The 12 Best Holiday Events Spreading Cheer Across the US

Written by Kohleun Adamson

Winter is coming, and we're already craving candy canes and challah bread. The days are getting shorter and colder while seasonal festivities are warming up. Say goodbye to daquiris by the pool and hello to hot cider under holiday lights. Hibernating in your cozy socks and a blanket that doubles as a shirt is all well and good, but don't miss the fun and energy of some spectacular holiday and Christmas attractions in the USA! If you run on good cheer, recharge with live music, mulled drinks, leaping lederhosen, and shopping for gifts that are thoughtfully Made to Keep.

Wherever you are and however you celebrate, check out these Christmas markets, Hanukah attractions, and winter wonderlands all over America.

1. Morro Bay Winterfest

Morro Bay, California

boat decorated with christmas lights in morro bay
Via Jerry Kirkhart/Flickr

Morro Bay Winterfest is a new community event, celebrating its third year in 2019. Winterfest has all the right ingredients for a long-standing holiday tradition: lights, family fun, boats, and booze. Two magical weeks are packed with activities for all ages. The city-wide holiday tree lighting kicks things off, and a lighted boat preview and parade will wow all ages. Santa's House at the Embarcadero runs each night Dec. 6 through Dec. 22. Get a free snapshot with the jolly old elf. Feeling thirsty? Join the Santa Crawl—a grownups-only scavenger hunt of local wines and craft beers—and add your name to the naughty list.

2. Holiday Ale Festival

Portland, Oregon

pint glass in front of christmas tree at holiday ale fest
Via Matthew N./Yelp

If you're looking for an ale fest old enough to order its own beer, head to Portland, Oregon in December. The Holiday Ale Festival turns the ripe old age of 24 in 2019, with more beer (and cider) than ever. Dozens of breweries bring their seasonal flavors to Pioneer Square Dec. 4 through Dec. 8, so pace yourself! This year will feature 16 limited-release craft brews as well as your favorites from local beermakers like Deschutes Brewing, Portland Cider Company, and Ninkasi Brewing. Don't sleep on the Sunday Beer Brunch: a smorgasbord of European-inspired dishes that pair perfectly with a great pint.

3. Christkindlmarket & Magnificent Mile Lights Festival

Chicago, Illinois

entrance to the christkindl market in chicago
Via Diane M./Yelp

Leave it to Chicago to have not one, but two major holiday events lined up at the same time! It might get downright frigid in the Windy City, but locals do not turn down a party. Nov. 15 through Dec. 24, Christkindlmarket, Chicago's largest Christmas market, takes over Daley Plaza. The neighborhood becomes a cheerful village of German-inspired food, drinks, crafts, gifts, and merriment. The market has a full events calendar of Christmas shows and demonstrations, and it's all free! Want a double helping of seasonal sweets and family fun? Bring the whole crew to the Miracle Mile Lights Festival. Sing and dance at the kid-friendly street fair Nov. 22 and drop your jaws when you witness the famous lights parade on Nov. 23.

4. Chanukah in the Square

Charleston, South Carolina

concert at chanukah in the square in charleston
Via Mark L./Yelp

Celebrate Hanukkah and honor Charleston's Jewish heritage with dancing and food, including latkes, provided by the event sponsors The Norman and Gerry Sue Arnold Foundation and the City of Charleston. On the evening before Chanukah, members of the community who survived the Holocaust light the menorah and start a joyful celebration for all ages. All are welcome to join Charleston for one of the biggest Hanukah attractions in the South. Find your way to Marion Square on Dec. 22 and be ready to dance until the sun goes down.

5. Denver Christkindl Market

Denver, Colorado

entrance to the christkindl market in denver
Via Gerard M./Yelp

Denver is a winter wonderland, no question there. Add homemade schnaps (no, not Schnapps) and lederhosen and you've got Denver's unforgettable Christkindl Market! OK, there's more to this monthlong Christmas fair than delicious fruity sips and jaunty breeches. The event is free to all and it's perfect for eye-guzzling old-timey decorations and shopping for holiday gifts. The lineup of live performances includes The Denver Philharmonic Orchestra, German polka music, traditional dance numbers, bluegrass music, holiday hymns in multiple languages, and more! We'll meet you downtown Nov. 22 through Dec. 23.

6. Nights of Lights

St. Augustine, Florida

st augustine decorated for christmas
Via Andy J./Yelp

Inspired by the Spanish holiday tradition of lighting a single candle in the window of each house and business, St. Augustine's Nights of Lights will give you a warm holiday glow. Sound cheesy? Sip some hot cocoa in spectacularly sparkly Plaza de la Constitución and you'll know why we can't stop smiling. The official lighting ceremony takes place Nov. 23 and Nights of Lights concludes Feb. 2 of next year! Enjoy holiday tours, carriage rides, and more. On the busiest days—Thanksgiving weekend and every weekend in December—take advantage of the free park-and-ride. Finally, if you're looking for lowkey New Year's events, take in some people watching under the bright lights as you bid farewell to 2019.

