11. Phoenix Zoo Lights
The Phoenix Zoo is just one in a long list of US zoos which participate in annual zoo lighting events each holiday season. While the Phoenix Zoo Lights is not the best, nor the worst, it’s worthy of a visit if you happen to be visiting the area during the holiday season.
The Phoenix Zoo Lights draws quite a crowd, which really is not all that surprising given the unusually warm weather and many snowbirds that make Phoenix their home this time of year. A weekday visit is highly recommend to beat the traffic and enjoy the lights in a more peaceful setting. Your opinion of the event is sure to be higher if you avoid hectic weekends! The event is quite pricey compared to most others, although it is still worth the admission price to attend the biggest light display in the state.
Asides from a massive display of over 4 million colorful lights & an excellent synchronized show, the zoo offers a wide range of holiday festivities including Santa visits, a 4D holiday show (2016’s show is Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer), and lots of unique desert and cactus themed displays that you will not find anywhere else.
If you are not a fan of freezing your butt off in a city like Boston or Chicago, then you will probably be pleased with the above normal temperatures in Phoenix. However, be aware that Phoenix does get surprisingly cold this time of the year, especially at night, and temperatures can drop into the 40’s. While daytime temps typically stay in the 60’s-70’s, night temps in the desert often vary by as much as 30 degrees! However, it will still feel quite warm if you are coming from a colder destination.
To avoid crowds and hefty admission fees ($20 vs $12 bucks), check the calendar for non peak admission days.
Other great holiday events in the Phoenix metro area include Christmas at the Fairmont, featuring over a million lights & a real ice skating rink, and Glendale Glitters, an annual holiday celebration featuring over 2 million lights.
Location: 455 N Galvin Pkwy, Phoenix, AZ 85008
Dates: Nov 23-Jan. 8th. Hours are: 6:30-10:30pm
Admission: $12 on non-peak days, $20 on peak days
12. Dunedin Holiday Boat Parade
It’s always fun to attend holiday events in different areas of the country, especially warm weather destinations as they often offer non traditional activities that you will not find in the colder climates. If you are from a traditional area like the Midwest or Northeast, you are sure to love love Florida’s take on the holidays.
Dunedin, a cute little Gulf coast community near Tampa, offers a few unique holiday events including a festive holiday boat parade. If you have never been to one of these boat shows before & happen to be visiting the Tampa region, I highly recommend adding this fun event to your holiday must-do list.
As you enjoy the warm weather, holiday treats (S’Mores), the pretty holiday tree, & some holiday tunes, you will be treated to a one-of-a-kind boat show. Although you can find holiday boat parades in several Gulf coast towns, it is hard to compete with Dunedin’s festive celebration!
Location: 51 Main Street Dunedin, FL 34698
13. Santa Hustle Race Series
The Santa Hustle Race Series is an annual Christmas themed run held in several cities across the US. Both half marathon and 5k distances are available, so you can still participate even if you are looking for more of a fun run. And competitive runners will be pleased to know that the race is chip timed and awards are given out, meaning the race sees both fun runners, along with those looking to compete.
Festive decorations, holiday music, cookie stations during the course, and thousands of runners dressed as Santa make this one event Christmas fanatics will not want to miss out on! You will receive a red performance hoodie, Santa hat, and Santa beard to wear during the race. And after all your effort, you will receive a really cool Santa themed medal. The after party varies based on the location, but is always a great time. As an example, the Seiverville post-race festivities includes milk and cookies. For a festive, athletic themed event, be sure to sign up for a Santa Hustle race near you!
14. Christmas in the Smokies
Spending the holidays in the gorgeous Smoky Mountains is a Christmas you will never forget. Not only is the scenery absolutely breathtaking, but there are also so many seasonal festivities & winter recreational activities to enjoy. Plus, you can spend a few nights in a gorgeous rustic cabin, isolated in your own private space which is totally immersed in nature. I highly recommend checking out Timber Tops, which rents a huge variety of cabins with all sorts of attractive amenities like outdoor hot tubs, pool tables, and full kitchens. A few of the cabins are even decked out for the holidays!
A few of the top annual Smoky Mountain holiday events to check out include the Santa Hustle Half Marathon in Seiverville, The Smoky Mountain Christmas Festival at Dollywood, the Winter Trolley of Lights in Gatlinburg, Skiing & ice skating at Ober Gatlinburg, shopping at the gigantic Incredible Christmas Place Store (the south’s largest Christmas store), the Smoky Mountain Opry Christmas show, and much more! The events really are endless! With gorgeous natural scenery, endless shows & events, attractive cool (but not too cold) temps, friendly people, and rustic cabin rentals, you really can’t go wrong spending Christmas in the Smokies!
15. There’s Snow Place Like Tarpon Springs
Tarpon Springs is a cute little Gulf Coast town in Pinellas County, just about 45 minutes outside of Tampa. Every year they put on one of the biggest & best Christmas celebrations in the area. They even have fake snow! For anyone in the area dreaming of a White Christmas, this celebration is sure to please. It’s a completely free event, so there is no reason not to attend!
There are so many festive events to enjoy during this celebration that it would be impossible to list them all. A few of my favorites include horse drawn carriage rides, holiday music, airing of classic holiday films, a snow play area, a boat parade, and of course, a tree lighting ceremony!
So, if you find yourself visiting Tampa this holiday season, be sure to add “There’s Snow Place like Tarpon Springs” to your lineup of seasonal events!
Location: Dodecanese blvd, Tarpon Springs, FL 34689
Date: Friday December 2nd, 5 – 10pm
16. Western North Carolina rustic Christmas lodging
The secluded Western North Carolina region is the perfect place to spend the holidays. There are so many cute little towns and the scenery is simply gorgeous, being that the Blue Ridge mountains are found in the area. Cabin rentals and rustic inns dominate the lodging options. And because this region is located in the gorgeous Appalachian mountains, the views are always top knotch.
Lazy Bear Lodge is a gorgeous inn which goes all out in terms of Christmas decor – it really is a beautiful place to get ready for Christmas. It is located within a short drive of 2 cute mountain towns: Boone & Blowing Rock. Both of these towns decorate beautifully for the holidays and offer plenty of local dining options & shops to pick up unique holiday gifts.
There is a nice small ski resort in the area called Appalachian Ski Resort which also houses an ice rink for those not keen on attempting to fly downhill in skis. Another must is visiting Grandfather Mountain, which is gorgeous year-round, but less crowded & more stunning after a snowstorm. The beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway is often covered in snow and only open for winter recreation.
Asheville offers a number of annual holiday events include a Polar Express train ride, holiday tours of the magnificent Bitmore Estate, and a Winter Light’s Festival at the North Arboretum.