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The latest Travel + Leisure survey shows that there’s more to a great vacation spot than sunny weather.

Some people travel during the winter to play in the snow,
others to bask in the sun—and some, perhaps, just to breathe in a great smell.

New York public relations exec Bruce Stoff once stayed an
entire winter in Santa
Fe
, and remembers most the smell of piñon, the predominant firewood in the
area. “Every fireplace and woodstove in the city becomes an incense burner,”
Stoff says. “I found the aroma just intoxicating.”

Maybe it was that scent that helped the New Mexico city stay
in the Top 10 for winter travel in this year’s Travel + Leisure America’s Favorite Cities survey. Travel + Leisure readers were asked to
rank 35 great American cities in 54 categories, including all-in-one
resorts
, romantic
potential
, or how easy
it is to get around town
. This year, seven new cities entered the
survey—spanning from Anchorage to Savannah—and
three of them landed in the top five for winter travel.

When we looked at the overall rankings, a few things were
not surprising: extra-cold or winter-gray cities such as Anchorage,
Minneapolis,
and Seattle fell into the bottom five out of the 35.

But when we looked at winter’s top 20 cities, we didn’t always
find big escapes from the cold. Granted, sunny island cities did pretty well: Honolulu came in second place, and San
Juan, Puerto Rico
, placed third.

But Florida—whose state bird could be the
poolside-lounger-seeking snowbird—had two disappointing results this year. Orlando,
which was No. 1 for winter trips in the 2009 survey, fell to a ho-hum No. 12
this year, while Miami came in at No. 15. Meanwhile, America’s first-place city for weather, San
Diego
, ranked in between, at No. 13.

The message? While warm temps are great, AFC readers will
put up with some rain or a few chilly breezes as long as there are fun things
to do. New
Orleans
(No. 7), for instance, has a rather famous annual event that tends
to happen in late February or early March, which may give the rest of winter a
certain Mardi Gras vibe.

Meanwhile, cities with excellent indoor culture—museums,
theater,
classical
music
—helped AFC voters overlook the occasional winter storm or dreary day.
In Santa Fe (No. 8), besides all that great firewood, you have access to skiing
a half hour outside the city, and great art and shopping in town. “It’s also
the best value time of year to go there,” says John Clifford, president of
agency International Travel Management. That’s good news, since AFC voters didn’t consider Santa Fe a bargain most of the time.

And in other cities, winter may be the season where you
finally get a great place to yourself. “In Charleston during winter, you can walk or ride around the gorgeous Charleston Battery
district with few other tourists,” says local public relations exec Beth
Cleveland. “You can get restaurant reservations downtown any night of the
week,” she adds, “and you can walk on the beach year-round.” So what if it’s
too chilly to take a dip? “It’s still warmer than wherever you’re likely
traveling from.”

America's Best Cities for Winter Travel 2010

The latest Travel + Leisure survey shows that there’s more to a great vacation spot than sunny weather.

Some people travel during the winter to play in the snow,
others to bask in the sun—and some, perhaps, just to breathe in a great smell.

New York public relations exec Bruce Stoff once stayed an
entire winter in Santa
Fe
, and remembers most the smell of piñon, the predominant firewood in the
area. “Every fireplace and woodstove in the city becomes an incense burner,”
Stoff says. “I found the aroma just intoxicating.”

Maybe it was that scent that helped the New Mexico city stay
in the Top 10 for winter travel in this year’s Travel + Leisure America’s Favorite Cities survey. Travel + Leisure readers were asked to
rank 35 great American cities in 54 categories, including all-in-one
resorts
, romantic
potential
, or how easy
it is to get around town
. This year, seven new cities entered the
survey—spanning from Anchorage to Savannah—and
three of them landed in the top five for winter travel.

When we looked at the overall rankings, a few things were
not surprising: extra-cold or winter-gray cities such as Anchorage,
Minneapolis,
and Seattle fell into the bottom five out of the 35.

But when we looked at winter’s top 20 cities, we didn’t always
find big escapes from the cold. Granted, sunny island cities did pretty well: Honolulu came in second place, and San
Juan, Puerto Rico
, placed third.

But Florida—whose state bird could be the
poolside-lounger-seeking snowbird—had two disappointing results this year. Orlando,
which was No. 1 for winter trips in the 2009 survey, fell to a ho-hum No. 12
this year, while Miami came in at No. 15. Meanwhile, America’s first-place city for weather, San
Diego
, ranked in between, at No. 13.

The message? While warm temps are great, AFC readers will
put up with some rain or a few chilly breezes as long as there are fun things
to do. New
Orleans
(No. 7), for instance, has a rather famous annual event that tends
to happen in late February or early March, which may give the rest of winter a
certain Mardi Gras vibe.

Meanwhile, cities with excellent indoor culture—museums,
theater,
classical
music
—helped AFC voters overlook the occasional winter storm or dreary day.
In Santa Fe (No. 8), besides all that great firewood, you have access to skiing
a half hour outside the city, and great art and shopping in town. “It’s also
the best value time of year to go there,” says John Clifford, president of
agency International Travel Management. That’s good news, since AFC voters didn’t consider Santa Fe a bargain most of the time.

And in other cities, winter may be the season where you
finally get a great place to yourself. “In Charleston during winter, you can walk or ride around the gorgeous Charleston Battery
district with few other tourists,” says local public relations exec Beth
Cleveland. “You can get restaurant reservations downtown any night of the
week,” she adds, “and you can walk on the beach year-round.” So what if it’s
too chilly to take a dip? “It’s still warmer than wherever you’re likely
traveling from.”

Kelly Kollar [1] [1] http://kellykollar.com

America's Best Cities for Winter Travel 2010

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