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Newport, Rhode Island
Gilded Age mansions flamboyant beyond belief—America’s castles and palaces—dressed in holiday finery and giant evergreens offer gossipy tours about former residents like the Vanderbilts and Doris Duke. Beechwood hosts a formal Victorian dinner circa 1891, murder mysteries, and a Christmas concert. The harbor and 18th-century neighborhoods like The Point and Historic Hill are illumined by candle-like clear bulbs,and the December calendar is chock-full of lantern-lit tours, storytelling, The Nutcracker, and frequent concerts. There’s also an exquisite collection of B&Bs. Santa Fe, New Mexico
The smell of pinon in the crystal-clear, cool desert air; the blend of Hispanic, Native American, and Anglo traditions; and the eternal question of whether your meal should be served red, green, or “Christmas” style—i.e., with both red and green chile sauce—make for a memorable holiday. Carols are sung and cider is served at Santa Fe Plaza, illuminated by 1,000 sand-filled paper bags, on Christmas Eve. Gallery-lined Canyon Road makes for a delightful stroll. A Spanish Colonial art, silver, and furniture market occurs mid-December, while Native American dances are performed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the day after at pueblos nearby. While in the artsiest small city in the United States, be sure to visit museums like the fabulous Museum of International Folk Art and the New Mexico History Museum. Check out 14 museums and monuments for $25 with the CulturePass. Ski resorts and golf courses are nearby. Charleston, South Carolina
A jewel-like historic district boasting more than 3,500 18th- and 19th-century houses, plus spiritual concerts, house and garden tours, craft demonstrations, and storytelling about Lowcountry Christmas traditions that were created over the centuries at plantations like Middleton Place, Drayton Hall, and Magnolia Plantation make for a gracious Southern holiday. A progressive dinner takes guests to three historic inns by horse-drawn carriage. If you have the family in tow, check out the Festival of Lights featuring millions of sparkling lights, Santa’s Village, and nightly train rides through an Enchanted Forest housed inside a state park.