Best Places to Travel in December
This eventful year is coming to an end, and a vacation might be the best way to bid farewell to 2020. If you’re a fan of winter activities anticipating snow, crisp temperatures, and a mountain getaway, think about Breckenridge, Colorado where you’ll find holiday festivities as well as great skiing. Also located in picturesque mountains with cozy places to enjoy winter weather, we have Lenox, Massachusetts in the Berkshires and Highlands in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.
If you prefer a summerlike climate for your end-of-the-year escape, consider Miami, Puerto Rico, or Los Cabos and picture yourself sunning on the beach or poolside with a cocktail in hand. The Hawaiian Islands are favorite winter destinations, and this month we’ve focused on Lanai and the Big Island. The Republic of Maldives also offers a number of socially-distant vacation opportunities in exclusive resorts or individual villas.
Closer to home for most of us, Palm Springs is mild in December and a great place for shopping or relaxing. Las Vegas is entertaining any time of year, and hotels, casinos, and restaurants are open with COVID-19 guidelines in place. Whatever your reasons for looking forward to the last month of 2020, I’m hoping you’ll end this year with a trip on your schedule.
These are the 11 best places to travel in December.
Related: More winter vacation ideas
Highlands, North Carolina
Set on a plateau in the Blue Ridge Mountains at an elevation of 4,114 feet, Highlands was founded in 1875 and named for its location. A popular mountain resort area in summer, Highlands is lovely in December with temperatures averaging in the 40’s with lows in the high 20’s, ideal for inspiring the holiday spirit and thoughts of cozy fireplaces. The quaint town is decked out with twinkling lights and festive decor, and shoppers head for boutiques, art galleries, and antique stores as well as the town’s award-winning restaurants. Outdoor activities continue in winter, and many trails take hardy hikers to waterfalls and scenic viewpoints. In the middle of downtown Highlands, the Old Edwards Inn and Spa, a historic European-style mountain resort, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The elegant Relais & Chateaux property’s accommodations include guest rooms, suites, cottages, and cabins as well as a full-service spa and fitness center. Enjoy the holiday decor at the Inn and start an annual tradition with the special Christmas Tree package that includes a tree from the local Tom Sawyer Christmas Tree farm and a dining credit. Just two hours away in Asheville, the Biltmore Estate is spectacular during the holiday season. Festivities begin November 6 and continue until January 10. This year’s popular Tree Raising Ceremony may be viewed online. Relax for the night in Asheville at The Foundry Hotel, a luxury boutique property built within the old foundry that forged the steel for the Biltmore Estate.
Temperatures in the mid 70’s, beaches, shopping, and a range of places to visit and things to do make Miami an ideal December vacation destination. Whether you’re looking for a pre-holiday getaway early in the month or a warm weather Christmas, you’ll find what you want in the Miami area. South Beach offers trendy hotels, white sand beaches, restaurants, cocktail lounges, and unmatched people watching. Or head to historic Coconut Grove in the heart of Miami for marina views, galleries, boutiques, sidewalk cafes, and a laid-back local feel. Visit Vizcaya Museum and Gardens to view the art collection and stroll through ten acres of gardens, forest, and shoreline. Miami’s many neighborhoods and hotels offer options from lively to secluded, formal to casual, and upscale to budget-friendly. In South Beach, The Betsy is dog friendly, and your pet can join you in the Lobby Bar to meet Betsy and Rosa, the hotel’s CEOs (Canine Executive Officers) who even have a beer named after them. The Setai, luxurious and perfectly located along the ocean in the historic Art Deco District, offers 87 guest rooms and 50 ocean suites. Acqualina Resort boasts three oceanfront pools and a variety of guestrooms. Among the many other hotel options are the Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove, W South Beach, and Novotel Miami Brickell, now offering a variety of specials, including a family road trip package.
