These U.S. travel destinations can offer a welcome escape from plummeting temperatures.
As the temperatures dip below freezing in many parts of the country, Americans often head down to Miami for a reprieve from harsh winter weather.
But the South Beach vibes aren’t necessarily for everyone ― and might not be affordable for many during peak tourist season. Fortunately, the Magic City isn’t the only paradise cold-climate-dwellers can visit for a respite at this time of year.
Below, we’ve rounded up 15 other destinations in the United States that are perfect for a warm ― or at least mild ― winter getaway. (But make sure you should consider state of the pandemic at the location and in your home community before booking a trip.)
1. Palm Springs, California
There’s a reason Palm Springs is a popular retirement destination. Wintertime in this desert oasis offers a nice reprieve from the cold temperatures. And there’s plenty to do to stay entertained: Go on a hike (the trails at Indian Canyons are a personal favorite), shop for antiques and vintage clothing, or just drive around and admire all the mid-century modern architecture. Check out the Sunnylands estate to get your fill of political history, stunning vistas and retro glamour. And no visit to Palm Springs is complete without a delicious date shake — or a purchase of fresh dates.
2. Key West, Florida
Winter is a great time to visit the Florida Keys, and you’ll find tons of great attractions in Key West. You can take a scenic drive from Miami or fly directly into Key West for your visit, which will hopefully include a lot of yummy key lime pie (shout-out to Blue Heaven’s “mile high” version and everything they sell at Kermit’s). You can relax on the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park or take the ferry to the remote Dry Tortugas National Park. Get a taste of history and culture by checking out the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum and Truman Little White House, and then stroll Duval Street for local food, drinks and live music. And of course, you can’t come this far without stopping at the southernmost point of the continental U.S.
The heat in Phoenix can be famously brutal in the summer, but winter is a great time to escape the freeze and visit the Valley of the Sun. Hike Camelback Mountain or Papago Park and then grab a bite at the family-owned Tacos Chiwas or the department-store-turned-restaurant Hanny’s (complete with mannequin art and a strange surprise in the basement). If you’re less nature-inclined, downtown Phoenix boasts street art, world class museums, renovated hotels, creative bars, indoor-outdoor eateries and more.
4. Joshua Tree, California
Some of the U.S. National Parks aren’t ideal for winter visits (especially if you’re a nature novice), but Joshua Tree boasts comfortable daytime temperatures and hiking conditions around this time of year. As the name suggests, the trees are a stunning sight, as are the cacti and rock formations. You can explore the vast park — which is slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island — by car, by bike or on foot. Just be sure to assess your level of experience and take the proper safety precautions, especially during the winter, when days are shorter and temperatures drop at night. You might also consider using Palm Springs as a launchpad for your Joshua Tree visit, or combining the trip with a drive down to Salvation Mountain.
5. Puerto Rico
Because Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, Americans don’t need their passports to visit. Stroll the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan and take in the colorful buildings before stopping for some mofongo at Café Manolín or El Jibarito. You can also take advantage of the warm climate by soaking up the sun on Flamenco Beach, exploring the ruins of Castillo San Felipe del Morro and hiking the trails of El Yunque Rainforest, which has stunning waterfalls and unique plants and animals. Nature lovers might also enjoy Puerto Rico’s famous bioluminescent bays.
6. Savannah, Georgia
Winter is a convenient time to visit Savannah, as temperatures tend to be mild and popular sites aren’t crowded. You can find good off-season rates at historic hotels like The Gastonian and East Bay Inn or the more modern and upscale Perry Lane Hotel. The live oaks draped with Spanish moss and old homes make for charming afternoon walks, and you can’t go wrong with a meal at Zunzi’s, The Olde Pink House or Cotton & Rye. As for attractions, Bonaventure Cemetery famously appeared in “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” and Pin Point Heritage Museum explores the history and culture of the Gullah-Geechee community.
7. Maui, Hawaii
Hawaii is full of ideal winter destinations, and Maui in particular has countless activities and sights. Thrill-seekers can drive the Road to Hana or bike Haleakalā National Park (or simply drive a car up for an epic sunrise or sunset). Buy souvenirs at the Maui Swap Meet or the shops in Lahaina. As for food, save room for poke from Eskimo Candy, tacos from Coconut’s Fish Cafe, and everything from “Top Chef” favorite Sheldon Simeon’s Tin Roof. Don’t forget dessert from Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice or Donut Dynamite (the lilikoi malasadas are a must).
