16 Summer Destinations That Are Surprisingly Gorgeous in the Winter
Maybe the beach or desert fades from your memory when the temps drop, but these warm-weather locales are even more beautiful blanketed in snow.
Montauk, New York
Montauk may lure summer travelers with its sandy shores, surf spots, and resorts, but winter brings something even rarer—serenity. The roads, overrun with cars in summer, are clear and easy to navigate, making for a quick drive to year-round sites such as Montauk Point Lighthouse Museum or Deep Hollow Ranch. Plus, a handful of restaurants and resorts stay open for business despite the cold. Gurney’s Montauk turns up the heat with seasonal spa treatments, a Finnish-style rock sauna, a Russian steam room, and an array of wellness programming—all with a beautiful, snowy backdrop! Check out some charming small towns that are even cozier when it snows.
Once the world’s top whaling port, modern-day Nantucket retains much of its classic charm: Sweeping beaches, sand dunes, historic harbors, and seaside cottages. After the crowds have emptied out, this 50-square-mile island feels totally and utterly peaceful. Plus, off-peak prices at some of the island’s hottest properties mean you can experience New England luxury for a fraction of the cost. Winter rates at the famed Jared Coffin House—a stately brick mansion, once home to a prominent whaling merchant—start at $175. And you can stay at The Nantucket Hotel for around $230 (compared to $625 in the summer). Plus, there’s a cocktail hour in the outdoor hot tub and fondue by the fire pits.
When the flakes fall, Kennebunkport—one of the most charming seaside towns in the U.S.—turns into a real-life winter wonderland with plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventure. Go for a spin on the ice rink at Waterhouse Pavilion or head to Wells Reserve at Laudholm, where you’ll find seven miles of powder-covered trails for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Want to rev up the romance? Start with an afternoon sleigh ride for two at Rockin’ Horse Stables, followed by a cup of hot cocoa by the roaring fire, and end the evening with a candlelit dinner at the award-winning restaurant at White Barn Inn, Auberge Resorts Collection. Here are some more great vacations for people who love winter activities.
Newport, Rhode Island
Famed for its yacht-filled harbor and Gilded Age mansions, Newport has long been the summer locale of choice for New England’s elite. And while that certainly remains true, these days many people are making this coastal community their primary residence. The opening of Gurney’s Newport Resort & Marina—with its do-it-yourself hot chocolate bar, mixology classes, and fire pits—further solidified it as a year-round destination. This Rhode Island gem sparkles during the winter. When Jack Frost comes to town, everything—from the cobblestone streets to the historic homes that line Bellevue Avenue—is cloaked in fluffy flakes, making it even more magical. Of course, no trip to Newport is complete without a drink at the White Horse Tavern, said to be the oldest bar in America.
Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
Situated seven miles off of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard is one of the best beach vacation spots in the U.S., but what you might not realize is that it’s home to 15,000 full-time residents, and ferries from Woods Hole run every day (weather permitting), which means this idyllic island doesn’t shut down in the winter—but it does mellow considerably. And for solitude-seekers, that’s even more of a reason to visit. Adding to its off-season allure are reduced hotel rates, easy-to-secure restaurant reservations, and the promise of skating on Uncle Seth’s Pond in West Tisbury. If you prefer a warm winter trip, these winter destinations for families won’t break the bank.
Cape May, New Jersey
The Jersey Shore is a popular summer destination and a bucket-list stop for New Jersey. Cape May’s family-friendly fun has plenty to appeal to visitors year-round. And the holidays are particularly picturesque. Snow-dusted Victorian homes dressed with yuletide decorations invite visitors to step back in time. And there’s even more festive fun to be had at Congress Hall. “America’s oldest seaside resort” evokes the spirit of Kris Kringle with a holiday shopping village, seasonal concert series, and even a carousel. The quieter months of January and February are great for relaxing and wallet-friendly getaways, as many hotels offer specials. Topping the list is The Virginia, which has a “winter warm-up” package that includes a dining/cocktail credit and a discount on spa services. Here are some more charming old-fashioned Christmas towns you should visit.
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Cape Cod has much to offer to those willing to visit outside of the summer months. Come winter, you’ll find many unexpected pleasures, like frosty beach walks, cultural attractions, minimal crowds, and tasty treats. Gallery-hopping in Provincetown is always a hit. Or, bundle up and hit the trails at Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary or the Salt Pond Visitor Center. Afterward, warm up (and satisfy your sweet tooth) with a cup of cocoa at The Hot Chocolate Sparrow, Hole-In-One Doughnuts, or Pie in the Sky Bakery. For something a little stronger, stop by Cape Cod Beer or Devil’s Purse Brewery. And if the weather is crummy, why not expand your mind with a trip to the Cahoon Museum of American Art or the Woods Hole Science Aquarium?