The holiday spirit arrives in Breckenridge the first weekend of December with a festival of trees, twinkling lights, animated decorations, music, and lots of Santas, including the “real” one, who is said to carry a ripped handkerchief given to him by Mrs. Claus. The Riverwalk will feature decorated trees in various themes, and, while some events have been postponed or changed to accommodate COVID-19 guidelines, the holiday spirit will prevail. Snow is the main attraction for most winter visitors, and Breckenridge Ski Resort opens in mid-November with five peaks, 187 trails, 34 lifts, and new safety procedures in place. You don’t have to be a skier or snowboarder to enjoy winter in Breckenridge. There’s also snowshoeing, dog sledding, snowmobiling, sleigh riding, and fat tire biking. You can even stay warm amid the snow in a heated snowcat, touring forests, mountains, and an old mining cabin, or browse the shops and stop for a hot cocoa along Main Street. Stay in the heart of town at Gravity Haus Breckenridge, a boutique hotel at the base of Breckenridge Mountain with 60 rooms, dry sauna, soaking tubs, and family-style meals. Dryland Breck fitness and sports recovery center offers fitness equipment and training tools as well as class-based programs and open gym time. LOGE Breckenridge, dog friendly and conveniently located, offers modern rooms and a casual cafe.
Los Cabos, Mexico
Warm, dry weather with temperatures in the low 80’s and convenient flights from most cities attract travelers to this destination at the southern tip of Baja California Sur. It’s a perfect time of year, not only to escape chilly weather, but also to experience the arrival of whales on their annual migration from the Bering Sea. The warm seas around Baja are where they give birth and raise their young, preparing them for their journey north for summer. December is also ideal for water sports like surfing, kiteboarding, windsurfing, stand up paddleboarding, snorkeling, and diving. About two hours away, Cabo Pulmo National Park, a living coral reef, is home to marine life that includes colorful fish, whale sharks, dolphins, manta rays, and more. If relaxing poolside is your activity of choice, a range of luxurious hotels are there for you. The Four Seasons Resort Los Cabos at Costa Palmas is set on two miles of beachfront along the Sea of Cortez with your choice of six pools, golf, and a variety of activities. At the Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal, each room has its own private plunge pool, and their infinity pool appears to flow into the Pacific. Holiday festivities include a Christmas morning parade and visit from Santa Claus and his elves, and a folklore festival with mariachis. Another option is the all-inclusive, adults-only Marquis Los Cabos, with a luxe offer for ending the year in style. Private jet transportation on Amalfi Jets for two couples from New York or Los Angeles and three nights in an ocean view casita starts at $29,100 USD.
San Diego, California
A trip to San Diego is always right, whether you’re looking for a day at the beach, the zoo, or the museums of Balboa Park. Weather in December is not too hot, not too cold—with temperatures in the mid-60’s and cooler evenings. It may be a bit chilly for an ocean dip, but the beaches are still lovely for strolling, biking, or just enjoying the fresh air and scenery. Outdoor activities like hiking, golf, tennis, or exploring a new neighborhood are always fun in San Diego. Dine al fresco or taste a local brew at one of the city’s many breweries. The annual San Diego Bay Parade of Lights, a procession of about 80 decorated boats, will take place on December 13 and 20, with some adjustments as required by COVID-19 health guidelines. There’s never a shortage of things to do in San Diego. Likewise, there’s a myriad of options when it comes to places to stay. A classic, and a favorite of many guests who return year after year, is the Hotel del Coronado. Returning guests will notice something new—The Cabanas, 97 renovated guest rooms with private oceanfront terraces and firepits. Families love the mid-century modern cool Town and Country, with a new pool complex and ARLO dining spot. In the popular Gaslamp District, The Pendry boasts six dining and cocktail venues including a rooftop lounge. Away from downtown, the Rancho Valencia Resort and Spa features lush gardens and 49 luxurious casitas. Rancho Bernardo Inn, set on 265 acres in San Diego’s North County, includes a championship golf course, spa, and three pools. The Hilton San Diego Bayfront offers newly renovated rooms with both city and bay views.
