18 Best Places to Visit in the USA in December
There are three main types of December travelers: the snowbird, looking to combat goosebumps with a little warmth and sunshine; the ski aficionado, searching for the best slopes; and the holiday lover, searching for a fun, festive spot to enjoy their winter vacation.
With a vast array of climates and terrain, the USA boasts a bevy of exciting places to visit in December. From warm-weather wonders like Florida, Hawaii, and California to snow-laden mountain locales boasting the top ski resorts in the United States to big cities like New York and Las Vegas, you'll have a lot of choices when planning your December vacay.
Plan your travels with our list of the best places to visit in the USA in December.
One of the best warm places to visit in the USA in December is Hawaii. Its tropical breezes, ample sunshine, bathwater-warm ocean waves, captivating scenery, and beaches make this an ideal place to relax on island time.
There are several islands from which to choose, and you can vacation on one or plan to visit several in the same trip. The more time you can spare, the more awesome your Hawaiian holiday will be.
The island of Maui has a nice combination of activity and solitude, with golf courses; Wailea Beach; and the dormant volcano Mount Haleakala, where you can witness a spectacular sunrise.
The Big Island has many natural attractions and outdoor activities, like Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, Kaunaoa Beach, and Akaka Falls State Park.
The small island of Kaui is the oldest island and the ideal spot for quiet and romantic vacations. It is also known for its many tropical waterfalls, gorgeous hikes, and breathtaking scenery.
Lanai is another small island with remote natural spots that is not as touristy as the other islands.
- Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Hawaii
2. Miami, Florida
If you are looking for a warm destination with plenty of activity in December, Miami, Florida will fit the bill. Miami has a festive scene in the winter, with holiday performances like The Nutcracker and the magical lights that decorate Zoo Miami.
There are lots of local beach events, so you get the best of both worlds by combining the holiday festivities with warm Florida weather. If you do decide to skip the cold locales by spending your holidays beachside, you will be in good company. It's a popular idea, and seeing the festive holiday lights and decorations in the palm trees will be the perfect change of scenery.
All the best Miami attractions also include options like boating and visiting the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. Since you do not have to worry about snow in December in Miami, you can explore the local neighborhoods, like Little Havana and the Miami Design District.
Many snowbirds from the north retreat to Florida for the winter, so you will want to plan your lodging far in advance. If you are particular to a favorite section of the Miami beaches, it is best to book lodging where you will spend the majority of your time.
Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Miami
3. New York City, New York
New York City is one of the most festive destinations to visit in December, and some would say it's the best time to visit New York. Bundle up and head out onto the downtown streets to see the holiday store window displays, or catch a performance of the famous Rockettes. Be sure to stop by Rockefeller Square to see the iconic Christmas tree.
There is never a dull moment in New York City, even during the winter. Many people visit New York City in December just to do their holiday gift shopping at the famous department stores and Christmas markets, and to see the many festivals during the holiday season. A must-experience is ice skating at Central Park with the spectacular New York City skyline in the background.
If you end up blowing your budget on presents, you can still catch a Broadway show for a reduced price by hitting the ticket office a few hours before the performance to see if last-minute bargain tickets are available.
Since snow storms are unpredictable in December in the northeast, you should plan a little extra time and flexibility in your itinerary in case of travel delays. Save the extra-cold days for museum visits (there's plenty!) when you can stay warm inside and only go out for short periods at a time.
4. Salt Lake City, Utah
Not everyone wants to escape the cold in December. In fact, for avid skiers, December is prime time to hit the slopes and ski resorts near Salt Lake City. There are nearly a dozen ski resorts in Utah's Wasatch Mountains, which are just a short drive from Salt Lake City. The ski slopes are equipped to accommodate both novice and advanced skiers.
If you prefer to just look at the snowcapped mountains instead of traversing them, that is an option, too. Salt Lake City has many festive holiday events in December, like horse-drawn carriage rides through Temple Square, which is adorned with holiday lights.
You can also shop in small boutiques for unique gifts. You can experience a vintage Salt Lake City holiday by visiting the This Is The Place Heritage Park, which showcases life and the holidays in the 1800s in Utah during the month of December.
5. U.S. Virgin Islands
For a Caribbean vacation in the USA in December, the Virgin Islands are a no-brainer. The islands of Saint Croix, Saint Thomas, and Saint John are United States territories and have tropical natural landscapes perfect for a mid-winter getaway. Beach days and snorkeling will top your to-do list, as well as hitting some of the natural park locations on the islands.
St. Thomas is the most populated of the three islands since it has a cruise ship port, so while there are many tours and activities available, you will be sharing the sandy beaches with many other December tourists.
St. Croix is the largest of the islands and has many cultural attractions. St. John is the smallest and most natural, with great snorkeling, hiking, tropical plants, and untouched beaches.
Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in the U.S. Virgin Islands
6. Las Vegas, Nevada
Many December travelers in the USA are attracted to the lights and warm temperatures that are guaranteed in Las Vegas. You will find all of the normal flare, with an overload of sights and sounds along the Vegas Strip and a twist of festive December décor. Many of the hotels feature elaborate holiday decorations with an abundance of flowers and lights.
Besides the great shopping in Las Vegas, there is plenty of December entertainment to enjoy. One of the most beautiful spots to visit is the Botanical Cactus Garden at Ethel M Chocolates. The state's largest cactus garden features light displays (sometimes in 3-D) that will put you into the holiday spirit.
With the mild December temperatures in Las Vegas, you can even enjoy spending a winter day poolside at your hotel.
Read More: Top-Rated Hiking Trails near Las Vegas
7. Pasadena, California
If you are looking for warm weather and a unique experience for your December vacation, you can head to Pasadena, California, where the city is preparing for the famous Tournament of Roses Parade. With Southern California temperatures, it is possible to spend one day at the beach and the next day taking part in one of the biggest events in the city.
Deco Week happens at the end of December as Rose Parade participants make their final tweaks to the elaborate rose-covered floats. You can volunteer to help with those final preparations. If you do plan to head to Pasadena to take part in this annual tradition, book far in advance to hold your spot.
8. Phoenix, Arizona
December is a fabulous month to visit Phoenix, especially if you're a fan of the outdoors. Popular winter activities include hiking, golfing, biking, rock climbing, and camping. Shopping is another fun activity, as is museum-hopping.
As for the weather, you'll definitely be pleased. With little rain and highs in the upper-60s to low-70s Fahrenheit, you won't need to pack a parka or run the risk of sweating through your wrinkle-free travel shirt. The extra room in your suitcase means you'll have plenty of space for the finds you'll grab at holiday markets.
While in town, be sure to visit the Desert Botanical Garden, skate on the ice rink at CityScape, and tour the Heard Museum. Glendale Glitters is a fun, festival-type event in nearby Glendale, featuring thousands of holiday lights, music, food, and other activities on the weekends throughout December.
9. Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston in December is a refreshing sight. While cool (highs hover around 60, and lows can drop to 25), this old-world Southern gem is so lovely and charming, it will warm your spirit. And if the weather turns, you can always head indoors, to the South Carolina Aquarium, Charleston Museum, or Old Slave Mart Museum.
Make time to wander around the captivating Historic District. Picturesque homes and churches that were built centuries ago; cobbled alleyways; and gnarled, twisting oak trees make it easy to feel romantic. Feeling extra amorous? Hop in for a ride in a horse-drawn carriage.
Make the most of the lack of humidity with a visit to the Middleton Place Plantation, Boone Hall Plantation, or Magnolia Plantation & Gardens. December plays host to an array of lights shows and holiday markets. The Holiday Festival of Lights, for instance, begins mid-November and lasts until January.
Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Charleston, SC
Read More: Top Attractions in Charleston, SC
10. Washington D.C.
Though the nation's capital is generally snow-covered in December it is one of the best places to visit at the end of the year for a number of reasons: A winter trip to Washington D.C. is ideal for getting cheap rates on hotel rooms and for fewer crowds at attractions in the city, which can be challenging during the busy summer tourist season.
The other reason to go to D.C. in December is that most of the Smithsonian museums are indoors, so it is easy to visit many of them during your visit. Washington D.C. is beautifully decorated in December for the holidays, especially the White House. There are lots of holiday activities around the city, from walking tours to seeing the national Christmas tree.
December in D.C. offers some things that you just can't experience any other time of the year. Plan some time to see the national Christmas tree near the White House, which is illuminated just after Thanksgiving; the Wharf District holiday boat parade, which happens in early December with dozens of festively decorated boats floating along Washington Channel; and the Winternational global market, which has booths hosted by international embassies, with crafts for sale from their respective countries.
11. Anchorage, Alaska
Many people head for warmer weather in December, but it is a great month to head north to Alaska. December is in the middle of peak season for viewing the Northern Lights, so it is easy to find a tour to see them. You can also take a scenic ride from Anchorage to Fairbanks on the Alaska Railroad Aurora Winter Train.
Another way to take in Anchorage in December is by taking a dogsledding trip, hitting the slopes, watching for wildlife, or taking a glacier trek. There are a number of museums in Anchorage to visit when you need a break from the cold. Otherwise, put on the layers and experience Anchorage during this magical time of the year.
Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Alaska
12. Key West, Florida
The tranquil waters and key lime pie in Key West in December will almost make you forget that it is even wintertime. That is why it is one of the best places to go in December. As you might expect from this warm-weather destination, the holidays are showcased on the water, with the Lighted Boat Parade at the Historic Seaport and offshore excursions to clear up any winter blues.
