Top 10 Holiday Celebrations

Greet the season in a festive, coastal way.
By Steve Millburg

Nantucket Noel, Nantucket Island, Massachusetts
This historic island celebrates in a style both traditional and, well, not. For example, during the centerpiece Christmas Stroll, Santa rides up Main Street in a horse-drawn carriage accompanied by the town crier―after arriving via Coast Guard vessel. Carolers in Victorian costumes meander among more than 150 lighted Christmas trees in downtown Nantucket. For more information, call 508/228-1700 or nantucketchamber.org.

Cape May, New Jersey
No community keeps Christmas better than Cape May, a revived Victorian resort town on New Jersey's southern tip. The Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts presents a tremendous variety of tours and events. Several involve beverages: Tea with Mrs. Claus, Evening Wassail Tours, Vines to Wines School, Cape May Sampler Tour & Tea, and "It's All in the Bubbles" Champagne Tasting. Still, it's the town's all-embracing holiday spirit―not spirits―that truly warms hearts. Even Scrooges will be belting out carols by the end of the evening. For more information, call 800/275-4278 or capemaymac.org.

100 Miles of Lights, Hampton Roads, Virginia
This vast collection of events and attractions sprawls across seven cities, five of them ringing the mouth of Chesapeake Bay. The holiday delights include restaurant-hopping progressive dinners, house tours, parades on land and sea, and amazing light displays (some of which you can drive through). There's also great shopping for antiques and unusual gifts, including African imports for Kwanzaa. For more information, call 888/493-7386 (ext. 100) or www.100milesoflights.com.

Nights of Lights and Holiday Tour of Bed & Breakfast Inns, St. Augustine, Florida
More than 2 million white lights transform the city into a fairyland at night. The effect is truly enchanting, especially along the bayfront and under the oaks in the downtown plaza. Among St. Augustine's many other holiday events, we especially recommend the Holiday Tour of Bed & Breakfast Inns. Not only can you visit 23 inns, each decorated divinely, but you also get treats―catered by local restaurants, so it's not just punch and cookies. For information on the Nights of Lights, call 800/653-2489 or nightsoflights.com. For information on the holiday tour of inns, call 904/810-5635 or staugustineinns.com/holiday_tour.html.

Christmas on the Cajun Coast, Franklin, Patterson, and Morgan City, Louisiana
Several plantation homes decorate graciously for Christmas. Plus, with Cajuns, you can be sure there will be plenty of two things: music and good times. For more information, call 800/256-2931 or cajuncoast.com.

Dickens on the Strand, Galveston, Texas
Victorian England magically materializes in 21st-century Texas. Oddly, it seems perfectly appropriate―partly because Galveston's Strand district feels so historic, and partly because many of our Christmas traditions trace back to Charles Dickens and his A Christmas Carol. Entertainers and costumed characters from Dickens novels stroll the streets. Show up in costume yourself and you get free admission. For more information, call 409/765-7834 or dickensonthestrand.org. While in Galveston, you can also check out the Moody Gardens Festival of Lights, which includes light displays, live entertainment, and holiday IMAX 3-D movies. For more information, call 800/582-4673 or moodygardens.org.

Holiday Cruise of Lights, Huntington Beach, California
Cheerily―and sometimes wildly―decorated homes, docks, and watercraft show off by the hundreds for narrated nighttime boat tours through Huntington Harbour waterways. To encourage participation, the event starts with a two-night boat parade. Proceeds benefit school music programs. For more information, call 714/840-7542 or cruiseoflights.org.

Mendocino Coast Candlelight Inn Tour, Mendocino County, California Thirty inns in five towns offer warm welcomes and refreshments. The tours take place from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., so the light is perfect for enjoying both the candlelit interiors and the gorgeous ocean views in this ruggedly scenic part of Northern California. For more information, call 707/964-1228 or mendocinoinntour.com.

Holiday Lights at Shore Acres State Park, Coos Bay, Oregon
Nature's Coastal Holiday, Azalea Park, Brookings, Oregon

Community volunteers make possible these celebrations, about 100 miles apart on Oregon's coast. Trees, shrubs, and other natural features become frameworks for thousands of lights. The results absolutely delight children―as well as adults who remember how to surrender to the simple joy of the moment. For more information, call 541/888-3732 or shoreacres.net. At Azalea, call 800/525-9273 or brookings.or.us/Parks_and_Recreation/Azalea_Park/Nature_Coastal_Holiday.htm.

Carol Ship Parade of Lights Festival, Vancouver, British Columbia
Here's a nicely nautical concept: floating carolers. A hundred boats decorated in lights carry up to 45,000 singers, from professional to very amateur. Various cruise companies offer packages that include dinner and other amenities. For more information, call 604/878-8999 or carolships.org. (Seattle has a similar event, the Christmas Ship Festival. For more information, call 800/642-7816 or argosycruises.