The end of the year is incredibly busy with gift shopping, decorating for the holidays, and family gatherings. So before you run out of open days, take some time to book that winter vacation — even if it’s just a weekend getaway. Whether you’re looking for a warm-weather escape to end the year or a festive destination brimming with holiday cheer, we’ve got you covered. From ski towns to beach resorts, here are 11 of the best places to travel in December.
Related: 13 Best Places to Go in the Winter, From Ski Resorts to Sunny Beaches
Lake Tahoe, California
Snowfall usually begins in late November in Lake Tahoe, so you can be one of the first to hit the slopes when you visit in December. The destination’s sapphire blue lake, pine forests, and snow-covered peaks are gorgeous this time of year. Stay on the south shore at Edgewood Lake Tahoe, which hosts holiday festivities throughout the month; the resort’s new multi-bedroom Villa Suites are perfect for families or groups. On the north shore, Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe features ski-in/ski-out access and a mountainside concierge. Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe and Edgewood Lake Tahoe were both among Travel + Leisure’s Best Resorts in the Western United States in 2022. Nearby Reno Tahoe offers a wide range of winter activities and a convenient airport with flights from many major cities.
Palm Springs, California
If you’re looking for mild weather, superb restaurants, golf, plush hotels, spas, and great shopping, put Palm Springs on your December must-visit list. And at just two hours from Los Angeles and San Diego, the Greater Palm Springs area is easy to reach. Check the concert and sports events schedule at the new Acrisure Arena, which hosted Cirque du Soleil’s new Corteo this summer — a first for the desert venue. Lodging ranges from expansive resorts like the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort to boutique and adult-only properties. Stay just steps from downtown Palm Springs in a quiet and historic neighborhood at Auric House; you’ll feel like a local as you stroll to restaurants, shops, and breakfast at nearby Korakia Pensione.
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston topped the T+L World’s Best Awards list this year for favorite cities in the United States, and it’s a perfect destination for the holidays, with gorgeous decorations adorning historic buildings, streets, and neighborhoods. Christmas markets, tree lightings, parades, and seasonal events inspire the holiday spirit during December. The Charleston Place gets decked out for the season, and other popular Charleston hotels include the Emeline, Planters Inn (a Relais & Châteaux property), and The Vendue, Charleston’s art hotel.
Newport Beach, California
With weather in the 60s and lots of Southern California sunshine, Newport Beach is a great December destination for hiking, cruising the harbor in a Duffy boat, whale watching, visiting Balboa Island, or strolling along the beach. The city celebrates the holiday season with the annual Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade each night from Dec. 13-17, when more than 100 decorated yachts, boats, kayaks, and canoes cruise the waterfront, along with music, fireworks, and glittering lights. Stay near the action at Lido House, an Autograph Collection hotel, or be among the first to stay at the new Pendry Newport Beach. For five-star luxury, two oceanfront golf courses, and stunning views, choose The Resort at Pelican Hill. Accommodation options here include bungalow rooms and suites with fireplaces and private terraces, as well as Mediterranean-style villas with two, three, or four bedrooms.
In Branson, the two-month-long Ozark Mountain Christmas celebration kicks off in early November, and it’s an incredible way to get into the holiday spirit. Known as “America’s Christmas Tree City” for good reason, Branson features more than 1,500 decorated trees, shows, parades, 6.5 million lights, drive-through displays, and photo opportunities with Santa Claus. Throughout December, there’s caroling by the fire, story times, and a candy village displayed in the lobby of the Chateau on the Lake. At Big Cedar Lodge, guests can sip hot cocoa, see twinkling holiday lights, skate at the Winter Wonderland ice rink, make wreaths, and bake gingerbread — and that’s just a few of the property’s annual Home for the Holidays activities.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
December is considered one of the best months to visit Dubai thanks to moderate weather that’s ideal for being outdoors exploring the city. Visitors will find a festive atmosphere and myriad seasonal events, from elaborately decorated Christmas trees and holiday markets to shopping malls decked out for the season. See public art in the Dubai Design District, lounge at the beachfront in La Mer, or visit the historic Al Fahidi District. Stay at the elegant Habtoor Palace, LXR Hotels & Resorts, or the plush Burj Al Arab Jumeirah. Welcoming guests starting Dec. 1, One&Only One Za’abeel is located in the heart of the city near the Dubai World Trade Centre. The Lana, Dorchester Collection, Dubai, will also open in December beside the Dubai Canal.
