Every year, the minute the holidays start to fade into hazy champagne memories, the cold quickly becomes unbearable. It doesn’t help that—for travel lovers at least—January sees the release of every “Where to Go This Year” list, splashing distant destinations across our screens. It’s nothing short of jarring when you look up and out the window only to see sad, gray drizzle or a swirling blizzard of snow.
Now is a good time of year where we start craving warm weather getaways and sandy beaches—not Big Trips or proper vacations, but brief respites. We’re not so much looking for long haul flights as we are a break from the cold—all the better if we can find a little R&R, too. Here’s where to go this year if you need a quick escape to soak up the sun—and want to skirt the crowds while you’re at it.
National Monuments of the American Southwest
Every year is a great year to get outside. A perennial family favorite, the national parks will be mobbed in spring, but that gives their overlooked sisters—state parks, national monuments, and other public lands—a chance to shine. Fly into Tucson, Arizona, for sunny weather; in the area, you can explore the pinnacles, caves, and calderas of Chiricahua National Monument and wander through quaint former mining towns like Bisbee.
Or base yourself in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for a series of day trips to otherworldly landscapes like Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. The days may be blissfully warm here, but remember, desert nights can get cold so spend your evenings getting cozy at Tucson’s Hacienda del Sol Guest Ranch Resort or enjoy a Japanese onsen experience at Ten Thousand Waves in Santa Fe.
Atlantic Beach, Florida
Trust us—this is nothing like Daytona. Atlantic Beach, an uncrowded, mostly residential area east of Jacksonville, is actually exactly what you’re looking for in a Florida getaway. Go for the local experience by renting a colorful beach bungalow and spending your days pedaling a cruiser taking in the laid-back surf town vibes. It’s a family-friendly spot, so if you’re looking for an even more serene beach day experience, head north to Little Talbot Island State Park to walk the beach and snap a few ’grams of the 19th-century shipwreck sitting along the coast. Keep in mind, the sands at Atlantic Beach can get a little crowded in March and April with Florida families looking to escape spring breakers, which makes this a better spot in late winter than in early spring.
Charleston, South Carolina
Who says warm weather has to mean beaches? The only thing better than soaking up the sun while strolling by the historic pastel houses of Charleston’s Rainbow Row is doing so en route to happy hour at one of the city’s fantastic cocktail bars, like Proof or The Gin Joint. A trip to Charleston is less about working on your tan and more about slowing down and relaxing. Get lost in the back alleys of Harleston Village, wander Waterfront Park, or browse the many charming downtown boutiques. And if you spend most of your time dreaming about where you’ll enjoy your next meal—Husk or Xiao Bao Biscuit?—well, then you’re doing it right. Plan this one for March because the weather won’t be quite warm enough until then.
Isla Holbox, Mexico
Mexico’s greatest secret is that if you head north or south of any of the big-name beach cities, you’ll soon find a gorgeous, low-key, hidden gem of a beach. In this case, you’ll have to head two to three hours north of Cancun to Chiquila, then hop a ferry to set foot on Isla Holbox. But trust us, the journey is worth it. This just-“discovered” spot still has that off-the-grid desert island vibe. Expect pristine sands and cerulean water, a handful of thatched-roof hotels, and an incessant desire to be in a hammock. Spring is too early for whale sharks—one of the island’s biggest draws—but if you want a wildlife experience, head to the lagoons to spot some flamingos.
Turks and Caicos
Winter through early spring is traditionally high season for the Caribbean, but after last year’s devastating storms, the entire region is expecting a drop in tourism. This means two very important things: the islands of the Caribbean will be far less crowded than usual, and your visit is more beneficial than ever. One country that is fully open for business after the storms is Turks and Caicos. Despite the number of big resorts on the islands, the stretches of white-sand beaches have always made it relatively easy to escape the crowds here. To really get away from it all, book a stay at Amanyara, at the edge of the Northwest Point Marine National Park on Providenciales, and get to know the surrounding environment a little better.
BONUS: Another of our favorite Caribbean islands, Grenada, also emerged from the storms unscathed and it’s only a five-hour flight from New York City. Read more about this island that tourists overlook and locals love.
Lake Atitlán, Guatemala
One of our “18 Places to Go in 2018,” Guatemala is one of those spots you might just not leave—especially once you’ve seen Lake Atitlán. Start in Antigua, a small city chock-full of colonial architecture that has recently gained popularity as an adventure travel base, then head a few hours northeast. Stay at the lake’s crown jewel, Casa Palopó, an intimate boutique hotel with stunning views of the area’s three volcanoes. There are a number of small villages around the lake, each with a distinct personality. Get your “om” on in the hippie enclave of San Marcos La Laguna, learn about local weaving techniques at San Juan La Laguna, or explore the coastline and hunt for the hot springs in Santa Catarina Palopó.