Have yourself a very merry Christmas in these nine charming locales across America.
While you might want to visit holiday hot spots like New York City or even Disneyland to get into the holiday spirit, you should consider some of America's small towns, as they have just as much holiday cheer and festivities as their big-city counterparts. These nine destinations offer plenty of Christmas spirit alongside fun and one-of-a-kind activities, from themed train rides into the snowy mountains to five-day-long holiday parades.
If you'd prefer to celebrate Christmas sans freezing temperatures, consider this central Louisiana city. Natchitoches experiences daytime highs in the 60s every winter, and while that may disappoint those itching for a white Christmas, Natchitoches more than makes up for it thanks to its famous holiday festival. During the festival, which starts before Thanksgiving, the Natchitoches downtown area is decked out in more than 300,000 lights and 100 set pieces. Not only that, but the festival features plenty of events and activities, including fireworks, craft fairs, live music and a kids fest. Plus, restaurants and shops stay open later to cater to holiday shoppers.
North Pole, Alaska
Next time your kids say they want to go to the North Pole to visit Santa, take them here. Located about 15 miles southeast of Fairbanks, Alaska, North Pole is dressed in Christmas decorations year-round and is home to the Santa Claus House. The structure dates back to the 1950s, when a jovial local who was known for dressing up as Santa Claus opened a general store. Today, the house sells all things Christmas and is home to Santa's sleigh and team of reindeer. When you're not visiting Santa, soak up the one-of-a-kind setting by venturing down streets like Kris Kringle Drive and Snowman Lane, or head to the annual Winter Festival for its holiday bazaar and fireworks.
Branson is packed with family-friendly activities year-round, so you can expect a flurry of holiday events come Christmastime. During the holiday season, Branson is awash with more than 1 million lights and hundreds of trees. What's more, you'll find plenty of parades and Christmas shows to attend, as well as organized trails that take visitors to the best lights and Christmas tree displays in the city. Plus, the Branson Scenic Railway transforms into The Polar Express. On the hourlong ride to the "North Pole," kids can sip hot chocolate and munch on cookies while "The Polar Express" is read aloud. Once you've reached the North Pole, Santa hops aboard to give each child a special gift.
(Courtesy of Branson Convention and Visitors Bureau)
If you want to experience a traditional white Christmas complete with small-town charm, Woodstock is your best bet in New England. Woodstock is best known for its skiing, but the town comes alive come Christmastime thanks to the popular Wassail Weekend. This three-day celebration is jam-packed with a variety of things to do. You can attend grand events, such as the annual Wassail Parade, or sit back and relax with a holiday movie screening. There are also traditional activities, such as caroling, as well as things for the kids, including craft making and holiday storytime at the local library.
Once December hits, the mountainous hamlet of Durango turns into a winter wonderland. The quaint town truly looks like the inside of a snow globe, making seasonal activities, such as sleigh rides and ice skating, downright magical. But the main reason to visit during the holiday season is to experience The Polar Express. Hosted by the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, the journey brings the book to life by taking visitors to the "North Pole" to pick up Santa. Along the way, passengers receive tasty treats, such as hot chocolate, and are greeted by characters from the book, including Santa himself. There are also Christmas singalongs, a reading of the book and a present for each child.
(Courtesy of Visit Durango Colorado)
Ever wonder what Christmas in Bavaria looks like? Before you travel to Germany, consider visiting Leavenworth first. Situated at the base of the Cascades, Leavenworth is a small Washington town that was designed to mirror Bavaria's Alpine charm. And once Christmastime hits, the already picturesque town becomes even more magical. Christmas celebrations abound throughout the month thanks to the Christmas Lighting Festival held every weekend from Nov. 30 to Dec. 16. Festivalgoers can admire the lights (there are more than 500,000), meet Santa, watch a variety of musical performances, enjoy mulled wine and roasted chestnuts, and collect free cookies along the cookie crawl.
Santa Claus, Indiana
Christmas fanatics will want to add a trip to this town in southwestern Indiana to their bucket lists. The town's Santa Claus Christmas Celebration takes place over the course of three weekends and offers a variety of events. You can attend the town's Christmas Parade, visit St. Nicholas Catholic Church for the German-inspired Das Nikolausfest or browse the Santa Claus Arts & Crafts Show. Kids will also want to pay a visit to Santa's Candy Castle, where they can log in to the "North Pole Network" and chat virtually with an elf. Or, little ones can head to the Santa Claus Museum & Village, where they can write letters to Santa. They’ll even receive responses if they submit their letters by Dec. 20.
Williamsburg has dubbed itself the "Best Christmas Town in America," and with all it has to offer, it may actually be true. This Virginia town pulls out all the stops when it comes to Christmas. Busch Gardens boasts the biggest Christmas light display in North America, donning a total of 10 million lights. Then there's the Jamestown settlement, which offers tours that demonstrate how the colonists celebrated the holidays. For even more history, plan to attend the Community Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony at Market Square in Colonial Williamsburg. During the event, you'll learn about the United States' first Christmas tree – which originated in Williamsburg – and enjoy a reading of "The Night Before Christmas."
Newport Beach, California
While Newport Beach may not immediately come to mind when envisioning quaint Christmas towns, this Southern California spot draws visitors in droves to its impressive boat parade. Every year for the past 110 years, Newport Beach has hosted a boat parade in its namesake harbor. Spanning five days, the parade showcases boats outfitted with Christmas trees, life-size gingerbread houses, inflatable floats and more. You can even get in on the action by jumping on a cruise boat decked out in holiday decor. In addition to featuring floating light displays, the event hosts fireworks to open and close the occasion.