America's Best Cities for Winter Travel
A trip during winter is a great cure for the letdown that often comes after the holidays and the “winter blahs” that start as the season seems to drag on. Where to go is the question, with so many options and, in some destinations, attractive prices. In other locales, it’s high season with prices to match, but worth every dollar to travelers who want to escape to a warm, sunny place.
Everyone has a different goal when it comes to winter vacations. Some want to ski or at least savor all that goes with a snowy environment: cozy fireplaces, hot cocoa, mulled wine, crisp air, and mountains draped in white. Others want to lounge in the sun and swim in warm tropical waters.
Related: The Best Places to Travel in January
Finding the best off-season deals in popular cities or seeking out the latest trendy restaurants are worthy goals pursued by many winter vacationers. Museum exhibitions, festivals, wellness programs, and exclusive resorts at discounted prices might also be a travel target. National parks, filled with tourists during summer, are pleasantly uninhabited in winter.
We have gathered some ideas for cities that meet many of these travel objectives. With so many to choose from, a look at this list should give anyone reason to start planning a winter getaway.
St. Louis, Missouri
Daytime temperatures are usually in the 40s during winter months, but when it feels too cold to be outside, there’s lots to do indoors. The palatial St. Louis Art Museum, founded in 1879 and moved to its current home during the 1904 World’s Fair, is one of the country’s premier museums. Visitors can ride a tram to the top of the Gateway Arch, the tallest manmade monument in the United States at 630 feet, for a spectacular view of the city or cruise the Mississippi in a riverboat to enjoy the St. Louis skyline.
This small Gulf Coast city has recovered from Hurricane Katrina’s extensive damage, and it’s better than ever with new restaurants, hotels, and casinos. Temperatures in the 60s make it pleasant in winter and a good time to visit the 1848 Biloxi Lighthouse, ride the open air Biloxi Tour Train through the city’s historic district, or take a boat trip for shrimping or fishing. The Mardi Gras Museum features displays of costumes, photos, and artifacts from many years of the annual celebration.
St. George, Utah
A four-hour scenic drive or short flight from Salt Lake City, St. George offers mild winters and a desert climate with daytime temperatures in the 50s and cooler nights. Their historic downtown features museums, galleries, restaurants, and cafes. Nearby spectacular Zion National Park is open all year, with hiking and mountain biking trails. Snow Canyon State Park, with red rock mountains, horseback riding, and gorgeous scenery seldom sees snow — it’s actually named after past Utah leaders named Snow, not the white stuff.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
With more than 500 inches of snowfall each year, the ski slopes attract lovers of the sport, but there’s also snow tubing, ice skating, snowmobiling, horse-drawn sleigh rides, and back country skiing. Snowcoach tours to nearby Yellowstone National Park make it possible to explore the park in a comfortable, warm vehicle with access to Old Faithful, bubbling mudpots, and wildlife. Snowmobile tours through Yellowstone are also available for an exciting winter adventure.
This historic city, founded as a fur trading post in 1811, is set on the Columbia River where it meets the Pacific. A two-hour drive from Portland and three hours from Seattle, Astoria is connected to Washington by the 4.1-mile-long Astoria-Megler Bridge. The fascinating Columbia River Maritime Museum describes the treacherous waters of the Columbia Bar along with local history of the salmon fishing area. The quaint downtown features the restored 1925 Liberty Theater, the Flavel House Museum, restaurants, and shops.
Known for the Kentucky Derby, Bourbon Trail, Louisville Slugger baseball bat, and great food, Louisville is cold in winter, but there’s lots to do indoors and bourbon to warm you up. Set on the Ohio River along the Indiana border, the city offers many unique attractions based on its claims to fame. The Kentucky Derby Museum explores the history of the annual thoroughbred horse race. The Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory will appeal to baseball fans, and the Urban Bourbon Experience celebrates the ever-popular local spirit.
Palm Springs, California
About two hours east of Los Angeles, this desert city enjoys comfortable daytime temperatures in winter, golf courses, spas, casinos, and nearby hot springs. Trendy restaurants, boutique hotels, resorts, and elegant shops offer something for everyone. The Aerial Tramway provides a fun ride, spectacular views, snow, and cold temperatures for anyone seeking a wintry environment for a day. Joshua Tree National Park is less than two hours away, with extraordinary rock formations, cacti, and starry night skies.
Key West, Florida
A four-hour drive from Miami, the trip takes visitors across 42 bridges to Florida’s southernmost point. Winter temperatures in the 70s, night life, history, and water sports attract fun-loving tourists from around the world. Diving and snorkeling among its coral reefs are popular during the day, and in the evening, lively Duval Street’s restaurants and bars feature live bands and Caribbean-style ambiance. Historic architecture, the Key West City Cemetery, and the Ernest Hemingway House are among attractions in this quirky Florida city.
