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20 Exciting Thanksgiving Destinations to Mix Up Your Family Tradition

If the thought of cooking and doing dishes doesn't excite you, maybe it's time to start a new Turkey Day tradition. We've got the perfect ideas to switch things up this year!

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Autumn nature hiker girl walking in national park in Quebec with backpack. Woman tourist going camping in forest. Canada travel hiking tourism at Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Riviere-Malbaie National Park.Maridav/Shutterstock

Do something different this Thanksgiving

Is your Thanksgiving tradition feeling a little formulaic? Do you want to try something other than stuffing yourself with turkey (and stuffing and pie and everything else) and watching football on the couch? This year, take a trip instead! We guarantee that you’ll make some new memories and, potentially, some cherished new traditions. And don’t worry—it’s not too late to get an affordable flight. Here are some smart ways you can still save on Thanksgiving flights.

cancun thanksgiving destinationCourtesy Grand Residences Riviera Cancun

Chill out at an all-inclusive resort in Cancun

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Nothing says relaxing quite like a Mexican beach vacation, and the Grand Residences Riviera Cancun Resort is about as relaxing as it gets. Enjoy a tequila tasting at the resort’s own Heaven Beach Bar or a fresh seafood dinner at El Faro Grill, or just lay out on the beach and enjoy the personalized beachfront bar service. If you’re feeling adventurous, go for a sailing and snorkeling trip in the National Reef Park of Puerto Morelos. And in the morning, get coffee and chilaquiles at Lola y Moya, a casual Mexican café with excellent food just steps away from the beach. When you get home, try out these easy Mexican appetizer recipes in your own kitchen.

vermont thanksgiving destinationCourtesy The Woodstock Inn & Resort

Enjoy a farm-to-table feast in Vermont

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For an unforgettable Thanksgiving dinner in a stunning setting, head to Woodstock Inn & Resort in Woodstock, Vermont. The quaint property includes the Billings Farm & Museum just a short stroll away from the guest lodgings, where you can visit the Jersey dairy cows that provide the milk and cheese for the inn’s restaurants. This year, Woodstock’s award-winning restaurant, the Red Rooster, will serve a special Thanksgiving Day dinner as well as a Thanksgiving buffet, all with ingredients sourced from the farm and from Kelly Way Gardens, its six-acre garden that specializes in heirloom vegetables. After dinner, cozy up by the fire with a glass of brandy at the tavern. After the holiday, head into town to visit King Arthur Flour for an artisan bread tasting and to take a baking class. While you’re in Vermont, you should also check out Stowe, one of the mountain towns that are a storybook paradise in winter.

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Volunteer at a food bank

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In addition to being the season to give thanks, it’s also the season to give. Why not make your Thanksgiving holiday a charitable one by volunteering with a local food bank or charity? Feeding America has partner food banks all over the country that are always accepting volunteers, and Habitat for Humanity has many ongoing home-building projects that you could join as well. Keep in mind that many charities are overwhelmed on holidays, so consider volunteering a few days before or after Thanksgiving Day. You can even make a road trip out of it by traveling to a neighboring city or state to volunteer! If you do, book a cozy condo or a chic bungalow for your stay. And to help others all year long, here are some creative ways to volunteer and really make a difference.

Outdoorsy Campervan Rentals Thanksgiving destinationsCourtesy Robin Babb/Outdoorsy.com

Hit the road in a stylish camper

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Besides the feasting and football, Thanksgiving is also a great time of year for fall foliage. Why not hit the road this Thanksgiving in a rented campervan or RV to peep some leaves and get a feel for van life? No matter where you are in the country, you can find a fifth wheel, RV, camper, or trailer to rent by the night through Outdoorsy. Perhaps it’s this renovated 1985 Airstream Sovereign or a 2003 Volkswagen Westfalia with a pop-up roof. Take your rolling mansion and go to some of the national parks you’ve been meaning to visit. And if you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you can cook a whole Thanksgiving meal out of your campsite! Not sure where to go? Pick one of these 20 best places to spot fall foliage in America.

