Florida isn’t just a place for summer fun. The Sunshine State has its fair share of spectacular and snowy seasonal activities that make this southern vacation destination the perfect place to kick back on Christmas. Here are 25 of the best places in Florida to get you into the holiday spirit.
Head to the family-entertainment capital for a good old-fashioned Disney Christmas. At Disney World, party with your favorite characters at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Watch in amazement when, at nightfall, the Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! fireworks light up the sky and fill your heart with glee.
Be sure to make a trip to Universal, where you can walk around The Wizarding World of Harry Potter to check out the Hogwarts Christmas decor. You’ll also want to stop by LEGOLand for the Christmas Bricktacular and a chance to meet Santa. There’s enough holiday spirit in this town to get even Ebeneezer singing carols.
The fun doesn’t stop at Disney: Tampa has its own treasure trove of traditions. Take a trip to Christmas Town at Busch Gardens to see the millions of twinkling lights illuminate the grounds for a truly magical nighttime display. Here you’ll also get the chance to meet the reindeer in Rudolph’s Winter Wonderland and snap a photo with Santa.
The enclosed Snow World in the park also gives visitors a chance to try their hand at sledding and snowman-building. Busch Gardens doesn’t have to be the only stop you make in Tampa: Snow on 7th, the Wonderland of Lights in Brandon, the Henry B. Plant Museum’s annual Victorian Christmas Stroll, Santa Fest, and the Rough Riders Holiday Parade all take place in one amazing city!
Forget the glitz and glamor of Miami’s popular club scene (or maybe just save that bit for later in the evening). Santa’s Enchanted Forest offers an ethereal experience you can’t get anywhere else. Watch as Tropical Park transforms into a twinkling tinsel town of sparkling lights. With over 100 carnival rides; holiday-themed musical and dance performances; and a vast array of decadent Christmas treats, there’s no shortage of holiday fun to be had.
The rest of Miami is just as jolly with animal-themed parades at Wild Holidays at Jungle Island; an old-fashioned holiday at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens; a lighted Miami Outboard Club Holiday Boat Parade; and a night of elegance and traditional music at the annual Sounds of the Season concert at The New World Symphony. With all these incredible Christmas festivities, it’s no wonder Miami is called the Magic City.
Celebrate Christmas all December long at Pensacola’s month-long Winterfest. Truly a one-stop shop for all things noel, the Pensacola Winterfest has everything you need to make your season merry and bright. Hot chocolate stations, an Elf Parade, the Polar Express train, and traditional trolley rides are just some of the things that make this wintertime festival truly unique.
You’ll also find a lighted boat parade near the Pensacola Beach Boardwalk, along with a Surfing Santa Parade that offers a one-of-a-kind experience that can only be found in Florida. Come see the magic for yourself and have a Panhandle Christmas you’ll never forget.
Have a vacation that’s both sunny and snowy in stunning Sarasota. Lakewood Ranch’s Snow Fest Sarasota has some of the best holiday fun for you and your loved ones. Play in the snow, tube down epic snow slides and step into your very own snow globe at this winter wonderland. After enjoying all that the snow machines have to offer (don’t knock the fun of synthetic snow!) you’ll want to check out the Candy Cane Hoola Hoopers, visit Santa, and even ride a pony.
Historic Spanish Point is another hot spot in town that really puts Sarasota in the seasonal spirit. Here you’ll enjoy Holly Days and Mangrove Lights, where you can stroll through the enchanting forest of twinkling lights and explore the beautifully ornate homestead buildings as carollers set the holiday mood.
Travel back in time to the streets of Christmas past in the medieval city of St. Augustine. The Nights of Lights festival boasts millions of sparkling lights on the historic district’s quaint buildings, creating an ideal backdrop for a holiday romance and window shopping.
You’ll also want to be in town for the St. Augustine Christmas Parade, which runs through downtown and ends with a special meet-and-greet with Santa himself. If you happen to stop in for Luminary Night, you’ll be able to explore the St. Augustine Lighthouse as thousands of luminaries give off a warm, inviting glow from below.
