The Best Places to Visit in America in December

December is a popular travel month and for good reason. The holidays, right? With this festive time of year comes a big decision. Where to go? Some of you have already decided as you have family in certain destinations. However, if you are looking for options, these are some of the best places to visit in America in December!

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inside a cave looking down a long, narrow path. the sides are decorated with solid magenta, royal blue lights with lime green and pink dots that are dancing about

To put together this list of America’s best destinations to visit in December, I enlisted the help of fellow travel bloggers. Along with my own contributions, we have each personally visited our respective destinations in December. Hopefully, this provides you with the best recommendations on not only the destination itself but also what to do while you’re there!

December Places to Visit in America

What destinations come to mind when you think of traveling in December in the United States? I’m sure several come to mind. Truthfully, there are so many unique places to go and it depends on each individual personality. That said, I hope you find some clarity and even discover a destination that might not have been on your radar for December travel in America!

New York City

window scene of a white mannequin surrounded by white, silver, gold, blue and red musical instruments of all kinds

Classic, right? I know. New York City is likely most people’s first thought for US places to visit in December. It’s just SO iconic! Personally, I think everyone should visit New York in December at least once in their life. The Big Apple truly knows how to do Christmas and they do it extremely well!

There are endless Christmas opportunities in NYC. From the world-famous Tree at Rockefeller to multiple Christmas markets, holiday-themed restaurant menus, Christmas decorations, and window displays. Visitors can’t walk more than a block (if that!) without finding Christmas cheer.

Honestly, it’s one of the few destinations where just about any and everything you could want to do is available. I get asked what my December favorite thing to do is in NYC a lot and I always have trouble narrowing it down.

If your favorite time of year is Christmas, New York City is a must for one of the best places to visit in America in December!

New York City Recommendations
Hotel: The Peninsula New York
Tour: Dyker Heights Holiday Lights Tour from Manhattan
Restaurant: Buddakan
Tip: Take advantage of SO many free things to do in December. Walk around the numerous Christmas markets, peruse the window decorations on 5th Avenue or Macy’s on 34th Street, and duck into hotels and office buildings to see the many beautiful Christmas trees!

Orange County, California

night scene of palm trees and other trees light up with red, aqua, green, pink, yellow, and royal blue holiday lights

Orange County in Southern California is great year-round but did you know it’s also fabulous at Christmas? The obvious is Disneyland where Christmas explodes daily from November through early January. The Festival of Holidays is in full swing and is a mecca for foodies!

In keeping with the theme parks, Knotts Berry Farm puts on its own Christmas season known as Knotts Merry Farm that is not to be missed. For those looking for other activities, there are many light shows happening around OC from South Coast Botanic Garden to Angel Stadium.

Close by in Garden Grove, there is the gorgeous Christ Cathedral (formerly Crystal Cathedral) whose Christmas decor is absolutely stunning!

Conversely, December is the start of whale-watching season! There are plenty of opportunities to go boating or dine on the shoreline since the weather is typically accommodating.

If you finish all there is to do for Christmas in OC, there are easy trips to Mission Inn Hotel & Spa for its Annual Festival of Lights and day trips up to Los Angeles for a multitude of activities including The Grove and the Glendale Galleria.

No matter what you choose, there is more than enough to fill up your entire stay in Orange County, California with Christmas bliss!

Orange County Recommendations
Hotel: The Waterfront Beach Resort
Tour: Newport Beach: Whale and Dolphin-Watching Cruise
Restaurant: The Quiet Woman (dinner) The Filling Station (brunch)
Tip: Definitely do Disneyland in December but also get out of Anaheim and explore other parts of Orange County. It’s so different and diverse!

Birmingham, Alabama

Contributed by Heather from Alabama Bucket List

tall vulcan man statue whose base is lit up with vertical green and red lights. on either side are white Christmas lights in semi-circle pattern

This one might come as a surprise but Birmingham, Alabama has a lot to offer in December. Nestled in the foothills of the Appalachians, it boasts a mild winter climate. However, that’s where the mild stops and the intensity starts as The Magic City is home to a multitude of activities.

Birmingham at Christmas will give you a cheerful taste of the holidays. Don’t miss Magic of Lights at Vulcan overlooking downtown. Within an hour’s drive, there is Christmas at the Falls at Noccalula Falls in Gadsden. This is a joyous walk-through of a very grand elaborate display of Christmas lights.

