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This winter, treat yourself to a holiday trip that feels luxurious without having to venture very far. Thanks to its diverse landscapes and climates, the Golden State is a traveler’s paradise, so you can find a new place to discover no matter where you live in California. Stay close to home while exploring vibrant cities, relaxing on white coastlines, or losing yourself in undiscovered terrain.
Ask yourself: This holiday trip, what am I seeking? Whether your answer is a secluded hike in a lush forest, a busy weekend in a buzzing city, or a beachside retreat, you can find what you seek this season in the Golden State. Pack your California gear, because it's time to journey to the best winter holiday destinations now.
The Best Family Holiday Destinations
Yosemite National Park
One of California’s most popular natural getaways encompasses 1,200 square miles of pure beauty. With towering waterfalls, ancient trees, and impressive yet intimidating cliffs, Yosemite National Park is the awe-inspiring haven of your dreams. At the park, you can get in a workout by going on a guided hike through the High Sierra or by climbing up Half Dome. Once you’ve hiked your heart out, take a break at the Merced River and enjoy a light snack.
The park also boasts plenty of miles of trails worthy of cross-country skiing—slide down the hills with the kids as you pass giant sequoias. Complete your family winter vacation with a stop at Tuolumne Meadows Grill to devour hearty dishes. After a day spent traversing the vast wilderness of Yosemite, cozy up in a cabin in the woods; book an entire cabin at Curry Village for a family trip full of fun activities.
Lake Tahoe’s sheer beauty is a thing of mystique and intrigue, making this alpine region one of the best family holiday destinations. While the majestic getaway boasts some of California’s top ski resorts as well as snowy slopes perfect for winter sports, Tahoe offers much more than that.
Winter visits are extra special, thanks to the sleigh rides taking you through the valley. For an additional touch of mystical charm, hike to Vikingsholm Castle found right on the shores of Emerald Bay. You can also take the youngsters on an unforgettable Squaw Aerial Tram ride. Book your 2020 family holiday cabin through Marmot Vacation Rentals by Vacasa—one of the best places to rent a cabin in California.
The Best Places To Go In December
An idyllic destination year-round, San Diego is always a good idea for a holiday vacation. America’s Finest City boasts 70 miles of pristine coastline, beckoning to locals and visitors alike. Sunseekers will savor their San Diego getaway—the delish Mexican cuisine and vibrant Gaslamp Quarter seal the deal. Spend a day at the world-renowned Balboa Park, where you can wander through 1,200 acres of natural beauty. Then, visit the longest-serving aircraft carrier at San Diego's Embarcadero; the USS Midway Museum offers self-guided tours.
You can also pay tribute to California’s first European settlement in Old Town San Diego, making sure to stop and observe the historically significant buildings at San Diego State Historic Park. For an extraordinary sushi experience at the end of the day, dine at Taka Restaurant. Live life luxuriously and spend your evenings at the Hotel Fairmont Grand Del Mar.
Only 15 miles away from Los Angeles, Santa Monica is a dreamy coastal town, especially if you're looking for romantic winter getaways. The picture-perfect city is home to numerous restaurants, retail stores, hotels, and attractions to keep you and that special someone entertained all weekend. Learn about the local history at the California Heritage Museum before strolling on the Santa Monica Pier with your boo; the pier is a wonderful place to catch the sunset, people watch, and ride the carousel. Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade will leave shopaholics lovestruck—it'll be hard to leave.
You can also take a scenic drive to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, where endless outdoor activities await. Trek the 2.2-mile Bark Park Trail for a swift one-hour out-and-back hike suitable for all skill levels (and dogs!). Take a rest in the evenings at the elegant Shutters On The Beach, which is located only six minutes away from Tar and Roses, where fabulous food is waiting.
The best Christmas vacations
San Francisco attracts visitors from around the world year-round, but it shines bright in the winter and is one of the best Christmas vacation destinations. Spending a weekend in S.F. is bound to get you in the holiday spirit. The skyscrapers are festooned with lights while the towering Christmas tree in Union Square attracts locals and visitors alike.
Aside from the holiday cheer, San Francisco offers numerous cultural attractions, vibrant neighborhoods, picturesque views, and top-notch eats. There’s no shortage of activities to keep you busy during your visit, even if you’re in need of a place to travel in December on a budget—believe it or not, there are several free things to do in S.F.
Cross the Golden Gate Bridge and relax at Golden Gate Park before escaping to Alcatraz Island to learn more about the prison’s most gruesome stories. Or, stay in the bustling city center to explore high-end retail stores, ride the cable cars, and enjoy rooftop dining. Book a suite at the Taj Campton Hotel right on Union Square for a luxury family holiday.
As the rest of the world zips up their coats, take yours off at one of California's warmest places. Palm Springs is a must-visit during December and the perfect California desert escape. Take in the soaring views of the landscape from the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway as you ride the way to the top of San Jacinto Peak—well, almost to the top.
If you're in the mood to see more natural beauty, visit the Moorten Botanical Garden and discover the local flora and fauna across the acre of land; an hour's walk will take you through different desert environments with your kids. Can't get enough? Visit the Sunnylands Center and Gardens. Located near Rancho Mirage, this historic estate was once the winter residence of philanthropists Walter and Leonore Annenberg. Top off your Southern California winter vacation with a round of golf at Escena Golf Club.
For the best Christmas light shows, check out RoboLights, the largest residential holiday light exhibition in the country. You'll surely get in the Christmas spirit with more than eight million lights brightening your night. Book one of the gorgeous rooms at The Willows Palm Springs for the ultimate splurge this holiday season.