One of the few bright spots in the past 10 months is that families have been spending more time exploring —and newly appreciating — their hometown, their nearest city, their region.
The Christmas season is another great opportunity to discover nearby gems you might not know about or have forgotten.
Therefore, I asked several travel writers to tip me off on their favorite local holiday season activities. There are plenty of family activities here, and also a few December date night ideas, in case mom and dad want some holiday cheer for two. Given all the togetherness we’ve had lately you’ve definitely earned it.
And don’t worry: All these activities will be around and even better when the world returns to normal.
Top Local Christmas Season Activities in Cities Around The World
- Top Local Christmas Season Activities in Cities Around The World
- Local Christmastime Activities Across the U.S.
- Fun, Undiscovered Christmas Season Things To Do Beyond the U.S.
- Pin it for later!
Local Christmastime Activities Across the U.S.
City: Newport, CA
Family Activity: Newport Beach, famed for its fun southern California beach vibes, late night bonfires and popping downtown, offers a unique spin on Christmas for its visitors at the Rogers Gardens nursery.
During the Christmas season, Roger’s Garden becomes an enchanting garden filled with twinkling fairytale lights and a Christmas tree patch where you can select the perfect tree for your home.
Grab a warm drink and wander through the garden, gazing at the delightfully decorated Christmas trees for inspiration, or watch the Christmas train roam through lettuce and kale in the vegetable garden.
Make your way into the Christmas boutique to pick up Christmas candies, artisanal ornaments and candles for those last-minute gifts.
December Date Night: This is a great family activity but I’d recommend you come back a second time, leaving the kids home.
After meandering through the garden and boutique, head over to The Farm at Rogers Gardens, an upscale casual restaurant with a tempting local and seasonal menu.
Under a set of street lights and warm heaters you can have a hot toddy, cocktails and stylish, shareable small plates like grilled Asian short ribs, fried sunchokes and PEI mussels in broth. (Just take-out this yes, unfortunately!)
From: Ciara Turner-Ewert, The Wellness Diaries
Read more: Top 10 Things To Do in L.A. with Kids
City: San Diego, CA
Family Activity: In San Diego, Santa doesn’t come on a sleigh, but on a surfboard, of course. How gnarly is that?
Of course, families have the opportunity to take some unique Santa photos with the kids (this year they had to settle for a Surfin’ Santa cut-out).
Most usually stick around to do some Christmas shopping and indulge is some seasonal treats.
December Date Night: Next year, try ice skating by the sea at the famous Hotel Del Coronado’s beach-side rink. Definitely a unique experience to go ice skating under palm trees, with the ocean as a backdrop!
Check out the lavish holiday decorations inside hotel and maybe cap off your skating with a cocktail at Serea’s outdoor bar, or at the hotel’s more casual taco shack.
For a really special date, you could surprise your partner with a night at the Del – a pricey, but truly unforgettable experience.
From: Maria Haase, San Diego Explorer
City: San Jose, CA
Family Activity: Local San Jose residents, schools, clubs, and businesses come together every year in December to decorate for Christmas in the Park.
But when local businesses include well-known names like eBay, the decorations are not going to be quaint, homemade creations.
In a normal year Christmas in the park includes eleborate lights, Christmas dioramas the size of small buildings, a Christmas-tree decorating contes, a small carnival and food trucks selling items like churros, tamales and hot cocoa.
Of course, 2020 has changed everything. For example, this year the festivities will be at History Park on Phelan Avenue instead of the usual Cesar Chavez Park. No carnival. No churros.
Instead of walking in a pedestrian-size winter wonderland, people are driving through large light displays and decorations. I can’t wait to see all the changes they’ve made. But I also look forward to returning to Cesar Chavez Park next year!
December Date Night: San Jose has so many options for a special evening out. But my pick is always either dinner and a walk on Santana Row, which is also always decked up for the holidays. Or dinner and stroll around vibrant San Pedro market.
From: Jyoti Baid at Story at Every Corner
City: Seattle, WA
Family Activity: Seattle is a magical place during the holiday season, especially if you seek out some of the under-the-radar festivities happening around the city.
