14 Best Places to Visit in the USA in December
December travel in the USA is usually driven by people who want to get out of the cold and are looking for someplace warm to visit, or by people who love to ski and are looking for a great winter vacation. The third type of December travelers are those who are looking for a seasonal getaway for the holidays.
Some of the best December USA destinations are those that provide warmth to the northern snowbirds in states like Florida, Hawaii, and California or locations that provide access to top ski resorts in the United States. The USA even has some tropical December getaways.
Plan your travels with our list of the best places to visit in the USA in December.
Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.
One of the best warm places to visit in the USA in December is Hawaii. It is ideal, with tropical breezes, the perfect amount of sunshine, bath-water warm ocean waves, and time to relax at end of the year when you can be 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 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 go see 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.
Lanai is another small island with remote natural spots that is not as touristy as the other islands.
Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Hawaii
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- 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.
All the best Miami attractions are also 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.
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. 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 to see the many festivals during the holiday season. Since snow storms are unpredictable in December in the north, you should budget a little extra time and flexibility in your itinerary in case of travel delays.
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 six prime 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.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Salt Lake City: Best Areas & Hotels
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.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Las Vegas: Best Areas and Hotels
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.
Accommodation: Best Hotels in Pasadena, CA
8. 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.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Washington, D.C.: Best Areas & Hotels
9. 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
10. 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
11. 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. 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.
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- Top-Rated Ski Resorts in Colorado, 2020
12. 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: Where to Stay in New Orleans: Best Areas & Hotels
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13. 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.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Santa Fe: Best Areas & Hotels
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- Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Santa Fe
14. Stowe, Vermont
For some December travelers, especially those looking for a romantic vacation, 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
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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.