13 Best Winter Vacations in the U.S. You’ll Want to Book Now
Whether you love sandy beaches or prefer snowy mountains, these winter vacation ideas will get you dreaming of a cold-weather getaway
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Winter vacation ideas for travelers of all types
When the weather cools and the snow falls, I start fantasizing about escaping the drudgery of the darkest days. If the ski bug hits, I pack my puffer and head for the snow-dusted hills. When I can no longer handle the cold, I toss in a swimsuit and book a flight south. Ski trips and beach holidays are two of the most obvious winter vacation ideas, but there are others that warrant investigation.
From storm-watching weekend getaways to wine-touring trips, we’ve written up the 13 best winter vacations in the U.S.—and included lots of ideas in states beyond the perennial favorites.
How we chose the best winter vacation destinations
I’ve been writing about travel for 25 years and have weathered a few decades’ worth of winters, so I’m pleased to recommend some of my favorite spots—those I consider the best places to travel. Beyond that, I’ve included top-rated destinations, as well as cities, resort towns and national parks beloved by travelers and industry experts. Read on for an eclectic mix of winter vacation ideas, from Northern Lights chasing in Alaska to snowshoeing among the sequoias.
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Best for marine lovers
The protected dunes of Mandalay State Beach—Tripadvisor’s No. 1 sandy spot in Ventura County—are enough of a reason to visit Oxnard, but add in delicious Mexican food on the city’s Taco Trail, and it’s a win-win proposition. But what we love most about this beach city located 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles is its proximity to the Channel Islands.
These five offshore islands make up a national park and marine-protected area. They’re home to breeding colonies of seabirds, and the surrounding kelp forests support a diversity of marine species, including sea otters. On a recent visit, my family and I spent a day with Channel Islands Expeditions, sea kayaking into the volcanic caves along the coast of Anacapa Island.
“It’s one of the few places where you can explore sea caves in a marine-protected wilderness,” says Garrett Kababik, the company’s owner. “Most people are blown away by the beauty and abundant wildlife here.”
Where to stay: Check into a stylish suite at Zachari Dunes on Mandalay Beach, then spend the day surfing, swimming or renting a surrey to cycle along the extensive pathway system in Oxnard Beach Park and around the Channel Islands Harbor.
Best for active families
I learned how to ski at Keystone Resort, and to this day, I credit it (and my parents) with introducing me to a sport that made winter fun. When I wasn’t perfecting my snowplow during a lesson, I ice-skated on Keystone Lake, then warmed up with a hot chocolate inside the lodge.
The ski resort has grown in the intervening years, adding more terrain and lifts, but it still puts families first. Ski report website On the Snow rates it the top resort for families, thanks to free parking; ski-in, ski-out lodgings; a kids-ski-free program; and beginner terrain, including a family ski trail. Sleigh rides, snow tubing and a giant mountaintop snow fort round out the winter fun. What’s more, Keystone is part of the Epic Pass program, which includes nearby Colorado playgrounds Vail, Beaver Creek and Breckenridge, so families have more options and get pass-holder savings.
Where to stay: Nestled lakeside in the heart of Keystone Village, Keystone Lodge and Spa has cozy mountain-inspired rooms and lofts, a heated outdoor pool and hot tub, a free shuttle to the mountain and a complementary slopeside ski valet.
Best for history buffs
Charleston, South Carolina
In reader’s choice awards, this charming Southern city is often ranked the best city in the United States, and for good reason. It cooks up comfort food, boasts mild winter temps and drips with history like Spanish moss from the branches of a cypress tree. It’s also the largest carriage city in the country, so start your weekend getaway on a historic carriage ride downtown. Clip-clop past the city’s churches, see where they stored all the gunpowder back in the 1700s and learn about the darker side of Charleston’s past. About 40% of enslaved Africans who arrived in the colonies were sold here, and the city is a great place to start when educating yourself about the history of slavery in the United States.
This is a city made for history buffs, but if you’re looking for variety, you’ll find plenty of other activities. Browse through the Charleston City Market to shop for souvenirs like a local sweetgrass basket or to sample true southern biscuits drizzled in honey. If time allows, drive out to the Charleston Tea Garden, the only commercial tea farm in America.
Where to stay: Located in the city’s historic heart, the independently owned Charleston Place hotel features plush rooms and excellent dining that includes Charleston favorites like crab soup.
Best for nature lovers
Sequoia National Park, California
This national park is famous for its giant sequoia trees, including General Sherman, the world’s largest tree by volume. And though it’s impressive to walk among 250-foot sequoias any time of year, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing through Giant Forest Grove when the towering sentinels are dusted with snow is pure magic.
“One of the best things about winter [in Sequoia National Park] is fewer crowds,” says Krista Simonic, owner of Sequoia Guides, a company that leads guided snowshoe tours into the park. “The snow really changes the acoustics of the forest, and one cannot help but feel at peace in such a quiet place.”
After a day in this winter wonderland, head back to sunny Visalia, where a lower elevation translates into mild temperatures (think the mid-50s to low 60s). The historic downtown is packed with cafes, restaurants and craft breweries.
