December is a magical time of year in the United States, and there’s really no better way to cap off the year than by hitting the road! Whether you’re looking to escape the cold at a tropical beach or embrace the snow on an epic ski trip, there are tons of incredible places to visit in the US in December.
Of course, holiday travel is huge this month. If you want to relish the festive season, you’ll find endless holiday cheer and special events in cities big and small. But if you’d prefer to avoid the crowds and costs that come with a Christmas vacation, you’ll have plenty of options to choose from, too.
Travel earlier in the month, and you’ll have the chance to explore the country’s best (and most popular) national parks and cities minus the crowds. Plus, in the lead-up to the holidays, you’ll find that many cities in the US host free concerts, festive markets, and holiday parades, while restaurants often serve up special menus and holiday treats all month long.
With so many wonderful places to visit in December, it might be tough to decide where to go! So we’ve compiled our list of the absolute best places to visit in the US in December for you. Plan the ultimate December getaway and get ready to make some unforgettable memories!
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The 13 Best Places to Visit in the USA in December
1. Get into the Holiday Spirit in New Orleans
From noshing on beignets at Café du Monde to marveling at 18th-century buildings in the French Quarter, The Big Easy is a prime destination to visit year-round. But did you know it’s one of the best US cities to visit in December?
Book a trip to New Orleans in December, and you’ll find all sorts of festive and fun special events happening all month long. Plus, the city is all dressed up in twinkling lights and holiday displays, creating a truly magical atmosphere!
Starting at the beginning of the month, you can expect restaurants to mix up festive craft cocktails and serve up special menus, including traditional Reveillon dinners (a late-night multi-course holiday meal). Be sure to also attend one of the free classical and jazz concerts courtesy of the St. Louis Cathedral Concert Series and check out the spectacular light displays at the iconic Celebration in the Oaks and LUNA Fête.
Then there’s the Krewe of Jingle Christmas Parade, the boozy Running of the Santas pub crawl, and the Holiday Home Tour, which gives you a peek into the beautiful private homes in the Garden District. From thrilling college football games to festive cruises on the Mississippi, there’s tons going on in New Orleans in December!
2. Explore Zion National Park Without the Crowds
If you’ve visited Zion National Park during the peak months (April through October), you know that the crowds can be overwhelming. After all, this is one of the most popular national parks in the United States!
But visit Zion in December, and you’ll be rewarded with near-empty hiking trails, scenic overlooks, and iconic attractions. Brave the chilly temps, and you’ll quickly see why Zion National Park is one of the best places to visit in the US in December.
Plus, winter is the only time of year that you can cruise along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive in your own car (aside from certain days, including the time between Christmas and New Year’s). The road is closed to private vehicles from March to November, so being able to travel at your own pace and stop whenever you want is a huge benefit of visiting in winter.
Another perk of visiting Zion in December is that your chances of snagging a coveted permit to hike Angels Landing or The Subway are much better compared to peak season months.
Of course, December is the coldest month of the year to visit Zion, with an average low of 30°F and high of 50°F. But bundle up, and you’re in for the trip of a lifetime!
3. Experience a Winter Wonderland in Lake Placid
If you’re looking for epic winter destinations perfect for a year-end trip, Lake Placid is easily one of the best vacation spots in the US in December. Tucked away in the Adirondack Mountains, this quaint New York town is a mecca for adventure junkies, especially in the winter months.
Lake Placid has been a top winter destination since the early 1900s, and it even played host to the Winter Olympics back in 1932 and again in 1980. Fast-forward to today, and you can experience Lake Placid’s Olympic past at the Olympic Center, Olympic Jumping Complex, Mt. Van Hoevenberg, and Whiteface Mountain.
Take advantage of the powder-fresh snow, and hit the slopes of Whiteface Mountain, one of the top ski resorts in the country. If you prefer something a bit more mellow, you’ll find plenty of opportunities for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing at Mount Van Hoevenberg and beyond.
If you’re in town just to relax, that’s fine too. You’ll find all sorts of lovely lodges and pampering spas all around town, perfect for a carefree winter weekend away!
4. Get a Taste of Bavaria in Leavenworth
Tucked away in Washington‘s Cascade Mountains, Leavenworth is famous for its authentic Bavarian Village lined with alpine-style buildings and German restaurants. There are plenty of reasons to visit Leavenworth year-round, but if you’re looking for magical Christmas destinations, this Washington hamlet is easily one of the best places to travel in the US in December!
Leavenworth is widely hailed as one of the best Christmas towns in the US, so expect plenty of twinkling lights and holiday cheer all month long thanks to the annual Village of Lights Christmastown event.
During this month-long event, you’ll have the chance to participate in all sorts of fun activities – from marveling at the half a million lights that adorn the town and taking photos with Santa to listening to carolers and snacking on all of the festive German treats.
