As the holidays approach, merrymakers willing to brave the brisk weather can find plenty of seasonal festivals, holiday displays, and outdoor activities such as parades, ice skating, and tree lightings. Many open-air, seasonal attractions run until after New Year's, and most are free to attend or charge low admission fees.
ALABAMA: CHRISTMAS ON THE RIVER
Demopolis has held Christmas on the River (Nov. 29 to Dec. 2) for the past 45 years. In addition to nautical holiday parades, festivities include children's plays, a visit from Santa, candlelight tours of historic homes, a barbecue cook-off, and a semi-formal evening gala.
ALASKA: CHRISTMAS IN ICE
In addition to being the alleged hometown of Santa Claus, the Fairbanks suburb of North Pole holds a family-friendly Christmas event and ice art competition. For six weeks (Nov. 25 to Jan. 9) an ice park is filled with an ever-changing array of frozen sculptures, as well as ice slides, an ice maze, and other attractions.
ARIZONA: CHRISTMAS AT THE PRINCESS
Now in its eighth year, the Christmas at the Princess festival transforms the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess resort into a winter wonderland beginning Nov. 22 and ending New Year's Day. The attraction features a four-story Christmas tree, an ice skating rink, strolling holiday characters, and visits with Santa. Young visitors will enjoy a Ferris wheel and S'mores Land, and a campfire area and fire pits. General admission with parking is $55 per vehicle; some activities cost extra.
ARKANSAS: EUREKA SPRINGS CHRISTMAS FESTIVAL
Enjoy festive family fun at the annual Eureka Springs Christmas Festival. Visitors can partake in a Night of a Thousand Santas, candlelit tour of restored historic homes and an array of musical events, Santa visits, reindeer games, and holiday light displays. The events run Dec. 1 to Dec. 9.
CALIFORNIA: FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS
Head to Riverside for the Festival of Lights (Nov. 24 to Jan. 6), held yearly at the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa in Riverside. This public event, now in its 25th year, features thousands of lights and decorations, Santa, carolers, a vintage carousel, trackless train rides, and horse-drawn carriages.
COLORADO: DENVER BOTANIC GARDENS
At the Denver Botanic Gardens York Street, a winding trail is lined with dazzling light displays that fill the grounds. Visitors can don a pair of holographic glasses and see the gardens anew. Admission to this nighttime attraction (Nov. 24 to Jan. 1) is $15 for adults and $12 for children 3 to 15.
CONNECTICUT: STEPPING STONES CHILDREN'S MUSEUM
Family-friendly holiday fun takes place in the six weeks before the new year at Stepping Stones Children's Museum in Norwalk. Kids of all ages and grown-ups with them can enjoy activities such as "sock skating," as well as myriad holiday-themed arts and crafts, impromptu dance parties with elves, and Santa visits.
DELAWARE: YULETIDE AT WINTERTHUR
A tour of collector and horticulturalist Henry Francis du Pont's former home is a popular holiday stop near Wilmington during the holidays. The home and surrounding grounds are decked out for the holidays, with the spotlight on a dried-flower Christmas tree decorated with more than 60 types of flowers. Holiday tours run Nov. 18 to Jan. 7, with admission starting at $22 for adults and $5 for children.
FLORIDA: SANTA'S ENCHANTED FOREST
Staking claim to the "world's largest holiday theme park," Santa's Enchanted Forest (Nov. 2 to Jan. 7) in Miami features roller coasters, games, a maze, and paintball, and bungee jumps, plus a free carnival. Now in its 25th year, this festival is a magical way to celebrate sans snow. A one-day pass is $34 for adults and $25 for kids age 3 to 9.
GEORGIA: FANTASY IN LIGHTS
Visit the annual Fantasy in Lights (Nov. 17 to Jan. 6) at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain for a fantastical light and sound show and story time with Mrs. Claus, as well as fireworks on Dec. 31. The light show has been called one of the world's "Top 10 Places to See Holiday Lights" by National Geographic Traveler. Admission fees vary by date and begin at $21 for adults and $10.50 for children 5 and up.
HAWAII: 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS IN POLYNESIA
This yearly event celebrates Christmas Polynesian style (Dec. 9-22) in Laie on the island of Oahu. Festive food, music, train rides ($3 for ages 5 and up), canoe rides ($5), and a winter wonderland will keep the whole family entertained.
