1. Laguna Beach, California
Not a winter weather person but still want to get away? There’s plenty of holiday cheer to be had in the other coast’s gentler latitudes. Laguna Beach, the picturesque beach town about 50 miles south of Los Angeles, is a great place to visit any time of year. But around the holidays, the place offers something more.
The Winter Fantasy Sawdust Arts and Crafts Festival typically runs every weekend from mid-November to just before Christmas. Set in its own rambling grounds featuring eclectic buildings dotted around a beautiful Californian canyon setting, the festival dates back to the counterculture days of the 1960s. Or rather, the organization’s other event, its summer festival, dates back to then. The winter fest has “only” been around since the ’90s, but it’s now a massive annual event that offers both festive cheer and plenty of interesting art including ceramics, woodworking, metals, painting, photography and more. There’s also live entertainment, plenty of food and classes for people who want to create a bit of what they see.
And with L.A. on your doorstep and San Diego not too far south, Laguna Beach also offers a great jumping-off point for the rest of Southern California. sawdustartfestival.org
2. Christmas, Florida
Are we recommend-ing this place simply because it’s actually called Christmas? Well yes, yes we are.
Christmas, in central Florida not far from Orlando, is quite a place. You’ve got the post office, popular with people who want to mail stuff “from Christmas.” You’ve got the inevitable decorations. You’ve even got the street names - St. Nicholas Avenue, Antler Street, etc. You can stand on the corner of Comet Street and Cupid Avenue, for the love of Christmas.
But the folksy, seasonal charms of Christmas, Florida aren’t the only reasons you should stop in. Jungle Adventures is a proper old-fashioned Florida roadside attraction with a bit of history, a lot of nature and a frankly inevitable number of alligators.
Access to Florida nature happens through shows, a boat ride down “Green Gator River” and the popular “Gator Jamboree” feeding session. There’s also Florida history in the form of a replica American Indian village, settler village and Spanish fort. The admission fees – $23.95 for adults, $16.95 for kids age 3 to 11 – will seem positively quaint to anybody who’s ever had the greater Orlando/Kissimmee area flip them upside down and shake all the money out of their pockets. jungleadventures.com
3. New York City, New York
An obvious choice? You bet. But obvious choices are usually obvious for a reason and if you’ve never done a seasonal trip to the metropolis, there’s no time like the present. And anyway, there’s more to the holidays in New York than the Rockefeller Plaza Christmas tree and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. (Although by all means, check those out too.)
Rockefeller might get more ink, but Bryant Park offers all sorts of holiday cheer, including an admission-free ice skating rink. (You do need to pay if you’re renting their skates.) There’s also food and a European-style holiday market.
If that’s not your thing, New York offers just about every manner of festive occasion. Like tubas? Rockefeller Plaza plays host to an annual holiday tuba concert – come and sing along to fair deep renditions of your favorite carols. Want to stroll and check out the window displays? The city’s department stores tend to engage in a bit of friendly annual one-upsmanship to see who can come up with the grandest one. (For our money, check out Barneys, which typically goes with a theme that works for Christmas despite the fact that it doesn’t look stereotypically Christmassy.) Want a show? The theaters offer everything from Rudolph to Dickens, and more Nutcrackers than a toy soldier can shake a rifle at. And if you need to do some last-minute shopping, we’ve heard there are one or two places that can possibly help.
4. Rovaniemi, Finland
Where does Santa Claus come from? If you said, “The east side of the Galleria, back by H&M,” that’s an excellent guess. But no.
A few places claim the “Home of Santa” mantle but Rovaniemi, inside the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland, bills itself as “The Official Hometown of Santa Claus.” They’ve got it trademarked and everything, so you know it’s true.
That’s not to say Santa’s the only attraction. You can witness the aurora borealis from Rovaniemi. The adventurous can try husky sledding, snowmobiling or even reindeer-driving. For the arts-minded, the Korundi House of Culture is home to both the Chamber Orchestra of Lapland and the Rovaniemi Art Museum. The food-and-drink scene is fun and surprisingly diverse for a small, remote city – but if the kids love Rudolph, be warned that reindeer is very much on the menu. There are opportunities to relax with a traditional Finnish sauna, including one evening put on by Santa’s Adventures that includes a sauna, ice swimming and traditional Lappish meal.
Then of course, there’s the man himself. The Santa Claus Holiday Village includes holiday-themed activities and Christmas traditions from around the world, while Joulukka, the “Santa Claus Secret Forest,” is secret in the same way that the Jungle Queen’s mystery island is secret, but kids (and grownups) are sure to love Elf School, the Fairytale Path and Santa’s Secret Command Center. And there’s more.
Meanwhile if you want to stay in more exotic accommodations than one of the town’s hotels or B&Bs, there’s the Apukka Resort snow cabin or the Arctic Snow Hotel.
You can even get there via London on Norwegian Air, which flies out of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International. That itinerary will, however, necessitate at least a couple nights in London; the Fort Lauderdale-London flight lands mid-morning, the London-Rovaniemi flight takes off early in the morning, and neither flight happens every day. But hey, it’s not like London’s a bad holiday city, either. visitrovaniemi.fi