10 Perfect Christmas Shopping Getaways
Bronner's Christmas Wonderland (left) brings more than 2 million visitors a year to the town that calls itself "Michigan's Little Bavaria" (about 15 miles southeast of Saginaw). Bronner's is the self-proclaimed world's largest Christmas store, with more than 6,000 types of ornaments alone. But there's more to this pretty community of 4,900 than the giant year-round holiday store.
Fortify yourself with a bratwurst lunch at the Frankenmuth Brewery or fried chicken at Zehnder's, then explore 130 specialty shops along Main Street and in River Place, a newer shopping area modeled after a German village. Watch cheeses being made at Frankenmuth Cheese Haus and wool being processed at Zeilinger Wool Company. Or hear 1,000 clocks chime at Frankenmuth Clock Company, reminding you time is ticking away till Christmas.
More information: Frankenmuth Convention and Visitors Bureau
In Daley Plaza, surrounded by the Loop's high-rises, Christkindlmarket Chicago looks wildly out of place -- and that's part of the annual event's appeal. Inspired by a four-century-old festival in Nuremberg, Germany, the month-long Christkindlmarket features German tastes and trinkets. Bundled shoppers mill about an impromptu village of 50-plus tents and wooden stalls, sipping gluhwein from boot-shape mugs and listening to Lederhosen-clad musicians belt holiday tunes.
Visitors who want to explore beyond the market can walk to Macy's, the world's largest Old Navy, the Art Institute of Chicago or Millennium Park. And if you're in Chicago in early December, head to the Merchandise Mart for the annual One of a Kind Show and Sale to browse tempting handmade creations from 500 artisans.
Missouri's Silver Dollar City theme park hosts one of the most sparkly, lively holiday celebrations anywhere, with four million lights, a five-story musical Christmas tree and an evening holiday parade. Shoppers can browse the handiwork of 100 resident crafters, who make blown-glass ornaments, copper art, custom jewelry, pottery, leather crafts and more.
Elsewhere in Branson, the lakeside Branson Landing offers more shopping options. Overnight visitors will find upscale accommodations at Big Cedar Lodge or Chateau on the Lake; budget-minded travelers head for the Cascades Inn.
Old-time lampposts and 19th-century storefronts draped in greenery and tiny lights decorate downtown Petoskey's eight-block Gaslight Shopping District. More than 100 shops line streets that slope to Lake Michigan's Little Traverse Bay.
Look for hand-dipped chocolates at Kilwin's of Petoskey, gourmet delicacies at American Spoon Foods, handmade and collectible items at Grandpa Shorter's or local art at Northern Michigan Artists Market. A blaze glows nearby in the lobby of the century-old Stafford's Perry Hotel, the perfect place to relax after an afternoon's shopping. City Park Grill serves a hearty, varied menu and fine wines; Jesperson's cafe is known for its rich pies.
Jesperson's (231) 347-3601
Bloomington, Minnesota: Mall of America
More than 40 million people visit the Mall of America, just south of Minneapolis, each year. A little planning before your outing will ensure you're not overwhelmed by this shopping mecca's 520 stores and 50 restaurants.
• Start at home. Go to the mall's website for information on store locations, hours, parking, events and promotions—and a handy coupon book.
• Dress smart. Wear comfortable shoes, and leave your coat in the car (the mall is 70 degrees year-round).
• Park at the top. You're more likely to find spots near Macy's on the west side. Head to the top of the garage; those spots fill up last. Once you've parked, text yourself the location.
• Walk in circles. Save time and energy by browsing with a plan: Shop in circles, starting at a store you'll remember. Then walk around the entire floor, returning to that store before heading to the next floor.
Kansas City makes most lists of iconic holiday destinations thanks to historic Spanish-style Country Club Plaza, which comprises 15 blocks of stores and restaurants outlined in 80 miles of holiday lights (decorating begins in August; the lights go on at Thanksgiving).
While you're there, explore some other highlights of this jazzy, barbecue-loving, state-line-straddling town, including the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and its edgy new Bloch Building; the Crossroads Arts District's galleries, shops and restaurants; Union Station's model train display (a holiday favorite) and cool Dino Lab for kids; and the hands-on exhibits of the College Basketball Experience. The 1926 Hilton President Hotel, host to generations of stars and politicos, offers posh renovated rooms.
Like ornaments on a giant Christmas tree, fanciful 1800s homes and red brick shops decorate this town amid the hills of northeast Illinois' Galena River Valley (85 miles west of Rockford). Garlands of lights outline gables, steeples and rooftops. Old-fashioned trolleys depart for Yuletide tours, and Santa greets visitors on weekends.
More than 100 stores and galleries, as well as a selection of restaurants, line Main Street. Fritz and Frites serves a full menu of both French favorites and traditional German dishes, while Fried Green Tomatoes offers fresh Italian fare such as a smoked Gouda-Gorgonzola mac and cheese with sausage. Best bets for an overnight include the luxury suites and cottages at the Goldmoor Inn or lodging at Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa.
Horse-drawn carriage rides, live music and ice-skating add holiday charm to Omaha's Old Market, a 12-square-block revived warehouse district. Shop for antiques, books, music, clothing, gifts, custom jewelry, home decor and more. Nouvelle Eve lures fashion-conscious suburbanites. Munch on pretzel sticks dunked in caramel, nuts and chocolate, dubbed "Chicken Legs," at the Old Market Candy Shop.
Omaha's lively restaurant scene offers tempting options such as crepes at Dario's Brasserie, fresh American cuisine at The Flatiron Cafe and one of the city's best reubens at Stoysich House of Sausage. For overnight visitors, the Residence Inn Omaha Downtown in a historic downtown building puts you close to the Old Market; the Magnolia has homey touches such as nightly milk and cookies. The city's Holiday Lights Festival adds a sparkle to everything.
Lebanon rests in pretty, snow-dusted farm country 30 minutes north of Cincinnati. This Yankee-influenced town has all the ingredients of the perfect holiday shopping weekend—dozens of stores, inns and food worth throwing away the calorie counts. The downtown, with narrow brick and stone storefronts, looks as if it could have been drawn from the pages of a Dickens tale.
Among our favorites in Lebanon: for shopping, Oh Suzanna; for eating, Village Ice Cream Parlor and Restaurant; for lodging, the 200-year-old Golden Lamb or the Victorian-era homes of Hardy's Bed and Breakfast.
The winter holidays are one of the busiest seasons in Nashville, which has fewer than 1,000 people but more than 150 shops, galleries and artists' studios (60 miles south of Indianapolis). The town, in scenic Brown County, has been an artists' mecca since the late 1800s. Today's visitors can make their own Christmas gifts at holiday workshops or shop for locally made art at the Brown County Craft Gallery.
Dine on fresh, local ingredients at the Artists Colony Inn and Restaurant or sample fried biscuits and hickory-smoked ham at The Nashville House. For overnight visitors, the Victorian-style Cornerstone Inn has individually decorated rooms; the Abe Martin Lodge at nearby Brown County State Park offers both woodsy cabins and lodge rooms.