Yes, everyone knows that Aspen in stunning in December and that you can’t miss the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in NYC — but there are plenty of destinations that interpret holiday cheer in their own unique way. We’ve rounded up five of our favorite under-the-radar Christmas hotspots that channel the spirit of the season like nowhere else.
Anyone who’s been to Jackson Hole will never forget the charming town square, anchored by monumental arches of elk antlers. But have you seen it at Christmastime? During the holiday season, the arches are wrapped in thousands of Christmas lights that illuminate the mountain town. Named by Country Living magazine as one of America’s best small towns for Christmas, Jackson Hole typically receives a decent coating of snow well before Christmas (and a whopping 400 inches throughout the season!) so a winter wonderland is all but guaranteed! Take a sled ride through the National Elk Refuge, just on the outskirts of town, for a full-on Christmas experience.
Newport, Rhode Island
Experience a New England Christmas in Rhode Island, when the Ocean State’s collection of stately Gilded Age mansions don their holiday best. Don’t miss the famed Breakers, which is filled with thousands of poinsettia, evergreens and Christmas wreaths. Newport is also home the Newport Harbor Illuminated Boat Parade, now in its 109th year. If you have family in tow, take the kids on a ride on the Polar Express in Blackstone Valley, a 90-minute train ride through the wintry landscape, complete with hot cocoa, cookies and a visit from Santa.
Kansas City, Missouri
Kansas City makes the list for a very BIG reason: this city’s Christmas tree is one of the tallest in the nation, standing taller than both the White House and Rockefeller Center trees. The 100-foot Douglas fir is decorated with 6,000 lights and more than 1,000 ornaments. Don’t miss the KCS Holiday Express, a festive, six-car train that brings Santa Claus and his elves to Union State. Onboard, guests can visit with Santa Claus and walk through three festive cars adorned with holiday decor.
Pierre, South Dakota
Travelers heading to the Mount Rushmore State won’t find a lack of Christmas cheer. Christmas at the Capitol, now in its 37th year, bring more than 90 Christmas trees to the building’s hall. Since 1981, businesses, non-profit organizations and other community and government offices from around the state have all contributed trees, which are decorated with pine cone ornaments made by Black Hills locals. If you find yourself farther afield in the Black Hills, it goes without saying that Mount Rushmore looks stunning in a blanket of Christmas snow.
Fort Myers, Florida
It might not be a traditional tree-lighting ceremony, but Fort Myers goes over-the-top in its own unique way: a boat parade. The 29th Annual Fort Myers Beach Christmas Boat Parade brings out everything from sea-going yachts to tiny Hobie Cats, all decked out in holiday lights and decor. You can also visit the 42nd Annual Holiday Nights, where you’ll find Thomas Edison and Henry Ford’s historic homes decorated with thousands of lights. If that’s not enough, nearby Sanibel Island hosts a three-mile Christmas luminary trail (a 33-year tradition!) as well as a live nativity scene.
San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio visitors can enjoy a cup of Mexican hot chocolate while taking in the festive barges that glide alongside the city’s famed River Walk. During the Christmas season, the River Walk is home to bazaars and holiday markets selling festive gifts, but it also plays host to the Ford Fiesta de las Luminarias, a centuries-old tradition where the path is lined with several thousand luminarias (small paper lanterns). Don’t miss the Ford Holiday Boat Caroling either, when 185 choral groups ring in the holidays by singing traditional carols on river boats!