Best Places for a Holiday Getaway in the USA

The Rink at Campus Martius Park, Detroit.
Christmas tree decorations
Christmas tree decorations – photo © KirstenAlana

The clichés that normally define Christmas and New Year don’t have to define your holiday. If you’re looking for a different way to spend this December, consider booking yourself a holiday getaway to these locations around the United States. All of them offer the visitor a great time, without the stress of too much advance planning or the absolute necessity of a reservation. Just pack your bags, get your visa organised ahead of time under the ESTA program organised and set out for your holiday.


Seattle, Washington

Christmas lights in Seattle
Christmas lights in Seattle – photo © InspiredPhotos.

Starbucks may have made the city of Seattle famous and grunge music made it a mecca in the 90’s but there’s so much more to this Pacific Northwest city than cliché coffee and rock music.

Every night through December 30, beginning from Westlake Park, you can ride the ducks. A wacky captain will ferry you aboard a sleigh for a tour of the holiday lights downtown. Guaranteed to be a party, at the least it gives you the chance to say you rode a duck. What other city can give you that at Christmas!

Visit Winterfest at the Seattle Center, through December 31. Illuminated in twinkling lights, featuring ice sculpting and musical performances, a winter train and pop up shops — the 74-acre campus is headquarters for Christmas in the city.

Go on an EverGreen Escapes Holiday Brew Tour. The taps of Seattle are well known for craft beer and the holidays are a great time to imbibe because you can enjoy limited-edition brews. Guests can be picked up and dropped off at any downtown Seattle hotel or Columbia Sportswear retail store. Bring your A-game and a thirsty appetite!

Santa has the best view in all of Seattle from his home in the top of the Space Needle. Whether you’ve been naughty or nice, you too can take in the twinkling lights of the city when you whisper your desires into his ear. Afterwards, take part in the arts and crafts project to go home with a complimentary keepsake.

At Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park on the shores of Lake Washington, you’ll find Ivar’s Clam Lights. The park is transformed into a winter wonderland, free for all visitors. Warm your belly with a cup of clam chowder at Ivar’s or visit Kidd Valley Hamburgers & Shakes, for a little throwback to the way holidays used to be. You’ll also be able to enjoy great views of the Argosy Christmas Ship Parade, and live music with Ivar’s Dancing Clams.


Phoenix & Scottsdale, Arizona

Arizona – photo © KirstenAlana

Greg Velasquez, who is the Director of Sales and Marketing at the Royal Palms – says, “we typically have good availability right up until the last minute in Scottsdale, unlike other warm weather holiday destinations like Hawaii, Florida, Mexico.”

Take a drive through posh suburbs such as Glendale where every yard is lit up and you’ll find yourself thinking, “Recession what?” There is more than enough money out here to blind you and it won’t be hard to get in the Christmas spirit when everything is glowing but you’re not fighting the traffic you will in other urban areas. For an even merrier feeling — park your car and walk, hot chocolate in hand, through the neighborhoods as you wonder which house belongs to Clark Griswold.

Check out Las Noches de las Luminarias. Locals say it’s a romantic event because it’s calming and quiet so think about leaving the kids at home. Each year, until the 30th, the Desert Botanical Garden lines its paths with thousands of luminaries. There are warm beverages to ward off the chill, food and live entertainment — nearly a guarantee your heart will be merry and light.

Go Cuban and visit Havana Cafe on Camelback Road! Their festive party on December 24 will feature, as it has in years past, a traditional Cuban pig roast and lots of rum to help you get in the spirit.

Consider one of the many resorts for your merry New Year’s Eve. There are a lot of options to choose from in between the two cities, many of them throwing elaborate parties open not just to resort guests but to the general public as well. Unlike in Times Square, you won’t have to give up feeling in your toes and with less light pollution you might just be able to wish on a falling star as you kiss that special someone when the clock strikes twelve.

Somehow, despite his fame as an architect and unusual personality, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West still doesn’t get busy around the holidays. Here you can bask in the glow of more elaborate lighting, refreshments and the wonder that comes from trying to figure out truly great design.

