Between the holidays and nonstop end-of-year festivities, December is a busy month for many. That’s why it’s the perfect time to squeeze in some much-needed downtime and book a vacation for the family. Sure, many people may have the same idea, but that shouldn’t stop you from planning a trip. The world is vast with countless wonderful destinations to choose from. If you’re unsure of where to go, don’t worry — we’ve done the work and rounded up some of the best places to visit in December.
Whether you’re looking to relax in a warmer climate to escape the bitter winter chill or seeking an adventure-filled cold weather getaway — or maybe something in between, we’ve got you covered. From sunbathing on the shores of a Caribbean Island to snowboarding down steep mountain ranges in the west, let this roundup serve as inspiration for your year-end jaunt.
While you’re packing your favorite travel essentials, don’t forget to pack your patience too. It’s no secret that airports can get busy during the holiday season, but don’t stress. Plan ahead and keep key travel tips like arriving at the airport at least two hours (three hours if traveling internationally) before your departure top of mind. You’ll save time and avoid unnecessary anxiety. Who wants to start their vacation stressed out? No one. So, plan accordingly and mentally prepare for minor hiccups.
Now that you’ve gotten some of the travel logistics out of the way, clear your mind and get ready to end the year with a bang by exploring some of the best destinations to visit in December.
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You’ll want to pack a jacket when visiting Santa Fe in December. The southwestern city’s semi-arid climate and 7,000 ft. altitude keeps temperatures cool in the winter, but still relatively moderate. Visitors can expect sunny skies as they explore the streets of Santa Fe, which means “Holy Faith,” in Spanish.
The city’s rich history and stunningly distinct architecture is a draw for those who appreciate art, engineering and design. No other city in the country has as many low-slung, earth-colored buildings made of adobe bricks.
During the weekend of December 3-4, out-of-towners can celebrate and support indigenous artists at the Santa Fe’s Indian Market (SWAIA), one of the city’s largest events of the season.
The Golden State boasts a host of bountiful natural wonders, but not many are as breathtaking as Santa Barbara’s glorious coastline. In December, visitors can take advantage of the city’s moderate winter and witness mesmerizing sunsets at one of its broad, sandy beaches. Located just an hour and a half drive north of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara is home to myriad farm-to-table restaurants and exquisite wineries. As a world-class destination, the lodging options don’t disappoint. Guests can stay at Drift Santa Barbara, a 45-key boutique property located on a car-free promenade with floor-to-ceiling windows where natural light and coastal breezes abound.
Feeling festive? On December 11th, visitors can catch the 36th Annual Parade of Lights as the city’s harbor transforms into a winter wonderland. Plus, the season is also the perfect time to catch the return of migrating gray whales in the Santa Barbara Channel.
Nestled in the rolling hills of Central Texas, this region sits atop the Edwards Plateau — located west of San Antonio and Austin. With picturesque landscapes and unique terrain, the quaint small towns that make up the area are ideal for those seeking an exciting, nature-filled excursion. Adventurous visitors can crawl through some of the numerous caves and caverns formed from limestone bedrock hidden beneath the rolling landscape.
After exploring these awe-inspiring natural wonders, visitors can relax with a glass of wine from Pedernales Cellars, one of the region’s nine wineries. The pristine setting calls for lodging that highlights the scenery. Visitors can stay at Lakeway Resort and Spa, the only resort situated on the banks of Austin’s famed Lake Travis. Perfect for couples or families, the resort has amenities that everyone can enjoy including a spa, pool playground with adults-only and family friendly pools. Plus, with the lake just steps from the property, guests can partake in outdoor activities like sailing, boating and fishing.
There’s more to Nashville than country music and world-famous hot chicken. While those things are noteworthy (and tasty), the city also boasts a burgeoning arts and culture scene. With a variety of art galleries and museums that span interests, visitors can satisfy their hunger for history and cultural enlightenment.
While it’s a popular city to visit all year-round, the holiday season really makes the Music City sing. Thanks to its mild winters, December is a great time to explore the city decked out in a million twinkling lights. Out-of-towners can stay at Hotel Fraye or Bode Nashville and head to the Gaylord Opryland Resort for a variety of holiday-themed activities and attractions such as snow tubing, ice skating, carriage rides, gingerbread decorating and an elaborate light display.