Hawaii volcano hikers people walking hiking on mountains in Haleakala volcanic background landscape. Two young tourists couple on trek hike outdoors.Maridav/Shutterstock

Tour a volcano in Hawaii

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Want to do something really different this Thanksgiving? Head to Hawaii for a special Thanksgiving Volcano Tour and Dinner with KapohoKine Adventures. You’ll hike through the dramatically changed Volcanoes National Park to see Keanakāko’i Crater, Steaming Bluff, Volcano House, and more. Afterward, enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving dinner at the one-of-a-kind Volcano Winery, just steps away from the National Park, where you’ll be treated to a wine tasting and a vineyard tour to learn about how the volcanic soil affects the flavors of the wine from this region. Stay the night at the Hilton Waikoloa Village, where you’ll be treated to ocean views and the Kohala Spa, where you can get a massage or facial to really relax into your no-cook Thanksgiving. And while you’re there, don’t forget to put some of the best beaches in Hawaii on your holiday itinerary.

ranch thanksgiving destinationCourtesy C Lazy U Ranch

Kick back at a luxury dude ranch in Colorado

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For the outdoorsy family, it can’t get better than spending Thanksgiving weekend at a dude ranch in Granby, Colorado. At C Lazy U, you can stay in one of the many luxury private cabins with a hot tub and fireplace, all just a short walk away from the Main Lodge and several dining options. For their Thanksgiving weekend special, you’ll have the option to participate in a guided snowshoe trek, go trap shooting, or practice your archery skills at the indoor range. You’ll also be treated to a gourmet Thanksgiving feast on Turkey Day, as well as a family movie night, acoustic guitar by the campfire, and cocktails in the lodge. For more travel inspiration, here are some cheap trips you can squeeze in before Christmas.

friendsgivingCourtesy Tribute Portfolio

Celebrate Friendsgiving with fellow travelers in San Diego

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Young couples or singles who don’t have families to celebrate Thanksgiving with are likely familiar with the idea of Friendsgiving. This alternative to the traditional holiday feast brings together friends and neighbors to share food and warmth and to celebrate chosen family. The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, a country retreat in the hills north of San Diego (as well as other Tribute Portfolio hotels), is offering a Friendsgiving special this year that brings together travelers and locals to dine and create community. On November 23, L.A.-based artist duo Describe the Fauna will host a special workshop to teach guests how to create cyanotypes, or sun prints. On Thanksgiving Day, enjoy Executive Chef Chris Haas’ signature drunken lamb and a regional take on traditional Thanksgiving dishes. If you want to host your own celebration with friends, check out these tips for hosting a thoughtful Friendsgiving dinner.

the jefferson thanksgiving destinationCourtesy The Jefferson

Indulge in a Michelin Thanksgiving in D.C.

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Is there a more appropriate Thanksgiving destination than the U.S. capital? Stay at the Jefferson, an award-winning Washington, D.C., hotel with views of the National Monument. This year, the Jefferson’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Plume, will host an unparalleled Thanksgiving Day dinner that includes burgundy truffle potato vichyssoise and a carrot pineapple baked Alaska. A full vegetarian dinner is also being offered. Seating times are 11 a.m. through 7 p.m., and tickets are $108 per adult and $48 per child (12 and under). After Thanksgiving, take a day trip out to Mount Vernon, the historic home of George and Martha Washington. On your trip, regale friends and family with these wacky facts you never knew about Washington, D.C.

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Celebrate in New York City

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Surely the Big Apple is a leading destination for your Thanksgiving vacation, and with good reason. If you’ve never seen the big parade in person, it’s time. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is full of giant balloons of your favorite cartoon characters, high-kicking Rockettes, celebrity appearances, and so much more to get you in the holiday spirit. Another great option if you’re in NYC is to take part in Feeding NYC. Two days before Thanksgiving, the charity volunteer program delivers holiday feasts to more than 35,000 New York City families in need. Then check out the popular Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden, which features 150 of the city’s most famous landmarks re-created in leaves and bark. Before you go, make sure to read these 16 insider secrets about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

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Wine and dine in Santa Barbara

