Strolling the streets with hot chocolate in hand,
watching shoppers rush home with their treasures while your kids take in the sparkling lights... it sounds like a Christmas song or, more accurately, the backdrop to a Christmas film. The great news is that all around the U.S., there are dozens of adorable, very real towns that feel just like you're smack in the middle of a Hallmark holiday movie set. Family getaway, anyone?
Whether you're looking to recreate a scene from your favorite
classic holiday movie or just want to make some memories of your own, there's nothing like walking in a real-life winter wonderland. As a parent, few things are more magical than seeing the wonder of the holiday season through your kids’ eyes.
These charming small towns may have fewer residents than big cities, but they make up for it in Christmas cheer.
01 Nevada City, California Photo: Nevada City Chamber of Commerce
The well-preserved Gold Rush town of
Nevada City, California, thrives in winter. Snow-topped buildings that look like they’ve been carved out of cake, costumed carolers, and horse-drawn carriage rides are all regular features during the town’s annual Victorian Christmas (held on two Wednesday evenings and three Sunday afternoons in December). Descend on the tiny town for some roving Christmas shopping and wassail, and you might think you’re in a Christmas movie — like Hallmark’s The Christmas Card, which was filmed here in 2006. 02 Marquette, Michigan Photo: Aaron Peterson via Travel Marquette
Marquette, Michigan, you’ll find a charming historic downtown rich with a variety of shops featuring “only in the U.P.” items, along with a thriving restaurant and brewery scene. But during the holiday seasons, you’ll also find two kinds of possible Northern Lights sightings! Because Marquette is far enough north without a lot of light pollution, the long winter nights increase the odds you might catch the Aurora Borealis. Check the Kp Index over at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA’s) dashboard to see the current Northern lights forecast.
Even if there are no Aurora Borealis on the horizon, every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night from Nov. 23 to Dec. 30, you can witness
Holiday Lasers on the Ore Dock, a colorful holiday laser light display on the town’s iconic ore dock. Plus, the U.P. is a winter sports paradise, from snowshoeing to fat biking to snowmobiling and skiing. 03 Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor, Maine Photo: Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.
A welcoming little oceanside stretch along Maine’s midcoast,
Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor make for a spectacular vacation getaway — especially during the holidays when the towns host Boothbay Lights.
For six weeks, the entire community lights up with festive light displays, a lighted boat parade, and the signature event:
Gardens Aglow. From Nov. 18 to Dec. 31, more than 750,000 LED lights illuminate the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. Add to the mix regular Santa story times, a Gingerbread Spectacular, seasonal music, and other Christmassy events. 04 Latrobe, Pennsylvania Photo: Latrobe Art Center
About an hour's drive from Pittsburgh,
Latrobe is best known for being the hometown of one of its favorite former citizens: Fred Rogers. It’s also a charming town in its own right, with plenty of neighborly feels for anyone local or tourist alike.
Every year, they hold Holly Jolly Christmas, a weeklong celebration that kicks off on Saturday, Dec. 2, with Santa's Party in the Park, a holiday market, holiday crafts at Latrobe Art Center, storytime at Adams Memorial Libray, and more. There are plenty of local eats and charming goods for purchase. While you’re at it, you can explore the
Fred Rogers Trail to learn more about the legacy around Latrobe and Pittsburgh. 05 Dahlonega, Georgia Photo: Cottrell Photography
A Hallmark holiday getaway,
Dahlonega, Georgia, is the site of two recent Hallmark and Lifetime holiday-themed movies — and one look at its monthlong Old Fashioned Christmas celebration, and it’s easy to see why. Carriage rides, visits with Santa, carolers, and other festive activities kick off with the official tree lighting on Nov. 24. The Festival of Trees features an array of trees decked out in lights, all of which are planted at the end of the season. 06 New Ulm, Minnesota Photo: New Ulm Chamber of Commerce
If you’re craving frosty air and warm drinks, take a trip to the German settlement of
New Ulm, Minnesota, a charismatic river town that features a variety of holiday events beginning in early November, including holiday shopping and craft fairs, the GnomeMade Artisan Market, a Parade of Lights, and opening of the Menzel Christmas Village on Nov. 25. 07 St. Augustine, Florida Photo: FloridasHistoricCoast.com
Though billed as the oldest city in the U.S.,
St. Augustine’s population hovers only around 14,000 people, making it a small town with a huge history. The Saturday before Thanksgiving kicks off Nights of Lights, when millions of lights illuminate the historical architecture. A holiday boat regatta, private luxury golf tours of the lights, and a big ol’ parade round out the more than 30 days of celebrations. 08 Stowe, Vermont
While many flock to this little hamlet in Vermont during the fall leaf-peeping season,
Stowe becomes a true wonderland in the winter. Kicking off December with A Traditional Christmas in Stowe (this year, Dec. 1 - 3) includes a tree lighting, children’s lantern parade, holiday music, wagon rides, a holiday bazaar, and the grand arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus. Local businesses participate in the Santa Stroll to encourage shoppers to discover their treasures. Plus, Stowe is a haven for winter activities like sleigh rides, snowshoeing, skiing, ice skating, and even dog sledding. 09 Bramwell, West Virginia Photo: Mercer County, West Virginia