IDAHO: CHRISTMAS IN THE CITY
An extensive series of seasonal events fills downtown Boise with holiday excitement. Watch the tree-lighting ceremony the day after Thanksgiving and hear Handel's Messiah on Dec. 1 and 2. Artists paint the windows of local businesses with winter motifs, turning the streets into an outdoor gallery. Enjoy free carriage rides on Fridays and Saturdays from Nov. 24 to Dec. 16.
ILLINOIS: CAROLING AT CLOUD GATE
Chicagoans can join together on Friday evenings (Nov. 24, Dec. 1, 8, 15) from 6 to 7 p.m. for a sing-along and concert at Millennium Park. Local choral groups lead the way, with ice skating at the nearby McCormick Tribune rink offering still more outdoor fun.
INDIANA: SANTA CLAUS CHRISTMAS CELEBRATION
With a name like Santa Claus, Indiana, this small town is unsurprisingly bustling this time of year. Parades, face painting, chestnut roasting, and dinner with Santa are just a few of the attractions.
IOWA: JOLLY HOLIDAY LIGHTS
A festive light show (Nov. 24 to Dec. 30) of Santas and wreaths at Adventureland Campground in Altoona beckons families to drive along the 2.5-mile course in the spirit of holiday cheer and philanthropy. Proceeds from the event support the work of Make-A-Wish Iowa, which helps children with life-threatening illnesses. Tickets are $18 for a carload in advance; $20 the same day.
KANSAS: VICTORIAN CHRISTMAS AT COWTOWN
The Old Cowtown Museum, an authentic re-creation of a 19th-century "cow town," invites visitors to celebrate an old-fashioned Victorian Christmas. Carolers will walk the streets, Santa will be in his workshop, and Christmas crafts and activities will be available for kids. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for kids.
KENTUCKY: WINTER ICE VILLAGE
Downtown Lexington becomes a winter wonderland from November to the beginning of January when an ice skating rink pops up in Triangle Park. The rink attracts thousands of skaters each year, and skates are available for rental.
LOUISIANA: CELEBRATION IN THE OAKS
During the annual Celebration in the Oaks (Nov. 24 to Jan. 1) in New Orleans' City Park, 25 acres are decorated in thousands of twinkling lights and walkways are lined with Christmas trees. A two-mile train ride ($5) passes by the Cajun Night Before Christmas display and other favorites. Admission is $9 a person.
MAINE: CHRISTMAS PRELUDE
Named one of the top 10 Christmas towns in America by HGTV, Kennebunkport hosts the Christmas Prelude (Nov. 30 to Dec. 10), a seasonal celebration featuring unique family activities. Visitors can enjoy a Christmas stroll, a holiday hat parade, trolley rides, a hot chocolate service, a lobster-trap tree lighting, and more.
MARYLAND: MONUMENT LIGHTING
This "monumental" celebration on Dec. 7 rings in the season by lighting up Baltimore's own Washington Monument. With more than 30 food and community vendors, the downtown event also features fireworks, music, games, and refreshments. The lights stay up into the New Year.
Holiday shoppers visiting Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston can enjoy a free light and sound show featuring 350,000 dancing LED lights set to the music of the Holiday Pops. The fifth-annual event kicks off with a tree lighting on Nov. 29 and continues until Jan. 1, with daily performances every half hour beginning at 4:30 p.m.
MICHIGAN: CHRISTMAS, MICHIGAN
The tiny town of Christmas (population: 400) has embraced its namesake with Christmas-themed stores, signs, and roadside Santas. Drop a letter to Mr. Claus at the post office to send it with a Christmas, Michigan, postmark. This area of the Upper Peninsula is also popular for snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and ice climbing.
Every year Minneapolis hosts this free, family-friendly, locally focused holiday celebration in Loring Park. Running Thursdays through Sundays Nov. 24 to Dec. 24, Holidazzle ice skating, holiday movie screenings, Santa visits, lights, food, fireworks, and plenty of shopping.
MISSISSIPPI: VICTORIAN CHRISTMAS
Known as "the city of lights," Canton decorates the historic Courthouse Square with more than 200,000 twinkling lights and revs up the Victorian-themed holiday celebration (Nov. 24 to Dec. 23) with a carousel and trolley rides. Windows in the Canton Animation Museum are turned into decorative antique displays that highlight local history and depict children's tales.
