Some people head for their sweaters and scarves when temperatures drop, planning trips up the mountain for a weekend full of skiing or snowboarding.
But not us. Here at RAVE Reviews, sweater weather means getting the heck out of here and that’s why we’ve made a list of America’s 10 best winter vacations to escape the cold.
You might not realize there are lots of great places to visit in the US where you can escape the sub-zero climate. Places where the daily highs range from downright warm–nearly 90 degrees in Honolulu–to right around 50 degrees. In other words, civilized climates to spend your winter days toasty warm.
So throw on an extra blanket and come along with us in our ranking of America’s 10 best winter vacations to escape the cold (without losing all the holiday cheer). And remember, spring is always just around the corner. But let’s go somewhere else until it returns.
What to Pack for Winter Vacations
One of the biggest challenges about traveling to warm weather destinations in winter is knowing how to pack for such unpredictable weather. For example, even though you’re boarding a plane in freezing Chicago, you’re headed to balmy Honolulu. How do you pack for that?
Some destinations in our ranking are truly warm even in winter. Other places we chose have a more variable climate–warm during the day but chilly in the evening. And others may be warm on average but with a chance of windy and rainy surprises.
Here are some pointers when packing for unpredictable weather destinations:
Layers are the secret to packing for unpredictable weather. Throw a cardigan, fleece, or extra button-up shirt in your luggage and you’ll be well-prepared for whatever the weather may have in store.
- The right jacket
If you get your layering right, you’ll be able to bring a much lighter and less bulky jacket on your trip. The right jacket will be able to multitask, changing easily from a shell to fleece lining, or a regularly warm jacket, should the temperature call for it.
When shopping for the best jacket to wear on your not-so-wintery, warm-weather getaway, be sure to look for something waterproof, because like we said: just because the weather is warm in the winter wherever you’re headed, it doesn’t mean it won’t be rainy.
- Convertible pants
No, convertible pants don’t change from pants to a semi-truck, but they do prepare you for variable weather, changing easily from shorts to pants with the pull of a zipper. These are a must-have for your winter weather escape plan–that is, if you can handle how they look.
- Lightweight (and waterproof) shoes
Speaking of rain, you’ll want to find some lightweight shoes for your trip, but just in case, make sure they’re waterproof. If you’re going somewhere outdoorsy, try hiking boots. But you can find lots of waterproof footwear on the dressier side as well.
- A durable umbrella
Look, just be ready for the rain, ok? And part of being ready for rain is having a good umbrella. By “good,” we don’t mean some bargain option you picked up last-minute at the airport. Seek out a teflon-coated umbrella instead. Because even though it might be warm wherever you’re headed, it could still be windy and you don’t want that umbrella bending every which way.
- Tights or leggings
A variable-weather hack isn’t complete without a pair of tights or leggings. This tip might be more for women reading this article, but hey, we don’t want to assume. Anyway, put on a pair of tights or leggings under your shorts, skirt, or pants if the weather gets cool in the evening. Better yet, get a fleece-lined pair.
If you’re traveling from Buffalo, NY to sunny San Diego, sunscreen might not be first and foremost on your mind, but if you’re headed somewhere warm you’re going to want to pack some. And don’t forget: sunburns can still be an issue, even on an overcast day.
All packed? Good. Your vitamin D-deficient self is about to find some relief. Coming up next is RAVE Reviews’ ranking of America’s 10 best winter vacations to escape the cold.
Maybe you’re wearing three sweaters right now and you’re reading this ranking for a little daydream inspiration, or maybe one day you’ll actually visit a few of these destinations.
Either way, we didn’t want this ranking to be just about places that tend to be warm during the winter months. These destinations needed a lot more going for them than just the temperature.
When putting together this ranking, we also focused on the following:
- Good places to eat
- Great places to stay
- Lots of stuff to do
- Lots of sunshine
And with the sunshine comes warm weather. Though anyone who’s ever been to a ski resort knows this isn’t always the case. In addition to lots of sunshine, these destinations have average temperatures during the winter starting at right around 50 degrees Fahrenheit and continuing to go up from there.
We also tried to spread love all over the US, and even make a few unexpected choices as well.