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If you want that laid-back beach vibe but with elevated cuisine, this is the city to visit for your Thanksgiving vacation. The Kimpton Canary, which is just steps away from the city’s beaches, bistros, and world-class shopping, is the perfect place to take in the view while taking a dip in the rooftop pool. Downtown Santa Barbara takes advantage of nearby wine country with various wineries and tasting rooms that, together, form the Urban Wine Trail. Start your day at the Funk Zone’s Santa Barbara Wine Collective for a generous wine pour during your tasting. Then get on the trail and taste to your heart’s desire. All that sipping will surely work up an appetite, so make sure to grab a late lunch at Lucky Penny for a low-key atmosphere that’s equal parts pizzeria and coffeehouse. Sit on the patio if weather permits—which in Santa Barbara it always does!

For a more relaxed Thanksgiving Day, simply head to Kimpton Canary’s spectacular restaurant Finch & Fork for a three-course Thanksgiving dinner. If you want to get back out and enjoy this beautiful beach city, rent a bike from Wheel Fun Rentals to work up an appetite, then head to the Wine Cask—a local favorite featuring a sensational Thanksgiving menu. If you stay through the weekend, you have to go to the Salt Cave. It’s the largest underground crystal salt cave in North America. Take a yoga class, book a massage, and while you’re at it, get a facial. It’s vacation, after all. Need a brunch option? Sit on the patio at Scarlett Begonia and order some lemon ricotta pancakes. For a more exotic locale, here are the 6 best (and most popular) fall travel destinations overseas.

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Get off the couch and go to the game…

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…an NFL football game, that is! This year will be another NFL triple-header on Thanksgiving Day, giving football fans a whole lot of game time to yell at the TV screen. But if this is something you do every year, why not make 2019 super special by actually hitting the stadium? The three games of the day will feature the Chicago Bears versus the Detroit Lions, the New Orleans Saints versus the Atlanta Falcons, and the Buffalo Bills versus the Dallas Cowboys. Take a look at the full breakdown of the NFL games on Thanksgiving.

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Kick off ski season in the Rocky Mountains

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If the colder weather has you itching for some snow-filled fun, grab the entire family and take your Thanksgiving spirit to the Rocky Mountains. All mountains may not be open for your Thanksgiving vacation, but the Keystone Resort in Colorado sure is, and kids get to ski for free! When you’re not speeding down the mountain, go ice skating on Keystone Lake. Feeling romantic? How about adventurous? Take the resort’s gondola up 12,000 feet for a fine-dining experience at the Alpenglow Stube. Perched at the top of Keystone Resort is Adventure Point, where you and the kids can enjoy multi-lane tubing during the day or under the lights. But before you book your flight, make sure you know the best and worst airports for holiday travel.

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Head to coastal North Carolina

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On the coast of North Carolina, in Wrightsville Beach, the holidays are taken very seriously, and Thanksgiving is no exception. On Thanksgiving Day, the Blockade Runner Beach Resort hosts a gala and Thanksgiving Day feast. If the water is calling your name, Cape Fear Naturalist Captain Joe Abbate offers sunset cruises for the family. Once you sleep off your food coma and Friday arrives, take the entire family to the Flotilla Experience at Wrightsville Beach. It is the Southern coastal version of a holiday parade, but this one is on water—and at night! If you really want a getaway, check out Hatteras Island off the coast of North Carolina. It’s one of the Outer Banks’ least populated regions, with just seven small villages scattered about. It’s become a desirable location for those seeking a quiet vacation destination. To have a truly relaxing trip, it’s best to start with an easy and smooth flight. To that end, don’t miss these 10 holiday travel tips to save your sanity.

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Pack a picnic lunch and visit a local state park

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Maybe all you want to do is keep it as simple and low cost as possible for your Thanksgiving vacation. One easy way? Take advantage of the great outdoors. Make yourself a savory turkey sandwich, strap on your sneakers, and head to a local state park for some sweet solitude. If you’re in Missouri, Lake of the Ozarks State Park is a must. It offers more than 17,000 acres of woodlands, glades, caves, and bluffs eroded by the Grand Glaize Creek. You can even book a night or two at a local hotel for a truly delightful staycation. By the way, here are 7 reasons fall is the cheapest time to travel.