You’ll never want another White Christmas after experiencing Christmas in Captiva Island. This tropical take on timeless tradition features Captiva Holiday Village, where a tree-lighting ceremony is followed by an impressive fireworks display beside the ocean. Listen to the captivating crooning of opera singers during Sunset Arias and take in the beauty of thousands of Christmas lights along the South Seas Island Resort Holiday Stroll.
For an even more eclectic and unique experience, head to the Captiva Golf Cart Parade, an annual display where residents transform their golf carts into gaudy Christmas masterpieces. Have you booked your island holiday yet?
Celebrate your holiday in sunny Celebration, where the Now Snowing festival is the closest things Sunshine State residents will get to a white Christmas. The town features small-town architecture designed by Walt Disney himself, creating the ultimate holiday atmosphere with just the buildings alone. Pair these with the Charles Dickens carolers, horse-drawn carriage rides, and ice rink, and you have a recipe for holiday memories that would put Hyde Park to shame.
This cute and cozy little town is all you’ll want for Christmas this year as you play in the steadily falling snow, enjoy live performances, and take a spin on the Express train. Your holiday simply isn’t complete without a little Celebration in the mix.
Planning on checking out Christmas Town in Busch Gardens? You might as well extend your stay and head to nearby St. Petersburg for the St. Pete Beach Boat Parade and Winter Festival in the Park. Not only will this be the only festival you attend with a name that long, but you’ll get to experience a true Floridian Christmas with a lively atmosphere and awe-inspiring lineup of sparkling ships and sailboats.
Complete with live entertainment and a holiday market, this winter festival will leave nothing to be desired. Knock out all your holiday shopping, enjoy the festive performances and watch the dazzling display of ocean-bound Christmas lights in the Sunshine State’s favorite boat parade.
West Palm Beach
If you think the tree in Rockefeller Center is impressive, then you’ve got to see the 600-ton, 35-foot-tall tree made entirely out of sand at Sandi Land in West Palm Beach. Over 5,000 lights cover this epic holiday sand sculpture, drawing crowds from all over.
Sandi Land continues the tropical Christmas theme with a display of hundreds of other sand sculptures. Build a snowman in Sandi Land’s SnowieVille or play a round of glow-in-the-dark mini golf. This extraordinary display of winter magic has to be seen to be believed. Head to Sandi Land this year for a beachside Christmas to put all your white Christmas wishes to rest.
If Italy isn’t in the budget this year, head to the “Venice of America” for the Greatest Show on H2O: The Winterfest Boat Parade. Private sailboats, showboats and corporate mega-yachts are fully decked out in holiday decor and take to the sea for a magical parade through the water. Music will emanate off the ocean as beauty queens and celebrities parade around the sea, waving to their land-locked surveyors.
Be sure to carve out enough time to check out the Fort Lauderdale Christmas Pageant. This tradition is 30 years strong and features familiar carols and musical dramas all set in turn-of-the-century splendor. Experience Christmas Florida style in Fort Lauderdale this year.
Holiday spirit awaits you in Jacksonville’s Enchanted Christmas Village, where wagon rides, ornament-making stations, bounce houses, live entertainment and photo ops with Kris Kringle work together to create a fabulously fun festival for the whole fam. In Jacksonville Landing, behold the 56-foot-tall tree decked out in 78,000 lights, 150 ornaments, and 30 two-foot-tall bows.
For some seaside seasonal festivities, head to the beach for Deck the Chairs, where American Red Cross Life Saving Corps. lifeguard stands are decorated in festive fashion for the holidays. The best part? Part of the exhibits’ proceeds goes towards supporting the area’s Volunteer Lifeguards.
The Annual Winter Festival in Tallahassee has all the merriment you’ll need this year. The holiday extravaganza transforms the downtown area into a winter wonderland featuring live entertainment, a parade and hand-crafted goodies from local merchants.
Feast your eyes on the festive lights that twinkle through town, check off everyone on your nice list at the holiday bazaar and enjoy the musical performances that will have you singing along the whole time. Tallahassee is your go-to spot for a holly, jolly good time.
