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Cold weather got you down? It’s not too late to book a winter vacation — and with the holidays now behind us, you can enjoy fewer crowds, great weather and potentially lower prices when you book a last-minute winter vacation now.
These are our 10 top picks for a last-minute winter getaway, both close to home in the US and abroad. You’ll find everything from beach getaways to eco-vacations to urban exploration. Let’s dive in.
St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands for Caribbean vibes without a passport
With little rain and mild temperatures between December and May, St. Thomas is the perfect spot to escape the winter chill. Known as the gateway to the US Virgin Islands, St. Thomas, the largest of the three, is a Caribbean hot spot for shopping, cruising and any water activity you can imagine.
Turquoise waters teem with colorful fish, and a bustling capital, Charlotte Amalie, lures visitors with its 18th-century buildings, sidewalk cafés and local shops offering everything from shiny crystals and luxury linens to quirky handmade art and the USVI’s famed hot sauce (aka pepper sauce).
Following the devastation of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, St. Thomas’ famed Frenchman’s Reef resort complex recently debuted not one but two new properties: The Westin Beach Resort & Spa at Frenchman’s Reef and the Morningstar Buoy Haus Beach Resort at Frenchman’s Reef.
The Westin underwent a massive $425 million restoration and renovation. This means the stunning cliffside views of the Caribbean Sea are now paired with several new oceanfront pools, hundreds of waterfront guest rooms, and myriad restaurants catering to a multitude of tastes from Mediterranean to Caribbean.
Meanwhile, its sister property, the 94-room Morningstar Buoy Haus Beach Resort, has a boutique hotel vibe with an infinity edge pool, hammocks scattered around the property and complimentary nonmotorized water sports. Both properties provide guests access to private docks for catamaran sails, snorkel trips and more island excursions.
With day temperatures in the high 60s and low 70s and plenty of sunshine, the Central Coast of California is one of the best places to escape during the winter. Just a short drive from the glitz and glamor of Hollywood and Malibu lies this laid-back region known for its upscale shops, excellent restaurants and all the Spanish Colonial and Mediterranean Revival architecture you can want from a place referred to as the American Riviera.
The region’s main hub, Santa Barbara, is perfect for strolling pedestrian-only lanes lined with sidewalk shops, hiking wooded trails in the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden and exploring Old Mission Santa Barbara, a 1786 architectural gem called the “Queen of the Missions.”
Nearby, Santa Ynez Valley is perfect for wine lovers with vineyards and tasting rooms set against the Santa Ynez Mountains. Quirky towns such as the Dutch-influenced Solvang and the Wild West-influenced Los Alamos make great day trips for families.
Santa Barbara is home to dozens of hotels, with the Kimpton Canary Hotel being a favorite among travelers. True to the Kimpton brand, it has hip rooms and an excellent on-site bar. Plus, its location puts you close to local shops and restaurants in downtown Santa Barbara.
This seaside city is also known for its boutique inns. Among the newest is Drift Santa Barbara, which is just steps from the city’s main drag and a short walk from the city pier.
Santa Fe, New Mexico, for spiritual and cultural immersion
The nation’s oldest state capital is full of history and charm set against a mix of majestic mountains, mesas and adobe-style buildings. Winter ushers in fewer crowds, whether you’re skiing the nearby Sangre de Cristo Mountains or soaking in the hot springs in the Santa Fe National Forest.
Cultural immersion awaits at the intimate Georgia O’Keeffe Museum featuring the largest collection of the artist’s work and in the art galleries along Canyon Road. In the center of town, local artisans sell everything from silver and turquoise to handmade wooden objects in the historic Santa Fe Plaza. Day trips to any of the eight northern pueblos provide a glimpse into the Native American traditions that are ingrained in the area.
La Fonda on the Plaza is a historic 4-star hotel near most of the city’s main attractions — and you’ll find reasonable, sub-$250 nightly rates through much of the winter season. The property is decorated in a historic New Mexican style and there are even free art and history tours four days a week.