I love the low-key Seattle holiday markets that pop up throughout the city, typically more than 50 in November and December. Many of them feature items created by a bunch of other talented local makers.
In particular, I really like the King Street Makers Market is one of the smaller ones that pops up inside an art gallery each year. They sell handmade goods curated by the stylish art store owner and her friend.
Or if you prefer to get all your shopping done at once, head to the larger Urban Craft Uprising that has about 100 vendors and it’s always amazing roster.
ACU does a weekend in November called Gobble Up that features artisanal food makers, just the thing to get you in the holiday spirit, and get a jump on gift buying.
December Date Night: The city also has some quirkier holiday shows that are best enjoyed while the kids are home with a sitter.
Try Figgy Pudding, a caroling competition that raises funds for the Pike Market Senior Center & Food Bank. , or perhaps the Burlesque Nutcracker, an annual cabaret performance put on by a small local theater.
Tip: Before heading out this year double check to see which markets and shows will be live; some have gone virtual for Covid.
From: Adria Saracino, from the Emerald Palate
City: Las Vegas, NV
Family Activity: One of the best places to celebrate the holiday season (albeit without snow) is Las Vegas. Las Vegas is one of the best family destinations, despite its reputation. One of the city’s best-kept secrets for Christmas-season fun is Mystic Falls Park Winter Wonderland at the Sam’s Town Hotel.
Mystic Falls Park has been a holiday tradition for decades and pulls out all the stops every year to bring an indoor holiday wonderfland to our desert city. Take in the amazing decorations while sipping a warm seasonal beverage. Of course you can see Santa and drop off a letter to him.
The ultimate treat is the park’s Sunset Stampede Laser Light and Water Show. You’ll be amazed at how everything seems to come to life.
The best part: It’s completely free, so you can take the whole family without spending even more this expensive time of year!
December Date Night: If you want a holiday-themed date, head to The Ethel M Holiday Cactus Garden to see the lights and taste some amazing chocolate. Could you imagine a better date than egg nog, chocolate, pie and Christmas lights inside an enchanting garden? This is the perfect date to get you in the holiday spirit, no matter what.
Note: This year they are offering a virtual tasting experience, so put the kids to bed and get in the mood…at home.
From: Corritta Lewis at Itz A Family Thing
Read more about Christmas in Las Vegas With Kids
City: San Antonio, TX
Family Activity: Christmas in San Antonio sends most people over to Riverwalk to marvel at the Christmas lights.
But for a different holiday treat, head underground to Texas’ massive Natural Bridge Caverns where you can celebrate Christmas unlike anywhere else in the world! Hear the echo of carols underground and even catch a glimpse of a spelunking Santa.
Find your way through the 5,000 square foot outdoor maze after munching some s’mores. It’s an incredible and definitely unusual setting for celebrating the Christmas season.
December Date Night: Parents looking for some cool-weather couple time can spice up their evening with some traditional local Tex-Mex food.
Tamale making is a popular Christmas activity for Mexican families. The family-owned Tellez Tamales & Barbacoa has been serving making them for San Antonians since 1975.
Dine in (if you can) or get some pork tamales to go and eat them while you take in those lights on the Riverwalk (without the kids!). It’s not your usual holiday season date night, but it is very San Antonio!
From: Bruna Venturinelli from Maps ‘N Bags
Read more: About Top Things To Do in San Antonio
City: Dallas-Forth Worth, TX
Family Activity: One of our favorite local Christmas season activities around Dallas is Daystar Christmas Lights at the Daystar Television Studio.
The Daystar Studio goes all out at Christmas time with their fabulous decorations. You begin by driving through a canopy of lights that transports you into a wonderful interactive light display.
There is a walk-through canopy of lights, fun areas for the children to play in, and multiple places that make for the perfect family photo opportunity. If you time it just right, you might even get a visit with Santa!
Yes, you read that correctly, there is an outdoor skating rink in Fort Worth, Texas! Located at the Cowtown Theatre, Panther Island Ice operates nightly from the end of November through mid-January and is the perfect activity for a fun, laid-back winter date night.
