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3 Unconventional U.S. Cities to Spend the Holidays

Christmas Tree

For anyone looking to travel for an unforgettable holiday trip, consider these three options that offer an incredible spread of possibilities catering to a variety of interests.

1. Colorado Springs, CO

Jingle Bell Run 5K and Kids’ Reindeer Romp

From romance to family-friendly events, Colorado Springs is always a magical place to visit when fall finally gives way to winter. At a sprawling costume party and holiday celebration rolled into one, the Jingle Bell Run 5K and Kids’ Reindeer Romp is one of the main events that kicks the season into high gear. Participants toss on their ugliest ugly-Christmas sweaters, Santa suits, and reindeer antlers for an energetic run (or stroll) through scenic Fountain Creek Regional Park, which lies at the base of the snowcapped Rocky Mountains. The fun run also is for a great cause that will help you get into the holiday giving spirit, as the proceeds go to a variety of programs that help local teens.
While the Jingle Bell Run 5K is perfect for families, couples, or individuals, the same goes for the popular Skate in the Park, a growing tradition at Acacia Park in downtown Colorado Springs. Featuring demos by Olympic skaters and programs for skaters of all ages and skill levels, Skate in the Park is circled by holiday lights and dwarfed by the surrounding mountains. Families also tend to go all-in for the Santa Express Train, where patrons toss on their favorite holiday pjs and enjoy hot cocoa and cookies with Santa on the way to the North Pole.

Spend the Day at a Castle

On top of the robust list of family options in Colorado Springs during the holidays, there are also some great opportunities for small groups or couples looking to drum up a little romance. At Glen Eyrie, you can not only have a cozy night in a real castle, but you can also participate in a range of holiday activities, from the very popular Yule Tea to the immaculately decorated Madrigal Banquet, which will whisk you back to the 16th century for a jolly night of great food and activities. Also in the area, Miramont Castle offers a Victorian-era Christmas atmosphere from mid-November onward, creating another beautiful backdrop to get the season rolling in the right direction.
Also consider: For more than three decades, the Festival of the Lights Parade has taken over downtown Colorado Springs with a wondrous spread of lights and holiday spirit. The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s Electric Safari also pivots to the holiday season with all kinds of impressive decorations and offers outstanding views of city holiday lights from its mountain perch.

2. San Diego, CA

You may not instantly think of Southern California when you conjure up images of the holidays, but one trip to San Diego at the right time of year can change that in an instant – particularly for anyone hoping to escape the more wintery aspects of the holiday season. Over at the renowned Hotel Del on Coronado Island, you can actually walk right along the ocean all the way up to the Del’s famous outdoor ice-skating rink, where holiday enthusiasm runs rampant throughout December and early-January. Staged between the wide Coronado beaches and the famous red rooftops of Hotel Del, the rink offers California-style ice skating that typically comes with mild weather (think low to mid-60s) and the patented San Diego sunshine. Hotel Del also gets very decked out for the holidays as well, including an enormous evergreen tree in the lobby decorated to the hilt.

Balboa Park

Meanwhile, Balboa Park in downtown San Diego puts on the steadily growing December Nights, an astounding holiday festival that draws on cultural traditions from all over the world. For four decades, December Nights has taken over the sprawling, 1,200-acre park that showcases the world-famous San Diego Zoo along with an assortment of renowned museums and gardens. But for one weekend in early December, the park is enlivened by countless holiday lights and a staggering spread of food vendors, making for an international holiday celebration and enormous food festival rolled into one. Add in some live holiday-themed performances at the Old Globe and other activities embedded in December Nights and it’s easy to see why visitors (and locals) turn up at Balboa Park in December.

