The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has put a damper on many travel plans and caused families to rethink everyone from different locations all gathering together in one place. With traditional Thanksgiving travel arrangements upended, there’s a surprising silver lining in the chance to rethink Thanksgiving as travel vacation holiday. If you’re kicking around the idea of a Thanksgiving vacation, this short article is geared especially for you. We’re profiling some great US travel destinations where you can relax this holiday and not feel like you’re missing all the things that make Thanksgiving such a special time of year.
Table of Contents
1. Plymouth, Massachusetts
2 Santa Barbara, California
3 New York City, New York
11 Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Grand Teton National Park
Journey to where it all began and spend your Thanksgiving in historic Plymouth, Massachusetts. All throughout November this quaint New England town rolls out an extraordinary celebration that harkens back to the original celebration with the Pilgrim colonizers and the Native Americans. Visit the Pilgrim Hall Museum, the National Monument to the Forefathers, and see Plymouth Rock. If there’s one place where’s impossible to ignore the significance of Thanksgiving, it has to be Plymouth.
Tucked along a narrow strip of land between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains, Santa Barbara’s refreshing climate and lovely beachfronts have earned it the moniker as America’s Riviera. Dotted with iconic Spanish colonial-era architecture, Santa Barbara is a fantastic stop when traveling along famed Route 101. The region’s Mediterranean-like climate means plenty of warm weather and sunshine. The Pacific waters will welcome you with their cool embrace and you can stretch out your blanket along the sands at East Beach. Part of the continuous waterfront, East Beach unfolds over roughly a mile. Santa Barbara sparkles with lots of architectural gems spread out around the city. Start your tour where it all began, at the Santa Barbara Presidio. The original Spanish colonial fortification is a great place to unpack some of the region’s history. Not far away is the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. This is a good place for families. Kids will enjoy learning about the region’s wildlife and ecosystems. The museum features a butterfly exhibit and planetarium as well. Finally, it’s only a short drive to reach Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, a sprawling natural reserve set on some 78 acres and featuring over 5 miles of attractive walking paths, a Japanese tea garden, and lovely exhibits of wildflower arrangements.
The Big Apple is a classic Thanksgiving destination best associated with the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. This year because of the ongoing pandemic, parade organizers have dramatically altered the format. Thankfully the tradition will continue; however, it will not be the same parade. At the time of writing, Macy’s has not yet announced final details. What is known is that the performances and activities will be spread out to allow for adequate physical distancing. If you’re planning to travel to New York for Thanksgiving, you can forego trying to wedge yourself into the crowds along Central Park West or 6th Avenue. Instead, get into the holiday spirit by visiting those other iconic landmarks that make New York City such a wonderful destination. Do some shopping in SoHo or take a lovely walk through Central Park. Museum hours will vary depending on the location so make sure to check ahead on this front. Given the paucity of tourists coming in, hotels around New York are offering fairly good deals. Search around a bit and chances are you might find something you wouldn’t normally consider. Also give yourself a chance to explore outside of Manhattan. There’s a lot going on in Brooklyn and Queens these days. Now is a good time to visit New York City.
Disney World no doubt comes to mind when one hears mention of Orlando. While the famous park is certainly a draw, it’s far from the only reason this city is an attractive Thanksgiving destination. To be sure, you’ll want to book ahead and look for Disney deals online as a way to cut down on entrance fees. Same goes for Universal Studios. Don’t neglect a visit to Downtown Orlando, where you can find some wonderful recreation and places to enjoy the Florida sun. Visit Lake Eola Park or one of the city’s many other greenspaces. Orlando’s diverse restaurants and local eateries are a testament to its proud counterculture tradition. The city has long welcomed LGBTQ community members and boasts a strong civic pride. The Orlando Science Center and the Mennello Museum of American Art anchor an exciting set of civic institutions that provide a cost effective alternative to shelling out for the big amusement parks. At the very least they’re a great addition to a couple of days spent at Disney and Universal Studios. Another popular thing to do is head over to Cape Canaveral. Explore the Space Coast and tour the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. You will need to purchase your tickets online and in advance. This is a great destination for the whole family with lots of excellent exhibits profiling the history of the US space program.