What better town to spend the holidays than Christmas, Florida? This town gets its name from the fort that was built during the Indian Seminole War on December 25, 1837. A force of 2,000 U.S. Army Soldiers and Alabama Volunteers constructed the fort, which was one of only 200 used during the wars. A rich piece of local history, this small town in Florida certainly lives up to its name during the holidays.
Here you’ll enjoy the annual Fort Christmas “Cracker Christmas” Festival, which was named to pay homage to the preserved “Cracker” architecture of the historical homes in East Orange County. Enjoy local flavor with plenty of food to choose from and see live pioneer demonstration, like broom making, quilting, and wood carving. You’ll also get the chance to visit the famed Christmas Post Office where you can have your holiday cards hand-stamped with “Christmas, Florida.” Don’t miss your chance to give everyone’s most-treasured holiday card this year!
The small village of Baytowne Wharf has everything you’ll need and more for a perfect holiday. With ice skating, choreographed holiday light shows, tuba players, fireworks, a holiday concert series, and, of course, a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony, what more could you wish for this year?
There’s also a Holiday Lantern Parade as well as 12 Nights of Lights leading up to Christmas that give this town some added festive flair. There are few better places in Florida to spend your Christmas vacation than this winter wonder wharf in sunny Sandestin.
Boca Grande is not just an island paradise situated just off of Florida’s coast. It’s also home to an elaborate display of ornate Christmas decorations and a week-long schedule of holiday activities in the town’s premier resort, Gasparilla Inn & Club. During the “old Florida” resort’s annual 12 Days of Christmas, visitors will enjoy sophisticated holiday decorations in a tropical setting.
The resort also features a list of pre-planned activities to keep you and your loved ones busy right up until Christmas Day. Last year’s events included age-specific tennis clinics, island bicycle tours, Christmas caroling, and Christmas Eve milk and cookies, among other fabulous activities to choose from. Book your stay at the Gasparilla Inn & Club for an unforgettable holiday getaway.
Time to hang ten and catch some serious swells in your Santa suit during this one-of-a-kind Cocoa Beach tradition: Surfing Santas. Watch hundreds of surfers compete against one another while wearing their holiday finest in this hysterical and incredibly entertaining event that’s sure to give you all the Christmas cheer you need this year.
Not only does this event deliver on comical displays of clumsy Claus action, but the celebration also helps raise money for two local charities: Grind for Life— supporting families dealing with loved ones diagnosed with cancer—and the Florida Surf Museum. Head out on Christmas Eve morning to see over 300 surfing Santas take to the sea and enjoy the true spirit of giving this season.
Ever wonder what it would be like to live Charles Dickens’ classic tale in real life? In Downtown Fernandina, visitors will love the class English village feel inspired by the timeless story, A Christmas Carol. You’ll love the detailed decorations that go into transforming the town for the holidays, and there’s so much more to enjoy beyond the aesthetics.
Costumed characters, holiday performances, local vendors and a visit with Santa are just some of the things that make a trip to Fernandina Beach the most festive fun you’ll have this year. Be sure to head to the Amelia Island Bed and Breakfast Holiday Cookie Tour as part of the town’s festivities, where you’ll enjoy a free horse-drawn carriage ride from inn to inn to sample tasty treats and admire the holiday decor.
Hidden away in the small region of Polk County sits Bok Tower Gardens, an impressive tower overlooking the beautiful gardens of Pinewood Estate. During the holidays, the estate is transformed into a holiday showcase reminiscent of the seasonal decor of the 1940s. Visitors can tour the home to take in its glamor and explore the rest of the gardens for a romantic stroll through seasonal bliss.
Christmas carolers provide the perfect ambiance while seasonal holiday foliage and a full schedule of festivities make more a magical evening of yuletide fun. Don’t miss your chance to gaze upon all the glory Bok Tower has to offer.
