Category Archives: USA

Travel guides to help you plan your trip to the United States.

1-4 day itineraries and things to do in popular states including New York, Boston, Chicago and Austin.

12 Best Texas Beach Towns Lone Star has to Offer

Galveston Beach Texas beaches

When you think of visiting Texas you probably have a vision of its large cities like Austin, or maybe one of its national parks such as Big Bend, but did you know that there are a number of Texas beach towns you can visit?

There are many popular beaches on Gulf Coast of Texas aka the Texas Coast, which friends day trip to and families enjoy annual vacations at.

Within a few hours’ drive from any of the major cities, you can dine on seafood and go boating in the Gulf of Mexico.

Here is your guide to the top beach towns Texas has to offer, so you can pack up the car for a beach day or stay for an extended trip. 

Remember to pick up your trash, visitors complain that this is an issue on many of the beaches in the Lone Star State, be the solution.

You may also like our Austin to Big Bend road trip itinerary and our beach packing list with free check list.

Beach towns in Texas map

The Best Beach Towns in Texas

Houston Beaches aka Ocean City Texas

Houston is a fun city to visit for its urban attractions such as shows at its theaters, live music, food, and NASA’s astronaut training.

However, another big plus for the Bayou City is its proximity to the Gulf Coast making it one of the most popular beach getaways in Texas.

1. Galveston Beach For a Lively Vacation

There isn’t just one beach in Galveston Island, there are actually 32 miles of Gulf coast sandy shores for you to explore.

Starting with East Beach and running all the way down to Galveston Island State Park, there are seven beach areas.

Galveston has the world’s longest continuous sidewalk which is well used by joggers, cyclists and skaters.

Visitors love that you can rent umbrellas and chairs, and bathrooms dotted along the beach area.

There is also plenty of parking at affordable rates. Pack a wagon to carry your beach day gear.

The downside of Galveston is that the water can be rough.

This Texas beach is lively with its Seawall bars and restaurants and rollercoaster at Pleasure Pier.

You can get bearings and learn about history, architecture and culture during this coach tour.

Galveston is often cited as one of the best places to live in Texas for its costs, as it one of the most affordable beach towns in TX.

Things to do at Galveston Island

  • Watch a concert at East Beach
  • Enjoy cool alcoholic beverages too – the only beach which allows this
  • Get judgy at the annual sandcastle competition
  • Jump on a ride at the Pleasure Pier
  • Set sail on a paddlewheel boat tour
  • Scoot along on a segway
  • Dress up for Mardi Gras at Galveston
  • Watch the July 4th fireworks
  • Bike around the bay
  • Birdwatch or go fishing
  • Catch a wave surfing
  • Sail the waves kayaking
  • Watch a 3D movie at Moody Gardens
  • See a show at The Grand 1894 Opera House
  • Tee off at the golf course
  • Sail the skies on the zipline
  • Relax on the Lazy River at Palm Beach
  • Have a nosey at the Galveston mansions

What are you favorite things to do in during your Texas beach trip to Galveston?

So which is the best beach in Galveston? Younger visitors like the alcohol laws and concerts at East Beach while families love the award-winning Stewart Beach. Which is your favorite? Tell me in the comments below.

There is so much accommodation to choose from on Galveston Island.

From Texas beach resorts to private holiday rentals, there’s something for every type of trip and visitor.

If you’d prefer a day trip to Galveston, check out this tour from Houston.

Hotels in Galveston

2. Sunny Beach, Galveston For a Dog-Friendly Beach Trip

Sunny Beach is another Galveston beach worth mentioning for its fishing opportunities and because it is dog friendly.

You can park on Sunny Beach which means you don’t need to plan carting your beach tents, coolers, and water sports gear from the parking lot.

The road down to Sunny Beach is an 8-mile drive.

3. Pirates Beach, Galveston For Upmarket Rentals

Arrrr, me matey!

If you’re looking to rent accommodation in a small beach community, consider Pirate Beach in Galveston.

This beach area is well maintained with high end rentals and manicured gardens.

Pirate Beach Rentals

While Pirate Beach is more upmarket, it can still be classified as cheap Texas beach vacations as group rentals come in at under $200 per night.

Although some properties do have a three night minimum rule.

4. Bolivar Peninsula (Crystal Beach) For Fewer Crowds

Another one of the popular beaches near Houston is Crystal Beach on the Bolivar Peninsula.

It is a relatively quiet beach that allows beach camping which is great if you are keeping costs down during your vacation. 

Boasting 27 miles of sandy beaches and plenty of activities for guests, it’s not just its location in the Southeast of Houston that is an appeal.

For nature-lovers, this area is full of wildlife and is a popular bird-watching destination.

The peninsula is part of the Great Coastal Birding Trail, where you can observe spoonbills and blue herons in their natural habitats.

History enthusiasts can visit Fort Travis, which was built in 1836 to protect Port Galveston.

After a day of exploring, enjoy some seafood on the water at Stingaree Restaurant or Hardheads Icehouse and Grill for live entertainment with your meal.

While in the area, you can stay at Boardwalk Resort.

It provides guests with easy beach access and plenty of on-site activities.

There is a pool, as well as a splash area for children. Enjoy a game of mini-golf or foot billiards with your family. If you feel like relaxing, hop into a hammock or hot tub overlooking the water.  

Music fans will enjoy the line up of (mostly) free music.

Houston to Crystal Beach takes just over 1 hour 30 mins by car.

One of the ideal beaches in Texas for spring break.

Where to Stay

5. Freeport aka Surfside Beach For Food, Golf & Beach Days

Freeport is just an hour south of Houston.

You will find a quiet town where you can drive your car right up to the waters of Surfside.

You can also go jet skiing in the nearby Old Brazos River.

Stop by the Freeport Municipal Golf Course for a few rounds of golf.

At Surfside Beach, dining options include Red Snapper Inn for fresh seafood, and Scott’s beach Bar.

Entertainment comes in the shape of live music at the Brick House or the Sundown Restaurant.

There are some accommodation is located right on the sand in Surfside, so you won’t have to walk far to get your feet wet.

Fun fact: Surfside was once Old Velasco, the ‘Boston harbor of the Texas Revolution.

Where to Stay

6. Lighthouse Beach, Port Lavaca For Famiy Texas Coast Vacations

Families enjoy time at Lighthouse Beach because it has a splash pad, picnic tables, and a kid’s playground to keep the wee ones entertained while they run around in the fresh ocean air.

Bamboo umbrellas dot the sandy beach for those who require some shade, you will need to pack sun loungers though.

There’s a path leading out to the boardwalk over Lavaca Bay which provides nice views over the water and fishing opportunities.

The sunsets are a big draw.

Lighthouse is one of the best family beaches in Texas.

7. Rockport Beach For Clear Water

Rockport Beach is a just under three hours from Houston and San Antonio and just over three hours from Austin.

It is the state’s first Blue Wave beach making it the cleanest and one of the clear water beaches in Texas.

Visitors like that the water is shallow, great for families.

There are fishing opportunities and local shops that sell bait.

Rockport has BBQ grills and picnic areas for beach meals by the sea.

You can walk along a designated path to visit the Little Bay Shores.

No dogs are allowed on the beach.

clear water beaches in texas

Where to Stay

BBQ on beach

8. Port Aransas For Fishing

This small beach town is located at the end of Mustang Island, and is one of the beaches near Corpus Christi.

While it is quieter than other locations, there are still plenty of things to do.

Some people call Port Aransas the fishing capital of Texas, with fishing competitions happening almost every weekend during the summer.

After exploring the 18 miles of beaches, stop by the Port Aransas Art Center, which features work from local artists.

Irie’s Island Food is popular with locals while The Crazy Cajun provides tasty Cajun dishes such as jambalaya and shrimp boil.

The best event of the year is SandFest, the largest native-sand sculpture competition in the USA. 

Where to Stay

9. McGee Beach For A City Beach

Heading a little inward to Corpus Christi Bay you’ll find McGee Beach.

Less people visit this beach which is great if you can’t deal with crowds.

Another bonus is that you don’t have to pack to much beach stuff as there are canopies, umbrellas, cabanas, and chairs for rent.

Beach amenities include showers, bathrooms, and parking.

There’s a boardwalk at the beach, and a marina close by.

McGee Beach is right off Corpus Christi Downtown so you’ll find plenty of food options a short walk away.

Birds eye view over Corpus Christi in Texas Skyline Cityscape.

10. North Padre Island Close to Corpus Christi

North Padre Island is located just north of the Padre Island National Seashore and is completely different from South Padre.

It is only a 20-minute drive from Corpus Christi making it easily accessible, allowing visitors to take advantage of the attractions in the city with ease.  

At North Padre Island you will find world-class fishing, fun shelling, and local events and festivals throughout the summer. 

From late June to mid-August you can witness baby turtles make their way from hatching on the shore till they enter the waters.

Beaches include Whitecap, Little Shell, and Big Shell.

For some family-friendly fun, you can hop aboard the USS Lexington.

Where to Stay


11. South Padre Island – Texas Beaches Vacation Variety

Located right on the southern border of Texas, South Padre Island is a very popular spring break destination with plenty of entertainment for more laid-back vacationers.