Looking for Christmas in a cave? Head to Wonderland Under Warrior. Want to see the tallest German Christmas Pyramid in the United States? It’s about 30 minutes north of Birmingham. Family-friendly or take your significant other to any of these for a magical night!

Christmas aside, there are so many places in Birmingham where you can eat like a local, go hiking, dive into history with museums and walks, or tap into the brewery and craft cocktail scene. Some will even be holiday-themed!

Put Birmingham on your radar as one of the best December destinations to visit in America and be pleasantly surprised, southern-style!

Birmingham Recommendations
Hotel: Grand Bohemian Hotel Mountain Brook
Tour: Birmingham Area Multi-Attraction Pass
Restaurant: The Southern Kitchen and Bar
Tip: Be sure to see Vulcan atop Red Mountain and eat all the Southern food you can!

Glacier National Park

Contributed by Jamie from Photo Jeepers

view of a lake at sunset with aqua colored water on the left and the reflection of orange/pink of the sunset glow on the right. surrounded by snow banks, mountains, and evergreen trees covered in heavy snow

If you’re looking for one of the best places to visit in America in December, Glacier National Park is that place. Located deep within Montana’s Rocky Mountains, Glacier National Park in winter is perfect if you hate crowds and love snow-related activities.

In fact, snow starts falling in mid-October and the result is a stunning array of snow-capped mountains that you need to see to believe.

Just catch a flight to Glacier Park International Airport and drive about half an hour. However, be aware that portions of the Going to the Sun Road will be closed for the season. Luckily, you can still travel along the section of the road between West Glacier and Lake McDonald Lodge.

You can even try snowshoeing and cross-country skiing at Apgar Lookout before catching the beauty of the northern lights at Lake McDonald. The pitch-black skies make it an ideal spot for witnessing this natural phenomenon. However, do check to see that the Aurora Forecast includes a KP rating of 5.

Glacier National Park Recommendations
Hotel: Great Northern Resort
Tour: Glacier National Park: Self-Guided Audio Driving Tour
Restaurant: Latitude 48 Bistro in Whitefish
Tip: Always check the weather conditions before you hit the trail. One winter hike you will love is the amazing 10.5-mile hike to Apgar Lookout.

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Savannah, Georgia

Contributed by Victoria from Southern Trippers

a couple of tourists gazing at a white tiered fountain with the surround black fence decorated with greenery and red ribbons all against a background of evergreen trees and a blue sky

One of the best places to visit in the USA in December is Savannah. Not only can you enjoy mild weather with daily highs of 65°F and daily lows of 45°F but you can also avoid the intense crowds and high prices of summer.

Consequently, you can easily take a beautiful walk through Bonaventure Cemetery or sign up for their special Bonaventure After Hours event on Saturdays.

Additionally, you’ll have many mostly free events to enjoy since the holiday season begins right after Thanksgiving. Therefore, the month of December brings with it holiday light shows, music shows, holiday parades, and special theatrical performances almost daily.

Plus, many historic museums and homes get all decked out for the holiday season. In fact, they strive to educate the public about historic holiday traditions that were present throughout the Southern USA. So, stop by and enjoy some of the best things to do in Savannah.

Savannah Recommendations
Hotel: Hamilton-Turner Inn
Tour: Savannah: Ghosts of Christmas Past Walking Tour
Restaurant: The Olde Pink House (recommend the pecan chicken and the strawberry arugula salad)
Tip: If you want to walk through the city and enjoy amazing holiday lights, start at Forsyth Park. Then, walk to Gaston, Gordon, Taylor, and Jones streets to see some of the best lights in the city.

Phoenix, Arizona

Contributed by Catherine Xu from Nomadicated

the silhouette of a person standing out on a pointed rock cliff overlooking the city lights of phoenix below

Known for its scorching hot summers, Phoenix temperatures are much more comfortable as a December getaway, an escape from the cold winter weather in other parts of the country.

Although missing the white Christmas aspect, Phoenix comes alive with many holiday festivities, events, and decor on display in December. Thousands of lights glow along the paths at the annual Las Noches De Las Luminarias at the Desert Botanical Garden. Another highlight is the lively Glendale Glitters, one of Arizona’s biggest block parties in downtown Glendale.

Phoenix’s diverse attractions make it a great destination for all types of travelers. Adventurers can hit the fantastic hiking trails like Piestew Peak right in the city, or take a road trip to more southern Arizona desert landscapes.