Hawaii is America’s tropical paradise and traditionally, Thanksgiving is outside the state’s peak travel season. Prospective visitors will find this an advantageous time to scout for deals on various hotels and attractions. Lush green landscapes, black volcanic beaches, and world class surf breaks sound fantastic any time of year. Destinations in Hawaii are served by most US domestic air carriers as well as many foreign carriers. The capital Honolulu has the state’s largest airport and will offer the best options. One thing that’s different now is the requirement that arriving passengers carry proof of a negative test result for COVID-19. Travelers who have not been tested are obliged to undergo a 14-day quarantine. Tests should be performed by approved testing providers and must be a so-called PCR test. Antigen tests that detect previous exposure to COVID-19 are not sufficient. Once you get to Hawaii you’ll have your choice of amazing adventures including searching out waterfalls on Kaua’i, whale watching off Maui, urban excitement in Honolulu, or hunting for volcanoes on the Big Island. With a well-developed tourist infrastructure and easy connections to the mainland and cities abroad, Hawaii is the ideal getaway. If it’s not a destination you would normally consider during Thanksgiving, 2020 might just be the year you change things up a bit.
Lake Tahoe has a justly deserved reputation as a great natural recreation area. The picturesque scenery will let you appreciate all the region has to offer. A series of small communities ring the lake, with the two most prominent being Incline Village on the Nevada side and South Lake Tahoe on the California side. Both communities offer good choices for accommodation and each features access to nearby ski resorts, which may be open depending on weather conditions. Make sure to give yourself time to enjoy the majestic vistas and beautiful lakeside. Hiking and camping are popular in many places. Alternatively, you can opt to stay in nearby Carson City or Reno. Both provide easy access to either Incline Village or South Lake Tahoe. In Reno, the city’s iconic neon and glamor remain and are joined now by a revitalized midtown filled with breweries, trendy restaurants, and sheik cafes. Young people have moved in and opened tattoo parlors, vintage clothing shops, and other establishments catering to this new demographic. The energy and vibrancy they bring have allowed Reno to reinvent itself while staying largely true to its gaming roots. Staying in Reno is a good way to combine the fun and excitement of a gaming city with the natural wonders on offer at Lake Tahoe. Not a bad way to spend Thanksgiving.
If natural landscapes, pleasant weather, and an artistic touch sound appealing to you, consider trendy Santa Fe. This is another great destination in the Southwest and the home of renowned American painter Georgia O’Keeffe. O’Keeffe immortalized the Desert Southwest in various works over her long career. Pay a visit to the Georgia O’Keeffe museum before exploring the nearby Manitou Galleries and the New Mexico Museum of Art. Andrea Fisher Fine Pottery, located on West San Francisco Street, displays a range of amazing works available for purchase. The Gib Singleton Museum of Fine Art showcases works focused on the American West alongside rotating exhibitions dedicated to modern art. Nearly a dozen additional small galleries and spaces are set throughout town. No matter how you slice it, Santa Fe is a city for the arts. The small town feel on offer is also quite appealing, especially if you’re anxious to avoid large urban areas. Traditional Pueblo-style architecture adds another layer of rich creativity to the city. You’ll find lots to enjoy while out exploring either the natural scenery, the dynamic arts scene, or the iconic architectural designs. In terms of Thanksgiving destinations, this is one place to consider if you’re looking for the right mix of relaxation and excitement. Thanksgiving is a great time to explore the Southwest.
