New Year’s Eve: 16 unsung places to ring in 2016

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If you have a little imagination, you might be surprised the incredible places you can visit to ring in the New Year. Times Square in New York, First Night in Boston, and other tried and true options are fine for someone who prefers staying on the beaten path, but isn’t that what the holiday is all about? A celebration of turning a page, trying new things, setting challenging goals, and pushing your boundaries. We’ve compiled a list of our hidden gems that know how to party, and know how to treat visitors coming to celebrate a new year, and a new beginning.

Orange Beach, AL

Don’t be fooled by this typical family vacation spot – things turn up as the calendar turns over. There are numerous options for nightlife, from family entertainment to rocking roadhouses, enjoy your pick of plays, free concerts, dancing or just listening to any number of musical stylings at a local hot spot. Plus with an average temp of 55 degrees Fahrenheit in December, you won’t be braving a cold evening out. Hear live music throughout the night and participate in games and activities for the whole family at The Wharf. The signature “Marlin Drop” will be held with the countdown to midnight. Fireworks will top off the night. Take a four-hour riverboat cruise with dinner, live music, dancing and an open bar till midnight on the Gala New Year’s Eve Cruise. Tickets start at $100 per person.

Rockport, TX

On the eastern coast of Texas, Rockport is a relaxing town with plenty of visitor attractions. The Fulton Mansion, overlooking Aransas Bay, showcases Second Empire architecture and is included on the National Register of Historic Places. Also visit the Texas Maritime Museum, the Rockport Center for the Arts and Rockport Beach Park, a great place for swimming or fishing. On New Year’s Eve, embrace your country side at Oceanwave’s Country Square Dancing Night, with tickets at the door costing only $10. At GLOW (a top notch seafood eatery) you can have a celebration dinner starting at 930pm and drinking through to the ball drop. On New Year’s Day, in nearby Corpus Christi, you can take the Polar Bear Plunge by dunking into frigid Gulf waters. For the kiddos, visit the Port Aransas Wildlife Refuge from 11am-Noon on Dec 31 to celebrate the refuge’s birthday and whooping cranes at the Early Bird New Years Party. They will have a “State of the Whooping Cranes” address, “Whoop It Up” with a countdown to noon, and eat birthday cake. Go and get your picture taken with the Whooping Crane mascot. The Rialto Theater also hosts its annual Black Tie & Blue Jeans Fundraiser on NYE, complete with psychedelic, glow-in-the-dark cumbia party with Chicha Dust & DJ Dirty Verbs, party favors & champagne toast.

Brunswick, GA

Historic, gorgeous Brunswick rises along the southern coastline of Georgia. With a bustling waterfront, Victorian-era homes, golden marshes, magnolia-lined streets and plenty of dining and shopping options – Brunswick on its own is a fantastic choice for a vacation. On New Year’s Day, revel in First Friday by visiting the shops, galleries, and restaurants of Historic Downtown Brunswick. Enjoy live music from local musicians, art openings, and food and beverage samples from 5:00pm – 8:00pm. Go ice skating under the lights in nearby Jekyll Island. Make it a longer tip when you take part in th 3 day Bluegrass Festival and hear some of the biggest names in bluegrass perform live at the Jekyll Island Convention Center.

Red River, NM

The town of Red River first drew people in during the gold strikes of the mid-19th century, but the beautiful scenery and outdoor attractions have kept people coming back ever since. The charming small town atmosphere, delicious southwestern cuisine, and array of activities throughout town make this a great vacation destination. New Year’s Eve Celebrations for all ages begin with the annual New Year’s Eve Torchlight Parade and Fireworks Display at Red River Ski Area. At the Red River Community House enjoy an Old Fashioned New Year’s Eve Party to eat pizza, listen to music and play games. A countdown ball drops at midnight Eastern time (10 p.m. in New Mexico) allowing even the young children to ring in the new year before heading to bed. The annual New Year’s Eve Potluck at Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski Area celebrates the night with lighted skiing and sledding at the base area.

Bryson City, NC

With mountain and forest views right out your bedroom window, plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy, and friendly locals, Bryson City has it all! If you are looking for great shopping and fine dining, head to Everett Street or Main Street. The historical and cultural attractions are spread out across town, so be sure to explore the entire area. Enjoy the month-long series of performances and speakers celebrating the Spirit of Christmas in December. At the Cherokee Lights & Legends Christmas in nearby Cherokee stroll under the lights, enjoy interactive displays, the 40-ft Christmas tree, a carnival ride or the synthetic ice rink. Get your exercise in at the annual 5K Run/Walk in Bryson City on New Year’s Eve to raise money for youth softball/baseball. A short drive away in Fontana you can enjoy NYE at the Fontana Village Resort with a dinner buffet in the Mountview Restaurant, a party with live music featuring the Aaron Tracy Band, and a champagne toast to ring in the New Year at midnight.

