The beauty of choosing a domestic destination for your wintertime vacation is that you can take any type of trip you desire, whether you’re hoping to strap into a pair of skis in the mountains or head south to walk barefoot along the beach. With so many great U.S. cities to choose from, it can be difficult to know where to go. We’ll help narrow down your options with our picks for the best winter travel destinations in the U.S.
Houston’s mild temperatures are ideal for a spin around Discovery Green’s ice rink or strolling through Magical Winter Lights, a festival with carnival rides, acrobatic performances and eight themed sections brought to life with lanterns. For a true Houston original, check out Rudolph’s Lightshow Drive-thru or the Nutcracker, a wintertime classic, at the Houston Ballet.
Eight thousand luminaria bags transform the Desert Botanical Garden into the Las Noches de las Luminarias Festival, featuring musicians, warm drinks and yummy gourmet treats. Party it up at Alice Cooper’s Annual Christmas Pudding; its stage has seen rock legends such as KISS and Joan Jett. Then learn about American Indian culture with live music, dance and art during the annual Holidays at the Heard.
3. Los Angeles
Winter temperatures in LA rise to just shy of 70ºF. It’s the perfect weather for those who want to escape the chill at home while still enjoying a festive holiday atmosphere. Los Angeles lets you live out all your wintertime fantasies, starting at the Descanso Gardens Enchanted Forest of Lights, where atmospheric installations immerse you in a fairytale. Then enjoy the Marina del Rey Holiday Boat Parade and fireworks show, or watch holiday favorites at outdoor movie screenings hosted by Yuletide Cinemaland, complete with onsite food trucks selling movie night snacks, hot chocolate and mulled wine.
Denver is one of the best winter travel destinations in the US, with easy access to some of the best slopes and snow-centered activities in the country. Colorado is well-known for its mountain resorts, but Denver in particular offers additional wintertime experiences for travelers to enjoy. The first stop is the German-inspired Christkindlmarket to fill up on glühwein, knödel and Viennese apple strudel while shopping for crafted artisan gifts, followed by the Après Ski Holiday Market at the trendy Dairy Blocks. For an outdoor holiday adventure, head to Echo Mountain for its annual Tubing with Santa event.
Snowbirds from northern states and even Canada flock to south Florida in the winter. Can you blame them when temperatures are in the mid-70s? It’s the perfect winter travel destination for mixing outdoor and holiday activities. Play in Santa’s Enchanted Forest, billed as the world’s largest holiday theme park, featuring more than 100 rides, events and activities. Grab a picnic basket for the New World Symphony during outdoor WALLCAST concerts at SoundScape Park. Visit Jungle Island, immersed in Miami’s tropical landscape teeming with exotic animals, for special holiday exhibits and events. It’s not hard to understand why Miami is one of the best places to travel in the winter.
Atlanta truly lights up in a completely different way during winter. National Geographic named Callaway Gardens’ Fantasy in Lights as one of the best 10 Christmas light displays in the world. The city’s World of Illumination is said to be the world’s largest drive-thru animated light show. And don’t miss the Chinese Lantern Festival at the city’s zoo and Margaritaville’s Lakeside Lights Spectacular, famous for its 575-foot-long snow tube slide and carnival rides.
It may be cold, but Chicago is one of the best winter travel destinations. Winterland at Gallagher is a standout, as it lets you skate inside of Wrigley Field. Discover global holiday traditions at the Museum of Science and Industry’s Christmas Around the World event. Take in a show at the Lookingglass Theatre for Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” or the Chicago Children’s Theatre’s production of the Beatrix Potter Holiday Tea Party.
Baltimore may often get overlooked in favor of its popular neighbor to the south — Washington, DC — but Charm City holds its own as one of the best places to travel in the winter. Stop by Baltimore’s “Miracle on 34th Street” tradition in Hampden, a charming neighborhood of row houses decked out in holiday displays. Learn about local history on the Holly Jolly Trolley touring Harbor East, Fells Point and downtown Baltimore. Stroll (or eat) through a candy-themed festival at Center Plaza, then head to Banneker-Douglass Museum in Annapolis to take part in the Annual Kwanzaa Celebration.
If you’re on the hunt for a family-friendly winter travel destination that really goes big for the holidays, then push Charlotte to the top of your list. Board the Polar Express™ for the North Pole via the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, where dancing chefs serve cookies and hot chocolate before Santa makes an appearance to hand out gifts. Then take the kids to Clara’s Trip: A Cirque & Dance Nutcracker Story at the Booth Playhouse at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center for a contemporary take on the Christmas classic.
Philly makes our list of top winter travel destinations because the activities it offers are as diverse as the people who live there. Show some love at the Made in Philadelphia Holiday Market, supporting local artisans and crafters while checking names off your holiday gift list. Then kick back with seasonal fireside cocktails at Rothman Cabin, a ski-inspired chalet. Tee off at Chilly Philly Mini Golf, part of Winter in Franklin Square. Stick around for the spectacular Rivers Casino New Year’s Eve Fireworks on the Waterfront.
Winters in Portland are cold, but you’re more likely to encounter rain than snow. But don’t let the weather send you packing for a different winter travel destination. Portland is as fun as any other around the holidays and for months after. Get into the holiday spirit at Grotto’s Festival of Lights, said to be the largest Christmas choral festival in the world, with more than 160 nightly holiday concerts throughout the season. Watch decorated boats travel the Columbia River and Willamette River during the Christmas Ships Parade. Or ring in the holidays at the majestic Pittock Mansion to the festive sounds of the “Music Makes the Season” exhibit. Enjoy the sounds of the annual Portland Old Time Music Gathering in January, the PDX Jazz Festival in February and the Winter Blues Music Festival in March.
Get a little weird this winter with a trip to Austin. Stop by Armadillo Christmas Bazaar for music, art, drinks and shopping. Then head to the Eleanor for Miracle on 5th Street, a wacky Christmas-themed pop-up bar. Join Alamo Drafthouse’s holiday movie parties; they include sing-alongs and themed food menus. Go out in style at Mozart’s Coffee during the annual Christmas Light Show, which features a silent disco party this year.
13. Park City
When it comes to unique winter experiences, this small town in Utah packs a punch. They begin at the Park City Main Street Historic District with nine interactive life-sized snow globes and continue at Deer Valley’s annual Torchlight Parade, which sees the resort’s Synchronized Ski Team, outfitted with Christmas lights and torches, illuminate the mountains for a one-of-a-kind performance. Park City Mountain Resort also hosts a merry affair, Silver Sky Nights, with treats, live music and fireworks. End your trip soaking at Homestead Crater — a geothermal hot spring inside a gaping limestone rock.
Winter travel tips
Don’t stop: Fly direct, as layovers are opportunities for delays.
Pack right: Leave space in your luggage if you plan to do holiday shopping.
Check hours: Winter weather can shorten hours or cause closures, especially for non-festive sights and activities.
Get the most out of your winter vacation
If Chicago or Denver are on your list, choose Avail car sharing to get to your winter travel destination stress-free. You’ll avoid the seasonal rush at car rental counters with express, self-service check-in at our neighborhood locations and get on your way in minutes. You’ll get a clean, reliable car that’s protected by Allstate insurance and 24/7 roadside assistance so you can enjoy your trip with peace of mind.