THE BLOG
12/04/2014 03:06 pm ET Updated Feb 03, 2015

America's Best Towns for the Holidays (PHOTOS)

Johnny Johnston has lived in Los Angeles for 20 years, but when he goes home for the holidays, he finds himself enchanted all over again by the winter wonderland where he grew up: Vail, CO.

"From the moment you drive into the valley, the streets and public spaces are all lit with Christmas lights, creating a Norman Rockwell moment," says the broker for Sotheby's International Realty. Even if his mom still hassles him about what shirt he wears to his aunt's dinner party, "Vail is the most beautiful place I've ever seen for the holiday season."

Many Travel + Leisure readers agree, ranking the Colorado mountain town at No. 2 for seasonal cheer in the America's Favorite Places survey. Readers evaluated hundreds of towns in dozens of features, from romance to thriving art scenes to irresistible bakeries. To determine the best towns for the holidays, we combined the scores in a few festive categories: department-store shopping, notable restaurants, and Christmas lights.

Plenty of the top 25 holiday towns offer creative spins on holiday traditions, too, whether they look like winter wonderlands or not. In a South Carolina town, you can have your turkey dinner in barbecue sauce. In one mountain town, the annual tree lighting involves a faux pine made of recycled skis. And in places from Healdsburg, CA, to Charlottesville, VA, you can pick up holiday gifts--local wines, French linens, or antique cookbooks -- that you'd never find at the mall back home.

Another kind of holiday magic (low-season rates and fewer crowds) can create a blissful version of Silent Night. That's why Far Hills, NJ, resident Gavin Macomber has spent a few Christmases by the beach in Nantucket, MA. "It's fun to walk around town sipping hot chocolate and watching snow fall," says the founder of Andegavia Cask Wines. "Nantucket is particularly peaceful this time of year--which makes it an ideal place to escape to during the holidays."

PHOTO GALLERY
America's Best Towns for the Holidays

--By Katrina Brown Hunt

See All of America's Best Towns for the Holidays

More from Travel + Leisure:
Best Holiday Restaurants in the U.S.
Best Stocking Stuffers for Travelers
World's Strangest New Year Traditions
America's Best Hotels for Christmas
Best Places to Spend New Year's