9 Urban Experiences Worth Braving the Cold For

Julia Fawal - Nov 13, 2023
Urban Experiences Winter

Just because the temperature drops below 50 doesn’t mean you have to spend every evening huddled on your couch watching Love Actually (again). Here are nine examples of great winter activities worth leaving the house for.

1. Parol Lantern Festival

San Francisco, CA 

Every year, the cultural heritage district of SOMA Pilipinas hosts an annual festival celebrating the parol — a colorful lantern that serves as an iconic symbol of Christmas in the Philippines. Attendees can view parols made by Filipino artists, taste-test traditional Filipino treats, listen to live music, watch the lighting ceremony, and even learn how to make their own parol. 

Date: Dec. 9, 2023

2. Portland Winter Light Festival

Portland, OR

Over 200,000 people flock to this super-charged version of the traditional holiday light show, which has included kinetic fire sculptures, hula-hoop flash mobs, live performances, and more. The 2024 theme is “What Glows Under Pressure,” a tribute to the bioluminescent creatures of the deep sea.

Date: Feb. 2 – 10, 2024 Learn more:

3. Winterland at Gallagher Way

Chicago, IL

Chicago isn’t short on skating rinks, but none are quite like Wrigley Field. The home of the Cubs turns into a winter wonderland filled with on-field games, carnival rides, an ice slide, and, of course, an iconic 12,000-square-foot rink.

Date: Nov. 21, 2023 – Jan. 7, 2024  

4. GingerBread Lane

New York, NY (and other locations)

Want to witness a Guinness World Record this holiday season? Visit GingerBread Lane at Chelsea Market, the largest gingerbread village in the world. Hundreds of pounds of dough, icing, and candy go into these creations (you can even see a year-by-year breakdown). And since the event is held in Chelsea Market, you can end the evening with a sweet treat or drink at one of the food stalls.

Date: Nov. 24, 2023 – Jan. 7, 2024

5. The District’s Holiday Boat Parade

Washington, DC

On December 2, over 60 bright and sparkling boats will decorate the Washington Channel for this annual parade. Spend the evening on the shore making ornaments, roasting s’mores by the fire pit, singing and dancing to karaoke, or grabbing a drink at the beer garden at this free event — and make sure you’re there for the fireworks show at 8 p.m.

Date: Dec. 2, 2023

6. Magical Winter Lights

Katy, TX

Located about 30 minutes outside of Houston, the Magical Winter Lights festival is a 50-day event that gives a traditional holiday light show a multicultural twist. Wander through settings like a space maze (in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing), Dino Kingdom (featuring life-size dinosaurs), and even a replica of the city of Houston (the fourth-largest city in America!) — all built with glowing lanterns in shapes beyond imagination. The festival also includes carnival rides and character entertainment, so start planning your visit with the whole family.

Date: Nov. 17, 2023 – Jan. 7, 2024

7. Great Figgy Pudding Caroling Competition

Seattle, WA

Every year for the past 37 years, 10,000 people head out to Pike Place Market to witness carolers singing their hearts out for the annual Great Figgy Pudding Caroling Competition. Caroling teams fundraise and compete for prizes and bragging rights, with proceeds from the event supporting the Pike Market Senior Center and Food Bank (they’ve raised over $1 million since it started). So mark your calendars to experience Pike Place after-hours and enjoy a night of carols for a cause.

Date: Dec. 1, 2023 

8. Virginia Highland Winterfest 

Atlanta, GA 

This two-day extravaganza in Atlanta’s Virginia Highland neighborhood kicks off with a Tour of Lights Block Party, showcasing the neighborhood’s holiday sparkle with live music, food, and drinks, on Friday. Then, come back on Saturday for a full-day event featuring a 2.2-mile Jingle Jog, a Holiday Motor Parade (seasonal outfits encouraged!), and a gift market with 60 local vendors.

Date: Dec. 8 and 9, 2023 Learn more:

9. Winterfest OC

Costa Mesa, CA

Southern California might not have snow-capped palm trees, but you can still experience the magic of the season at this light show and festival. With a North Pole Journey immersive experience, an Ice Trail, a 150-foot ice-tubing slide, a “Snow Play” area filled with snow, and more, you won’t even realize it’s 75 degrees outside.

Date: Nov. 24, 2023 – Jan. 7, 2024