From Sand to Snow: The 14 Best Winter Vacations in the United States 

Cindy Richards Avatar

Grand Prismatic at Yellowstone National Park.

For some of us, the best winter vacation is one spent anywhere warm. Others can’t resist the call of powder on the mountains. Here, we explore the best winter getaways in the United States, from California to Florida, Alaska to Hawaii and many stops in between.

US Virgin Islands

Count me among the people who think the best winter vacations are spent anywhere that doesn’t experience winter. That includes the year-round warmth and sunshine of the US Virgin Islands of St. John, St. Thomas and St. Croix.

Of the three, I have spent the most time in St. Thomas but am drawn to the much less crowded St. Croix, home to one of my absolute favorite resorts, the Buccaneer Beach and Golf Resort. It boasts three spectacular Caribbean beaches, two pools, a water sports center, 18-hole golf course, tennis courts, three restaurants and a full-service spa.

Or, if you prefer to not have to make any decisions or keep track of spending during your vacation, try one of these all-inclusive resorts in St. Thomas.

Colorado

The go-to spot in the USA for outdoor activities during the winter, Colorado is a winter wonderland filled with family-friendly ski resorts

You’ll find just about every way to have outdoor fun in the mountains of Colorado, from downhill skiing to dog sledding to my personal favorite, apres-ski activities such as soaking in an outdoor hot tub while looking up at the big snowflakes floating to the ground, live music playing in the background.

If you’re not a skier, there are plenty of winter activities off the slopes as well, from romantic horse-drawn sleigh rides to thrilling snowmobile rides to soaking in heavenly hot springs to foodie fun spent whiling away the hours at bars, cafes and microbreweries.

Here’s our full list of fun things to do in Vail in the winter.

Door County Wisconsin

The flatlands and cold winds of the winter months in the Midwest might not be your first thought when it comes to snowy fun. But a winter trip to Door County offers oodles of opportunities for snowshoeing cross country skiing, and even fat tire biking. And yes, it can be cold. 

My first wintertime visit to this summer mecca for Midwesterners coincided with a polar vortex of cold weather. On the first morning, we awoke to 7 degrees below zero and 12 inches of powdery snow. 

Undeterred, we bundled up in snow pants, parkas, mufflers, hats and mittens and headed to Peninsula State Park. There, we had the place to ourselves. The still and quiet led us to whisper as we strapped on our snowshoes and planned to forge a path through the trees. 

things to do in door county in winter
Mother Nature’s ice sculptures in Door County, Wisconsin. Photo credit: Judy Antell

The reward at the end of the walk: ice shelves that lined the shore. This is a peculiar Door County phenomenon in which the wind pushes Lake Michigan water to the shoreline, causing the ice to stack up, layer upon layer. It’s truly a sight to see.

Many of Door County’s hotels and restaurants are seasonal. SheBuysTravel contributor Judy Antell recommends the Rushes Condominiums for a winter stay. And I heartily recommend a traditional Wisconsin fish boil at the White Gull Inn offered only on Friday nights in the winter. 

SheBuysTravel Tip: Here’s how to stay warm but still be stylish in the winter. 

northern lights
View the Northern Lights in Fairbanks Alaska. Photo credit: Explore Fairbanks

Alaska

While people often think of Norway or Finland when they want to see the aurora borealis, there’s a way to see the northern lights for far less money: Head to Alaska in the wintertime.

Yes, it will be cold. But the near total darkness – Alaska’s northernmost spot, Barrow, doesn’t see the sun at all from December through January – increases your chances of catching nature’s light show.

Consider booking a tour like this one from Fairbanks that combines the northern lights with a soak in hot springs.

View of the Pacific Ocean and Honolulu from Diamond Head
View of the Pacific Ocean and Honolulu from Diamond Head. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

Hawaii

If you prefer a warm winter vacation, there are few places more welcoming than the Hawaiian Islands with their warm weather any time of year. Here, the winter sports are the same as the summer sports – snorkeling, swimming, surfing, kayaking and other warm-weather outdoor activities.

While western Maui is still recovering from the devastating fire that swept through Lahaina, the rest of Maui is open to visitors, along with these other island vacation spots:

Oahu: The easiest Hawaiian island to reach thanks to the big airport in Honolulu, Oahu also tends to be the most affordable of the islands. And it offers everything from urban adventures to the legendary surf beaches of the North Shore.

