million Christmas twinklers Illuminate Victorian fairground rides, an enchanted walking trail, numerous Christmas treats for the belly and of course, Santa Claus and his entourage, who will be there with bells on!
Biltmore Estate, Asheville – for glittering holiday decor
The first Christmas Celebrations at the Breathtaking Biltmore Estate in historic Asheville took place on Christmas Eve, December, 1895, and were hosted by George Vanderbilt. Ever since the celebrations have continued to grow into 2 months of festivities that happen at Biltmore and nearby Antler Hill Village every year. The celebrations start in early November with the raising of a massive Christmas tree. The tree is delivered by Santa and erected in the banquet hall to mark the start of Yuletide. From that point on the celebrations begin to engulf the whole estate. The house and grounds are awash with more than 100 hand-decorated trees.
Thousands of poinsettias and fresh evergreen garlands adorn the grand hallways, lending them an authentic winter aroma and ambiance which is further evoked by live musicians singing all the season’s favorite carols and songs. Both indoors and out are hung with constellations of twinkling lights to create a truly awe-inspiring picture. The cafes and restaurants serve up delicious seasonal fare and the Antler Village Winery launches its annual sparkling white to commemorate another Biltmore Christmas. Antler Village becomes a festival of illumination and Santa visits the bandstand every weekend.
There are special seminars and workshops that teach how to make your own decorations and adornments. For night owls there are Special tickets available for candlelit evening tours which allow you to stroll freely around the house lit by candles and crackling log fires. Basically everywhere you look is ALL about Christmas! Grinches need not apply!
Vermont – famously the best place in the USA to spend Christmas
Movies like ‘White Christmas’ (which although made in a studio was set in the State) have made Vermont famous for its beautiful winter landscapes and with good reason. During Advent and Christmastime, the quaint villages and historic towns of Vermont are transformed by all things Christmassy…Doors are adorned with wreaths, trees and homes are illuminated, town squares swish with ice skaters and The Polar Express sounds its horn and sets off for the North Pole.
The whole state is like a Christmas Card illustration with cozy picture book towns nestling between snow-laden spruces. The Green Mountain State becomes alive with locals and visitors eating, drinking, and making merry! Every year in December the pretty town of Woodstock hosts the Annual Wassail Weekend, a fantastic celebration of folklore, culture, and everything Yuletide. There are carol singers, craft workshops, and open houses.
Nearby Manchester is quintessentially Vermont and positively twinkles at Christmas! Of course, there are all the usual winter activities on offer too, from skiing to the fabulous Ice Skating Trail at Lake Moray. If you feel like you’ve somehow lost the Christmas Magic then a trip to Vermont will surely get it back for you – it would make a fantastic winter vacation!
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Wyoming – for December skiing and fun
Skiing and winter sports alumni go crazy for this resort, which is situated in the Teton Range in the middle of the Rockies. Teton Village is a Swiss-inspired resort town that provides the perfect base to explore the plethora of activities on offer at Jackson Hole. The resort has a whopping 133 trails and a peak drop of 4000 meters which is a big draw for more advanced or extreme winter sports enthusiasts.
Probably the most famous run on the resort is Corbet’s Couloir, named for mountaineer Barry Corbet who spotted it for the first time in 1960. Thrill-seekers looking for an amazing December break gather to try their hand at skiing and boarding this legendary run, which requires a true leap of faith at the start over one of the steepest and narrowest entrances in the world. Vacationers can stay in a luxury lodge, log cabin, or cozy self-catering in Teton village and enjoy a vibrant apres-ski scene that centers around The Mangy Moose, with live music and fun to be had every night!
The landscape is utterly breathtaking especially in the winter months and there are many options to explore aside from skiing, such as wildlife trails and Geysers in the nearby Yellowstone National Park. If you want to stick to the resort you might try your hand at paragliding, hot springs, ice skating, and snowmobiles to name but a few! If you love extreme adventure then this is the place for you!
Everglades, Florida – no hurricanes and the humidity is much lower in December
The Florida Everglades is one of the largest National Parks in the USA and a UNESCO World heritage center. Spanning 1.5 million acres at the southernmost tip of Florida The Everglades are a rare subtropical wilderness and home to a multitude of endangered species.
The composition of Pine Flatwoods, Coastal Mangroves, and sawgrass marshes which include amazing Cypress Domes form a completely unique ecosystem that requires protection. Winter and December especially is the ideal time to visit because it is the dry season and temperatures drop to a pleasant 25-26 degrees Celsius. For nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts, the Everglades are absolutely unrivaled and can be explored by boat, canoe, or for landlubbers by bike, hike, or slough slog. The absolute bounty of wildlife is too long to list but here are some highlights to look out for; The leonine Florida Panther, the West Indian Manatee, and of course the famous American Alligator, American Crocodile, and Greater Flamingo.
Perhaps less splendid but equally rare are species such as The Osprey, The Snail Kite, and the Eastern Indigo snake, not to mention a number of critically endangered turtles like the Atlantic Leatherback and Hawksbill. There are numerous viewing stations around the park and strict rules about respecting the fragile wildlife. One of the most popular trails is the accessible Anhinga Trail and Shark Valley which includes the spectacular Shark Valley Observatory Tower. A great alternative place to visit in December in the USA.