Monterey, CA

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Known for its natural beauty, art, and diverse culture, Monterey is an atmosphere for writers, artists, musicians, and vacationers alike. On New Year’s Eve, “First Night Monterey” celebrates the lively arts scene in Monterey County with its family-friendly celebration of the arts on New Years Eve. Over 30-venues hold concurrent performances and activities for both children and adults, culminating in a convergence on Custom House Plaza to ring in the New Year. The Twilight Procession will make its way down Alvarado Street and will include everything from stilt walkers, giant puppets, dancers to marching moms. The special “Seashore Sleepover” New Year’s Eve event at the Monterey Bay Aquarium will feature a sparkling cider toast at 9 p.m. to celebrate the countdown to the New Year on East Coast time. There will be fun family activities and programs for a night of celebration, including a sundae bar! Wake up with the fishes on New Year’s Day, enjoy a continental breakfast, and then join our naturalists in watching wildlife from the Great Tide Pool deck. For adults, dance the night away with a local favorite, the Joe Sharino Band. For another earlier family-friendly party, attend the “MY Museum Noon Year’s Eve Party”. This party will include crafts like making silly hats, noisemakers, face-painting, tasty goodies, a visit by the Noon Year’s Eve Fairy and, finally, the lowering of the MY Museum Noon Year’s Eve ball at noon.

Naples, FL

Naples is home to great cosmopolitan shopping and dining opportunities, many that are located at The Waterside Shops. This shopping and dining haven has over 45 unique shops and a number of chic and delicious dining establishments. With beautiful architectural structures situated throughout the complex, The Waterside Shops are a must for shopping and dining enthusiasts alike. Looking for great golf? Head over to LaPlaya Golf Course, a brand new 18-hole course with a beautiful driving range. On NYE, options abound for a very fun night. Take a cruise on the Naples Princess for the gala celebration or climb aboard the Pure Naples Cruise. On the boats, you’ll have the best view of the fireworks from Naples Pier which also has plenty of activities on Third Street South (complete with a “snow” storm). The other best vantage point for the fireworks is on the beach, either north or south of the pier. The Naples Philharmonic’s “A Viennese New Year’s Eve” is a classy event featuring symphony performances, a bottomless flute of champagne, and a buffet.

Santa Fe, NM

Santa Fe unites three cultural and societal influences (Southwestern, Native American, and Spanish) into its arts, architecture, cuisine, entertainment, and atmosphere. The Plaza Santa Fe is a big draw for visitors, and Santa Fe spas are renowned for their serene environments and top-notch treatments. For culture lovers, Santa Fe museums definitely make the grade. There are number of renowned art museums located here, including the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, and plenty of historical sites, such as the Palace of Governors. Performance Santa Fe invites you to ring in a spectacular 2016 with their Fire and Ice New Year’s Eve Extravaganza – the party includes a toast, fortune tellers, magicians, violinists, and a five star dinner. The City Different rings in the new year with a family-friendly bash Downtown on the Plaza, with bonfires, cocoa, and live music, leading up to a countdown and New Year’s surprise at midnight. For those looking to take an icy swim, Storrie Lake near Las Vegas, N.M., hosts an annual polar plunge on New Year’s Day from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Ski Santa Fe will be open New Year’s Day to work off your hangover.

Mexico Beach, FL

With an average yearly temperature of 81 degrees Fahrenheit, there’s never a bad time to visit the city of Mexico Beach, FL. The amazing beaches, abundance of recreational areas and outdoor activities, and great historical and cultural landmarks mean that there’s something for everyone in this charming getaway spot. Almost all of the main attractions and shopping options in the area will be found along Highway 98, while North 15th Street is home to some of the best restaurants in town. If you’re coming to Mexico Beach on NYE, you’re coming to celebrate twice. How is that possible? There’s a party in nearby St. Joe (Eastern Time), and once the ball drops everyone jumps on a shuttle to head back to Mexico Beach (Central Time) to celebrate all over again! The shuttle stops at bars, hotels and restaurants along the way, so it is a pub crawl party in essence. So if you’re looking for a night with two parties for the price of one, Mexico Beach is your spot.

Brevard, NC

In the “Land of the Waterfalls” (over 250!), Transylvania county in North Carolina, you’ll find charming Brevard. The downtown features over 50 shops including antique stores, art galleries, and a popular toy store. Brevard is located along Highway 64 and surrounded by the Pisgah National Forest. Culture abounds, the city is home to the world-renowned Brevard Music Center. Brevard is the adopted home of the White Squirrel and if you “sponsor” one of these critters you can get discounts at many area stores. They know how to throw a party, too. Brevard plays host to six fantastic festivals and three cycling events annually. On New Year’s, the big event takes place at Oskar Blues Brewery. The New Year’s Eve Hootenanny at the brewery is unlike anything else in Brevard as they transform the facility into a music venue. They serve awesome food, play killer tunes, and their famous craft beer is on tap. Tickets are $45 at the door and there will be local North Carolina bands playing all night long.

