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Outdoor holiday celebrations around the United States

By Kaeli Conforti and Lola Méndez
December 6, 2021
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Get into the holiday spirit outdoors and admire holiday decorations and lights from walking paths.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and many parts of our country are feeling festive despite the pandemic. If you are still cautious, or on the fence, or simply prefer an outdoor experience, this list is for you!

Here are a few places around the U.S. where you can get into the holiday spirit outdoors and admire holiday decorations and lights from walking paths. Here’s where to celebrate the holidays this year— remember to check out our private booking platform with discounted rates!


Northeast

New York City, New York

The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree will be lit daily from from 6am-12am. On Christmas Day, the Tree is lit for 24 hours and on New Year’s Eve it is lit from 6am to 9pm.

New Hampshire

The 2.5-mile drive-through light show at the New Hampshire Speedway in Loudon features 400 different lighting displays with snow-covered mountains in the background.

Woodstock, Vermont

Celebrate the holidays Victorian style at Billings Farm & Museum, where you can try your hand at candle dipping, watch traditional holiday cooking demonstrations, create your own gingerbread ornaments—or just head straight to the onsite Dairy Bar for cider donuts.


Mid-Atlantic

Maryland

At Ocean City, Maryland's Winterfest of Lights guests can explore zillions of sparkling holiday lights, animated light displays, and a 50-foot holiday tree on display along a paved path in Northside Park. The Annmarie Sculpture Garden is transformed into an outdoor wonderland until January 1st with many light sculptures of wild animals, winter wonderlands, musical holiday scenes, and magical beings.

Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia

The White House isn’t the only place in the nation's capital that’s getting in on the holiday spirit. Civilians can enjoy the undeniable festive energy in the District through New Year’s Day by visiting the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. The National Menorah will be lit throughout Hanukkah.

About 25 minutes away in Vienna, Virginia, celebrate the season at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens’ Winter Walk of Lights. Stroll the one-way half-mile path full of holiday lights and festive decorations, admire the Fountains of Lights and watch as the “sing to me” tree’s lights dance along with all your favorite holiday tunes. Timed tickets must be purchased online ahead of time and are available on a limited basis.

Roanoke, Virginia

Treat yourselves to a lovely half-mile walk through the woods, toast marshmallows around the fire, shop for presents at the Artisan Christmas Market, donate canned goods to help others, meet Santa and his elves, and feast your eyes on more than 500,000 lights during the Illuminights Winter Walk of Lights at Explore Park. Purchase timed tickets online or by phone to access this event.

Virginia Beach, Virginia

Head to Virginia Beach for a unique beach-themed holiday lights display. At the Holiday Lights at the Beach, you’ll drive on the Atlantic Ocean boardwalk that has been transformed into a nautical lights display, including a surfing Santa.


Southeast


Aiken, South Carolina

Enjoy more than two miles of beautifully lit paths with over 100,000 lights and holiday decorations at Christmas in Hopelands Gardens. This year, the colorful displays will be lit up all December long to help keep spirits bright. The Christmas Craft show features handmade crafts and goodies made by talented artisans from across the Southeast. There is sure to be something for everyone’s style, taste, and budget. The Christmas Craft Show is also a great place to shop for your holiday gifts and décor.

South Walton, Florida

If you’re in the Florida panhandle, don’t miss 12 Nights of Lights at The Village of Baytowne Wharf, located about halfway between Pensacola and Panama City Beach in South Walton. Enjoy a festive light show every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday leading up to Christmas! This sparkling event will also be featured during our special holiday edition of the Wednesday Night Concert Series. Watch three dazzling shows each night!

Houston, Texas

The Space Center in Houston is hosting Galaxy Lights, a technological holiday celebration featuring kinetic light shows, choreographed light and music sequences, an interactive light pad, a large light tunnel and the chance to see a film about astronauts celebrating the holidays in space, among other themed attractions. Galaxy Lights requires its own tickets, which can be purchased online, and takes about 90 minutes to fully enjoy.

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Dolly Parton’s Dollywood features an award-winning spectacle, set in the backdrop of the Smoky Mountains. The festival features over 5 million lights, and even include fireworks this year.


Midwest

Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

Visit the Tree of Light, a 55-foot silver maple tree decked out in 30,000 lights near the River Walk in Wisconsin Dells. As the holiday season kicks off, Wisconsin Dells will deliver a little extra cheer again this year with one of the biggest and brightest displays of all. In the open-air located off the River Walk in downtown Wisconsin Dells, a towering 55-foot silver maple tree will showcase 30,000 dazzling points of light, making it the only – and we mean only – light display of its kind in the Midwest. Stroll along the River Walk and view additional lighting in the form of 70 holiday trees, all sponsored by area businesses.