From: Michelle Snell at That Texas Couple
City: Flint, MI
Family Activity: December always brings me to Crossroads Village.
The mid-19th-century village has 34 historic buildings, including a post office, general store, mill and print shop, On weekend nights in November and December the village’s streets and buildings take on the warm glow of more than one million Christmas lights; some form familiar holiday scenes.
On a daytime visit you can grab a bag of freshly popped popcorn or warm almonds andyou wander the (ideally snowy) sidewalks while peering into cheerful shops and buildings while Christmas music fills the air. Step inside the warm carousel house to ride the colorful horses.
The Village is also home to Huckleberry Railroad. Hop aboard the #152 steam train for a cheerful ride through sleepy towns, dark forests and past sparkling Christmas lights. The train itself is often decorated and carol singing is known to happen. What a wonderful way to enjoy the Christmas season!
Tip: For an easy date night, do the train ride sans the kiddos.
From: Sherry Trautman at Traveling Michigan
City: New York City, NY
Family Activity: Outdoor lights are the best way to be festive this year and Luminocity (top) is easily the city’s most impressive display. The illuminated art installation takes over Randall’s Island, in the East River.
Visitors wander through a series of exotic and magical lands on a journey that follows a vague narrative, but that lights are really the point.
Tip: The lines for the food trucks can be slow; not ideal on a cold night with kids. Bring a thermos of hot cocoa and some snacks to munch while you walk around.
December Date Night: Book a heated glass-walled cabin on the roof of the South Street Seaport. Enjoy city views, a virtual fireplace and seasonal treats like cheese fondue, alpine negronis or a smoked hot toddy care of The Greens restaurant.
Guests rent the cabins in 90-minute intervals. If you can slip away for a weekday lunch date, they’re only $5!
City: Philadelphia, PA
Family Activity: The holiday light display known as Miracle on 13th Street is one of the most festive places you can be in Philadelphia at Christmas. There are several professional indoor and outdoor light displays around the city, but this one is quintessentially Philadelphia.
It’s a one-block stretch of 13th Street between Tasker and Morris Streets with more Christmas lights than you normally see in entire neighborhoods.
Best of all, the entire light display is completely organized by the street’s residents. It attracts crowds of drivers and pedestrians every year mostly thanks to word of mouth about the Christmas spirit of this Philly community.
December Date Night: Looking for a cocktail lounge with a Christmas theme? Head to the Midtown “Gayborhood” area for a pop-up bar that’s appropriately called…Tinsel!
The entire bar is decorated to the extremes and the drink menu is full of cleverly-named holiday cocktails, like tha Bah Humbug or Mr. Klaus’s Mule. It’s the most cheerful watering hole in the city at Christmastime.
From: Derek Hartman and Mike Walsh at Robe Trotting
City: Savannah, GA
Family Activity: The Gingerbread Trail is a fun event that get families exploring Savannah’s beautiful Historic District.
Local teams compete to design the best gingerbread house; 28 teams entered this year. The entries are displayed in the windows of businesses throughout city throughout December.
Pick up a trail map at The DeSoto and then go looking for your favorite gingerbread creation. It might be a puppet theater, a seaside cottage, a mermaid castle or a Savannah town house. Once you’ve seen all the cookie construction, you can vote for your favorites online.
While you’re out and about, do a little holiday shopping and treat your family to some local sweets; it adds to the fun and supports small businesses during these tough times.
December Date Night: Bring the exhausted kids back home, then head out to grab a bite to eat at Crystal Beer Parlor and check out Savannah’s beautiful Christmas lights. Jones Street always looks particularly festive, with many of its historic homes showing off their holiday spirit.
The Armstrong-Kessler House and the famous Mercer Williams House, both on Bull Street, which intersects Jones Street, also decorate beautifully for the season. Swing by Broughton Street to admire the city’s Christmas tree, and be sure to take a peek at the elegant holiday windows at The Paris Market.
From: Erin Clarkson from Savannah First-Timer’s Guide
Read more about Exploring Savannah With Kids
Fun, Undiscovered Christmas Season Things To Do Beyond the U.S.