7. Downtown Holiday Market

Washington, D.C.

the downtown holiday market in dc
Via Elvert Barnes/Flickr

This year Downtown Holiday Market turns 15 and it's ready to celebrate with more than 150 vendors, setting a new record! If you're already burnt out on holiday tunes by the time the Nov. 22 – Dec. 23 festivities roll around, don't worry. The streets of downtown D.C. will come to life with live jazz, R&B, bluegrass, and other musical performances. We can't think of a better location for a big holiday market than smack dab in front of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, and Penn Quarter. In addition to the food and gift vendors, many neighborhood restaurants will be open and in the holiday spirit.

8. Columbus & Cincinnati Winterfairs

Columbus and Cincinnati, Ohio

Beautiful Christmas Light Decorations at Festival of Lights in Cincinnati
Via Ami Parikh/Shutterstock

Local artists and craftspeople of Ohio make it easy to shop one-of-a-kind gifts for that friend or family member who has everything they need. Come to these Christmas markets ready to scope out some stellar ceramics, purchase glass ornaments for your holiday décor, and buy handmade jewelry for your special someone. Organized by Ohio Designer Craftsmen and Ohio Craft Museum, Winterfairs celebrate the Buckeye State's creative and colorful side. Start the season at Cincinnati Winterfair at Northern Kentucky Convention Center, Nov. 29 – Dec. 1, or join Columbus Winterfair at Ohio Expo Center, Dec. 6-8.

9. Christmas Prelude

Kennebunkport, Maine

downtown kennebunkport at christmas
Via Christmas Prelude/Yelp

Kennebunkport is charming year-round. But when the holidays approach, this historical fishing town says, "Hold my beer." (Psst, there are some great microbreweries here too!) Each year Christmas Prelude includes a kid-friendly reading of "The Night Before Christmas," and a cocktail party for the 21-and-older crowd. Did we mention that Santa arrives to the party on a lobster boat Dec. 8? Well, he does. Because, Maine. Festivities take place Dec. 5 through 15. Many are sponsored by local businesses and free to the public, though "Fire + Ice 2019" cocktail party requires tickets, which you can purchase by following a link on the Christmas Prelude website.

10. Balboa Park December Nights

 San Diego, California

organ pavilion at balboa park during december nights in san diego
Via Cayla Marie H./Yelp

San Diego locals are quick to point out that Balboa Park is larger than NYC's Central Park, and it's kind of a big deal. They're also quick to add that December Nights is one of the best holiday events in the country, and we won't argue there. Each year, thousands of people gather to celebrate the season surrounded by Spanish-inspired architecture and colorful lights. Entertainment includes dance and live music on stages throughout the park. Stop by the international village houses for mulled wine and holiday snacks from around the world. December Nights 2019 is free to all and runs Dec. 6 3 to 11 p.m. and Dec. 7, at noon to 11 p.m. This includes free admission to several museums located in Balboa Park.

11. Holiday Celebration Kickoff

Alta, Wyoming

targhee resort in the snow
Via Marty C./Yelp

The best holiday festivals don't have to be big city events. One of the greatest parts of celebrating the holidays is surrounding yourself with natural beauty and a sense of community. The folks at Grand Targhee Resort are all about that life. They host the Holiday Celebration Kickoff on Dec. 21 and keep the party going with two weeks of warm fires, snowshoe tours, family-friendly movies, arcade games, tubing, and more.

12. IceLand at Moody Gardens

Galveston, Texas

ice penguins at iceland at moody gardens
Via Ivy L./Yelp

Winter doesn't bring snow and sweater weather for everyone—just ask the folks in Galveston, Texas. Cool off during a warm Gulf Coast winter in a tent filled entirely with ice sculptures, furnishings, and décor at Moody Gardens. The 2019 theme, Around the World, will make you feel like you've circled the globe without breaking a sweat. Impressed? There's more. Ice Shivers Bar will have a "fireplace" made entirely of ice, so gather ‘round for a refreshing sip. Moody Garden's Festival of Lights takes place during the same time, and you can get multi-attraction passes Nov. 16 through Jan. 12. Can't wait to see this seasonal spectacular? Watch the IceLand preparations with this live tent cam!

Header image via Song_about_summer/Shutterstock

About the author

Kohleun Adamson

Kohleun loves big ideas and small things. She's always ready to spin a great story, build a brand strategy, and start a barrier-breaking conversation. A bit of a magpie, Kohleun collects shiny things—baubles, sequins, glitter—and shakes up sparkling cocktails in her spare time. Want to get Kohleun talking? Ask about her adopted house rabbits.

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