Are you craving a winter holiday escape? While I admit I love staying at home with a cup of hot cocoa and Christmas music playing non-stop, there’s something really special about visiting a Christmas town or city for the holidays. If you’re based on the west coast, here are some of my picks for the best places for Christmas in the USA. Feature photo courtesy of Visit Leavenworth / Icicle TV.
10 Best Christmas Towns in West Coast USA
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If you’re searching for that postcard-perfect Christmas holiday spot, Leavenworth, Washington should definitely be on your list. Located about two-and-a-half hours away from Seattle, it’s a Bavarian-themed town that goes all out for Christmas. You’ll truly feel like you’re inside a snow globe. They have a tree lighting ceremony every Saturday and Sunday in December at 4:30 pm. The whole town is lit up and you can find plenty of holiday activities like a Christmas bazaar and carol singers to keep you entertained. The city even has a Nutcracker museum that offers nutcracker scavenger hunts to kids.
And if you’re craving some winter snow activities, Leavenworth is a great home base for those as well. Head to Leavenworth Ski Hill for tubing and hot chocolate or enjoy some winter sledding in the area. You can even take a quiet sleigh ride, dog sled trip, or snowshoe around Enchantment Park and Blackbird Island near downtown. With three locally groomed cross-country skiing areas, an alpine community ski hill, and many winter trail networks, there are countless winter adventures to be had for all ages. Visit Leavenworth
North Pole, Alaska
If you’re craving a white Christmas with some kitschy holiday cheer, head to North Pole, Alaska. Located only 18 minutes outside of Fairbanks, Alaska, North Pole offers kids the chance to meet Santa at Santa Claus House where you can even get a letter from Santa mailed from the North Pole! Kids will also love all the local winter activities like getting to pet actual reindeer and trying dog-sledding. Driving through North Pole will put you in the Christmas spirit with plenty of lights to admire and even candy cane striped signposts. Fairbanks also features a six-week-long “Christmas in Ice” event where you can see experts and amateurs create amazing sculptures.
While there are tons of Christmas & holiday events happening all over California, Monterey is a great town to visit in December. You’ll get out of some of the heavy big city traffic and find the perfect spot for a coastal Christmas. Strap on your ice skates for some outdoor skating by the bay at the Custom House Plaza rink by Fisherman’s Wharf. Visit the wharf on the weekends to get some sweet treats and meet Santa.
For Christmas light viewing, check out the trees in downtown Monterey, Cannery Row, and Pacific Grove. Plan a visit to The Inn at Spanish Bay, nestled on the Monterey Peninsula. Their lobby features an elaborately designed gingerbread display that is entirely edible and a towering Christmas tree. The Inn is also illuminated with holiday lights, and for several days leading up to Christmas, carolers regale visitors with the season’s favorite tunes.
Read my friend Leslie’s post about other great winter destinations in California.
If you’re dreaming of palm trees for your Christmas tree, a trip to Honolulu might be the perfect winter escape. The city hosts a month-long City of Lights Festival. The celebration begins on December 1st with the tree lighting ceremony at Honolulu Hale, followed by the Electric Light Parade. Visitors can visit Santa’s Gingerbread House and the Enchanted Forest Display, take photos with Santa, and even enjoy a holiday concert. For more sparkling lights, check out the Friday night fireworks at the Ilikai Hotel & Luxury Suites. If you’re Disney fans, you can even have a Christmas dinner at Disney Aulani.
If you’re looking for a white Christmas and a spectacle of lights, Denver should be your destination choice. The city of Denver hosts a variety of activities like a Christkindl Market and a Mile High Holidays deal event. For twinkling lights, visitors can head to the Denver Botanical Gardens to see their Blossoms of Light, a sound-reactive light display. If you plan in advance you can buy tickets for the popular Zoo Lights, which spreads across 60 acres with over a million bright lights, animated animal sculptures, Santa and Mrs. Claus visits, animal encounters, exciting entertainment, and treats for kids of all ages.
For 2018, if you have a car, don’t miss the chance to drive through the Denver installation of Christmas in Color. It’s a mile-long drive through acres of more than 1.5 million lights perfectly synchronized to holiday music you’ll hear right through your radio. If you’re able to head farther out from the city, drive just over an hour to Dillon, Colorado to visit their Ice Castles. The experience is built using hundreds of thousands of icicles hand-placed by professional ice artists. The castles include breathtaking LED-lit sculptures, frozen thrones, ice-carved tunnels, slides, and fountains.
