It’s hard to believe the holidays are weeks away. Chances are last year you didn’t travel because of the pandemic. This time around though, you may feel a bit more confident about celebrating beyond your hometown. 

While visiting family likely tops your list, if you’re feeling like you want to do something different and enjoy the holidays with a vacation, the festivities abound. You won’t have to miss out on the joy of the season.  Here are a few ideas for where to go.

St. Pete/Clearwater, Florida

No doubt by the time the holidays roll around you might be longing for warmth and sunshine, and oh yes, a little time in the ocean. You can have that, plus spirited festivities in St. Pete with its Enchant Christmas, a light maze that takes over Tropicana Field from Nov. 26 – Jan. 2. Then there’s the Tarpon Springs Holiday Boat Parade on Dec. 3, where you can watch the procession down the Anclote River and into the bayous. While in town, get your fill of art too. There are more than 30 museums, 600+ murals, and top restaurants like Urban Stillhouse to keep the merriment going. Stay at the elegant The Birchwood boutique hotel that’s ideally located near the pier and downtown waterfront.

Providence and Newport, Rhode Island

Why not go for a two-fer? Providence and Newport are less than an hour away from each other. Load up on the holiday fare in both cities. In Providence there’s the Roger Williams Park Zoo’s Holiday Lights Spectacular, with more than1.5 million illuminated lights and larger-than-life dazzling displays, running on select dates from Nov. 26 to Jan. 2. In Newport it’s all about The Classic Coast, with happenings like the Newport Illuminated Boat Parade, the tree lighting at Bowen’s Wharf, a brand-new European Christmas Market and more. Warm up with The Black Pearl’s famous clam chowder or enjoy a hearty seasonal meal at White Horse Tavern, America’s oldest tavern. Settle in to The Chanler at Cliff Walk or Forty 1 North, which both offer cozy fireplaces in all rooms and suites. Do plan to check out the Newport Mansions. Admire the over-the-top decorations throughout The Marble House, Elms, and The Breakers including the grand 15-foot-tall Poinsettia Tree in the great hall of The Breakers.  

Elizabeth City, North Carolina

Cocoa and Christmas go hand in hand. To celebrate this beloved beverage, the coastal community of Elizabeth City is premiering its Hot Cocoa Crawl from Nov. 20 – Jan. 2. Local businesses across the community will showcase hot cocoas, such as a bourbon-based hot chocolate recipe entitled “Sleigh No More,” a Mexican hot cocoa with a kick made with Xocolatl chocolate and chile guajillo, and other delectable treats. Do the crawl any way you want to and stop by any of the 14 participating locations to sample holiday-inspired offerings, from sweet sips with plenty of whipped cream for the kids to cocoa cocktails to satisfy the grown folks. There’s more to the holiday festivities, including the Main Street Lighting Ceremony, Nov. 26, the First Friday ArtWalk, Dec. 3 and the Lighted Boat Parade that same day.  

Newport Beach, California

There’s something special about lights twinkling on the water. Newport Beach’s Annual Boat Parade is from Dec. 15-20. It’s one of the largest decorated boat parades in the country. You can take the City Cruises’ Parade of Lights Dinner Cruise for the best views, a fantastic meal, drinks and live entertainment. If you’re there Christmas Day, there are brunch cruises out of the Newport Beach port. Newport Beach is one of the crown jewels of Orange County, this is a great excuse to finally get there.

Galveston, Texas

You know they do everything big in Texas. That goes for the holidays, especially in Galveston which is called the Christmas Capital of Texas. There’s Grapevine’s annual Christmas on Main Street that features 40 days of the Grapevine Christmas Market, multiple parades and celebrations and elaborately decorated businesses in the city’s charming historic downtown.  Families can take advantage of the city’s Christmas Passport, which features holiday activities such as stamping a brass gift tag or decorating a wooden train ornament at well-known local businesses.  For the over 21 crowd, fun includes the Christmas Wine Trains. You might want to plan your trip around Dickens on the Strand in early December, it’s a nearly 50-year tradition and recalls the magic of a Victorian holiday. 

There’s also the Moody Gardens event with more than 2 million holiday lights, attractions and activities. As for where to stay, The Gaylord Texan and the Great Wolf Lodge are known for going hard with holiday celebrations, be it snow tubing and ice skating to indoor snowfalls, lasting throughout the season.

Sea Island, Georgia

The hot thing now is life-sized gingerbread houses. Wait until you see what’s doing in Sea Island with its Advent Cottage. Each day from Dec. 1 to 24 at 2:50 p.m., the cottage’s “door of the day” will open to reveal a new holiday treat, gift or activity for guests to enjoy, similar to traditional advent calendars. Look forward to the decorated door swinging open to reveal sweet treats prepared by the award-winning Sea Island Bake Shop team paired with fun activities such as owl meet and greets, writing postcards to Santa, demonstrations from the on-site naturalists and fly-fishing clinics, specialty cocktails and mocktails, and much more. Sea Island has probably been on your to-go list anyway. Make it happen. 

Healdsburg, California

Think small-town California charm this season. You’ll get all the festive décor and lights in the Healdsburg Plaza and with mild weather you can do the Holidays in Healdsburg tour by Wine Country Walking Tours and take in food and wine through private seating tasting, led by a local expert. You can do a 4-hour day or 2-hour tour. You won’t want to miss the opportunity to do the Holiday Tea at Hotel Healdsburg with live piano music, custom blend teas, classic cocktails, house-made pastries, those ever-so-cute sandwiches and holiday treats from Dry Creek Kitchen. The first weekend of December kicks off festivities with the tree lighting, hot chocolate truck, snow machines, Holiday Sidewalk Market and more.

National Harbor, Maryland

The Gaylord hosts the D.C. area’s largest Christmas celebration with about a dozen Christmas experiences happening throughout the hotel. Take for example the new, immersive, “I Love Christmas Movies,” where guests will go through interactive scenes from holiday favorites like “The Polar Express” and “A Christmas Story.” The family fun doesn’t stop there, but includes ice skating, cookie decorating, ice tubing, #LIT Holiday Light Show, Ice Bumper Cars, The Greatest Story stage show and more. The big kids, also known as parents and grandparents, can hang out at the ’80s-themed rooftop lounge and relax at Relache Spa. End the year on a high note.

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