The winter months are upon us, and with them come festive music, Hallmark movies, and loads of twinkling lights. Whether you celebrate the holidays or not, if you enjoy the cheery atmosphere that comes with the winter season, you might want to consider a weekend getaway to a winter town near you. “Hallmark” towns exist all over the United States just waiting to be discovered. We’ve picked a festive destination for each part of the country so you can get a taste of holiday cheer without big-city crowds.
East Coast: Hershey, Pennsylvania
Chocolate-lovers unite. This year, your dreams of hot cocoa by the fire can come true in a big way. Hershey, Pennsylvania is home of the Hershey Company, and the town is dedicated to all things chocolate. When winter comes, a transformation takes over the city and it fully becomes a Christmas town. Take a walk down the boardwalk at Hersheypark to soak in the dreamy decorations, try to count all 5 million twinkling lights at Candylane, or go for a thrilling ride on the Candymonium hypercoaster. Need a little pampering after everything this year? Try the peppermint hot chocolate body wrap at the Chocolate Spa.
If you’re taking your own car or RV, you’ll enjoy the Hersheypark Camping Resort. Here, you can hook up your RV, pitch a tent, or rent a cabin. The onsite Wi-Fi is great for traveling remote workers as well. At night, you’ll want to take your car to visit the Hershey Sweet Lights presented by T-Mobile. Two million LED lights brighten up 600 different figures throughout two miles of trails and woods. The best part is that you won’t have to wrestle through crowds to see the view, as it is a drive-through experience.
South: St. Augustine, Florida
If you think the holiday spirit must come with snow, think again. Three million lights cover downtown St. Augustine throughout the Nights of Lights, between Nov. 14, 2020 and Jan. 31, 2021. St. Augustine embodies the Christmas spirit as open-air trolleys blast music and passersby cheer on. Spanish moss hangs between strings of light on the trees of this old city. St. Augustine is full of history, fresh seafood, and warm weather. Instead of hot chocolate, you can grab a beer from Dog Rose Brewing Company (or a glass of wine at Casa de Vino if that’s more your pace). Prefer to admire the spectacular light installations from a boat? There are plenty of private charters that can take you through the water at night.
Midwest: Santa Claus, Indiana
Whether or not you believe in Santa Claus, this town does truly exist. Santa Claus lives up to its name any time of the year, but in the winter it especially comes to life. It’s a child-friendly town with immersive experiences like roasting chestnuts at Santa’s Candy Castle (where you can get the best hot chocolate in town). Santa’s Toy Shop is as magical as it sounds, with all kinds of toys including STEM-related toys.
Have you ever wanted to write Santa? At the local post office, you can send your letters to Santa Claus. There’s no age limit here, and you’ll even get a response back.
Those looking to relax and unwind can do so at one of Santa’s Cottages. You can fish, grill, and even make your own bonfire by your cabin. Alternatively, if you’re missing the community aspect of holidays, stop by Corner Bed & Breakfast, where Jenny the owner cooks a hot breakfast for you every morning.
West Coast: Solvang, California
Most travelers aren’t comfortable flying internationally yet, but Solvang is as close to Denmark as you can get on the West Coast. It’s one of the most festive towns because of its famous Solvang Julefest. While this year’s Julefest, from Nov. 30, 2020 to Jan. 3, 2021, will look different because of the pandemic, Solvang has incorporated many socially-distanced activities for those who want to support the littale town’s struggling tourism economy. One such activity is Nisse Adventure, a city-wide self-guided scavenger hunt for Nisse Christmas elves. Complete the whole scavenger hunt and you’ll get a special prize to remember your trip by.
With shops clustered together in the downtown area, you can wander through the streets and windowshop with a warm drink in hand. You may notice Christmas trees decorated in front of the shops. This is part of Solvang’s epic, citywide tree-decorating competition. The iconic Danish windmill, one of Solvang’s main landmarks, is also all decked out with holiday lights for the first time ever, giving it an added fairy-like atmosphere. As you stroll through town, don’t miss out on the many Danish bakeries and their specialty pastries, including Olsen’s Danish Village Bakery, one of the oldest bakeries in town.
Iona was hosted by the Visit Florida tourism board while visiting St. Augustine.
Check local rules and regulations before making any travel plans as they are subject to change with COVID-19 updates. You may also want to consider booking travel insurance in case you need to cancel your trip or quarantine in place.
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