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Forget Tradition With These Unconventional Thanksgiving Events

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Happy November, folks! 🍁 Time to trade those spooky jack-o’-lanterns for the warmth of Thanksgiving turkeys. 🦃 Once you’ve had your fill of mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and maybe some cringe-worthy remarks from that, uh, less-than-enlightened uncle, it’s time to consider the fantastic opportunity waiting post-Thanksgiving weekend: the chance to escape!

A four-day weekend with Thursday off is like a golden ticket for travel enthusiasts. Now, on Black Friday, you could be exploring exciting new places instead of waiting in line at Best Buy. And here’s the cherry on top — you can snag crazy travel deals too!

That’s where Wanderu comes in. With the cheapest prices on buses and trains across North America (and Europe!), Wanderu is the best place to book your post-Thanksgiving travel plans.

So grab your travel gravy and get ready to experience the weirdest, strangest, and most intriguing events happening over Thanksgiving this year. 

Alcatraz Sunrise Ceremony

Nov. 23, 2023
San Francisco, CA
Official Website

If you’re looking to avoid the classic vignette of overeating (and overdrinking) or to celebrate the holiday from a different perspective, wake up early to witness the Indigenous People’s Thanksgiving Sunrise Gathering on Alcatraz Island.

This ceremony commemorates the occupation of Alcatraz by the Indians of All Tribes from 1969-71, and it celebrates the indigenous people and their heritage on a day that is often focused on more gluttony-forward Thanksgiving activities. 

Note that you’ll have to wake up extra early to catch a boat out to the island before sunrise (we’re talking 4:15-6:00). Tickets start at $15.50 and sell out quickly, so we recommend you purchase your tickets online in advance.

A Musical Celebration of Gratitude

Nov. 24-26, 2023
Pittsburgh, PA
Official Website

Head to Pittsburgh to catch a musical celebration of gratitude with Randal Goosby and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. This is one of the best things to do on Thanksgiving weekend for lovers of classical music, or anyone looking to savor the end of the fall season. 

In addition to music, concertgoers can indulge in autumn-inspired drinks, share heartfelt messages on the gratitude board and showcase their favorite traditions on an interactive display. 

Concerts are available for Friday evening and Sunday afternoon. Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased online in advance.

Turkey Trot Trail Ride

Nov. 25-26, 2023
Westcreek, CO
Official Website

Colorado is home to some of the best cities in the U.S. for fall outdoor activities, and Westcreek certainly fits the MO. Turkey trots aren’t exactly unconventional, but Great Outdoor Adventures are putting a twist on this revered Thanksgiving event. 

Instead of lacing up your running shoes, strap on a helmet and take to the trail on a Polaris UTV or Jeep. This trail ride is self-guided, and as you zoom along, you’ll get some fantastic views of the Pikes Peak Region. You might even see some turkeys – it doesn’t get more festive than that!

You’ll need to reserve your ride in advance, which can be done online or via phone. More info is available on Great Outdoor Adventure’s official site.

Blue Ridge Scenic Railway’s Holiday Express Train

Nov. 24-Dec 24, 2023
Blue Ridge, GA
Official Website

Immerse yourself in the perfect blend of holiday magic and scenic splendor by choosing the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway’s Holiday Express Train as your Thanksgiving activity. This enchanting journey offers a unique and memorable way to celebrate the holiday and gives you the perfect view to enjoy the last of the season’s stunning fall foliage

The journey begins in downtown Blue Ridge and continues along the Toccoa River into the lush Appalachian foothills. And, for all you holiday maniacs putting up Christmas trees in November, you’ll be thrilled to know the ride features holiday music and a reading of “The Night Before Christmas.” 

Note that the coach is open-air, which is great for the views but not so great for chilly weather. Bring a sweater or some blankets to keep you warm, or buy a cup of hot cocoa from the available concessions to maximize the cozy factor.

Tickets start at $40.99 for kids and $52.99 for adults, and the youngsters will receive a Blue Ridge Scenic Railway jingle bell, a candy cane, and an activity packet.

