Best US Destinations To Visit For A December Getaway

December ushers in the peak holiday season in the US, which means it'll be busy at airports and popular destinations throughout the country. However, it's also one of the most magical months of the year to travel to many places thanks to holiday cheer. Additionally, the month is also a terrific time to visit many warm-weather spots — no longer scorching temperatures and lack of tropical storms. While it isn't low season anywhere, the extra money spent is well worth it no matter where you choose to travel. Before you put away your suitcase for the year, consider visiting one of the cities or towns we've featured.

Whether you're looking for somewhere to embrace the festive season or pretend it's not winter at all, one of the locations below is sure to pique your interest. From large urban centers to quaint small towns, there's something for everyone come December. Keep reading to discover the perfect early-winter getaway for you and the insight might surprise you. Perhaps you've never considered a southern getaway during the holidays or maybe you always avoid snowstorms. Don't rule anything out, there's plenty to discover come this time of the year.

New York, New York

One of the most popular destinations in the US is especially so during the holiday season. This is thanks to the robust offerings for holiday and winter activities that make the colder season in the northeast more than bearable. In fact, many would say December in NYC is quite enjoyable! Start your visit with a viewing of the famous Rockefeller Christmas Tree in Midtown a must-see while in the city. Then, take a stroll and admire the numerous light and window displays throughout each borough. Some of the best exhibits can be found in Hudson Yards, the Bryant Park Christmas Village, Macy's Santaland in Midtown, and of course, Fifth Avenue.

For more excitement, you can trade Broadway for the New York City Ballet's "The Nutcracker," a George Balanchine original. Additionally, regular cocktail haunts can be replaced with amazing holiday pop-up bars, such as the Mircale on 9th Street in the East Village, Tinsel Town on the Upper West Side, and the City Winery Winter Domes in Midtown. Don't miss Rolf's Restaurant, famous for spreading holiday cheer year-round, but extra magical come December. Then, rent some skates at one of the many pop-up rinks throughout the city. If you can't make it to Europe this year, don't worry plenty of holiday markets to keep you busy like those in Bryant Park, Union Square, and Columbus Circle.

Leavenworth, Washington

Leavenworth topped pandemic-era lists for "best places to visit in the US that feel like Europe," and many have said it's one of the best recreation replications of a Bavarian village. The town's location in the heart of the Cascade Mountains definitely contributes to that as the alpine architecture set against snowy peaks in winter truly makes you feel as though you've taken an international flight. It's another place that'll cure any FOMO you might have for European Christmas Markets this year.

The annual Christmastown means the cute buildings will be lit up every day until Christmas. Carolers, choirs, and holiday characters make appearances at the Gazebo, for some serious Gilmore Girl vibes. At the Festhalle, families with children can take Santa photos, enjoy a craft station, and admire the spectacular gingerbread house display. For visitors looking to enjoy the great outdoors, you'll enjoy the wide availability of winter sports. You can downhill or cross-country ski, snowshoe, tube, sled, or skate, at the nearby Leavenworth Ski Hill. If you're a more serious boarder or skier, Steven's Pass isn't far. For those more suited to spending this month indoors, visit some of the spas in the area like the Alpine Spa at the Icicle Village Resort or the Aspen Leaf Day Spa.

Vail, Colorado

Beyond the mountains and winter sports that have long made Vail a popular winter destination, many holiday festivities make the town an ideal December getaway. Holiday events and activities typically start from early December and last through early January. The annual Vail Village Tree Lighting takes place in Silpher Square, near the Covered Bridge in town and really sets the scene for the season. Carolers sing festive songs, delicious hot chocolate is served, and Santa makes an appearance — sure to delight the kids!

At the Krist Kringle Market, you can shop for homemade holiday treats including products and crafts locally made in Colorado. Stroll the little chalets with a glass of gluwein in hand after a day of skiing and really embrace the spirit of the mountains. Additionally, December is also the month of the Vail Film Festival where you can enjoy everything from documentaries to shorts and animated features. Most are followed by Q&As or panel discussions and evening parties. For those less inclined to hit the slopes, climb in an ice bumper car, take a scenic gondola ride, or relax at a spa. There are also ice skating and sledding available in town for all ages, as well as sleigh rides at the 4Eagle Ranch.

