Best U.S. Hotels for the Holidays
After sipping wine by the fireplace and tree, you sit down to a seven-course Christmas Eve dinner. It all sounds just about perfect—and it gets better. There are no dishes to clean and no unexpected relatives dropping in. Why? You’re celebrating at Seattle’s chic Hotel Vintage Park.
Getting away for the holidays can be the best gift of all. And while it’s not always easy—you’ve got to contend with potential foul weather and crowds—once you arrive, there’s nothing to do but soak up the festive atmosphere and experience how another place celebrates. From Charleston to Yosemite National Park, we’ve found appealing lodges, hotels, and historic inns with holiday goings-on to suit any personality.
If you love the cool bite of frost, head to New Hampshire’s quaint Bedford Village Inn, where local designers work their magic annually to deck the halls, and chefs concoct the prix fixe menu and mom-daughter teas. But if what your family really wants for Christmas is sand and sun, check in to Honolulu’s Outrigger Reef on the Beach, where kids can dine with Santa himself (even Kris Kringle needs to defrost a little) and pose for photos. Root for staff as they compete in a gingerbread-house-making contest.
Christmas gets a more grown-up, southwestern treatment at the landmark Taos Inn, decorated with old-world furnishings and farolitos, lovely paper lanterns traditional to the area. Guests can belly up to the Adobe Bar for killer margaritas and Yuletide Salsa nights with live music.
For others, Christmas is merriest at its most traditional, with the trappings of gingerbread, candles in the window, and the kind of Victorian-era traditions associated with Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Madrona Manor in California wine country brings those visions to life with its annual Dickens Dinners, hearty feasts complete with carolers dressed in 19th-century garb.
Like it or not, Dickens’s classic helped popularize the holiday as a secular time to enjoy with loved ones, let the wine flow, and seek inspiration and new beginnings in the dark days of winter.
Hotel Vintage Park, Seattle
This 11-story boutique hotel and T+L 500 winner toasts Washington wine country by dedicating each room to a local winery and vineyard. The theme even carries over to the lobby Christmas tree—made entirely of recycled wine bottles. Port and chocolate are on hand all season long, and local winemakers pour their favorite vintages at the nightly complimentary wine reception. Sip yours in front of the lobby fireplace.
Details: On Christmas Eve, book a table at Tulio, the hotel restaurant where Chef Walter Pisano serves his Feast of Seven Fishes, a traditional Italian dinner. From $169 per night.
Francis Marion Hotel, Charleston, SC
Downtown Charleston’s 233-room property gussies up with gold-and-russet-colored decorations, an exquisitely decorated tree, and matching garlands that reflect in the grand lobby’s many chandeliers. Just across the street is Marion Square, a historic park that hosts both a Holiday Farmers’ Market and Santa and his elves, who set up shop here daily at Christmastime.
Details: Packages include the Carriages and Cocoa, which comes with two mugs of hot chocolate and a carriage ride through Charleston’s historic district (from $149 per night); and the Holiday Festival of Lights, with breakfast and a three-mile driving tour lined with 2 million lights and 600 displays (from $139 per night); francismarionhotel.com.
Williamsburg Inn, VA
In the heart of Colonial Williamsburg near Duke of Gloucester Street, the city’s principal corridor, this 62-room inn has been attracting holiday guests since J. D. Rockefeller Jr. opened it in 1937. It still celebrates with traditional trappings like ornately decorated trees, colonial wreaths, and candles in every window. And the inn makes a natural base for exploring Colonial Williamsburg, whose festive programming includes holiday music of the Civil War concerts and kid-friendly shadow puppet shows.
Details: Along with a Christmas night dinner, the property hosts a Boxing Day Regency Dinner ($80) on December 26, honoring and explaining the English tradition of sharing the contents of a Christmas box with the poor. From $541 per night.
Booking a room at this iconic Art Deco hotel—a short walk from Rockefeller Center and midtown’s holiday window displays—puts you in the festive thick of things. The Waldorf itself goes all out in December, adorning the lobby with towering trees and wreaths, decorating its central clock tower with handblown-glass Fabergé ornaments, and draping the Park Avenue exterior with thousands of lights. The staff will deliver any size Christmas tree to your door on request, hang personalized stockings prior to your arrival, and ensure that a grand piano is in your room for family caroling—provided you’re staying in one of the Towers Suites.
Details: From $359 per night; waldorfnewyork.com.
The Homestead, Hot Springs, VA
Western Virginia’s 483-room golf and spa retreat delivers one of the holiday’s finest displays, with more than 40 decorated trees spread across the property’s 3,000 acres. One staggering highlight is Executive Pastry Chef Michel Final’s Gingerbread Village, pieced together from 80 pounds of gingerbread, 110 pounds of candy, and 260 pounds of sugar.
Details: Annual festivities culminate with a Christmas Eve reading of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” and Christmas morning breakfast and photos with Santa. From $325 per night.