Meanwhile, other options include the Phoenix Zoo, lacing up those skates at the annual CitySkate Ice Rink, or attending street festivals and special city events.

Phoenix Recommendations
Hotel: Camelback Inn Scottsdale
Tour: Phoenix: Hot Air Balloon Flight with Champagne 
Restaurant: Ocotillo for dinner, brunch or happy hour!
Tip: December is a popular time to visit Phoenix which means hiking trails may be crowded and parking could be challenging, especially on popular routes.

Leavenworth, Washington

Contributed by Jessica Schmit from Uprooted Traveler

nighttime Christmas market scene with German style buildings and people walking along the street. all against a night sky with snow falling

Tucked away in the Cascade Mountains of Washington, Leavenworth is a charming mountain town with Bavarian-themed houses.

While the town is stunning year-round, come December, Christmas in Leavenworth is quite the spectacle. With its picturesque downtown becoming festooned with over half a million lights, Leavenworth features many festive activities from chestnuts being roasted over an open fire to visits from Santa.

If you need to warm up from the winter chill, duck into one of many places to enjoy hearty German fare like bratwurst with sauerkraut or a steaming mug of glühwein. Also, don’t forget to visit the Nutcracker Museum. With over 7,000 nutcrackers from all over the world, some date back to Roman times!

Leavenworth Recommendations
Hotel: Bavarian Lodge
Tour: Leavenworth Tour From Seattle
Restaurant: München Haus
Tip: Leavenworth is one of the most popular destinations in the United States to visit for Christmas cheer. So, if you prefer to avoid crowds, plan your visit on a weekday.

Lake Tahoe

Contributed by Jina Lee from byjinalee

winter scene of snow banks and evergreen trees covered with snow at the edge of a lake against a cloudy sky

Looking for the best places to visit in America in December? Look no further than Lake Tahoe, a true winter wonderland on the California-Nevada border.

One of the best things to do in Tahoe this time of year is skiing. Home of the 1960 Winter Olympics, Palisades Tahoe is a favorite in North Lake Tahoe while Heavenly Resort is a must near South Lake.

If skiing isn’t your thing, there are plenty of snowy alternatives such as snowshoeing, sledding, or sleigh riding. Even a simple walk around the lake presents breathtaking views of the snow-capped Sierra Nevadas.

At night, head to Heavenly Village and see Christmas trees light up in the evening. While you’re there, be sure to walk around and see the decorations or go ice skating on the rink.

With its stunning landscapes, charming ski towns, and holiday spirit, Lake Tahoe is the perfect destination for a December getaway.

Lake Tahoe Recommendations
Hotel: Marriott’s Timber Lodge
Tour: Lake Tahoe: Snowshoeing Guided Tour
Restaurant: Sunnyside Restaurant & Lodge
Tip: When visiting Lake Tahoe in December, it is strongly recommended to have a 4WD to easily maneuver wet and icy road conditions. Always equip your vehicle with snow chains and avoid using electric cars as they require frequent charging and often struggle with icy conditions.

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Asheville, North Carolina

Contributed by Anna from Stuck On The Go

warm interior Christmas scene with brown paneling walls, fire in fireplace, red furniture, giant Christmas tree, garland on mantle and stockings and candelabras

As long as you can handle the chilly weather, Asheville is by far one of the best places to visit in the United States in December! November is the beginning of the slow season so by December, there are much fewer crowds in the city.

Two big draws for this time of year are Christmas at Biltmore and the Winter Lights at the North Carolina Arboretum. The Omni Grove Park Inn will also have the National Gingerbread House Competition display for the entire month.

Christmas at Biltmore is one of the biggest reasons people visit as you can see their stunning Christmas decorations. Take one of their candlelight tours in the evening to see the trees and fireplaces all lit up.

If you’re brave (and dressed appropriately), head out on a waterfall hike and you may get to see one frozen! Or you can further explore on one of these fun tours in Asheville!

Asheville Recommendations
Hotel: Omni Grove Park Inn
Tour: Asheville: Expert-Led Walking Brewery Tour
Restaurant: Chestnut
Tip: Book your Christmas at Biltmore tickets ahead of time – especially for the candlelight tour! Reservations are also required to take advantage of the wine tasting included in your ticket price.

Zion National Park, Utah

Contributed by David & Intan from The World Travel Guy

lookout over green spotted valley surrounded by giant rock mountain formations against a hazy blue sky

The Zion National Park in southern Utah is known for its beautiful scenery and December is a great time to visit for mild weather and fewer crowds. Zion is normally extremely hot and quite crowded in the summer. However, in December, you can escape these drawbacks. Additionally, snow can sometimes be seen although it disappears quickly.