Solvang California – for European style seasonal festivities
Founded by Danish Immigrants in 1911 Solvang is a unique little glimpse of Nordic life in the middle of Santa Barbara County California! From humble beginnings, the themed town has grown over the years to become the huge draw that it is today and its Julefest celebrations which begin in November and carry through to December will melt even the iciest of hearts.
Visit in December and you’ll find the beautiful streets are lined with quaint Danish-style buildings housing delicious bakeries, hygge cafe’s and boutique shops and at Christmas, you can expect them to be adorned with twinkling fairy lights and all the festive trimmings you might expect in Copenhagen. Christmas Markets, Candlelight tours, and Caroling bring the streets to life. There are tram rides, a tree lighting ceremony and finally, the big Julefest Parade where Christmas floats travel through the town and Mr And Mrs Claus put in an appearance.
Big Bend National Park, Texas – a great place for a December break
A perfect US December break for outdoor lovers, Big Bend National Park is the only National Park that actually straddles a border, stretching hundreds of miles along the banks of The Rio Grande, one side is situated in the USA and the other in Mexico. You can make the very relaxed border crossing by rowboat from Boquillas Crossing Port of Entry. The park is a haven for hikers and consists of three very clear types of landscape; the river, the desert, and the mountains.
The Rio Grande River winds its way lackadaisically through sparse but beautiful landscapes servicing the occasional hot spring and carving out some of the most beautiful canyons in the USA. The largest and most dramatic is Santa Elena Canyon which rises 1500 feet at its highest point, but there are many other beautiful canyons to explore.
The park is full of well-marked trails which guide you through spectacular landscapes such as the Balanced Rock Trail and the Window Trail which takes you up into the Chisos Mountains and culminates in an amazing view framed by a natural window in the rock. Summer temperatures here are pretty unbearable so it’s much better to visit in the winter months when you can make the most of the breathtaking scenery without melting in the heat!
Bigfork, Montana – the perfect place to wind down at Christmas
This would make a lovely, peaceful, and under-the-radar December vacation. As well as being considered the Arts Centre of Montana on account of its wide selection of galleries and renowned repertory theatre company, Big Fork is frequently referred to as the state’s true Christmas village. The quaint ‘Old West’ buildings are brought to life when the community goes all out on decorating and celebrating the holidays.
The ambitious Christmas decorations combined with Big Forks’ beautiful setting give it an especially magical feel in winter. Situated to the northeast of stunning Flathead Lake, with spectacular views over the romantically named Swan Mountains, Big Fork is a great base for nature lovers, kayakers, and hikers as well as those who enjoy history and culture. The dramatic Montana scenery is unspoilt and provides a perfect escape from the stresses of day-to-day life. Head up here to slow down, relax, eat well, drink well, and refresh that Christmas Spirit.
Grand Isle, Louisiana – no summer crowds but warm enough to sunbathe
This hidden gem is a secluded oasis on the Louisiana shoreline, offering a perfect winter/December retreat in the USA for birders, anglers, and beach lovers. During the summer this little stretch of beauty on a narrow island in The Gulf of Mexico is completely swamped and the crowds combined with soaring temperatures can prove tiring. In the winter visitors can enjoy the palatable warmth, beautiful stretches of beach, and plenty of outdoor activities in relative peace.
The Grand Isle State Park is the only protected beach on the Louisiana coastline and it encompasses white sands, beautiful lagoons, and a plethora of wildlife both above and below the water. In the nearby village of Grand Isle, there is plenty to do, from birding trails to butterfly domes and delicious dockside seafood. Anglers can head to the 900ft long public fishing pier and the warm waters of the gulf welcome water babies all year round… just be mindful of some of the local wildlife, stingrays and jellyfish are frequent visitors to these shores and it’s on the migratory path for sharks, although they rarely come close to the land.
Lake Tahoe – for a cozy and magical winter vacation
Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America and it balances in the Sierra Nevada mountain range on the boundary of California and Nevada. Its dramatic peaks and beautiful blue waters attract visitors from all around, especially during ski season when enthusiasts flock to enjoy downslope skiing, snowboarding, and cross country skiing. If you visit Lake Tahoe at December and Christmas it’s like being transported into an old-fashioned Christmas Card illustration with log cabins, flickering fireplaces, and hot toddy’s all wrapped up in a blanket of snow and fairy lights.
There are sunset sleigh rides, candlelit cruises, fire pits to gather around and sing carols whilst warming your hands on a hot chocolate. You can visit one of the splendid historical mansions such as the idyllic Vikingsholm at Emerald bay, one of the most photographed places in the U.S. If hiking is your thing then wrap up and take a walk along the Lake Tahoe Trail to really revel in the stunning vistas and the wilderness around you, The entire trail is 165 miles and circumnavigates the whole lake, but it’s easy to take a little stretch at a time which is probably your best bet in the winter! A magical December break!