America’s 10 Best Winter Vacations
Where to Eat: Paris Hawaii
Where to Stay: Halekulani
Quick: think of America’s best winter vacation to escape the cold. If you thought of Hawaii in general, and Honolulu specifically, then you’d be right. With temperatures during the winter months averaging between 80 and 90 degrees, Hawaii is a great place to visit in the winter.
But Hawaii can also be rainy this time of year. To avoid the rain, stay close to Waikiki Beach. Another thing about visiting Hawaii in winter is you won’t be the only one–meaning, Hawaii is busy with tourists in the winter, especially around the holidays, so book early.
Otherwise, winter in Hawaii is prime time for whale watching, tropical wildflowers continue to bloom year-round, and the surfing is great. If you are in Honolulu around the holidays, check out the annual Honolulu City Lights in Downtown Honolulu, running December 3 through January 1, featuring a 55-foot tree lit up for the season.
Fort Lauderdale, FL
Where to Eat: Even Keel Fish & Oyster
Where to Stay: The Pillars Hotel: Fort Lauderdale
With wintertime temperatures ranging from high fifties to mid-eighties, Fort Lauderdale, FL takes the second spot in our ranking of America’s 10 best winter vacations to escape the cold.
In fact, wintertime is peak tourist season in Fort Lauderdale, with temps and humidity levels settling down from “just got out of the shower” levels to something a lot more comfortable.
In other words, if you visit Fort Lauderdale in the winter, expect some crowds.
Things to do in Fort Lauderdale around the holidays include Christmas on Las Olas and the Seminole Hard Rock Winterfest Boat Parade. A little later in the season there’s also the Las Olas Art Faire Part I in January and Pride Fort Lauderdale in February.
Keep in mind before booking your ticket to Fort Lauderdale in the winter, it can be rainy and there’s the risk of hurricanes as well.
Where to Eat: Tacos Chiwas
Where to Stay: The Clarendon Hotel & Spa
Temperatures in Phoenix during the summer can be pretty sweltering–that’s a well-known fact. But in the winter, they average in the sixties, making that time of year a particularly great time to visit Arizona’s capital city.
If you do head to Phoenix around the holidays, check out Zoolights in Phoenix Zoo. There’s also the World Lantern Festival, a modern take on the traditional Chinese tradition, running from November through January.
As an alternative, you can also see the desert lit up in new and unexpected ways at Las Noches De Las Luminarias at The Desert Botanical Garden, or hit some golf balls at Top Golf, with a 240-yard outfield. Plus, with more moderate temperatures in the winter, hiking around Phoenix is another great way to get your much-needed dose of vitamin D.
Phoenix is a great sports town as well. In the winter, you can catch a Cardinal’s game, or a hockey game with the Arizona Coyotes. Phoenix in winter can get down into the forties though, which is chilly for many people. Be sure to pack accordingly.
San Diego, CA
Where to Eat: Dija Mara
Where to Stay: Keating Hotel
San Diego, CA has some of America’s best weather no matter what time of year it is. With temperatures averaging in the mid-sixties, winter is a great time to soak up some much-needed sunshine in this Southern Californian city.
Valentine’s Day is also a great time to visit San Diego with all sorts of romantic things to do to celebrate cupid’s holiday. There’s also the Port of San Diego Holiday Bowl Parade, as well as the San Diego Multicultural Festival.
But while wintertime temperatures are very mild in San Diego, like many destinations in our ranking, it can be a bit rainy, so don’t forget that umbrella. But since it’s California, be sure to pack some sunscreen (and a bathing suit) as well. The ocean might be chilly, but San Diego’s sun is always warm and ready for the sunbathing.
New Orleans, LA
Where to Eat: GW Fins
Where to Stay: Hotel St. Marie
When many people think of visiting New Orleans, they usually think of Mardi Gras. But the truth of the matter is the winter season is also a great time to visit the Big Easy, with less heat and humidity than other times of the year.
Sports fans flock to New Orleans in January for the Sugar Bowl. There’s also Celebration in the Oaks, running November through January, described as the “most spectacular holiday lights festival in the country.”
But while winter weather in New Orleans is a bit milder, it can definitely be rainy and there’s always the risk of flooding and hurricanes to keep in mind.