Santa Barbara, California

The "American Riveria" is known as a great warm-weather destination for those escaping frigid temperatures. The coastal town just up the coast from Los Angeles is an idyllic choice of destination for travelers who want a Christmas vibe — without the winter weather that typically accompanies vacations this time of the year. Santa Barbara is the perfect place to do this, as the average temperature in December is a balmy 65 degrees Fahrenheit, a distant dream for most places in the U.S. come the last month of the year.

However, holiday cheer is still very much present. The entire city participates in celebrations from wineries to the marina as well as bars and restaurants. In true Santa Barbara fashion, the Old Mission hosts Sip n' Stroll, a private market (you must buy tickets in advance online) at the beginning of the month to kick off the season where you can shop vendors with a local wine or beer in hand. There's also the annual Santa Barbara Harbor Parade of Lights where numerous boats are decorated and pass by the shore every year on the second Sunday in December. Additionally, there's the pop-up Miracle holiday-themed bar and Christmas Markets.

Woodstock, Vermont

It's no wonder that many Christmas movies are set in Vermont, the state is full of small towns that just beg one to be filmed there. Full of covered bridges and blanketed in snow come December makes postcard-perfect scenes. Woodstock, a small town in the countryside (no, not the location of the infamous festival — that's Bethel in Upstate New York) is one of the most tranquil places to enjoy a winter getaway.

Located in a quiet corner of the state, it's the perfect place to relax and cozy up, whether you want a solo trip, one with your partner, or the entire family in tow. Those with kids will enjoy Cookies with Santa at the Townhall Theater. There's also an ice rink every year at Union Arena and plenty of winter sports available at the Woodstock Nordic Center. From cross-country skiing to snowshoeing and biking. December is also the month when Wassail Weekend takes place, an annual holiday celebration where historic homes are decorated and a parade takes place.

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Louisiana offers a small preview of what the US could have been like had France maintained control, as they did for centuries up north in Quebec. You'll see French all around the city mixed in with English, as well as wrought iron balconies that look straight out of a scene in Paris. Baton Rouge, the state capital, provides a fantastic place to enjoy a slightly different type of holiday trip. The southern climate means you won't need to pack heavy winter clothing to enjoy festivities.

The Raising Cane River Center hosts ice skating and hockey — indoors of course — and the Festival of Lights really kicks things off with the lighting of the Christmas Tree and fireworks. Then, check out the snow villages between the Old State Capitol and River Center, where you can enjoy the juxtaposition of falling snow in a Louisiana winter. The Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre puts on a fantastic bayou-themed Nutcracker that's a must-see. For those visiting with little ones, the Baton Rouge Zoo Lights are always a favorite — and as a bonus, you won't need to convince the little ones that yes, a jacket, hat, and gloves are necessary.

Camden, Maine

Camden is a fantastic seaside getaway at the end of the year. Located along Penobscot Bay, the small coastal town in southern Maine is conveniently located between Portland and Bar Harbor, making it a great stopover for a larger trip through the state in December. Sure, the ocean location might make it more popular with summertime vacationers, but Camden is actually fantastic in winter — and with the benefit of fewer crowds than in the warmer months.

Home to the annual Christmas-by-the-Sea event, visitors can enjoy a tree lighting, a holiday parade, lights throughout the area, and visits from Santa and his helpers. It typically takes place at the beginning of the month, so make sure to double-check before planning a trip. Numerous businesses also hold sales and restaurant specials during the festival in the holiday spirit. For outdoors enthusiasts, the nearby Camden Snowbowl is great for winter sports lovers looking to sled, ski, or skate.

Charleston, South Carolina

December is one of the best times to visit Charleston as the weather is still warm, especially compared to northern states, but winter is safely out of hurricane season. Thus, no extreme weather is likely to spoil your trip. The charming southern city delights visitors of all kinds with its cobblestone streets, old-world lanterns, and early American architecture. It'll feel straight out of a history book while transporting you to somewhere that could almost be on another continent.

Beyond that, there are numerous festivities to enjoy during the holiday season like the breathtaking festival of lights on James Island County Park just outside of town. Enjoy the drive-thru light display, including the Cooper River Bridge all dressed up as well as festive train rides, a massive holiday-themed sand sculpture, and Santa's Village where photo ops are available. Back in town, you can enjoy Christmas-themed walking tours of the old town as well as candlelight tour options and aquarium lights (similar to zoo lights in other cities).

