When the first signs of winter appear, we start thinking about places we’d like to visit. Sometimes that’s a snowy chalet with easy access to fresh powder and a lively après scene. Other times it’s a bungalow on the beach, where we can feel the sun on our skin.
Arguably, the biggest challenge is deciding where to go. So whether your ideal winter vacation involves decamping to somewhere warmer or seeking out epic snow dumps, here are eight winter vacation ideas for your next getaway.
1. Boston, Massachusetts
Go for: an itinerary packed with activities that celebrate the best of the season
Will you need layers for a snowy-season trip to Boston? Sure. But for a city break with all the totems of winter, Boston delivers.
Here you can ice skate on Frog Pond in the Boston Common, warm up with afternoon tea at the Boston Public Library, hear the crunch of snow as you walk through the winter wonderland that is the Arnold Arboretum, watch a hockey game at TD Garden, or window shop along cobblestone streets with a hot chocolate in hand.
For lovers of the performing arts, winter is when the Boston Symphony Orchestra is in full swing. And this winter, Hamilton will take the stage at the Boston Opera House from January 17 through March 12.
Where to stay: The Newbury Boston
Book now: The Newbury Boston
Situated across the street from the Public Garden and surrounded by snow-capped brownstones, this historic hotel is centrally located. It reopened in 2021 after a two-year renovation that updated all of its 286 guest rooms. (We recommend booking one of the 90 suites, many of which come with cozy wood-burning fireplaces and an extensive firewood menu.)
Go for: reggae music, ideal temperatures, and exploring the Caribbean
There’s a reason mid-December through mid-April is the high season in Jamaica: Tropical temperatures stay in the 80-degree range throughout the season.
Jamaica also stands out as a winter destination thanks to its music events. The Caribbean nation has strong musical roots that have flourished with festivities like Rebel Salute, which celebrates reggae, in January. February is also “Reggae Month” (in honor of Bob Marley, whose birthday was February 6), so expect celebratory shows throughout the country.
In addition, winter is a good time for scuba diving with tropical fish, spotting crocodiles in the Black River Great Morass, finding quiet beach retreats, hiking to waterfalls, and experiencing the lively Kingston nightlife.
Where to stay: Sandals Royal Plantation
Book now: Sandals Royal Plantation
This adults-only spot has a far more boutique vibe than others in the 20-property chain, boasting only 74 rooms. (It’s no wonder customers give this outpost the highest reviews.) And it’s truly all-inclusive: Activities like scuba diving, glass-bottom boat tours, and golfing are included (the only amenity not included is the spa). All of its restaurants—which specialize in cuisine ranging from French to Thai—are à la carte, so there is no need to worry about subpar buffet lines.
3. Fairbanks, Alaska
Go for: a cozy getaway featuring unforgettable night skies
Despite the subzero temps (winter temperatures can dip to -20 degrees Fahrenheit), the darkest months of the year are when Fairbanks really shines, literally. Because Fairbanks sits directly below the auroral oval (a naturally occurring atmospheric band that hugs the northernmost climes and denotes where auroral activity is most likely to occur), it is an ideal staging point for watching one of nature’s greatest shows: the northern lights. According to Explore Fairbanks, the local tourism board, streamers of light unfurl over the interior Alaskan city an average of 240 nights per year.
It’s possible to go hunting for the northern lights on your own—you just need to find a spot with unobstructed views of the night sky and no light pollution. But if you want to stack the deck in your favor, companies like Salmon Berry Tours and Last Frontier Mushing Co-op can lead the way.
During the day, visitors can check out the University of Alaska’s Museum of the North, which displays Indigenous artwork, a mummified bison from the Ice Age, and the famous Into the Wild bus. If you’re keen on spending time outside, Running Reindeer Ranch leads guided hikes through the boreal forest with its herd of domesticated reindeer. A visit to Chena Hot Springs Resort is also a must, if only for the 106-degree, spring-fed outdoor soaking pool. Afterward, be sure to stop by the resort’s Aurora Ice Museum, where appletinis are served in ice chalices. To get there, you can drive your personal vehicle or go on a guided snowmachine tour (snowmobile to Lower 48ers) with Midnight Sun ATV.