A darling under-the-radar small town begging to be your next holiday getaway is
Bramwell, West Virginia. Once home to more millionaires per capita than any other town in the U.S., the town hosts an annual Christmas Tour of Homes (40 years running) so you can get your fix of resplendent holiday decor. The town also hosts a Victorian holiday evening with period music, costumes, and lots of lights. The town itself features several postcard-worthy spots to take in the lights and some delicious food, including a bookstore and The Corner Shop, an old-fashioned soda fountain. 10 Sonora, California
Another Gold Rush town nestled in the California foothills,
Sonora transforms into Christmas Town Sonora throughout November and December. Downtown shops compete for Best Tree and Best Window displays; there are holiday bazaars and craft fares along with decorations on nearly every house. The lighting ceremony kicks things off, followed by an annual Downtown Christmas Parade. Experience Miner’s Christmas to see what the holidays would have been like in the 1850s. Visit Santa Mrs. Claus and explore Christmas Tree Lane before heading out to nearby Columbia State Historic Park for a Victorian Christmas Feast (Dec. 8,10, 14, and 15). 11 Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia Photo: Virginia Tourism Corporation
Another sweet spot to feel like you’re in a holiday movie,
Colonial Williamsburg leans into the historic traditions of 18th-century Christmas in December. There’s a Grand Illumination event followed by musical performances, reenactments, and a fireworks display. Get some holiday shopping done at Merchants Square, a retail village with 1700s vibes. Nearby, visit Busch Gardens Christmas Town, a theme park wonderland with more than two million twinkling lights, a 50-foot tall, animated Christmas tree, Santa's workshop, festive shows, and food galore. 12 Sister Bay, Wisconsin
The gateway to Door County,
Sister Bay is charming year-round, but in winter, it’s downright magical. Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, celebrations kick off the Friday after Thanksgiving with holiday lights, the arrival of Santa and his elves, and storytime at the library. Then every weekend in December, the Sister Bay Historical Society hosts a traditional European Christmas market, or Christkindlmarkt. Outdoor vendors featured locally crafted goods, food booths teem with yummy treats and the sky sparkles with holiday lights. 13 Frisco, Colorado
Also known as The Main Street of the Rockies,
Frisco is a beautiful little town about 90 minutes from Denver that feels a world away from big city life. Stroll the streets of the pedestrian-friendly Main Street during Wassail Days, where the small-town atmosphere is amped up with holiday lights, Santa sightings, and delicious wassail — hot spiced cider. 14 Frankenmuth, Michigan Photo: Frankenmuth Convention & Visitors Bureau.
A quaint little German town,
Frankenmuth is home to Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, one of the biggest Christmas stores in the world. This Bavarian-style town gets dressed up with lights and garlands and an array of events: a Christkindlmarkt, Santa appearances, reindeer, a Nutcracker competition, and tastings of Glühwein, a traditional German mulled wine. Skate on the ice rink, go on a Holiday Home Tour, and listen to the sound of a 40-ft. Christmas tree as it projects festive music across the square. 15 Dana Point, California Photo: The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel
For some less chilly holiday celebrating, head to
Dana Point, California. Located halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, this California coastal town gives all the small-surf-town feels without sacrificing the festivities. There’s the Boat Parade of Lights, and if you want even more aquatic adventures, take a boat ride with Santa. There’s also an annual Surfing Santa and Stand Up Paddle Board competition, which benefits Surfers Healing, a nonprofit surf camp for children with autism. See Santa, elves, and other holiday-themed characters compete on the waves. 16 Santa Claus, Indiana Photo: Spencer County Visitors Bureau / SantaClausInd.org
Clearly, few towns in the U.S. seem more appropriate for the holidays than
Santa Claus, Indiana, so it will come as no surprise that things are hopping when November and December roll around. Cookie decorating, farm visits, a trip to Santa’s Toys, holiday concerts, dining with Santa, and lights on every corner are all among the many festive events. 17 Taos, New Mexico
A trip to
Taos, New Mexico, never disappoints, but experiencing Taos during the winter holidays is nothing short of amazing. The annual celebration, called Yuletide in Taos, invokes falling snow and candle-lit streets, old adobe shops, and traditions that are uniquely part of Northern New Mexico. Along with tree lightings, craft fairs, and music, there are bonfires and, on Dec. 25, the annual Taos Pueblo Deer or Matachinas Dance, an Indigenous ceremonial dance honoring winter. 18 Leavenworth, Washington Photo: Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce
Can’t make it to Germany for the holidays? Head to the Bavarian village of
Leavenworth, Washington. Starting on Thanksgiving Day, over half a million twinkling lights transform the already charming town into Christmastown. There’s live entertainment, including bands and carolers, photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus, a gingerbread house display, storytimes, an exhibit featuring Santa costumes from around the world, and more festive activities. 19 Bryson City, North Carolina