Thanksgiving weekend is a terrific time to kick off your family’s holiday fun with a day or overnight trip. There is no reason to stay home feeling lethargic with your leftovers when there are so many great activities taking place in the neighborhood and beyond. Here are five suggestions to jump-start your Christmas-Chanukah-Kwanza cheer, family-style.
1. Tree Lighting and Holiday Boat Parade | Mystic, Connecticut
Where: Mystic River Park, Mystic, CT.
When: Saturday, November 30, Santa from 2-6 p.m. Tree Lighting and Boat Parade start at 6p.m.
Why: True to its seaside setting, Mystic’s historic Downtown has a uniquely nautical way to ring in the holidays. Crowds of kids are sure to be on hand for Mr. Claus’s arrival via tugboat. Stick around for the Tree lighting and Boat Parade, a Mystic tradition. A fleet of hearty sea vessels, decorated and lit for the holidays will cruise down the Mystic River in this competitive parade. There are tons of holiday activities for the family, including the always-fun Lantern Light Tour ($28/adults, children under 3 are free), where you will experience a celebration of Christmas as it was in this seafaring town 100 years ago. This one-hour moving performance/walking tour covers quite a bit of terrain, so bring the stroller. If you decide to stay the night, The Whalers’ Inn is located four blocks from the train station in the heart of downtown, and offers comfortable family accommodations and continental breakfast.
How to get to Mystic from NYC: By train, take Amtrak out of Penn Station. The ride is approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes. Bring a stroller if you want to walk to downtown or call Yellow Cab 860-536-8888. Peter Pan Bus Lines offers service to Mystic Seaport from New York’s Port Authority. The ride is approximately 3 hours.
2. Annual Tree Lighting & Holiday Entertainment | Princeton, New Jersey
Where: Palmer Square, Princeton, NJ
When: Friday, November 29 at 5:00-6:00 p.m.
Why: If the throngs of tourists at Rockefeller Center’s annual tree lighting are just a mite too intimidating for you and the stroller, come out to Princeton, where the 65-foot Norwegian spruce rivals (almost) the one in midtown—minus the crowds. There will be a reading of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas just before the 32,000 lights are switched on. Live music and caroling, plus a visit from Santa, make this a sweet treat. If you decide to stay the night, you’ll enjoy their new ice skating rink which, opens November 30th.
How to to Princeton from NYC: NJ Transit from Penn Station stops in Princeton Junction, where you catch the “dinky” shuttle train to Princeton. The train station is right in town, and the journey is just over an hour.
3. Spring Lake Christmas Celebration Kick-off | Spring Lake, New Jersey
Where: Spring Lake, NJ
When: November 30th: Tree lighting happens near dusk
Why: This town’s Americana flavor is just the elixir for urban families looking for a kinder, gentler Christmas. This year, the Christmas Celebration falls on Small Business Saturday, so come early to shop local and enjoy day long entertainment throughout town. The main drag, 3rd Street, is the venue for the evening’s festivities, and it’s only a few minutes walk from the train station. Hayrides, Santa’s Workshop, cider and donuts, a tree-lighting ceremony and Christmas carols are all planned for this seaside towns low-key celebration, and it’s all free. It is an easy day trip, at just over an hour each way, but if little ones get tired the town is chock-full of quaint inns for a mini-vacation. Families will feel right at home at the charming Chateau Inn & Suites, with its communal fireplace and complimentary cookies and cocoa. In the morning, borrow the Inn’s cute pink bikes and head down to the boardwalk for an easy ride, perfect for those who have just said goodbye to training wheels.
How to get there: NJ Transit from Penn Station to Spring Lake.
4. Thanksgiving Holiday Tours, Kids House Hunt & Artisan Marketplace at Locust Grove | Poughkeepsie, New York
Where: Locust Grove Estate, Poughkeepsie, NY
When: November 29-December 1, 2019
Why: The mansion at Locust Grove offers an easy day trip or weekend getaway for families looking to get out of the city on Thanksgiving Weekend. Join one of their holiday tours offered throughout the weekend ($12/pp) to learn the history of the site, built in 1850 for Samuel Morse. The National Historic Landmark will even be adorned with holiday decorations! If the weather permits, walk some of the 180-acre grounds and take in expansive views of the Hudson Valley. The site will also be host to the Hudson Valley Artisan Market, which means an opportunity to peruse and even purchase hand-crafted holiday gifts. On Sunday, kids will enjoy a scavenger hunt ($8/person).
How to get there: Take the Metro-North to Poughkeepsie Station. There, take a taxi for the 5 minute ride to Locust Grove.
5. The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze | Croton-on-Hudson, New York
Where: Van Cortlandt Manor, Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y.
When: Saturday is the final day of the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze of 2019
Why: It’s not every day that you ride a pumpkin carousel and see over 5,000 hand-carved and illuminated jack o’ lanterns in an 18th century riverside setting. The annual Blaze, held at the Van Cortlandt Manor, is an extravagant display of artistry and slightly spooky delights. This is a popular evening event, so buy your tickets early. While you’re in the area, head to Teatown Lake Reservation for a kid friendly 1.5 mile hike.
How to get there: Metro-North train to Croton-Harmon station, where cabs wait to meet each train. Van Cortlandt Manor is a five-minute cab ride or 10-minute walk away (the walk is not too pedestrian friendly).
Photo: Andy Arthur.
Editor’s Note: This piece was updated on November 9, 2019 to reflect updates to pricing, locations and offerings.
Allison is a native New Yorker, who has lived in Rome, Tuscany, Melbourne, Toronto and Los Angeles. She frequently contributes travel pieces to Family Travel Forum, using her own children as guinea pigs as they travel the globe. She is fluent in Italian and Spanish and laughably adequate in French. Her background as an Early Childhood Educator gives her an added understanding of what it takes to travel with kids in tow. She firmly believes that the most important part of education takes place outside of the classroom, on the road, around the world. She never misses a chance to sample local delicacies, as her love for travel goes hand-in-hand with her love for food and wine. Follow Allison at @gourmetrav.