By Randy Yagi
The busy holiday season has officially begun and if you’re still thinking of heading out of town, there is really no time to waste. But you might be procrastinating a little longer this year since you really don’t want to visit and stay at the same old places that you always do. If that’s the case, why not visit a hidden gem or other noteworthy city that’s guaranteed to be completely new and different? For a few places to consider, here are five of the best offbeat holiday destinations to visit this season in America.
Cooperstown, New York
Best known as the home to the world-renowned National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown clearly is deserving of its nickname as “America’s Most Perfect Village”, especially during its storybook-like holiday season. While this small village with a population of under 2,000 is unabashedly a baseball-centric destination, with family-owned baseball shops located all along its classic Main Street, there will be many other things to enjoy during the holidays, such as horse-drawn carriage rides, the Candlelight Evening at the Farmers’ Museum, Santa Express Trains at Cooperstown & Charlotte Valley Railroad and Wassailing Weekends, a demonstration of how to make the traditional holiday drink Wassail (hot mulled cider) at the must-see Fly Creek Cider Mill in nearby Fly Creek. Although there are several outstanding places to stay in historic Cooperstown, time is of the essence to make reservations at popular spots like the Cooper Inn, the Railroad Inn and the luxurious Otesaga Resort Hotel, located along the shores of scenic Otsego Lake.
Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin
With a population of just a tad under 1,000, Elkhart Lake might not instantly strike a potential visitor as an attractive destination for the holidays. However, this small village between Lake Winnebago and Lake Michigan is all but guaranteed to be as magical as any other better-known winter wonderland in America. Not only are there magnificent places to stay, such as Victorian Village Resort, Siebkens Resort and the elegant Osthoff Resort, there are several dining options that are noted for its fabulously inventive food, exceptional service and hospitality, including Lake Street Café, Back Porch Bistro and Lola’s on the Lake, among others. Adding even more to this completely enchanting year round destination are the seasonal presence of horse-drawn wagons, a delightful Old World Christmas Market and ice skating, as well as interesting in-town shopping at places like Nordic Accents and Vintage Elkhart Lake Wine Shop. As the largest and most famous of the local resorts, the AAA Four Diamond Osthoff Resort also offers craft workshops, the L’ecole de la Maison cooking school and world-class spa treatments at Aspira Spa, named the No. 2 among the Top 100 Spas in America for 2017.
Hot Springs, Arkansas
A popular spa destination since the 19th century, Hot Springs is about as perfectly named as an American city can get. Located about an hour’s drive from the state capital city of Little Rock, this lovely city within the Ouachita Mountains in West-Central Arkansas gets its name from its abundance of thermal waters. In fact, 47 of the hot springs resides along the city’s northern border at namesake Hot Springs National Park, the nation’s smallest national park and in some schools of thought, the oldest of the national parks system. Although daytime temperatures may average in mid-50s and even chillier at night during the holidays, visitors can stay warm by soaking in the hot spring waters from a number of bathhouses all within walking distance, including the 1920s-era Buckstaff Bathhouse and Quapaw Baths & Spa, located along the park’s historic Bathhouse Row. Additionally, visitors can enjoy the famed hot spring waters at selected lodging like Arlington Hotel and Spa and Hotel Hot Springs and Spa. Among the scheduled holiday events in Hot Springs are downtown holiday light display,the annual Christmas parade on December 6 and the Historic District Luminary Display in the Quapaw-Prospect Historic District on December 10.
Santa Claus, Indiana
This small town in Southwestern Indiana with a population of about 2,500 is clearly a destination to visit where it’s “Christmas year-round”. But of course, the town also known as “America’s Christmas Hometown” takes extra special importance during the holidays, with a number of Santa Claus-themed attractions open for business and the world’s only post office to bear the name of old St. Nick himself handling cards and letters from children from all over the world. Among the many family-friendly events going on during the holidays include the Santa Claus Land of Lights at Lake Rudolph Campground and RV Resort, writing letters to Santa at the Santa Claus Museum and Village and roasting chestnuts on an open fire and chatting online with “real” elves and Santa’s Candy Castle. In addition to the museum and castle, other last minute shopping ideas include the Santa Claus Christmas Store, Darlena’s Holiday and Gift Shoppe and Evergreen Boutique and Christmas Shop. While it seems impractical to camp or possibly RV during the winter at Lake Rudolph, the resort also offers vacation cabin rentals and holiday cottages. Other suggested lodging in and around Santa Claus include Santa’s Lakeside Cottages, Santa’s Lodge and Saint Meinrad Archabbey Guest House and Retreat Center.
Santa Rosa, California
Located about an hour’s drive from the Golden Gate Bridge, the North Bay city of Santa Rosa isn’t exactly what one would necessarily describe as offbeat. On the other hand, there has never been a time more important and more extraordinary to visit the county seat of Sonoma County and largest city in the California Wine Country. Named after the first patron saint of the Americas, Santa Rosa is poised to open their doors to the many holiday visitors who can enjoy a number of holiday events, including the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens Holiday Open House in early December, the Artisan Craft Faire and Holiday Festival, a performance of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” at the 6th Street Playhouse, and in nearby Rohnert Park, Handel’s Messiah at Green Music Center’s Weill Hall, with additional holiday events possibly scheduled at leading attractions like the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, Safari West and the beloved Charles M. Schulz Museum. Lastly, many hotels, wineries and other businesses will be open during the holiday season with regularly updated information available through through the city’s tourism site or through Sonoma County Tourism.