If that’s not enough, you can spend your days checking out all of the nutcrackers at the quirky Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum, enjoying mulled wine and spiced nuts at downtown’s restaurants, going sledding through the middle of town, visiting the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm – the list goes on and on.
To add to the magical atmosphere, December is a prime time to see this picture-perfect town blanketed in snow!
5. Escape the Cold in Key West
Located at the southwestern tip of the Florida Keys, Key West is easily one of the best warm places in the United States to visit in December. The average daytime temperature hovers around 76°F, making this one of the warmest wintertime destinations in the country!
That being said, the colder-than-usual ocean temperatures and mild rainfall might be off-putting to some. But if you visit Key West with an open mind, you won’t be disappointed. Plus, you may very well have perfect tropical weather during your entire trip.
Key West is stunning year-round, and you can easily while away the days snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters, soaking up the sun from a pristine beach, or lounging around your hotel pool. But December also offers all sorts of festive activities and events, too, creating a fun and unique juxtaposition to the tropical surroundings.
During the holidays, the entire island, including Duval Street, is decked out in aquatic-themed holiday decorations, making it even more charming than usual. If you’re in town in December, be sure to take the Holly Jolly Holiday Trolley to check out Key West’s best light displays.
Then there’s the Key West Holiday Parade the first week of December, the Lighted Boat Parade in mid-December, and the iconic New Year’s Eve Conch Shell Drop, to name a few fun events!
6. Go Back in Time in Colonial Williamsburg
If you’re looking for the best US cities to visit in December, Williamsburg, Virginia, offers all sorts of unique attractions you won’t find anywhere else. Williamsburg was the capital of the Virginia Colony from 1699 to 1780 and is famous for its role in the American Revolution. If you’re a history buff, you’ll love this place!
Visit any time of year, and you’ll have the chance to explore the 301-acre Colonial Williamsburg living museum, which features costumed characters re-enacting scenes from daily 18th- and 19th-century life. From dining at George Washington’s favorite tavern to shopping for gifts in the 18th-century-style Merchant Square, there’s always something fun to do in Williamsburg!
But visit in December, and you’ll find tons of seasonal events happening around town. If you want to shop till you drop, don’t miss out on Yorktown’s Christmas Market on Main, the Bizarre Bazaar at the nearby Richmond Raceway Complex, or all of the excellent deals at the Williamsburg Premium Outlets.
Then there’s ice skating at the Liberty Ice Pavilion in the middle of Colonial Williamsburg, the festive treats at Yorktown Mistletoe Market and Toyland Parade, the spectacular “Grand Illumination” events in Colonial Williamsburg, and so much more.
7. Go Hiking and Stargazing in Joshua Tree
Anyone who has ever visited Joshua Tree in the summer knows the heat can be downright brutal (think 100°F and beyond). Visit in the spring or fall, and you’ll have huge crowds to contend with. But travel to Joshua Tree in December, and you’ll be rewarded with fewer crowds and ideal weather for hiking.
That being said, things do get really busy over the holidays. If you’re looking to avoid the crowds, we suggest visiting toward the beginning of December.
This is the California desert, after all, which means you can expect the temperature to hover around 60°F during the day and 40°F during the evenings. Rain and snow are always a slim possibility in December, so pack accordingly.
One of the most unique things about traveling to Joshua Tree in the winter is that the days are shorter, which means you’ll have ample opportunity to stargaze in this Dark Sky Park. But when you’re not marveling at the star-speckled sky, you’ll have a blast hiking to Joshua Tree’s most famous rock formations, checking out the Cholla Cactus Garden, watching the sunset from Keys View, and so much more!
8. Experience Southern Christmas Charm in Savannah
There really is no city quite like Savannah, Georgia. Famous for its picture-perfect Historic District and beautiful cobblestone squares, this Southern city just oozes charm. But visit in December, and you’ll find that the entire town is decked out in twinkling lights, red ribbons, and holiday cheer.
This is one of the best Southern US cities to visit in December if you want to escape the frigid temperatures found in most US destinations this time of year. Head to Savannah, and you’ll experience highs in the upper 60s to low 70s and lows in the 40s. You might need gloves and a light jacket in the evenings, but that’s about it!
Weather aside, there are all sorts of fun things to do in Savannah at this time of year. You’ll want to meander around the Historic District to check out all of the 19th-century mansions all dressed up in over-the-top Christmas decor before going shopping for gifts in the historic City Market and sampling holiday treats at the quaint shops.
From tree lighting ceremonies and holiday home tours to holiday-themed performances and spectacular light shows, Savannah knows how to get into the holiday spirit!
9. Go Whale Watching and Beach Hopping in Maui
Of the Hawaiian Islands, Maui gets the least amount of rain during the winter months, so you’re pretty much guaranteed excellent weather and 75°F days. Plus, the swimming conditions are also excellent, so you can spend your days soaking in the sun on the beach before dipping in the Pacific Ocean.
