U.S. Cities That Make Great Winter Vacation Destinations

Winter can be long and bleak. The best way to make it ’til spring: Plan a fun vacation. Whether you prefer snow or sand, anticipating a winter vacation can get you through the colder months. The travel experts at Frommer’s compiled the top winter vacation destinations, and some may surprise you. Pick a snowy or sunny spot, then get planning!

1. Key West, Florida

Pier at the beach in Key West

Key West, a charming region of Florida | ventdusud/iStock/Getty Images

Be like Ernest Hemingway and escape colder climates for the “Conch Republic,” aka Key West, Florida. The southernmost spot in the continental U.S. is perfect for the laid-back traveler seeking a quirkier side of the Sunshine State. Pastel conch houses and turquoise waters greet visitors, who often come for Key West’s world-class snorkeling and parasailing. Don’t forget to try a famous slice of Key Lime pie while you’re there.

Next: The winter adventure of a lifetime

2. Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska

Church in Fairbanks Alaska just before sunrise.

Fairbanks, Alaska | lippyjr/iStock/Getty Images

Anchorage serves as an entry point for many visitors — it’s the starting point for the Iditarod, too — while Fairbanks is both modern and primitive. Frommer’s describes the latter as “a fun, unpretentious town that never lost its sense of being on the frontier.” Anchorage offers dogsledding tours, glacier hikes, an ice museum, and the Northern Lights. For snow-lovers and families, the Last Frontier is a dream trip.

Next: Surf’s up at this beach.

3. Half Moon Bay, California

Surfing

You’ll want to leave these waves up to the experts. | iStock/Getty Images Plus

With an average high of 60 degrees in the winter, Half Moon Bay is home to one of the world’s most challenging surf locales. Visitors can watch daredevil surfers while lounging on the region’s string of beaches. With San Francisco only 28 miles away and Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve along the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains, Half Moon Bay has more than enough outdoor activities. Travelers also appreciate its historic downtown area, with art galleries, shops, and restaurants.

Next: The place to party and escape the snow

4. New Orleans

Bars with neon lights in the French Quarter of New Orleans

The French Quarter of New Orleans | f11photo/iStock/Getty Images

Ready to liven up your winter? The Big Easy has a 24-hour nightlife scene, award-winning cuisine, and energetic music scene. New Orleans’ carnival celebration of Mardi Grad lasts for weeks each February, with street performers and parades decking the town in beads. Feast on jambalaya, gumbo, and beignets to your heart’s content. If you’re lucky the temps will linger in the high 60s.

Next: Your worries will be far, far away

5. St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands

USVI's St. John

St. John is known for its gorgeous beaches. | Caneel Bay Resort via Instagram

More than one year after Hurricane Irma, St. John is nearly rebuilt and functioning seamlessly. The smallest of three U.S. Virgin Islands serves as one of the most remote escapes in the Caribbean; it’s accessible only by ferry and 60% of the island is comprised of unspoiled national park lands. St. John has many stunning beaches, but the most famous is Trunk Bay, ideal for swimming, snorkeling, and sailing.
Next: A picture-perfect northern getaway

6. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Michigan's Pictured Rocks Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore has incredible winter offerings. | aschwid_3 via Instagram

Located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore appears in magazines and guides worldwide due to its famous, colorful sandstone cliffs perfect for watersports. However, winter is an equally ideal time to visit thanks to the area’s gorgeous ice caves, white birch forest, lake views, and annual Michigan Ice Fest. Adventurers and families enjoy ice climbing, cross country skiing, snowmobiling, and more.
Next: A classic ski trip with something for the whole family

7. Breckenridge, Colorado

The town of Breckenridge, Colorado

Breckenridge is accessible and full of winter fun. | Breckenridgemtn via Instagram

Other ski locales struggle to keep up with Breckenridge. This historic mining town serves as North America’s most popular ski destination; it has 2,908 acres of skiable terrain, the continent’s highest chairlift, and trails for every skill level. Breckenridge’s dining and nightlife scene are just as dynamic and fun. The city’s winter event lineup includes the International Snow Sculpture Festival and Ullr Fest, a crazy celebration of Vikings.

Next: Go for the fun and stay for the food.

8. Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville, North Carolina

A historic, gorgeous foodie town | Visit Asheville via Instagram

If you need a reason to visit Asheville, look no further than its plethora of veritable awards from 2018. The city ranks as the “No. 1 Foodie City” (Global Traveler), one of the “18 Top Destinations of 2018” (Forbes Travel Guide), and one of the “Top-Rated Vacation Destinations in North America” (Expedia). Surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville is home to the massive Biltmore Estate, a French Renaissance château once home to George Vanderbilt.

Next: A big vacation in big sky country

9. Big Sky, Montana

Cabin in Big Sky, Montana

Visit this cute cabin on a horse farm in Big Sky, Montana via Airbnb.com. | Airbnb via Instagram

If you want serenity and excellent snow, head to this Montana community with big-time offerings. Big Sky Resort has 85 miles of trail and 3,812 acres of skiable terrain (the majority calls for advanced ski skills). Head southeast and you’ll find the unforgettable hot springs, geysers, and wildlife of Yellowstone National Park. Head northeast and you’ll find blue-ribbon trout fishing, waterfalls, and gorgeous views along the Gallatin River.

Next: One of the most beautiful islands in the world

10. Kauai, Hawaii

Stunning aerial view of Na Pali coast in Kauai Island

Stunning aerial view of Na Pali coast on Kauai | iStock.com/SergiyN

Say aloha to Kauai, known for its verdant rainforests, dramatic cliffs of the Na Pali Coast, and Waimea Canyon (aka the “Grand Canyon of Hawaii”). The Garden Island has been the backdrop for movies like Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean. Many visitors return annually to enjoy the island’s world-class dining, local breweries, shave ice stands, and coffee plantations. With excellent snorkeling, hiking, and exploring, Kauai draws families and couples who appreciate its warm temperatures.

Next: This Southwestern city will enchant you.

11. Santa Fe, New Mexico

Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi awes travelers who visit Santa Fe. | City of Santa Fe via Instagram

Founded in 1610 as a Spanish colony, New Mexico’s capital charms visitors with its Pueblo-style architecture, outdoor adventures, and renowned food. As Departures explains, travelers love to try the “incredible Native American, Spanish, Mexican, New Mexican, red chile, green chile, poblano, serrano flavors of Santa Fe.”

New Mexico’s capital has more than 250 art galleries. Two of the most popular spots: Meow Wolf, an otherworldly art installation, and the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, which honors the “Mother of American modernism.”

Next: A mild climate and a wild scene

12. Las Vegas

Las Vegas Strip and Flamingo Hotel Casino at night

The Las Vegas strip | diegograndi/getty Images

If winter makes you feel cramped and cold, head to Sin City to get wild and warm up in its mild temps. With accommodations and activities for every price point, Las Vegas is accessible for nearly everyone, especially throughout the winter. Historic Fremont Street is an ideal escape from the main strip; the first paved street in Vegas served as the original location of the original famous casinos and the setting of dozens of Old Hollywood classics.

Next: Take a bite out of this apple.

13. New York City

The Statue of Liberty and One World Trade Center in New York City

The Statue of Liberty and One World Trade Center in New York City | spyarm/iStock/Getty Images

As Frommer’s notes, NYC hotel costs drop by as much as 20% after the holidays. From January to March, the city is more tranquil and cozy. Theater season is going strong, but tickets can cost less for Broadway hits. This time of year is ideal for visitors hoping to score great restaurant reservations and comedy club seats. As long as you can fit your winter coat in your suitcase, you’ll fall in love with New York City in the late winter.

Next: A ski hideaway for snow-lovers

14. Magic Mountain Ski Area, Vermont

Vermont's Magic Mountain Ski Area

A vintage ski resort | skimagicvt via Instagram

Described as “perfect for purists,” Magic Mountain is the throwback ski destination of your dreams. Skilled skiers appreciate the winding slopes and wooded areas many bigger resorts lack. Lift tickets are more affordable at Magic Mountain, and the down-to-earth regulars gladly welcome guests at the ski area’s tavern and accommodations.

Next: You’ll love to place to death

15. Death Valley National Park, California and Nevada

Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park

Zabriskie Point in Death Valley | balberts/iStock/Getty Images

California’s Death Valley averaged 108.1 degrees Fahrenheit in July 2018, breaking its records from the last 100 years. Needless to say, this beloved national park is not ideal in the summer. The winter, however, creates an ideal climate for hiking, backcountry camping, and photo ops. Hovering between the 60s and 70s, temperatures will warm you up for visits to sand dune treks and Badwater Basin’s stunning salt flats.