Whether you’re dreaming of a sandy, snowy, or sunny Christmas, the holiday travel season is here, and winter vacation is around the corner. Check out our favorite holiday travel activities at destinations across the country from the nation’s capital to South Beach, ski towns, and the West Coast.
With numerous Christmas Tree and lights displays to ice skating, Washington, DC., does the holiday season right. Many of the Christmas activations are free and open to the public, too.
The most recognizable display in town is the National Christmas Tree. The live evergreen tree grows right in President’s Park, close to the White House. The official National Christmas Tree Lighting, led by President Joe Biden, will take place on December 11th at 8 p.m. and is going to be broadcast nationwide on CBS. Following this event, the tree is lit every night at 4:30 p.m. and welcomes guests from all over the world to marvel at the seasonal spectacle.
Surrounding the National Christmas Tree is the America Celebrates display, which symbolizes and pays tribute to each state in America. Unique, one-of-a-kind ornaments made by artists around the country are showcased as a representation of the state they come from. The display is also free and open to visitors.
Another popular site is the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, a Washington tradition since 1964. Each year the tree is chosen from a different national forest to be displayed on the U.S. Capitol’s West Lawn. The tree travels across the country to get to DC and can be up to 75 feet tall. Over 10,000 ornaments decorated by children in the tree’s home state surround the tree.
The Smithsonian’s National Zoo offers an incredible and free holiday light display called ZooLights. Open every evening from now through December 30, ZooLights includes live music, animal lanterns, and more than 500,000 lights. Adults can also partake in BrewLights, the one-night event of beverage tastings held at the lit-up zoo. Tickets support the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.
DC is home to two ice skating rinks that are full of holiday spirit. The National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden turns its center fountain into an ice rink during the winter. Skaters can also visit the Washington Harbour Ice Rink, the largest outdoor ice-skating rink in the city. The rink is located on the Potomac River and is open from November to March.
Additional kid-friendly holiday spots include the United States Botanical Garden’s annual holiday exhibit showcasing seasonal greenery, classic Christmas movies at the National Museum of American History, and Washington Ballet’s performance of The Nutcracker.
Those looking to escape the cold flock down to Miami for a tropical winter break. While you won’t get a white Christmas down here, you will get a sunny one with high temperatures.
Recognized as the World’s Largest Holiday Theme Park, Santa’s Enchanted Forest includes holiday-themed games, rides, shows, and more. While the weather is quite different from the North Pole, Santa’s Enchanted Forest is a holiday spectacular for all ages. Visit the amusement park to see the tallest Christmas tree in South Florida.
The Deering Estate on Biscayne Bay celebrates Christmas, Miami style. Explore the environmental and archeological preserve that is beautifully decorated for the holidays. The estate features a variety of holiday events including evening strolls through the lights and décor, Christmas-themed cocktail parties, and holiday bay cruises.
Just north of Miami in Fort Lauderdale is the Winterfest Boat Parade. The 51st annual event will take place on December 10 and covers 12 miles on water from start to finish. Private boats and large showboats partake in the 2.5-hour event complete with lights, music, entertainment, and holiday cheer.
If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, then look no further. Colorado mountain towns can almost guarantee you will have a snow-filled holiday, and Telluride is a seasonal favorite.
With snow-topped mountains, lights throughout the main street, and Christmas wreaths and decorations all over town, Telluride is a winter wonderland. Enjoy some of the nation’s best skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing, or take a ride on a snowmobile.
Visit Mountain Village for its annual Holiday Prelude. The weekend-long event transforms the area into the North Pole with train rides, a visit from Santa, a light show, photo booths, and more.
Take a dinner sleigh ride through the mountains with Telluride Sleighs and Wagons at the Aldasoro Family Ranch. Starting in early December, guests can enjoy a beautiful and private horse-drawn sleigh ride through the ranch complete with a delicious dinner. The exclusive experience lasts three hours and is a unique way to celebrate Christmas in the great outdoors. Bundle up for this one!
Telluride Ski Resort’s annual Torchlight Parade is held on Christmas Eve. Watch the lights wind down the mountains and into the town. Ski and snowboard instructors ride down the mountain with torches to create the light. On New Year’s Eve, parades run down Telluride Trail and Misty Maiden, ending with a firework show.
San Diego, CA
We’ve hit the East Coast and Rocky Mountain region, so wrapping up the roundup with a West Coast spot. The weather is perfect this time of year—not too hot, not too cold, just right.
Hotel del Coronado does the holidays in style. As one of San Diego’s most popular hotels and beach resorts, Hotel del Coronado completely transforms into a winter wonderland in the sand. Trees are draped in lights, Christmas trees cover the property, and regular holiday events are held. Enjoy Ice Skating by the Sea, grab a drink at the Frostbite Lounge, and explore the “At First Light” Lightshow Spectacular. Relax around the firepit in a Beachside Igloo, take a photo with Santa, decorate gingerbread houses, and sip on Victorian tea. There are plenty of holiday activities for the whole family.
The San Diego Zoo hosts their annual Jungle Bells Christmas exhibition from December 9 to January 1. Experience the zoo decked out for the holidays full of lights, Santa visits, and a Polar Express train ride. The San Diego LegoLand and SeaWorld also host Christmas celebrations.
Christmas on the water. The 52nd annual San Diego Bay Parade of Lights will set sail on Sunday, December 11 and 18. More than 80 private boats decorated for the holidays ride across the San Diego Bay for a 3.5 hour show. It is free to view the parade which is estimated to attract over 100,000 guests.
Participate in the Port of San Diego Holiday Bowl Parade. Known as America’s largest balloon parade, the Holiday Bowl Parade weaves through the streets of downtown San Diego. As part of the SDCCU Holiday Bowl, a college football bowl game, the event gathers marching bands, floats, drill teams, and a processional of large balloons. The parade kicks off with the annual Holiday Bowl 5K along the harbor. Join the festivities on December 28.
Parking Around the Country
Parking in DC, Miami Beach, Telluride, and San Diego is made easy by ParkMobile. The mobile parking app has over 41 million users across North America, is available for both iPhone and Android devices, and can also be accessed on a mobile web browser. To pay for zone parking using the mobile or web app, a user enters the zone number posted on signs around the parking spot or meters, selects the amount of time needed, and touches the “Start Parking” button to begin the session. The user can also extend their parking session right from their mobile device if it is within the time stay limit.
When you’re ready to take a break from the snow (or even the sun!) be sure to check out our favorite places to shop during the holiday season.