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Recognize These 14 Small U.S. Towns? You’ve Probably Seen Them in Holiday Movies

Step into these made-for-TV “holiday towns” that will actually welcome you year-round.

Have you ever sat down to—OK, just admit it!—watch a Hallmark or Lifetime movie in the run-up to the holiday season and thought to yourself, “Wait, have I been here?” This faux memory might be because you already spotted, in another holiday film, that towering Christmas tree on the town square, a lights show that nearly blinded you, or the epic snowstorm causing lovers to reunite.

Not to dismiss holiday flicks set in metropolises like Los Angeles or New York City, but per director requirements, not every small town makes the, pardon the pun, cut. There must be a Main Street lined with charming boutiques, cafes, and antique shops so characters have a convenient hook-up for hot cocoa, a cozy sweater for a last-minute date, or unique holiday gifts. For this reason, some towns are turned into film sets over and over again for their ability to nail it.

From New England to Southern California, here are 14 adorable towns that brought locals huge amounts of holiday cheer while filming.

1 OF 14

East Aurora

WHERE: New York

As Seen In: A Prince for Christmas (2015) and A Christmas in Vermont (2016)

While you probably won’t find a prince roaming Main Street, this village of around 6,300 residents—founded in 1804 and 20 minutes from Buffalo—where you can pick up sponge candy at the 110-year-old Fowler’s Chocolates, dip back in time at Vidler’s 5 & 10 (variety store dating back to 1930) or sit down for flicks in the vintage Aurora Theatre. Learn more about the town’s history as a Utopian-crafts community for artisans and the birthplace for the Arts & Crafts Movement—there’s a reason the town’s signage is in Arts & Crafts lettering—at the Roycroft campus, a National Historic Landmark. Linger over lunch at Roycroft Inn’s restaurant across the street.

Where to Stay: The Roycroft Inn

2 OF 14

Winnetka

WHERE: Illinois

As Seen In: Home Alone (1990)

The OG of modern holiday movies is this comedy starring young Macaulay Culkin as an 8-year-old accidentally left alone while his family vacations in Paris. Director John Hughes also filmed Sixteen Candles and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in Winnetka, an affluent North Shore community of 12,385 residents, hugging Lake Michigan 20 miles north of downtown Chicago. Browse the stacks at The Book Stall (going on 75 years) or be wowed at four distinct shopping districts, including Hubbard Woods Design & Dine, three blocks of arts-oriented shops, Vivid Art Gallery, clothing stores and restaurants (including upscale plant-based dining at the new Spirit Elephant).

Where to Stay: Graduate Evanston

3 OF 14

Chester

WHERE: Vermont

As Seen In: Moonlight & Mistletoe (2008)

Fake snow was reportedly brought in one summer to turn this small Vermont town (population 3,000) snug in the Green Mountains into a winter wonderland for father-daughter duo Tom Arnold and Candace Cameron Bure as they try to avoid the demise of “Santatown.” Viewers will recognize Fullerton Inn (cast filmed here on location) and Hugging Bear Inn & Shoppe. Most of the housing stock is stone homes and Victorian houses with cupolas, making ideal eye candy for a stroll.

Where to Stay:Fullerton Inn, of course

4 OF 14

Mapleton

WHERE: Utah

As Seen In: A Christmas Wish (2011)

This Hallmark Channel feel-good film mostly takes place in Mapleton’s now-shuttered Model A Cafe when a down-on-her-luck mother gets a job there a few days before Christmas. (Rory’s grandpa on The Gilmore Girls plays her boss.) Three years earlier, the cafe reopened after a full restoration (great timing!). Located 10 miles south of Provo, and in Utah Valley, you’ll find a lot of quirky things to do just outside of this town of 6,500 people, including goat yoga at Summerhill Equestrian and Event Center in Saratoga Springs, five museums at the Brigham Young University’s Provo campus, and Petroliana Museum’s vintage gas pumps in Provo.

Where to Stay: Hines Mansion

5 OF 14

Dahlonega

WHERE: Georgia

As Seen In: Christmas In Homestead (2016)

Tucked into the mountains in North Georgia an hour north of Atlanta, people come to this town of 6,400 residents for wine tasting around the public square (via local vineyards’ tasting rooms) or to learn about local gold history at Dahlonega Gold Museum (gold was discovered here in 1828). The town’s transformation into fictitious Homestead, Iowa, is anchored by the filming of a holiday-themed movie there, starring a famous actress played by Taylor Cole. Spoiler alert: she falls in love with not only the town but the innkeeper, too. Many scenes were shot at the Baptist Collegiate Center at the University of North Georgia.

Where to Stay: Montaluce Winery & Restaurant

6 OF 14

Nevada City

WHERE: California

As Seen In: The Christmas Card (2006)

In this Hallmark flick, a recently returned soldier from Afghanistan and the female sender of a holiday card (meant for someone else) ignite a romance when they finally meet in Nevada City, a town of about 3,000 residents and 60 miles northeast of Sacramento. That spot where they kiss? You’ll find it at 49 Crossing of the South Yuba River. Dine at the old-time-y Nevada City Classic Cafe (“Curly Fries” in the movie).

