Image: Inflating Ronald
Brendan McDermid / Reuters file
A worker ties down a giant Ronald McDonald balloon after inflation for last year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
By Travel writer
msnbc.com contributor
updated 11/20/2007 9:51:19 AM ET 2007-11-20T14:51:19

High gas prices, congested airports and a high probability of bad traffic and weather-related delays. Considering how stressful Thanksgiving travel can be, do you really want to spend the entire holiday eating too much, drinking too much and rekindling old family feuds?

I didn’t think so.

Fortunately, you don’t have to, especially if your travel plans involve any of the cities listed below, which, according to Travelocity, are the top seven domestic spots for fall travel. Between seasonal activities and special events, all offer ample enticements to get off the couch and out of the house.

Las Vegas
Although many hotels offer Thanksgiving dinner, the JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort and Ritz-Carlton Lake Las Vegas are adding a home-style twist: complete “Turkey To Go” dinners with all the fixings for those who’d rather overeat in private. Both resorts will also serve in-house, sit-down Thanksgiving dinners in case you’d rather not do the dishes afterwards.

For an even more indulgent experience, consider a seasonal spa treatment. Choose from chocolate-based exfoliating treatments at JW Marriott, hot spiced rum stone massages at THEHotel at Mandalay Bay, or a purifying pumpkin facial or cranberry massage at Spa Bellagio.

Orlando
While holiday crowds flock to the local theme parks, Orlando’s museums offer a more relaxing experience. At the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum, a new exhibit traces the life and artistic diversity of Louis Comfort Tiffany. Other current exhibits include a display of African textiles at the Orlando Museum of Art and woodcut engravings by Winslow Homer at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum.

Not surprisingly, many local restaurants will offer lavish Thanksgiving dinners. For something different, swing by Muse Gelato on International Drive. Through November 21, the company is featuring a truly sweet Thanksgiving feast, including Turkey Sorbet, Cranberry Sorbet and Sweet Potato Pie Gelato.

New York
Get a jump on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on Wednesday afternoon by watching the big balloons get inflated outside the American Museum of Natural History off Central Park West. Viewing is open 3–10 p.m. If you’d rather wait for the parade itself, be curbside early (by 7 a.m.) as up to 3 million people are expected to line the route.

On Friday, the New York Botanical Garden will open its annual Holiday Train Show exhibit, which combines winding model-train tracks and more than 140 detailed replicas of New York landmarks made from twigs, leaves and other natural materials.

Miami/Fort Lauderdale
Beaches and bootylicious style aside, South Florida offers a host of holiday-oriented and family-friendly activities. On Thursday, stake a spot along the route of the annual Winternational Parade in North Miami. Friday through Sunday, hit the 3.5-mile Turkey Trail at Miami Metrozoo. Calorie chart in hand, you’ll be able to calculate the true price of that pumpkin pie.

For more down-home fun, head to Fort Lauderdale, where the Broward County Fair runs through November 25. Held on the grounds at Fort Lauderdale Stadium, the festivities typically draw 250,000 people with an eclectic mix of carnival rides, animal exhibits and live performances.

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San Francisco
Burn a few pre-meal calories during the Turkey Park Trot (aka, Turkey Beach Trot until the recent oil spill) on Thursday morning. Held in Golden Gate Park, the six-mile run/three-mile walk always draws a hilarious cast of costumed characters. Come Sunday, you can burn a few more calories during Run Wild, an equally festive 5K/10K race that benefits the California Academy of Sciences.

For a less aerobic experience, check out “Color: A Winter Carnivale,” a new display at the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers that combines a rainbow of floral colors in a turn-of-the-century world’s fair atmosphere.

Chicago
On Thursday morning, squeeze in among the 300,000-plus spectators lining State Street for the city’s 74th annual Thanksgiving Parade — or join the 5,000 hardier souls doing the 8K Turkey Trot run/walk in Lincoln Park. Afterwards, put on your holiday finery and warm up over Thanksgiving Tea in the elegant Palm Court at the Drake Hotel.

The seasonal festivities continue at Millennium Park with daily skating on the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink and Friday-night caroling at Cloud Gate (aka, “the bean”), Anish Kapoor’s gleaming, legume-like sculpture. While you’re there, check out the monumental sculptures by Mark di Suvero, on display through April 1, 2008.

Los Angeles
Feed your soul (instead of your belly) with a visit to a local museum. Major new shows include “Dali: Painting & Film” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, works by pop-culture interpreter Takashi Murakami at the Museum of Contemporary Art and the iconic L.A. photographs of Julius Shulman at the city’s Central Library.

Also “new” this season is Hollywood’s Santa Parade, successor to the long-running Hollywood Christmas Parade, which the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce pulled the plug on last spring. With new supporters — and Bob Barker as Grand Marshal — the parade will close out the Thanksgiving holiday at 5 PM November 25.

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