The Island is known for its clean waters and tropical climate making it one of the most beautiful beaches in Texas.

Expect not only white sand beaches in Texas at Padre Island but also blue water beaches. 

In fact, it is located at the same longitude as Fort Lauderdale.

You will find swimming easier here since the Laguna Madre Bay is a “hyper-saline” bay, meaning it has a lot of salt in the water.  

South Padre is the furthest beach from the big cities located about 5-6 hours from Austin or Houston. 

Being so far south is what makes it a great destination. 

If you are looking for high-adrenaline fun when you aren’t relaxing on the beach then give windsurfing a try.

For family-friendly fun check out Schlitterbahn Waterpark, home to dozens of waterslides or enjoy the fishing opportunities both from the shore and deep sea.

After a long day in the water, enjoy the Mexican influence in the many restaurants.

You cannot eat enough tacos, nachos or ceviche – dreamy South Texas beach vacations, you’ll agree!

Sunset at South Padre Island Beach in Texas

12. Boca Chica Beach, Texas’s Last Beach in the South

Boca Chica Beach is the last beach in our guide on where to vacation in Texas on the beach, and the last beach in the state before it hits the border of Mexico.

While the skyline of Boca Chica is quite industrial, the buildings don’t block out the sun, and the structures that surround the beach are space rockets which is pretty unique!

Locals love the lack of tourism, dog walks, and grassy dunes.

There are also some great shell picking opportunities.

Boca Chica State Park is close by.

Looking for more beach vacation ideas? Here’s our guide to beach towns on the East Coast.

South Padre features in our guide to spring break destinations for students.

Texas Beach Towns Packing List

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Texas have beaches?

Yes! I know that is a surprise to many as think of Texas a desert and cities but there are a number of great beaches beach towns in Texas.

Which is the cleanest beach in Texas?

Rockport Beach was awarded the first Blue Wave Beach status.

What are the bacterial levels in Texas beaches?

Texas Beach Watch runs lots of tests to evaluate the levels of bacteria in the sea. Check out daily results here.

Is beach camping allowed in Texas?

Yes, at specific beaches like Crystal Beach making it one of the best vacation beaches in Texas for visitors trying to budget travel.

Which is your favorite coastal town in Texas? Tell us in the comments!

Save for future planning

Texas beach vacation, texas beaches, texas beaches with kids, Corpus Christi, Texas road trips, Things to do in Texas, San Antonio, South Padre, Port Aransas, Galveston, Rockport, Springbreak

About the author – this guide to the top Texas beach destinations was created by Two Scots Abroad and Honeymoon Always.

Epic USA Bucket List: 150 Things to do in Every State

Diverse landscapes from deserts to waterfalls, free things to do like beaches and national parks, food from the farm, and nightlife in the city – whatever is on your USA bucket list, we’ve got it covered.

With fifty states offering four seasons full of activities, you will find the best places to visit in USA have all year round attractions for solo trips, couple vacations, family gatherings, friends getaways, bachelorette parties, and romantic elopements.

So, whether you are a local looking for staycation itinerary suggestions or a visitor ticking off the big USA bucket list travel ideas, this guide details the top USA attractions and things to do in each state.

Missed your favorite? Tell us in the comments below.

Note: We give you more than just the top 100 things to do in America because this is a country with over a thousand cities, more than 400 national parks, and a population of 300,000+ people, think how many businesses that equates to and how much culture you can experience, all in the USA!

You may also like our guide on how to plan a trip to the USA.

Now, let’s kick off our article on what to see in the USA.

US Bucket List – Over 150 Places to Visit in the USA

We’ve split the following USA bucket list into sections featuring fun things to do in each state, from Alabama to Wyoming, food to festivals.

Alabama Bucket List

  • Explore the natural preserves, white sand beaches, and coastal waters at the beautiful Orange Beach.
  • Buy some precious and interesting items at the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro.
  • Train like an astronaut at Huntsville Space Camp.
  • Drink craft beer, eat meat and two and throw axes in hip Huntsville.

How many places to see in America’s Yellowhammer State have you experienced?

Marshall Flight Center Huntsville

Alaska Bucket List

  • View Denali peak, alpine ranges, and glaciers in the Denali National Park.
  • Kayak through icebergs and glacier-carved fjords near the coastal waters.
  • Get amazing views of the Mendenhall Glacier from the observatory at the top of the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Centre.
  • Observe the beautiful animals from the Pack Creek Brown Bear Viewing Area inside Tongass National Park.
  • Try the locally sourced products and seafood on the menus of Alaska’s restaurants.
  • Grab your partner and take to the floor at a pub or club.
  • Shop Alaska’s modern and traditional arts and crafts.
  • Have fun at the 5-day festival dubbed Golden Days in July.
Denali National Park grizzly bear in a field

Arizona Bucket List

  • The Grand Canyon is one of those places to see in the USA before you die.
  • Take a dip in Havasupai Falls situated in the vicinity of the Grand Canyon.
  • Experience the wonders of Mother Nature at the Painted Desert.
  • Enjoy the serenity and vistas in the desert town of Sedona. Sedona is enclosed in spiritual whirlpool energy, and many people experience a lift in spirit when they visit the town.
  • Go wine tasting at the wineries on the Verde Valley Wine Trail.
  • Eat mouthwatering foods like chimichangas, Navajo tacos, posole, and salsa.
  • Attend the Arizona Taco Festival at Salt River Fields, Scottsdale, held in October every year.

Scottsdale also features in our guide to free things to do in Phoenix, Arizona, for its Scottsdale Artwalk.

view of the Grand Canyon from a helicopter cockpit

Arkansas Bucket List

  • Go on a hike along the bank of the Buffalo National River and explore the river on a canoe, kayak, or raft.
  • Get breathtaking views of Arkansas from the top of Mount Magazine State Park.
  • Take a dip at Hot Springs National Park.
  • Drive along the Ozark Scenic Byway in Arkansas in the fall.
girl paddling along the Buffalo River in Arkansas

California Bucket List

  • Walk across the Golden Gate Bridge in northern California to get impressive views and have a surreal experience. More San Fran? Read this.
  • Get thrill rides at California Adventure.
  • Go wine tasting in Napa Valley that is home to more than 450 vineyards.
  • Hike by the waterfall in Yosemite, one of the most romantic national parks.
  • Make your visit memorable by eating some fantastic Mexican foods like burritos and guacamole at Highway 99.
  • See geological wonders at Yosemite National Park. The park is enclosed by high granite peaks like Half Dome and El Capitan and is heavily forested with pines.
  • Backpack the national parks in California.
  • Have fun at the Fresno Fair in Fresno’s Central Valley.
  • Check out the art and enjoy beach walks at Carmel-By-The Sea.
  • Visit the lavender farms during summer.

You may also like our guide, places to see in California, which offers some of the best things to do in the United States for nature fans and art enthusiasts.

aerial view of the Golden Gate Bridge

Colorado Bucket List

  • Have fun with activities like skiing, biking, hiking, and dining in Aspen.
  • Try jet skiing, rafting, tubing, and kayaking in the lakes and rivers of Colorado.
  • Do adventure activities like paragliding and skydiving.
  • Climb a 32-two foot ladder and then crawl through a tunnel to get to Balcony House.
  • Take a free ride to Telluride Mountain Village Gondola. Jump on the gondola, relax, and take in the breathtaking views!
  • Taste some wine at the vineyards on the Western Slope in Palisade and Grand Junction.
  • Feast on Colorado’s fruits and vegetables and make friends at the farmers’ market.
  • Drink, eat, see a show in the Mile High City, Denver.

How many of these things to do in America have you done so far? Tell us in the comments!

Denver Colorado

Connecticut Bucket List

  • Try scrumptious farm-inspired culinary and finest seafood at celebrity chef-owned restaurants, and get delightful experiences with agri-tourism and wine and beer tours.
  • Take a fall foliage road trip to the beautiful town of Kent.
  • Have a pizza in Mystic. Just like the 80s movie. Wander around the town reading the historic plaques.
  • Photograph Connecticut’s covered bridges such as Hartford Turnpike Bridge in New Haven.
  • Buy local at Westport Farmers’ Market.
  • Relax at the 83-acre park with sandy beaches, Cove Island.
Mystic Seaport, CT

Delaware Bucket List

  • Get inspired by Du Pont’s all 77 exquisite collections of arts and antiques at the 47,000 square feet Nemours Estate in Wilmington.
  • Visit the Ryves Holt House and other historic buildings in Lewes.
  • Spend time fishing at one of the best Delaware beaches.
Lewes Delaware purple house street view

Florida Bucket List

  • Bring storybook fantasies to life for your children in Walt Disney World.
  • Drink Butterbeer at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
  • Ride the loops at Universal Studios.
  • Dine and drink cocktails on iDrive.
  • Have lunch with an astronaut at Kennedy Space Center on the Space Coast.
  • Seek out the small-town East Coast beaches.
  • Party in Miami.
  • See the Art Deco of Miami Beach.
  • Tour the Dry Tortugas National Park and enjoy snorkeling in the clear waters.
  • Glide through the Everglades while on gator watch.
  • Soak up the sun at Siesta Key Beach, the US’s number one beach.
  • Swim with manatees in Florida’s Nature Coast – this is honestly one of the best experiences in America.
  • Visit the oldest US city, St Augustine.

