Jon Arnold Images Ltd / Alamy
BAY OF ISLANDS, NEW ZEALAND
Why Go: -Barbecues on subtropical beaches
-Summer in December
-A cooler of Steinlager beer instead of eggnog
-Deep-sea fishing at night
Where to Stay: At Omata Estate (Aucks Rd., Russell; 64-9/403-8007; from $400), a luxe vineyard homestead with huge guest rooms, you can sip local wines on a jetty in your own private bay.
Holiday Dinner: Start with a cocktail at the Duke of Marlborough (35 The Strand, Russell; 64-9/403-7829), which holds the oldest pub license in New Zealand, then pop next door to Kamakura (The Strand, Russell; 64-9/403-7771; dinner for two $55), a serene seaside restaurant serving the day's catch.
Stocking Stuffer: Make a beeline for the town of Kerikeri and buy the kids a kaleidoscope crafted from 40,000-year-old kauri wood at Scopes New Zealand (265 Waipapa Rd.; 64-9/407-4415).
Walter Bibikow/ Getty Images 2007
Why Go: -Old-world ambience
-New England coziness
-Beacon Hill's cobblestoned streets dusted with snow
-Roasted lobster in lieu of Christmas turkey
Where to Stay: A gas fireplace warms every bedroom at the XV Beacon Hotel (15 Beacon St.; 877/982-3226 or 617/670-1500; doubles from $295), which combines classic details like an antique cage elevator with 21st-century amenities: CD players, high-speed data ports, a private phone number for each guest.
Holiday Dinner: The dining room at Locke-Ober (3 Winter Place; 617/542-1340; dinner for two $200), a blue-blooded institution since 1875, still feels like a gentlemen's club. Lobster bisque, Dover sole, calf's liver, and baked Alaska continue to draw the Brahmin faithful—and the food is actually delicious.
Stocking Stuffer: Black Ink (101 Charles St.; 617/723-3883) is crammed with presents for all ages—animal-shaped lunch boxes, wind-up metal toys—as well as some unusual children's books.
—Peter Jon Lindberg
Courtesy of Charleston Area CVB/www.charlestoncvb.com
Why Go: -Pecans roasting on the fire instead of chestnuts
-Eggnog laced with bourbon
-Choirs singing spirituals at Drayton Hall plantation.
Where to Stay: The 21-room Wentworth Mansion (149 Wentworth St.; 888/466-1886 or 843/853-1886; doubles from $385) dresses in subdued Victorian finery for the holidays with magnolia wreaths, old-world Santas, and two grand Christmas trees in the foyer. Every room has its own fireplace. On your pillow at turndown: chocolate truffles.
Holiday Dinner: At Peninsula Grill (112 N. Market St.; 843/723-0700; dinner for two $110), chef Robert Carter puts a radical spin on such low-country favorites as black-eyed pea, country ham and mushroom soup, and rack of New Zealand lamb with coconut-mint pesto.
Stocking Stuffer: Sweet grass is gathered from low-country marshes and then woven into baskets, bracelets, pins, barrettes, and earrings by traditional weavers at Vera Manigault's Family stand (843/884-5617; 843/860-2110) on Highway 17 North in Mount Pleasant.
Courtesy of ScottishViewpoint.com
Why Go: -Fireworks lighting up the sky from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse
-Bagpipers playing "Amazing Grace" around the Sir Walter Scott Monument.
Where to Stay: Fireplaces are continuously rekindled at the baronial Balmoral (1 Princes St.; 800/223-6800 or 44-131/556-2414; doubles from $304). The Caledonian Hilton Edinburgh (4 Princes St.; 800/445-8667 or 44-131/222-8888; doubles from $256) is equally opulent.
Holiday Dinner: Sorceresses were burned at the stake beside the gates of Edinburgh Castle in the 16th century, but nothing is scorched at the Witchery by the Castle (Castlehill, the Royal Mile; 44-131/225-5613; dinner for two $250), which stands on the site. The restaurant serves traditional baked Scottish crotin and rabbit wrapped in Parma ham—all cooked to perfection.
Stocking Stuffer: Even non-Scots can have kilts made in any tartan, any fabric—leather is popular—at Geoffrey Tailor Kiltmakers (57-61 High St., the Royal Mile; 44-131/557-0256); they've stitched custom kilts for Mel Gibson and Madonna.
—Heidi Sherman Mitchell
JUPITERIMAGES/ Creatas / Alamy
Why Go: -A quiet celebration in the Canadian city that Harriet Beecher Stowe described as "a mountain of churches."
-A spin in one of the many outdoor ice-skating centers (our favorite is the Patinoire du Bassin Bonsecours in Old Montreal).
Where to Stay: After a day of shopping in the frosty air, check into a hotel with a heated outdoor pool: the Hilton Montreal Bonaventure (1 Place Bonaventure; 800/267-2575 or 514/878-2332; doubles from $95) or the Omni Mont-Royal (1050 Sherbrooke St. W.; 800/267-2575 or 514/878-2332; doubles from $145).
Pre-Holiday Dinner: The majority of restaurants in predominantly French-Catholic Montreal are closed December 24 and 25, so it's best to have a fabulous meal before Christmas day. At the loungey, elegant Restaurant Globe (3455 Rue St.-Laurent; 514/284-3823; dinner for two $170), chef Alex Rolland's duck breast with Japanese eggplant and black cherry sauce is a perfect stand-in for goose.