Riviera Maya, Mexico
Located on the Yucatan Peninsula along the Caribbean, Riviera Maya is 30 minutes south of Cancun and offers calm seas, sandy beaches, sunny weather, and lodging for all tastes, from boutique hotels to lavish resorts. Maya archaeological sites are fascinating to explore, and cenotes — caves or underground holes filled with cool water — are another intriguing feature of the Yucatan. Mayakoba, a private community with nearly 600 acres of lagoons, jungles, and beaches, includes El Camaleón Golf Club, luxury residences, and four resorts: Fairmont Mayakoba, Andaz Mayakoba, Banyan Tree Mayakoba, and Rosewood Mayakoba. Celebrate the new year with legendary Mexican musician Luis Miguel in concert on Dec. 31 at the nearby golf course. Also in Riviera Maya is Maroma, A Belmond Hotel, now open after an extensive renovation and redesign led by Tara Bernerd & Partners.
While Vienna is lovely year-round, it is dazzling in December, with holiday decorations, lights, markets, and Christmas trees galore. Delicious Austrian food is part of the celebration, and mugs of Christmas punch (made with rum and/or brandy) keep shoppers warm as they browse or sample wiener schnitzel, sausage, apple strudel, or traditional roasted chestnuts. Or, stop into a café for coffee and Sachertorte, a famous Austrian chocolate cake. T+L readers recently voted for their favorite Vienna hotels, and The Ritz-Carlton, Vienna took the top spot. The Rosewood Vienna, which just opened last year, and The Amauris Vienna, a Relais & Châteaux property, are also fine options. Note that river cruises are a great way to see Europe’s many Christmas markets, and itineraries are offered through several companies, including AmaWaterways, Viking River Cruises, and Uniworld Boutique River Cruises.
Fort Worth, Texas
Think about this lively Texas city for an end-of-year vacation or weekend getaway, when the weather is in the comfortable high 50s and there’s so much to do. The Fort Worth Zoo features holiday decorations, lights, falling snow, and visits from Santa in December. The Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District, where ranchers once traded cattle and cowboys drove the animals to market, is still in action with a daily longhorn cattle drive, restaurants, rodeo shows, bars, and tours of the original wooden corrals. Stay at Hotel Drover, in the heart of the District, where holiday decor and activities add to the fun. Near the downtown Sundance Square entertainment area, Kimpton Harper Hotel is set in a historic building that was once the tallest in Fort Worth. The Crescent Hotel, Fort Worth just opened this autumn and features a Canyon Ranch Wellness Club with a full menu of fitness classes and spa treatments.
U.S. Virgin Islands
Located in the northeastern Caribbean Sea, St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas make up the U.S. Virgin Islands. Whether you travel to the Caribbean for the beaches, water sports, outdoor adventures, shopping, or nightlife, these islands have myriad options. Join the fun at St. Croix’s Crucian Christmas Festival, which begins Dec. 10 and combines Caribbean, African, Spanish, and Dutch influences in traditional carnival events. The closing parade happens on Jan. 6, when thousands of masqueraders fill the streets. Among accommodation options are the waterfront King Christian Hotel in downtown Christiansted, St. Croix and The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas, which hosts holiday activities throughout December. Passports are not required for travel to this United States territory.
This sunny island in the eastern Caribbean is a perfect December escape, whether you’re traveling with friends or family or looking for a romantic getaway. From relaxing on the beach or by the pool to active adventures like kitesurfing, diving, or playing golf, there are lots of fun things to do on Anguilla. Places to stay include boutique hotels, resorts, villas, and apartments at a range of prices. Consider the family-friendly Four Seasons Resort & Residences Anguilla, Malliouhana Resort, and Frangipani Beach Resort, where there’s fun for everyone. Cap Juluca, A Belmond Hotel and Altamer offer private villas. Zemi Beach House on Shoal Bay Beach features a spa set in a 306-year-old Thai house.