Disney definitely makes it into top 100 places to visit in America for foreigners searching for fun in the sun.

You may also like our Florida bucket list.

Sandy path leading to Siesta Key Beach at Florida

Georgia Bucket List

  • Kick back and relax at the little-known Golden Isles in the mainland port city of Brunswick.
  • See amazing monumental architecture at the Savannah Historic District. It is one of the largest districts of its kind in the United States.
  • Experience genuine Southern hospitality and enjoy locally made cuisines like tomato pie, fried chicken, and shrimp and grits at the 70-year-old Mary Mac’s Tea Room in Atlanta.
  • Go shopping and dine at a fine restaurant at Pone City Market in Atlanta.
  • Sip from the source and enjoy delicious wines with picturesque views at the Georgia Wine Country in Dahlonega.
  • Attend the Rhythm & Ribs BBQ Festival in Tifton. The festival is held in March each year.

Savannah features in our warm US destinations guide which you can read here.

Atlanta skyline view with blue skies

Hawaii Bucket List

  • Take a snorkel tour with your family or friends to the astoundingly scenic Hawaiian Islands.
  • Relax and unwind all the stress of your daily life under the Hawaiian Sunshine on the beaches of Hawaii.
  • Hike along the cliffs to Puu Pehe, a rock formation rooted in Hawaiian mythology.
  • Have fun at one of the traditional Hawaiian and Polynesian-style party called Luau feast.
  • Embark on a sunset cruise and witness some of the best likely sunsets.
  • Tantalize your taste buds with traditional Hawaiian cuisines like Poi, Laulau, Kalua pig, and Lomi Salmon.
  • Enjoy a warm winter trip to Hawaii.

Kauai Hawaii blue sea, dramatic cliffs Idaho Bucket List

  • Have mountain biking adventure on the trails of The Route of the Hiawatha.
  • Chase the waterfall at Shoshone Falls.

Illinois Bucket List

  • Hike on the trails while watching beautiful flowing waters and canyons at the Starved Rock State Park.
  • Enjoy the famous Italian beef sandwiches and deep-dish pizza at the restaurants.
  • Touch the shiny bean in Chicago.
  • Get festive at the Chicago Christmas parade on Magnificent Mile.
  • See the fall colors at Chicago’s parks and join in fall activities like Oktoberfest.

If you like getting lost in big cities, a weekend in Chicago is something you have to experience in USA.

Fall colors at Lincoln Park with Chicago skyline

Indiana Bucket List

  • Experience the weekend festival vibes at Festival Country in the south of Indy.
  • Engage in outdoor adventure activities in Brown County.

Iowa Bucket List

  • Trip along the scenic Great River Road in the east of Iowa and do shopping and dining in the beautiful towns, such as Le Claire and Dubuque.
  • Celebrate Iowa’s farm heritage at the 11-day-long Iowa State Fair.

Kansas Bucket List

  • Get amazing Instagram photos at Rocky Kansas High while touring within 30 miles of the interstate in east-west Kansas.
  • Get a break from the busy city life by escaping to the 116-acre Ernie Miller Nature Center and see the wonders of nature.

Kentucky Bucket List

  • Enjoy art performances, attend exhibitions, and do other fun things at Kentucky Artisan Center.
  • Be close to nature at the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.

Louisiana Bucket List

  • Explore Eunice, Mamou, and Lafayette for amazing food, culture, and music in Louisiana.
  • Try the local specialty cuisines comprising pork, rice, and seasonings in Boudin.
  • Get stupidly drunk on Bourbon Street and listen to jazz in New Orleans.
  • Get involved in Mardis Gras which features in our US in March travel guide.

Partying in NOLA is one of the most fun things to do in North America for folk who like an alcohol fueled weekend with lots of dancing.

Bamboulas New Orleans

Maine Bucket List

  • Swim in the alpine pond situated between three peaks on Tumbledown Mountain near Mount Blue State Park.
  • Take a kayak ride to explore the picturesque islands in Merchant Row.
  • Do a New England road trip covering Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
  • Take a foliage tour of New England to see the region at its best.
  • Hike the highest mountain in the US, MT Katahdin.
  • Vacation at the Rangeley Lake region, regardless of the season.
  • Take a picture of Lumberjack Paul Bunyan.
  • Watch the first sunrise in the US at Lubec.
  • Catch the unique Bed Race at Bar Harbor. Yes, locals run down the road with beds.
  • Drive through Acadia National Park, one of the US top 10 visited parks.
  • Go shopping at Freeport.
  • Eat all the oysters in Portland.
  • Get ‘that’ pic of Cape Elizabeth at sunset.
  • Visit the Trolley Museum at KPT.
  • Spend time in the young, lively and liberal Ogunquit for food, bars and beaches.
  • See the beacon of light that is Nubble Lighthouse in York.
  • Go scuba diving at Rockport.
Stunning Sand Beach  in Acadia National Park in Maine

Maryland Bucket List

  • Experience nature walks, adventure sports, and buzzing city life in Maryland.
  • Enjoy local, regional, and international Irish music, dance, and cuisine, besides attending workshops and exhibitions at the Maryland Irish Festival held in November each year at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium.

Massachusetts Bucket List

  • Visit the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield.
  • Take a trip to Coast Guard Beach and enjoy great swimming.
  • Explore history strolling on the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail in Boston.
  • Take a trip back in time in the Old Sturbridge Village. Don’t forget to visit the history museum and other interesting historical landmarks like Tantiusques.
  • Go to the Boston or Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day parades.
  • Cheer on the Boston Red Sox from atop the wall at Fenway.
  • Hunch some famous foods like fluffernutters, grilled blueberry Muffins, and Boston baked beans.
  • Relax at Waldon Pond. Read more about the best lakes on the East Coast here.
  • Eat Dunkin Donuts!
  • Beach hop in Rockport or paint the famous Motif No. 1.
  • Check out the Singing Beach at Manchester-by-the-Sea.
  • Learn about the witch trails in Salem.
  • Visit Hancock Shaker Village or Mass MoCA at the Berkshires.
  • Party in Provincetown at Cape Cod.
  • Drink and dine on Martha’s Vineyard.
  • Smell the sea air and appreciate the peace on Nantucket.

If you’re wondering what to see in America which relates to the nation’s colonial history, make 24 hours in Boston you starting point.

Close up  n Trinity Church in Boston

Michigan Bucket List

  • Get a horse-drawn carriage ride in Mackinac Island State Park. Enjoy the high limestone bluffs, beautiful vistas of sparkling water, and vibrant scenes.
  • Swim and relax on the beach at Holland State Park. The park comprises separate Lake Macatawa and Lake Michigan constituents on the north of the channel that links Lake Macatawa with Lake Michigan.
  • Spend a couple of hours sailing on Lake Michigan. Explore the dramatic multicolored Pictured Rocks cliffs and unique sandstone creations like Miners Castle and Chapel Rock.
  • Enjoy freshly picked cherries and have fun at the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City every July.
  • Put your ice skating skills to the test at Campus Martius Park in Detroit.
  • Eat scrumptious foods like Detroit-style pizza and Greek Salad.
  • Take a tour of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and enjoy the rugged beauty and thrilling adventure, including mountain biking, sea kayaking, and dog sledding.
buckets of cherries at the festival in Michigan

Minnesota Bucket List

  • Have fun in Brainerd, which is famous for its trails, parks, shops, and restaurants.
  • Visit the beautiful Munsinger Clemens Gardens to see beautiful flowers, annuals, and perennials.
  • Take a tour of Minneapolis‘ Grand Rounds to get impressive views of the downtown skyline.
  • Attend the Minnesota Renaissance Festival in Shakopee that features a mix of delicious food, shows, and jousting.
  • Enjoy delicious foods like walleye, lefse, and lutefisk.
  • Take a boat ride on the Boundary Waters.
canoe on the edge of Boundary Waters in Minnesota

Mississippi Bucket List

  • Venture deep into the forests and wildlife refuges to watch birds and wildlife, including migratory birds in Mississippi.
  • Have the ultimate Mississippi experience by visiting a corn maze, spending the night in a sharecropper’s hut, fishing on the Gulf Coast, or picking organic vegetables and fruits from the farms and orchards.

Missouri Bucket List

  • Get a Jeep-drawn tram ride through the Fantastic Caverns in Springfield to explore the state’s wonderful underground phenomenon.
  • Visit the Titanic Museum and get acquainted with the tragic experiences that the crew and passengers of Titanic endured during the ship’s maiden voyage.

