10 Perfect Christmas Shopping Getaways
Immerse yourself in the happy bustle of the season at 10 of our favorite Midwest towns and cities for holiday shopping.
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. If you visit in early December, see if you can time your visit to the new Holidaze Festival.
More than 100 stores and galleries, as well as a selection of restaurants, line Main Street. Newer spots like Galena Book and Paper and Galena Spoon Co. tuck in among traditional favorites like Grateful Gourmet for shopping; get a fresh pastry or empanada to go at Galena Bakehouse, or head to Fritz and Frites for a full menu of both French favorites and German dishes. Best bets for an overnight include the luxury rooms at downtown's new Ulysses Suites, the cottages at Goldmoor Inn or lodging at Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa.
Related: Top Things to Do in Galena
Missouri's Silver Dollar City theme park hosts one of the most sparkly, lively holiday celebrations anywhere, An Old Time Christmas, with more than 6.5 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 Marriott's Willow Ridge Lodge.
Horse-drawn carriage rides, live music and dazzling lights 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 mouth-watering pizzas and specials at Pitch, lahvosh in a variety of options at M's Pub, and a Reuben made with the original recipe at Crescent Moon.
For overnight visitors, the Residence Inn Omaha Downtown in a historic downtown building puts you close to the Old Market; the Magnolia has cozy touches such as nightly milk and cookies, and a gingerbread village for all to see. The city's Holiday Lights Festival adds sparkle to everything.
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 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.
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 Art Institute of Chicago or Millennium Park. And if you're in Chicago in early December, head to The Mart for the annual One of a Kind Show and Sale to browse tempting handmade creations from 500 artisans.
Bronner's Christmas Wonderland 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 5,200 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 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.
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. More than 50 hotels are within a 10-mile radius of the mall, many of which provide a free shuttle service.
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, a North Pole Express ride, 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 Parlor Restaurant and Ice Cream; for lodging, the 220-year-old Golden Lamb, the state's longest continually operating business, with rooms named after famous guests like Charles Dickens and Samuel Clemens.
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.
Related: Top Things to Do in Brown County
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. 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.
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