Holiday Season Things To Do in Canada
City: Edmonton, Alberta
Family Activity: For me, Christmastime in Edmonton means the start of snowshoeing season.
My top spot is the river valley. I can count on the North Saskatchewan River freezing solid because winters in Edmonton are pretty darn cold!
You can follow trails in and around the valley and even into Downtown Edmonton. Start in a picture-perfect winter wonderland and end with a hot toddy or a hot cocoa in town!.
December Date Night: For a date night in Edmonton city book one of the winter igloos at the Riverside Bistro at the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel.
Thanks to small indoor heaters and destive lights, the igloos provide, warmth, privacy and a holiday glow!
Small plates like wild mushroom bruschetta, coconut curry poutine, shrimp gyoza and beef carpaccio were our favorites. They’re perfect with a warming glass of red wine or a holiday cocktail.
From: Mayuri Kashyap at To Someplace New.
Holiday Season Things To Do in Europe
City: Paris, France
Family Activity: One of the best Christmas-season secrets in Paris is the beautiful Musée des Arts Forains, This offbeat museum in the 12th arondissement is only open to the public for the holidays. Unless they’ve been to a private event hosted here, many Parisians don’t even know about it.
But it’s so worth seeking out. The museum is dedicated to ancient fairground artifacts, theater and music-hall objects, and other curiosities. Many are impressively ornate.
The cool thing about it—that kids will love— is that all the fairground artifacts and rides are working, and visitors can enjoy them!
Hop in and drive through the city’s main avenues, which are always beautifully decorated and illuminated for the holidays. Newly admire Paris’ most iconic sites like the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe sparkling in the frosty night.
From: Elisa Subirats at World in Paris
Read more about 6 Unique Things To Do in Paris With Kids.
City: Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Family Activity: The Amsterdam Light Festival is a wonderful holiday season activity that’s not well-known is. The whole city of Amsterdam lights up with glowing art art that is wonderful to see.
There are installations on streets, bridges, buildings and as stand-alone individual displays. You find the art pieces everywhere! Furthermore, you can walk to all of them and see how spectacular they are entirely for free!
It’s one of my favorite things to do in Amsterdam at night in winter time. I’m always a little sad when the lights dim after New Year.
The festival is happening this year, but it’s smaller with no organized walking or boat tours. But you can stills see the lights!
December Date Night: Leave the kids home and head to The Duchess in Dam Square for a stylish, modern afternoon tea.
Modern savories like a serrano ham tosti share space with more traditional vol au vents and crab finger sandwiches.
Expect December’s sweet treats to include a seasonal touch, like spiced cookies or snowman-shaped cakes.
Since it is the holidays don’t think twice before asking for the menu that includes a glass of champagne.
From: Dymphe Mensink at Dymabroad
Holiday Season Things To Do in Australia
City: Brisbane, Australia
Family Activity: Brisbane’s Roma Street Parklands transform in December into a fairy wonderland light display. The Enchanted Gardens have been growing in popularity as the word gets out. So visit soon!
The gardens offer a mesmerising walk through towering trees, lush forests and hypnotic streams,all lit up in different colours and dancing displays. There are a series of different gardens from arid Cactus and weeping figs to tree top boardwalks, all decked out in their holiday best.
Walk at your own pace, stop to admire different sections and learn about all the different plants along the way.
The darker it is, the brighter the lights will be, so best to begin your enchanted Garden walk well after the sun has gone down.
December Date Night: Turn your visit into an enchanted date night: Hire a sitter and start the evening with a wine and cheese picnic, just outside the gardens on Celebration Lawn.
What could it be any more romantic sitting down to a nice bottle of wine with your partner, watching the dancing lights come on behind a waterfall?
If you want to add spice to your date night, skip the wine and cheese and pick up dinner at the food trucks cooking up a vast array of ethnic foods.
From: Chris Fry at Aquarius Traveler
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Photos courtesy of the venues, except Miracle on 13th Street (Visit Philly) and Riverside Bistro (Mayuri Kashyap).