Montana Bucket List

  • Do snowshoeing and skiing at the Big Sky Resort in the winter.
  • Do a tour of Yellowstone National Park.
  • Look out for grizzlies and American Bison/buffaloes!
  • Enjoy the Cowboy Capitol.
  • See the sunset from The Rimrocks in Bozeman which features in our guide to fall in Montana.
Herd of bison in Montana

Nebraska Bucket List

  • Walk between colorful daffodils, tulips, and other beautiful flowers and celebrate the onset of spring in Sunken Gardens.
  • Get on an off-road jeep tour at Fort Robinson State Park or walk the trails at Chadron State Park.

Nevada Bucket List

  • Take a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon or a hot-air balloon ride over Las Vegas.
  • Have fun at live music shows or take Slotzilla Zipline Thrill Ride at Fremont Street, Las Vegas.
  • Enjoy amazing sights, gambling, nightlife, food, neon signs, and dancing fountains in the buzzing city of Las Vegas.

» Check out our Las Vegas itinerary!

Welcome to Las Vegas sign at night

New Hampshire Bucket List

  • Make stops along the scenic Kancamagus Highway, New Hampshire’s Route 112.
  • Drive through Dixville Notch in fall for awesome colors.
  • Take amazing pictures inside the Ice Castles in North Woodstock.
  • Hike up Bald Trail or Artist Bluff for views over Echo Lake, Franconia.
  • Get adventurous with tame mountain escapades or thrilling adventures like river rafting at Mt. Washington Valley.
  • Send the summer lazing by Lake Winnipesaukee and playing arcade games at Funspot.
Red topped Wentworth Covered Bridge in Jackson, New Hampshire

New Jersey Bucket List

  • See the most extensive collection of fluorescent rocks in the world at the Sterling Hill Mining Museum.
  • Get amazing views of Atlantic City from Steel Pier amusement park.
  • See the Victorian-style holiday homes in the Old Victorian Cape May, the heyday stylish resort town of the 18th and 19th centuries.
  • Head over to Ocean City Boardwalk and walk along the world-famous and award-winning boardwalk.
  • Try some of the state’s popular foods like pork roll, sloppy joe, and Trenton tomato pie.
  • Dine at the 24-hour diner.
  • Gorge on a Taylor Ham (pork roll).
  • Shop at Wawa.
Steel Pier New Jersey

New Mexico Bucket List

  • Cross the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and get priceless views of the surrounding areas.
  • Get lost in New Mexico’s wilderness areas like Gila Wilderness or the Bisti Badlands and create unforgettable memories.
  • Get high at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
  • Hop on the famous Route 66, in a Cadillac or on a bike. USA road trip bucket list must!

Albuquerque features in our guide to US cheap cities to visit. Find out more here.

Typical architecture of Santa Fe the State Capital of New Mexico USA

New York Bucket List

  • Walk from lower Manhattan to Brooklyn on the Brooklyn Bridge and take some selfies.
  • Get amazing views from the top of the Empire State Building and explore the immersive experience.
  • Take a free ride with the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty.
  • Visit The MET or American Museum of Natural History, the top two impressive museums in New York.
  • Get lost in Central Park on the twisting paths and make amazing discoveries.
  • Get dazzling experience with the digital displays, billboards, and flashing lights in Times Square.
  • Pay respects at the 9/11 Memorial.
  • Try Manhattan clam chowder and New York-style cheesecake and pizza.
  • Dine at Montauk’s famous beachfront restaurant and snap the lighthouse of ‘The End’.
  • Drink wine at Fingerlakes, the biggest wine region in New York.
  • See the foliage at Lake Placid.
  • Spend a night at Singer Castle on Dark Island.
  • Eat wings in Buffalo.
  • Spend time at the Grand Canyon of the East, Letchworth State Park.
  • Visit the vineyards of The Valley (Hudson).
  • Go hiking at The Catskills.
  • Sport fans shouldn’t miss Cooperstown.
  • Explore Boldt Island from May – October.
  • Go see the fantastic waterfalls at the Niagara Falls State Park on the US-Canada border.

Our NYC Guides

Views Manhattan from Brooklyn Heights Promenade Brooklyn Bridge in NYC

North Carolina Bucket List

  • Photograph the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.
  • See wild horses ride along the beaches of the Outer Banks and Crystal Coast.
  • Have fun swimming, shopping, or dining at the Wilmington area’s Carolina, Kure, or Wrightsville beaches.
  • See the fall colors of the Blue Ridge Mountain.
  • Visit the very first documented commercial gold find in the USA at Reed Gold Mine.
  • Slide down Sliding Rock, Pisgah National Forest (image).
Sliding Rock Falls on Looking Glass Creek in Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina, USA in the autumn season

North Dakota Bucket List

  • Explore the famous Theodore Roosevelt National Park and take pictures with the amazing canyons while seeing bison grazing along the road.
  • Enjoy open-air, broadway-style music at the Medora Musical along the hills of Medora.

Ohio Bucket List

  • Take roller coaster rides at Cedar Point in Sandusky.
  • See the marvellous Great Serpent Mound situated along Ohio Brush Creek in Adams County.
  • Hike through forests, caves, and rock formations on the trails at Hocking Hills.
  • Visit Ohio College in Columbus during the cherry blossom season. See our guide to the US in April for more.
  • See spectacular waterfalls and beautiful scenery in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. There are around 100 waterfalls in the valley. Most of them are located in the northern part.
  • Satisfy your sweet tooth with buckeye candy.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park waterfall view

Oklahoma Bucket List

  • Explore amazing artworks by artists from Europe, Asia, America, and Africa at the Philbrook Museum of Art.
  • See and photograph bison, longhorn cattle, and elk roaming free at the Woolaroc Museum & Wildlife Preserve.
  • Visit Mukogee in spring for the Azalea Festival at Honor Heights Park.
  • Learn more about native influence and culture at Five Civilized Tribes Museum.

Oregon Bucket List

  • Feast on famous Oregon oysters.
  • Walk the Cannon Beach towards Haystack Rock featured in our romantic places to visit guide.
  • Feel the spray of Multnomah Falls- which is especially beautiful during fall in Oregon.
  • Test the notorious beer scene at the Ale Festival this winter in Portland.
  • Try the food trucks, every type of food, fast in Portland.

» Read next | How to spend three days in Portland

Portland Itinerary Portland 3 day itinerary

Pennsylvania Bucket List

  • Hike the trails or swim and take a sunbath at the scenic Presque Isle State Park.
  • Try some delicious Asian, Mexican, or Italian food at the new restaurants in Pittsburgh.

Rhode Island Bucket List

  • Witness an impressive sunrise from Fort Adams State Park in Providence, and then go to the Johnson and Wales Culinary Arts Museum to learn about the traditional food history.
  • Spend some peaceful moments at Narragansett Bay.

South Carolina Bucket List

  • Do shopping, walk along the scenic river, and stroll through the peaceful streets of the beautiful Georgetown.
  • See the largest old-growth bottomland hardwood forest at Congaree National Park.

South Dakota Bucket List

  • Try the famous Snickers Salad and Klub at the restaurants in South Dakota.
  • Visit the Badlands National Park to see nature’s blessings, including protected wilderness, grasslands, and towering mountains.

Tennessee Bucket List

  • Get a boat ride and explore the intricate cave system of the famous Lost Sea, an underground lake.
  • Explore the history and heritage of Tennessee at the Museum of East Tennessee History.
  • Stomp out a line dance in Nashville.
  • See where Elvis lived at Graceland, Memphis.
Graceland in Tennessee

Texas Bucket List

  • Go to Hamilton Pool – a breathtaking natural oasis situated 23 miles west of Austin. The pool developed naturally when the dome of an underground river broke due to huge corrosion thousands of years ago.
  • See space artifacts and attend fun shows at Space Center Houston.
  • Walkway along the San Antonio River and see parades and artisan walks.
  • Experience canopy tour, flying through cypress and pine timberlands in Spicewood.
  • Try the slow-smoked pit barbecue, one of the delicacies, of Texas, and don’t forget to taste the famous Texas wine.
  • Head over to the National Polka Festival to have fun with your family.
  • Drink craft beer and eat Tex Mex in the cool city of Austin.
  • Attend the annual 10-day festival, South By Southwest.
  • Take a road trip to Big Bend and sleep under the stars.
  • Catch a ballgame at Minute Maid Park, the Houston Astros stadium.
Camper Van Big Bend Texas

» Did you know? Two Scots Abroad got hitched in Austin!

Utah Bucket List

  • Be adventurous climbing to the top at the Brave Angels Landing.
  • Explore the lofty sandstone monoliths, slot canyons, rock creations and suspended gardens at Zion National Park.
  • Run like Forrest Gump and check out the mesa tops at Monument Valley.
Monument Valley Utah

Vermont Bucket List

  • Pay your culinary condolences at Ben & Jerry’s Flavor Graveyard in Waterbury Village.
  • Spend time in the Queen City of Burlington drinking craft beer and people watching.
  • Have fun outdoors hiking, biking, waterskiing, waterboarding, and lake cruising at Basin Harbor.
  • Visit the Lake Champlain Islands for tranquility.
  • Go skiing in Stowe or Killington.
  • Buy Rabble-Rouser chocolate in the smallest state capital, Montpelier.
  • Leave a message for your dog angels at Dog Mountain.
  • Enjoy the serene and calm atmosphere of the picture-postcard village of Woodstock.
  • See a show and admire art in the liberal, Brattleboro.
  • Try award-winning cheese in Grafton.

Vermont is particularly special in fall. Here’s our list of places to visit to see spectacular foliage in the US.

New England Road Trip Itinerary Burlington Vermont

Virginia Bucket List

  • Relax and enjoy amazing views while driving the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway. The mountain views and waterfalls along the way will surely lift your spirit.
  • Attend the annual Apple Blossom Festival in Winchester and enjoy tasty apples.
  • Get epic views of Virginia from Mt. Rogers, the tallest peak in Virginia. It has a height of 5,729 feet above mean sea level.
  • Head over to the James River for swimming, rafting, or kayaking.
  • Spend a day or two camping in Shenandoah National Park.
  • Explore the forests and the vast network of trails, such as the long-distance Appalachian Trail.
  • Don’t forget to try Virginia wine and Virginia oysters.
  • Pay tribute to King Neptune and have fun at the Neptune Festival, Virginia Beach, every September.
Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia

Washington State Bucket List

  • Eat chowder at Pike Place Market and drink in the first-ever Starbucks in Downtown Seattle
  • Go boating on Ballard Locks.
  • Hit the slopes at Mount Spokane.
  • See the tulips explode with color at Skagit Valley.
  • Read our Washington bucket list next.
Pike Place Market sign at night

West Virginia Bucket List

  • See spectacular waterfalls at Blackwater Falls and Elakala Falls.
  • Visit Harpers Ferry and explore the rocks where the Shenandoah River meets the Potomac River.
  • While you’re there, see the historic high street, too.
  • Dark tourism fans should check out Lake Shawnee Amusement Park, the abandoned theme park from the 1920s.
Harpers Ferry High Street West Virginia

Wisconsin Bucket List

  • Meet Door County’s cool and friendly community and have fun at the lighthouses, beaches, and forested state parks.
  • Drive on the scenic Wisconsin Great River Road parallel to the magnificent Mississippi River.
  • Grab some good luck by rubbing the nose of the honey badger statue at the Wisconsin Capitol Building in Madison.

Check out our guides to free things to do in Madison, Wisconsin in fall, and Wisconsin in winter.

Madison Wisconsin Capitol Building

Wyoming Bucket List

  • Experience winter and summer adventures like skiing, snowboarding, rafting, and horseback riding at Jackson Hole, Grand Teton National Park.
  • Take a dip at Hot Springs State Park – the largest single mineral hot spring in the world and known for its relaxing effects.
Grand Teton National Park Wyoming

Washington, DC Bucket List

  • Take a free, guided tour of the US Capitol building, home of the US Congress.
  • Explore the beauty of nature while hiking in Rock Creek Park and enjoy some recreational activities.
  • Do some quality shopping and dining in Georgetown.
  • Explore the free Smithsonian Museums.
  • Attend a concert or show at the Kennedy Center.
  • Explore the attractions and historical buildings in the old town of Alexandria.
  • Have fun at fall-themed celebrations like Oktoberfest, focused on food, beer, and games.
  • Taste mouth-watering foods like smoked sockeye salmon, sauteed geoduck, and oyster stew.
  • Visit in March for the Cherry Blossom Festival and April for peak bloom.
Cherry Blossom tree next to US Capitol Building in Washington DC

Save to your United States Bucket List planning board

USA bucket list, things to do in USA, best places to see in the USA before you die, America bucket list, must-see USA, USA destinations, USA itineraries, places to visit in the USA, USA bucket list challenge, places to visit in the US, US, road trip, US weekend getaways, places to visit in the US as a couple, USA for families

Final Words

How long will it take to cover all these things to do in the USA? Let us know how many you’ve done in the comments below! About the author

Anne is a big fan of the USA with its vast landscapes, captivating culture, diverse culinary and thousands of activities.

20 Best Things To Do In The USA In October

Kid. Pumpkin. Fall scene

Looking for the best thing to do in the USA in October? From fall colors to fancy dress, farm visit and festivals, this guide details activities that can be done at home and also events across the country.

Fall is the perfect time to visit the US with its cool temperatures, halloween celebrations, historically important events and pretty foliage. So let’s dive into these fun and informative activities in October in the USA.

We absolutely adore the US in fall and have also written about National Parks in October and best places to visit in October some of which will be introduced in this guide.

You may also like our guide to the recommended things to do in the US in September or US in November.

USA in October: Things You Must Do!

Growing up in New England, these are staples of October activities. I hope you get to try them all out for yourself!

1. Go Apple Picking

Pick your own apples for eating or to make pies! Apple crumble is a personal favorite.

Top tip: Seek out a family-owned farm where the crowds will be smaller and the experience much more enjoyable!

Treat yourself to a caramel apple before you leave.

2. Take the Kiddos to a Pumpkin Patch

There’s not much to do at a pumpkin patch, but kids seem to find them indescribably fun to visit.

If your little will sit still, it’s always a good photo op.

Pumpkins Littleton New Hampshire

3. Carve a Pumpkin

All ages enjoy this activity and its end result.

Not very artistically talented? Don’t worry, there are plenty of patterns you can buy and follow for a quality jack o’ lantern.

Pumpkin patch in Newport Rhode Island

4. Vist Jack o’ Lantern Festivals

Want to be wowed by light? The Blaze at Hudson Valley in New York State light up over 7,000 illuminated jack o’lanterns

Pumpkins are carved by professional artists so get ready to be impressed.

That’s not all! There’s a planetarium, a windmill, the Headless Horseman and much much more.

The Jack O’Lantern Spectacular in Louisville, Kentucky is another event worth noting.

You may also like our guide to Upstate New York in fall.

Batson River truck pumpkins Kennebunk Maine

5. Taste the Seasonal Flavors

Pumpkin Spice Lattes and cinnamon-scented everything — autumn is a season doused in seasoning.

Remember to take your clean reusable cups if drinking spiced lattes as a takeout.

But there’s s’more….

S’mores, ciders, and apple pie are everywhere too.

Take advantage and indulge your sweet tooth.

6. Get Outdoors!

October is one of the best months for temperatures across the nation.

The summer humidity has faded but evenings are still warm enough to enjoy al fresco.

This is the time for camping and hiking as much as it’s perfect for BBQs and beach walks.

For example, Texas enjoys a pleasant 70 to 80°F in October, making it one of the best months to visit Big Bend National Park for hiking.

Or hike among the fall colors at an east coast national park.

Dog Canyon hike Big Bend National Park. Craig, hat, bag.

7. Explore a Corn Maze

Try to navigate your way through, or — better yet — make it a competition and race your partner through the maze! Just don’t knock over all the little kids ambling around.

This is unique to the States. It’s not a fall activity that is done in the United Kingdom!

Corn Maze Sign.

8. Take a Haunted Hayride

Some are actually scary while others are more of a laugh.

Gauge your own fear-factor and book accordingly.

Shelburne Orchards Vermont pumpkin hay

9. Visit a Haunted House (or Woods!)

A haunted house is one thing — you’ll walk around with the occasional fright and laugh about your fears upon exiting. But a haunted woods is a whole other beast.

Go ahead and just try to pretend like you’re not scared of what lurks between the trees after one of these experiences…

10. Learn About The Witch Trials

Why not visit Salem in Massachusetts to learn about the USA’s witch trials?

This is where a number of hearings and prosecutions took place between 1692 and 1693.

The accused? Those who were thought to have been practising witchcraft.

The accusers? Girls as young as 11 years old and then those accused themselves brought forward more names.

Witch House Salem Corwin House

Salem highlights its past and present all October-long although you will experience a spooky season all year round here.

The 1960s TV show, Bewitched and the movie Hocus Pocus has many filming locations here.

Check out the Haunted Happenings for details.

The best places to stay in Salem book out fast over the Hallowe’en weekend so be sure to reserve a bed when the diary opens around November the year before.

Elizabeth Montgomery Statue.

11. Get Your Costume Ready for Halloween

From swanky NYC parties to trick-or-treating in the suburbs, Halloween is celebrated by all ages and types.

Top tip: Be mindful of your costume choice.

12. Visit Halloweentown

Head to St. Helens in Oregon for a town-wide celebration a la Halloweentown, the old-school Disney Channel film.

The town revives its role annually.

Expect street performers and cast photo opps!

Can’t make it to Oregon? Check out the Halloweentown movie drinking game.

Fan of the Twilight films? Check out its filming location in St. Helens.

13. New Orleans and Spooky Tours

While New Orleans is more known for Mardi Gras, its Halloween celebrations are also worth visiting.

This city is vibrant all year round, but Halloween highlights the locals’ particular affinity for costumes and masks.

All year round, visitors take part in the voodoo tours in New Orleans which will be especially thrilling in October.

Check availability here.

One Day Sign New Orleans

14. Halloween Dog Parade in New York

Be prepared to coo and say ahhh at the annual dog parade at Tompkins Square Halloween Dog Parade in NYC.

Humans get crafty with costumes for their puppers!

15. Annual Historic Irvington Hallowe’en Festival

Head to Indianapolis for a week-long Hallowe’en celebration!