Lanai and The Big Island, Hawaii
December is an especially beautiful time in Hawaii, so we’ll feature two of the islands: the smallest inhabited island and the largest. At this time, the 14-day quarantine is still in place, but travelers who qualify for the pre-travel testing program will have an alternative to quarantine. Several airlines have instituted pre-departure testing, so check with your airline as well as the state’s current guidelines. Visitors to Lanai will find rugged up-country ideal for exploring its secluded beaches and miles of dirt roads with a four-wheel drive vehicle. In historic Lanai City, shops, restaurants, galleries, and Dole Park provide a casual, local atmosphere. Visitors can choose an oceanfront stay at the luxurious Four Seasons Resort Lanai with golf at the Manele Golf Course, snorkeling, and dinner at Nobu or the Sensei Lanai, a Four Seasons Resort, set among pine-covered mountains with a wide selection of wellness facilities. A private consultation and personalized program can be arranged, and air travel from Honolulu on Lanai Air is included. Hawaii, the Big Island, is the youngest and largest of the Hawaiian Islands, where beaches, hiking trails, waterfalls, lava fields, and volcanoes await visitors. Volcanoes National Park includes two of the world’s most active volcanoes: Kilauea and Mauna Loa, frequently altering the geography of the area. The Four Seasons Resort Hualalai will debut extensive renovations beginning December 1, and the resort offers golf, beaches, and Kings Pond, where guests can swim among thousands of tropical fish. The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and newly-renovated Westin Hapuna Beach Resort also feature golf, secluded beaches, and a variety of activities.
Palm Springs, California
The sizzling desert summer is over, and moderate temperatures are just one of many reasons to visit Palm Springs in December. Shopping is a favorite pastime, and downtown is the perfect place to find holiday gifts for others — or for yourself. Clothing, art, home decor, accessories, books, and vintage finds make browsing fun. Hiking trails from easy to challenging provide not only a workout but also access to spectacular views of mountains, canyons, streams, and stunning rock formations. Speaking of views, it’s hard to top the scenery on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway as it takes visitors to the top of Mt. San Jacinto at an elevation of 8,516 feet. The Palm Springs Art Museum, Air Museum, and Sunnylands are more attractions to explore in the area. From luxurious resorts to casual motels, the Palm Springs area offers a variety of places to stay. The Villa Royale, a stylish boutique reminiscent of old Hollywood, is filled with striking art, antiques, and unique decor. Modern downtown Kimpton Rowan features a rooftop pool and several dining venues. If you’re nearby, look for the new “PS I Love You” sculpture, an Instagrammable spot, especially when you stand in for the “I.” The adults-only Dive is an intimate boutique with a French Riviera vibe. The LaQuinta Resort & Club, with casitas, suites, villas, and 41 pools is the setting for the upcoming season of “The Bachelorette.” One of the newest, Margaritaville Resort of Palm Springs, is set to open December 1 in a completely renovated property with a casual-luxe island feel, two pools, and tiki-hut inspired cabanas.
Republic of Maldives
This archipelago of around 1,200 coral islands is located in the Indian Ocean about 600 miles southwest of Sri Lanka. Only about 200 of the islands are inhabited, and a variety of resorts and liveaboards (local cruise ships) provide a range of options for visitors. Water sports of all kinds are popular activities, especially diving to see the marine life that includes manta rays, whale sharks, sea turtles among sea caves, tunnels, and shipwrecks. Cruising, snorkeling, surfing, fishing, and just lying on the beach admiring the clear, turquoise sea are other favored pastimes. Open to international visitors since July, the Maldives requires compliance with their procedures, and it’s suggested to check updated information as part of planning. Most of the islands feature just one resort, and many visitors recommend experiencing a few, traveling between islands by boat or seaplane. Vakkaru Maldives is a secluded reef island about 30 minutes by seaplane from Male International Airport. The Nautilus features 26 luxurious beach and ocean houses for a secluded stay. COMO Cocoa Island is a newly-renovated private island resort with 34 overwater villas in the South Male atoll. Siyam World, set to open in December on Noonu Atoll, is an all-inclusive resort offering overwater villas, many with private pools. The Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi is conveniently located a 40-minute yacht trip from Male International Airport. At Baros Maldives, guests can enjoy a socially-distant vacation in either a residence villa or water pool villa with its own private infinity pool and sun deck.
Less than four hours from New York and about two hours from Miami, Puerto Rico is a convenient and idyllic destination in December. Open to visitors with specific guidelines, Puerto Rico is recovering from both 2017’s Hurricane Maria and the travel restrictions imposed due to COVID. Puerto Rico’s resorts provide for socially-distant vacationing, along with both adventure and relaxation. The islands of Culebra and Vieques, just a short boat trip from the mainland, offer secluded beaches, unexplored areas, and stunning scenery. Culebra’s beaches are the starting point for snorkeling among barrier reefs, and on Vieques, the National Wildlife Refuge includes beaches, bays, mangrove forests, and trails for hiking and bird-watching. Kayaking in one of the three bioluminescent bays is a fascinating experience. In Old San Juan, visitors can stroll or take a free trolley to landmarks in the 500-year old city and stay at the historic Hotel El Convento dating to 1646. The Castillo San Felipe del Morro is a fortification that played an important role in Puerto Rico’s history and an interesting place to explore for both its history and views of the city. El Yunque Rainforest, about an hour from San Juan, offers hiking trails, waterfalls, and wildlife. Nearby, the Hyatt Regency Grand Reserve Puerto Rico is a family-friendly resort with an expansive lagoon-style pool and two championship golf courses. Two miles of secluded beach and newly-renovated rooms await guests at the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Puerto Rico Golf & Beach Resort. The luxurious Condado Vanderbilt, originally built in 1919 and restored with modern comforts, retains its original Spanish revival heritage.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Hotels, casinos, and restaurants as well as many attractions are open, and COVID-19 health and safety protocols are in place. Visitors will find fewer crowds this year, with conventions and groups limiting travel. The expansive Vegas buffets are a thing of the past, but over recent years, Las Vegas has become known for top restaurants with celebrity chefs and fine dining. A food tour can take you to some popular spots, or you can choose one that appeals to your taste. Among the latest to open is Majordomo Meat & Fish by David Chang. You may not plan to sit by the pool with December’s chilly weather, but it’s a great time to get away from the Strip and hike among the mountains and canyons in the area. Afterwards, treat yourself to a visit at the Canyon Ranch spa at The Venetian. The exciting High Roller Observation Wheel is open for a 30 minute ride with stunning views of the Strip. One of the most popular attractions is free and ideal for social distancing—the Fountains of Bellagio. Also at the Bellagio, the Conservatory and Botanical Garden will be decorated for the season. The Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas launched an “Elopement Package” that includes all the details and a two-night stay for couples ready to tie the knot. With many hotels to choose from, pick your favorite theme and take advantage of December deals at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, Caesars Palace, Harrah’s, Luxor, Wynn, or downtown hotels.
About three hours north of New York City, Lenox is a classic New England town in western Massachusetts. In winter, with temperatures in the 30’s, the atmosphere summons thoughts of a cozy fireplace after a day in the snow. Nearby slopes include Jiminy Peak, Butternut, Catamount, and Bousquet for skiers, and there are cross country and snowshoe trails as well. A year-round vacation area, popular in summer for concerts at Tanglewood, Lenox is home to the Norman Rockwell Museum and the Ventfort Hall Mansion and Gilded Age Museum with guided tours of the 1893 mansion. Author Edith Wharton’s historic home is also open for tours. Choose a wellness experience at the luxurious Canyon Ranch with a variety of personalized programs. Lenox’s newest inn, 33 Main, offers eight luxe guestrooms and a full gourmet breakfast daily. Or choose the intimate Gateways Inn, with eleven guestrooms. The Kemble Inn is on a quiet street in a Gilded Age mansion, just five miles from Bousquet Mountain. Set on 27 acres, the Seven Hills Inn was once a farmhouse built in the 1700’s. Historic properties, charming surroundings, and bracing December weather make Lenox in the Berkshires a delightful winter getaway.