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Get tropical in Tahiti

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Perhaps what you want this Thanksgiving vacation is to do something totally out of the ordinary, like book a trip out of the country where absolutely no one is wishing you a happy turkey day. In that case, fly off to Tahiti’s Motu Teta. This private island is located in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean on the Rangiroa atoll. Here, you can do absolutely nothing, take part in a midnight lobster hunt, or plop down on the beach and read that book you’ve had no time to get to! Want to keep it stateside? These island vacations you can visit without a passport are your best bet.

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Visit the Gratitude Museum

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One of the reasons many people enjoy Thanksgiving is the holiday’s symbolism of gratitude. In Dallas, this is a big deal. Here, you’ll find Thanks-Giving Square—a chapel, museum, and park in downtown Dallas. The square promotes the importance of expressing gratitude year-round, and it makes sure Thanksgiving is not neglected. History buffs, rejoice! At the museum, you’ll find the first Thanksgiving proclamation, penned in 1777 by Samuel Adams, while the chapel features the “Glory Window,” one of the biggest stained-glass works in the world. And don’t miss these powerful quotes to remind you to be grateful every single day.

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Have a traditional feast near Plymouth Rock

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What better way to get back to the basics than heading to the town that symbolizes our national tradition of giving thanks? At Plymouth’s Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts, you’ll have the opportunity to really get in the historical spirit as you enjoy role-playing pilgrims and reenacting Thanksgiving as it was in the 17th century. At the plantation, you can celebrate the holiday with the popular America’s Thanksgiving Dinner or the memorable Thanksgiving Day Buffet. While you dine, you will be entertained with centuries-old psalms and songs. If you’re planning on flying there for your Thanksgiving holiday, you should know that this is the cheapest time to book your airline ticket.

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Eat turducken in New Orleans

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Celebrate Thanksgiving Cajun-style with a trip to Louisiana’s most famous city. Don your best fancy hat and head to the Fair Grounds Race Course on Thanksgiving Day for horse racing, cocktails, and a big holiday buffet. Looking for something more traditional on your Thanksgiving vacation? Don’t miss the epic Bayou Classic events. Featuring some of the best marching bands in the country, the parade starts in the French Market and proceeds to the Superdome for the annual football matchup between Grambling State and Southern University. Of course, New Orleans is also known for its food, so make sure you sample some turducken or deep-fried turkey while you’re there. If you really can’t get away on Thanksgiving, here are 10 fun ideas for fall weekend getaways for families.

An HDR image of the Cathedral Basilica of St Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe, New MexicoRichard Susanto/Shutterstock

Celebrate Native American culture in Santa Fe

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Embrace a different tradition for your Thanksgiving vacation with a trip to Santa Fe. Early Native Americans called what we now know as Santa Fe the “Dancing Ground of the Sun.” It’s easy to see why. Set against the breathtaking Sangre de Christo mountains, this city in New Mexico—which is one of the most stunning desert escapes in the United States.—is a mix of Anglo, Spanish, and Native American cultures. Visit the Indian pueblos north of the city while you’re in the area, check out the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, and wander through art galleries and markets filled with handicrafts from local artisans.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Sunrise Scene Gatlinburg TN Oconaluftee ValleyKeithBrileyPhotography/Shutterstock

Enjoy the Smoky Mountains

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Looking for something rustic for your Thanksgiving vacation? Head to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, rent a cabin, and experience some Appalachian culture. Make a reservation for a classic Thanksgiving dinner at the Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant. Next, work off your Thanksgiving dinner on the 800 miles of hiking in the Smoky Mountains. Then get a jump on the holiday season with a visit to Dollywood, where you can enjoy more than 20 rides, take in the Parade of Many Colors, and see the more than four million twinkling lights of the Smoky Mountain Christmas show. Next, don’t miss the best weekend getaways in every state.

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Robin Babb
Robin is a freelance writer and editor in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She is a regular contributor to The Weekly Alibi. Her writing has also appeared in edible, The Establishment, and Mask Magazine. She is particularly interested in food, music, pop culture, and their intersections with social justice.