Expect house decor, vendors, games, ghost tours, competition and a 5 mile run.

16. Ooo at the Foliage

October is when the leaves turn red and orange and create a magical landscape in forests and by lakes.

New England is the best place to see the fall colors but there are a few other locations, which you can read about here.

Fall colors birds eye view Lincoln New Hampshire

17. Fall Train Rides

Hop aboard a fall train ride in New Hampshire and see the glorious foliage while staying cozy in a cabin.

Vintage trains depart historic rail stations in North Conway and Lincoln and ride through small New England towns and the autumn hues of the state’s mountains and hills.

Window Valley Train North Conway New Hampshire windows 2

18. Dia de los Muertos Celebrations

Head to San Antonio in Texas to celebrate Dia de los Muertos, with ofrendas, poetry, dancing, local vendors, and more!

This free, two-day event honors Mexican and Latin American traditions, attracting big crowds every year.

Colorful umbrellas of restaurants along the San Antonio Riverwalk in Texas

19. Learn Important History

October in the US includes the Columbus Day long weekend.

Learn why celebrating Columbus is problematic.

There’s been a push to change the name of the national holiday to Indigenous Peoples Day, in honor of the First Nations and their significance to this land and culture.

Next, study up on major issues with the “Pilgrims and Indians” tropes.

Thanksgiving is in November, but you’ll start seeing these problematic symbols in October.

Here’s a helpful resource to learn more about this whole season in the US.

Sunrise over Plymouth Harbor Massachusetts

20. Celebrate Oktoberfest

Many cities and towns around the US put on huge Oktoberfest events featuring parades, dancing, food, and of course, beer!

Many participants dress up in lederhosen and dirndl for the festival.

Read more about it in our guide to Oktoberfest in the US.

Oktoberfest couple with beer

Save for later! Book mark to your planning board

USA in October, things to do in the USA in October, Best places to visit in October in USA, USA October travel, best places to travel, October vacation ideas USA, October, travel destinations USA, Fall in USA, Fall colors, New England, Halloween USA, Halloween festivals USA, Halloween in USA

Austin Christmas Events: 32 Things to do during Winter

Guitars lit up in dark

Come winter, Austin is alive with Christmas spirit and the spirits that fill your glass! This guide to Austin Christmas events details the best things to do in the city during the festive period including music, parades, shows, lights and bar events.

Don’t miss this extensive list of what to do in Austin all year round too!

Things to do in Austin in December

Gliding, singing, and slugging; whatever your favorite festive pastime, you can do it in The Live Music Capital of the World this winter.

Austin Holiday Lights, Parades and Winter Activities

1. Ice Skating at Whole Foods (on the Roof!) 

Although it may be 80 degrees outside, you can always count on the Whole Foods corporate world headquarters (525 N Lamar Blvd) to crank down the AC and host their seasonal rooftop skating rink.  

→ Pro tip: Grab a snack or a bottle of wine from the store to enjoy on the roof apres skate! 

2. Zilker Trail of Lights and Tree 

After you’ve seen the Trail of Lights in Zilker Park, check out the Zilker Holiday Tree.

Perfect for photo ops and sinful snacks!

This 155 ft string of lights shaped tree is free to visit. There is sometimes music and there is always scalding hot chocolate and kettle corn.

Austin Christmas Trail of Lights

3. Minor Mishaps Winter Solstice Lantern Parade

‘Bourbon Street meets Budapest’! 

Join this 25 piece renegade brass band as they put on a fun mobile brass band show along the banks of Austin’s Lady Bird Lake (where I married Gemma and Craig, Two Scots Abroad!)

Guests of the Minor Mishaps Marching Band are encouraged to bring lanterns…. And to rock out! It’s free but you need to RSVP.

4. KRAMPUS – Dead Music Capitol Marching Band  

Austin at Christmas is all about the marching bands, it is the town that hosts HONK! Festival after all! 

KRAMPUS are like the naughty step-sister band of Minor Mishap who also host a holiday parade on the streets of Austin, goth-tastic no less!

5. Chuy’s Holiday Parade Downtown

Chuy’s Holiday Parade harkens back to America’s traditional small town celebrations: lots of school marching bands, veterans, etc, giving it that warm and fuzzy old school feel.

Pro tip: The best vantage point is from above.

Head to the balcony of Stephen F. Austin Hotel Bar and enjoy a drink and some truffle oil popcorn while you watch. 

Chuy’s Tex Mex features in this guide on where to eat in Austin.

6. 37th Street Lights 

After a few years of being closed, Austin’s favorite holiday neighborhood is back! 

Crank up your tunes, roll down your windows, and soak up some genuine “old Austin” holiday spirit on 37th Street

7. Boat Trail of Lights 

Prefer to see some lights on water?

No problem! Check out the Boat Trail of Lights on Lake Austin.

This is where locals decorate their own boats and sail down the lake.

If you don’t have a boat, you can book a spot on Austin’s Party Barge, or a table at Lakeway Resort and Spa.

8. German Christmas Market

The German-Texan Heritage Society hosts a Christmas market (507 East 10th St) in Austin featuring decorations as they are imported from the Erzgebirge, an East-German region which known for it’s Christmas customs.

Glühwein and a visit from St Nick is also on the schedule!

9. Christmas Light Show at Mozarts 

Mozart’s Coffee has been in action since the 90s and its light show has become quite an institution.

Expect piano playing on the lit up piano, choirs and of course, coffee!

10. Peppermint Parkway

Drive through millions of lights of the Peppermint Parkways, Circuit of Americas (9201 Circuit of the Americas Blvd).

Share some love at the kissing booth, hop aboard the Peppermint Express at Peppermint Plaza, and pick a fresh Christmas tree from the Winter Woods at this lit Austin Christmas event.

Music in Austin at Christmas 

Austin is the music capital of the world and this title doesn’t drop just because Santa is coming to town.

11. Austonettes

The Austonettes play a cappella holiday show every winter where they cover holiday tunes.

Their tribute to the film “Love, Actually” is especially adorable.

12. Kelly Willis & Bruce Robinson Annual Christmas Show at Paramount

Kelly & Bruce are Austin music royalty.

Every year they host a sold out holiday show at the historic Austin Theatre.

Get in the spirit with some Twang Time! 

13. Bob Schneider & the Moonlight Orchestra Annual Holiday Show  

Bob Schneider can be found with his “Lonelyland” residency every Monday at the iconic Saxon Pub in South Austin.  

However, every winter, he cleans up and plays with the Moonlight Orchestra for this festive holiday show.

14. Music FREE WEEK in January 

Does what it says on the tin! Free bands all week in January. Perfect, since everyone is feeling the festive pinch! 

Love music? Check out our guide on how to SXSW for free  + where to stay

Austin at Christmas skyline while dark

Festive Restaurants and Christmas Bars in Austin

15. Justine’s Winter Tents 

The coolest place to warm up!

Justine’s creates elaborate “winter tents” which more than double the space of this super hip French restaurant.

They also host awesome parties and theme nights.

Open late with mouthwatering steak frites, Justine’s is the place to be seen this Christmas in Austin!

16. Fonda San Miguel 

Fonda San Miguel is like visiting a Mexican hacienda – right in central Austin!  

It’s super festive and always delicious. Serving excellent margaritas, Fonda San Miguel is a true Texas Holiday tradition. → Pro tip: Try the traditional corn soup.

Christmas cocktail Fonda San Miguel

17. LaLa’s Little Nugget 

It’s *always* Christmas at this legendary Austin dive-bar, LaLa’s Little Nugget (2207 Justin Ln).  

Also features an an old-school jukebox and games.

18. Donn’s Depot Honky Tonk Christmas

Nothing says Texas like Honky Tonk so why not visit Donn’s Depot (1600 W 5th St) for a tradition and Christmas fusion?

Established in 1978, this piano bar has two dance floors, and is located in old rail cars and a former depot.

Hot and cold festive cocktail menu available every year!

19. S’mores at Halcyon 

Fancy a treat?  

Halcyon (218 West 4th St) will let you fire up a bunsen burner and roast your own marshmallows from the comfort of your own sofa!  

Just watch the flame near the throw pillows!  

20. Christmas Tree at the Driskill Hotel  

Don’t let the ghost scare you away!  

Enjoy a photo with the famous tree at the Driskill Hotel (604 Brazos St) and a cocktail with a friend in the fun Cattleman’s hotel bar.

21. Snow At Edge Rooftop

Snow falls every hour on the hour in winter at JW Marriott Austin’s Edge Rooftop (110 E 2nd St).

Melt marshmallows over an open fire, watch the city turn from day to night, and get tipsy on the  hot buttered rum cocoa at this stunning rooftop Christmas bar.

22. Gibson Wonderland

Gibson Street Bar (1109 South Lamar) loves a holiday and is known for its Nightmare on Gibson and Gibson Wonderland decor.

Sip on a spiked hot coco under the magical Christmas interior.

23. The South Pole at Geraldine’s

Grab your closest pals at hideaway at Geraldine’s (605 Davis St) igloos.

Order a Christmas cocktail and soak it up with Southern comfort food.

24. Miracle on 5th Street Christmas Bar 

This pop up bar (307 W 5th St) in downtown Austin is festive and fab.  

Speciality Christmas cocktails in Santa mugs are on the menu.

→  Pro tip: It’s usually packed, so plan ahead!

Christmas mugs at The Eleanor Miracle on 5th St Austin

Christmas Shopping in Austin

25. Thrift Tour & Reuse Immersion with Bernadette Noll 

Want a totally unique shopping experience?  

Lookout for Bernadette Noll of Austin Creative Reuse take you on a guided tour of her favorite thrift shops, vintage shops & reuse centers.  

Upcycle, baby! 

You may also like our free things to do in Austin guide.

26. South Congress

This stretch of street hosts some of the most fun shops in Austin.

Lucy in Disguise, Yard Dog, Tesoros Import Store, Big Top Candy Shop, Allen’s Boots…

You’ll have a blast strolling around and you can even pick up a taco and catch some music in the beer garden at Guero’s Taco Bar!

South Congress is where many of Austin’s IG spots are located.

Allens Boots red sign with blue skies South Congress Austin

27. Fairs for Holiday Shopping

Looking for something local and crafty to purchase? 

Look no further than the following three markets.

Cherrywood Art Fair for an art filled two-day event with local artists, live music, kids activities and food.

Blue Genie Art Bazaar is an online and in-person shopping experience that offers personal shopping too.

Hotel San Jose Holiday Market hosts local makers, food and drink specials, and live music so you can bop while you shop.

Christmas Theatre, Film and Art

28. Austin Swing Syndicate Swing Dance Lessons

Now that you are here in Texas, you need to learn to dance like you are from here!  

Austin Swing Syndicate offers weekly dance lessons at the beautiful Texas Federation of Women’s Club.  

Don’t be shy! 

29. December Specialty Screenings at the Alamo Ritz 

The Alamo Ritz is always a fun time.

This retro theater has food and drink and always a surprising lineup of films during the holidays.

30. Make Art at Smudge Studios 

Want to make art?  

Try Smudge Studios for a super fun and creative art studio with its own self contained splatter paint room.

→ Bonus: They have a great gift shop!

31. Creek Show Art Installation 

The annual Creek Show art installation on Waller Creek is the coolest thing in town.

Catch it while you can because it’s only up briefly.

Christmas Races in Austin

Work of the calories in time for the turkey!

32. Fun Runs and 5Ks

Trail of Lights Fun Run is an annual route that runs through the festive Austin Trail of Lights!

Turkey Trot has been running (boom boom) since the 90s and includes 5-mile run, 1-mile walk, Stepping Stone School Kids-K.

Real Ale Brewing 5K is a popular running, and drinking, event an hour from the city in Blanco.

Where to Stay

Have you even been to Austin if you’ve not stayed in an airstream? We did this back in 2015 and it was cool overnight stay. Click here for full details.

If you prefer an apartment, this modern one has a heated swimming pool is in walking distance to the hip SoCo. Want more? Here’s our list.

Pin to your Austin board for future reference

Things to do in Austin at Christmas, Things to do in Austin in December, Austin Christmas, Things to do in Austin, Texas, Austin Things to do, Trail of Lights, Austin Travel, Austin food and where to eat, Cheap budget free Austin, Austin markets, Austin Budapest, what to do in Austin, Austin Texas travel, Austin photography, Austin tips, Austin nightlife #Austin #Travel #ChristmasTravel

Final Words

Christmas in Austin is a fun time for locals and visitors alike. There are lots of festivities and festivals going on in the streets, parks, bars and restaurants. It’s a great time to support local businesses too. So whether you are looking for live music, Christmas cocktails or light festivals there’s something for everyone in this things to do in Austin in winter guide. Looking for somewhere hotter in the US this December? Here’s our guide to the best places to visit in winter.

About the author Sarah Greene Reed wasn’t born in Texas, but she got there as soon as she could. The host of the infamous “Cheetos, Tito’s & Speedos Party”, this artist/mom/venue owner can’t sit still and is usually dreaming up her next adventure. You’ll most likely find her with big hair, a cold drink, and a belly laugh.

Sarah Greene Reed

30 Things to do in Chicago at Christmas

Chicago Christmas Winter December Skyline Snow

The city of Chicago is known to flex its majesty during the Christmas season. Chicago comes alive with anticipation as temperatures drop, and it is truly a magical place to spend Christmas with loved ones, new travel friends or even alone.

From popular Christmas activities to lesser-known winter events, here’s your guide to things to do in Chicago at Christmas for all ages and budgets.

While Christmas activities might look a little different this year, there are still many options for Christmas cheer. 

You may also like our guides to 3-day Chicago itinerary, free things to do in Chicago, and unique activities.

Christmas Things to do in Chicago

1. Christkindlmarket Christmas Market

For a European Christmas experience that can be found in Chicago, check out the Christkindlmarket Christmas Market at Daley Plaza in the Loop and Wrigleyville at Gallagher Way.

Pick up the perfect Christmas gift from November at the shopping experience inspired by the 16th century Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg, Germany.

Christkindlmarket Chicago is an authentic partnership between the city and Nuremberg, Germany and has been running since 1996.

In the past, vendors such as Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas Store have traveled from Germany to participate in the Christmas holiday market!

Enjoy filling European food like currywurst, raclette, and strudel, perfect for winter.

It continues to be one of the most popular things to do in Chicago at Christmas.  

Chrishtkindlmarket also features in our guide to Illinois in winter.

2. The Nutcracker at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lose a couple of hours to a majestic rendition of The Nutcracker presented by the Joffrey Ballet.

The Art Deco-style Lyric Opera House (20 N Upper Wacker Dr) hosts the annual winter show featuring story, dancing, and live orchestra.

3. The Bean Selfie

One of the most recognizable symbols in Chicago is that big silver bean at Millennium Park.

Just because the ground is dusted/covered in the white stuff, it does not stop winter lovers from taking a reflection shot with the number one attraction in the city!

Officially called Cloud Gate, this stainless steel figure is the work of Indian-born British artist Sir Anish Kapoor and is made up of 169 polished plates; that’s a lot of cleaning!

If you are doing it for the ‘Gram, you might want to get a picture of Lake Michigan completely frozen up with the Chicago skyline standing behind.

Check out our free things to do in Chicago guide for more.

Cloud Gate silver Chicago Bean with reflections of skyline and skyscrapers behind it

4. Ice Skating In Chicago at Millennium Park

Just because it is winter, it does not mean that you cannot enjoy outdoor activities this Christmas. Chicago has a number of one-of-a-kind ice skating rinks all over the city.

There are both indoor and outdoor rinks that thousands of people visit during Christmas.

One of the most visited rinks in Chicago is the Mccormick Tribune Ice Skating Rink at Millennium Park. It is open from November to March every year.

Look out for the 2-4-1 offers, which let you skate both Millennium and Maggie Daley Park.

If you are new in town, you can hire ice-skating gear. One of the family-friendly things to do in Chicago in winter.

5. Ice Skating Ribbon

Another Chicago ice-skating opportunity is at the Ice Skating Ribbon located at Maggie Daley Park Ice Skating Ribbon.

This outdoor skating rink opens in winter and it differs to other rinks as it snakes around the park, like a ribbon!

Low section of couple in skates ice skating on rink

6. Sledding In Chicago

Sledding is a great way to bond with family and friends during cold winter days.

Every Christmas holiday, sledging enthusiasts head to Cricket Hill at Montrose Harbor, Palmisano Park in Bridgeport, the Dan Ryan Woods and Soldier Field.

These hills offer the perfect sledding places and they are safe for kids too. For people looking to sled away from the city, they can head out to the suburbs where places like James Park (Evanston’s “Mount Trashmore”) and Polar Peak at Frozemont (Rosemount MB Financial Park, 20 mins from Chicago Downtown) reign supreme.

Father and son having fun sledding in the snow

7. Wrigley Building Christmas Tree

Stunning tree at Wrigley Plaza (400-410 Michigan Avenue), which pops against the glazed terra-cotta on Magnificent Mile.

The Wrigley is one of the many festive trees around the city but the most iconic.

8. IO Godfrey Igloos

Climb inside the heated igloos of the Godfrey Hotel’s rooftop winter scene!

These dreamy see-through igloos keep you warm while you drink and enjoy the views.

Back by popular demand, these rooftop igloos seat six people; one bottle per group must be purchased.

Bookings live from the end of October, a deposit is taken to secure it.

You may also like our guide to hidden gems in Chicago.

9. Curling By The Lake

Harry Caray’s Tavern (9700 E Grand Ave) at Navy Pier is where you’ll find a fun game of curling.

Curling By The Lake consists of a patio curling rink made of Polyglide synthetic ice, Curling Cocktails, and a cozy Warming Hut with electric a fireplace and blankets!

10. Winter Wonderland at Gallagher Way

Head to the Wrigleyville neighborhood for ice skating, ice bumper cars, and private chalets for rent.

There’s also a host of Christmas food from around the world like perogies, and crepes.