The epic hiking trails in Zion National Park are the main draw of visiting. This park has some of the best hikes in the state of Utah including Angels Landing and The Narrows. Most of the trails are open in December but you’ll want to double-check the status of each of them closer to time!

Zion National Park Recommendations
Hotel: Holiday Inn Express Springdale
Tour: Springdale: 4-Hour Zion Canyon Scenic Hiking Tour
Restaurant: Meme’s Café
Tip: Drive the Zion-Mount Carmel scenic highway.

San Diego, California

Contributed by Kristin from Global Travel Escapades

view of a brown building with red flowers in the foreground and a pond between the red flowers and the building all against a blue sky with tall, skinny palm trees on both sides

If you hate cold temperatures but still want to experience lots of holiday cheer, the perfect place in America to visit this December is San Diego. For instance, the largest holiday event is December Nights, which is held at the historic Balboa Park and runs all day the first weekend of December.

Guests can admire the festive decorations, browse hundreds of vendor stalls, eat a variety of delicious local foods, and watch several live performances!

Additionally, the city hosts different holiday parades such as the La Jolla Christmas Parade and the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights. Or, if you’re up for a challenge, check out the San Diego Holiday Half Marathon which finishes on beautiful Torrey Pines State Beach.

So, if you’re craving a mix of holiday cheer and warm weather, consider adding San Diego to your December travel plans!

San Diego Recommendations
Hotel: Pendry San Diego
Tour: San Diego: City Lights Night Trolley Tour
Restaurant: Javier’s
Tip: Despite being known for its year-round sunny weather, be sure to bring a jacket everywhere you go. The temperature will drop quickly once the sun sets.

Austin, Texas

Contributed by Trijit Mallick from Cheap Travel Trail

nighttime scene of houses with massive Christmas light decorations and a couple of parked cars

Austin is an unexpected yet wonderful choice for a December getaway, especially for those looking for affordable options. It offers a delightful blend of holiday spirit, pleasant weather, and affordability, making it one of the cheapest places to travel in the US during this season.

December in Austin brings a welcome respite from the scorching summer heat. With daytime temperatures averaging around 60°F, it’s the ideal climate for exploring the city’s numerous attractions.

The Texas capital city gets into the holiday spirit with stunning displays of lights, vibrant Christmas markets, and events like the Trail of Lights. A unique blend of Texan culture and holiday cheer, it’s all without the crowds you’d find in more traditional destinations.

Austin’s moniker as the “Live Music Capital of the World” holds true year-round. In December, you can enjoy live performances with a holiday twist, making it an unusual but enticing choice for music lovers.

Austin’s mild December weather, festive ambiance, and budget-friendly options make it a hidden gem for those seeking an unconventional yet delightful holiday experience. Whether you’re a music enthusiast, an outdoor adventurer, or simply looking for an affordable winter escape, Austin has something special to offer in December.

Austin Recommendations
Hotel: Extended Stay America – Austin – Metro
Tour: Hill Country BBQ & Wine Shuttle
Restaurant: Juan in a Million
Tip: Don’t miss out on the Zilker Tree, a 155-foot-tall Christmas tree made of lights in Zilker Park. It’s an iconic holiday tradition and a fantastic spot for festive photos.

Aspen, Colorado

Contributed by Daria Bachmann from The Discovery Nut

view of a ski run overlooking an alpine village, skiers are dotting the ski run and mountains are in the background against a blue sky with clouds

December is a perfect month to visit Aspen if you are looking for the quintessential white Christmas with a magical atmosphere and holiday cheer. It’s one of the busiest times of the year in Aspen but it’s well worth the price tag that comes with it.

December is the official beginning of the ski season when travelers from across Colorado and the entire country come here to hit the slopes. 

Buttermilk and Snowmass are two popular ski resorts near Aspen that offer easier runs and teaching facilities for beginners. Conversely, Aspen Highlands and Ajax are more suitable for advanced skiers and snowboarders.

Other popular activities in December are snowshoeing, tubing, and snowmobiling. If you are more adventurous, try back-country skiing.

However, one of the best things to do in Aspen during winter is ice skating. The Lewis Ice Arena at the Aspen Recreation Centre and the Aspen Ice Garden in Shadow Mountain are the two most popular spots in town. 

