14 Winter Vacation Ideas in the U.S., From Ski Resorts to Sunny Beaches
A winter vacation 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, like 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.
Here are our top 14 winter vacation ideas for destinations around the United States. Please note that some events and offerings may have changed due to the coronavirus pandemic, so check before planning your trip.
Related:The Best Places to Travel in January
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.
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.
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 (despite its name).
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 plenty of 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 bourbon lovers will want to check out nearby distilleries.
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, 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 Caribbean-style ambiance. Historic architecture, the Key West City Cemetery, and the Ernest Hemingway House are among attractions in this quirky Florida city.
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.
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 18 chairlifts and 121 varied runs as well as its popular ski school. The town boasts a range of dining spots, live music venues, and coffee shops.
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 both entertain and educate. Pittsburgh’s dining scene is growing with dozens of restaurants, cafes, breweries, and new food halls to enjoy. 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, but it’s still possible to find a quiet spot along the beach to gather seashells or splash in the warm Gulf of Mexico water. In town, restaurants, shops, and galleries call for hours of browsing. Sarasota is the home of the The Ringling, which has an impressive Museum of Art, Circus Museum, and Ca'd'Zan, the circus entrepreneur's home.
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, 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, on a guided tour.
Sunshine, beaches, warm temperatures, brilliant sunsets, and graceful palm trees beckon travelers to Hawaii during winter. Snorkeling 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.