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Great Things to Do During the Holidays in Some of America's Top Cities

November 21, 2016 | Events
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Polar bears at the Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens in Las Vegas, NV

There’s no better way for you and your family to celebrate the 2016 holiday season than by visiting the festive attractions and events that some of America’s top cities offer.
We asked our tourism managers in bustling Los Angeles and San Francisco in California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Chicago, Illinois; New York, New York; and Boston, Massachusetts to tell us their favorite things to do during the holidays, both in Macy’s Stores and beyond. Below are the fun and exciting activities they suggested. We think you’ll agree that they’re all must-dos.

San Francisco, California

At holiday time, Union Square is the place to go.

Union Square Ice Skating Rink – November 2, 2016 – January 16, 2017

Celebrate the holidays with your family and friends by gliding across the ice at the Safeway Holiday Ice Rink in Union Square. Nestled among the vibrant lights of San Francisco’s most popular shopping destination, this is the premier location for outdoor holiday ice skating. For more information visit unionsquareicerink.com

Macy’s SPCA Window Unveiling – November 18, 2016 at 5:00 pm

Take a behind-the-scenes tour and learn how Macy’s and SPCA partner every year to create the cutest holiday windows in town! For more details and how to book, visit the Visitor Information Center located near the lower level or go to visitmacyssanfrancisco.com

Macy’s Trim-a-Tree Event – November 18, 2016 at 6:00 pm

Macy’s invites you to learn how to decorate your Christmas tree with beautiful ornaments, garlands, and festive holiday lights. Our decorating tips, ornament ideas and Christmas tree themes will give you plenty of ideas for your own tree, whether you prefer a more traditional look or like to experiment with unique colors and accents. Start with our basic tips on how to decorate a Christmas tree, from hanging the lights and stringing the garland to adding finishing touches with pretty ornaments. 

We also have DIY stations to create some of your own personalized holiday décor.

Union Square Tree Lighting Ceremony – November 25, 2016 at 6:00 pm

Macy's gift to the City of San Francisco, Macy's 26th Annual Tree Lighting will take place in Union Square Park between Sutter and Post and Geary and Stockton Streets, right across from the front of Macy's. The tree will be decorated with more than 33,000 twinkling energy-efficient LED lights and 1,100 shining ornaments.

Union Square Winter Walk – November 25, 2016 – January 1, 2017
Join us at Winter Walk SF—a beautiful green pop-up holiday oasis just outside Macy’s doors, featuring carolers, live performances, food trucks and other wintery surprises! For more information visit winterwalksf.com.

Los Angeles, California

CHILL at the Queen Mary – November 20, 2016

CHILL at the Queen Mary in Long Beach is considered Southern California's favorite holiday tradition. Patrons are able to experience winter by walking through the extensive Ice Kingdom ice sculpture exhibit where the temperature is a mere nine degrees. CHILL also features ice tubing and skating, a Victorian Village, polar paintball, swinging sleigh ride and the Enchanted Forrest hedge maze.

Hollywood Christmas Parade – November 27, 2016

Every year on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Los Angeles presents the Hollywood Christmas Parade. Children of all ages line the streets in the heart of Hollywood to enjoy the parade festivities—a marching band, musical performances and, of course, Santa Claus. Marking the official start of the holiday season, the 85th anniversary of the parade will be held on November 27th.

Theme Park Special Events – Starting December 5, 2016

Check out Universal Studio’s annual Grinchmas celebration and visit the set of How The Grinch Stole Christmas to hear caroling from the Who-ville Singers, pose for a photo with the Grinch himself and much more. Disneyland also turns into a winter wonderland at this time of year—the spectacular Jingle Cruise and “A Christmas Fantasy” Parade are sure to put you in the spirit. And be sure to stop by the Haunted Mansion for a Nightmare Before Christmas-themed spook inspired by Tim Burton’s classic character Jack Skellington and his festive friends. 

Tree and Menorah Lightings

In neighborhoods across the city, locals gather to light a ceremonial tree or menorah to kick off the holidays. The Americana, the Grove, LA Live, Santa Monica are just some of the places that host tree lightings as a way to bring the community together. Menorah Lighting festivities take place in Beverly Hills and Universal CityWalk’s Cinema Plaza among other spots.

Winter Wonderlands

Most Southern Californians take a break from the heat and travel around their home state, seeking spots where they can experience cooler adventures. If Angelinos aren’t taking a skiing and snowboarding vacation in the hills of Mammoth Lakes or Big Bear, they’re driving to quaint mountain destinations like Julian in San Diego County and enjoying the small-town atmosphere as well as delicious home-baked pies. 

Las Vegas, Nevada

Ethel M Chocolates’ Holiday Cactus Garden – November 15, 2016-January 1, 2017

Ethel M Chocolates' Holiday Cactus Garden

Southern Nevada residents and visitors from around the world celebrate the season by strolling through a chocolate wonderland at Ethel M Chocolates’ Annual Holiday Cactus Garden. The Botanical Cactus Garden is Nevada's largest and features one of the world's most extensive collections of its kind. Based on the English landscape model of naturalistic design, the garden features over three acres planted with more than 300 species of drought-tolerant ornamentals, cacti, and other succulents. The 23rd Annual Holiday Cactus Lighting takes place on November 15th at 5 pm. See the lights nightly, 5 pm – 10 pm. Local school choirs perform holiday favorites in the garden on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, 6-8 pm; Santa makes appearances on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, 5-9 pm until Christmas. Admission is free.

Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Garden at the Bellagio Las Vegas – December 1, 2016-January 2, 2017

Every year, a talented team of horticulturists and designers works tirelessly to transform the 14,000-square-foot space that makes up the Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens into a holiday wonderland. This season, the Gardens are adorned with giant stockings, massive Christmas trees, frolicking polar bears made of thousands of carnations, 14-foot toy soldiers, a working toy train and more. There is something magical to see in just about every corner of the Garden at this time of year, but the centerpiece of the display is a 42-foot white fir Christmas tree decorated with 7,000 lights and 2,500 ornaments. New elements this year include an animated rocking horse, two 12-foot snow globes, colorful 10-foot stockings and a 12-foot, animated jack-in-the-box.

Rocking horse holiday display at the Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens

Admission to the winter display is free and runs through January 3. You can also enjoy the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art with discount tickets from BestofVegas.com.

Chicago, Illinois

Macy’s State Street celebrates the holidays in grand style with spirited window displays, the shimmering Great Tree in the renowned Walnut Room restaurant, a special Holiday Traditions walking tour, SantaLand where Santa holds court, a Holiday Lane filled with Christmas decorations and trees, and specialty baked goods and candy from Mrs. Claus’ Bakery. In addition, numerous festivals and seasonal events at the city’s top attractions infuse the metropolis with holiday spirit and beauty.

Holiday Windows at Macy’s on State Street -- November 5, 2016-January 8, 2017

Titled "Reasons to Believe," this year’s seasonal spectacular pays homage to all the things that make the holiday’s our favorite time of the year; family traditions, spirit of Santa, togetherness, giving, love and the magic of the season. Be sure to take a walk down State Street to view the displays.

Believe letters to Santa campaign at Macy's on State Street, 2016

The Great Tree at Macy’s on State Street – November 5, 2016-January 8, 2017

The Great Tree, on display in the historic Walnut Room, stands 45-feet-tall and hangs from the ceiling. To kick off Macy’s Believe campaign, Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Aloe Blacc will help light the tree on November 5th alongside a very special child sponsored by the Make-A-Wish® Foundation. Drawing inspiration from the Holiday Windows theme, “Reasons to Believe,” the tree is adorned with thousands of custom-painted silver and white ornaments, crystal snowflakes and icicles. Every 15 minutes, the tree comes to life with projected animation.

The Great Tree in the Walnut Room at Macy's on State Street

Don’t miss the holiday dishes served in the Walnut Room and get a special visit from the Fairy Princesses who grant wishes at every table. Make a reservation here.

SantaLand at Macy’s on State Street – November 5-December 24, 2016

The magical SantaLand can be found on the 5th floor of Macy’s. Beginning November 5th, children are invited to visit and get their picture taken with Santa Claus every weekend until Thanksgiving and then daily through December 24th. Visit www.macys.com/holidayevents for a full list of SantaLand hours.

Dining with Santa at Macy’s on State Street  – November 24-December 23, 2016

Also interact with Santa at the Santa Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner buffets served in the Narcissus Room, located on the 7th floor of the store. Many families make this a yearly tradition. Buffet pricing ranges from $21.95 – $29.95 for adults and $14.95 – $17.95 for children under 12 years old. Dates and hours can be found by visiting macysrestaurants.com or visitmacyschicago.com. Reservations can be made by calling 1-877-55-MACYS.

Holiday Traditions Guided Group Tour (60 mins), November-December

Each year, a new Christmas theme comes to life throughout the store, awakening the spirit of the holiday season. This tour includes the history of Macy’s holiday traditions, like the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, animated store window displays, a taste of Frango® Mint Chocolates and the two-story Great Tree in the world-famous Walnut Room. The cost is $12 per person (guests will receive a Macy’s 10% Visitor Savings Pass). Public Tours: Fridays at 11:30am. Private Tours: Minimum 10 participants, advance reservation required.

Holiday Activities Throughout Chicago

For holiday-related activities beyond Macy’s, we recommend checking out the following: Magnificent Mile Lights Festival, Chicago Tree Lighting Ceremony at Millennium Park, Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Holiday Train—Santa Express!, Christmas Around the World at the Museum of Science & Industry (Hyde Park), Wreathing of the Lions at the Art Institute of Chicago, Zoo Lights at Lincoln Park Zoo, Christkindlmarket at Daley Plaza, caroling at Cloud Gate at Millennium Park, ice skating at McCormick Tribune Ice Rink at Millennium Park, Winter Wonderfest at Navy Pier and the Holiday Lights Bus Tour from Big Bus and/or Chicago Trolley.      

Boston, Massachusetts

During the holidays, Boston, known for its rich history, turns into a wonderland of good cheer, festive decorations and light.

Follow these tips to make the most of the holidays in Beantown.

•    At Macy’s Downtown Boston, be dazzled by the Christmas tree that sits on top of the store and enjoy our holiday windows.

In the city beyond,
•    Go see the Boston Common Christmas tree and go ice-skating at Frog Pond.
•    Visit Faneuil Hall Market Place and see the blinking lights on the Christmas tree, watch the street performers and eat the famed clam chowder.
•    Stroll through the North End and walk the Freedom Trail where 16 sites are “linked” to tell Boston’s story of the American Revolution, say “hi” to the equestrian statue of Paul Revere and grab a cannoli from both Mike's Pastries and Modern Pastry.
    Check out Captain Jack's Historic Chocolate Shop where you can explore the history of chocolate and experience 18th-century chocolate in the way that Boston’s most famous Revolutionary-era patriots did.
•    Visit the Boston Public Market for locally made crafts, local food, and more.

About the Author

Meet Keri Hanson

Wine. Food. Travel. Repeat.