Where to stay: Borealis Basecamp
Book now: Borealis Basecamp
Located on 100 acres of boreal forest just north of Fairbanks, Borealis Basecamp makes for a truly intimate stay. Guests have two options for lodging: Stay at one of 20 private fiberglass igloos (much like the kind used by polar research stations) with a see-through ceiling or in one of five new cubes that will open for the first time this winter, which feature floor-to-ceiling windows. You can’t go wrong with either option, as you’ll be able to watch the northern lights from the comfort of your bed in both spots.
4. Santa Barbara, California
Go for: a Mediterranean-inspired vacation in the USA
Santa Barbara, California, sometimes called the American Riviera, is a solid choice for those who have European dreams but U.S. PTO policies. Beyond the Mediterranean-inspired architecture, Santa Barbara also has a blossoming Urban Wine Trail—it now includes more than two dozen member wineries. Most of them are within walking distance of each other, making it easy to get around.
Winter also brings two important migrations in Santa Barbara. Between December and April, visitors can watch from the shore as gray whales breach and puff water as they make their way to and from their breeding grounds in Mexico (though, for a better look, it’s worth hopping on a whale-watching tour). And from mid-November to mid-February, hundreds of thousands of monarch butterflies visit the region. (The Goleta Butterfly Grove is an excellent place to see them).
Surfing is stellar year-round in this part of southern California, but winter swells generally mean bigger and better waves, and the colder weather (for locals at least) translates to quieter beach days, so you may even have the surf to yourself.
Where to stay: Kimpton Canary Hotel, an IHG Hotel
Book now: Kimpton Canary Hotel, an IHG Hotel
This boutique hotel, in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara, just wrapped up renovations of public spaces in spring 2022 (and is expected to finish room renovations in early 2023). You can see the changes in the revamped Finch & Fork restaurant and the rooftop patio, from which you can take in the surrounding mountains and the sea. Each of its 97 guest rooms features a canopied four-poster bed and bathrooms with Spanish tiling (many of which have separate soaking tubs).
5. Scottsdale, Arizona
Go for: a temperate time for art, design, and sports
Arizona is in high spirits as it prepares to welcome the 2023 Super Bowl in February. But take a 40-minute detour from the host city of Glendale and see what neighboring Scottsdale has to offer.
Winter—when temperatures dip to a cooler 72 degrees Fahrenheit by day on average—may be the most comfortable time to visit. That’ll be the case in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, a desert habitat that boasts 225 miles of shared-use trails lined with towering saguaro cacti and feathery mesquite trees. Or if you’d rather have a bird’s-eye view of the vast valleys and red peaks, a variety of hot air ballooning companies, like Hot Air Expeditions, offer morning and afternoon flight-seeing tours (complete with a postflight glass of bubbly).
Scottsdale is also home to a thriving art scene. The Arts District has hundreds of specialty shops, galleries, and museums, many featuring the work of Indigenous artists. And for design lovers, there’s Taliesin West, built by Frank Lloyd Wright and his apprentices in the 1930s (and expanded on until his death in 1959). Considered one of Wright’s most influential creations, it was once his winter home and studio. It has since been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site and can be visited by the public.
The city also has a reputation for being a foodie haven. For dinner, consider Citizen Public House, a James Beard–nominated upscale American restaurant (the coffee-rubbed boneless short ribs are delectable), or the Americano, an Italian-inspired steakhouse that opened in 2020 and has an impressive cocktail program.
Where to stay: Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia
Book now: Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia
With views of Camelback Mountain (only a five-minute drive to its hiking trail), this sumptuous 293-room property focuses on relaxation and rejuvenation. Spend time at one of the three pools, sip an Aperol spritz from your private balcony, or unwind at the 31,000-square-foot Joya Spa before having dinner at Prado, the on-site Spanish-influenced restaurant.
