Top Tinsel Towns: 10 Surprising Cities Whose Holiday Charms Are Worth Unwrapping

Accept it, the winter holidays overshadow everything in December, whether you’re a Scrooge or a Tiny Tim. The majority of us fall somewhere in the middle. Along with the joy, there’s the stress: making the frenzied rounds of holiday parties, wandering the aisles of CVS for pre-packaged mistletoe or the last box of Hannukah candles, dutifully enduring the office potluck.

But there are some who truly adore this time of year. They festoon their homes with pine branches, pinecones, and pine-scented Febreze; they install outdoor holiday lighting that rivals the Vegas Strip. They revel in heading to the Christmas tree farm to cut down a fresh spruce, watching “Love Actually” on autorepeat, or going with that special someone to a menorah lighting.

So these folks need to find metros that share their ardor. As it turns out, some cities are more on this celebratory wavelength than others. We set out to find those festive places that go all out for tree lightings, parades, and holiday-themed everything.

“For a city to be really attractive for the holidays, it needs to offer something for everyone—from kids to the grandparents,” says Kirsten Maxwell, founder of kidsareatrip.com, a site about family activities. The events they offer, she says, need to bring every generation together.

The jolly realtor.com® data team dug into the numbers to find those magical metros that are catnip for holiday lovers. We looked at the 150 largest metros around the country and sifted them down to one per state. Our criteria were:*

  • Google searches for “Christmas Parade,” “Hanukkah,” and “Festivus”
  • Seasonal cashiers as a percentage of all employees
  • Percentage of realtor.com home listings with a fireplace or chimney (because, Santa)
  • Christmas tree and holiday decoration businesses per capita
  • Toy stores per capita
  • Alcohol consumption rates by state (holiday parties, oh my!)
  • Number of Christmas trees cut down per state
  • Percentage of all flight arrivals between Dec. 19 and Dec. 23 (to estimate how many folks are going home for the holidays)

Best cities for holiday loversClaire Widman

So hitch up those sleighs, and we’ll find you a holiday match. Ho ho ho.

1. Hickory, NC

Median home price: $232,000

Holiday highlight: Enjoy some of the nation’s finest Christmas tree farms … just don’t get run off the road like a Griswold.

Union Square in downtown Hickory, NCWikipedia CC

This place takes its Yuletide festivities seriously. Every year, an 18-foot tree in the mountains of North Carolina is cut down and erected in the city square, where it’s generously decorated. The lighting takes place the week before Thanksgiving—and thousands of community members come out to watch it, and the parade beforehand. It’s a big deal.

So how does it work, you ask? “The parade wraps up downtown, and Mr. and Mrs. Claus light the tree,” says Dana Kaminske, spokeswoman for the city of Hickory. “We have hot chocolate and cookies. And the downtown retailers stay open. All the money raised from the professional floats goes into a scholarship fund.” Got it.

Before December arrives, this town is already in full holiday swing. There’s the Western Piedmont Symphony’s holiday concert, and the holiday kick-off event at the Hickory Museum of Art. Or chill out to a frontier Christmas vibe while strolling through what’s purported to be the nation’s largest collection of “rescued and restored” log cabins, in Hart Square.

2. Eugene, OR

Median home price: $337,275
Holiday highlight: 
More Christmas trees! No. 1 in the nation for piney production

Oregon’s Ugliest Sweater RunOregon’s Ugliest Sweater Run via Facebook

Eugene residents love getting outdoors to run, bike, and hike, so naturally, that’s how they hail the holidays, too.

Case in point: Oregon’s Ugliest Sweater Run, which takes place here a couple of weeks before Christmas. It’s your typical 5K run, just requiring that contestants be outfitted in that hideous knitted garment an aunt bought them a few years back. If that doesn’t do it for you, try the Jingle Rush 5K, where you’re provided antlers and bells at the start of the run, and hot chocolate and cider upon completion. Heck, the city’s nickname is Track City U.S.A. Winners never quit!

To stave off dehydration, head over to the Holiday Cocktail Party at the Provisions Market Hall. You’ll guzzle holiday libations and beer from local breweries, all while digging Rat Pack-era tunes.