Where to Stay: Harmony Ridge Lodge

7 OF 14

Big Bear Lake

WHERE: California

As Seen In: Snow Bride (2013)

To make this Hallmark film, producers needed to leave L.A., where it never snows, for nearby Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino National Forest so they could create a holiday snow-globe.  This ski town is marked by Big Bear Lake. When a tabloid reporter and her journalist rival travel here to get the scoop on a supposed marriage proposal by the son of a late senator, the race is on. Stroll the village’s unique shops like Earth’s Elements for eco-friendly gifts, play a game of bowling at the Bowling Barn (it’s really in a barn) or lace into ice skates at Big Bear Ice Arena.

Where to Stay: Noon Lodge at Mallard Bay

8 OF 14

Payson

WHERE: Utah

As Seen In: Switched for Christmas (2017)

Identical twins always think about switching places. But they don’t always do it, like in this fun movie in which two young women (both played by Candace Cameron Bure) swap life roles in the days leading up to Christmas. Scenes were shot in Payson as well as Salt Lake City (particularly the Christmas Party scene, at Kimi’s Chop & Oyster House) and Draper—over just 17 days according to a local news outlet. The Hallmark Channel’s Christmas Under Wraps (2014) was also partially filmed in Payson, also utilizing dozens of extras in this town of 20,000 people.

Where to Stay: 5th East Hall Bed & Breakfast

9 OF 14

Madison

WHERE: New Jersey

As Seen In: The Family Stone (2005)

Sidestepping Manhattan—a trite location for many holiday films—for suburban New Jersey put a new spin on this comedy-drama starring Sarah Jessica Parker meeting her potential mother-in-law (played by Diane Keaton) for the first time around the holidays. About 16,000 people reside in Madison, where there’s a mix of culture (like the Museum of Early Trades & Crafts) and outdoor recreation (Geralda Farms’ preserve trail, at the late Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge’s estate) among country clubs and cafes. Quaint downtown Madison figures prominently into the movie.

Where to Stay: The Madison Hotel

10 OF 14

Vail

WHERE: Colorado

As Seen In: Winter in Vail (2020)

During the winter, alpine-chic Vail isn’t only about skiing–you can ice skate plenty of places around town, including Alderhof Ice Rink at Vail Square in Lionshead. Keep your eyes peeled for the opening scene in which the Children’s Fountain appears. Another scene shows off the town’s gorgeous covered bridge while other familiar locations are the bell tower and Kemo Sabe Western store in Vail. Like many holiday films, a woman (played by Lacey Chabert of Mean Girls fame) blows into town when she inherits a piece of property (in this case, a chalet) and along comes a male contractor…

Where to Stay: The Sebastian Vail

11 OF 14

Kennebunkport

WHERE: Maine

As Seen In: Buttons (2018)

Utilizing not just this tiny resort town (population 3,639) but also York and the larger city of Portland to create a quaint New England mill town around 1910, this feel-good, family-friendly film tells the story of two orphaned girls seeking a home for Christmas. Kennebunkport’s sights on the screen include St. Ann’s Episcopal Church and the Seashore Trolley Museum. The all-star cast includes Jane Seymour, Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury.

Where to Stay: Kennebunkport Inn

12 OF 14

Marietta

WHERE: Georgia

As Seen In: Christmas Wishes and Holiday Kisses (2019)

Marietta Square was ground central to give this town of 60,000 people a sweet Christmas scene for a Hallmark movie—even when snow wasn’t falling during the March filming. (Hollywood’s special effects and props had that covered, reportedly, with carpet snow.) The movie, about a woman hired to decorate a local businessman’s estate, is based on the adaptation of Jenny Hale’s book by the same name.

Where to Stay: Stanley House

13 OF 14

Stonington

WHERE: Connecticut

As Seen In: Holiday for Heroes (2019)

For Holiday for Heroes, the film crew reportedly hopped around Stonington (population 18,449 and established in 1649) as well as neighboring communities—Mystic, East Lyme, Waterford and New London—to capture the tale of a couple’s pen-pal flirtation shifting to an in-person romance. Due to the region’s exquisite architecture, which a local walking tour shows off, a storybook town was born. Filming locations in Stonington (hugging Long Island Sound) included Noah’s Restaurant and the modernist-designed Social Coffee Roastery (AJ’s Cafe in the film).

Where to Stay: The Inn at Stonington

14 OF 14

Mystic

WHERE: Connecticut

As Seen In: A Very Nutty Christmas (2018)

Anyone who’s been to this quaint, historic seaport town (population 4,221) has probably thought, “This place is a movie set!” A Very Nutty Christmas aired on Lifetime and starred Melissa Joan Hart as a busy baker during the holidays who, while nursing a breakup, discovers a real-life (and very handsome) “Nutcracker” soldier in her home. Unfortunately, you can’t pop into the film’s fictitious bakery but you can visit the shopping center where it was created (Olde Mistick Village).

Where to Stay: The Whaler’s Inn

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