You can take a tour of the Victorian mansions in Key West, which are elegantly decorated with wreaths and holiday décor. If you feel like doing nothing but sitting on the beach for your December getaway, you can do that, too. Bear in mind that Key West is a popular winter spot, so you will pay a premium for hotels and airline tickets.
Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Key West
13. Breckenridge, Colorado
December means ski season in Breckenridge, so it is one of the best places to go for some downhill adventure. While some of the warm-weather destinations will see crowds in December, Breckenridge will, too, but it is the place to be if you are looking for quality winter skiing.
Hotel and resort rates will be at a premium, but you can usually package them with lift tickets for the duration of your stay. When you're not carving through the white powder on the slopes, you can enjoy the festive scene in town, where the small shops along Main Street are decked out for the holidays. Breckenridge gets into the holiday spirit, which is why it is considered one of the best Christmas towns in Colorado.
Though you will have plenty of company in Breckenridge in December, there are nearly 3,000 acres of ski areas, so there is enough space to accommodate the rush of winter travelers.
Accommodation: Best Resorts in Breckenridge
Read More: Top-Rated Ski Resorts in Colorado
14. New Orleans, Louisiana
The festive city of New Orleans is a great December vacation destination, where you can enjoy the warmer weather, walk through the city streets and the French Quarter, and leave before the influx of Mardi Gras revelers start to arrive in the following months. December weather is warm, but it is not the stifling heat that you would experience in the summer, so you can enjoy it more comfortably.
There are many holiday festivals and over-the-top light and decorative displays throughout the city to enjoy in December, including illuminated art pieces at Lafayette Square. The Roosevelt Hotel is another must-see, with 50 themed and decorated Christmas trees and thousands of holiday lights decorating the historic hotel.
Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in New Orleans, LA
- Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in New Orleans
15. Santa Fe, New Mexico
The southwestern city of Santa Fe is a great getaway in December for those who want to lay low in a small, artsy location. The city is rooted in Native American culture. The historic buildings and small shops are fun to stroll through as you buy local artwork ranging from paintings to jewelry.
Santa Fe is a nice place to escape from the cold and snow and is known for its many health retreats and relaxing spa resorts. If you still want to see the snow, you can head into the mountains for a day of skiing.
- Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Santa Fe
16. Stowe, Vermont
For some December travelers, especially those looking for a romantic vacation in one of the best small towns in Vermont, hunkering down in a cozy bed-and-breakfast or cottage with several feet of snow outside might be appealing. If so, then Stowe, Vermont is where you need to spend a holiday. December is cold in Stowe, but that is part of the charm for a getaway filled with fireplaces and hot chocolate.
You can still spend your days outdoors by layering up and hitting the ski slopes, snowshoeing, or taking a dog-sledding adventure before returning to your cozy accommodations. December in Stowe is marked with traditional holiday parades, celebrations, and tree lightings in the center of town.
Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Vermont
Read More: Best Things to Do in Vermont in Winter
17. Savannah, Georgia
You'll want to pack a sweater when visiting Savannah in December. With highs in the mid-60s to mid-70s, you may want to block the nightly (or daytime) chill. That won't stop you from fully enjoying this Georgian wonderland.
Peppered with historic mansions; luxurious parks; and picturesque, moss-draped trees; this idyllic beauty is even more magical when dressed for the holidays in December. Head to River Street during the first weekend of December for music, treats, and shopping. You'll find handmade stocking stuffers and other creative gifts from these unique vendors.
Savannah's Lighted Christmas Parade is another holiday must-see that takes place during the first weekend of December. It includes a tree lighting ceremony, caroling, dancing, and more on Tybee Island.
When you aren't busy getting festified, visit the area's historic homes, museums, and the large and lush Forsyth Park.
Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Savannah, GA
Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Savannah
18. St. Augustine, Florida
St. Augustine is a lovely place to visit at all times of the year, although it can get unbearably hot during summer. In December, though, this historic Floridian gem really comes to life. A Sunshine State marvel, St. Augustine lies on the northeast coast and offers visitors archeological masterpieces along with soft, sandy beaches.
One of the best Christmas towns in Florida, this town literally jingles and sparkles during December. The annual Night of Lights festival runs from mid-November through January and features over three million lights swirling their way around town. It's incredibly charming, even if you aren't into holiday festivities.
Hop on the Old Town Trolley, explore Castillo de San Marcos, go fishing in the surf, or lounge on the beach at Anastasia State Park. You'll have fewer crowds to fight, but with temps in the low to mid-70s Fahrenheit, you may not be tempted to play in the water all day.
Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in St. Augustine, FL
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More Winter Travel Ideas: Many of the best places to visit in December are also going to be the most expensive. If you are on a budget, you can consider some of the cheap places to travel in December or specifically cheap Christmas holiday destinations. If warm weather is calling you, then you might consider the beaches in California or the Caribbean as options.