What are the 16 best places to visit in USA in December?
Most people live for the holiday travel. They jump into holiday planning mode as soon as the leaves show the slightest signs of yellowing. This is despite December being one of, if not the worst, time of the year for a trip (especially where the trip involves kids). Traveling in December means putting up with holiday traffic, really, really, really long airport lines, and cranky people. And worse, traveling in December means having to put up with the surge in prices. Everything is just ridiculously more expensive than they are all year round – from airfares to hotel fees to ticket prices in every holiday shenanigan that needs entrance tickets. All this gets worse as your travel dates get closer to the holidays.
But of course, there are some things that you can only get out of a December vacation, making all the hassles that come with it well worth it. The kids are out of school, there are more days off work, and there are holiday-themed events and pageants that are worth experiencing. It can truly be hard to resist not booking a flight out on these dates – hassles be damned. And if that’s what you’re looking for, then this list of 16 best places to visit in USA in December is made for you.
There are basically two kinds of travelers in December: those who are looking for snow and those who are running away from it. That is why this list was harder to come up with and rank compared to our previous article on the 10 best places to visit in USA in the October. October is that one month where everyone is just looking to catch the last warm days of summer and watch the country – from the East Coast to the West Coast – magically transform from summer to autumn.
To please and include both types of travelers in a list that claims to have the “best” places to visit in USA in December, we put together the most highly suggested December destinations by our top sources (including Travel and Leisure, Hotel Cluster , Budget Travel, USA Today, Trips to Discover, to name a few). We’ve also consulted Weather to find the best winter states in the USA in December, for both the cold and warm weather seekers. We ranked them based on two qualifications: (a) how often each destination was mentioned by the sources and (b) on how versatile each destination is on what it can offer its visitors. These qualifications ensure that we can offer the best suggestions for the most number of travelers – from families traveling with kids to couples in search of a holiday honeymoon destination.
So, where should you go this December? Bookmark this page, get your booking websites ready, and read on to know the 16 best places to visit in USA in December!
16. Savannah, GA
Savannah is your best December destination if you’re looking to spend the holidays in a cold place but are not really keen on the snow. With December lows hitting 2- and 3-degrees on average, you’re sure to still get the chills (and the excuse to down a steaming hot cup of eggnog) without snow.
Savannah’s usual historic tours get a holiday makeover with many parts of the old city being part of the lights festival spectacle or participate in the candlelight walking tours and see Savannah’s famed historic houses from a new perspective. Don’t forget to stop by the Riverwalk to experience the Christmas on the River arts and crafts festival at the Riverwalk. Lights festivals, Christmas pageants, and bar crawls across Savannah’s quaint pubs and bars are also a must-see experience!
14. Miami, FL
With more than 300 days of sunshine year round, Miami is without a doubt one of the most popular December destinations for snowbirds. Miami Beach is flocked by sunbathers and swimmers, and its nightlife does not stop or slow down during the holidays – it only gets a Christmas dress up.
Kids will enjoy the annual Santa’s Enchanted Forest spectacle and Wild Holiday events at Jungle Island, while adults will enjoy the various Christmas fairs and markets across the metro.
14. San Antonio, TX
San Antonio ranks 14th in our list of the best places to visit in USA in December. With temperatures averaging 60 to 68°F during the day in December in San Antonio, you can be assured of mild temperatures that make for perfect strolls and days out.
A December favorite in San Antonio are trips to the theme parks including Six Flags and Seaworld, as well as the many festivals that abound this culturally and historically diverse city. Schedule your trips near the Tamales Festival or watch the launching of the various light festivals! You can be assured of mariachi music and some of the liveliest celebrations this side of the country!
13. St. Paul/Minneapolis, MN
If you’re looking for early chances of thick, heavy snow in December, the Twin Cities in Minnesota is your best shot. The beautiful views are capped off with holiday-themed activities including opportunities to dress up as historical figures at the signature “Folkways of the Holidays” events.
Flower lovers need not wait for spring either to see some of the most beautiful flowers. At the Twin Cities’ annual Holiday Flower Show, different varieties of poinsettias take center stage.
12. Boston, MA
Boston ranks 12th in our list of the best places to visit in USA in December. This university town automatically transforms itself into a holiday winter wonderland as soon as the first signs of a nor’easter blows. The lighting ceremony at the Boston common is the one event that ushers in the holiday season, but the rest of the month is filled with fun activities that adults and kids alike can enjoy.
Take a chilly date with the Boston Harbor cruise or warm up with indoor activities – from watching the Celtics take a home game to experiencing a Christmas spectacle at the Boston Opera House.
11. Orlando, FL
Orlando ranks 11th in our list of the best places to visit in USA in December. Orlando, as well as much of the Florida, is a snowbird paradise in December. With average daytime temperatures around 70°F, and lowering to only 50°F at nightfall, it is neither too hot nor too cold. This makes all the lines at LegoLand, Seaworld, Disneyland, and Universal generally more bearable. If your kids are not into the usual theme park shenanigans, try out the holiday favorite Green Meadows Petting Farm.
Kids and adults alike will enjoy the holiday performances and the lighting ceremony at the UCF is a must-see!
10. Chicago, IL
If going out and about the city in your winter’s thickest and best is your idea of a December vacation, Chicago is a must-visit. The city transforms into a winter wonderland, with the lights illuminating the cold December nights. Kids will enjoy the Zoolights, while adults will love the Adler Planetarium’s special 21 and up nighttime events where drinks and entertainment are made available.
Don’t leave the city without buying some souvenirs at the annual market, Christkindlmarket, or head over to the outdoor skating rink and bust out some moves.