Detroit Lions Annual Thanksgiving Day Football Game

Nov. 23, 2023
Detroit, MI
Official Website

For sports lovers, Thanksgiving is synonymous with football. Instead of parking it on the couch in a turkey-induced coma, why not catch a game in person? Join Detroit die-hard fans at Ford Field to watch the Lions face off with the Packers this Thanksgiving. 

Even if you don’t get tickets to the game, the tailgating at Ford Field is known to be quite the event on Thanksgiving day. You’ll likely find all the fixings of a full traditional meal available, making this one of the best things to do on Thanksgiving if you love sports AND turkey. Non-sports fans are welcome, too! 

The game starts at 12:30, and you can buy tickets for the game and parking passes online in advance. If you’re tailgating, the festivities start pretty early in the morning, so show up at least a couple of hours before the big game to get the full experience.

Human Horse Races

Nov. 23, 2023
New Orleans, LA
Official Website

Save a horse, ride a human? For a genuinely unconventional Thanksgiving event, hop on the bus to New Orleans and partake in the Human Horse Races. For the past four years, this event has raised money and awareness for local animal sanctuaries and rescues in quite a unique way. 

The races are exactly what they claim to be: humans wearing horse masks, carrying their human riders, running for the glory (and a pretty cute trophy) of crossing the finish line first. The races are open to all ages, and even if you’re not participating, it’s quite the show for spectators. 

There’s also live music and concessions, and all proceeds go to local animal & wildlife rescue initiatives. Entrance to the event is free, and participation is available with a suggested donation. If you want to contribute to the cause, you can buy betting tokens, invest in some cool merch, or simply make a donation!

Minnesota Hmong New Year

Nov. 25-26, 2023
St. Paul, MN
Official Website

Looking for unique Thanksgiving events that don’t actually have anything to do with turkey or pilgrims? St. Paul celebrates the Hmong New Year on Thanksgiving weekend, and as the home to one of the largest Hmong populations in the United States, you can bet that this city’s festival goes all out. 

Of course, there is tons of food (you won’t be missing that bland turkey, trust me), but that’s just the start. There are also singing and dance competitions, the Miss Hmong Minnesota pageant, tons of vendors and display booths showcasing clothing and other artifacts of cultural importance to the Hmong people. 

Tickets cost $12 and are available at the door.

Sutra in the Park

Nov. 23, 2023
Phoenix, AZ
Official Website

Thanksgiving is all about gratitude. Okay, it’s about family and food, too, but it’s mostly meant to give thanks (it is literally in the name). Before you gorge yourself on mom’s green bean casserole, start your day out with some gratitude at Sutra Studio’s 15th annual Gratitude Flow in the Park. 

This hour-and-a-half long event starts at 10:00 on Thanksgiving morning and features an opening ceremony, an all-levels yoga flow, a gratitude ritual, and a closing meditation. This is sure to get your mind right before a long day of family time, and it definitely beats the tired old turkey trot!

The event is free, but you’ll need to register online in advance. A $10 donation is also recommended to support the studio.

Haha Harvest

Nov. 24-26, 2023
Portland, OR
Official Website

Portland is one of the best escapes for Thanksgiving weekend, in part because of the great outdoor activities, but also because of the annual Haha Harvest – a comedy extravaganza that features a premier showcase of comedic talent from Portland and beyond. 

The festival has grown in recent years, with ten stages at various venues across town and over 60 comedians. Headliners include Adam Cayton-Holland, Lizzy Cooperman, Ron Lynch, Mav Viola, Janae Burris, and more. 

Tickets are expected to sell quickly, so buy your tickets online in advance to guarantee your spot at a specific show, or snag a pass for the entire Thanksgiving weekend. 

Don’t let tradition take hold of your weekend plans. Step outside of your comfort zone and check out a few of these unconventional Thanksgiving events. Who knows, you might just find a new tradition to hold dear for next year! 

No matter where your holiday plans take you, browse Wanderu or download the Wanderu app to find cheap train and bus tickets and compare prices in the same search. Save that cash for those Black Friday deals!

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About the author
Abby Valinski

Abby Valinski

Abby is a traveler, writer, and lover of all things outdoors. When she's not traveling, you can find her devouring a fantasy novel, conquering a hiking trail, or researching her next destination.

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