Where to stay: The centrally located Visalia Marriott is just 40 minutes from the park gate. Ask for a to-go lunch to enjoy on a park bench along the Big Trees Trail.
Best tropical destination
There’s a reason this Hawaiian island is one of the top winter vacation ideas for folks escaping the cold. But beyond its balmy temps and beautiful beaches are tons of terrestrial surprises: Our family loves hiking in Haleakala National Park, horseback riding upcountry and driving past waterfalls along the Road to Hana.
After last summer’s devastating wildfires, Maui is welcoming visitors this winter. The island needs tourism dollars to bounce back, and your visit will help paradise recover.
“We are asking for respectful, compassionate, responsible travel,” says T. Ilihia Gionson, public affairs officer for Hawaii Tourism Authority. “This includes staying away from Lahaina out of respect for the survivors and practicing patience and compassion. Visitors can also mālama [care for] the people of Maui by shopping at local businesses, eating at local restaurants and enjoying the many great activities and attractions throughout the rest of the island.”
Where to stay: The boutique Napili Kai Beach Resort fronts a gentle bay and is close to Kapalua Bay Beach, an excellent snorkeling spot. It’s always a good time to visit Hawaii, but during the dark, cold days of winter, you’ll be especially grateful to rest your head at Napili Kai for a while.
Best for travelers with disabilities
Park City, Utah
Located just 40 minutes from Salt Lake City, the largest ski resort in the United States is known for its light, dry snow, sunny skies and variety of terrain, from wide, groomed cruisers to steep, bumped-up runs. These charms have made it the No. 3 best place to ski in North America, according to Tripadvisor. But what a lot of travelers don’t realize is the strides it’s made toward becoming accessible for everyone looking for a powder-filled holiday.
This winter marks the opening of the new McGrath Mountain Center at the base of Park City Mountain Village. The 9,400-square-foot, Americans with Disabilities Act–accessible facility is operated by the National Ability Center, a nonprofit organization that runs adaptive recreation and outdoor programs for individuals with disabilities, from mobility challenges to developmental disorders like autism.
“Through this new center, we offer world-class adaptive skiing and snowboarding,” says Tracy Meier, chief program and information officer at the National Ability Center. “You don’t have to ski fast, but everyone deserves the opportunity to come on vacation.”
Where to stay: Marriott’s Summit Watch is an affordable option located right in historic Park City, and it offers accessible rooms.
Best for wine lovers
Verde Valley, Arizona
This emerging wine region boasts experimental varietals, jaw-dropping scenery and warm winter sun. I spent a few days in Cottonwood and its surrounds, located 100 miles north of Phoenix, and was impressed with its interesting wines (Mourvèdre and Viognier, to name but two). Oenophiles are starting to take note too.
“The American palate has changed so much in the last 10 years—people are so much more wine savvy,” says Kris Pothier, co-owner of award-winning Chateau Tumbleweed in neighboring Clarkdale. “Now, more people are familiar with the idea that, yes, Arizona makes wine.”
In between tastings, I went hiking in Dead Horse Ranch State Park and walked around Jerome, a former copper-mining town. During the winter, when temps aren’t skyrocketing, is a great time to visit this region of Arizona. Other winter vacation ideas to pursue on your Verde Valley vacation include a day trip to Sedona or a visit to Prescott, home of Arizona’s oldest saloon.
Where to stay: Book a stay at the Tavern Hotel. Just steps from tasting rooms along the Verde Valley Wine Trail, this boutique hotel has stylish rooms and an outdoor pool.
Best for nightlife
New York City
This city never sleeps, even in winter. If anything, the Big Apple is more magical when it’s lit up with millions of holiday lights from Washington Square Park to the New York Botanical Garden. And while New Yorkers may flee the city for warm shores come winter, I found it utterly charming.
On a recent winter visit to the country’s most-visited and popular city, I headed straight for Rockefeller Center to see the giant Christmas tree and watch the ice skaters, before sitting down to the best meal I’d had in ages at Le Rock. It was a perfect introduction to a whirlwind visit that included shopping, Times Square gawking and lots of cocktails.
No matter the length of your getaway, there are plenty of New York City hidden gems to uncover. You’ll never run out of museums to explore, shows to see, excellent restaurants to try or the city’s iconic monuments to contemplate.
Where to stay: Mere blocks from Hudson Yards, the Empire State Building and Central Park, the Hyatt Place Times Square in Midtown Manhattan is convenient and comfortable.
Best for food and culture
San Juan, Puerto Rico
This Caribbean island is a U.S. territory but feels a world apart, thanks to its historic capital and food with a Latin flair (add mofongo, a dish made from mashed plantains, to your must-eat list). San Juan is also a fantastic pick for people traveling on a budget, thanks to all-inclusive resorts, free access to gorgeous beaches and affordable restaurants and food trucks.
We started our stay in Old San Juan, a maze of colorful heritage buildings and cobblestone streets. Even the kids were awed by the city’s impressive citadel, Castillo San Felipe del Morro, which was built high on a bluff for protective advantage between the 16th and 18th centuries. The intense tropical heat drove us to cool down with paletas, frozen treats made from fresh fruit and cream. Afterward, the adults enjoyed a round of piña coladas.
Where to stay: Featuring oceanfront pools and a swim-up bar, the Caribe Hilton Hotel underwent a massive restoration post-Hurricane Maria. This Puerto Rican resort also claims to be the birthplace of the piña colada and serves the crushable concoction inside the Caribar Bar.
Best for winter adventures
When it comes to winter vacation ideas, Anchorage is one of the most exciting. With its clear, dark skies and northern location, the state’s largest city is one of the best places in the U.S. to view the Northern Lights. Many of the prime locations for independent viewing are close to the city, but you also can join a multi-day tour that includes catching an aurora by night, plus daytime adventure activities like dog sledding, snowmobiling and ice fishing.
Anchorage is also under an hour’s drive from Alyeska, the state’s best-known ski resort, which is tucked in the Chugach Mountains with spectacular views of the ocean, surrounding peaks and hanging glaciers. In addition to skiing or riding its 1,600 acres of bowls, glades and groomers, adventure seekers can try fat biking, snowshoeing or even heli-skiing. At day’s end, indulge in hydrotherapy at Alyeska Nordic Spa.
Where to stay: A stay at Alyeska Resort is a must. Located slopeside, the hotel makes it easy to watch the Northern Lights from the hill, though an even better option may be to catch an aurora from one of the thermal pools at the on-site Nordic spa.
Best for architecture aficionados
South Beach, Florida
My husband and I are suckers for white-sand beaches and gentle waves, and South Beach doesn’t disappoint. But the most pleasant surprise during our time in Miami was all the art deco architecture—there’s something super photogenic about pastel buildings with curved corners and rounded, rocket-shaped centers framed against palm trees and blue skies.
This Florida beach makes up the southern stretch of Miami Beach, which boasts about 800 architecturally significant buildings that date from the 1920s and 1930s. It’s one of the top art deco cities to visit in the United States and one of the best winter vacation ideas for those who appreciate architecture. Pop in to the Art Deco Welcome Center to learn more about the architectural style or to join a walking tour through the historic district. Beyond the buildings and boardwalk, there’s boutique browsing, an eclectic array of restaurants and a bustling nightlife.
Where to stay: The Ocean Drive Colony Hotel is located inside one of South Beach’s iconic art deco buildings. Rooms are decorated with period furniture and glam touches like button-tufted headboards and circular mirrors.
Best for entertainment
Long a mainstay for bachelor parties and weekend getaways, Las Vegas is growing in popularity for families, thanks to its boggling number of entertainment options. Our family had a blast riding the High Roller observation wheel, going on all the rides at the Adventuredome, admiring retro signs on Fremont Street and inside the Neon Museum, and people-watching along the Strip. Plus, my teens thought they’d hit the fantasy-food jackpot at the Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace.
Thanks to the new Sphere, an immersive concert venue that just opened (with U2 headlining through February), there’s even more to do in Sin City. The best part about Vegas? If you get overstimulated, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is just 15 miles west of the city, and Death Valley National Park is under a two-hour drive away.
Where to stay: With an 11-acre aquatic playground that includes a real sand beach, lazy river and lagoon lounge, there’s never a dull winter day at Mandalay Bay Resort. When you get your fill of water, head for the casino, Shark Reef Aquarium or catch Michael Jackson ONE by Cirque du Soleil, all located on-site.
Best for budget-conscious travelers
I was smitten with San Antonio’s unique River Walk on a family trip as a teenager, so I returned decades later with my husband and son. We floated past outdoor cafes and towering bald cypress trees on a river boat tour, visited the Alamo and headed to the trendy Pearl District in search of the city’s best margarita. We didn’t spend gobs of money, either; in fact, CityPass rates San Antonio as one of the country’s best budget travel destinations, especially in the winter off-season.
Where to stay: Marriott Riverwalk is located right on the River Walk and close to city attractions, including Hemisfair Park and the Legoland Discovery Center indoor playground.
About the experts
- Garrett Kababik is the owner of Channel Islands Expeditions and the co-founder of Paddle Sports of Santa Barbara.
- Krista Simonic is a tour guide and the owner of Sequoia Guides, a company that leads guided snowshoe tours into Sequoia National Park.
- T. Ilihia Gionson is the public affairs officer for the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
- Tracy Meier is the chief program and information officer at the National Ability Center.
- Kris Pothier is the co-owner of Chateau Tumbleweed winery and tasting room in Clarkdale, Arizona.
- Tripadvisor: “Beaches in Ventura County Coast”
- On the Snow: “18 Best Ski Resorts for Families and Kids in 2023/24”
- Travel + Leisure: “This South Carolina Destination Was Just Named the No. 1 City in the U.S. by T+L Readers—Here’s Why”
- The Lowcountry Digital History Initiative: “African Passages, Lowcountry Adaptations”
- National Ability Center: McGrath Family Mountain Center
- Tripadvisor: “Best Places to Ski – North America”
- CityPass: “Best Places To Travel on a Budget in the U.S.”