Hawaii: Also called the Big Island, Hawaii has 10 of the world’s 14 climate zones. It’s home to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, beaches, waterfalls, cultural sites and coffee farms.

Kauai: Aptly dubbed the Garden Isle, Kauai is my favorite of the islands. It has mountains and lush valleys, flowing waterfalls and rivers, including Jurassic Falls, the majestic setting where the 1993 Jurassic Park movie was filmed. But my favorite thing to do on Kauai is to book a boat and snorkeling tour to see the gorgeous Napali Coast and Hawaii’s cute spinner dolphins. 

Molokai: The most undeveloped accessible Hawaiian island, Molokai offers empty beaches and 30 miles of reef with abundant marine life.

Some of our favorite places to stay on the islands include:

siblings at Yellowstone Lake
Yellowstone Lake is the largest high-elevation lake. Photo credit: Cortney Fries

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is enchanting in the summer. But it’s even more beguiling in the winter when the park is blanketed in white, the crowds are reduced to a smattering of hardy people and the animals seem to be in charge.

Since most of the park is closed to vehicular traffic from mid-December to March, you get to experience the park in a whole new way: on your own by snowmobile or as a group on a snowcoach

You’ll see Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Basin erupting through the layers of snow. Or visit Yellowstone Falls, which can be mostly frozen during the coldest days of winter.

Stay inside the park at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge & Cabins or Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, the only two hotels inside Yellowstone that stay open year-round.

Just be sure to dress warmly in many layers! 

Five women with drinks on the beach in Miami, one of the best bachelorette party destinations.
Miami Beach is the perfect place to soak up some sun and sand. Photo credit: Kimberly Miles

Miami

Florida is my go-to winter escape, mostly because my dad spends his winters on the West Coast of Florida in Venice. But when it’s time for an infusion of nightlife, Miami’s South Beach is the place to be.

One of the most multicultural cities I have ever visited, Miami is home to great food, great music, beautiful white sand beaches and gorgeous resorts.

Head to Calle Ocho in Little Havana to explore and celebrate Latin culture to grab a traditional Cuban breakfast. Viernes Culturales (Cultural Fridays), happens on the third Friday of each month in Little Havana. It’s the place to listen to live music, dance, pop into local art galleries and browse stalls selling food and local arts and crafts. 

Of course, just about any time of year is the perfect time to visit one of Miami’s beautiful beaches. And you’ll want to carve out a few hours for pampering at one of these luxurious Miami spas.

These are our favorite Miami hotels.

The clear water, things to do at Laguna Beach
The vibrant colors of Laguna Beach make it one of the best destinations in California. Photo credit: Lauren Salisbury

California

Thanks to its incredible natural diversity, California can offer whatever kind of winter vacation you fancy. Literally. From sand to snow, desert landscapes to lush vineyards, urban adventures to rural wonders, California’s got it.  

Southern California offers beautiful white sand beaches, reliably warm weather and a wealth of beachfront hotels in San Diego. And it’s home to the desert landscapes of Joshua Tree National Park. 

In northern California, take a tour to watch the elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Park on the coast between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz. Or head to San Francisco’s Chinatown to ring in the Chinese New Year. Or do what I like to do, visit Calistoga for a relaxing soak in a geothermal hot spring pool or a mud bath. 

If you prefer snowier pursuits, head to one of these Lake Tahoe ski resorts, Big Bear Lake or Mammoth Lakes near Yosemite National Park for downhill skiing and snowboarding. If snow tubing is your thing, head to Tube Town at Soda Springs Resort in Lake Tahoe.

Plus, winter is the peak whale-watching season off the coast of California. Look for gray whales and humpback whales swimming by any time between January and April.

Sedona red rock formations, one of the reasons to make a day trip from Phoenix.
Sedona, Arizona’s red rock country. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

Arizona

Reliably warm weather in Phoenix, the red rocks of Sedona, the soaring vistas of Grand Canyon National Park and the desert landscapes of Tucson are enticing winter destinations for vacationers seeking warmth and sunshine.