Las Vegas is a town with something for everyone. Amazing natural landscapes in Red Rock Canyon. Monumental engineering at the Hoover Dam. How about big name stars performing nightly in Las Vegas shows? And of course, there’s the glitz and glamor of the world’s swankiest casinos. South Las Vegas Boulevard, known simply as “The Strip,” is where you’ll find all the best casinos and entertainment in Las Vegas. Everyone is going to spend at least some time along the Strip. During its heyday, Downtown Las Vegas was where the action happened. Today, you can still experience this legacy at the Fremont Street Experience. Once known as Glitter Gulch, this is where classic casinos like the Golden Nugget and the Horseshoe resided. The National Atomic Testing Museum documents the history of US nuclear testing in an effort to educate people on the legacy of nuclear deterrence and geo-political history. Las Vegas is also smack in the middle of some of the most incredible natural landscapes in the entire United States. Failing to explore these wonders is borderline criminal. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is easily reachable by car or with one of the many tour operators in town. If you’re wanting to take a vacation this Thanksgiving and aren’t quite sure what to do, give Las Vegas a try. You’ll be glad you did.
It’s easy to fall in love with the Bay Area. Anchoring Silicon Valley, San Francisco is full of dynamism and youthful energy. Entrepreneurs conjuring up the next big computing revolution inhabit the city’s co-working spaces. High-rises in SoMA and the Financial District buzz with activity during the day. In the evenings, San Francisco lets its hair down. The arrival of happy hour unleashes a second burst of energy as eager beaver office types flock to restaurants and pubs, carrying on conversations deep into the night. Gazing out on a skyline encompassing San Francisco Bay, it’s hard not to be inspired. The city’s numerous sights include the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. Spend some time wandering around the Presidio or take a ferry tour that will sail you under the bridge and back. Land’s End Lookout is a fantastic place to catch the sunset over the deep blue waters of the Pacific. Stretch your legs in Golden Gate Park where you can visit the San Francisco Botanical Garden, the de Young Museum, and the California Academy of Sciences. Opening hours are variable now during the pandemic so make sure to check ahead. Finally, don’t miss the great places to eat in Chinatown before checking out some of the city’s trendy rooftop bars scattered throughout Downtown. This Thanksgiving give yourself a San Francisco treat.
San Antonio is a lovely Thanksgiving travel destination that won’t break your bank account. Its relatively compact city center affords ample opportunity to string together several stops. Start at the Alamo, the historic garrison and pivotal battleground during the Texas Revolution in 1836. Walk to the nearby Buckhorn Saloon & Museum where you can have a drink at an Old West-themed gift shop. From there it’s easy to enjoy San Antonio’s River Walk, a charming landscaped greenspace winding past numerous restaurants, hotels, and bridges. Tour the Briscoe Western Art Museum where you can explore art and artifacts reflecting the culture and history of the American West. Snap a few pictures of Rosita’s Bridge and then cross over to explore La Villita Historic Arts Village. The many art galleries and shops offer plenty to see and a chance to enjoy some great San Antonio culture. Swing through Hemisfair Park where you can see the Tower of the Americas, visit Institute of Texan Cultures, and relax by the fountains and playground. Further south you can explore the historic San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. The park encompasses four of the five Spanish colonial missions, which along with the Alamo, comprise a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Pro tip: consider renting a bike and using the River Walk trails to move between the Missions.
Jackson Hole is a popular gateway into Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. Jackson Hole Airport is the busiest in Wyoming and a good access point if you’re considering exploring the parks. Depending on weather conditions, local ski resorts may be operating from the season’s first snowfalls. If you are planning a visit to Grand Teton, be aware that COVID-19 restrictions have meant some guided activities such as horseback tours, group hiking, and fishing tours are not available this season. However, cabins, campgrounds, and RV access are available around Headwaters Lodge. Once into Grand Teton National Park proper, visitors looking for lodging options can elect to make for the Colter Bay Village area. There you will find a range of options including cabins, campgrounds, and RV access. Other activities like kayak and canoe rentals are operating on a first come, first served basis at Colter Bay. Headwaters Lodge and Colter Bay both allow you to work your way into Southern Yellowstone. If you are planning to base yourself out of Grand Teton, keep in mind that anything further north in Yellowstone than say Old Faithful is probably not practical as a daytrip. Majestic scenery and splendid isolation might be just what you crave this Thanksgiving holiday. If that’s the case, experience the majesty of America’s famous national parks.