Indiana

The Santa Claus Land of Lights is a 1.2 mile Drive-Through Family Christmas Light Adventure located inside Lake Rudolph Campground & RV Resort. Enjoy the largest campground holiday light show in North America and the only light show that tells a story in lights and storyboards! Create new family memories and family traditions this Christmas Season at the Santa Claus Land of Lights – Family Christmas Light Adventure!

For more themed light displays cruise through The Christmas Lake Village Festival Lights. The gated community of Christmas Lake Village invites you to drive through nine miles of festive light displays! Awards for Judges’ Favorite, Kids’ Favorite, Reason for the Season, and Best Lights will be awarded to four homes.

Cheyenne, Wyoming

Celebrate the holiday season Western-style this year in Cheyenne, where you can get your letter to Santa stamped by an Elf and see the mail get picked up by a Pony Express rider, visit holiday horses at Santa’s Saloon and Stables, hear Cowboy Carolers sing and meet Mr. Claus by the fire at Kringle Ranch, part of an event by the Little America Hotel & Resort. Check the calendar for more Old West holiday festivities happening through December 31.


West

Sonoma County, California

Cue that legendary piano music and celebrate trees of all shapes and sizes all December long at Windsor’s annual Charlie Brown Christmas Tree Grove. This year, more than 200 trees were decorated by neighborhood families, classes, small businesses and community groups for you to enjoy on a socially distanced stroll through Windsor Town Green.

San Luis Obispo, California

Don’t miss San Luis Obispo’s annual Light Up Downtown event, the region’s destination for making holiday memories for more than 40 years. This year, they will feature the return of our annual Holiday Parade, Santa's House, and the Classic Carousel. Explore and celebrate local businesses and check out the lights, sights, and family fun in the Holiday Plaza!

Nevada

The Polar Express in Carson City, Nevada drive-through lights experience is operating until Christmas Eve. The brilliant light show will feature Santa, Mrs. Claus, and dozens of elves busy at work as they prepare for Christmas. Guests are encouraged to wear their favorite holiday pajamas and bring hot chocolate as they travel through the North Pole experience.

Hawai’i

Get into the Mele Kalikimaka spirit at the 25th anniversary of Kauai’s Festival of Lights. The displays use recycled and reclaimed materials at the Historic County Building park and can be enjoyed until New Year’s Day. Millions of colorful lights illuminate the park’s looming coconut palm trees wrapped in colorful lights as well as upcycled decorations including aluminum can flowers and water bottle butterflies.

Arizona

Make the best of the holidays at the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix. The gardens offer a dash of holiday magic with 8,000 hand-lit luminaria bags and thousands of white twinkle lights. Las Noches de las Luminarias includes pre-recorded carols to enjoy during the experience. In Lake Havasu City experience London Bridge Resort's Festival of Lights—the Bridgewater Channel is lit up with over 500,000 lights that set the water aglow and spark the holiday spirit.

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Inspiration

You can now book the Home Alone house on Airbnb

This season, fans are set to have their dreams come true with an overnight stay in the original Home Alone house. While the McCallisters are away on their annual trip (all of them but the pet tarantula, this time), four guests will get the opportunity to relive their favorite scenes from the holiday classic and let their inner eight-year-olds run free for the evening without the interruption of pesky intruders. Big brother Buzz McCallister will join thousands of Hosts on Airbnb by opening the doors to his family’s Chicago home as the ultimate gift this month. Following the release of Home Sweet Home Alone, the all-new holiday film now streaming on Disney+, this Airbnb stay offers a trip down memory lane and an unforgettable way to celebrate the holidays. “You may not remember me as particularly accommodating,” says Buzz, “but I’ve grown up, and I’d be happy to share my family home – my pizza, even – with you this holiday season. Just try not to let my tarantula, Axl, loose this time.” Buzz will host a one-night stay* for up to four guests at the McCallister residence on Dec. 12 for only $25**. During their stay, guests will enjoy: A cozy holiday scene with twinkling lights and a perfectly trimmed tree in celebration of the season.Booby traps galore (but don’t worry – you’ll be setting them, not sidestepping them!).Surprisingly searing splashes of aftershave and ample opportunity to scream into the mirror.All the ‘90s favorites their hearts desire, including plenty of Chicago’s finest pizza and a candlelit dinner of microwavable Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.A meet and greet with a real-life tarantula. A viewing of the film franchise’s newest holiday adventure, Home Sweet Home Alone.A LEGO Ideas Home Alone set to take and build at home. “We may all be older and wiser now, but we’re never too old for holiday hijinks,” Buzz said. “So this year, spend the holidays not-so-home-alone at my parents’ house.” Those hoping to stay in the McCallister home should note that this stay’s rules require strict adherence with local COVID-19 guidelines. Onsite staff will follow applicable local, state and federal guidelines as well as Airbnb’s COVID-19 Safety Practices, which include wearing a mask and practicing social distancing when required by local laws or guidelines, and abiding by our five-step enhanced cleaning process. Guests are responsible for their own travel to and from Chicago. Mischief makers can request to book this stay beginning Tuesday, December 7 at 1:00 PM CT at airbnb.com/homealone.