Parade of Lights

As a prominent port of call, San Diego is also not exactly lacking in beautiful harbor views, which create the background for the explosion of holiday colors that come with the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights. For nearly a half-century, participants have shown off their inner creativity by decorating their boats based on the annual theme, which have ranged from “Aargh! A Pirate’s Christmas” to “A Tropical Island Christmas” (2018) in recent years. To get the best views of the roughly 80-boat parade, viewers show up early and spread out around the two embarcaderos that jut out into the harbor overlooking Coronado Island.
Anyone up for a short drive from central San Diego also has even more terrific options for the holidays. Though all the beach towns north of downtown (e.g. Pacific Beach, La Jolla, Encinitas, Del Mar) have their own holiday festivals worth checking out as well, driving a little east to Julian, California will give you a completely different experience. Sitting at the base of the Cuyamaca Mountains, Julian is known for its snow-capped mountain scenery, crisp air, and wonderful little historic area that springs to life for the holidays. Regionally famous for the pies and various homemade delicacies, Julian has a fun tree-lighting ceremony and looks like a postcard once Main Street is fully lit with holiday excitement. From major festivals celebrating diverse holiday traditions to events that take full advantage of local geographic advantages, San Diego is simply a great place to spend the holidays.

3. Williamsburg, VA

Christmas Wonderland

There’s an irrefutable holiday cheer in the air in Williamsburg, Virginia once the calendar moves past Halloween. At the heart of the action, Busch Gardens Christmas Town is a vintage winter wonderland complete with more than 10 million lights. It constantly smells of fresh Christmas trees, and has an impressive spread of boutiques lining the cozy village within Williamsburg. Unique holiday-based dining experiences, Santa sightings, and a North Pole workshop help create an electrifying atmosphere sure to get the holiday fun started in Williamsburg. Nearby, at Yankee Candle Village, Christmas is actually celebrated all year. However, it really pops to life in November and December to offer another memorable stroll through lights, decorations, and holiday activities.

Christmas Tree Lighting

Because Williamsburg is often credited with being the site of the first community Christmas tree, the tree-lighting ceremony has become a seminal way to usher in the good vibes of the season. The first tree was decorated here all the way back in the 1840s, and by 1915. Williamsburg celebrated with its first community tree complete with electric lights, making the annual ceremony a timeless tradition that continues to draw both locals and visitors. Not only do participants gather to see the lighting of the enormous evergreen tree in Market Square but everyone crowds around for a reading of “The Night Before Christmas” followed by caroling.
Though Colonial Williamsburg and the surrounding region is always great for delving into the magic of the region’s rich history, history lovers have even more options during the holiday season. A short 15-minute drive from central Williamsburg to Jamestown will let you time-travel to the Christmas traditions of the first English settlement on the continent. Whether you come for planned events and activities or simply want a great location to wander and take in a traditional holiday experience, Williamsburg is tough to beat.

Final considerations

Part of the fun of holiday travel is looking for the under-the-radar possibilities that will really tie your vacation together, making the holiday season an amazing opportunity to dive headlong into new experiences and traditions. Even in places that don’t immediately come to mind when you think of the holidays, there’s a good chance there are plenty of exciting sites and local events that will put you in the holiday spirit. With an eye on local social media pages and willingness to consider contrarian options, you’ll be well on your way to finding the right balance of cozy traditions and newfound adventures no matter where you choose to travel.

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Don’t Leave San Diego Without Visiting These 6 Locations

San Diego Mission Beach

The city is one of the most desirable destinations in the United States due to its pristine beaches, famous attractions, and near perfect year-round weather. Regardless if you’re visiting San Diego for the very first time or it’s your favorite spot to vacation, here are some places you must see!

