12 Festive Holiday Experiences to See and Do This Year

The festive decor in the atrium at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center. Image: courtesy of the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center.

Whether your holiday traditions include a backdrop that harkens your favorite holiday movie or an escape to a warm beach town, we have everyone covered with unique experieneces across the U.S. From immersive light displays, a life-size Gingerbread Lighthouse, two-story Champagne Cascade and merry markets with unique finds, this list will inspire ways to make this season merry and bright.  

Newport, Rhode Island

The Newport Marriott’s team and the Roger’s High School culinary program have teamed up to create Newport’s largest Gingerbread House, a 16-foot working lighthouse and a seven-foot keeper’s house, making it one of the largest gingerbread houses in New England. This holiday creation takes more than 530 pounds of gingerbread and nearly 240 pounds of royal icing to build! The gingerbread lighthouse shines its beacon over a festooned lobby, where guests are encouraged to share the bounty of the season by placing a non-perishable food item in one of the sleighs. This year canned goods will be donated to support the Martin Luther King Center. The completed Gingerbread Lighthouse is on view to the public until January 3, 2022.

The Gingerbread Lighthouse. Image: courtesy of Newport Marriott.

Park City, Utah

Park City, Utah, welcomes guests of all ages to celebrate this winter season with stunning snow-covered mountains, magical holiday displays, and fresh-air outdoor experiences. Through the new year, travelers will uncover the magic of the holiday season with the annual Snow Globe Stroll along historic Main Street, showcasing nine uniquely designed life-sized snow globes that activate snow flurries by motion sensor. For a more active winter experience, discover 7,300 acres of terrain between two world-class ski resorts— Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley Resort. After a full day of activities, relax at the newly constructed Pendry Residences Park City, offering mountain luxury with fully furnished condominium residences, rooftop pool and après ski bar, and easy access to Park City Mountain.

One of the many life-sized snow globes in Park City. Image: courtesy Park City Tourism Board.

Grapevine, Texas

The holidays are in full swing at the decked-out Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center in Grapevine, fittingly referred to as the “Christmas Capital of Texas.” This massive property has been transformed into a magical winter wonderland with 4.5 acres of festive decor, including towering Christmas trees, sparkling ornaments, miniature train sets, and eye-catching light shows. This year’s Debuting Mission: Save Christmas, Featuring Elf in which families and friends can join Buddy the Elf, Mr. Narwhal, and friends to save Christmas! The Gaylord Texan also kicks off its first Merry & Light event, a whimsical walk through an outdoor light installation showcasing more than 400,000 lights, a 40-foot-tall Christmas tree with an animated light show, a mock North Pole with real falling snow, and other attractions. Get in on the festivities now through January 2, 2022. 

The festive decor in the atrium at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center. Image: courtesy of the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center.

Oxnard, California 

Oxnard, CA, is a coastal gem nestled between Malibu and Santa Barbara. Oxnard’s famed Christmas Tree Lane continues its decades-long tradition with festively lit and decorated houses along Oxnard’s F & G Streets between 5th Street and Palm in the National Historic District. Visitors can admire the beautifully decorated Victorian Homes in Oxnard’s historic Heritage Square, with Heritage Square Holiday Tours weekends: through January 2 or by appointment. Be sure to capture seasonal memories at the tallest Christmas tree in Ventura County decorated in lights for the holiday season at Plaza Park.

The historic Christmas Tree Lane in Oxnard, California.

West Palm Beach, Florida

The Square in West Palm Beach, Florida, is a 72-acre neighborhood built on the foundation of diversity, equity, and inclusion. This year they are celebrating Kwanzaa with Afrique Ngozi Dance & Drums for an immersive celebration. This family-friendly event will explore the seven principles that make up Kwanzaa and feature live West African dancing and drumming. What’s more, it does snow in Florida – at least at Downtown West Palm Beach’s The Square. The Wishing Tree, located at the center of the neighborhood, is a 26-foot-tall banyan tree installation with 100,000 full-color-spectrum LED lights illuminating 10,000 leaves with a myriad of swirling, colorful patterns. At night this holiday season, the light sculpture reveals a spectacular visual experience with nightly snowfall, weekly symphony performances, photos with Santa, and much more.

St. Augustine, Florida

Nights of Lights celebrates 28 years of millions of tiny white lights twinkling throughout approximately 20 blocks of downtown St. Augustine. Now through January 31, 2022, white lights drape the city’s unique Spanish Colonial architecture and provide a magical atmosphere (free of charge). The best vantage point is along The Bridge of Lions and The Plaza de la Constitución or while climbing aboard the Old Town Trolley’s Famous Nights of Lights tour. A stroll around downtown St. Augustine wouldn’t be complete without a stop at iconic landmark Casa Monica Resort & Spa, overlooking the downtown district and Matanzas Bay, to enjoy the millions of twinkling lights. Be sure to step inside to grab a warm cocktail at Costa Brava on those chilly nights by the bay.