Also, let’s face it — live music is a must when visiting the Music City. Catch a holiday concert at the iconic Ryman Auditorium featuring country superstars like LeAnn Rimes or Amy Grant & Vince Gill. After the show, indulge in warm craft cocktails at the Rooftop Lounge at Bobby Hotel where you can rent a heated igloo while taking in an incredible view of downtown Nashville from 14 stories up. Cool, right?
Just 30 minutes northwest of Denver, Boulder is a great December destination — and for good reason. Surprisingly, hotels offer their lowest rates and not much snow accumulates, which is optimal for hiking along winter trails.
While it’s known for its myriad outdoor activities, breweries and proximity to the Rocky Mountains National Park, Boulder is also an urban oasis brimming with remarkable restaurant options. From lavish eateries like Flagstaff House with enviable mountain views and locally-sourced fare to more casual dining choices like The Attic Bar & Bistro, the food scene in Boulder is worthy of recognition.
The arts and culture scene is also a draw. From December 3rd – December 5th, visitors and locals alike can celebrate the holiday season at the CU Boulder’s Holiday Festival, a decades-old tradition of musical performances by students and world-class faculty.
Surrounded by natural beauty, Salt Lake City is like a breath of fresh air — especially during the winter. With spectacular mountain views at every turn, visitors will be awestruck by its splendor. Also, with outdoor recreational activities like snowmobiling, snowshoeing, skiing, and snowboarding available at countless nearby resorts, the state’s capital is an ideal destination for winter sports enthusiasts.
Physical activity not your thing? Don’t worry. The city offers so much more. Throughout the month, visitors can stop by the holiday art market at Alta Ski Resort, take full moon lift rides at Snowbird, or take a self-guided tour of the ten striking murals by some of Salt Lake’s most renowned local artists.
The city is also a hotspot for chef-driven restaurants like SLC Eatery, providing a constantly evolving take on modern American cuisine and White Horse, a modern American Brasserie and bar. Additionally, foodies who appreciate cheese can check out Caputo’s Gourmet Market, which specializes in the art of cheese making — working with local farms to create distinct flavors. Chocolate lovers aren’t left out. The market is also the go-to spot for artisan chocolate produced in Utah.
Looking for a welcoming retreat with stretches of sugar-white beaches and turquoise blue water? If so, South Walton is a sure bet. Located in northwest Florida, it’s home to 16 beach neighborhoods. Scenic and serene, it’s the perfect backdrop for family vacations and couple getaways. From taking in a live theatrical performance at the Emerald Coast Theater to checking out art galleries like Red Bird and Foster, visitors can enjoy a variety of activities to keep them entertained.
Seeking a more relaxed vibe? Visitors can stay at the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa where they can unwind with rejuvenating spa treatments or put their putting skills to the test on the sprawling golf course. Plus, guests have exclusive beachfront access and on-property activities such as bike rentals, watersports, a tennis court, and more — making this a top choice for those seeking convenience and luxury. Unlike other Florida hotspot destinations, South Walton’s breezy coastal setting exudes intimate, small-town charm.
While Kennebunkport is a popular summer destination, it’s also a New England gem throughout the year as the city’s official slogan: “The Place to Be All Year Long,” suggests. Situated at the mouth of the Kennebunk River, on the Atlantic coast, Kennebunkport really delivers during the holiday season. Decked out with holiday lights and a possible dusting of snow, it’s a page right out of a winter storybook.
Its famous Christmas Prelude (December 1 – December 11), is a can’t-miss attraction that includes Santa Claus arriving by lobster boat, tree lighting ceremonies and even a fireworks display.
After partaking in all the festivities, visitors can nosh on local fare like classic lobster rolls and enjoy hearty chowders from Alisson’s Restaurant.
Tucked away in the Eastern Caribbean, Anguilla is known for its magnificent beaches and easygoing atmosphere. With 33 beaches, most boasting soft, white sand — it’s an undeniable paradise in December. From fun family activities like glass floor boat rides to romantic beachside dinners, the island has something for everyone. Visitors can stay at the Frangipani Beach Resort, a luxury boutique resort set in the middle of Meads Bay, one of Anguilla’s most renowned beaches. Featuring 23 rooms and suites, guests can take advantage of the plentiful amenities like beach and poolside service and complimentary water sports such as tubing and kayaking.
