Embrace the Season: Holiday Attractions in All 50 States
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.