Go for: an accessible international trip with plenty of cultural festivities
There are lots of reasons to love Belize: It’s home to the second largest barrier reef in the world (which includes the Great Blue Hole, a UNESCO World Heritage site), it has a healthy mix of jungle adventure opportunities and beach retreats, and it boasts ample resorts tailored to help you unwind.
Better yet, the Central American country has direct flights from several U.S. cities, including Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, and Miami, which makes it a relatively quick trip. (It’s only five hours from New York City to Belize City nonstop.) It’s also the only country in Central America or the Caribbean that lists English as its official language, so it’s fairly hassle-free.
Winter is the dry season in Belize, with daily temperatures ranging from the mid-70s to the low 80s. Take advantage of the excellent weather to experience plenty of exciting festivals and events happening this season, including the End of the World Marathon, La Ruta Maya Canoe River Race, San Pedro Carnival, and more.
Where to stay: The Placencia, a Muy’Ono Resort
Book now: The Placencia, a Muy’Ono Resort
Located on a private beach, this resort is an easy base camp for water-related activities like sailing and snorkeling. Each of the 88 rooms has a furnished patio and air-conditioning. Other perks include a free airport shuttle and complimentary bicycle hires.
7. Lake Tahoe, Nevada and California
Go for: a ski—or après-ski—type of adventure
Since Tahoe is the nucleus of the country’s largest concentration of ski resorts, it’s a great getaway for skiers and snowboarders. Here you can spend a day exploring the legendary slopes at Mt. Rose Ski Resort (which features more than 50 trails, backcountry access, a bevy of terrain parks, and the highest elevation in Tahoe), Palisades Tahoe (with terrain so varied it hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics), or perhaps Heavenly Ski Resort (the largest ski resort in the area). Afterward, pop over to Reno to explore the public art sculptures from Burning Man, which dot the downtown area, before dinner.
A winter trip to Tahoe is worth it even if you don’t ski or snowboard—surely you can appreciate a destination that is rife with stunning scenery, stellar shopping and spas, and a much-lauded après scene. Consider spending an afternoon at the hot spring–fed hot tubs at David Walley’s Resort, following the South Lake Tahoe Beer Trail, going for a scenic drive around the lake, taking a snowshoe or cross-country skiing course, or soaking up the mountain views from the comfort of a gondola.
Where to stay: Desolation Hotel
Book now: Desolation Hotel
Equidistant from the beach and the gondola at Heavenly, this South Lake Tahoe resort oozes hygge charm. Each of its 21 rooms has a kitchenette, a fireplace, and a soaking tub on a private balcony. The hotel also includes a saltwater pool and Jacuzzi, a sauna and a cold shower plunge, a fitness studio, and a dog-friendly policy.
8. Charleston, South Carolina
Go for: a taste of history and Lowcountry fare
We’re not sure whether it is the access to beaches, the lively festivals, or the cheerily colored houses that give Charleston its summer-all-the-time atmosphere. But there are typically fewer crowds in the slower winter season, and rates are—thankfully—lower as a result.
One of the reasons we’re keen on visiting Charleston this particular winter season is because the buzzed-about International African American Museum is slated to open on January 21, 2023. It’s located on Gadsden’s Wharf, a former slave-trading port where nearly half of the Africans brought to the United States disembarked. Its exhibits will shed light on a broad range of the African American experience, from the history of slavery and the influence of African culture in the United States to today’s social justice movements.
The winter season in Charleston is also the return of the oyster season. If slurping the bivalves at restaurants isn’t enough, the Lowcountry Oyster Festival, the world’s largest oyster festival, will take place on January 29.
Where to stay: The Pinch Hotel
Book now: The Pinch
This boutique hotel (opened in April 2022) is spread over three buildings, including two restored Victorian-style homes (both are part of the National Register of Historic Places) and one new building. There are only 25 rooms, and they all have a midcentury vibe, thanks to custom art and furniture in earth tones and natural materials like wood. The Pinch is also centrally located in the city’s Ansonborough neighborhood—close to all the shops, wine bars, and eateries that make Charleston what it is.