Mont Tremblant, Québec, Canada
Snuggled in the Laurentian Mountains, Mont Tremblant is renowned in the summertime for its majestic beauty, its convenience to Montreal, and the wide variety of activities that appeal to the whole family (zip-lining, Euro bungee, biking, boating, etc.) and for which you can purchase an all-inclusive activity card at the beginning of your stay to make it easy to try everything. If you love winter activities (Alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, indoor swimming, amazing food) and gorgeous Alpine vistas, then it’s even better in winter. Don’t miss the “beavertails” (a Tremblant favorite made with fried dough and creative toppings)!
Yes, it’s the “Windy City,” thanks to the breezes off of Lake Michigan. But the town and lake are an incredible sight to behold, especially when it snows (which happens a lot during the Chicago winters). Ice skate in Millennium Park, go see the holiday lights at the Lincoln Park Zoo, stroll down beautiful Michigan Avenue, and take a peek at the dinosaur exhibits at the Field Museum, one of the best dinosaur museums in the world. Plus, your trip will be an incredible deal compared to what it is in the balmier months! Here are some more fantastic off-season travel deals that will save you money.
Banff, Alberta, Canada
“Flanked on all sides by the Rockies, Banff offers an irresistible combination of perfect powder, luxury lodges, fine dining, and lively nightlife,” according to TripAdvisor. In summer, you’ll leave your footprints in the dew-covered grass while exploring the paths along Lake Louise. In winter, think of making snow-prints in snowshoes and riding in a horse-drawn sled. Or take a breathtaking ride on the Banff Gondola and see views of the Canadian Rockies that are virtually unimaginable.
Visiting Bruges is like dropping right into a fairy tale, with its ancient cobblestone alleyways, gingerbread architecture, and picture-perfect canals lined by ornate houses—and no less so in the winter. “Come in January or February when the popular Christmas markets have packed away and you will have the town to yourself,” advises Roughguides.com.
To say that winter’s a good time to go to Harbin, which is the capital of Heilongjiang, China’s northernmost province, is a bit of an understatement. In fact, January is the best time to visit, because that’s when the city hosts the largest ice and snow sculpture festival in the world, according to Rough Guides. In fact, Harbin is known as the “Ice City.” Yes, it’s very cold, but the city’s Russian-influenced architecture and rich history (the city grew in the late 1800s with the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railroad) are not to be missed.
Yellowstone National Park, Idaho/Montana/Wyoming, USA
While winter in Yellowstone is inevitably cold, it also means fewer crowds and an opportunity to witness the spectacular juxtaposition of snow and steaming geyser basins and to imagine what life might have been like before the days of automobiles: With many roads closed, snowmobiles, snow coaches, and snowshoes become Yellowstone’s primary modes of transportation in the winter months. Check out these incredible photos of national parks covered in snow.
Most people think of Sedona, with its awe-inspiring red rock mountains and warm, new-age vibe, as a summer destination—and that’s exactly what those who’ve discovered the magic of Sedona in winter want you to think. But the secret they’re not telling you is that winter transforms the majestic red rocks into a dazzling winter wonderland, with light dustings of snow and more stars in the dark night sky than you’ve ever imagined seeing.
“Breck,” as the locals call it, is all about summer, with more than 100 miles of trails that you can explore on “two legs, two wheels, four wheels or horseback,” except in the winter months when it’s all about snow. One of the U.S.’s most family-friendly ski resorts, Breckenridge features all levels of skiing, plus trails designed entirely for children, such as the “Haunted Forest,” a “spooky tree trail with giant spiders, bats, and skeletons.” Learn about some more popular destinations that are even better in the winter.
New York, New York
If you’ve never been to New York City during the winter months, then put it on your bucket list. Where else can you see the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree just blocks away from the home of the Rockettes (Radio City Music Hall) and just another few blocks away from an outdoor ice rink at Central Park? For an indoor treat, there’s also The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center and the Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, overlooking Fifth Avenue and Central Park’s wintry tableau. Next, don’t miss these last-minute winter travel deals to book for 2019.
Every product is independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission.