Photo: Lynn Yeh/Shutterstock

Where to Go This Thanksgiving Instead of Going Home

Travel Insider Guides Holidays
by Noelle Alejandra Salmi Oct 13, 2021

With travel easing up, why not spend Thanksgiving somewhere new? If you plan it well, you can get a place big enough for the relatives as well. After a long travel-less stretch, you and your loved ones deserve it. Whether you want to relax at the beach, warm up in the desert, catch some early season skiing, or visit the home of Thanksgiving, here are the best places to travel this Thanksgiving break.

1. The Island of Hawaii, Hawaii

Palm trees line the cove on a Hawaiian Big Island beach

Photo: Marc Turcan/Shutterstock

Fly to the Island of Hawaii, the largest and southernmost Hawaiian Island, and you’re almost guaranteed sunshine, especially on the west side near the Kona coast. You can find perfect family-sized airbnbs on the west side, with some offering options for tennis or golf. You’ll also find airbnbs on the rainier, but very local, east side near Hilo, one of the coolest towns to visit this year.

Be sure to explore other parts of the island, like the upcountry ranch area of Waimea, the birthplace of Hawaii’s unique cowboy culture. Or drive up to the 9,200-foot Visitor Center at Mauna Kea for its stargazing program (check the website to be sure it’s happening that night), or watch vapors rise from the Kīlauea Caldera at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. Adventurous options to spice up your beach-oriented schedule include mountain biking or horseback riding in cowboy country, road biking alongside lava fields, taking your older relatives birdwatching, or giving back — a worthy Thanksgiving tradition — by planting a native trees.

When it’s time to cook, pick up some Okinawa sweet potatoes from a farmer’s market for your Hawaiian Thanksgiving dinner. Although Hawaii had asked travelers to hold off on visiting for a few weeks, the islands will welcome vaccinated travelers in November.

2. Whistler, Canada

P2P Gondola that connects the Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains

Photo: robcocquyt/Shutterstock

The US is finally opening its land borders, so it’s time to make your Canadian ski plans. The mountain peaks of Whistler, British Columbia, are already snow-covered, and the resort is scheduled to open on US Thanksgiving Day this year. Whistler Blackcomb is the biggest ski area in North America, with a superb ski school for newbies, plenty of groomed runs for intermediates, and elite level off-piste terrain as well. Down in Whistler Village, the dining and drinking scene is so good that people actually day-trip up from Vancouver for it.

Canadians had their Thanksgiving in early October, so you won’t find Turkey Day menus in the restaurants — but, IGA or Nesters supermarkets will have what you need to make an autumn feast at your rental. Or you can skip it and enjoy fondue at Basalt Wine and Salumeria or a steak a la Fiorentina at Il Caminetto. By day, non-skiers ice skate, work out, play squash, or swim at the Meadow Park Sports Centre; cycle through miles of valley trails; or contemplate art at the Audain Art Museum and a handful of galleries. You can also take the family to try their hand at Forged Axe Throwing.

Here’s what you need to know to visit Canada now. While BC residents need to show their vaccine pass to get into many indoor venues, visitors just need to show the same proof of vaccination and passport ID they used to enter Canada.

3. Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

The Lone Cypress, seen from 17 Mile Drive, in Pebble Beach, California

Photo: Lynn Yeh/Shutterstock

This postcard-perfect village overlooking California’s Carmel Bay gets hardly any rain in November, so the days are cool and dry. Ocean Avenue — the tree-lined main street with its tiny shops, restaurants, and galleries — takes you down to the cliffs overlooking tree-framed beach cove. You can walk down to the sand or stay up high to look out for the dolphins and, in November, humpback and blue whales.

To see more sea life up close, drive six miles north across the Monterey Peninsula to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the best of its kind in North America. Older relatives will appreciate the famed 17 Mile Drive, a stunning trip past the Pebble Beach Golf Course, windswept beaches, stately homes, and the area’s graceful Monterey pines. Keep driving north and in under an hour you’re in Santa Cruz, home to some of the best surfing in the US and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Drive south and in the same amount of time you’ll reach the imposing cliffs of Big Sur, where where the spectacular Pfeiffer Falls Trail reopened this summer after a 13-year closure. Alternatively, drive over those coastal hills and in twenty minutes you’ll be in warm and dry Carmel Valley — where you can sample award-winning Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs at some of the area’s dozen-plus wineries.

4. Nosara, Costa Rica

Driftwood and flowery vegetation on Playa Guiones in Nosara, Costa Rica

Photo: Colin D. Young/Shutterstock

Late November is the start of Costa Rica’s dry season, and Nosara is on the Guanacaste Peninsula, one of the drier regions in Costa Rica — making a sunny Thanksgiving a good bet. This town, pressed between lush mountains and a four-mile-long beach, is a perfect base for surf lessons, horse riding, zip-lining (a Costa Rican invention), fishing, and just enjoying the wildlife around town –- from the howler monkeys in the trees to the purple crabs crossing the path to the beach.

