In the dog days of summer, sunshine and high temperatures are in universal supply across the United States. Things change in winter, when sunny Vermont mountains become a skier’s paradise and the serene lakes of Northern Michigan freeze over. Escaping to a winter wonderland isn’t for everyone—some travelers seek mild, sunny days in the winter for a Vitamin D boost and perhaps an afternoon siesta.
We’ve selected three of our most popular destinations for your consideration this winter—and eight inns that make your snowbird plan worth the investment. The lively culture of New Orleans offers limitless things to see and do for music and food lovers. Santa Barbara County’s picturesque scenery and nearby beaches are perfect for outdoor adventurers and health nuts. And finally, the tropical paradise of Key West is where discerning travelers go to enjoy a cocktail with a view.
These midwinter pick-me-ups are perfect for January and February, so you can return to the grind feeling sunkissed and rejuvenated. The only problem with this group of destinations is that once you’ve arrived, you’ll want to start looking at real estate. Discover your answer to endless summer at these sunny getaways:
The Florida Keys
Key West stands 72 miles from the formal “tropics” but locals and visitors don’t seem to mind—palm trees, lush vegetation and unique wildlife populate the island of colorful personalities and stunning architecture. Luxury is a way of life for residents and visitors who fall in love with the island’s independent spirit and artsy character. Whether you arrive on the Key via puddle-jumper or Route 1, you’re guaranteed to feel you’ve traveled to the edge of the world.
The Mermaid and the Alligator—Key West, Florida
This inn’s unusual name comes from a poolside statue of a mermaid and an alligator leaning in for a romantic moment—a perfect symbol of the Key’s offbeat, romantic inclinations. Wide verandas take advantage of eastern trade winds and the Victorian architecture includes elegant pocket doors and interior trim. Visitors are an intriguing blend of all generations, hometowns and vacation plans—a mixture that invites one-of-a-kind conversations over cocktails. From the moment you accept your complimentary glass of wine upon arrival, adventure awaits at The Mermaid and the Alligator.
The Gardens Hotel—Key West, Florida
The titular gardens of the Gardens hotel are a botanical masterpiece with gorgeous plants and flowers unrivaled on Key West. Guests love snorkeling at the world’s third largest coral reef—located just six miles offshore—before returning to the inn for relaxation and sumptuous accommodations. The famed Hemingway House and Key West Aquarium are nearby, leaving plenty to explore and experience during your midwinter stay at the Gardens Hotel.
The Conch House Heritage Inn—Key West, Florida
Originally constructed by Bahamian ship builders in 1889, the Conch House was meticulously restored to its original elegance with every modern amenity. This family home has been owned and operated through five generations, so guest services know every secret and must-do activity on Key West. Sprawling grounds include gardens, a large pool and more outdoor spaces to steal a moment of tranquility between activities.
Books for the Keys:
- To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway. "The dramatic story of Harry Morgan, an honest man who is forced into running contraband between Cuba and Key West as a means of keeping his crumbling family financially afloat. " Bonus points: See the classic film with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
- Key West: History of an Island of Dreams by Maureen Ogle. "Many view Key West as a tropical paradise, and scores of writers have set tales of mystery and romance on the island. The city’s real story—told by Maureen Ogle in this lively and engaging illustrated account—is as fabulous as fiction."
- The Collected Poems of Tennessee Williams. "The excitement, compassion, lyricism, and humor that epitomize his writing for the theater are all present in his poetry," and Key West was one of Williams' formative places. Check out the Tennessee Williams in Key West exhibit.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Generations have fallen in love with the mysterious, gregarious character of the Big Easy, birthplace of jazz and Mecca for Cajun and Creole cuisine enthusiasts. Far from the strictures of buttoned-up Southern society, NOLA thrives on its irreverent, convivial state of mind. Get a Sazerac to go and wander the historic streets, flush with verdant gardens and live music. Even funerals become a city-wide party in the Big Easy.
In New Orleans, you’ll discover the melting pot of French, Afro-Caribbean and American Indian cultures that spawned America’s most distinctive regional traditions. In March, streets come alive for Mardi Gras but the early New Year promises balmy temperatures and plenty of bars, music venues, markets and galleries to explore. Here’s where to stay on your NOLA vacation:
La Belle Esplanade
“Experience” is the keyword at La Belle Esplanade, the colorful guardian of NOLA’s quirkiest traditions. In the lobby you’ll find the New Orleans Odditarium, a professionally curated makeshift museum that features a collection of local curiosities, artifacts and exhibits. Innkeepers Matthew King and Melanie Schmidt refer to their city as a “kaleidoscope of marvels” and give visitors tips they’ll never find in a guidebook. From the exterior, the shock of red-orange paint with bright blue shutters draw passersby to take photos.
Canal Street Inn
On approach, enchanting oaks, elms, orange, lemon and pecan trees greet visitors at this 1912 New Orleans Greek Revival mansion. Inside Canal Street Inn, harmonious and well-appointed rooms invite guests to relax and savor the destination’s charm. Experience the refined, classical elegance of a past time when graciousness and simple living was the norm. have a glass of wine under the pergola in the lush garden that’s just less than 300 years old.
A Playlist for New Orleans:
Sunny SoCal has whispered to East Coast types for ages: Whether they sought fame and fortune in Hollywood or the region’s laidback, casual elegance. In the dead of winter, Southern California is the envy of the country with dry, sunny days and rich Pacific sunsets. Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez and Ballard are three destinations every sun worshipper should explore when the weather outside is frightful.
Santa Ynez Inn—Santa Ynez California
Nestled in the heart of Santa Barbara Wine Country, Santa Ynez Inn offers a unique hotel experience with sophisticated grace and warm hospitality. Guests love to unwind in the outdoor hot tub or relax with a treatment in the newly renovated spa. Wine enthusiasts and outdoorsmen will find nearby vineyards, golf courses and cycling tours. You simply must experience this magical place that inspires romance and adventure.
Simpson House Inn—Santa Barbara, California
This elegantly restored 1874 Victorian estate is nestled amongst an acre of award-winning, beautifully landscaped English gardens and offers 15 diverse guestrooms, suites and cottages. Historic charm and modern-day luxuries rule the day at the Simpson House Inn, from gourmet breakfasts to Kiehl’s cosmetics in each room. Ride a trolley to the beach and enjoy a long walk or magnificent sunset.
The Ballard Inn and Gathering Table—Ballard, California
If it's gourmet wine country cuisine and fine dining you’re looking for, The Ballard Inn's award-winning restaurant, The Gathering Table, is sure to please even the most discriminating gourmands. Chef Budi Kazali’s inspired food represents a fusion of East West flavors and techniques, resulting in the ultimate in California cuisine.