If you are looking for a fun adventure in Phoenix, ZooLights at the Phoenix Zoo is never as busy as events in other cities. Still, here you will find all the usual creatures [literally] along with light displays and luminaries that will make nighttime in the zoo a truly memorable event.


Taos, New Mexico

Farolitos in Taos, New Mexico.
Farolitos in Taos, New Mexico – photo © DanitaDelimontAlamy.

It is a funky neighbor to Santa Fe, which most visitors to New Mexico never skip, and it might have more to offer. Let the candle-lit farolitos (paper lanterns) guide your way as you experience Yuletide in Taos imbued with Spanish flavor.

A haven for artists and creative spirits, one of the most famous past residents being Georgia O’Keefe, it has become a destination for art galleries and shopping. Check out the historic district of Ledoux Street for the best selection and the chance to warm your inside with mulled wine while you gaze at the clearly-visible stars above from around a roaring fire.

Beginning at sunset on Christmas Eve, attend the procession at Taos Pueblo. Locals say there isn’t anywhere else on earth in which you can experience an event so magical! The Procession of the Virgin is accompanied by antique rifle salutes and massive bonfires, gaze at the stars from the rooftops of 1000 year old adobe pueblo buildings and find yourself very much in a festive spirit.

On Christmas Day, watch the Matachines Dance, back at Taos Pueblo plaza; this ancient Native American ceremonial dance, accompanied by drums, honors the depths of winter. You won’t be allowed to record it, but you won’t need to, merely capturing it with your mind’s eye will be enough.

Finally, on New Year’s Eve, take part in the Torchlight Parade & Fireworks at Taos Ski Valley. Skiers, with torches in hand, glide elegantly down the mountain and the light trails that follow them make for a beautiful pattern under the starry skies. Firework displays will add to the magical moments of the last hours of the year and you won’t have to look far for events as every ski resort in the valley participates in some manner or another.


Detroit, Michigan

The Rink at Campus Martius Park, Detroit.
The Rink at Campus Martius Park, Detroit – photo © ellenm1.

It began to have a positive presence in the media again, when Detroit hosted the Superbowl in 2006 but a revival in the Motor City has really been taking place for far longer. And while it might have a way to go still in competing with other Midwestern cities like Chicago, follow these tips and you just might find yourself as pleasantly surprised as Charu Suri of Butterfly Diary who said after her visit, “Detroit is definitely not the ugly stepchild of travel that many people think it is.”

Get your art fix fixed by spending a day at the Detroit Institute of Arts. From Diego Rivera’s frescoes to classic works by Matisse and Degas, there is always a lot to stimulate the senses. Because the DIA supports art of all kinds, around the holidays there are free musical performances, free wine tastings (that’ll keep you toasty warm) and events for kids allowing them to explore their own creative tendencies.

Visit the Rink at Campus Martius Park, where with your own skates or rented blades, you can glide over the ice just as Olympians do after you’ve taken a drive in a horse-drawn carriage. Warm up afterwards at the French-inspired Fountain Bistro and let the Christmas tree in the center of the park inspire you to sing a carol or two.

Visit the historic Main Street town of Rochester, where every year now 1.2 million Christmas lights illuminate downtown as The Big, Bright Light Show. Stop by Lipuma’s and order a Coney Dog, a Michigan specialty, to eat as you stroll down the street basking in the glow of man-made cheer.

Head just out of downtown to where that car you drive got its humble beginnings. Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village do Christmas with history as the focus. Carol singers stroll the village, antique stores dole out refreshments crafted with centuries-old recipes and actors in costume take you back to a simpler time. Their Holiday Nights explode with even more cheer, yet because it is in Michigan — you’re not going to need a reservation. Just pack a little patience into your suitcase, you will only fight the usual crowds that can’t be avoided anywhere in December!

*Written by Kirsten Alana, a professional photographer, writer, teacher and social media consultant. She has worked with brands like AOL, Expedia and Beck’s Beer; co-hosted #ExpChat, #TNI and #FriFotos on twitter; as well as been on-air talent for commercials and travel shows on networks like CNN and AMC. She enjoys teaching photography all around the world and talking about its important role in our increasingly social society at conferences in places like Italy and Austria.
You can follow Kirsten on Twitter (@kirstenalana) and Instagram (kirstenalana).

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