3. Buffalo, NY

Median home price: $166,525
Holiday strength: 
Great for kids, lousy for bank accounts—the highest concentration of toy stores per capita

Even the deer love Buffalo during the holidays.Joel Lim/Getty Images

In the 19th century, Buffalo was one of the first cities to install electric streetlights, earning it the nickname City of Light. They’re still gaga over their lights here, as evidenced by the ultracool display of more than a million LEDs that you’ll see as you drive through the Fairgrounds Festival of Lights. More than 15,000 cars wind their way through the spectacle during a two-week period every December.

“This past Saturday, we had 1,500 carloads,” says Marty Biniasz, marketing manager at Erie County Fairgrounds. “Drivers can listen to Ho-Ho Radio and our holiday soundtrack as they drive through.” After all, what would a festival of lights be without Ho-Ho Radio?

The Fairgrounds also has a 3,000-square-foot maze. Once you find your way out, you can grab your Santa suit and head over to SantaCon Buffalo for drinks with 5,000 other Santas.

Did we mention that Fisher-Price, one of the world’s largest toy companies, is based in the Buffalo region?

4. Pittsburgh, PA

Median home price: $171,500
Holiday highlight: 
Hi, Mom! An unusually high number of townies return home for the holidays.

PPG Place Ice RinkLori Kemp/Getty Images

During the mid-20th century, Pittsburgh was a steel and coal-producing behemoth, and transporting those products required a massive network of railroads and locomotives. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear that model trains play a big role in the Steel City’s holiday celebrations.

“There were so many [trains] in Western Pennsylvania,” says Bill Humphrey, public relations director and vice president of the Western Pennsylvania Model Railroad Museum. “People think of us around Christmas time, which all goes back to the tradition of setting up a model train around your Christmas tree.”

During the holiday months, the museum opens up and guests pile in to share nostalgia for the city’s past. The museum’s best-known model train is a 1/87th scale model that replicates the network of trains and tracks that ran between Pittsburgh and Cumberland, MA, in the summer of 1952.

But it’s not all diesel and ironworks here. The Winter Flower Show and Light Garden at the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is another December tradition. Luminous orbs, oversized ornaments, and festive lights add to the allure of orchids and poinsettias.

5. Sarasota, FL

Median home price: $350,000
Holiday strength: 
Drink up! Alcohol consumption spikes here in December, thanks to a plethora of parties.

Venice Christmas Boat ParadeEducation Images/UIG via Getty Images

When you think of the holidays, you probably picture snow and snowball fights—not temperatures in the high 60s to low 70s. That doesn’t stop folks here from celebrating hard. So if you want the festive atmosphere without the chill, then Sarasota might be your place. Just make sure to bring your boat!

The annual Venice Christmas Boat Parade floats along the waterways from South Nokomis Beach to North Venice Beach. Participating boats are transformed into decorated Christmas floats with lit-up reindeer and palm trees.There’s also the Downtown Sarasota Tree Lighting Celebration and the Jazz Christmas Concert at the Centennial Park.

Feeling wistful for the white stuff? Swing by Snow Fest Sarasota, where you and your children can play in manmade snow. The free event attracts around 15,000 guests and offers pony rides, snowman building, and jelly bean juggling—because why not?

6. Hartford, CT

Median home price: $259,950
Holiday strength:
 A fine place to celebrate eight crazy nights

Winter in HartfordDenisTangneyJr/iStock

Cue the Hanukkah celebrations: Connecticut has one of the highest concentrations of Jewish residents in the country.

To kick off the first day of Hanukkah, townies gather at the Blue Back Square in West Hartford for a menorah-lighting ceremony held by Chabad of Greater Hartford, a community group. Afterwards, they get to watch a live carving of an ice menorah and 3-D dreidel printing. Be honest: You’re curious about the dreidel printing.

“In West Hartford, around 25% of the population is Jewish,” says Susannah MacNeil, associate vice president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford. “We have a very vibrant community and a wide variety of Hanukkah celebrations. And latke tastings.”

