Postcard holiday scenes often involve beautiful blankets of white snow, evoking images of cozy northern towns and ski resort havens. But who would have thought that regions like California's Newport Beach, or the southern town of Woodstock in Virginia, are teeming with holiday cheer this time of the year, too? Here, a few surprising destinations for getting into the holiday spirit.
Newport Beach, California
Hailed as one of the “World’s Best Christmas Parades,” the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade features more than 100 vessels ranging from kayaks to multi-million dollar yachts. Watch the 106-year-old parade for free from various points along Newport Harbor or from a chartered boat (prices vary). The dressings are incredibly elaborate, with some vessels decked out with more than $50,000 in decorations -- including, one year, a dragon that breathed real fire. Local houses get into the spirit, too, with incredible light displays and roof-top animations.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
This historic Southwestern community has a full calendar of holiday events. Don’t miss Christmas at the Palace, an evening of live music and hot cider on the historic Plaza (December 12), or Los Posadas, the reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to give birth to Baby Jesus (December 14). For something truly unique, we recommend the Canyon Road Farolito Walk on Christmas Eve. Farolitos -- luminous bags of candles and sand -- line the sidewalks and set the town aglow.
It’s Christmas 365 days of the year in Frankenmuth -- or at least at Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. The self-billed “world’s largest Christmas store” stocks 50,000 Christmas items, ranging from ornaments to Santa suits, in a retail space that sprawls roughly one and a half football fields. Frankenmuth takes a cue from Bronner’s during December and goes all out, adorning its Bavarian-style buildings with lights and wreaths.
West Palm Beach, Florida
What do you do when you have sand, not snow? Create a sandy winter wonderland, of course. Every December, West Palm Beach transforms its Waterfront area into Sandi Land -- and fashions a 35-foot holiday tree named Sandi out of 600 tons of sand. We bet you won’t even miss the snow as you enjoy the nightly music and light show that casts rainbow hues onto the pale sandy structure (replayed every quarter hour starting at 6:30 p.m.).
The town is festive all month long, but its Wassail Weekend is what put it on the holiday map (December 12-14 this year). The weekend celebrates the Norse tradition of handing carolers wassail, an ale brewed with spiced apples and served hot. Drinks aside, the main highlight is the Wassail Parade, featuring more than 50 horses and riders adorned in holiday costumes and period dress. After the parade, visitors can take a sleigh ride or enjoy the Wassail Feast held at the Woodstock Inn & Resort ($55).
Every Friday through Sunday during the holiday season, carolers stroll through town, children sled in Front Street Park, and costumed characters -- including Santa and Mrs. Claus -- greet visitors to Leavenworth. At 4:30 p.m., the town bursts into color with the lighting of more than half a million Christmas lights.
Nicknamed the “Danish Capital of America,” Solvang celebrates the holiday season with Julesfest, a Norse tradition associated with Christmas. Festivities begin with a tree-lighting ceremony, folk dancers, and a parade during the first weekend in December -- but you can enjoy the Julefest trees and town’s four large windmills decorated in bright lights throughout the season. Be sure to stop at Jule Hus while you’re in town to purchase traditional Old European Christmas ornaments.