San Francisco, CA
My home town San Francisco is renowned for holiday celebrations on a grand scale and this year’s holiday season will continue the tradition.
Personally, I love the most exciting “gift” the city gives to holiday revelers; a dramatic-lighting of the iconic Embarcadero Center, where each of the five striking buildings is outlined in twinkling lights.
At the center of this Waterfront holiday destination, Embarcadero Center features an outdoor Holiday Ice Skating Rink as well as over 100 retail stores and restaurants (embarcaderocenter.com) each of which offers their own brand of cheer.
Another favorite of mine, also complementary, is the amazing miniature snow village – with hundreds of small figures, Santa flying through the sky and skiers swooshing down snowy slopes in the lovely lobby of Hyatt Regency San Francisco.
You can’t miss the over-sized “snow globe” promising daily snowfall. The lobby is in its Guinness Book of World Records – the largest hotel lobby. As you stand and look up, you’ll be “wowed” by more than 300,000 cascading lights.
If you plan to make a getaway to the city-by-the-bay, Hyatt Regency San Francisco features a holiday ice skating package that starts at only $249 and includes valet parking, two ice rink tickets and accommodations for two. Visit sanfranciscoregency.hyatt.com/ for more information.
Newport Beach, CA
Celebrate the 106th Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade; the nation’s longest running lighted holiday boat parade, for five jam-packed nights from December 17-21, 2014. On opening night, comedic actress Leslie Mann and singer/actor Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray will reign as the first ever Grand Marshals for the parade. Hailed as one of the “World’s Best Christmas Parades” by Conde Nast Traveler and one of “Top Ten Christmas Happenings in the Nation” by the New York Times, Newport Harbor transforms into an illuminated wonderland. Over 100 vessels of all sizes are adorned from top to bottom with lights, decorations, moving displays, dancers, music and more! The theme this year is Deck the Hulls with Bows of Jolly.www.christmasboatparade.com
Charleston puts its own spin on the holidays, with pecans roasting instead of chestnuts, eggnog spiked with bourbon and choirs singing spirituals at Drayton Hall plantation.
For the ultimate in convenience, the 21-room Wentworth Mansion decks the halls 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.
Additionally, enjoy holiday dinner at Peninsula Grill, where chef Graham Dailey uses a fine selection of glazes and sauces, such as his grilled bourbon glazed jumbo shrimp and gives guests the option of sinfully grilled steak and sauce. Take your pick among blue cheese–balsamic glaze, red pepper béarnaise, foie gras–truffle butter or brandy-peppercorn sauce.
Santa Barbara, CA
During the winter months, the coastal towns in Santa Barbara County combine New England-style hospitality and old California elegance with outrageous holiday kitsch.
In Montecito, the 500-acre San Ysidro Ranch could be a Vermont hunting lodge (rooms have wood-beamed ceilings and stone hearths), except that it’s 20 minutes from world-class surfing at Rincon Beach.
For dinner, visitors will want to visit the casual ambiance at Stacky’s Seaside, which stands out like a grounded trawler. Enjoy fish and chips before hitting the Summerland Winery’s tasting room for a wine that shouldn’t work but does: a sparkling Zinfandel.
New England’s old-world ambience and coziness make Boston a natural choice for the holidays. Enjoy Beacon Hill’s cobblestoned streets dusted with snow and celebrate the ghosts of Christmases past with the Christmas Revels at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre.
For accommodations, check out the XV Beacon Hotel, which features a gas fireplace in every bedroom. The hotel boasts classic details like an antique cage elevator with bold abstract paintings and is just a few minutes away from Boston Common and Faneuil Hall.
Check out No. 9 Park, which serves over-the-top, shockingly good cuisine. The menu showcases French- and Italian-influenced dishes such as signature prune-stuffed gnocchi with foie gras and Vin Santo sauce. A selection of rich desserts and artisan cheeses rounds out the offerings.
Nashville is the most flamboyant ode to the holidays east of the Mississippi; “O Tannenbaum” is sung with a twang as honky-tonks share space with family values.
Visitors will want to stay at Gaylord Opryland, which features nearly 3,000 rooms and more than nine acres of enclosed gardens…and it’s no surprise that this property does Christmas in a big way. Two million lights shine in outdoor displays, while large-scale tributes inside range from campy to breathtaking. For those that prefer a quieter place, check into the 124-room Union Station, a refurbished train depot with a grand stained-glass ceiling in its lobby.
This mountain town serves up an old-fashioned holiday without the pre-conceived Aspen attitude. Explore Pueblo dwellings, take a brisk ski run down the slopes, or just curl up with a rum toddy in a true Western saloon.
Check out the Rochester Hotel, which pays homage to Durango’s cinematic past: each of the 15 rooms recalls a locally produced movie, from the Mexican-themed Viva Zapata suite to a Euro-style room called Around the World in Eighty Days. The grandly restored Strater Hotel houses the Diamond Belle Saloon, Louis L’Amour’s preferred watering hole.
For memorable dining, consider the Christmas Eve feast at Ken and Sue’s, an easygoing bistro. Try the pork loin medallions wrapped in applewood-smoked bacon with hot cider glazed–cabbage in a sweet molasses sauce.
This remote village on a high desert plain is especially magical at Christmas, thanks to its rich mix of cultural traditions. Not to miss: historic Ledoux Street all lit up with luminarias (paper lanterns); the ceremonial reenactments of Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter, called posadas; and the dramatic American Indian Christmas Eve celebration that takes over the main square in Taos Pueblo. Plus, visitors can ski all day long on Christmas Day at Taos Ski Resort, 18 miles away.
Near the town square, El Monte Sagrado Living Resort and Spa features objects from around the world in its spare, elegant rooms. Book a room with a fireplace to up the cozy factor.
Hungry? On twinkling Ledoux Street, the seven-table hideaway Byzantium offers a winter menu with dishes like shrimp ceviche and grilled pork scaloppine with apple, cabbage and mustard-seed compote.
Key West, FL
Good cheer and warm temperatures are typically Key West’s winning attributes and Christmas is no exception. The trimmed palm trees, done-up historic inns and four festooned blocks of boats along the historic waterfront (the “Bight Before Christmas”) only amplify the town’s merriment.
For accommodations, visitors will want to check into the boutique Marquesa Hotel, just off bustling Duval Street, which is an oasis of chill with three historic buildings and one sharing a leafy courtyard with two pools. On Christmas morning, a buffet breakfast is served poolside.
Dining out?! Check out the 1906 Victorian Manse’s Nine One Five’s holiday menu, which features tapas (bacon-wrapped dates; duck liver pâté) with entrées such as Soul Mama seafood soup and mushroom risotto.
The Windy City embraces yuletide cheer to the max, with a million holiday lights along bustling Magnificent Mile; Christkindlmarket, a huge outdoor German crafts market with beer and fare like sausages to stoke your fire; a towering handmade Christmas tree; and Navy Pier’s Winter WonderFest, a holiday-themed amusement park and indoor skating rink.
I’ve stayed at the tropical-themed Hotel Monaco Chicago, which is a Kimpton boutique property with verve and a sense of humor. I enjoyed its wild combo of lime and plum is eye-popping, and it’s a great value in The Loop.
Don’t miss the cozy wine-driven eatery, the Cellar at Bin 36, which is serving its creative, locally sourced menu on Christmas Day. Starter highlights like Applewood smoked bacon are followed by the likes of a cedar-plank salmon with beluga lentils and pork schnitzel with butternut squash spaetzle. Expert wine pairings are, of course, de rigueur.