Thinking of becoming a digital nomad? If so, Costa Rica could be your next temporary home. With the recent digital nomad visa available to international workers, Americans can relocate to this popular Caribbean coast destination. And December is a good time to embark on this once-in-a-lifetime adventure. For starters, it’s less humid, but still warm enough to feel balmy in comparison to the cold weather dominating most of the U.S. during this time of year. Don’t plan to stay? That’s OK. You can still experience much of what Costa Rica offers during a traditional vacation.
With extensive Afro-Caribbean heritage and influences, the country is an exceptional amalgamation of cultures, food, and music. Plus, it’s home to countless species and wildlife including sloths, monkeys and leatherback turtles. When it comes to accommodations, Costa Rica offers out-of-towners a variety of places to stay to suit tastes and budgets. From trendy eco-lodges to low-key bungalows in the rainforest, lodging offerings abound.
There’s more to Mexico than burritos and mojitos. Sure, Tulum visitors can enjoy authentic Mexican fare, but the resort town offers more than delicious food. First, seeing the legendary ruins is non-negotiable when visiting. Tourists can’t pass up getting a glimpse of such a historic, archaeological wonder — which is the third-most visited site in Mexico.
Additionally, Tulum’s breathtaking flora and fauna make it a prime destination for those who appreciate natural beauty.
For those seeking comfortable accommodations with top-notch amenities, the Hilton Tulum Riviera Maya All-Inclusive Resort is a solid option. With eight resort pools, 13 restaurants and bars, a luxury spa, and an exclusive Family Zone, it has everything you need to be a home away from home.
Let’s face it, a trip to Hawaii is always a good idea — and December is prime time. With daily temperatures in the 80s and copious serene beaches punctuated with beautiful poinsettias lining the landscape, it’s no wonder it’s a popular winter destination. Plan to arrive during the first week as prices tend to be lower, and it’s less crowded — tourism ramps up closer to the holidays.
Visitors can explore the Waikiki neighborhood, located on the south shore of Honolulu, where they’ll find world-class dining, entertainment, activities and more. Those who relish luxurious oceanfront views can stay at the ‘Alohilani Resort. The beachfront hotel offers a refreshing balance of energy and relaxation in a lively urban setting. Plus, it includes two restaurants from internationally acclaimed Iron Chef Morimoto. What’s more, it’s the first carbon-neutral hotel in Hawaii.
December is the perfect month to take a trip down under. With summer heating up in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s an optimal time to escape the cold and enjoy warmer weather. Plus, it’s a great opportunity for families with school age children to visit since they’ll likely be out of school for winter break.
For travelers who enjoy nature and wildlife, take an immersive walking tour with knowledgeable, indigenous guides to explore the city’s living world. During their trek, visitors might get a glimpse of a cute koala sitting in treetops, spot a hopping kangaroo or experience other unforgettable creature encounters. For those who’d rather relax, the city has plenty of brilliant beaches to lounge and sunbathe.
Beyond nature, Sydney is teeming with iconic sights and cultural attractions like the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, which is running a dazzling production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella through January 29, 2023.
With cooler temps and lower humidity levels, December is a great time to visit Accra. Known for its lush forests, exquisite cuisine and world-class festivals, Accra is one of the most popular destinations in West Africa. Plus, multiple direct flights from New York City and Washington, D.C. make traveling to the country’s capital easy.
Once there, visitors can enjoy its numerous beaches, explore its rich landscapes and indulge in local mainstay dishes like okra soup and rice water porridge.
One can’t-miss attraction? The Kumasi central market, of course. It’s the largest single open-air market in West Africa. With more than 10,000 stores and recreational facilities, it’s a one-stop-shop for locals and tourists alike.
With year-round tropical weather, Belize is an excellent option for December travel. From zip lining to exhilarating horseback rides, the Central America country offers fun activities for the whole family. Plus, those who want to spend time exploring its pristine jungles and rainforests will have plenty of opportunities. After all, roughly half of the country is covered in jungle.
If opulence is what you’re looking for, opt for a stay at Cayo Espanto, a private island resort perfect for an enchanting escape. With villas equipped with a personal butler, private dock area and customized meals, guests can luxuriate in top-notch experiences they won’t soon forget. To get in the holiday spirit, the resort even offers a holiday photoshoot for couples or families. Say, cheese!
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