There’s something to be said for a stereotypical Thanksgiving experience: a big meal with family, some football on TV, maybe a little bit of shopping after the turkey wears off. But what about taking advantage of the long holiday weekend to travel? Whether you want to make a family trip an annual Thanksgiving tradition or you just want to do something different this year, there are plenty of places that are great Thanksgiving destinations.
These Thanksgiving destinations still mark the day with turkey dinners and harvest decorations, and many hold parades or holiday-related events. So even if you decide to hit the road this year, you won’t miss the Thanksgiving-related celebration entirely — unless you want to.
Tropical Thanksgiving in St. Augustine, Florida
In most of the country, the temperature is cold on Thanksgiving, so a vacation in a warm weather destination is compelling. St. Augustine, on Florida’s East Coast, not far from Jacksonville, certainly fits the warm-weather bill. Some historians say the first feast shared by European settlers and Native Americans took place when Spanish explorers were fed by members of the Timucua tribe five decades before a similar party took place in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Whether you want to enter the “who had the first Thanksgiving” debate or not, St. Augustine is a worthwhile November destination. Its downtown boasts a historic ambiance, there are plenty of accommodations right along the beach, and the best local restaurants put on a Thanksgiving Day spread, although reservations usually are required.
Island Thanksgiving in Hawaii
During peak vacation times, Hawaii’s resorts and hotels are very crowded, and that is why a Thanksgiving vacation in the 50th state is worthwhile. November is one of the slowest months for tourism on the islands. Yes, Thanksgiving week does bring an uptick in the number of arrivals from the mainland, but outside of the main areas like Waikiki, it is still relatively quiet. And quieter means cheaper. Thanksgiving hotel rates are at least $100 lower, on average, than the prices for the same rooms over the Christmas/New Year stretch.
Besides the cheap hotels and quiet atmosphere, Hawaii hosts some interesting events during Thanksgiving week. The Maui Invitational college basketball tournament is a big draw, while the Vans World Cup of Surfing is held on Oahu’s legendary North Shore during and after Thanksgiving (depending on conditions). Holiday travelers who stay near the coast on Maui may catch a glimpse of humpback whales, who migrate through the area in November.
Midwestern Thanksgiving in Chicago
Like New York City, Chicago has a huge menu of Thanksgiving options. One reason to opt for a vacation in this Midwestern metropolis: Many of the weekend’s biggest attractions are free. In addition to the Christmas tree lighting on Thanksgiving Eve and a parade on downtown’s State Street on Thursday, Millennium Park has holiday celebrations, decorations and ice skating.
Few places are better on Black Friday than downtown’s so-called Magnificent Mile, at least for window shopping.The city’s museums, such as the Chicago Institute of Art, are open on Friday to provide an alternative to the retail rush.
Living history Thanksgiving in Plymouth
The story of the origin of Thanksgiving takes place in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Thanksgiving traditions can be traced back to a colonial-era narrative that was set here. Today, the Plimoth Plantation, a replica 17th century town, celebrates Plymouth’s place in American and Thanksgiving history. The town also has a replica of the Mayflower and a native American home site. These places are heavily invested in providing a living history experience to visitors. Actors in period costumes (pictured) can be seen on the streets of Plymouth itself and in the aforementioned sites.
Holiday travelers can certainly choose to spend the whole weekend in Plymouth, or they can take their history-themed vacation to nearby Boston to tour important colonial era sites like Faneuil Hall and the State House.
Big city Thanksgiving in New York
It might seem like a bit of a cliche to travel to New York City for Thanksgiving, but there is so much going on during the long weekend that it is always going to be a destination worth considering. The list of possibilities is almost endless: the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, shopping in Midtown Manhattan, eating Thanksgiving dinner at one of the city’s restaurants, ice skating in Rockefeller Plaza.
Best of all, all the usual New York attractions are still there, so while everyone else is focused on shopping, parades and ice skating, you can visit the museums (a few are open on Thanksgiving, and all are open on the weekend), stroll through Central Park or head to Staten Island’s Greenbelt Nature Center to take part in the annual 2.5-mile Day After Thanksgiving Hike.
Ski Thanksgiving in Tahoe
For ski and snowboard enthusiasts, the long Thanksgiving weekend is the perfect time to hit the slopes for the first time during the season. From Colorado to California, ski resorts open up during the second half of November. Many have enough snowfall that they don’t need to rely on artificially made snow by this time of year.
Lake Tahoe is an ideal destination for an early season ski vacation. Resorts like Squaw Valley and Heavenly have plenty of snow on the ground by Thanksgiving. After spending time on the slopes, skiers can head to one of the restaurants near the lake for a turkey dinner.
Southwestern Thanksgiving in Santa Fe
Santa Fe is not one of the traditional Thanksgiving destinations, but people who love art, food and history will enjoy a stay here. The heart of the Southwestern art scene is in Santa Fe, so gallery visits and stops at places like the Winter Indian Market (open every weekend after Thanksgiving Day) are all-but-required for art-loving tourists. Thanksgiving is also opening weekend at Ski Santa Fe, the local ski resort, which is located outside of the city.
Santa Fe also has an exciting dining scene. You might not be able to find much in the way of traditional turkey dinners, but there are skilled and creative chefs in the city who create delicious Southwestern takes on the traditional meals.
Vineyard Thanksgiving in Napa Valley
Many wineries in Napa Valley are closed on Thanksgiving, but the Napa Wine Train is operating for both lunch and dinner, and tasting rooms reopen early on Friday. The crowds are rather light in the valley during this time of year even though the autumn colors are quite beautiful.
The city of Yountville has a holiday celebration on the day after Thanksgiving. It includes lighting displays throughout the town, live music, wine tasting and carriage rides. Napa, meanwhile, has its own Christmas parade on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Hurricane season is winding down in the Caribbean, so late November is an ideal time to go on a cruise, especially if you can extend the four-day weekend into a week or two of vacation time.
Most large ships will serve Thanksgiving dinner to mark the holiday. Some boats, such as Disney Cruise’s new Fantasy, will actually have Thanksgiving-themed trips. Fantasy’s Thanksgiving Very MerryTime cruise will depart from Florida at the beginning of Thanksgiving week. The Royal Princess, from the Princess Cruises fleet, will take a more subtle approach, decorating the ship with Thanksgiving and autumn accents.
Texas Thanksgiving in San Antonio
San Antonio is a great place to enjoy Thanksgiving celebrations that have a unique flair. The city’s downtown Riverwalk area is lit with holiday lights and a boat parade takes place on the water on the day after Thanksgiving. During the parade, more than two dozen illuminated barges make their way slowly down the river. There is live music and appearances by local celebrities. Some restaurants along the water offer dinner packages during the parade.
To provide an alternative to shopping on Black Friday, the San Antonio Museum of Art holds a “free day” on the day after Thanksgiving. Other area attractions such as Seaworld San Antonio host holiday-themed celebrations as well.