Solvang, California

California's Dutch answer to Bavarian Leavenworth, this small town in the Santa Ynez Valley, 130 miles north of LA, is the perfect getaway whether you're coming from SoCal or the Central Coast. The Danish-themed town in the heart of wine country is fun to visit year-round, but December is especially festive. You can enjoy the Julefest all month long from Thanksgiving weekend until just past the New Year. Lights adorn the city and a holiday parade takes place on weekends. Additionally, there is a Christmas Tree Lighting, scavenger hunts, and food tours.

For the younger ones, the Nisse Adventure, where Christmas elves are hidden throughout town waiting to be found, is a blast. It's like a massive "elf-on-the-shelf" activity for the entire village. For the parents or childless, there's the surrounding Santa Barbara Wine Country. Take a tasting tour or just sample a few glasses in town and enjoy the sunshine during a typically cooler month in the rest of the country.

The Florida Keys

Another warm-weather winter destination that is ideal to visit this time of year, thanks to the absence of hurricane season. You'll be able to swim and enjoy water sports while the rest of the US is shoveling snow or hiding from the rain. In addition to the mandatory tasting of key lime pie and visiting Ernest Hemingway's house, you'll have access to some of the country's best beaches. The Annual Schooner Wharf Boat Parade is a must-see for those visiting in December. Vessels of all shapes and sizes, from large yachts to kayaks and everything in between adorn themselves with giant candy canes, mistletoe, and cheerful messages for passersby to enjoy.

For other transport-themed holiday cheer, you can also board a train at the Conch Republic Station for the annual island light tour. The train will take you through the best-decorated neighborhoods and buildings as well as past carolers. Enjoy the lights around Key West without the stress of driving and in a unique mode of travel.

Anchorage, Alaska

Alaska is easily considered one of the best winter wonderland destinations in the US, which makes it the perfect place for a December vacation. The state's largest city, Anchorage, is the most doable as a quick getaway where sports like ice climbing, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and ice fishing are all on the table. You can bring your own equipment and rent, heading to nearby spots like the Hilltop or Arctic Valley Ski Areas. The world-class Aleyska resort also isn't far, located just under an hour's drive away.

In town, head to the Christmas Village at the Dena'ina Civic Convention Center to browse Alaskan-made crafts and specialties. It's the perfect place to find unique gifts your loved ones definitely won't have already received. It's also a great time of year to see the northern lights, either right from town or with a tour operator. Check forecasts on the University of Alaska's website. Finally, the Alaskan Railroad offers a special Holiday Train service each year akin to the Polar Express. It operates numerous days in December, in both the morning and afternoon.

Hershey, Pennsylvania

Willy Wonka and his chocolate factory might be fictional, but the US' very own chocolate town spreads festive cheer like nowhere else in Pennsylvania. It's no coincidence that Hershey, Pennsylvania, is really home to the chocolate that you've been eating since you had your first bite of candy. Thus, it's the perfect December destination for families with kids, couples, or solo travelers alike, because who doesn't love a good taste of chocolate? The main attraction, the Hershey Factory, remains open for tours throughout the month. You can enjoy making your own bar of sweets, tasting all the samples, or taking a trolley through the park.

Of course, if theme-park-esque candy lands aren't exactly what you're looking for in a getaway, don't fear. The town has plenty to offer in the winter season, don't miss the Hershey Lodge or camping resort complete with cozy cabins. Additionally, the spa at Hotel Hershey offers chocolate-themed treatments and spa days.

Santa Claus, Indiana

It would be a serious overlook to not include a town with this name on our list, although that in of itself wouldn't necessarily be enough to make the caught. Luckily, Santa Claus (the city) is a wonderful December destination in southern Indiana. Travelers can visit the Santa Claus Museum where you can learn all about everyone's favorite holiday visitor. Additionally, the town has a holiday village that rivals those in Europe — you can say hi to the reindeer that come and visit every year, a delight for visitors of all ages. There's also an annual parade complete with a Santa meet and greet.

As for accommodation options, you're spoilt for choice. The Lincoln Pines Lakefront Resort has "Santa Cottages" that will delight children of all ages. For those without little ones in tow, try the Sun Outdoors Lake Rudolph Resort. The cozy vibe will get you in the festive season, whether or not snow decides to make an appearance. There really isn't a better time of the year to visit this part of the country.