Seaside, OR

Known for its clean beaches and peaceful aura, Seaside Beach, FL is the ultimate relaxing getaway. If shopping is your vacation activity of choice, Seaside is home to great surf and clothing boutiques, located along Central Square and in the city’s downtown plaza. You will also find a number of great restaurants, from juice bars, to beachside grills and fine dining cuisine. Seaside is known for its distinct architectural beauty and set up. “New Urbanism,” a phrase that was coined when developer Richard Davis designed Seaside, boasts cozy narrow streets, unique fences, and tightly situated homes to encourage a walking and biking community. On NYE, the Yummy Wine Bar & Bistro is serving two dinner sittings, and the city typically hosts an art walk on New Year’s Day. Go on a whale watch for the last day of the season as the grey whales make their migration to Baja Mexico. Party the night away at the Gearhart Hotel, or head to nearby Cannon Beach and enjoy five course meals at both the Warren House Pub and the upscale Stephanie Inn.

Fredericksburg, TX

The historic landmarks, scenic beauty and heavy German influence of Fredericksburg have made it stand out as a premier vacation destination in Texas. Throw in some of the biggest events in the state and several award-winning spas, and it’s easy to see why people keep returning here year after year. Most of the town is centered along Main Street and easily explored by foot. The Texas Hill Country Lighting Trail is a must-see as many towns band together to create incredible displays of illumination. In nearby Luckenbach, country artist Thomas Riley is hosting a concert and party, and there’s a shuttle service to take you there from Fredericksburg. Travel back in time at the USO-style Hangar Dance at the Hangar Hotel with big band, swing dance lessons, a photo booth and more. At Turner Hall you can dance in the new year to country western tunes and best part: it is BYOB. Join up with the Midnight Volkssport Walk 10K to stroll through Fredericksburg’s top sites and best light displays.

Richmond, VA

Discover an essential chapter of America’s history in the cobblestone streets, river walks and monuments of Richmond. Originally a colonial settlement, Virginia’s capital is now a thriving hub for culture, shopping and outdoor fun. Explore Civil War history at the Museum of the Confederacy, stroll along the canal downtown or test your nerve whitewater rafting on the James River. With lively neighborhoods and a vibrant restaurant scene, Richmond is perfect for a quick break or an extended getaway. Dozens of the areas fine dining establishments are hosting prix fix dinner menus, for example you could do 12 hours worth of partying and activities at Richmond Hotel & Spa. On the VCU campus there is a massive party in the Siegel Center which seats almost 6000 people. The Speakeasy at the Hippodrome is hosting a Harlem Renaissance event, get moving Latin style at Havana 59 where they’re playing the hottest beats all night.

Ocean City, NJ

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This summer getaway on the Jersey Shore hosts over a million tourists each year and features a world-famous boardwalk, eight miles of pristine beaches, endless entertainment for all ages, and stellar vacation rentals. The Boardwalk is where you’ll also find the Music Pier, where concerts are performed throughout the year and is home to the Ocean City Pops. You’ll want to make a special trip to Ocean City on New Year’s Eve for the massive First Night extravaganza. There is music, games, food, and fun all along the Boardwalk on NYE. There’s a pianist, a ‘Grease’ style band, a Neil Diamond impersonator, a magician, a puppet show, stand up comedy, amusement rides, ice skating and so much more. The midnight celebration takes place at a handful of venues, and then you can step outside and watch the fireworks (weather permitting). A $20 button for admission is all you’ll need. There is also a 5K run on New Year’s Day to close out the festivities.

Pacific Grove, CA

Known as “Butterfly Town, USA” Pacific Grove, CA is a destination for tens of thousands of monarch butterflies and beach seeking vacationers each year. With a casual, small town feeling and beautiful Victorian architecture, Pacific Grove is both charming and vibrant. Explore downtown Pacific Grove and enjoy its fine dining, boutique shopping, and blue Pacific backdrop.Those interested in Pacific Grove history will love the museums and charming preserved structures here. Fandango’s in Pacific Grove remains open for New Year’s Eve with lunch and dinner served until 10pm.  Pacific Grove is remarkably close Monterey Bay, so please read the Monterey entry above for more NYE ideas in Pacific Grove.

Taos, NM

Located on the west slopes of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Taos has become a popular destination in recent years for travelers wanting to visit the Southwest. With a rich art history, Native American influences and surprisingly good skiing, this town offers something for everyone. In addition, Taos Pueblo, an ancient Native American community, was recently named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Paseo Del Pueblo, full of galleries, great shops, and excellent restaurants, is the main road in the area and stretches all the way across the town. All of the local ski areas participate in the New Year’s Eve Torchlight Parade & Fireworks – an incredible sight to see. Watch the trails of light as skiers with torches in hand glide down the famous Taos Ski Valley mountain under the starry skies. Firework displays light the winter sky in celebration of the new year. Many local bars, restaurants and shops are hosting NYE dinners and parties as well: The Historic Taos Inn, The Alley Cantina, and KTAOS Solar Center, among others. On New Year’s Day, the Taos Pueblo holds its traditional Turtle Dance.