Inspiration

Affordable American Winter Beach Escapes

When the mercury drops a little too much and the snow piles up a little too high, it’s time for a winter escape. We’ve rounded up some of America’s finest winter beaches, each with its own distinct flavor at a price that’s right. THE GEORGIA COAST When it comes to warm beaches, great price, and convenience, Georgia should spring to mind this time of year. The barrier islands of the state’s southern coast offer some of the best stretches of sand, great weather, and the welcoming vibe every vacationer craves. We love St. Simons Island for its incredible white-sand beaches, history, and ample golf courses, but we also love that the best way to get around the island may be on a rented beach cruiser bike, giving you the opportunity to leave your car behind and truly disconnect from all the stuff you went on vacation to escape. Points of interest on the island include a charming lighthouse, a 19th-century church, and ancient oak trees with their distinctive moss drapery. Grab a plate of shrimp and grits at Crabdaddy’s Seafood Grill and grab an affordable room (well under $150/night) at the Village Inn & Pub and other hotels on the island. To learn more about St. Simons Island, visit exploregeorgia.org. An easy day trip from St. Simons Island, Jekyll Island is relatively wild (more than 60 percent of its land is protected from development) and home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Georgia. Just drive back to the mainland from St. Simons and over the bridge to Jekyll, where you’ll find 10 miles of beach (including favorites Driftwood and Glory), the 250-acre Historic Landmark District, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, a water park, and four golf courses. To learn more about Jekyll Island, visit exploregeorgia.org. Tybee Island is a 20-minute drive from Savannah, making it one of the most convenient winter escapes in the U.S., not to mention one of the most affordable. Here, you’ll find classic beach activities like a boardwalk, pier, and souvenir shops, low-key restaurants like the Crab Shack (yu must try the steamed oysters and Low Country boil with shrimp, sausage, and potatoes), and comfy motels, the beachfront Hotel Tybee (well under $150/night) and others. What’s not to love? Don’t miss the Tybee Island Light Station and Museum, a 270-year-old site with historic buildings that visitors can tour and the Civil War-era Fort Pulaski National Monument on nearby Cockspur Island. To learn more about Tybee Island, visit exploregeorgia.org. MOLOKAI, HAWAII No traffic lights. No resorts. The world’s highest sea cliffs. Volcanoes (don’t worry they’re extinct). If you can’t relax on Molokai, the least-visited of the major Hawaiian islands, it’s possible you’re just not trying hard enough. Seek out the gold sand of Papohaku beach, visit the island’s biggest town (a whopping 7,000 people live there), and head to downtown Kaunakakai for local Hawaiian favorites such as mahi-mahi. CATALINA ISLAND, CALIFORNIA For anyone who has visited Los Angeles and complained about the traffic (aka, everyone): We love the fact that cars aren’t allowed on Catalina, just 22 miles off the Southern California coast, unless you count golf carts, which you can rent if you really need to. Yes, this is a place to really get away from it all. After the 90-minute ferry ride, you’ll enter another world, where bicycles are the best way to get around, and exploring the island’s interior in search of birds (you may even see a bald eagle), is one of the prime activities. The town of Avalon is where you’ll find charming shops, restaurants, and affordable lodging. PUERTO RICO Besides being a quick flight from many U.S. cities, no passport required, Puerto Rico can also use your help: Tourism dollars help fund the island’s recovery from hurricane damage sustained in 2017. You’ll love the beaches, great food, and natural beauty, typified by El Yunque National Forest, a rainforest (bring a poncho!), perfect for a half- or full-day guided tour of sites such as La Coca Falls and the Yokahu Lookout Tower. Feast on traditional local fare such as arepas and plantains, washed down with a pina colada (the drink was invented in Puerto Rico in the 1950s), and tour charming Old San Juan, one of the oldest and most historic city centers in the U.S. For great views, visit El Morro National Monument, a 16th-century Spanish colonial fort that offers some of the most Instagrammable moments in the Caribbean. ST. CROIX, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS The easternmost point in the United States is in the Caribbean, in the U.S. Virgin Islands: St. Croix may be small as far as islands go, but when it comes to winter getaways, it sure reminds you that good things come in small packages, with great opportunities for swimming, snorkeling, eating Caribbean favorites such as conch and snapper, and acres of golf for those who define “vacation” as time on the links. We love historic Christiansted, where you’ll find reliable hotels and restaurants at good prices.