Night of Lights at Casa Monica Resort & Spa. Image: courtesy of Casa Monica Resort & Spa.

Savannah, Georgia

Plant Riverside District will sparkle with holiday charm this season for the second annual Savannah Christmas Market from now – January 6. The Savannah Christmas Market Plant Riverside District blends European and Southern holiday traditions in a spectacular entertainment district overlooking the Savannah River in one of America’s most beautiful cities. A wide range of holiday-themed events, live performances, and family-friendly activities are planned, including a traditional Salzburg Christmas Market, Tree Lighting Ceremony, Kid’s Corner, and Savannah Harbor Boat Parade of Lights, followed by a firework show directly across the river from Plant Riverside District. Extend your Savannah Christmas experience with a stay at the JW Marriott Savannah Plant Riverside District

Atlanta, Georgia

Winterland at Illuminarium, open now through January 2, 2022, is a great place to share the holiday magic with family and friends. Visitors begin their journey in a luxurious winter palace surrounded by windows filled with animated vignettes depicting classic winter scenes, holiday traditions, and moments of joy: from a train ride through a snow-filled valley to an urban winter carnival. The choreographed immersive experience continues as visitors pass through a portal into an enchanted winter paradise, with an original musical score featuring vocals from the local nonprofit Atlanta Young Singers choir. The show’s magical landscape includes a frozen waterfall that transforms into the Northern Lights, the feeling of ice cracking underfoot, and majestic forest creatures that walk around the space with you. Afterward, stop by the shop for a souvenir and the café for some hot chocolate.

Denver, Colorado

Embrace the holidays with thousands of colorful lights draped in elegant designs at Denver Botanic Gardens’ Blossoms of Light. The event will display more than one million colorful lights highlighting the Gardens’ winter beauty. Visitors can enjoy sparkling passages, new displays, and romantic spots under the mistletoe. All made even more beautiful through HoloSpex glasses. 

Are you looking to elevate your holiday experience? Champagne Cascade is The Brown Palace’s elegant annual welcome to the holiday season. This spectacular event features a master swordsman using a Napoleonic saber to sever the bottlenecks of Moet & Chandon, which is then poured into the uppermost glass of a two-story, 6,000-glass pyramid, overflowing to the glasses below, creating a dazzling display. Each year ticket sales from this event benefit a different nonprofit partnering with the hotel. 

The Champagne Cascade at the Brown Palace. Image: courtesy of the Brown Pace.

Greenville, South Carolina

Greenville, South Carolina, is home to festive tree-lined sidewalks on Main Street twinkling with lights. You can also catch up with Santa’s motorized sleigh (a converted 1993 Ford Aerostar) as it glides down Main Street with an elf in tow. Ice skaters can enjoy an outdoor rink that’s a mini replica of Rockefeller Center (open through January 17). The Hollywild Drive-Through Lights experience is magical outside of town, but even more so is the Reindeer Forest, where you can interact with and feed the “reindeer” from your car. Top off your picture-perfect experience with a stay at the Poinsett Hotel. And with an average December temperature of 55 degrees, enjoying all of these outdoor holiday festivities is enjoyable.

Natchitoches, Louisiana

In its 95th year, the Natchitoches Christmas Festival of Lights is a 45-night extravaganza that lights up the downtown National Historic Landmark District, the Cane River, and lake. This walk-and-drive-around event draws visitors and locals for food, fun, and entertainment from November 20, 2021-January 6, 2022. The brick-lined streets, double-galleried, wrought-iron-trimmed storefronts, and mix of ornate architectural styles, along with the holiday décor, make the town feel cinematic. The name comes from Natchitoches’s Native American tribe (pronounced Nack-a-tish). Visitors during the 45 days also enjoy a Christmas Treasures Art and Craft Show, a boat parade, a holiday tour of homes in the Historic District, and the fireworks show over Cane River Lake is held each Saturday through December 31. Restaurants and food vendors along the river banks, Front Street, and downtown ensure that no one goes hungry. Try a refreshing eggnog daiquiri and a hot and savory meat pie, or dine on classic Creole and flavorful Cajun cuisine to snack like a local. Accommodations range from budget to flagship brands to the newly opened Chateau Saint Denis Hotel, the largest inn in historic Natchitoches. 

New York, New York

No destination celebrates the holiday season quite like the Big Apple, and Westgate New York Grand Central provides the perfect accommodations to join the festivities. Located just one mile from Rockefeller Center, guests can make the short journey to see the world-famous Rockefeller Christmas tree, taking in views of NYC’s magical Christmas lights and window displays along the way. Just steps from the hotel, you can take in views of the Empire State Building’s holiday light show.  

Head to Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park for fun, free activities through March 6, 2022. In its 20th season, Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park features skating at NYC’s only free-admission ice rink, The Holiday Shops by Urbanspace, and warm drinks and delicious food offerings at The Lodge by Prime Video offer up daily friendly experiences. 

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