Other holiday entertainment in the region includes the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and the Hartford Gay Men’s Chorus, which regales the crowds with its annual fave, “Nutcracker: Men in Tights.”

7. Providence, RI

Median home price: $342,450
Holiday highlight: 
Need help with holiday decor? You’re in the right place.

Providence, RIdigidreamgrafix/Getty Images

One of the world’s largest toy makers calls the Providence region home: Hasbro, the maker of Monopoly and My Little Pony. And Providence sure loves its toys.

“The holidays are our time of the year,” says Emily Brownell, manager at Henry Bear’s Park, a mega toystore in Providence.

Providence has all the holiday attractions you’d expect, plus a few extra. You can watch “A Christmas Carol,” which will be performed for the 40th year at Trinity Rep in downtown Providence. Then you can throw on some holiday attire and run the holiday-themed F.I.T. ‘Mas 5K Trail Race-TrailFecta. Want to show the state love even on your Christmas tree? Swing by the visitor center at the Rhode Island State House, where Rhode Island ornaments are on sale. Deck the halls!

8. Salisbury, MD

Median home price: $299,950
Holiday highlights: 
Throw a rock in any direction in December, and you’ll hit either a holiday shop or a Christmas parade. So don’t throw rocks, OK?  

In Salisbury, holiday traditions seem to stick around. There’s the annual Salisbury Christmas Parade, from Mount Hermon Road to East Main Street, which has been going strong for 71 years. The parade includes fire trucks, marching bands, Santa Claus, and Saul the Salisbury Jaycees Bear.

The Emmanuel Wesleyan Church in Salisbury hosts a Christmas Eve candlelight service and a Christmas play called “How to Have the Best Christmas Ever!” Be prepared to take notes.

In nearby Ocean City, which is part of the Salisbury metro area, holiday lovers can enjoy the Winterfest of Lights. This is the 25th year of the event, which illuminates more than 1 million light bulbs. Imagine the electricity bill!

9. St. Louis, MO

Median home price: $189,950
Holiday highlight: 
An exceptionally high concentration of fireplaces. Cuddle up!

St. LouisJByard/iStock

Anheuser-Busch, the iconic St. Louis company, shows its appreciation for the city by hosting an annual Brewery Lights event that runs from mid-November to the end of December. It features s’mores, ice skating, and—duh—beer. Just save the Bud and Michelob Light for when your skates are off.

The classic holiday activities make the city great for the holidays, says Anthony Paraino, director of public relations of Explore St. Louis. “People come into town from all over, just to see the light displays,” he says. Endless showings of “Meet Me in St. Louis” on TCM don’t hurt the tourism trade, either.

10. Lafayette, LA

Median home price: $210,000
Holiday highlight: 
Shopping and shellfish 

Lafayette stands out for its unique take on holiday traditions. This shrimping town bills its season as Christmas on the Cajun Coast. So of course, festivities include a decorated boat parade down the bayou.

“Santa and some of his helpers and the mayor turn on the city’s [Christmas] lights, and then all the kids gather around the shrimp boat to take photos,” says Carrie Stansbury, executive director of the Cajun Coast and Convention Bureau. Delicious.

*Data sources: realtor.com; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Bureau of Transportation Statistics; Google Trends; U.S. Department of Agriculture; U.S. National Institutes of Health; and Yelp.

 

Posted by Lance Lambert on realtor.com

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6 Ways To Achieve Apartment Parking Bliss

Here are the expert-approved strategies for getting the best spot in the lot.

Few victories are sweeter than finding the perfect parking spot. But such victories can be fleeting, which is something that car-owning renters know all too well. No matter if you rent a suburban apartment in Cary, NC, or a midtown apartment in New York, NY, space is at a premium — and not just living space either.

“If curb parking spaces are scarce and valuable but free, competition for the free parking leads to many disputes,” says Donald Shoup, a professor in UCLA’s Department of Urban Planning and author of the book The High Cost of Free Parking. Just think of the (many) Seinfeld episodes that revolved around the quest for a good parking spot, including George’s philosophy of why pay for something that you can get for free?