11. Frosty’s A Christmas Bar

Head to 809 W Evergreen (Goose Island) for Frosty’s pop-up Christmas bar which has heaps of Instagrammable props like swings, giant soldiers and candy canes.

Get ready to party at Frosty’s! Check out the official website for this winter updates.

12. Have Glogg At Simon’s Tavern

Looking for the perfect night spot to spend quality time with friends?

The Andersonville neighborhood dive bar, Simon’s Tavern (5210 N Clark St), was recently voted as the most loved bar in all of Chicago.

The place has been open since 1934 and is perfect for people looking to enjoy a night out during the Christmas period.

You can cozy up with friends, knock back the tavern’s famous spiced wine and feed the jukebox all night long.

During the holidays, a special neon sign is put up on the front window proclaiming, “It’s glogg time!”

If you are looking to drink by an open fire, head to Broken Shaker or Drumbar for an outside fire with a classy twist.

13. Polar Express Pulls Into Chicago

Hop aboard the CTA’s holiday train, which is decked out in over 60,000 lights, tinsel and a visit from Santa!

Check out the official CTA website for this winter updates.

14. Christmas Shopping in Chicago

Looking for a special gift for a loved one? How about you head to one of the many holiday markets in Chicago.

As you browse the markets, you will experience the wintertime magic while having a blast shopping for the perfect gifts for everyone on your list.

The seasonal market circuit offers a variety of merchandise, from Chicago-themed gifts to sugary confections to vintage clothing.

You are free to enjoy a boozy beverage as you shop. Christkindlmarket at Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago is where you will find the European inspired Christmas market stalls and lights to boot.

If, like me, you prefer vintage shopping, head to the Lower West Side for Knee Deep Vintage, Richard’s Fabulous Finds at Wicker Park (I love this area) and Encore Resale Clothing at Hyde Park.

15. Visit Chicago’s Toy Stores

Chicago has several toy stores.

During the Christmas season, the shops are open until late hours to accommodate the number of last-minute shoppers.

The toys available at these stores aren’t just for kids.

You will find all sorts of toys, including rare collectables.

One of the places to visit in Chicago during winter is Macy’s (the old Marshall Fields) to see the 45-foot tree in the Walnut Room.

Christmas Tree Magnificent Mile Chicago

16. Check Out The Latest Christmas Movies

Every year, there are Christmas-themed movies that get released in cinemas.

Chicago is home to one of the best cinemas equipped with the latest technology to provide a thrilling experience to movie buffs. There are several movies released each year with different ratings.

Instead of staying home and enjoying the same Christmas films you have watched over and over, why not head to one of the cinemas in Chicago and catch the latest Christmas movies. Bring along the whole family to make the experience memorable.

Alternatively, what about Christmas date night? AMC Dine-in Theatres Block 37 lets you eat a freshly prepared meal, have a drink in hand and watch a movie!

Logan Theatre (2646 N Milwaukee Avenue) is an old-school cinema with crushed velvet seats and cheap show tickets. You can expect new movies, throwbacks and late-night movies.

Downtown Chicago winter view with frozen lake

17. Christmas Shows in Chicago

Do you enjoy watching live plays?

Every year, local theaters in Chicago present both old favourites and new plays on stage.

Venues also host festive orchestras and ballet shows.

Check out the historic CIBC Theatre, the James M. Nederlander Theatre, and the Cadillac Palace Theatre for more.

Chicago Theatre sign and buildings

18. Adler Planetarium

Not specifically a Christmas activity but a unique point of interest in Chicago for those who like all things space-related – Alder Planetarium (1300 S Lake Shore Drive).

Many of the shows start at midnight for obvious reasons.

You can expect educational shows, hands-on activities and expert exhibitions. In 2020, you can watch a show online.

Check out our guide to unique things to do in Chicago for more alternative ideas.

Chicago in December in Winter_

19. Book a Snug and Eat Fondue Until You Puke

OK, don’t puke, but you can reserve a cozy nook at Geja’s Cafe, where the menu calls for fondue and fine wine.

For over 50 years, Geja’s Cafe (340 W Armitage Avenue) has been encouraging visitors to play with their food over an open fire.

This award-winning restaurant has won the title of one of the most romantic places to dine in the US by USA Today!

20. Gorge on Monster Hot Chocolates

Did you even go on a winter city break if you didn’t get a pic of you and your bestie cheersing an overflowing hot chocolate packed with giant marshmallows?

Indulge your sweet tooth while warming up with killer hot chocolates at Bombobar (832 W Randolph Street) or XO Marshmallow (6977 N Sheridan Road).

Christmas Festivals

21. Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony

You will not have properly experienced Christmas in Chicago unless you do the things listed in this post, especially the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony.

Every year, the city of Chicago erects an official 50-foot+ Christmas tree in the majestic Millennium Park. 

It won’t just be the tree that is glowing as Christmas-lovers capture the event on their phones.

There might just be another bright surprise for you too.

22. Morton Arboretum Illumination

Morton Arboretum Illumination, 30 minutes outside of Chicago, is day trip worth taking for the Illumination: Tree Lights.

The two-mile-long driving event along Arboretum’s 1,700 acres has more than lit up 10,000 trees!

Open from Thanksgiving through to New Year’s Day. A great family-friendly driving experience. 

23. Christmas Around the World at Museum of Science & Industry

It is the tradition that the Museum of Science & Industry plays host to the Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light event each year from the second week in November until January.

Expect a floor-to-dome-sized Christmas tree surrounding bother small (but in no means small) trees decorated by volunteers.

Each tree represents the different ways that Christmas is celebrated around the world, hence the title. Museum of Science & Industry can be found at 5700 S Lake Shore Drive.

You can also learn how to say Merry Christmas in lots of languages!

24. Chicago Christmas Lights Festival

Chicago’s Magnificent Mile (Mag’s Mile) is home to many hotels, shops and restaurants, but for one night in November, the street comes to life with music, light and a few Disney characters thrown in to kick-start the festive feels.

25. Lightscape at the Chicago Botanic Garden

Walk by and through the huge light installations at Chicago Botanic Garden’s Lightscape (1000 Lake Cook Rd).

This family-friendly Christmas event marries nature with music, light, fire, and color.

26. Santa Hustle Chicago

Whack on the red suit, beard, hat and sneakers – it’s time to compete for the gold medal during the Santa Hustle!

Volunteers pass out goodies and keep spirits high as you run through The Windy City.

The course includes at 5K route and a kids dash for families. Cookies included!

Other Winter Festivals in Chicago

27. Día de Muertos

Honor and celebrate those who have lost their lives during the annual Day of the Dead exhibition at the National Museum of Mexican Art.

The exhibit features art, photography, and traditionally decorated altars.

28. Kwanzaa at DuSable Black History Museum

Learn more about the annual holiday, Kwanzaa, celebrated in African-American culture at the DuSable Black History Museum.

Events include education and performances.

29. NYE Fireworks at Navy Pier

Ring in the new year for free at Navy Pier with a family-friendly festival.

The event will feature a countdown to midnight then a huge firework display.

There are also a number of premium NYE events throughout the city, including a party at Navy Pier where you can see the fireworks as part of the ticket.

30. Lunar New Year Parade

Celebrations in Chicago stretch into January with the Lunar New Year Parade.

The colorful parade includes a traditional dragon, dancing teams, floats, and marching bands.

Getting Around Chicago

It’s really easy to navigate downtown Chicago; like Glasgow in Scotland, it uses a grid system.

Downtown is divided by Madison Street (North and South), and State Street splits up East and West.

There is an extensive transport system for those who prefer not to walk and/or want to squeeze more in.

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) runs the train and bus system in the city.

You can pay with cash for single trips or invest in a reloadable Ventra Transit Card or Unlimited Ride Pass for multi-use savings. The ‘L’ train covers 144 rail stations, and two of the links operate 24 hours a day.

The Blue Line links the airport (O’Hare) to downtown, and the Red Link hooks up the North and the South. Some of the buses also run 24 hours a day.

You need the exact change for buses. You can plan your journey using the Chicago route planner.

Weather in Chicago

You can expect temperatures of around 21°F (-6.1°C) to 35°F (1.7°C).

Prepare for ice and snow from December. Wrap up, wear layers and invest in a good quality waterproof coat.

If this doesn’t sound like temperatures you can handle, consider fall in Chicago instead.

Orange fall trees with Buckingham Fountain Grant Park in Chicago

What to Wear in Chicago in Winter

  • Layers, keep warm outdoors but get ready to remove items when indoors 
  • Thermals if you plan to be out for a long time 
  • Padded outerwear
  • Wool outerwear is warm but not great when it gets wet
  • Hat, gloves, scarf to keep cozy 
  • Extra socks, consider pantyhose under your pants 
  • Comfortable waterproof or snow boots, especially if you plan to walk a lot
  • Sunshades for winter glare
  • Tote bags for shopping
Chicago panoramic view in the winter. Woman in red coat.

Final Words

If you are new to the city, visiting Chicago in December is an exciting time full of festivals and markets. If you are a local, I hope you’ve discovered something new to try out this winter. Please do tell us your favourite Christmas activities in Chicago below!