We all know Santa comes by boat, so it’s only fitting that we all get to the beach as quickly as possible for the holidays. Here, our travel editor’s favorite beach towns that do it up right for Christmas, from old-fashioned style to all-out light extravaganzas.
Photo: Cary Hazelgrove
Santa really does come by boat to this beautiful island, as part of the annual Christmas Stroll (this year it’s December 2-4), an abundance of incredible shopping, eating, and drinking amidst great good cheer (and cobblestone streets lined with community-decorated trees). Don’t miss the special exhibit of decorated holiday trees at the Whaling Museum.
Photo: Eric Taubert
While the coast of Maine is one of the best summer destinations there is, it’s gorgeous in winter too, and humming with holiday events. We love Ogunquit’s Christmas by the Sea Festival for its old-fashioned charms, including a production of White Christmas, a polar plunge, lots of cider and much, much more. (And did we mention that some of those outlets in Kittery and Freeport are close by?)
Well, first, shopping. And some truly beautiful window displays (and gorgeous Christmas trees) in the Third Street South and Fifth Avenue South areas of the historic downtown. And this sophisticated seaside escape also goes crazy for lights, from five (count them) different boat parades in December, to bedecked gardens, including Naples Botanical Gardens and at Edison & Ford Winter Estates. This Florida getaway is sure to put you in the holiday spirit.
Photo courtesy Friends NC Maritime Museum
Being this far south means that you can still get out on the water in kayaks without your Nanook of the North gear. We love that about this charming little harbor town with an equally charming, twinkly-lit boat (and kayak!) parade (the Crystal Coast Christmas Flotilla). Beaufort’s holiday to-do list also includes the intimate Holiday Art Walk and Candlelight Tour of Homes. Pure Southern fun.
Photo courtesy Brookgreen Gardens
You may think you “know” this destination from its high-energy spring vibe, but there’s way more to Myrtle Beach, and Christmas is the perfect time to get to know it. Start with 5,500 hand-lit candles at Brookgreen Gardens’ resplendent Nights of a Thousand Candles and proceed to the town’s delightful Festival of Trees at Ripley’s Aquarium (don’t miss the holiday tree scavenger hunt). A whole new world, right?
Photo courtesy The Preservation Society of Newport County
Historic, maritime, and full of great food and drink… We adore this New England city year-round, and its month-long embrace of the holidays is peerless. Whether you’re skating on the outdoor ice rink and pausing for hot chocolate, touring one of the renowned Gilded Age mansions in holiday finery, or attending holiday puppet shows, teas, and concerts, it’s Currier and Ives brought to life in the City By The Sea.
A beloved summer Great Lakes playground that requires you to leave your car behind when you board the ferry from the mainland, this little island town has a beautiful way of celebrating Christmas. The annual Christmas bazaar (which raises funds for local charities) kicks off with caroling and the selection of a local child to “flip the switch” to turn on the island’s Christmas tree lights. Like something out of It’s A Wonderful Life.
Newport’s annual Christmas Boat Parade is one of our top favorites in the country. For one, it’s truly historic: they’ve been parading in Newport Harbor since 1908, and for two, the extravaganza lasts five nights. Five nights! This is literally a pilgrimage, and the temperate Southern California weather makes this a perfect holiday escape.
Photo courtesy of City of West Palm Beach
Why do we love it? Because there is nothing more amazing than a Christmas tree built out of 600 tons of beach sand. Nothing. “Sandi” is lit up at night and synched with music, adding a touch of Vegas and a boatload of whimsy. The spectacle goes on throughout the month of December with other fun holiday stuff, like twinkly-lit mini golf.
Photo courtesy of Lights of Christmas, WarmBeachLights.com
This Puget Sound town is home to Warm Beach Camp, which hauls out more than a million holiday lights and makes the brightest bit of Christmas magic in the Pacific Northwest. There’s holiday dinner theater, concerts, and lots of kid activities.