My home of Seattle, Washington is a great place to spend Christmas. You’ll get the crisp winter weather without all that white stuff getting in the way. And come one, it’s the evergreen state, you’ll be surrounded by Christmas trees! Like I mentioned for Denver above, Woodland Park Zoo created a light display around the zoo called, WildLights. And Safeco Field, home of the Seattle Mariners, is being transformed into an Enchanted Christmas light maze. Kids will have a blast helping Santa find his nine missing reindeer in time to save Christmas!
Head over to Seattle Center to take to the ice at the annual Winterfest event. Then pop into the Sheraton Grand Seattle to see their 26th annual Gingerbread Village, this year’s theme will be based on How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Cross over Lake Washington to the city of Bellevue to get your fill of shopping and watch snow fall at the nightly Snowflake Lane Christmas parade.
Related Post: Holiday Trip from Seattle to Victoria on the Clipper
Las Vegas, Nevada
With the numerous over-the-top hotels that are located in Las Vegas, it shouldn’t be a surprise that it’s a go-to Christmas town destination on the west coast. One of the best spots to head is the Bellagio resort. Inside you’ll see their conservatory transformed into a winter wonderland filled with beautiful holiday plants and flowers, as well as a towering Christmas tree. Head outside to watch the daily water fountain show that features popular holiday tunes. Both of these events are free, leaving you extra money for presents!
The Park (formally the Monte Carlo) is another hotel that is offering holiday activities for visitors. Pop-up dining experiences in quaint cabins from Beerhaus, Bruxie and more will offer a variety of bites and sips inspired by European holiday traditions, including German sausages, waffles on a stick and mulled wine. Strolling carolers will sing the songs of the season and spread cheer throughout The Park, leading guests all the way to the towering 80-foot holiday tree on Toshiba Plaza.
If you’re dreaming of ice skating during your winter escape, head to the Cosmopolitan Hotel. They turn their Boulevard Pool into an ice rink, where you can spin and glide to the sounds of holiday tunes alongside the Vegas strip.
If you’re searching for a Christmas town in the USA that will remind you of a European Christkindlmarkt, head to Solvang. This Danish-themed town is just north of Santa Barbara, California. Every December they hold a Julefest festival that is filled with holiday activities and events. Some of the highlights include a wine and beer stroll, candlelight caroling tours, and even a nisse (Danish gnomes) scavenger hunt adventure.
With an average temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit in December, Phoenix is the perfect place to find a sunny and warm Christmas vacation. Phoenix also is a sprawling metro area that has a lot of sister-cities all with their own holiday celebrations, making it easy to find plenty of festive things to do. For a unique desert experience, visit the Desert Botanical Garden to experience their Las Noches de las Luminarias. Visitors can stroll through the gardens that are lit with over 8,000 hand-lit luminaria bags and twinkle lights while listening to a southwest desert soundtrack.
Glendale Glitters is a massive pop-up holiday market that showcases 1.6 million LED lights throughout sixteen blocks of Historic Downtown Glendale, making it the largest free holiday light display in Arizona.
My final west coast Christmas town USA pick is Portland, Oregon. One of the prime highlights for the season is the Christmas Ships boat parade. The parades feature over 50 decorated and lit ships that parade through the waters during fifteen nights in the season. You’ll need to check out the schedule to determine the days and locations of the parades.
Portland has more lights to see beyond those on the water. Visit the “Largest Holiday Light Show West of the Mississippi” at the Winter Wonderland drive-through light show that features over 250 staged scenes. Then head to The Grotto for their Christmas Festival of Lights, one of the largest Christmas choral festival in the world. The festival features more than 170 indoor holiday concerts performed by many of the region’s finest school, church, and civic choirs.
Are you ready to plan your west coast holiday getaway? Do you have a favorite Christmas town you think should be added to this list?
Check prices for your Holiday Getaway on TripAdvisor
Another great destination is Christmas in San Fransisco
And if you’re thinking of an international Christmas vacation, check out these amazing European Christmas markets.