While the higher elevations of northern and southeastern Arizona can get snow in the winter, most of the state does not, which makes it a good spot for a winter road trip. If you stay in or near Phoenix, a road trip can take you to some of the state’s natural wonders, including beautiful but lesser-known attractions such as Montezuma Castle National Monument, Watson Lake and the chocolate waterfalls of Grand Falls.

I always recommend staying at the Scottsdale Princess, where winter brings ice skating and holiday lights to “Christmas at the Princess.” But it’s just one of the terrific Arizona resorts offering a luxurious and magical vacation.

The public library stone lions wear wreaths during Christmas in NYC.
NYC Public Library lions Patience and Fortitude wear beautiful wreaths during Christmas in NYC. Photo credit: Cathy Bennett Kopf

New York City

Christmas in NYC is a bucket list desire for many and with good reason. Christmas in New York City is nothing short of magical. From the Christmas Spectacular with the Rockettes to the Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx to New Year’s Eve in Times Square, there’s no shortage of holiday fun to be had in the Big Apple.

Once the Christmas lights are put away for the year, there’s still plenty to do in New York City in the winter. And it’s one of the most affordable times to visit one of the most expensive cities in the world. 

Restaurants have special low-priced menus during a 3-week-long Restaurant Week, many Broadway shows offer two-for-one tickets during NYC Broadway Week and the stores look to unload all of that unsold inventory at a steep discount.

Christmas trinkets for sale at Christkrindlmarket in Chicago
Christmas trinkets for sale at Christkrindlmarket in Chicago. Photo credit: Cindy Richards

Chicago

Yes, the winter weather in the Windy City can be frigid. As a born-and-bred Chicagoan, I know. But the cold weather has its upsides. For one thing, the crowds are virtually nonexistent. You can get warm while visiting one of Chicago’s world-class museums and not have to jostle for an up-close look at a Monet painting at the Art Institute of Chicago or Sue the T-Rex at the Field Museum.

If you don’t mind a stiff lake breeze, rent some skates and go ice skating at Maggie Daley Park’s skating ribbon or the skating rink at Millennium Park. It’s free to skate if you bring your skates. If you don’t, skate rentals are available at the parks. Then grab a hot chocolate at a warming center. 

The warmest spots in Chicago in the winter are the city’s two conservatories, one in Lincoln Park and one in Garfield Park.  If you visit before Christmas, don’t miss the Christkrindlmarket downtown at the Daley Center.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Stay close to the action at one of these Chicago hotels.

Lake Geneva WI

The place where wealthy Chicagoans built their summer mansions in the late 1800s and early 1900s, this Wisconsin town is now a year-round destination. There’s skiing, snowboarding, sledding, ice skating and an ice castle at the Grand Geneva Resort (which started life as a Playboy Mansion), snowshoeing and winter hiking at nearby state parks and ice fishing out on Geneva Lake.

From January 31-February 4, 2024, Lake Geneva will host its  29th Annual Winterfest. The big draw here is the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Championship. The sculptures will be on display as long as the winter temperatures allow.

New Hampshire

Winter travel to New Hampshire means an abundance of skiing, hiking and natural beauty, all just a day trip away from other New England states. But there is one unique reason to visit New Hampshire in the winter: the Ice Castles in North Woodstock.

These magical winter attractions are also open in Minnesota, New York, Utah and Wisconsin. We have lots of tips for making the most of a visit to an ice castle

Austin Texas

The capital city of Texas has lots to offer visitors year-round, but there are three special reasons to visit Austin on a winter vacation:

  • Red River Cultural District’s Free Week, is typically held in early January. The week-long celebration of local music annually features around 180 local bands playing free shows at venues around the city.
  • Animalis Fabula Film Festival, which showcases animal-centric stories by filmmakers of every skill level. 
  • Other Worlds Austin, a film festival showcasing science fiction films from around the world. The festival screens a range of genres, including horror, drama and comedy.
Cindy Richards is a Pulitzer Prize nominated journalist who serves as the Editor-in-Chief of SheBuysTravel.com. She also is the mom of two now grown kids who have traveled with her since that first, fateful plane ride when one preschooler discovered a barf bag in his seat pocket and his sister, finding none in hers, demanded, “I want a barf bag too!” She has been a reporter, editor and columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune, an editor at Chicago Parent and Catalyst Chicago and an instructor in the graduate school at Northwestern’s prestigious Medill School of Journalism.
Read full bio

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *