1. South Padre Island, Texas
Most people don’t think of Texas when they imagine white-sand beaches, sparkling blue water, and warm tropical temperatures. But a South Padre Island has all of that and more. This barrier island off the southern coast of Texas one of the hottest Spring Break destinations in the U.S. right now, but is a haven for families and those seeking refuge from cooler climates during the winter months.
On warm days, the Gulf of Mexico can be warm enough to swim in and on cooler days, the weather is ideal for exploring the Laguna Madre Nature Trail, a picnic in Isla Blanca Park, or a dolphin cruise.
2. Siesta Key, Florida
If you’re looking for a winter paradise in the U.S. in December, this is it. With glittering turquoise waters, white quartz sand, and amenities galore, Siesta Key offers something for everyone and has been voted the best beach in the world twice. It’s also the dry season in Florida, so rain will be scarce and the sun will be shining all day long.
Warm temperatures are perfect for paddle boarding or kayaking through Sarasota’s enchanted mangrove tunnels. Cooler weather also means a visit to Big Cat Sanctuary, a refuge for neglected and abused big cat species from around the world is in order. If you’re into art, the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art is a must-do.
It’s filled with 21 galleries of European paintings as well as Cypriot antiquities and Asian, American, and contemporary art. Famous artists represented include Rubens, Bernini, Finelli, Boudin, and more.
3. Savannah, Georgia
If you’re looking to escape the cold but not the holiday spirit, Savannah is the place to be. Throughout the month of December, there are holiday light shows, and musical and theatrical performances just about every day. Historic houses host events that let visitors see what Christmas in the South is all about. Stop by River Street to grab any last-minute gifts.
Take a tour on one of Savannah’s famous trolleys which will be decked out in holiday décor this time of year. If you need to get your beach fix in, head out to Tybee Island in the afternoon. If you’re lucky you might even spot some dolphins!
4. Orlando, Florida
If you love the magic of the holidays, Orlando in December is an absolute delight! With holiday-themed events happening at all the major theme parks, you’ll find everything decked out in lights and holiday finery.
Visit Walt Disney World’s Grand Floridian Resort to see a life-sized Victorian gingerbread house. At the Magic Kingdom, Cinderella’s Castle is dripping in icicle lights, and Mickey and Minnie march down Main Street U.S.A. during Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.
You can even see “snow” without being cold! Experience holiday traditions, décor, and food from around the world at Epcot’s International Festival of the Holidays.
Universal Studios is just as magical as its mouse-eared neighbor. If you’ve ever dreamed of seeing the Macy’s Day Parade in New York City, you’re in luck, you can see a version of it during the holidays at Universal Orlando. Harry Potter fans will love strolling through the tinsel-trimmed streets of Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade while sipping on butterbeer. Next door at Universal’s Islands of Adventure Dr. Seuss fans can enjoy the park’s “Grinchmas Wholiday Spectacular” and visit the Grinch himself.
Average December high temperature: 24 degrees Celsiusxas
If your goal is to vacation in shorts and a t-shirt in December, San Antonio is the perfect destination for you! The city’s most iconic neighborhood, the 2.5-mile River Walk is lit up for the holidays all month. With over 100,000 lights and more than 185 different caroling groups, it’s hard not to get in the holiday spirit.
If there’s one thing you have to do while in San Antonio in December, it’s making your own tamales. La Gran Tamalada offers the opportunity to make the favorite local holiday food hands-on in the Historic Market Square. Because of San Antonio’s warm climate, local theme parks are open year-round including Sea World and Six Flags Fiesta Texas.
6. Tucson, Arizona
With a dry, desert climate year-round, December falls right in the middle of the peak travel season in Tucson. Temperatures are perfect for exploring the surrounding desert or visiting local wildlife attractions. Celebrate the holidays with a western flair as events throughout the city put on holiday programs that bring you back to “Old Tucson.”
One of the most uniquely Tucson holiday things you can do on your vacation is to see The Nutcracker. Tchaikovsky’s classic holiday ballet takes you back to the Tucson of the 1880s. The Tucson Regional Ballet puts on a presentation of A Southwest Nutcracker each holiday season. Experience this holiday classic in a new as the ballet sticks to the original story but brings the tale to territorial Arizona, where coyotes, rattlesnakes, and a Western cavalry take center stage.
Average December high temperature: 18 degrees Celsius
7. Honolulu, Hawaii
If there was ever a perfect December destination, it’s Hawaii. You probably won’t need to pack anything warmer than a light sweater in case the evenings get a bit cool. Hawaii’s oceans are warm enough to swim in throughout the month and you won’t even need a wetsuit should you decide to pick up a surfboard. December is also the perfect time to see the poinsettia, the unofficial Christmas flower in bloom.
Check out the Honolulu City Lights display at the city hall, visit the holiday displays at the Polynesian Cultural Center, or catch Santa coming ashore at Waikiki Beach. Visiting in early December will be your best bet as Christmas week leading up to New Year’s Eve is the most expensive time to visit Hawaii all year.
8. San Diego, California
California’s southern coast is paradise during December. Beautiful beaches, the deep blue Pacific Ocean, and more nature activities than you could ever dream of. December is whale watching season in San Diego and the weather is still warm enough that you won’t be freezing out on the boat. Visit Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo, Coronado Beach, or La Jolla all in a t-shirt this time of year.
9. Miami, Florida
Miami is one of the most popular vacation spots in the world. It’s brimming with culture, cuisine, nightlife, and of course—beaches. Miami has it all and is a reputable respite for those seeking refuge from the colder temperatures. Only in Miami can you see palm trees decorated with Christmas lights, go to the beach in your bikini on Christmas Day, and run into celebrities taking a break themselves in Miami’s hottest night-time hangouts.
Of course, you can’t visit Miami in December without a visit to the world’s largest holiday theme park and carnival—Santa’s Enchanted Forest. Since the temperatures in December are cooler in Miami than most any other time of year, it’s the perfect time to stroll along the beautiful Art Deco District in South Beach. Prices during high season in Miami would turn anyone off, but a visit during the shoulder season in December means fewer crowds and more reasonable prices.
10. Palm Springs, California
Palm Springs is literally an oasis in the desert. The city is located in the Sonoran Desert in southern California and is famous for its hot springs, spas, golf courses, and high-end hotels. Many golf courses throughout the U.S. are covered in snow in December, but not in Palm Springs–golf season is just beginning.
If you’re not up for hitting the links, the area offers a multitude of hikes that draw visitors from all over the globe through the desert’s well-preserved landscape. Because the weather is cool enough to be outside during the middle of the day, farmer’s markets, festivals, art walks, and street fairs abound. If you’re really in the mood for a white Christmas, there’s a chance you’ll find it just a short tram ride away atop the nearby San Jacinto Mountains.