If you want ultimate relaxation, head to Kauai, where you can enjoy balmy weather that’ll have you dipping in the ocean and dozing off while reading a book on the beach. Winter is also the season for whale watching, since humpbacks migrate here to mate in the warm waters. It’s also a great time to catch some serious waves—the winter season boasts some of the year’s largest swells. Even if you’re not looking to paddle out, let the experienced and pro surfers give you a free show. During December, expect to see palm trees lit, fireworks over Poipu Beach, hear carols with ukulele, and enjoy events like the Annual Festival of Lights and the Waimea Christmas Parade. Find out everything you need to know before you book your next Hawaii vacation.
Key West, Florida
There is much to love about this funky southernmost city of the continental U.S. Though Hurricane Irma tore into it, the city continues to recover and is eager to welcome tourists to its typical high season destination, where pastel-hued, conch-style houses create a Caribbean-like feel. Go deep sea fishing aboard a large salon boat, or enjoy light tackle offshore fishing in a center console, to catch some marlin, sailfish, dolphin, tuna, kingfish, wahoo, and more. The temperatures are perfect for frolicking in the small waves, snorkeling, and leaving your down jacket at home. Key West’s infamous Duval Street is a must for lively restaurants, bars, and shopping. Be sure to go to the annual Lighted Boat Parade, the Holly Jolly Holiday Tour for a spectacular view of the island’s lights by trolley, and the Ultimate Christmas adventure, a day of water sports and a traditional holiday meal served on a gorgeous catamaran. Check out all the must-see stops for a quirky tour of the U.S.
Sunshine Beach, Australia
You don’t have to close your eyes and pretend it’s already summer in December; in Australia, it actually is! While you’re shoveling snow and defrosting your car, Aussies are enjoying outdoor concerts, golf tournaments, camping, hiking, and sunbathing at the beach. If you come during the holidays, you can expect Queensland to be packed with people, which can be fun for enjoying the local culture. But if you want a more relaxing vacation, check out the sleepy beach town of Sunshine Beach, where you can find great local surf breaks, and eclectic cafes, restaurants, and boutiques along Duke Street. Have Christmas Day lunch at the nearby Noosa Boathouse if celebrating the holiday on a floating restaurant sounds up your alley. Check out our list of luxurious private islands you can rent.
Sunny SoCal doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of differentiation between seasons, minus a slight temperature drop and the occasional chance of a raindrop. That’s what makes it a dependable warm winter getaway. The coastal city of San Diego does Christmas right, too. Check out the Hotel del Coranado’s many holiday offerings, including ice-skating by the sea, a polar bear tea, and nightly Jingle Roasts (beachside s’mores). Check out our favorite s’mores recipes, no fire required.
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Palm Springs, California
While temperatures climb above 100 in the summer, the weather hovers around 80 degrees come December. The mid-century meets contemporary atmosphere of Palm Springs makes for a mix of hipster and chic. Expect funky architecture, cool pools, and a stunning view of the San Bernardino Mountains to the north, the Santa Rosa Mountains to the south, by the San Jacinto Mountains to the west and by the Little San Bernardino Mountains to the east. Be sure to ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway for incredible views of the Christmas lights over the entire desert. The cutting edge restaurants are a dime a dozen. Another must is a visit to the WildLights at the Living Desert, where you can stroll through the Tunnel of Lights, ride the trackless train, and visit with Santa Claus among the zoo and botanical gardens.
Canary Islands, Spain
Having Christmas on island time strips away all the stress the season can create. The Canary Islands are a perfect option. Featuring more than 900 miles of coastline, you can unwind by the sea, explore the majestic volcanoes, or just relax under the sun. To celebrate Christmas time, sail from San Juan de la Rambla, Tenerife, to Santa Cruz de la Palma for a sensational display of fireworks and festivals.
Thailand, in general, has become highly popularized among travelers, with Bangkok one of the hottest cities. While the temperatures are scolding in the summer, you can expect upper 80s during November and December. Every large mall in the city gets decked out with Christmas decor; the enchanting fairy lights around the royal villa of Chitralada Palace feel even more festive than they do all year, and the best Christmas dinner is a river cruise called Chaophraya Cruise, which features a buffet of both Thai and Western food.
Miami always seems to be ahead of the curve with its nonstop energy. With their rich Latin culture, beautiful beaches, rooftop pool scene, Art Deco architecture, and booming culinary scene, it’s hard to get bored here. Come Christmas time, there are so many events to enjoy, like the Hip Hop Nutcracker outside of Miami in Fort Lauderdale, a Christmas-themed circus show called Cirque Dreams Holidaze, and The Miami Zoo’s annual holiday event Zoo Lights, featuring dozens of animal-shaped lights line the walkways, and 3D glasses. Find out the surprising answers to Christmas trivia questions.
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Though this island nation south of India in the Indian Ocean is beautiful all year long, December is especially beautiful with its sunshine and beaches. The culture, rich history, array of wildlife, and affordability make it a great warm-weather Christmas destination. Enjoy elephant spotting at Minneriya, Eco, and Kaudulla National Parks, whale watch off the coast of Mirissa, and visit the Quadrangle ruins. Also worth checking out: the 1,000-year-old, rock-cut Buddha figures of Buduruwagala and the indulgent 25-course Sri Lankan feast in Matale to celebrate Christmas Day.
Though warm-weather destinations may lack the snow, they typically don’t skimp on the festive decorations and holiday activities. The Cayman Islands get in the spirit with a Caribbean Santa, sporting shorts and flip-flops, and a reggae version of Jingle Bells. Take the Christmas Bus Tour of Lights for up-close views of the over-the-top decorated homes and complete with a traditional holiday feast that includes Christmas beef and Cassava Cake. The scuba diving opportunities are impeccable, and you can’t forget to go swimming with the stingrays at Stingray City.
An island chain located in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives stay at a balmy 80 degrees all year long. Enjoy sports, including surfing, water skiing, fishing, and windsurfing. Scuba diving and snorkeling will have you up close and personal with dolphins, whale sharks, sea turtles, and stingrays among the crystal clear blue waters. The Maldives also offer luxury bungalows extending over the water, inviting you to wake up and dive in—that’s why they make our list of the most beautiful underwater hotels. Many of the gorgeous resorts, hotels, and villas host exclusive Christmas parties and gala nights. There are special Christmas-themed cruise tours, and many exotic beach locations have musicians, singers, drummers, and fireworks.