Best Places to Travel in the USA this December for a Memorable Holiday
Updated: Sep 29
Why You Should Travel in December
December is one of my favorite months to travel. Wherever you go, there’s some sort of holiday celebration, and everyone is in good spirits. The mix of decorations is always fun to see, and tasting the local holiday favorites has to be one of the greatest joys in life.
I can’t deny either that a large part of the appeal is one last hurrah before the New Year, and the sleepy months of winter. Then there’s the fact that East Tennessee Decembers never seem to make up their mind, either - one day it’s in the 70s and sunny, and the next it’s cold and rainy. Rarely do we get snow, which just adds insult to injury. It’s a roller coaster, and not the good kind.
For many of us, December is a relatively slow time at work. The office is empty as everyone rushes to use their vacation time, so there are fewer fires to come back to. And, it’s cost-effective too: as long as you avoid the peak week between Christmas and New Years, prices are generally reasonable. Not to mention, going early typically means fewer crowds since the kids are still in school.
There’s also the whole idea of spending money on experiences versus things, and traveling in December solves both the dilemma of gifting and also avoiding the consumerism that so often takes over this time of year. Too, traveling is a wonderful way to really embrace the season of giving, particularly after so much of the industry has been devastated by the pandemic. Every dollar you spend on tourism this year makes someone else’s holiday season just a little brighter. You help save someone’s job, and you get to make memories. It’s a win-win.
Where to travel in December
So, now you’re convinced that this is the year you pack up to experience a different kind of December. It’s nearly October, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and your passport is expired. What next?! Don’t fret! There are plenty of great places in the US to travel in December.
December travelers tend to fall into one of two categories: those looking for snow, and those looking for sun. And occasionally, there’s a third category: those of us who just love traveling somewhere we know what we’re getting in terms of weather. (Most years, I’m less concerned with whether it’s cold or hot in December. I just don’t want to guess.)
Depending on where you live, maybe you want to enjoy just a little more warmth before settling into the cold, snowy winter. Or maybe snow is something you never get to see, and a week bundled up sounds incredible. Do you ski, hike, golf, or swim? Are you into large cities, or quiet towns? All of the above? Yes! Yes! Yes!
Read on for our list of best places to go in December in the USA.
Where to Travel for Snow in December
If your idea of the perfect December vacation includes hot chocolate, ice skating, holiday markets, and snow, snow, and more snow, you’ll love this list. Each of these destinations oozes warmth and coziness.
Often overlooked in favor of better-known spots in Utah and Colorado, Idaho’s Sun Valley is a must-do for those seeking cozy winter getaways. You’ll enjoy stunning views of the Sawtooth Mountains - already jaw-dropping, they’re even more magical covered in snow. The area is rife with hot springs, many of which are just off the road. Skiers will enjoy the runs at Bald Mountain, while nearby Dollar Mountain offers a wide variety of winter sports. Nonskiers, don’t fret - the spa is a destination in itself. Other things to do here include hiking, bowling, ice skating, and sleigh rides.
New York City, New York
Is anywhere as iconic as New York City in December? With so much to do and see, it’s impossible to hit it all in one trip. Make the most of your time by savoring the atmosphere. Layer up in your favorite winter wear, grab a coffee, and spend some time enjoying the holiday window displays while finishing up your shopping. Make sure to stop at Rockefeller Center to see the famous tree, and if you’re brave, join the ice skaters.
History lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, and beer fans alike will find themselves at home in Durango. From skiing at Purgatory Resort to hiking in the Needle Range, there’s plenty of activity to be had. Warm up afterwards with a visit to one of the area’s local craft breweries. And of course, you won’t want to miss the Polar Express, a recreation of the magical story while traveling on a vintage steam train. There’s even a visit from Santa included.
Part of Virginia’s Historic Triangle, Williamsburg offers visitors the opportunity to step back in time to experience early American history. The historic town center is something of a living history museum, and it won’t take much to imagine you’re witnessing the birth of a nation. The colonial buildings, perfectly preserved, become even more enchanting when draped with twinkling lights and holly boughs.
Known as the Christmas City, Bethlehem offers a dreamy, artistic holiday experience with some of the best Christmas celebrations in the world. Founded in the 1700s by Moravian missionaries, Bethlehem boasts the Christmas Village, an outdoor artisan market, and the famous Christkindlmart for unusual gifts. When you’re not shopping, you’ll enjoy strolling the historic streets all decked out in holiday ambiance, or experiencing the Living Advent Calendar.
Where to Travel for Sun in December
Looking to escape the cold and snow? You might enjoy one of these spots, where temperatures rarely drop below 60 degrees. Plan on sunny days, and pack a sweater for the evenings. Don’t forget your sunscreen!
Las Vegas, Nevada
Those who love Vegas know it’s a great city year-round, but cooler temps and holiday festivities make December an especially great time to visit. Those looking for glitz and glam will enjoy the parties, strolling through the Bellagio gardens, and attending a show or two. Those looking for solitude and scenic landscapes will enjoy the numerous outdoor activities in nearby Valley of Fire State Park or Red Rock Canyon National Recreation Center.
The Islands of Hawaii
Travelers looking for a tropical escape should head to Hawaii. Both the weather and the water are warm, with temperatures hovering in the low 80s during the day. Yes, it’s the rainy season, but showers never last long, and are why the islands stay so lush and beautiful. If you look carefully, you might even see a poinsettia growing naturally along the hillside.
Maui offers plenty of hiking, biking, golf, and water activities, or for a little less adrenaline, drive the Road to Hana for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The Big Island is the largest of the islands, and home to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. For something quieter, head to the Garden Island of Kauai, or for nightlife and the famous Waikiki Beach, you’ll want Oahu.
Key Largo, Florida
Just about an hour from Miami lies Key Largo, the first of the Florida Keys and best known for its incredible snorkeling and diving. The vibe here is laid-back, and all about the underwater world. More of a land-lover? You won’t want to miss the two state parks and the tropical hardwoods the island is covered in. And, if you run out of things to do, the rest of the Keys are easily reachable by car.
Death Valley, California
Don’t let the name scare you - in winter, the hottest place on Earth turns into a desert oasis. Expect December temperatures to hover right around 65 degrees, the coldest month in the park and a much more pleasant experience than the 120+ degrees the summer months are known for. The days are mostly clear and sunny, perfect hiking weather (though if it does rain, be on the lookout for flash floods). A must-do is a stop at Badwater Basin, where you’ll find yourself 277 feet below sea level. At night, grab a cozy blanket and marvel at the vast array of stars - the area has been designated as a Dark Sky Park.
No passport required for this island getaway, as Puerto Rico is a US territory. Soak up the sun on one of the northern beaches, or head out to Rincon for a taste of local surf culture. An eclectic mix of Taino, Spanish, African, and American influences make Puerto Rico a diverse and richly decorated cultural destination. An endless array of natural beauty awaits as well. Spend your days wandering Old San Juan and exploring the El Yunque rain forest. At night, don’t miss the Bioluminescent Bay, a truly magical experience.
So now you know that December is a great time to travel, and you probably also know whether you’re a “gimme all the snow” person or a “gimme all the sun” person. You just read about 10 US travel destinations, some iconic, some off the beaten path. What struck your fancy? What made you say, “hmm, that might be fun!” I’d love to hear about it, or about your own December travel experiences, in the comments!
And, if it’s time to make that December travel dream a reality, well, let’s do it! Share this post with your friends, your partners, your parents, and let them know what you really want for Christmas. Then, reach out for your free consultation so we can have you booked in no time. Traveling in December will leave your heart full of memories to last well beyond the holiday season...and might just become your new favorite gift to give.