Where to Eat: The Olde Pink House
Where to Stay: Hotel Indigo: Savannah Historic District
Sixth in our ranking of America’s 10 best winter vacations to escape the cold is Savannah, GA. Winter temperatures in Savannah average in the mid-sixties, but they can be a bit up and down, so pack accordingly.
When it comes to activities, Savannah is known for its winter festivals, including the Telluride Mountain and Gray’s Reef Ocean film festivals. For book lovers, there’s also the Savannah Book Festival.
Savannah also goes all-out around the holidays. Head to River Street around Christmas for a parade and festive goodies for the family. In addition, River Street marks the New Year with a spectacular fireworks show.
Runners, in particular, will appreciate Savannah in winter, with well-known races like the Savannah Bridge Run and the Critz Run Fest. There’s also ice skating at the Savannah Civic Center, Savannah Tire Hockey Classic, and tours of historic homes.
Where to Eat: Hugo’s Restaurant
Where to Stay: Lancaster Hotel
Houston, TX has a lot going for it any time of the year, and it’s no different in the winter. With the thermometer hovering in the mid-sixties on average, winter birds can head to Houston for good food and a lively arts scene.
Houston in winter is all about festivals, many running November through December. For instance, there’s Frostival, kicking off the winter season, with art, food, lights, and even ice skating (in case you find yourself missing winter sports).
There’s also ICE at Discovery Green, an outdoor skating park, or go to see seasonal lights and art on the Brown Foundation Promenade. Sports fans visiting Houston in winter can also take in a game from the NFL’s Houston Texans.
Where to Eat: Pelican & Pig
Where to Stay: Dream Nashville
The eighth spot in our ranking brings us to Nashville, TN. With the mercury hovering right around the mid-fifties, there’s plenty to do in Nashville during the cold winter months, including artist events, seasonal lights festivals, holiday music, and more.
Past seasonal music performances have included Kathie Lee Gifford: 1000 Voices of Christmas, and Jack Daniel’s Music City, featuring artists like Keith Urban, Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, The Struts, Amanda Shires, and more.
There’s also GLOW Nashville, “Nashville’s Brightest Christmas Experience,” with the city’s tallest Christmas tree, plus a Reindeer Run Tube Park, and a Frozen Fortress Skating Rink. That’s naming just a few of the attractions.
Where to Eat: Cúrate
Where to Stay: Hotel Indigo Asheville Downtown
Next, let’s head to North Carolina and the city of Asheville. A lot like Nashville, Asheville’s wintertime weather is mild, on average right around the fifties during the day and a bit chillier in the evening.
In winter, Asheville offers a nice mix of stuff to do both in the city and out in nature. Great hiking options around Asheville include Bearwallow Mountain Trail, Lover’s Leap Loop Trail, and Rattlesnake Lodge Trail, to name just a few.
Back in town, be sure to check out Asheville’s music scene when visiting in the winter at great venues like the Mothlight or the Orange Peel. Also in Asheville is Biltmore Estate, America’s largest home.
Where to Eat: Mark’s Feed Store Bar-B-Q
Where to Stay: 21C Museum Hotel Louisville
Ok, it can get a little cold in the last stop in our ranking. With temps average just a bit under mid-fifties, winter weather in Louisville is also the best of both worlds–wintery but also relatively mild.
In fact, it even snows in Louisville, averaging less than five inches during the wintertime. This is fun snow, Winter Wonderland snow, not Northeastern or Midwest snow, not uncover-your-car-with-a-shovel-before-it’s-buried-for-good kind of snow.
Louisville is a college basketball town, too. So, when you’re there in the winter, catch a Cardinals game. Or bundle up and take a hike at Cumberland Falls State Resort Park in Corbin, KY. It’s a bit of a drive from Louisville, but so worth it.
- Best Ski Towns in America
- America’s Best Music Cities (and Most Underrated Venues)
- America’s Best Ecotourism Destinations
- Best Kayak Destinations for Beginners
- Most Attractive Cities for Millennials
- America’s Best Rock Climbing Destinations
- Best College Towns for Bicyclists
- Best National Parks to Visit During Winter