8. Naples, Florida
If you’re looking for a serene alternative to Miami, explore the Gulf Coast of South Florida. The beaches of Naples are picturesque, especially around the iconic pier at sunset, and the shopping scene offers something for everyone. You can enjoy the warm winter weather by golfing, exploring Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and visiting Naples Botanical Garden. The coastal city is also home to a number of breweries like Riptide Brewing, Naples Beach Brewery and Ankrolab Brewing Co. Don’t forget to grab a bite from one of the food trucks at Celebration Park as well.
9. Death Valley, California
Death Valley’s name is fitting in the unbearable heat of the summer, so winter is high season in this national park along the California-Nevada border. Famous sites in the park include the Zabriskie Point, which is a popular spot for viewing sunset and sunrise, and Badwater Basin, which is the lowest point in North America. If you’re looking for a challenge, try hiking the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes — it’s harder than it looks!
10. Tucson, Arizona
The appeal of the Tucson sunshine is obvious during the often gloomy winter in other parts of the country. Hike Sabino Canyon and Saguaro National Park to admire the iconic cacti and colorful sunset views. One unique attraction is “the Boneyard” (officially called the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group) — a massive airplane graveyard with nearly 4,000 aircraft — and you can continue the travel theme by checking out Pima Air & Space Museum as well. Mission San Xavier del Bac is an impressive white Spanish Catholic mission dating back to the 18th century. For local shopping and dining, go to Trail Dust Town. And don’t leave Arizona without trying some traditional fry bread, which you can find at Cafe Santa Rosa and La Indita.
11. South Padre Island, Texas
Located off the southern tip of Texas, South Padre Island is a barrier island that’s home to a popular resort town with the same name. Sandy beaches cover the coastline, and the weather stays relatively mild during the coldest months. Thus, it’s a year-round destination, and vacationers who want to avoid rowdy spring break crowds might opt for a winter visit. South Padre Island is known for pristine beaches, nature watching, water sports, sandcastles, seashells and hiking. And of course, the Gulf seafood is a must-eat while you’re there. Restaurants like Pier 19 and Sea Ranch offer fresh fish in a variety of preparations.
12. San Diego, California
San Diego is another solid winter retreat in California. Even if surfing and sunbathing aren’t your thing, you can still enjoy the mild weather while exploring Balboa Park, strolling La Jolla Cove or golfing at the famous Torrey Pines course. The world-famous San Diego Zoo is a must, and Old Town is full of great shops and restaurants. Consider taking a taco tour with stops at Puesto, Tacos el Gordo, The Taco Stand and Las Cuatro Milpas. If you want to stay in a hotel with a lot of history, look no further than the iconic Hotel del Coronado (or at least pop by for a drink).
13. U.S. Virgin Islands
Like Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands are an American territory, so you can take a passport-free trip to places like Saint Croix, Saint John and Saint Thomas. These destinations have lots of all-inclusive resorts to promote relaxation on the beach by the turquoise water. More adventurous types might try scuba diving, water sports, or hiking the many lush trails. You can also take ferries to visit other islands for the day for shopping, strolling and eating fresh seafood and Johnny Cakes.
14. St. Petersburg, Florida
Unlike the the Russian city of the same name, St. Petersburg in Florida has relatively warm and pleasant weather in the winter. There’s also plenty to do in the Gulf Coast city and surrounding areas. Art lovers can’t miss the Salvador Dalí Museum, Chihuly Collection and Duncan McClellan Gallery. If you’re into nature, there are a number of nature preserves and beaches, as well as the Sunken Gardens. Make sure to grab a sandwich at Mazzaro’s Italian Market as well.
15. Oahu, Hawaii
The island of Oahu strikes a balance between the sophistication of a big city (with Honolulu) and the beauty of the natural landscape. Winter visitors can relax on the beach at Waikiki or hit the trails with the Diamond Head Crater Hike or Koko Crater Trail. Learn about a pivotal moment in American history at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, or tour the Kualoa Ranch, where movies like “Jurassic Park” and “50 First Dates” were filmed. Oahu is also home to the Dole Plantation and popular eateries like Haleʻiwa Bowls, Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck, Ya-Ya’s Chophouse, Island Snow and Ono Seafood.
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