Cooling temperatures and snowfall remind us it’s time to make winter travel plans. Whether you’re going to spend time with family for the early parts of this year or simply enjoy some well-deserved time off from work, one of the best times to vacation is during the winter months — and there are plenty of luxurious, yet affordable options right here in the United States.
Below, we’ve identified the 10 most popular U.S. cities to travel to for winter, why they make such great vacation spots, and how you can save money on the expenses associated with staying there this year.
(click for a full size map of the most popular cities for winter travel)
Top 10 Most Popular Winter Vacation Destinations
1. Denver, Colorado
Aspen and Vail are the cities that come to mind most often when considering Colorado ski destinations. However, these are also some of the most expensive cities to ski in. There’s plenty to do in Denver besides ski, all at a reasonable cost.
What to do: Visit the famous Red Rocks Park and amphitheater for breathtaking views and great music, or the nearby Rocky Mountains State Park. You can warm up at the historic Brown Palace where they offer high tea from 11 am-4:30pm every day. Get a peek at some aquatic life at the Downtown Aquarium, then top the night off with a hockey game and see the Colorado Avalanche play at Ball Arena.
How to save: Flights to Denver become more expensive the closer it gets to ski season, so if you plan on booking a trip to the snowy city, locking in a flight now will ensure you save hundreds of dollars. Colorado’s tourism website also has a section dedicated to aggregating deals on travel and attractions in the city.
2. Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Enjoying the beach is hard to do when it’s packed with summer vacation traffic and crowds. While you’ll find exactly the same atmosphere during the winter high season in Fort Lauderdale, the mild weather, excellent culinary scene and plentiful shopping make it all worth it.
What to do: The temperature is always between 75 and 90 degrees on average (even in the winter months). Hanging at the beach is probably the most fun and popular thing to do. Plus, it’s free. Also, you won’t want to miss the Seminole Hard Rock Winterfest Boat Parade in December. If you’re into hiking, you can go on one of the trails in the beautiful Hugh Taylor Birch State Park.
How to save: Kayak is currently offering beach hotels in Fort Lauderdale starting at just $62 a night. The Capital One shopping extension also offers promo codes for sites like Hotels.com so you can get the best deal.
3. Las Vegas
Coming to Vegas during the offseason means you have less of a chance of running into the spring break crowd, and you won’t be seeing triple digit temperatures. In fact, the average temperature in Las Vegas in January is 61 degrees, which is cool but not too cool.
What to do: It’s not nearly as crowded on the strip, which means shorter lines and lower rates for the most popular attractions. You can also check out the Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens for gorgeous photo opportunities. Because the weather is a little cooler, you can check out nearby Red Rock Canyon, Valley of Fire, Lake Meade, Mount Charleston, and Lee Canyon for hiking trails and beautiful outdoor sights.
How to save: The off-season alone means vacationers will enjoy lower rates on upgraded rooms and suites at hotels. Prices for VIP admission to shows will also be lower than in the spring and summer.
4. Los Angeles
Los Angeles is home to a plethora of famous landmarks and attractions, not to mention just an hour or two away from the mountains, desert and beach. No matter what types of activities you’re interested in participating in during your winter vacation, whether it’s sightseeing, skiing or shopping, Los Angeles serves as a Southern California hub for it all.
What to do: If you’d like a little culture, spend a day visiting the Museum of Natural History, MOCA, or the Getty. The iconic Hollywood Boulevard and Rodeo Drive are also popular tourist destinations, while there are a number of nearby ski destinations surrounding the city. And don’t forget — Disneyland is just an hour away.
How to save: Winter is definitely off-season in L.A., so the costs for attending major attractions, museums and theme parks won’t be at their exorbitant summer highs. In fact, the city is so big, you’ll probably have trouble packing in all the low-cost activities there are to do in one stay. About.com offers a directory of deals and discounts for Los Angeles attractions you can use to plan your days and cut costs.
5. Dallas & Fort Worth, Texas
The Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex offers two distinct experiences connected to being the most popular destination in Texas to visit. While Dallas, home to the Cowboys, is invigorated by a sports-loving, urban population, Fort Worth offers the more authentic Texas experience of cowboys and rodeos.
What to do: With an art museum, aquarium, zoo, botanical garden, numerous sporting events and the Stockyards, there’s no shortage of things to do in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
6. Orlando, Florida
Orlando is a top winter travel destination that is especially kid-friendly. While the summer months can be uncomfortably hot, humid and crowded, winter is perfect for enjoying all Orlando has to offer without the heat, long lines or inflated prices.
What to do: Home to Disney World’s multiple theme parks, as well as Universal Orlando resorts and parks, lines will be much shorter during the season between the holidays and spring break.
How to save: Christmas week to New Year’s is the most expensive time to stay in Orlando. However, prices drop following this week and stay low until spring break.
The third Florida city to make the list, Miami offers many of the same benefits as Fort Lauderdale and Orlando to winter travelers. However, you may find Miami has a younger club scene and more of a party atmosphere than other Florida spots.
What to do: Miami is all about the nightlife and best for couples who want to enjoy restaurants and clubs in the city. The beach is still nice, albeit a lot cooler than in the summer months, though it barely drops below 60. The Ultra Music Festival also takes place in March.
How to save: High season begins in January, so booking travel plans for December will ensure you aren’t subjected to inflated airline and hotel rates. It’s also much cheaper to stay on weekdays rather than weekends.
8. New York City
New York City may be the perfect place to spend the holiday season. Snow, lights and ice skating make for a picturesque winter getaway, though certain weeks will be much more crowded — and expensive — than others.
What to do: Depending on when you go, you might be able to catch a glimpse of the iconic Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, celebrate New Year’s Eve in Times Square, go ice skating in Bryant Park, or see a Broadway show.
9. San Francisco
With a summer high season, winter travelers can enjoy all the artsy California city of San Francisco has to offer without the tourists and peak pricing.
What to do: You will definitely want to visit Fisherman’s Wharf and the Buena Vista Cafe, home to the Irish coffee. The Golden Gate Bridge is another must-see attraction, as is nearby Alcatraz.
How to save: About.com notes winter is the height of the city’s theater and performing arts season, so most hotels will run specials on room rates.
10. Phoenix & Scottsdale, AZ
While Phoenix isn’t exactly known for being a winter wonderland, its major airport Sky Harbor is the hub for end-of-year travelers who come to enjoy Arizona’s most charming nearby cities like Scottsdale. Plus, temperatures are in the 70’s.
What to do: There are a number of five-star resorts and spas, world-class golf, a thriving culinary scene and upscale shops.
How to save: Because winter is high season in Scottsdale, the best way to reduce the cost of staying in the city is by renting a condo for an extended period or negotiating a good rate with a hotel by asking for last-minute deals. Additionally, a number of deals can often be found on Groupon for hotel stays.
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