Balboa Park

Balboa Park

When was the last time you were able to visit the zoo, museums, theatre and dine at fine restaurants all at once? Balboa Park is one of the most popular attractions in San Diego because visitors can enjoy culture, science, and nature in one convenient location. Named after the Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa, the iconic park just celebrated its 150th anniversary. The 1,200-acre park has 16 world-class museums, lush gardens, walking trails, live performing arts venues and more for you to explore.
When you first enter the park, you can’t help but notice its beautiful, grandiose architecture. Balboa Park has a mixture of different architectural styles, ranging from Spanish-Renaissance to mid-century modern and Italian-Renaissance. The stunning buildings alone and gardens alone are awe-inspiring and make a great photo op!
Balboa Park has something for everyone. Nature lover? Check out the Botanical Building, Memorial Rose Garden and the Japanese Friendship Garden. Only care about history and science? Go to the San Diego Natural History Museum and Reuben H. Fleet Science Center. Meanwhile, if you love the arts, you should visit the Timken Museum of Art, Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego Art Institute and the San Diego Museum of Art. You may also be able to catch a live theatrical performance at the historic Old Globe Theatre or the San Diego Junior Theatre.

San Diego Zoo

After you explore Balboa Park, head to the legendary San Diego Zoo next door. Widely considered one of the best zoos in the world, the San Diego Zoo is one of the top tourist destinations in Southern California.
According to a local newspaper, the San Diego Zoo started from very humble beginnings when it opened in 1916. Pelicans, rattlesnakes, and bears were just some of the first animals donated to the zoo. Navy sailors raised the young bears as pets on the ship and later donated them to the zoo when the animal grew up and was too large to control.

Animals in the San Diego Zoo

Now the San Diego Zoo has over 4,000 rare and endangered animals and 800 different species. The zoo is about 100 acres and is considered one of the best places to see polar bears, tigers, gorillas and other wild animals in naturalistic habitats. They also have an extensive botanical collection with more than 700,000 plants.
The San Diego Zoo has many unique and notable animal habitats. Some of them include the Monkey Trails, Elephant Odyssey and Australia Outback exhibit. You can also check out the Africa Rocks exhibit and see polar bears swim in the Polar Bear Plunge. Get up close and personal with animals in the Children’s Zoo or you can book a special tour like Animals in Action if you really want a unique experience.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

If you are craving adventure, you should go to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. It’s one of the few places where you can go on a safari and watch in wonderment as giraffes, rhinos and other animals roam the landscape. All you have to do is decide if you want to observe the animals from the sky with a secure zip line, traveling through the park by vehicle or walking.
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is located in the city of Escondido, which is a short distance from the zoo. Around 2,600 animals live inside the 1,800-acre park. One must see exhibit is the Lion Camp and the bird show. You can also check out Lorikeet Landing and personally feed lorikeets up close and in person. Meanwhile, make sure to check out the bats, meerkats, and lemurs in Nairobi Village before you leave the park.

Giant Dipper at Mission Beach

Mission Beach

Of course, you can’t visit San Diego without exploring the city’s world-famous beaches. One of the most popular beaches is Mission Beach. Thousands of people flock to it every year to enjoy its beautiful ocean view. Mission Beach is perfect if you want to take a leisurely stroll or ride a bike along its boardwalk, sunbathe or simply enjoy the water. There are lots of charming local shops and restaurants you can visit in the area. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can visit Belmont Park. The boardwalk amusement park has a wooden roller coaster called the Giant Dipper that was originally built in 1925. You can also practice surfing at the Wave House, play miniature golf, ride bumper cars and many other fun activities.

Coronado Beach

Coronado Beach

Known as the “Crown City,” the charming city of Coronado has some of the best views of downtown San Diego. Coronado Beach is the perfect destination if you’re looking for a nice beach vacation. The serene beach is nestled between a United States navy base and the iconic Hotel del Coronado, which was featured in many old Hollywood movies. Coronado Beach is consistently rated as one of the best beaches due to its sparkling sandy beach and pristine environment. When you’re done enjoying the beach, you can also explore the shops and restaurants in downtown Coronado.

Torrey Pines Beach

Torrey Pines Beach

Located just north of La Jolla, Torrey Pines Beach is an amazing natural wonder that features towering rocky cliffs, canyons, and sandy beaches. The area is popular with daring hang gliders who jump off its cliffs to soar above the ocean and nature lovers who want to walk the hiking trails of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve Park and marvel at the native pine trees. It’s also close by the famous Torrey Pines Golf Course.