InspirationRediscover AmericaTravel Tips

Most affordable destinations for New Years Eve 2022

Priceline.com has released a list of the most affordable NYE destinations around the USA. *Based on average round-trip ticket costs and average daily hotel rates for travel anytime between December 17, 2021 - January 1, 2022. Most affordable round trip flights Times Square in NYC. Credit: schalkm, Getty Images 1. New York ($312) The ball drop in Times Square is a rite of passage, and Manhattan tends to go all out for new years eve festivities. 2. Las Vegas ($314) Vegas throws great parties! Our recommendation for NYE is this affordable 80s and 90s dance party on Fremont Street (must be 21+). Buy tickets here. 3. Fort Lauderdale ($317) Celebrate the new year in downtown Fort Lauderdale, which will have a band, free street festival, and a brilliant fireworks display at midnight. 4. Chicago ($319) Chicago has a new year's party for everyone. We count almost 30 different options for you to celebrate on the official city website, ChooseChicago. 5. Atlanta ($326) Atlanta celebrates the new year with a college football bonanza. Check out the Chic-fil-a Peach Bowl, and then celebrate your favorite team into next year. Most affordable hotels Credit: Sean Pavone, Getty Images 1. Las Vegas ($130) Say what you want about Vegas, it knows how to throw a party! Our recommendation? Dance the night away and then find a cheap hotel off the strip. Travelers can find great deals in Las Vegas on Priceline.com. 2. Pigeon Forge ($139) Pigeon Forge's Winterfest is a great family-friendly place to ring in the new year. The city puts up over 5 million lights to create a winter wonderland, as well as a fireworks display at midnight. 3. Washington, D.C. ($140) DC has a new year's party for every style and price range. Check out the list of great parties by clicking here. 4. Kissimmee, FL ($145) The Orlando area theme parks are a fabulous experience around the holidays, and several are staying open until midnight to ring in the new year, including Disney World's Epcot and Magic Kingdom. 5. Houston ($146) Houston has tons of family-friendly events to ring in the New Year. Our favorite is the High Noon Countdown at the Woodland Children's Museum on December 31. Celebrate with a dance party and several balloon drops, then get the kids home for bedtime! Check out Priceline's Season of Savings event - 6 weeks of rotating weekly deals on all types of travel. Travelers can save up to $625 on packaged bookings with extra discounts on select hotels in Las Vegas, Orlando, Mexico, and Hawaii including The Venetian Resort (LV), Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, Curio Collection by Hilton (LV), B Resort and Spa (Orlando, an official Walt Disney World Resort), Sheraton Waikiki (HI), Secrets The Vine Cancun Resort & Spa (MX, All-Inclusive and Adults Only), and more. All bookings must be made by Sunday, December 5, with travel to occur throughout 2022 (see website for exact details and terms as travel dates vary by hotel to receive additional savings). Be sure to check out Priceline.com to check out the deal of the week which is unveiled on Monday each week through January 3, 2022.