Congress Hall, Cape May, NJ
So what if it’s not beach weather. This Victorian seaside town entices visitors with trolley and walking tours, horse-drawn-carriage rides, and quaint streets awash in lights. Historic Congress Hall is no different, with nearly a dozen holiday-themed events. Along with caroling, a holiday shopping village, and kids’ activities like breakfast with Santa and story time with Mrs. Claus, the 108-room hotel is decked out with trees, wreaths, and garlands.
Details: Book the Walking in a Winter Wonderland package (now through December 30, 2012) for a ride aboard a heated trolley to see downtown’s light display, access to the hotel’s hot chocolate bar, and a holiday gift bag filled with goodies from the North Pole. From $158 per night.
Coeur d’Alene Resort, ID
With more than 1.5 million shimmering lights reflecting on the waters of Lake Coeur d’Alene, the Holiday Light Show at this 338-room resort is the largest of its kind in the country—accompanied this year by one of the world’s tallest living Christmas trees. At more than 160 feet tall, the tree is more than twice the size of the Norway spruce at New York’s Rockefeller Center.
Details: Board one of the Lake Coeur d’Alene cruise boats, which depart three times nightly, for the best views. The 40-minute excursion includes a visit to see Mr. and Mrs. Claus at their workshop. Rooms from $155 per night.
Madrona Manor, Healdsburg, CA
For more than 25 years, this romantic wine country inn has hosted a series of Dickens Dinners, five-course meals inspired by A Christmas Carol. Feast on hearty dishes like lobster shepherd’s pie and Christmas pudding with walnut praline and brandy cream, while the Twelfth Night Singers—carolers dressed in 19th-century garb—provide Victorian-era entertainment. After dinner, retreat to your room for a glass of wine; most of the inn’s 22 rooms have fireplaces.
Details: Meals are held nightly December 9–25—with two seatings on Christmas—and increase in price ($85–$125) as the holiday approaches, but guests receive 50 percent off their room the night they dine (rates start at $220 per night).
Taos Inn, Taos, NM
Christmas gets the Southwest treatment at this 44-room landmark adobe that often serves as the de facto town center. Holly and boughs adorn the banisters, a 30-foot-tall holiday tree towers in the lobby, and farolitos—small paper lanterns traditional to the area—decorate the exterior. Nightly music peppered with holiday tunes keeps spirits up in the Adobe Bar, as does a menu of coffee drinks. Most of the inn’s individually designed rooms feature adobe fireplaces for keeping up that warmth well into the night.
Details: Rooms from $120 per night.
Bedford Village Inn, Bedford, NH
Occupying the site of a former farm in New Hampshire’s Green Hills, Bedford’s 14-suite luxury inn looks like it came straight out of a holiday print by Currier and Ives. Each year, after Thanksgiving, local designers work their magic on a specific area or suite, transforming the entire property into a winter wonderland. Festivities include mother-daughter holiday teas and a prix fixe Christmas Eve dinner ($75, $30 for kids).
Details: From $197 per night; bedfordvillageinn.com.
Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, AZ
Scottsdale’s five-star Fairmont is hosting its second annual “Christmas at the Princess,” which calls for strolling carolers, outdoor animated light displays, and a four-story tree bedecked with 65,000 LED lights that perform a synchronized show to 10 songs. Santa will be on hand for fireside photos, but the most impressive photo-op may be by the lobby’s six-foot-tall gingerbread nutcracker. Events, including an artisan holiday gift mart, take place throughout December. And the resort’s first-ever Desert Ice Holiday Rink—outside in the Cactus Garden—will be available through early January.
Details: From $229 per night.
Outrigger Reef on the Beach, Honolulu
Waikiki’s recently refurbished 635-room hotel celebrates the holidays island-style with free guest workshops on creating Hawaiian ornaments and holiday cards, plus an employee gingerbread-house-making contest for spectators on December 17 and festive performances by students of local hula school Ka Hale I o Kahala on December 20. Kids can dine with Santa and have their photos taken with him December 18 and 19.
Details: Rooms from $209 per night; outrigger.com.
Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite, CA
The setting calls to mind a holiday greeting card: rugged mountains, majestic cedars, and the very real possibility of snow. For one-of-a-kind seasonal magic, reserve a seat at the Bracebridge Dinner: a formal seven-course meal and interactive show that’s celebrating its 86th season in 2012. More than 60 elaborately costumed, professional singers and performers enact a scripted 17th-century-style English banquet at which you’re the honored guests. Additional activities in the hotel’s Great Lounge include caroling and a Christmas Eve reading of The Nutcracker Suite.
Details: Bracebridge Dinner two-night package starts at $1,424 including the dinner and show, a professional group portrait sitting, and accommodations; dinner-only tickets are available for $299 (adults) and $230 (children 12 and under); room rates from $395 per night.