8. Washington DC
Spring isn’t the only time the capital looks breathtakingly beautiful. Washington DC looks spectacular in the early days of winter. You can’t expect much snow in DC, so you can especially enjoy the walking tours and explore what the capital has to offer. And boy are there things to do and see in Washington DC in December!
Write to your local representative to request for a visit at the White House (do this months in advance) or just drop by the White House Visitor Center if you can’t get ahold of your rep – it’s a must see especially when the holiday decor is up! Don’t miss out on the National Christmas Tree Lighting pageantry either. For shopping needs, head all the way to Georgetown or get your shopaholic’s fill at the Holiday Market. Don’t forget to visit the US Botanic Garden this time of the year – kids and kids at heart will immensely enjoy the holiday train display!
8. San Francisco, CA
San Francisco ranks 8th in our list of the best places to visit in USA in December. Tying up with Washington DC on the eighth spot of the 16 best places to visit in the USA in December is San Francisco! If you don’t mind the chilly wind, the fog, and the occasional rains, San Francisco has some of the liveliest holiday festivities. Being the seat of cultural and artistic freedom, you can expect for some of the most flamboyant, most memorable spectacles – from the musicals to the plays to the choral presentations to the art festivals all across town – you’ll never run out of things to do day and night!
Don’t miss out on the light tours – take your choice of transportation: fire truck, bus, or by boat. Or better yet, bundle up and take a drive up to Napa or Sonoma and warm up over wine tours. Don’t worry about the fees – hotel costs are generally cheaper this time of the year anyway!
6. New Orleans, LA
Holidays in New Orleans is as New Orleans as it can get. Don’t miss out the outdoor spectacles all December round – which are totally bearable considering how mild and warm the winters here are. Enjoy an outdoor movie screening down by the Riverwalk, watch the Santa parades, or bust out your Santa outfit and run with a bunch of other Papa Noels in the annual Running of the Santas.
But perhaps the best part about spending the holidays in New Orleans is the food. Creole food is to die for in general, but Creole Christmas food is phenomenal. The majority of the restaurants in NOLA participate in what is called the Reveillon dinners – seasonal menu based on Creole dishes traditionally served on Christmas midnights. Finish it off with a serving or two of a good ol’ Toddy and your life is made.
6. Charleston, SC
Charleston ranks 6th in our list of the best places to visit in USA in December. Everything that tourists love about Charleston gets an amazing holiday makeover in December, making everything look more magical, more picturesque than they normally are. Case in point: historical home tours that are grand the rest of the year get dressed up with tens of thousands of lights. Aside from the historical homes, there are many other lights parades and festivals across the city.
Don’t forget to include the scenic harbor cruises and never leave Charleston without dropping by any of the numerous Christmas markets available all month round.
5. Anchorage, AK
If you’re looking for a winter wonderland, Alaska is the place to go. But snow (and tons of it) isn’t exactly the only thing you can and should see in Alaska. It’s a little challenging to travel and special arrangements have to be made but the takeaway is just too much to pass off.
The great white outdoors of Anchorage is best enjoyed with the abundance of snow sports – from skiing to winter biking to snowshoeing – and enjoying unique ways of traveling including heli-skiing and dog sledding. The cityscape has its own offerings of shopping, ice skating, and even the usual holiday-themed performances. But perhaps the best part about going to Anchorage is getting to see the Northern Lights. If that’s not worth all the trouble of this trip, I honestly don’t know what is.
4. Las Vegas, NV
Las Vegas ranks 4th in our list of the best places to visit in USA in December. On this list, Las Vegas probably has the most to offer for the most number of audiences. Everything in the Strip (and outside of it) has a little something for practically everybody. To top off the Vegas December list, the Bellagio Christmas spectacle is a must-see.
But aside from that, the best way to enjoy Las Vegas in December is to get out of the usual hangouts and enjoy everything around it. Enjoy the wild out of the wild west by enjoying the National Finals Rodeo or head on over to the Ethel M Cactus Garden to see cacti decked in holiday lights. If you’re looking for some snow, try your luck at Mt Charleston for some early snow on the slopes.
Hawaii is perhaps the most popular among all the warm destinations for the holidays, that’s why it’s ranked third on our list of the 16 best places to visit in USA in December. And for a reason: it is the farthest you can possibly get away from all the cold that grips North America in December!
The island state is a Pacific paradise – and spending the holidays here would include surfing, island hopping, parasailing, scuba diving, and exploring evergreen jungles and pristine waterfalls unlike anything you’d find in the mainland.
Of course, there are Christmas markets and lighting ceremonies, as well as Santa appearances at the malls. But the best part about being here is that they have quite possibly the best version of a white Christmas: white sand against the bluest Pacific waves. (But be warned, Hawaii in December is NOT at its cheapest).
2. San Diego, CA
San Diego ranks second in our list of the best places to visit in USA in December. San Diego has land and sea spectacles for everyone, young and old, to enjoy. There are outdoor concerts at Balboa Park all nights of December for the adults, the parade of lights for the entire family, San Diego Zoolights for the young ones (and the young once), and spectacular whale watching for the adventurous hearts.
Mark your calendars for the parades, the holiday performances at the numerous theaters across the city, and don’t forget to enjoy walking tours made extra, extra enjoyable by the mild weather.
And the winner for our list of the 16 best places to visit in USA in December is no less than the Rocky Mountain State itself: Colorado!
There is not one place in Colorado that we can single out for a December tour because the entire mountain state looks like it’s made for this season. From the prettiest Christmas towns of Durango, Georgetown, and Breckenridge, to the luxurious winter getaways of the stars in Aspen, to the postcard-perfect scenery of Estes Park, Colorado is the paradise for snow-seekers.
There you have it, your top options for your next December vacation! Which destination gets your seal of approval this year? Let us know in the comments below!