Add a healthy dose of holiday magic to your winter getaway. These six cities combine local specialties and annual events into a charming blend of family fun and holiday celebration. Stroll among glittering lights, delicious aromas, and sounds of the season. Hosting everything from colorful boat parades to classic holiday caroling, these cities will bring out the holiday spirit in your whole family—even the Scroogiest among you.


Beachfront bash in Gulf Shores, AL

Photo credit: Coastal Alabama Business Chamber

This isn’t your typical holiday parade: Boats glide along the palm-lined Intracoastal Waterway off the Gulf of Mexico, playing festive tunes and glimmering top to bottom in holiday lights. Welcome to the holiday season in Gulf Shores, Alabama. This year’s 30th Annual Lighted Boat Parade hits the water on December 12, and the most popular place to watch the parade is on the sandy beach at LuLu’s at Homeport Marina. Staying in Gulf Shores for New Year’s Eve? Get to The Wharf in Orange Beach for The Wharf Rockin’ New Year’s Eve Bash. This family-friendly block party has a Ferris wheel, live music on two stages, and fireworks to ring in the new year.


Musical merriment in Branson, MO

Photo credit: ExploreBranson.com

For a blend of nostalgia and new traditions, enjoy An Old Time Christmas celebration at the Silver Dollar City theme park in Branson. From November 7 to December 31, the park is decked out with five million lights and one thousand decorated Christmas trees—one of them five stories high! See the light parade, featuring Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, a musical living nativity scene, and a production of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Add some toe-tapping country music to your New Year’s Eve plans and stay for the Grand Jubilee New Year’s Eve show at the Grand Country Music Hall.


River Walk romance in San Antonio, TX

Photo credit: Paseo del Rio Association and VisitSanAntonio.com

Twenty-eight sparkling barges, decked out in their holiday finest, float down the San Antonio River for the Ford Holiday River Parade on November 27. Local celebrities, musical acts, and costumed riders float by while millions of twinkling lights reflect off the river. San Antonio’s River Walk rings with festivities during the holiday season: carolers and bell choirs, folk groups, and Latino ensembles. San Antonio’s romantic holiday ambiance includes 6,000 flickering luminarias warmly lighting the way along the river. Stay for the Texas-sized Celebrate San Antonio New Year’s Eve festival with three live music stages, carnival games and rides, Mexican street food, and, of course, a midnight fireworks extravaganza.


A winter wonderland in Seattle, WA

Photo credit: downtownseattle.org

Downtown Seattle puts on a winter show throughout the season, starting with the West Coast’s own Macy’s Holiday Parade on November 27. The festivities continue at the Winter Village at Westlake Park featuring a holiday carousel and games and crafts for kids. Music’s in the air at the Great Figgy Pudding Caroling Competition on December 4, staged on the street corners of downtown Seattle. Ring in the new year at the Experience Music Project’s pop culture museum party, with multiple stages, DJs, and comedians. And nothing beats fireworks at midnight under the Space Needle.


Historic holidays in Nevada City, CA

Photo credit: Nevada City Chamber photographers—Faye White, Thomas A. Thompson, Gary Swenor

Step into an authentic Dickens scene with wandering minstrels, street vendors, carolers in Victorian attire, horse-drawn carriages, the smell of hot roasted chestnuts, and the warm glow of gas lamps. A Victorian Christmas comes to life in the Gold Rush town of Nevada City, California. See more period costumes and décor with a side of hot spiced cider and cookies at the Empire Mine, hosted by Santa and Mrs. Claus. Stay to toast the new year at the historic National Hotel’s New Year’s Eve party.


Festive fetes in New Orleans, LA

Photo credit: New Orleans City Park Archives

New Orleans is magical and romantic year round, but imagine a stroll under giant oak trees and moss-covered cypresses lit with thousands of twinkling holiday lights. In the Big Easy, the holiday season takes on fairy-tale proportions. City Park’s Celebration in the Oaks is a winter wonderland on 25 acres, with amusement park rides, an animated Cajun version of The Night Before Christmas, and a two-mile train ride through the lights. Let New Orleans entice you to stay for New Year’s Eve at Jackson Square, where the new year is marked when an illuminated fleur-de-lis drops from the top of Jax Brewery, followed by the Symphony in the Sky fireworks over the Mississippi.


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