The short daylight hours and cold temperature invite us to stay indoors but venturing out to a National Park in the midst of winter has its own benefits—less people. The swarming crowds of summer are gone, offering a chance to see these splendid parks at your leisure and appreciate the landscape, often blanketed in snow. There are plenty of winter activities inviting you to enjoy the snow, such as hiking, tubing, sledding or cross-country skiing. Visiting in winter requires being extra prepared with proper hiking shoes and adequate clothing for freezing or below zero temperatures so make sure to pack your gloves, scarves, ear muffs and rain gear. Big Bend National, Texas Big Bend National Park, located in the western region of Texas and bordering Mexico, encompasses part of the Chihuahuan Desert and Rio Grande. The park was created in 1944 and there are fossils dating over 130 million years ago that highlight the expansive geological diversity. The Chiso Mountains are a special part of this park because the entire mountain range—spanning 40 square miles—is within the confines of the park and formed from volcanic activity in the Eocene epoch. Snow isn’t common in the winter and day time temperatures are often in the 70’s, making it great weather for hiking. Though be prepared for near or below zero weather as the cold sets in as soon as the sun goes down. Hop in the car and enjoy the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive that leads to Santa Elena Canyon, a 1,500-foot vertical chasm made of limestone and is along the border between Mexico and Texas. Stop frequently on this 30 mile road, where there are plenty of overlooks and monuments or turn off and hike on one of the many well-marked trails. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah Bryce Canyon is magical in winter with layers of snow set against the red rock hoodoos and spires. Located in south central Utah and established as a park in 1923, ponderosa pines and fir-spruce forests thrive along with plenty of wildlife in this amphitheater shape of plateaus and meadows. The park has 56 square miles to explore. Some roads, including Fairyland Road and Paria View Road are left unplowed where you can traverse the expansive snow with snowshoes or cross-country skis. Sections of the Rim Trail are open as well where you can enjoy the vistas of the Main Amphitheater and the Bristlecone Loop Trail. You can also opt for sledding above the rim, one of the few areas where this is possible. If you want a break from the snow, hop in your warm car and stop along at some of the main vista points to take in the views. Bryce Canyon in winter. Credit: Mike Nielsen, Flickr creative commons Glacier National Park, Montana Glacier National Park, created in 1910, has over a million acres with an ecosystem that has been protected and mostly undisturbed. Snow blankets the mountain peaks and glaciers and the coniferous forest of larch, firs and spruce trees serve as a backdrop for Lake McDonald. Mountain goats, Bighorn sheep, beavers, nine species of bats, as well as Grizzly Bears are just some of the 71 different types of mammals that live in the park. Going-to-the-Sun Road is one of the highlights—spanning 50 miles with challenging, hairpin curves. This is the only road that crosses the park and passes through the Continental Divide, though during the snow filled months only certain parts of the road are accessible. Upper Lake McDonald is a popular snow area where you can ski up to McDonald Falls or Sacred Dancing Cascade. Visit Marias Pass, known by the locals as the “summit,” where skiing and snow activities are often ideal. There are plenty of routes for cross-country skiers and snowshoe fans who want to experience the solitude in this vast oasis. Olympic National Park, Washington Covering almost a million acres and spanning from sandy beaches to mountain peaks to lush fir and cedar tree rainforests, the geography of this park is unique. Created in 1938, it is designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and as an International Biosphere Reserve. In the colder months, Olympic National Park is beautifully draped in snow with a myriad of activities to partake in. Hurricane Ridge is a haven for snow lovers, offering downhill skiing and snowboarding and an area for tubing and sledding or just playing in the snow. There are several trails for cross-country skiers and snowshoers, who prefer to head into the backcountry or connect with nature as they traverse the white powdery snow. There are frequent storms on the Pacific coast in winter so being attentive to weather conditions is fundamental. Between bouts of harsh weather, low tide is an optimal moment to take a stroll along the sandy beach. Visit the Hoh rainforest in the north of the park where you can surround yourself among a variety of trees, including Red Cedar, Big Leaf Maple and Douglas Fir or go towards the southwestern area of the park and hike in the Quinault rainforest with a distinct geography of alpine meadows, lakes and peaks carved by ice. Because of the geography of this park, the weather can change at a moment’s notice so keep this in mind when planning your trip and once you arrive with your day to day plans. Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park. Credit: Steve FUNG, Flickr creative commons Yosemite National Park, California Waterfalls, meadows and the granite wall of half dome makes Yosemite famous. The park was first protected in 1864 and became part of the National park service in 1890. The beauty of visiting in the colder months is experiencing this 1,200 square mile park when crowds have dissipated, offering plenty of solitude.Yosemite Valley and Wawona are accessible year-round by car but many roads close due to the snowy terrain, making traversing by foot one of the best ways to enjoy the park. Many trails are open with various options from easy and low-key hikes to more challenging ones where you can navigate through coniferous forests filled with ponderosa and sugar pine, incense cedar, white and Douglas fir trees or stare up at Giant Sequoias. Yosemite in Winter. Credit: Yūgen, Flickr Creative Commons Temperatures can be mild during the day, although freezing temperatures and snow are common. If you time your visit when there is snowfall, typically between December- March, winter wonderland options abound from sledding, tubing, snowshoeing or snowboarding and skiing down the oldest slope in California on Badger Pass. Curious about snowshoeing? Take a ranger-led snowshoe walk where you’ll be in a good company while you learn about the sights, although be prepared for sore muscles afterwards because it’s more challenging than it appears. Disclaimer: Make sure to check the park website to ensure the activities and areas of the park you wish to visit are open and accessible. Some roads and park areas have been closed due to Covid and/or to inclement weather. Please also respect measures to prevent the spread of Covid, including passing through towns en route to your destination.

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