Located on the Pacific a few miles north of Los Angeles International Airport, Venice is more than its famed Muscle Beach, street vendors, and canals — although those are part of the fun. Excellent restaurants, food trucks, and casual cafes offer creative dining opportunities, and shopping also ranges from upscale stores to T-shirt and kitschy souvenir shops. People watching is unmatched, and the beachside skate park is a great place to start. Strolling along the canals to ogle the unique homes and gardens is a popular pastime as well.
Located in northwestern Vermont on the shore of Lake Champlain, Burlington is Vermont’s largest city conveniently located near Burlington International Airport. Ski resorts include Stowe, Smugglers’ Notch, Bolton Valley, and more, with slopes for skiers of all levels. Its appealing downtown boasts shops, restaurants, micro-breweries, live music venues, and charming Church Street Marketplace. A variety of lodging includes cozy B&Bs as well as hotels. The Ethan Allen Homestead Museum was the home of the Revolutionary War hero, and it’s now an exhibit of life on the Vermont frontier.
Sun Valley, Idaho
If winter means snow and outdoor fun, Sun Valley should fit the bill. Non-stop flights from major western cities make Sun Valley accessible, and skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, snow biking, Nordic skiing, snowmobiling, and sleigh rides await. Called the birthplace of destination skiing, Sun Valley offers 13 chairlifts and 65 varied runs as well as its popular ski school. The town boasts a range of dining spots, live music venues, and coffee shops. The annual Symphony Festival is set for late February 2019 and the Sun Valley Film Festival will take place in March.
Set on three rivers with over 400 bridges throughout the city, Pittsburgh in winter is best suited for indoor activities, and there are many to put on a visitor’s itinerary. The Andy Warhol Museum, in the artist’s hometown, and the Carnegie Museum of Art, founded by Andrew Carnegie in 1895, will entice art lovers. The Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s exhibits and weekend workshops both entertain and educate. Pittsburgh’s dining scene is growing with dozens of restaurants, cafes, breweries, and new food halls opening this year. Local favorites like pierogies, kielbasa, and a sandwich from Primanti Brothers should be on the food agenda.
Perfect weather in the 70s, white sand beaches, restaurants, and cultural events attract snowbirds from around the country, so the atmosphere will be lively. It’s still possible to find a quiet spot along the beach, gather seashells, or splash in the warm Gulf of Mexico water. In town, restaurants, theaters, shops, and galleries call for hours of browsing. Sarasota is the home of the Ringling Circus Museum with displays of costumes, posters, miniature replicas, and the waterfront mansion of the Ringling family.
South Padre Island, Texas
With temperatures in the 60s, winter is pleasant for outdoor activities on this small barrier island off the southern coast of Texas. The area is a haven for nature lovers (and spring breakers in March), with the Laguna Madre Nature Trail, a major bird watching location, and the South Padre Island Birding & Nature Center with its five-story viewing tower. The Dolphin Research & Sealife Nature Center provides boat tours, and Sea Turtle Inc. rescues and rehabilitates sea turtles. Boating, fishing, and kiteboarding are popular, and fresh local seafood includes oysters, red snapper, and flounder.
Asheville, North Carolina
Winters are mild in this city located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina. Ski slopes are nearby for those seeking winter sports, and hiking trails are accessible throughout the season. It’s an ideal time to explore the downtown galleries and museums without crowds. Learn about the city on the downtown Asheville Urban Trail, a 1.7-mile walk featuring bronze sculptures depicting historical figures and events. Explore the Biltmore Estate, George Vanderbilt’s 250-room chateau through a variety of organized or self-guided tours.
New York, New York
New York is exciting any time of year, and chilly temperatures invite visitors to take advantage of indoor activities. Broadway shows, museums, comedy clubs, and popular restaurants are more accessible without holiday and summer crowds. For outdoor fun, ice skating or strolling through Central Park are favorites, especially followed by hot cocoa or a crackling fireplace. The Butterfly Conservatory at the American Museum of Natural History returns with hundreds of live butterflies, tropical flowers, and summerlike temperatures, a perfect escape from winter.
Sunshine, beaches, warm temperatures, brilliant sunsets, and graceful palm trees beckon travelers to Hawaii during winter. Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay among brightly colored fish, surfing the big winter waves, or just relaxing on the beach or poolside make Hawaii a perfect destination. Learn about island culture at the Polynesian Cultural Center, Bishop Museum, or Iolani Palace. A visit to the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, set to reopen in March, or the U.S.S. Bowfin Submarine Museum are reminders of Hawaii’s role in U.S. history.