MISSOURI: ST. CHARLES CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS
This monthlong festival (Nov. 24 to Dec. 24) has been tradition for decades, inviting visitors to meet some of the most memorable figures in holiday folklore and literature. In addition to being able to visit the North Pole right in town, visitors can enjoy roasting chestnuts, a gingerbread contest, and a Holiday Kissing Ball (centered around some mistletoe, of course).
MONTANA: TROLLEY CHRISTMAS LIGHT TOURS
Hop aboard the Montana Trolley Co.'s Christmas light tour to view festive holiday displays in the town of Kalispell. Tours run Dec. 8 to Dec. 31 and cost $10 a person.
NEBRASKA: HOLIDAY LIGHTS SPECTACULAR
Free to the public, the Holiday Lights Spectacular (through the new year) transforms the Turner Park side of Midtown Crossing in Omaha annually with a choreographed light show set to music -- traditionally a 20-minute spectacular beginning at 7 p.m. Thursday through Sunday nights. Donations to three partnering nonprofits that help children have been welcomed.
NEVADA: SIGHTS, SOUNDS, AND SMELLS OF CHRISTMAS
For the holidays, skip the year-round lights of Las Vegas and explore the small-town charm of Ely, which hosts a series of Christmas activities beginning Nov. 24. The special events include a tree lighting, crafters fair, and Christmas parade.
NEW HAMPSHIRE: VINTAGE CHRISTMAS
Portsmouth, touted as the Christmas capital of America, puts a romantic spin on the season. Enjoy candlelit strolls, a production of "White Christmas," a gingerbread house contest exhibition, and, of course, shopping. Events run Nov. 20 through December.
NEW JERSEY: SMITHVILLE
This historic town near the Jersey Shore hosts numerous events, including a free light show on Lake Meone in the center of the village (Nov. 24 to Jan. 2). As music plays, more than 100 Christmas trees made of lights appear to dance across the water.
NEW MEXICO: CHRISTMAS ON THE PECOS
Hop aboard this river cruise to experience one of New Mexico's most spectacular holiday light shows. Sail down the Pecos River in Carlsbad (Nov. 24 to Dec. 31) past holiday light displays created by homeowners and corporations whose properties front the river. Fares start at $15 for adults and $10 for kids 4 to 12; prices go up on Friday and Saturday.
NEW YORK: ROCKEFELLER CENTER
The Rockefeller Center tree lighting in New York City is tradition for thousands of people who attend yearly and millions more who watch it live on TV. This year, the tree will be lit on Nov. 29 with live performances from 7 to 9 p.m. View the magnificent tree, topped with a 550-pound star made of 25,000 Swarovski crystals, until Jan. 7.
NORTH CAROLINA: SPEEDWAY CHRISTMAS
At the Charlotte Motor Speedway (Nov. 19 to Dec. 31), visitors can drive through a Christmas light display set to music. Don't miss the petting zoo, holiday movies on a 16,000-square-foot screen, and a visit from Santa. Admission starts for a carload.
NORTH DAKOTA: DICKENS VILLAGE FESTIVAL
Considered the Official Christmas Capital of North Dakota, Garrison is home to the Dickens Village Festival (most weekend days between Nov. 24 and Dec. 9). The population of 1,500 turns the town into a scene straight from the era of Charles Dickens, complete with horse-drawn carriages, a parade, a fruitcake toss, and high tea.
OHIO: THE CHRISTMAS RANCH
Head to Morrow, Ohio, to visit The Christmas Ranch, a seasonal celebration (Nov. 17 to Dec. 23) that benefits charitable children's organizations, including St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. The many attractions include walking through 1 million twinkling lights that move to the beat of holiday music, wagon and train rides, and shopping galore. Admission of $20 per vehicle Friday through Sunday drops to $15 Monday through Thursday.
OKLAHOMA: SNOW TUBING WINTER FESTIVAL
During Oklahoma City's quirky Downtown in December celebration, there are stair-climbing contests and runs, illuminated canals, and dogs get a Christmas party. Most exciting, though, is the Snow Tubing Winter Festival (starting Nov. 24), when Chicksaw Bricktown Ballpark transforms into slip-sliding slopes for kids and adults. Admission is $13 per rider, which includes entry to the park.
OREGON: CHRISTMAS SHIPS
A Portland tradition since 1954, the Christmas Ships water parade (Dec. 1 to Dec. 21) redefines the meaning of showboating. Boat owners dress their vessels in holiday lights and decorations before sailing the Columbia and Willamette Rivers. Crowds watch the spectacle from dry land.