Stocking Stuffer: Fill your stocking the old-fashioned way, with edibles such as juicy oranges and imported chestnuts, by visiting two of Montreal's bustling outdoor markets. Le Marche Jean-Talon (7070 Rue Henri-Julien Road; 514/937-7754) sells maple candies and regional cheeses, while Le Marche Atwater (138 Avenue Atwater; 514/937-7754) specializes in chocolates and pastries.
—Dara Y. Herman
Courtesy of Munich Tourist Office
Why Go: -Church bells ringing through the Alps
-Trading that tame cocoa for a steaming cup of gluhwein (hot spiced wine) at the Marienplatz market.
Where to Stay: Take up residence in the Kempinski Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten (17 Maximilianstrasse; 49-89/21250; doubles from $355), so you can expedite last-minute shopping (for Versace and Bogner) out on the stylish Maximilianstrasse, then refuel with a slice of stollen—as ubiquitous as fruitcake, but much tastier—in front of the hotel's gold-trimmed tree.
Holiday Dinner: Most restaurants in Munich are closed on Christmas and the night before, so it's a treat that the award-winning Restaurant Mark's is open for an elegant Christmas Eve meal. On the mezzanine floor of the Mandarin Oriental (80331 Munich; 49-89/290-980; dinner for two $335), the dining room offers a traditional Christmas goose dinner complete with red cabbage and potato dumplings.
Stocking Stuffer: Classic porcelain manufacturer Nymphenburg (8 Nordisches Schlossrondell; 49-89/179-1970) has enlisted artists like Ted Muehling to create modernist vases and chic caviar spoons. Hals Uber Kopf (49 Leopoldstrasse; 49-89/343-667), a hat shop in the trendy Schwabing district, sells haute headgear.
Courtesy of Park City Mountain Resort
Why Go: -Snow, snow, snow. Schuss Utah's famously light powder and take an après-ski stroll down funky Main Street, the hub of this former mining colony
-One town, three resorts: Park City Mountain Resort, Deer Valley, and the Canyons.
Where to Stay: The comfy-luxe Stein Eriksen Lodge (800/453-1302 or 435/649-3700; doubles from $800) evokes holidays from a century ago. Sip mulled wine by the fire in a lobby decorated with Norwegian sleds, skis, ice skates, dolls, and elves. If you order a tree for your room, it'll be trimmed while you're on the slopes.
Holiday Dinner: Chimayo (368 Main St.; 435/649-6222; dinner for two $160), adorned with wreaths and candle light, dishes up peppercorn-crusted London broil of elk, served with a potato-and-cheddar quesadilla, and asparagus with a spicy Béarnaise sauce. Another hot spot is Riverhorse Café (540 Main St.; 435/649-3536; dinner for two $100), a chic bistro with live music on weekends.
Stocking Stuffer: Find a gem at OC Tanner (416 Main St.; 435/940-9470), which designed the metals for the 2002 Salt Lake City games. The specially cut Grace Diamond, named for the owner's wife, is this year's main attraction.
Courtesy of Domenic
Why Go: -"Jingle Bells" set to a salsa beat
-Instead of pine trees, palms and exotic flora in El Yunque rain forest
-Evening strolls through a 500-year-old Spanish colonial city on the Atlantic.
Where to Stay: Hotel El Convento (100 Calle de Cristo, Old San Juan; 800/468-2779 or 787/723-9020; doubles from $325), a converted 354-year-old Carmelite convent, has 72 rooms with handcrafted colonial furniture. The Water Club (2 Calle Tartak, Isla Verde; 888/265-6699 or 787/728-3666; doubles from $199), billed as Puerto Rico's only beachfront boutique hotel, has 78 rooms overlooking the ocean through floor-to-ceiling windows.
Holiday Dinner: The 160-year-old La Mallorquina (207 Calle San Justo, Old San Juan; 787/722-3261; dinner for two $50) is known for its family-style cocina criolla, or traditional Puerto Rican feasts: seasonal favorites include lechón (suckling pig), arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas), and pasteles (yucca and meat wrapped in a banana leaf).
Stocking Stuffer: Take your pick of the best santos—wooden folk carvings of Catholic saints—at Puerto Rican Art & Crafts (204 Calle Fortaleza, Old San Juan; 787/725-5596). A small santo can cost anywhere from $45 to $350, depending on the reputation of the santero, or artisan.
Courtesy of Kyer Photography/CVC
SANTA CRUZ, CALIFORNIA
Why Go: -Thousand-year-old redwoods
-Santa arriving by surfboard
-Still-crazy-after-all-these-years hippies co-existing peacefully with over-caffeinated young bucks.
Where to Stay: The sleek, intimate Pleasure Point Inn (2-3665 E. Cliff Dr.; 831/475-4657; doubles from $248) sits on the edge of Monterey Bay. Three of the four rooms face the water, but watch the must-see sunsets from the roof deck.
Holiday Dinner: The bland façade of Casablanca (101 Main St.; 831/426-9063; dinner for two $80) may look quiet and unassuming, but inside, executive chef Scott Cater turns out some smart New American cuisine. His special Colorado rack of lamb with raspberry sauce and black truffles is to die for. The beach views aren't too shabby, either.
Stocking Stuffer: Anything bearing the goofy grin of the banana slug, the slimy yellow mascot of the University of California at Santa Cruz. Slug hats, mugs, T-shirts, and other logo goodies are available in most stores around town, or on campus at the Bay Tree Bookstore (1156 High St.; 831/459-4544).
—H. Scott Jolley