Miami, Florida, for art and culture
If you can score tickets, the highly anticipated 2024 season of Inter Miami CF, the city’s football club, kicks off in February, but preseason games are already in full swing. If that’s not enough reason to visit Miami this winter, how about excellent beach weather and a dynamic art, culture and culinary scene?
Between the eye candy in South Beach’s Art Deco Historic District, the nightlife and dining in Little Havana and the murals and galleries found throughout the Wynwood Arts District, there’s no shortage of things to do, and winter is the perfect time to do it. Go fishing in Biscayne Bay, catch a soccer or basketball game and check out the landmark Moore building in the city’s design district. The Art Deco masterpiece has recently been transformed into a hotel, restaurant and art space.
If staying on the beach is a must, the new Tresor Tower suites at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, an iconic hotel that was once favored by Rat Pack royalty like Frank Sinatra, have recently been redesigned. In the boho-chic Coconut Grove neighborhood, a recent redo of the Mayfair House Miami revealed all-new guest rooms and a vast collection of internationally acclaimed art set against a maze of gardens and fountains.
Thanks to a brand-new rail system called the Brightline, day trips from Miami to Palm Beach and other cities along the coast are a short ride away. However, events like the South Beach Wine & Food Festival (Feb. 22-25) will tempt you to stay within city limits.
Sedona, Arizona, for hiking and spas
Outdoor recreation is a year-round business in Arizona, and for good reason. Blue skies, abundant sunshine and crisp weather set the scene for a variety of winter activities, from off-roading Jeep tours to hot-air balloon rides across snow-capped canyons. Hike the short trail at Cathedral Rock, one of Sedona’s four vortexes and the spot where the city’s energy is said to be strongest. Take in the scenery along the Red Rock Scenic Byway and discover why it’s known as a “museum without walls.”
Whatever you do, make time for relaxing at one of Sedona’s many spas. Beyond massages and body scrubs, scope out unique offerings like guided sound meditations and therapeutic horseback rides. Evenings are great for fireside chats, stargazing (Sedona is a member of the Dark Sky Association) and cozy meals featuring Southwestern flavors.
Less than a year old, the Ambiente, a Landscape Hotel, offers unique accommodations with 40 glass-enclosed, cube-shaped rooms featuring 360-degree views of the red rock scenery. Just two hours north, the beauty of the Grand Canyon, one of America’s natural wonders, will tempt you to extend your trip.
Big Island, Hawaii, for island paradise
The Big Island is the southernmost island in the Hawaiian archipelago, which assures visitors the most stable weather year-round with winter highs in the lower 80s and lows in the mid- to upper-60s. Winter also ushers in bigger waves than summer, which makes it the perfect time to take a surf lesson and flex your prowess on the high seas. It’s also when the humpback whales return to Hawaii’s warm waters, making this a great time to go on a whale-watching excursion.
Fewer seasonal crowds mean more room to explore the super-popular Hawaii Volcanoes National Park too. Home to one of the world’s most active volcanoes, the park is a bucket list activity for many travelers. It encompasses six climate zones, which means you can visit a rainforest, trek across lava fields and traverse an alpine tundra all in the same place.
A final must-do on the Big Island is a scenic drive along the Kona Coast’s dramatic coastlines to explore the region’s coffee farms. Kona is also where you’ll find the luxurious Kona Village, A Rosewood Resort. The newly reopened, tropics-inspired hotel has 150 guest rooms, five restaurants and a spa spread across an 81-acre oasis.
Santiago and Patagonia, Chile, for chasing the summer sun
With up to 18 hours of daylight, summer runs from December through March in Chile, making our winter the perfect time to visit.
Fly into Santiago, the country’s cosmopolitan capital, with the Andes Mountains on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. Explore historic sites such as the Plaza de Armas, the heart of the city’s colonial core and the home of neoclassical landmarks such as the 18th-century Metropolitan Cathedral as well as the city’s iconic park, Cerro San Cristóbal. Outside the city is the Maipo Valley, where centuries-old vineyards are revered for their excellent cabernet sauvignon.