As you can see, Aspen is one of the best places to visit in December in America for lots of reasons!

Aspen Recommendations
Hotel: Hotel Jerome
Tour: Aspen: City Highlights Walking Tour
Restaurant: Clark’s Aspen
Tip: Since December is a busy month, you should book your hotels and activities early to avoid paying high prices.

Death Valley National Park

Contributed by Milijana from World Travel Connector

a lot of gray and beige rocks and rock formations in the foreground. in the background beige, bald mountains against a blue sky

Spectacular Death Valley is one of the best West Coast national parks. However, Death Valley is officially known as the hottest place on Earth. Mercury in a thermometer reached a shocking 134°F in Death Valley back in July 1913!

While Death Valley sees deadly air temperatures in summer, winters in Death Valley have much milder temperatures. Winter is a perfect season for exploring the unique landscapes of Death Valley National Park.

Particularly, December is a good month for visiting Death Valley. Daily average temperatures for December are approximately 66°F and feature sunny, dry days. These weather conditions make Death Valley one of the most popular destinations in December among nature enthusiasts.

Also, December is ideal for exploring trails in Death Valley. The most popular trails are the mile-long Golden Canyon trail, the 1.5-mile-long Ubehebe Crater Loop, the two-mile Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, the 2.7-mile Badlands Loop, and the eight-mile Dante’s Ridge.

Pleasant December weather makes Death Valley a desirable destination among outdoorsy families with kids. Sightseeing the popular attractions in Death Valley (like Badwater Basin, Artists Palette, Devils Golf Course, and Zabriskie Point) is quite enjoyable in December.

So, whether you are a hiking enthusiast or want to spend quality outdoor time with your family, consider visiting Death Valley in December!

Death Valley National Park Recommendations
Hotel: The Ranch At Death Valley
Tour: Death Valley Day Tour From Las Vegas
Restaurant: The Oasis at Death Valley Restaurants
Tip: In December, both mornings and nights in Death Valley are chilly. So, pack some warmer clothes too!

Palm Springs, California

Contributed by Noel Morata from Travel Photo Discovery

green grass with a pond in the center with orange flowers. surrounded by palm trees against a blue sky

If you are looking for the perfect place to visit in America in December, head to Palm Springs, California. A popular winter destination for both Southern California residents and internationals alike, Palm Springs offers warm weather, great food, and outdoor activities to keep visitors busy enjoying the desert lifestyle.

If you love the outdoors, try out national and state parks like Joshua Tree National Park, Anza Borrego, or Indian Canyon. All just within the city limits, visitors can enjoy the stunning canyon, views, and even waterfalls you’ll see. There are so many fantastic places to explore!

For city and urban pursuits, there are fascinating museums, art galleries, shopping venues, and a plethora of food venues that will satisfy any picky eater. Shop til you drop or hang out at swanky wine and rooftop bars overlooking the city. Additionally, take an aerial tram to the top of majestic mountains offering stunning views of the city and natural landscapes below.

Palm Springs really caters to all age groups, interests, and those looking for the ideal weather and outdoor lifestyle in December. Since this is peak season, you definitely have to book everything in advance to get the best options and choices for hotels, restaurants, and flights to the city.

Palm Springs Recommendations
Hotel: Renaissance Palm Springs
Tour: Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
Restaurant: Farm
Tip: Take a road trip to visit Joshua Tree National Park which is less than an hour’s drive to visit this awesome park worth exploring.

PIN IT!

Pinterest graphic with two photos on top: Left is a nighttime Christmas lights scene. Right is a winter lake scene. On bottom: nighttime German building with Christmas lights. Title overlay in the middle.
Pinterest graphic with two nighttime photos on top with multi-colored lights and a view of a cave with Christmas lights on bottom. Title overlay in the middle
Pinterest graphic with two colorful lighted photos on top. Bottom is a night scene of German looking Christmas buildings at night. Title overlay in the middle

There you have it! An entire list of vetted places to visit in December in America. So many of these places have trended on top lists as well for the holiday month. They are definitely worth putting on your travel bucket list!

Have you been to any of these American destinations in December? If so, which one? If not, which of these places in America would you want to visit in December first? Would love to hear your thoughts below!

‘Til next time…

Trimm Travels,

Heather

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2 Comments

  1. Your travel guide didn’t simply cover the popular places; it also discovered some hidden gems! I adore the concept of venturing off the main road, and your suggestions have brought a new dimension to my travel bucket list.

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