December marks the start of winter, but you don't have to hibernate. Staying somewhere new during the holiday season can help bring a fresh perspective to your life.
Your choice of winter vacation may depend on where you live: If you’re looking to escape freezing temperatures there are plenty of U.S. destinations where you can relax and soak up the sun. Then again, if you normally celebrate the holidays with a cocktail by the beach, you might be in search of somewhere that can offer you a traditional snowy vista.
Be sure to check local websites for the most up-to-date travel information before you go.
The sense of freedom you’ll find while driving along this wild mid-Californian coastline is just as enjoyable without the summer heat. The coastal highway hugs the tight bends of the Santa Lucia mountains, which jut from the blue of the Pacific Ocean. This location is also famed for its ancient redwood forests and untouched golden beaches. Visiting outside the peak season means you’ll be able to save money on local accommodation.
For seasonal weather that’s almost guaranteed, look no further than this classic mid-western metropolis. Because of the cold climate, local people have adapted their attractions to make them accessible year-round, like the Chicago Botanic Garden and the huge Shedd Aquarium. For holiday fun, check out the traditional German-influenced Christkindlmarket and the towering City of Chicago Christmas tree.
The former mining town of Libby is full of mountain charm, especially in the skiing season. It’s surrounded by cinematic scenery like Kootenai Falls, which freezes solid in the winter. The area offers skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, and ice fishing for the athletic- and adventure-inclined. Visiting in the winter also means you’ll be able to find more affordable accommodation and avoid the summer wildfire season. Make sure you pack your warmest clothing and take full advantage of the city’s cozy cafes and restaurants.
NYC embodies the holiday season. When the Big Apple’s blanketed in snow, you’re bound to be enchanted by world-famous Christmas light displays like Sak’s Fifth Avenue. For real “Home Alone” magic, see the giant Rockefeller Center Christmas tree for yourself. Continue this movie-perfect vibe at an outdoor ice-skating rink, or cross the East River to Brooklyn to see the Manhattan skyline twinkling like one enormous light show.
Reach the tropics without leaving the country: Hawaii is the classic warm-weather winter getaway. Because of its geographical makeup, Maui is home to several unique microclimates. In the rainy season, the southern side of the island tends to be drier, with temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees during the day. Glimpse humpback whales as they make their annual return to the warm waters around the island. Drive the stunning Hana highway that links Kahului to Hana through 65 miles of tropical rainforest, or take a guided kayak tour of the Island’s incredible coastline.
This laid-back island is one of the more affordable parts of Florida. It’s a great place to escape the snow, ice, and even the rain, as December tends to be a dry month in this region. It’s surprisingly easy to get into the holiday spirit in a sub-tropical climate with the annual Lighted Boat Parade at Schooner Wharf Bar. Alternatively, dive into the beauty of the country’s only living coral barrier reef. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, try a local cocktail and some Key lime pie.
High in the mountains, this city is blessed with plenty of sun and snow. Unique architecture and a multitude of beautiful paper lanterns ensure it becomes a real-life Christmas card after a snowfall. If you enjoy traditional nativity celebrations, the Pageant of Los Posadas proceeds by candlelight to the Palace of the Governor’s Courtyard. The Santa Fe Botanical Gardens hosts the GLOW-A Winter Lights Event which fuses light installations with an appearance from Santa and plenty of hot chocolate.
Try LA without the summer heat: December can be a great month to take this trip. The weather will still be mild compared to many other locations but be prepared for rain. The city is packed with events to mark the holidays, like the Disneyland Christmas Fantasy Parade and the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade. To enjoy outdoor ice skating in this warm climate, try the holiday rink at Pershing Square. If you’re traveling with Harry Potter fans, Universal Studios hosts holiday-themed events they won’t want to miss.
This charming Atlantic seaport offers a warm welcome with temperatures averaging around 60 degrees. You may recognize the city’s historic cobblestone streets as a “Forest Gump” filming location. You’ll avoid the crowds somewhat by visiting Georgia’s oldest city during December, although the true low-season is January and February. Make the most of the festivities by visiting the City Market Holiday Open House for festive lights and caroling. The Davenport House Museum offers evening tours by candlelight.
If it’s the true arctic circle wilderness you want, this Alaskan city won’t disappoint. Many visitors journey here annually to mark the Winter solstice. Adrenaline junkies should not miss taking a snowmobile ride. Children of all ages will jump at the chance to visit the legendary home of Santa at the North Pole, where residents hold an annual Christmas in Ice Contest and a firework-spangled Winter Festival.
Don’t miss the greatest show on earth: the Northern Lights. Many local hotels will arrange to wake you up so you can view them from the warmth and comfort of your room.
Temperatures here tend to range between the mid-40s and the mid-60s in December, so the weather’s warm enough to enjoy the city’s incomparable holiday atmosphere. The Krewe of Jingle parade sparks the Christmas season, which culminates with Christmas Eve bonfires at St James’ Parish. This southern city is famous for its food. In December the Creole Reveillon dinners served in restaurants throughout the French Quarter take center stage.
This U.S. territory has a fascinating blend of cultures and the perfect December weather for sun-seekers, with temperatures ranging between the low 70s to the low 80s. Christmas is huge here, lasting from mid-December through to January 6th, and marked with many lively celebrations. If all the excitement leaves you needing some time to chill, relax on the beach with the Island’s famous drink, the Pina Colada.
Hike this legendary and worrisomely named desert minus the searing heat. December is the perfect time to visit, as temperatures average between 60 and 70 degrees during the day: perfect for exploring the equally dramatically named Desolation Canyon. Take any opportunity to star-gaze while you’re here: the night skies are awesome.
Aspen is the ultimate skier’s paradise. This means it’s packed with not only great slopes but also cozy apres-ski retreats where you can shake off the cold with a hot toddy and good company. Stay at one of the many hotels that offer panoramic views across the mountains. Don’t miss Snowmass Luminescence, an art and light display that runs from mid-December through February.
Historic Boston is almost guaranteed to be cold in December, but that only makes preparations for the holiday season seem even cozier. The city’s cobbled streets and world-famous architecture look remarkable in the snow. Boston Blink is a holiday event with some of the city’s most impressive festive illuminations. And if you’d like to watch the first Christmas tree of the season come to life, check out Fanuel Hall Tree Lighting.