Farther south is the country’s main attraction, Patagonia, and Chile’s summer is the best time to visit. The region’s Torres del Paine National Park is considered one of the most breathtaking parks in South America, if not the world, with a mix of landscapes that includes mountains, lakes, glaciers and waterfalls. Hike to the towers that give the park its name and keep an eye out for the famous camel-like guanaco that call this park home. Guides are available for a variety of excursions by foot, horseback and 4×4 vehicles.
There are a handful of hotels inside the park, but for a truly authentic experience, Estancia Cerro Guido dates back to the 1920s with guest rooms tucked inside old farmhouses surrounded by orchards and mountain ranges.
The small but mighty independent island nation of Singapore has been revered for years for its cosmopolitan energy. And for the most sunshine and the least amount of rain, February through April is considered the most pleasant time to visit.
A plethora of new hotels and an expanded, world-class airport continue to catapult Singapore into lists of must-see travel destinations. A slew of luxury hotel brands like The Singapore Edition, Mandarin Oriental and Shangri-La Singapore mean there is no shortage of great places to stay. You can even opt for a stay at the iconic Marina Bay Sands, which has been a mainstay of Singapore’s skyline for years.
But you’ll have plenty to see and do before you even leave the airport. The nature-themed complex is home to a seven-story indoor waterfall known as the Rain Vortex, an indoor forest with suspended walkways and hundreds — yes, hundreds — of shops and restaurants. The airport’s recent expansion also quadrupled its passenger capacity with automated check-in kiosks, immigration lanes and more.
In the city, must-see attractions include Gardens by the Bay with its Cloud Forest conservatory and treetop walk, and Thian Hock Keng, Singapore’s oldest Buddhist temple complete with dragon and phoenix sculptures built in traditional Chinese style (with nary a nail in place).
Cancún has long been the queen bee of popular vacation destinations in Mexico, in particular in the Yucatán Peninsula, but the recent debut of El Train Maya that connects the beachy enclave to destinations like the historic Merida and the Mayan ruins of both Chichén Itzá to the west and Tulum to the south adds to the lists of reasons to return.
November through May also marks the region’s dry season, offering yet another reason to explore the Yucatán Peninsula now. Top activities in the Yucatán Peninsula include swimming in the natural sinkholes known as cenotes that are found throughout the region, exploring ancient archaeological sites and, of course, lounging on those gorgeous Gulf of Mexico beaches.
Two new luxury hotels — the oceanside Waldorf Astoria Cancún
and the Conrad Tulum Riviera Maya provide fresh places to stay. The Waldorf offers unique amenities you’re not likely to find anywhere else, such as a Meso-American cooking class that features local fare, ancient recipes and a primer on the traditions of Mexican cooking. In Tulum, the Conrad welcomes guests with an official shaman blessing, complete with chanting and billowing smoke.
If you’d rather go the all-inclusive route, Hyatt recently opened the Impression Moxché by Secrets in Playa del Carmen. This adults-only property features high-end dining, multiple pools and modern rooms that are better than what you’ll find at most 5-star hotels around the world. Plus, it’s a great place to redeem the World of Hyatt points you’ve saved over the years.
With so many natural wonders and a rich, biodiverse ecosystem, Costa Rica is for those who love adventurous pursuits. Winter ushers in Costa Rica’s dry season and pleasant 70-degree-Fahrenheit temps that make activities like hiking, horseback riding and zip-lining through the rainforests more enjoyable.
For first timers, the town of La Fortuna in the northern region is the perfect jumping-off point for a variety of pursuits, from soaking in the thermal Tabacón Hot Springs to hiking the perfectly symmetrical Arenal Volcano.
Not to be missed are the La Catarata de la Fortuna, a mesmerizing 229-foot-high waterfall and a popular spot for swimming, and the crafts town of Sarchi with its whimsically painted oxen carts. Whatever you do, a chorus of howler monkeys in the surrounding forests is likely to be your daily wake-up call.
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