But whether you do pay for it (indirectly through rent, or through monthly fees) or have daily Hunger Games-esque battles to find parking, we’ve asked the experts how to handle the many ins and outs of apartment parking.

The challenge: A prime yet vulnerable spot

Even after you nab a great spot, it might leave you uncomfortable that your car is a little too open to damage (especially in a city). If so, your best bet is to beef up your insurance. “Most insurance plans do not include parking damage as part of their language,” says Matthew Kreitzer, a managing attorney for Booth & McCarthy in Winchester, VA. “If your car is damaged from a passing car, and you have proof of identity for the person who caused the damage, you may be able to submit a claim to their insurance company.” But as Kreitzer points out, state laws vary, and you should ask local attorneys for more information before assuming your case is airtight. You should also ask your insurance adjuster for more information on how best to add parking to your policy.

The challenge: Big car, tiny spot

You can fit anything in your big truck or SUV, but it’s no match for a teeny spot that you may or may not have been assigned. Whatever you do, don’t even think about squeezing in. “It may open you up to a lawsuit down the line if, because of your attempt to fit your car in there, some damage results or it prevents another tenant from accessing their spot,” Kreitzer says. Since it’s unlikely that your landlord will widen spots, your options are limited to finding an alternative lot in the area or finding a new apartment nearby.

The challenge: You’re plowed in

When that pile of snow is actually serving as an igloo around your car, what happens next depends on who did it. If you witness a neighbor purposefully burying your car, you might be able to bring suit against the other person. “However, the vast majority of times, it is a city who is doing the plowing,” Kreitzer says. “Cities have immunity from these kinds of suits, generally speaking.” You can consult an attorney if you’re looking for common practices to change, but sadly, it might just be easier to get out the shovel and start digging.

The challenge: It’s a long walk

In the case of assigned parking, the luck of the draw might have landed you far from your front door. If this is your headache, it might be time to negotiate with your landlord. “Always ask for what you want in writing,” says April Masini, an expert in relationship advice and etiquette. While you’ll probably want to vent your frustrations, your odds of a favorable response will skyrocket if you stay calm and polite. “If you get a response you don’t like, ask if there’s a chance of a better spot in six months. There may be a tenant moving out by then, and his or her parking spot may become available for reassignment to you,” Masini says.

Option B is to find a neighbor who will agree to swap spaces. However, a verbal agreement won’t be enough, and you’ll need your landlord’s blessing on the agreed-upon written terms. “At the end of the day, your parking agreement is not with the other tenant — it’s with your landlord,” Masini says.

The challenge: Shared spaces

Limited space means you might have to share your spot with a neighbor. Usually, this won’t lead to drama. But if they’re a space hog, don’t escalate the issue with a confrontation. “Getting into a back and forth with a neighbor can easily be avoided by asking the landlord to clarify any necessary solutions,” Masini says.

The challenge: You’re blocked in

It’s happened to all of us: You’re ready to conquer a list of errands, only to find that another car is making it impossible to leave your spot. If you know the owner, a friendly (emphasis on “friendly”) knock on the door is usually enough to get things moving. No such luck? What happens next depends on whether you’re blocked in on public or private property, Masini says. The former means you’ll be calling the police for help, while the latter makes it a landlord matter. Can’t get your landlord? Snap a photo of your blocked-in car and call a cab. “Worst-case scenario, take a cab or Uber and get a receipt,” she says. “Ask for reimbursement, in writing, from your landlord if your blockage is on private property and from your neighbor if it’s on public property.”

When to move on

When parking has become the deal breaker — and you can’t get rid of your car — it might be time to start hunting for a better place. Car owners who move on to better-paved pastures could have a lasting positive effect on the entire neighborhood, Donald Shoup says. If certain apartment buildings offer only on-street parking, rent could decrease because the price of parking would be eliminated. “As a result, more apartments could become available at lower rents to people without cars,” he says.

Posted by Brie Dyas on Trulia

City or Suburb? 10 Rentals Offering the Best of Each Locale

Whether you want to live in the bustling heart of the city or the laidback ‘burbs, these rentals offer something for everyone (and at less than $2,000 a month).

