Days and nights in Richmond, Virginia, sparkle during December more than a socialite draped in jewels. Legions of stringed lights hang like tinsel on trees. Candy-colored bulbs decorate foliage at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. And James River plantations treat guests to a colonial-style Christmas. From candlelight tours to light shows, this town offers more weekend choices than a travel agent's checklist.
The Beautiful Stays of Christmas
The Jefferson Hotel, named for Thomas Jefferson, has pioneered grand lodging since 1895 and offers Sunday brunch with Santa on December 16 ($44). Nonguests are welcome to attend as well. Room rates start at $235.
In the middle of Shockoe Slip (a historic shopping district near Kanawha Canal), The Berkeley Hotel dons AAA diamond ratings. Rates start at $195. For a less expensive option, try the Crowne Plaza Richmond Downtown, which overlooks the James River and sits within walking distance of Shockoe Slip. Rates start at $99.
Or spend the night in one of the James River plantations located between Richmond and Williamsburg on State 5. North Bend Plantation offers four rooms for overnight guests. Quiet and serene, nighttime brings feeding deer to the property. Rates start at $135.
Cute box lunches from Sally Bell's Kitchen have fed Richmond for 83 years. A roast beef sandwich, deviled egg half, potato salad, and cheese wafer satisfy even the biggest appetites ($7.45).
Lively lit floral displays, as pretty as presents, illuminate paths during GardenFest of Lights at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. Don't miss the Conservatory, where beautiful poinsettias steal the show.
Gents and gentlewomen in Victorian garb share Christmas cheer and hot cider during tours of the distinguished Maymont House Museum. The 100-acre country estate includes a stone barn and mausoleum among its 25 original buildings.
When it's time for dinner, put your money at Bank Restaurant. The popular eatery offers great shrimp and grits.
A Holly Jolly Saturday
Blast off for breakfast all day long at Galaxy Diner. The constellation of choices includes pancakes, seafood omelets, French toast, and fried Oreos for dessert.
Spend the rest of the day at the James River Plantations, just a 30-minute drive from I-64. Shirley Plantation, Virginia's oldest plantation, has been operated by the same family since 1638. Browse its gift shop, and take the tour. Guests stroll inside nearby Berkeley Plantation to glimpse colonial Christmas decor. Walk its pristine lawns, and explore the terraced gardens that lead to the James River. Westover Plantation allows self-guided tours of its grounds filled with 150-year-old tulip poplars. History hounds love the gorgeous early Georgian architecture.
For dinner head back downtown to The Croaker's Spot. This cozy place serves "seafood cooked with soul." Lake trout, shrimp, and crab cakes all come with their famous sweet cornbread.
'Tis the Season for Sunday Shopping
Carytown, a district along Cary Street, promises cool buys and stores with character. Nine blocks of window-shopping make this the snazziest street in the city.
Pop inside Can Can Brasserie for French bagels and steamy cups of cafe au lait. Then get ready to grab a few last-minute gifts. Funky printed T-shirts win over the pickiest of teens at Bang-On. The shop imprints wicked and wonderful sayings, band memorabilia such as KISS designs, and political statements on trendy tees ($25). Flirty, feminine skirts, scarves, and striped stockings outfit ladies at The Phoenix. Scent-driven shoppers love the goods at Soak. Custom-mixed fragrances for the home and body come in more than 100 scents.
Hungry? Coppola's Deli, modeled after an authentic Italian sandwich shop, makes a monstrous meatball sub and is a good place to eat, drink, and be merry.
When You Go
• The Berkeley Hotel: 1200 East Cary Street; www.berkeleyhotel.com or 1-888-780-4422.
• Crowne Plaza Richmond Downtown: 555 East Canal Street; richmondhotels.crowneplaza.com or  788-0900.
• The Jefferson Hotel: 101 West Franklin Street; www.jeffersonhotel.com or 1-800-424-8014.
• North Bend Plantation: 12200 Weyanoke Road; www.northbendplantation.com or  829-5176.
• For information on the James River Plantations, visit www.jamesriverplantations.org.
"Festive City" is from the December 2007 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.