Top 10 Holiday Events for the Family

Start the holiday season with these fun top family activities including concerts for the kids, a train ride with Santa and chocolate-making demonstrations.

It’s easy to get caught up in the stress of the winter holidays—the pressure to cook, shop, wrap gifts, entertain, and the list goes on. With all the activities, it’s vital to make sure you schedule in some family fun time. After all, that is what the holidays are really all about, right? Here are some of our favorite holiday events (presented in no particular order) that can make great family traditions and memories. Whether glittering lights or caroling is your thing, one of these seasonal fests are sure to put you in a jolly mood.

1. New York City
The Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular (running through Dec. 30) celebrated its 75th anniversary last year. This should be on everyone’s holiday to-do list to see it at least once. The world-famous Radio City Rockettes, with their signature kicks and precision choreography are amazing, and the live Nativity scene is simply over the top.

2. Boston
The Boston Pops isn’t only about performing its famous Fourth of July concert. Its very popular Holiday Series conducted by Keith Lockhart (Dec. 11 to 28) includes 32 pre-and post-Christmas evening and matinee concerts. Six concerts designated for kids include a sing-along and a visit from Santa.

3. Chicago
The Winter WonderFest at Chicago’s Navy Pier (Dec. 5, 2008 to Jan. 4, 2009) offers a staggering 170,000 square feet of indoor holiday activities that include an ice skating rink, a Ferris wheel, train rides, art activities, performances and, of course, a visit from the “man in red.”

4. Baltimore
The Holiday Festival of Trains (Nov. 28 to Dec. 30) at the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum features special model railroad layouts, plus holiday crafts and Christmas stories. On the weekends, take a 25-minute train ride with Santa (through Dec. 21).

5. Cleveland
The Candy Wonder Land exhibit (Nov. 22, 2008 to Jan. 4, 2009) at the 424-acre Penitentiary Glen Reservation lets you play on a life-sized game board inspired by the childhood favorite game. You’ll pass the Peppermint Woods, cross over the Gumdrop Mountains and travel through the Lollipop Forest. Kids can make a gingerbread-man craft at the end.

6. San Francisco
The Great Dickens Christmas Fair (Nov. 29 to Dec. 21) at the Cow Palace celebrates its 30th anniversary of turning part of San Francisco into Victorian London. Stroll through lanes of “shoppes,” look for characters from A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby, and catch a Punch & Judy puppet show, among other myriad entertainment. Sporting a period costume is encouraged.

7. Newport
Christmas in Newport (Dec. 1 to 31), started 38 years ago to celebrate a bygone era. Now it’s a time when the historic city gets even more dressed up than usual. Visit the famous Gilded Age mansions, former homes to Astors, Vanderbilts and the like, which are decked in holiday decorations. Enjoy lantern tours of the city, caroling, reenactments and much more.

8. Alexandria
Christmas at Mount Vernon (Nov. 28, 2008 to Jan. 6, 2009) features a Christmas camel like the one that George Washington had during Christmas 1787. View a dozen themed trees, historical chocolate-making demonstrations and 18th-century dancing. You can also meet Mrs. Washington.

9. Branson
The Branson Area Festival of Lights 2008 (Nov. 1 to Dec. 31) is just one of dozens of holiday offerings found in Branson. Drive one mile along a path illuminated with hundreds of displays and literally millions of twinkling lights. Read more about this Branson celebration. [Read A Branson Christmas for more information on spending the holidays in Branson.]

10. Phoenix
The 17th annual Zoolights features a giant sculpture of an orangutan, ringed with lights, which greets you as you enter the zoo, and things just get wilder as you roam about the zoo grounds. There are more than 400 light sculptures, from small stars to life-sized elephants, glowing with more than two million lights. Carousel, wagon and camel rides are also available.

Destinations: Phoenix, Boston, Baltimore, New York City, Newport, Alexandria, Chicago, Branson, Cleveland, San Francisco

Themes: Family Travel

Activities: Arts and Entertainment, Sightseeing