If you’re looking for a rental in a major metropolitan area, you’ve got plenty of options. One big decision you’ll need to make is whether to live in the city proper or one of its suburbs. The city offers the allure of adventure, the opportunity to live without the extra cost of car, and often a shorter commute to work. Meanwhile, the suburbs may provide lower rents, larger spaces, and easier access to nature.

These rentals compare what you can get for $2,000 in five major cities and one of their more suburban areas.

Los Angeles, CA

1304 W 2nd St, Los Angeles, CA
For rent: $1,883/mo

City1

This apartment community is a yoga lover’s dream, offering free classes along with a pool and fitness center. Its Westlake location a short distance from Echo Park and downtown means you have plenty of chances to walk to your nearest adventure. This one-bedroom features a balcony and a large living space within a historic building.

Find more Los Angeles rentals.

Burbank, CA

401 N Pass Ave, Burbank, CA
For rent: $1,960/mo

City2

This community offers plenty of ways to enjoy staying close to home, with ample space for hosting outdoor gatherings, plus a barbecue pit, outdoor lounge and pool. The stylish one-bedroom includes laminate flooring throughout and ample kitchen space, as well as a stackable washer and dryer.

See additional Burbank rentals.

Washington, DC

3460 14th St NW, Washington, DC
For rent: $1,937/mo

City3

This Columbia Heights apartment community is a pedestrian’s paradise, with easy access to the Metro station and some of the most interesting neighborhoods in the area. An urban oasis, this one-bedroom provides a sleek interior with accent walls and a balcony.

See more Washington, D.C. rental listings.

Alexandria, VA

3001 Park Center Dr, Alexandria, VA
For rent: $1,979/mo

City4

This spacious two-bedroom home offers an elegant take on apartment living, with views of Washington D.C. and plenty of outdoor space for your favorite furry friend. The community features a full tennis court, access to conference rooms, shared grounds equipped with water features, a courtyard and a game room.

See more rentals in Alexandria.

Denver, CO

1451 24th St, Denver, CO
For rent: $1,975/mo

City5

If you love America’s favorite past time, you’ll be thrilled to live in this community of modern lofts. Located in the Five Points neighborhood, this rental is within walking distance of a Coors Field. The two-bedroom home features granite countertops, high ceilings and exposed ducts. A central sundeck features the largest community pool in the city, and you can burn off those beer calories in the expansive fitness center.

Explore more Denver rentals.

Aurora, CO

23680 E Easter Dr, Aurora, CO
For rent: $1,770/mo

City6

Sweeping mountain views await at this ranch-style community complete with a playground, movie theater and large party room. The two-bedroom home offers a fireplace, balcony, and built-in bookshelves.

Discover more Aurora rentals.

Dallas, TX

2828 Lemmon Ave, Dallas, TX
For rent: $1,733/mo

City7

Take in the city skyline from this spacious one-bedroom apartment, featuring a kitchen island, laminate flooring and built-in work space. Living in the center of the exciting Uptown neighborhood means you’ll be steps away from many chic hangouts. When you want to stay close to home, you can lounge by the large pool or soak in the spa.

See more Dallas rentals.

Euless, TX

900 Grange Hall Dr, Euless, TX
For rent: $1,515/mo

City8

Along with spacious interiors, sleek finishes and modern architecture, you’ll have plenty of storage within this two-bedroom unit, which includes a walk-in closet well suited for the most enthusiastic fashionista. The expansive grounds boast a large pool along with a dog park.

View more rental listings in Euless.

Salt Lake City, UT

338 E South Temple, Salt Lake City, UT
For rent: $1,799/mo

City9

Social butterflies will enjoy floating above the city while taking in mountain views from the rooftop lounge. This two-bedroom in the Lotus neighborhood offers granite countertops, sleek black appliances, and an in-unit washer and dryer. After a long day, you can get to know you neighbors in the community’s 18-person hot tub.

See more Salt Lake City rentals.

