Bundle Up for These 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.
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. 28 to Jan. 5), 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 sixth year, the Christmas at the Princess festival transforms the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess resort into a winter wonderland beginning Nov. 19. The resort features a four-story Christmas tree, an ice skating rink, strolling carolers, and Santa visits. Visitors can also enjoy a petting zoo and S'mores Land, a free campfire area with seven fire pits.
Love dressing up the Christmas tree? Get into the spirit of the holiday season -- and maybe take away some decorating ideas -- at Little Rock's 2015 Festival of Trees. The Stroll Through the Forest event (Nov. 20) showcases dozens of illuminated trees from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.
This nationally televised event on Nov. 29 puts a Hollywood spin on holiday traditions. Besides giving spectators a chance to spot celebrity participants, the parade features marching bands, giant balloons, floats, and the Budweiser Clydesdales.
At the Denver Botanic Gardens Chatfield Farms, a winding trail is lined with dazzling displays of lights, including a tunnel, and illuminated antique and model tractors. Visit this attraction (Nov. 27 to Jan. 2) Sunday through Thursday to save on admission.
On Nov. 22, thousands of local residents and out-of-towners will flock to the streets of Stamford for the UBS Parade Spectacular. Daniel Tiger and Kung Fun Panda are just a few of the giant balloons that are due to visit this year.
The historic towns of Delaware host a number of seasonal events after Thanksgiving, but one popular happening is a local favorite. The annual Rehoboth Beach Tree Lighting (Nov. 27) celebrates the season by lighting of a 30-foot tree and holding a holiday sing-along.
In Miami, Santa's Enchanted Forest (Oct. 29 to Jan. 3) claims to be the "world's largest holiday theme park" and 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.
The Children's Christmas Parade (Dec. 5), which transforms midtown Atlanta into Santa Claus Lane, is the largest holiday parade in the Southeast, with marching bands, giant balloons, and floats. Purchase bleacher seats ($18), and the proceeds benefit Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.
This annual Honolulu parade (Nov. 27) commemorates the 74th anniversary of the 1941 attacks on Pearl Harbor. Hawaiian bands, military units, and dignitaries all typically take part.
A holiday parade on Nov. 21 kick-starts a series of seasonal events in downtown Boise, including a tree-lighting ceremony the Saturday after Thanksgiving (Nov. 28). Artists paint the windows of local businesses with winter motifs, turning the streets into an outdoor gallery.
The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival (Nov. 21) has been a Chicago tradition for 23 years. Hear live music and visit Lights Festival Lane, then end the day with a tree lighting parade and fireworks.
With a name like Santa Claus, Indiana, this small town is unsurprisingly bustling the first three weekends in December. Parades, face painting, chestnut roasting, and dinner with Santa are just a few of the attractions.
The streets of downtown Des Moines become a dynamic Winter Market (Dec. 12-13) complete with live music and greenhouse-grown produce. Pick up locally sourced meat and dairy for a holiday feast or enjoy some freshly baked cinnamon buns.
The Old Cowtown Museum, an authentic re-creation of a 19th-century "cow town," gets a proper English makeover to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Christmas at Cowtown. For three weekends (Dec. 4-5, 11-12, and 18-19), Cowtown will tear a page from Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" by re-enacting scenes from the story throughout the evening. Carolers will walk the streets, Santa will be in his workshop, and Christmas crafts and activities will be available for kids.
Downtown Lexington becomes a winter wonderland from November to 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.
During the annual Celebration in the Oaks (Nov. 27 to Jan. 2) 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 passes by the Cajun Night Before Christmas display and other favorites.
Named one of the top 10 Christmas towns in America by HGTV, Kennebunkport hosts the Christmas Prelude (Dec. 2-13), 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.
This "monumental" celebration on Dec. 3 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, and refreshments.
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. 21 and continues until Jan. 3, 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.
The Grand Meander (Dec. 5) in St. Paul invites the community to come together to celebrate. Have breakfast with Santa and meet his reindeer, then try Christmas tree shopping and take part in a soup tasting. Carolers perform throughout the day.
The 11th annual Biloxi Christmas in the City (Dec. 5) is an outdoor festival with an assortment of artisans, antiques dealers, and food vendors to kick-start the holiday shopping season. Live seasonal music from bands and choirs also sets the mood.
This month-long festival (Nov. 27 to Dec. 24) has been a 40-year 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.