Big Island Hawaii – for a warm December vacation in the USA
In December, the weather on the Big Island is typically in the 80s and it’s also fairly dry, that combined with better deals and less tourists make it the ideal time to visit. The biggest of Hawaii’s Islands contains 8 different microclimates, which means that you can ski and snorkel comfortably on the same trip! A paradise of palm-fringed beaches, spectacular waterfalls, and volcanic landscapes it’s no wonder the Island is such a draw for travelers from all around the world. There are 5 National Parks on the Island which protect the landscape, the ocean, and the culture of the indigenous people.
Volcanoes National Park is the largest and most visited and encompasses Mauna Loa, the world’s largest Volcano, and Kilauea the world’s most active volcano, which has been erupting steadily since 1983 sending a glowing cloud of ash and steam into the air above it. Within the park, you can also find tropical rainforests, alpine tundra, and spectacular arches of rock formed when hot lava hits the ocean waves! The tranquil oceanfront site of Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park is perfect for people who are curious about the ancient history of the Island as traces of ruined temples, ancient dwellings, and sacred places are scattered all around. If you enjoy learning about the past then don’t miss Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site also.
For rare wildlife, including the endangered ‘Hawaiian Stilt’ bird, go to Kaloko-Honokohau. If you enjoy walking and have the luxury of time then why not attempt the long-distance hike along Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail; 175 miles of the ancient footpath which takes you through all of the important sites on the island. For skiing in December head to the snow-capped Mauna Kea, which towers over 13,000 feet and has an amazing observatory as well as plenty of skiable terrain. For snorkeling, you can pretty much dive in anywhere but the underwater sea sanctuary at Kealakekua Bay will really take your breath away. It’s also great for Kayaking and Hiking too. Really the possibilities on big Island are endless and I have barely scratched the surface here, go explore, enjoy, get ready to say ‘Aloha’
Anchorage Alaska – a great December holiday for snowy adventures
This is a wonderful winter break in December. The metropolitan area of Anchorage lies at the convergence of several mountain ranges which makes it perfect for skiing. There are a diverse selection of slopes to suit all abilities available in the area. Get away from the crowds on the dramatic slopes of the Kenai mountains, for steep chutes and long powder runs try Thompson Pass or to take in dramatic granite towers Denali is the spot.
Adventure lovers will enjoy clear skies and unlimited options in the Talkeetna mountains, which include Hatcher Pass for groomed ski trails, backcountry skiing, a giant sledding hill, and romantic red cabins to stay in as you try and catch the Northern Lights.
When you are tired of skiing there is plenty going on in Anchorage itself; learn about the native culture or the first explorers by land and sea at one of the city’s museums or take in the amazing colorful spirit houses and St Nicholas Church, the oldest building in the city, at Eklutna Historical Park. If you just wanna drink and dance there’s a vibrant nightlife scene too, with craft brews, upscale rooftop gardens, and even a secret speakeasy or two!
Sanibel Island – lovely temperatures and no hurricanes in December
Sanibel and Captiva Islands are just off the coast of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico so make a great destination for a warm December break. Although they are only separated from the mainland by a 3-mile causeway they have a distinctly different pace of life. Palm trees sway languidly along white sandy beaches scattered with beautiful seashells.
Though the islands are small they are home to an abundance of rare and beautiful wildlife and a large portion of them is actually a designated nature reserve. The J.N ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge, founded in 1945, occupies a third of the Island and encompasses shady pathways, bike trails, mangrove forests, pools, and beaches. The reserve is home to some truly spectacular species of bird such as the Roseate Spoonbill and the incredibly rare Reddish Egret. Also Manatees, Florida Soft Shell Sea Turtles, Alligators, and Florida Panthers.
The Islands are famous for their beautiful shells and Bowman’s Beach is the perfect spot to collect them, you can also learn all about them at the Bailey – Matthews Shell Museum. A great way to explore Sanibel from a different perspective is to hire a kayak or take one of the boat tours. Think laid-back vibes, beach weather, casual dinners, and romantic sunsets and you’re halfway there, now you just need to book the flight!
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania – a German-inspired Christmas City Village and Christkinlmarkt
What could be a better place to spend December than a town called Bethlehem? The town of Bethlehem Pennsylvania is a rich historical tapestry of buildings that date back to the town’s inception, by Moravian Missionaries, on Christmas Eve 1741 with many protected areas from the eras in between. In 1937, in the middle of The Great Depression, Miss Marian Brown Grace, Wife of Eugene Grace who was head of Bethlehem Steel flicked a switch to turn on the town’s first Christmas lights which included (and still include) a wooden ‘Moravian Star’.
The Christmas City was born. Now every year Bethlehem is adorned with twinkling lights and decorations and the historic streets are lined with Christmas huts selling artisan products as well as the famous Christkindlmart, a large indoor market perfect for unusual gifts. One of the quirkiest traditions in Bethlehem is The Living Advent Calendar which takes place every evening at 5.30 at The Goundie House. Aside from all the Christmas loveliness Bethlehem is also home of the oldest continuously operating book shop in the USA, The Moravian Bookstore was founded in 1745 and lies in the heart of Bethlehem’s historic district. An absolute must for bookworms!