Just north of town, Ostional Beach is where Olive Ridley turtles come to lay their eggs a week before each new moon. There’s a chance you’ll catch them the weekend after Thanksgiving Day. In fact, the nature reserve extends to Guiones Beach in front of Nosara, making it one of the country’s best Pacific Coast beaches, since the only thing you see behind the sand is trees. (The town lies hidden behind and below the greenery, so that the sea turtles have an unobscured sightline to the moon).

Surfers will appreciate the better fall surf conditions, and non-surfers will enjoy walking on the endless beach or sitting by the pool at the Harmony Hotel, should they opt to stay there. Nosara’s grown up in recent years, but with its dirt roads and jungly surroundings, the town still feels like a low-key getaway. Nosara has a sizeable expat US community, and restaurants like Marlin Bill’s and the Beach Dog Cafe cook up a hearty Thanksgiving dinner.

5. Austin, Texas

Beautiful aerial view of the Austin cityscape

Photo: Mike Holp/Shutterstock

If you’re into live music, there aren’t many better ways to spend your Thanksgiving break than a few days in Austin. The town has more live music venues than pretty much anywhere else in North America. Plus, November is one a great time to visit. The summer heat is gone, yet high temperatures can still reach 70 degrees.

Given its many airbnbs for big groups, Austin could be a place to gather with extended family. And since Austin is a liberal city but also the capital of a red state, it may be an example of how to make a turkey dinner conversation among relatives work. Besides its nightlife scene, this city is surrounded by waterways and packed with outdoor possibilities. You can take a paddle boat on Zilker Metropolitan Park, hike or mountain bike in the Barton Creek Greenbelt, or rock climb at the pink-hued Enchanted Rock. And it’s a great place to explore by bike.

With Austin’s excellent restaurants, you won’t have a problem finding a place to have the Thanksgiving feast itself. And we’re not sure if Thanksgiving brunch is a Texas thing — but pretty much every place starts serving it in the late morning. The Second Bar + Kitchen’s turkey dinner will start at 11:00 AM and offers up such southwestern flavors as jalapeño creamed corn and sweet potato biscuits.

6. Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix, Arizona, USA downtown cityscape at dusk.

Photo: Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

There’s nothing like the desert in the fall. Daytime temperatures are pleasantly mild, but nighttimes still have that crispness that you associate with the holiday season. And there’s hardly a more versatile place to park yourself for Thanksgiving than Phoenix — seeing as it’s a stone’s throw from some of the most iconic desert landscapes in the country. You can do a Grand Canyon day trip, an early morning hike along statuesque Saguaro cactuses, or discover the Superstition Wilderness. If your next of kin are feeling the need for some water, Phoenix actually has five nearby lakes.

Throw on a warm jacket and check out Las Noches de las Luminares, a lovely holiday light show in the Desert Botanical Garden. A must-have food in Phoenix is fry-bread, and there’s hardly a better place to indulge on it than Fry Bread House. At the pricier end of the spectrum is the farm to table fare at Quiessence. Vincent’s on Camelback has been offering French and Southwestern fusion cuisine for 30 years; they also offer a catered Thanksgiving dinner you can order and enjoy back at your airbnb. And there are plenty of airbnbs with swimming pools or golf club access to indulge everyone in the family.

7. Palm Springs, California

Palm Springs, a city in the Sonoran Desert of southern California, is known for its hot springs, stylish hotels, golf courses and spas. Palm trees and green belts create beauty and a dramatic view.

Photo: Patricia Elaine Thomas/Shutterstock

Another desert destination is the always elegant Palm Springs, with more mid-century modern homes in one place than anywhere else. The houses include one of our favorite airbnbs for large groups and several airbnbs for eight or more guests. Palm Springs accommodations of all types come with refreshing swimming pools, guaranteeing happy kids. Come evening, the kids will also appreciate the holiday-timed Wildlights at the Living Desert Zoo.

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, the world’s longest rotating tram, whizzes you for 10 minutes up to 8,516 feet in the St. Jacinto Mountains. Bring your jackets to enjoy the view or to set out for excellent hiking options in the cooler altitudes. Meanwhile, golfers can book tee times at public courses where the pros play, among them the Pete Dye Mountain Course and the Stadium Course. The Escena Golf Club is more reasonably priced and its clubhouse is another mid-century marvel.

In fact, if the mid-century vibe inspires you, explore the Architecture and Design offerings at the Palm Springs Art Museum. It’s free to kids under 18, who’ll appreciate items like Frank Gehry’s “Wiggle Chair.” The entire museum is worth a visit, featuring some of the most influential artists of that last half-century.

A version of this article was previously published on October 10, 2018, and was updated on October 14, 2021, with more information.

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