Join the annual stroll (Nov. 27) and indulge in seasonal treats, décor, and entertainment before the city of Billings kicks off the big parade later that evening. Stores will be open for pre-parade shopping, and Santa will stop by for photos.
Free to the public (including three hours of parking), the Holiday Lights Spectacular (Nov. 21 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 nightly at 7 p.m.
For the holidays, skip the year-round lights of Las Vegas and explore the small-town charm of Ely, which hosts a series Christmas activities beginning Nov. 27. Fans of the book and movie "The Polar Express" can get a ticket ($20 for children) to ride the town's version of the fictional train (Nov. 21 to Dec. 29), which includes hot chocolate, carol singing, and a visit from Santa.
Portsmouth, touted as the Christmas capital of America, puts a romantic spin on the season. Enjoy candlelit strolls, holiday trolley rides, and, this year, the Broadway production of "Irving Berlin's White Christmas" (Dec. 9-20).
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. 26 to Jan. 6). 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.
Albuquerque's biggest parade of the year, the Twinkle Light Parade (Dec. 5) is a spectacle of shimmery lights, fantastic floats, big bands, and, of course, a visit from Santa. Car clubs, fire trucks, and equestrian clubs also join the fun.
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 Dec. 2 with live performances from 7 to 9 p.m.
At the Charlotte Motor Speedway (Nov. 21 to Dec. 30), 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.
For Dazzle Up Downtown (Nov. 29), the town square in Grand Forks comes alive with holiday lights, live music, and fireworks galore. Dozens of floats also light up the streets.
Horse around at the Hometown Holiday Horse Parade (Nov. 21) in Greenville. The parade features more than 65 lighted, horse-drawn carriages, hitches, and rider and attracts an estimated crowd of more than 8,000 people.
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 (Dec. 5), when Chicksaw Bricktown Ballpark transforms into slip-sliding slopes for kids and adults.
A Portland tradition since 1954, the Christmas Ships (Dec. 4-20) water parade redefines the meaning of showboating. Boat owners dress their vessels in holiday lights and decorations before sailing the Columbia and Wilamette Rivers. The crowds can watch the spectacle from dry land.
Guests to the local visitor center can walk among 24 uniquely decorated Christmas trees at the annual Bucks County Holiday TreeFest (Nov. 24 to Jan. 4), then vote for a favorite. Characters ranging from George Washington to the Grinch join the party, as do Santa and Mrs. Claus.
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 a visit to New England's largest gingerbread lighthouse, a 16-foot tall cookie construction.
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. The walk ends at the Mills House Hotel with holiday refreshments.
Falls Park in Sioux Falls becomes the scene of a Winter Wonderland (Nov. 20 to Jan. 10). Enjoy beautiful lights, décor, and carriage rides, and meet Santa and his reindeer.
Called Tennessee's largest drive-through music and light show, the Dancing Lights of Christmas is put on by Jellystone Park camping resort in Nashville and set to Christmas music broadcast to visitors through their car radios. After the show (Nov. 6 to Jan. 3), guests can visit farm animals in Santa's Village.
In the gardens of the Dallas Arboretum, the 12 Days of Christmas exhibit (Nov. 8 to Jan. 3) features 25-foot Victorian gazebos decorated to represent the lyrics of the traditional Christmas carol. Inside the illuminated glass enclosures are moving figures and thousands of lights.
What are the holidays without meeting Rudolph and his friends? At Thanksgiving Point in Lehi, Utah, Santa's Reindeer (Nov. 27 to Dec. 23) pay a special visit before leaving to help Santa deliver presents.
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.
A whopping 8 million lights set the scene for magic at Busch Gardens Christmas Town in Williamsburg (Nov. 27-Jan. 3). Attractions include a replica of the Scottish countryside and the Polar Pathway, a walk through an illuminated wonderland.
At the Christmas Lighting Festival (Dec. 5-21) in Leavenworth, 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. 13 to Jan. 3) 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.
Called one of the prettiest towns in America by Forbes, Cedarburg hosts the usual holiday festivities -- Santa visits, shopping, live music -- but also has some unique events. A free scavenger hunt challenges families to scour the town for items on a list emailed to participants the week of Dec. 1.
Get the holidays started in Casper at the Downtown Christmas Parade (Nov. 28). Bundle up to watch as parade participants bring this year's theme, "A Christmas Wish List," to life.