PENNSYLVANIA: BUCKS COUNTY HOLIDAY FESTIVAL OF TREES
At the former home of Pearl S. Buck, a National Historic Landmark, guests can walk among uniquely decorated Christmas trees at the annual Bucks County Holiday Festival of Trees (Nov. 14 to Nov. 22), then vote for a favorite. Admission is $16 for adults, $13 for seniors, and $8 for students.
RHODE ISLAND: CHRISTMAS IN NEWPORT
Holiday festivities are scheduled almost every day of December in the city of Newport. Standouts include the Holiday Lantern Tour, a walking tour of the city exploring early American holiday traditions, and the hundreds of clear bulbs that light up the harbor.
SOUTH CAROLINA: CHRISTMAS IN CHARLESTON
The Charleston Strolls Holiday Walking Tour, which runs through December, is a rare chance to see the private neighborhoods of the historic city dressed up for the holidays and learn about local history. The walk ends at the Mills House Hotel with holiday refreshments. Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for kids 7 to 12.
SOUTH DAKOTA: WINTER WONDERLAND
Falls Park in Sioux Falls becomes the scene of a Winter Wonderland (Nov. 17 to Jan. 7). Enjoy more than 25 miles of beautiful lights, including animated features, from the fifth story of the Visitor Information Center.
TENNESSEE: DANCING LIGHTS OF CHRISTMAS
Called Tennessee's largest drive-through music and light show, the Dancing Lights of Christmas is set to Christmas music broadcast to visitors through their car radios. After the show (Nov. 17 to Dec. 31), guests can visit Santa's Village. Admission is $25 for a carload.
TEXAS: 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS
In the gardens of the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden, the 12 Days of Christmas exhibit (Nov. 4 to Jan. 7) features 25-foot Victorian gazebos decorated to represent the lyrics of the traditional Christmas carol. Nighttime viewings add seasonal sweet and savory treats and hot beverages for purchase. Admission is $20 for adults and $10 for kids.
What are the holidays without festive lights? At Thanksgiving Point in Lehi, Utah, the Luminaria experience (Nov. 20 to Dec. 30) offers a spectacular display of more than 6,500 holiday-themed luminaries, plus s'mores and fire pits (and peppermint-scented mulch). Admission starts at $17 for adults and $13 for children 3 to 12.
VERMONT: REINDEER FARM
Trek over to Vermont Reindeer Farm in Orleans, which is home to reindeer year-round but open to the public on select days throughout the year. Kids can feed farm animals, and families can snowshoe and hike the nature trail. Check the site or Facebook page to see when the farm is open to visitors.
VIRGINIA: BUSCH GARDENS CHRISTMAS TOWN
A whopping 8 million lights set the scene for magic at Busch Gardens Christmas Town in Williamsburg (open select days Nov. 24 through Jan. 1). Attractions include a walk-through Rudolph's Winter Wonderland, Santa's workshop, and now Sesame Street's Forest of Fun. Single-day tickets are as low as $15 a person bought in advance, but are $49 when bought at the park.
WASHINGTON: CHRISTMAS LIGHTING FESTIVAL
At the Christmas Lighting Festival in Leavenworth (on select days Dec. 1 to Dec. 17), holiday characters march through the town every weekend, a tent serves German mulled wine, and revelers can go dogsled riding and snowshoeing. St. Nickolaus visits on Fridays, and Santa drops by Saturdays and Sundays.
WEST VIRGINIA: THE WINTER FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS
The Winter Festival of Lights (mid-November through the first week of January) has been lighting up more than 300 acres along a six-mile drive at the Oglebay Resort in Wheeling since 1985. Eighty supersize displays are now part of the show, and every year new ones are added. Open Sunday through Thursday. Donations are suggested.
WISCONSIN: A CEDARBURG CHRISTMAS
Called one of the prettiest towns in America by Forbes magazine, Cedarburg adds holiday art fairs, a film series, and more to traditional holiday festivities such as Santa visits, shopping, and live music. The festival runs mid-November through Christmas.
WYOMING: SANTA ON THE SQUARE
There's more to do than just skiing in Jackson. In the run-up to Christmas (Dec. 15 to Dec. 24), the town square comes alive with thousands of holiday lights, creating the perfect setting for Santa to drop in each evening, when there's free hot cocoa and cookies for all.