Get a cultural education while also enjoying all the merriment of Christmastime during the annual series of Mexican Christmas parades in Homestead called “Las Posadas.” The Spanish word for “inn,” “posada” pays homage to the Virgin Mary’s journey with Joseph as they searched for a place to give birth to Jesus. The parades feature a young couple dressed as Mary and Joseph while crowds of townspeople follow behind them, singing carols and asking for entry to shops, homes, and restaurants.
Keeping with the traditions of the Bible, the paraders go from destination to destination as Mary and Joseph did so long ago, getting turned away from each one. As each place turns them away, the paraders move on to their final, pre-selected venue, where they’ll enjoy traditional Mexican cuisine and even a pinata for the kids. It’s an incredible tradition steeped in rich, cultural history that’s as fascinating as it is fun.
The party is always going strong in Key West, and it’s no surprise that this island town has a holiday festival that lives up to its raging reputation. A host of holiday events take place at the Key West Bight Marina leading up to Christmas, each one featuring its own Key West twist on Christmas tradition. The lobster trap tree on Harbor Walk and the lighted boat parade sponsored by Schooner Wharf Bar & Galley are just some of the things that set this town apart from the rest this season.
Enjoy a Holiday Historic Inn Tour and feast your eyes (and mouths) on the fabulous decorations and tasty treats at five of Key West’s most-loved inns. The whole tour is taken via trolley and tickets can be purchased ahead of time for the two nights that the tours run.
For synthetic snow that’s the closest feeling to authentic, head to Snowfest in Naples along the Gulf of Mexico. At this annual favorite, 1,200 blocks of ice are put through a chipper, creating 100 tons of white, powdery snow—a refreshing break from the relentless heat still present here this time of year.
Visitors will be able to enjoy all the classic outdoor winter activities, including snowball fights, snow angel-making, and even tobogganing. While you might not need a winter coat for this event, you’ll want some gloves to bring along so you can enjoy the fun without frostbitten fingers ruining your good vibes.
No need to go all the way to California to get to Hollywood: Florida’s version has all the holiday spirit right here. A time-honored tradition for over 60 years, Hollywood’s Candy Cane Parade is one seasonal event you don’t want to miss. The parade is one of the longest-running holiday parades in the U.S. and features dozens of lighted floats and vehicles.
Thousands gather for the event to capture candy canes in outstretched hands from cheerful paraders tossing them from their floats. A recent controversy threatened to strip the seasonal treats from the festivities altogether, claiming the plastic wrapper in which they come was in direct violation of new laws in place the prohibit the distribution of plastics on Hollywood Beach. However, the Christmas spirit moved the city council to reconsider their decision and candy canes will once again make their appearance in the parade.
For a quaint and cozy Christmas by the sea, there’s no better town to celebrate than Seaside, Florida. Imagine a Victorian, Dickens-era town tucked away by the ocean and you’ll have a perfect picture of Seaside during the holidays. With events held advent-calendar style to count down until the big day, you’ll never be bored when you spend your holiday in this idyllic little town.
The season kicks off with the annual Turn on the Town event, a family-friendly festival featuring a lively parade complete with a party at the amphitheater. Christmas lights and carols fill the air as children line up to tell Santa Claus their wishes. A 24-foot tall tree is the centerpiece of the main square, welcoming all to gather at its base and marvel at its sparkling glory.
There are few things more cheerful than spending the holiday surrounded by warm and fuzzy animals. Head to Brevard Zoo in Melbourne for their annual Jolly Days Holiday Happenings. From December 21–23, you’ll be able to enjoy animal encounters, games, crafts and a DJ from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. There’s no shortage of holiday fun to be had with the wildlife here.
Santa and Mrs. Claus will also make their appearance at Jolly Days, with photo ops daily from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. The best part of all is when the zookeepers present some of the animals, each bearing a special holiday “gift.” Monitor the zoo’s website to catch the schedule of these must-see events.
There’s no place like the Sunshine State for the holidays—make your Christmas merry and bright by soaking up the sun and playing in the snow down south this year. What’s your favorite holiday tradition in Florida? Happy holidays, y’all!