The holidays are upon us, no matter where you live.
But there are some spots in the U.S. where just walking down a snow-covered street — bedecked with wreaths and candy cane-shaped street lights — makes you feel like you’re in a Hallmark holiday movie.
Here are 10 places where the holiday spirit is so robust that it’s practically magical.
North Pole, Alaska
Hey, what do you know? Christmastime is kind of a big deal year-round in Santa’s hometown of North Pole, which is just a 15-minute drive from Fairbanks. Candy cane-shaped streetlights line St. Nicholas Drive, the road to the Santa Claus House — which is part general store and part holiday shop. You’ll find Santa himself there, along with some live reindeer and lots of holiday goodies to buy.
On South Santa Claus Lane, you can visit the North Pole Post Office, which receives more than 400,000 letters to Santa each year, according to Travel Alaska. And you’ll want to stop by the annual North Pole Winterfest and Holiday Bazaar, which features holiday activities, crafts and a fireworks show.
Santa Claus, Indiana
For three weekends each December, this town hosts a Santa Claus Christmas celebration in honor of its titular hero. Enjoy treats from Santa’s Candy Castle, which sells Christmas confections and gifts, and take family pictures with one of the 15-plus Santa statues in town. (One is 22 feet high!)
The town is known for its post office, which has been around since 1856. Today, volunteers still answer children’s letters that arrive here for the town’s special postmark. It also has a Santa Claus Museum and Village.
There’s a holiday light show called the Santa Claus Land of Lights — as well as a second, choreographed light show at the Kringle Place Shopping Center. And the annual Santa Claus Christmas parade took place on December 9 this year.
Every year, the beach town of Ogunquit hosts a three-day, over-the-top Christmas extravaganza called Christmas by the Sea with a dizzying schedule of holiday events from toy drives and open houses to gospel performances and a craft fair.
Practically the whole town participates, with Santa emerging from Perkins Cove (sometimes by lobster boat) to make stops throughout town. Christmas story hours, garland-making, Christmas carol singing, and much more take place,along with a bonfire on the beach, fireworks and concerts.
The event takes place on the second weekend in December every year (Dec. 8-10 in 2023). Even afterward, though, the small town still brims over with holiday excitement. Area businesses continue to offer events and performances throughout the season and the lights remain brilliant for a few weeks more.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Apparently Santa is partial to the skiing destination of Jackson Hole, because he makes daily visits to its Town Square throughout December and picks up his mail there. It’s also the site of the annual tree lighting the day after Thanksgiving, which kicks off the season and its many holiday activities. The square has a unique look thanks to lights wrapped around the arches of elk antlers at each corner.
You could take a horse-drawn sleigh ride or do some shopping at the Holiday Art Bazaar. Out-of-towners might want to book a room at the Wort Hotel, which hosts 12 Days of Christmas activities like brunch with Santa and gingerbread house decorating. Of course, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is also a popular spot to stay, and you can even watch him rappel out of the Aerial Tram or ski with him there.
The snow-covered town of Breckenridge already looks like a winter wonderland. How does it kick off the holiday season? Why, with a Santa Claus foot race, of course! During the first weekend of December, hundreds of Santa Claus look-alikes race each other down Main Street (which is adorned with 250,000 LED lights) during the Lighting of Breckenridge and Race of the Santas.
Throughout the season the town also puts on the Ullr Fest (celebrating the Norse god of snow) and incorporates many holiday activities. You can take scenic, horse-drawn holiday sleigh rides while sitting under warm blankets and sipping hot chocolate, for example. If you’re visiting on Dec. 31, the Breckenridge Resort hosts the New Year’s Eve Torchlight Parade, a luminary procession down a mountain at night.
Nantucket kicks off the holiday season the day after Thanksgiving with its Annual Tree Lighting and Community Caroling Ceremony, in which 150 trees erupt in a blaze of light all at once.
On the first weekend of December, Nantucket hosts its annual Christmas Stroll. It includes a visit by Santa Claus (by boat), shopping at Santa’s Village Marketplace, craft shows and other activities. On that Sunday, residents gather at the Nantucket Ice Community Rink for its Jolly Jam Skate with Santa, where there’s also live music, activities for kids and a festive photo booth.
Nantucket Noel lasts all season, with storefronts decorated and festive shopping included. On Christmas Eve, the island’s Chamber of Commerce awards those who’ve spent the most money at local shops with a cash prize.
Frankenmuth just looks like a Christmas village, with its German architecture that’s earned the town the nickname “Michigan’s Little Bavaria.” Gift shops line the quaint streets, and the town is home to Bronner’s, the “World’s Largest Christmas Store.”
And while Frankenmuth may be just 90 miles north of America’s car capital of Detroit, at Christmastime you’ll find lots of horse-drawn carriages ringing jingle bells along its streets. Holiday light displays (and 150 lighted trees) appear all around the town, and there’s a 40-foot, “singing” Christmas tree at the center of it all.
Park City, Utah
The day after Thanksgiving, Park City residents get a visit from Santa at the annual Tree Lighting Ceremony, and this event kicks off a steady stream of holiday activities throughout December.
Residents can take a Snow Globe Stroll down Main Street to enjoy seven giant snow globes decorated to illustrate holiday songs like “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “Frosty the Snowman.” Brightly lit holiday floats and musicians take to Main Street for the Electric Light Parade early in the season and the Egyptian Theater hosts several December dates of the Park City Holiday Spectacular and Sing-Along.
Holiday revelers can also get aboard the 90-minute, North Pole Express train ride (via the Heber Valley Railroad) while drinking cocoa and eating cookies. Santa’s on board, too, handing out gifts. You’ll want to reserve early, though, as these events sell out fast.
Finally, on Christmas Eve, there’s the twinkling Torchlight Parade at Park City Mountain Resort.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe has all the usual choral concerts and “Nutcracker” ballets you expect around the holidays. But it also has some unique Christmas traditions.
In an annual Hispanic tradition called Los Posadas on the Plaza, New Mexico History Museum volunteers reenact Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter on the night of Jesus’ birth. On a special day in December (Dec. 10 this year), a candlelit procession makes its way along the Santa Fe Plaza and ends with Christmas carols.
Another unique tradition is the Canyon Road Farolito Walk, when hundreds of people stroll through paper lantern-strewn streets while singing carols on Christmas Eve.
This quaint town, with its Bavarian food and architecture, is the perfect backdrop for holiday activities. And there’s hardly a day in December that doesn’t have one going on. In fact, Leavenworth’s Christmastown keeps the lights on from November just after Thanksgiving all the way to February.
Then, throughout the weeks running up to Christmas, the place features a high volume of events. You can visit the gazebo to hear bands or run into Christmas characters. You can go to the Festhalle to find a Santa letter-writing station. Or just turn any corner to find roaming carolers in your path.
Where do you like to spend the holidays?