The winter months are also a prime time to spot humpback whales in the wild. Roughly 12,000 humpback whales migrate from Alaska to Hawaii during the winter, meaning Maui is a prime spot for whale watching.
Aside from spotting whales and dolphins in their natural habitat, you can spend your trip hiking in Haleakala National Park, touring a pineapple or coconut farm, snorkeling off the coast of Lana’i, and marveling at spectacular waterfalls along the Road to Hana.
With its perfect December weather and all of its iconic natural attractions, a December trip does come with a higher-than-usual price tag. But chances are you’ll find it’s money well spent!
10. Enjoy the Mild Weather in San Antonio
San Antonio, Texas, is another one of the best US cities to visit in December. With mild temperatures hovering around the high 60s and low 70s, you can leave your winter coat at home. You’ll love exploring the city’s top sights, including the Alamo, the UNESCO World Heritage sites along Mission Trail, and the bustling 2.5-mile River Walk without enduring the scorching summer temperatures.
Plus, during the entire month of December, the River Walk is decorated with 100,000 lights and visited by over 150 caroling groups. To really soak in the magical atmosphere, it’s well worth booking a river cruise if you’re visiting in December.
Explore further afield, and you’ll find that local attractions like the Natural Bridge Caverns also get into the festive spirit, featuring everything from a Christmas tree to an ice skating rink. Head to the popular Six Flags Fiesta Texas and SeaWorld, where you’ll find thrilling rides and attractions and fun holiday-themed events happening all month long!
Plus, this is a prime time to dine on San Antonio’s incredible Mexican food. Tamales are traditionally prepared for the holidays around these parts, so be sure to try some of the city’s best at places like Delia’s, Teka Molino, and Lala’s Gorditas.
11. Experience the Grand Canyon Without the Crowds
Visiting the Grand Canyon in December is a great idea if you want to avoid the hordes of tourists and are willing to brave the chilly temperatures and unpredictable weather. The park sees only 15% of the number of tourists during the winter months compared to the rest of the year, so expect quiet trails and sparsely populated overlooks along the South Rim!
The rims of the Grand Canyon can be very cold, but the inside of the canyon is actually protected from the brutal winds, meaning you can hike at relatively mild temperatures in the 50s! You’ll also have a much easier time obtaining permits at this time of year, which is another huge perk of visiting in December.
The Grand Canyon is stunning at any time of year, but add a dusting of snow, and the landscape becomes even more magical!
It’s important to note that the North Rim is closed from early November to mid-May, and road closures are common, which means you likely won’t be able to access all the attractions on your bucket list. Winter storms and blizzards are also a very real possibility, so it’s always best to give yourself an extra couple of days to make sure you don’t miss out on everything you want to see and do!
12. Experience a Different Side of Newport, Rhode Island
When it comes to the best places to visit in the US in December, it doesn’t get much better than Newport, Rhode Island. While this coastal city is best known as a sun-soaked summer destination for East Coasters, visit in December, and you’ll be treated to a winter wonderland. And if you’re lucky, you might get to see the city’s buildings and beaches blanketed in snow!
You can spend your days ticking off all of Newport’s most famous attractions. From the historic lighthouses and lavish Gilded Age mansions to the scenic Cliff Walk and the bustling Newport Harbor, you’ll find tons of fun things to do in Newport at any time of year.
But December sees this place decked out in holiday charm, and you’ll find unique events happening all month long thanks to the annual “Christmas in Newport” event. Throughout December, you’ll come across Christmas concerts, tree-lighting ceremonies, arts and crafts fairs, festive pop-up shops, candlelit tours of historic homes, and so much more.
One of the most popular Newport activities in December is the Holidays at the Newport Mansions, which gives you the chance to see The Breakers, Marble House, and The Elms all dressed up in Christmas décor!
13. Take a Ski Trip to Lake Tahoe
If you’re wondering where to go in December for some snow-filled fun, Lake Tahoe is always a good idea. Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly destination or just want to take an epic ski trip with friends, Lake Tahoe has something for everyone.
In the winter, Lake Tahoe is a mecca for skiers and snowboarders who flock to the two dozen ski resorts that are scattered around the lake. From Heavenly and Kirkwood to Sierra-at-Tahoe and Sugar Bowl, you’ll be spoiled for choice!
There’s a reason this is one of the best vacation spots in the US in December. But if skiing isn’t really your thing, you’ll find plenty of other wintertime activities to keep you entertained.
If you want to make the most of the city’s stunning natural setting, you’ll find plenty of hiking and snowshoeing opportunities around the lake. Or, for more chilled-out activities, you can shop till you drop in Heavenly Village, take in the views from the Heavenly Gondola, or take a gamble in one of the ritzy casinos on the Nevada side of the lake!
No matter how you spend your day, cap it off with a visit to one of Tahoe’s many après-ski spots, where you can mix and mingle over drinks!
There you have it! The 13 best places to visit in the USA in December. What’s your favorite US destination to visit in December?
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