America’s Best Cities for Winter Travel

Image: TravelandLeisure

This winter’s forecast: plenty of snow, and even more travelers fleeing it.

Salt Lake City has long-been a gold medalist in the winter category, but recently, the snowy Utah city—along with Denver—skidded down the mountain of readers’ affections, while warmer cities took their places, literally, in the sun. Compounding the situation, The Farmers’ Almanac is predicting another big-snow winter for parts of the U.S., especially in the Northeast.

Snowbird-style bookings, such as Caribbean destinations with their all-inclusive resorts, are always popular during the winter.

San Juan may be getting a little more crowded this year, along with classic destinations such as Miami, Honolulu, and Phoenix, which are popular as ever. Winter-frigid Anchorage, Minneapolis, and Chicago slipped to the bottom.

Not all T+L readers are dreaming of beachy paradises this winter. Instead, cities that boast mild-winter weather, seasonal events, and often have the best prices of the year get a lot of love. Take Houston, for example. Its cooler temps, along with the world’s biggest rodeo championship, make the city come alive.

Sometimes, winter just means having the city to yourself. You’ll find shorter lines at theme parks in Orlando and San Diego, and you’ll have an easier time getting tables at hot restaurants in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

“I’m not looking for 90-degree beach weather,” says publicist Sue Jean Chun, who regularly goes to New Orleans during winter—though not for Mardi Gras. “I just want a city where food and music are the focus.”

The Connecticut resident also enjoys another simple winter pleasure in the Crescent City: “being able to walk out the door in jeans and a light sweater,” she says, “rather than a puffy jacket and beat-up boots.”

No. 1 San Juan, P.R.
Readers don’t underestimate the value of sunshine and stellar deals. The capital of Puerto Rico gets high marks for being affordable, but it’s more than just beach chairs and cocktails. New, celeb chef-helmed restaurants and design-driven hotels, such as El Blok, have made it a true luxury destination.

<strong>No. 2 Honolulu
The Hawaiian capital holds steady in its silver-medal spot, and still offers solid winter credentials: great weather, fabulous outdoor activities, and appeal for both couples as well as families. In fact, there’s no season that readers don’t like it here.

No. 3 Phoenix/Scottsdale
For travelers, this Arizona metropolis is all about timing. Between the holiday season and spring break, Phoenix ranks high, but its blistering summer heatwaves keep visitors at bay. A trip here usually means days spent shopping, golfing, or lounging around the spa, and then turning in early. Phoenix isn’t exactly known for its nightlife.

No. 4 New Orleans
A little party called Mardi Gras is an obvious draw for travelers during winter. Before that, you can find festive holiday activities—the city has killer Christmas and New Year’s celebrations—as well as lower hotel rates and more elbow room in the world-class cafés. Come during the first week in January, and you’ll see local sports fans out in force: the city is again hosting the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

No. 5 Houston
This Sunbelt city is at its best during winter, with highs in the 50s or 60s—just the right temp for ice skating outdoors, open-air concerts, or, come early March, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo (the world’s biggest). This is also the ideal time of year to enjoy the city’s well-regarded museums and classical music, as well as its decadent burgers.

No. 6 San Diego
Even though temperatures can easily reach 70, it’s still a fairly quiet time of year here—great for exploring the zoo, golfing at Torrey Pines, or jogging on the beaches (you just might want a wetsuit to swim or surf). San Diego is also hailed as one of the safest and cleanest cities in the country.

No. 7 Miami
It’s the forefather of American snowbird vacations, and dazzles visitors with its mojitos and good-looking locals. While the Florida city has seen a major hotel and restaurant boom, thanks in part to the wizardry of Alan Faena, it’s still a little daunting to some travelers. In the first week of December, the city is completely and brilliantly consumed by Art Basel.

No. 8 Salt Lake City
This Utah city may no longer hold the crown for the best wintertime city, but it’s still a prime hub for skiing, in part because you can stay downtown and drive a half hour to the slopes. During winter, you’ll also save a lot of money by staying in the city—one way that Salt Lake won the silver in affordability.

No. 9 Orlando, FL
According to readers, winter is the best time of year to come here—whether you get the kids out of school, or if you just want to chat up Mickey on your own. Indeed, in this favorite city for family vacations, winter means shorter lines at the theme parks—with the exception of the weeks right around Christmas and New Year’s. Orlando also receives high marks for its variety of hotel options.