West Valley City, UT

3810 S Redwood Rd, West Valley City, UT
For rent: $905/mo

City10

For those who seek peace and quite without having to sacrifice modern amenities, this two-bedroom boasts 1,000 square feet and commuter convenience. A business center allows you to finish up last-minute projects, and you can enjoy a game of basketball on the community court. You”ll look forward to coming home to your furry friend before heading to the extended dog park.

Discover your next West Valley City rental.

Looking for more information about renting? Check out our Renters Guide

Posted by Emery Desper on Zillow

Relocating to an Unfamiliar Area? Here’s How to Get Your Bearings

Choosing a home in an unfamiliar neighborhood can be nerve-racking, but it’s almost inevitable when moving to a new city—or even across town. There’s a lot at stake: The wrong decision can cost you money and peace of mind.

Here are some tips to guide you in your search.

Mission: Neighborhood reconnaissance

As with any house hunt, you should first figure out your budget and what you would need, want, and like to have in a house and in a neighborhood. But if you’re relocating across the country, your biggest challenge will be doing long-distance recon on your new hometown.

While you can’t gain access to private social networks such as Nextdoor until you verify you have an address in a neighborhood, a little cybersleuthing will reveal insights on day-to-day life and concerns in areas you’re scouting.

Once you know the general area in which you’d like to live, websites such as City-Datacan collect and analyze data from numerous sources to create detailed profiles of U.S. cities, including information from crime rates to weather patterns. Homefacts includes similar information, then drills down further, listing neighborhood statistics such as median home price, homes for sale, and foreclosures.

AreaVibes can help you narrow down a search; after you type a ZIP code or city in which you’d like to live, you can adjust metrics such as amenities, crime, cost of living, and housing prices to compile a list of neighborhoods that match your “livability” needs.

In addition, many regional newspapers or magazines routinely publish online rankings of their best neighborhoods. Listly has lists of five-star New York real estate communities and blue chip Massachusetts real estate communities, so it may be worth a search to see whether there is a similar list for an area in which you’re interested.

Speaking of lists, Livability regularly develops city rankings for a range of topics, including small towns, college towns, and overall best places to live.

The Chamber of Commerce in many towns will also provide a guide for people who are relocating. Also, look for news on property taxes in recent years—falling property taxes likely mean that communities have had to cut back on public services.

If you have children, you’ll want to read up on local public schools on GreatSchools.org, as well as determine what day care and after-school activities are nearby. Even if you don’t have children, good schools are a major factor in determining home values in a neighborhood.

No neighborhood is perfectly tranquil, but check CrimeReports.com for crime reports and maps to get a sense of where an area falls on the spectrum. You should also visit theNational Sex Offender registry and FamilyWatchdog.us, which will identify registered sex offenders living in the area. NeighborhoodScout.com will consolidate crime, school, and real estate data in one report, as well as compile lists on safe cities and neighborhoods with good schools.

Draw on a professional’s expertise

If there is one time above all when you’d really benefit from working with a real estate agent with deep knowledge of an area, it’s when moving to a new town.

A knowledgable professional should be able to provide recommendations and compile background information on neighborhoods and homes that fit your needs and price range. Come prepared with a neighborhood or neighborhoods you like, and he or she can give you more information or suggest similar alternatives.

Get down with the locals

Once you’ve done the research and found a neighborhood you like, drive by several times during the day and at night. Look for the following:

  • Are there many “for sale” signs on lawns?
  • Are there any abandoned or boarded-up houses in the vicinity?
  • Is there a lot of trash on the sidewalks?
  • Is the neighborhood close to a shopping or business area?
  • How well are neighborhood parks maintained?
  • Is street parking restricted after school and during rush hour?

Also try to attend a few open houses in your neighborhood of choice. It’s a good way to get a feel for local property values, and to walk around the area. If you see residents out and about, try to talk to them to get their perspective on the community.

If you have time, try to get a drink in a local bar or a cafe and talk to people there. Apps like Meetup and AroundMe will help you connect with people in a town that have similar interests, as well as help you find the nearest hot spot.

These will be your potential neighbors, so they will provide valuable impressions on whether you’ll be pleased with where you eventually live.

Posted by Patricia-Anne Tom on realtor.com