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 lighting. Many open-air, seasonal attractions run until after New Year's, and most are free to attend or charge low admission fees. See what's happening in your state this year.
Related: 20 Festive Holiday Markets to Visit Across America
Demopolis has held Christmas on the River (Nov. 30 to Dec. 3) for the last 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. 26 to Jan. 8) 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 seventh year, the Christmas at the Princess festival transforms the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess resort into a winter wonderland beginning Nov. 22 and ending on New Year's Day. The attraction features a four-story Christmas tree, an ice skating rink, strolling holiday characters, and Santa visits. Young visitors will enjoy a Ferris wheel and S'mores Land, and a free campfire area with seven fire pits. General admission with parking is $35 per vehicle; some activities cost extra.
Enjoy festive family fun at the annual Eureka Springs Christmas Festival. Visitors can partake in an elf scavenger hunt, a Santa beard contest (for women, kids, and pets, as well!) and an array of musical events, Santa visits, reindeer games, and holiday light displays. The events start Nov. 25 and go through New Year's Eve.
Head to Riverside for the Festival of Lights (Nov. 25 to Jan. 7), held yearly at the Mission Inn Hotel and Spa in Riverside. This public event, now in its 24th 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. 25 to Jan. 1) is $13 for adults and $10 for children 3 to 5.
Family-friendly holiday fun kicks off before Thanksgiving and runs until Dec. 31 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, musical performances, and Santa visits during December.
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. 19 to Jan. 8, with admission starting at $20 for adults and $5 for children.
Staking claim to the "world's largest holiday theme park," Santa's Enchanted Forest (Nov. 3 to Jan. 8) in Miami features animal acts, roller coasters, 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 just under $32 for adults and $23 for kids age 3 to 9.
Visit the annual Fantasy in Lights (Nov. 18 to Jan. 7) 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 $19 for adults and $9.50 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. 25 to Dec. 17.
Chicagoans can join together on Friday evenings (Nov. 25, Dec. 2, 9, 16) from 6 to 7 p.m. for a sing-along and concert at Millennium Park. Local choral groups lead the way, with Santa stopping by to visit and ice skating at the nearby McCormick Tribune rink offering still more outdoor fun.
A festive light show (Nov. 22 to Jan. 1) of Santas and wreaths at Adventureland Campground in Altoona beckons families to drive along the 3.5-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 $7 in advance; $10 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. (Dec. 2-3 and 9-10).
During the annual Celebration in the Oaks (Nov. 25 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 (Dec. 1-11), a seasonal celebration featuring unique family activities. Visitors can enjoy a Christmas stroll, a holiday hat parade, trolley rides, a French 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 fourth-annual event kicks off with a tree lighting on Nov. 19 and continues until Jan. 1, with daily performances every half hour beginning at 4:30 p.m.
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.
Known as "the city of lights," Canton decorates the historic Courthouse Square with 200,000 twinkling lights and revs up the Victorian-themed holiday celebration (Nov. 25 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 month-long festival (Nov. 25 to Dec. 24) is a decades-long tradition, inviting visitors to meet some of the most memorable figures in holiday folklore and literature. In addition to a parade of Santas from around the world, enjoy tree lightings, caroling, and a complimentary marshmallow roasting in the town square.
Free to the public, the Holiday Lights Spectacular (Nov. 26 to Jan. 1) transforms the Turner Park side of Midtown Crossing in Omaha. A choreographed light show set to music, the 20-minute spectacular begins at 7 p.m. Thursday through Sunday nights. Donations to three partnering nonprofits that help children are welcome.
Portsmouth, touted as the Christmas capital of America, puts a romantic spin on the season. Enjoy candlelit strolls, holiday trolley rides, a production of "Beauty and the Beast," a gingerbread house contest exhibition, trolley rides, and, of course, shopping. Events run Nov. 30 to Dec. 29.
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. On weekends families can take a train ride and chat up a "magical talking Christmas tree" next to the station.
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. 25 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 5 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. 30 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.
Related: 20 Free (or Nearly Free) Ways to Enjoy the Holidays in New York
At the Charlotte Motor Speedway (Nov. 19 to Dec. 31), visitors can drive through a Christmas light display set to music. On opening day, walk or run the course, and don't miss the petting zoo, wagon rides, and a visit from Santa. Admission is $30 per vehicle with up to eight passengers.
Considered the Official Christmas Capital of North Dakota, Garrison is home to the Dickens Village Festival (Nov. 25-27, Dec. 2-3, and Dec. 9-10), a can't miss local event. 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. 25 to Dec. 31) 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, Santa rides a Segway and dogs get a Christmas party. Most exciting, though, is the Snow Tubing Winter Festival (starting Nov. 26), when Chicksaw Bricktown Ballpark transforms into slip-sliding slopes for kids and adults. Admission is $14 per rider, which includes entry to the park.
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. 8 to Dec. 31), 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 $10 for kids 7 to 12.
Called Tennessee's largest drive-through music and light show, the Dancing Lights of Christmas is presented by Jellystone Park camping resort in Nashville and set to Christmas music broadcast to visitors through their car radios. After the show (Nov. 4 to Jan. 1), guests can visit farm animals in Santa's Village. Admission is $25 per vehicle.
In the gardens of the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden, the 12 Days of Christmas exhibit (Nov. 6 to Jan. 8) features 25-foot Victorian gazebos decorated to represent the lyrics of the traditional Christmas carol. New this year is a collection of Santa figures on display at the DeGolyer House. Admission is $15 for adults and $10 for kids 3 to 12.
What are the holidays without festive lights? At Thanksgiving Point in Lehi, Utah, the new Luminaria experience (Nov. 1 to Dec. 31) offers a spectacular display of 8,000 holiday-themed luminaries, plus s'mores and fire pits (and peppermint-scented mulch). Admission is $20 for adults and $17 for children 3 to 12.
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.
At the Christmas Lighting Festival in Leavenworth (Dec. 2-18), 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 (Nov. 11 to Jan. 1) 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 requested.
Called one of the prettiest towns in America by Forbes magazine, Cedarburg hosts the usual holiday festivities -- Santa visits, shopping, live music -- but also offers unique events, such holiday art fairs and film series. The festival runs mid-November through Christmas.
There's more to do than just skiing in Jackson. In the run-up to Christmas (Dec. 15-24), the town square comes alive with thousands of holiday lights during the season, creating the perfect setting for Santa to drop in each evening. There's plenty of free hot cocoa and cookies for all.