For people who live in areas with an actual winter, there’s no more gratifying time to escape.
Unfortunately, warm vacation destinations are also usually at their priciest during this season. But if you know how to avoid the typical tourist traps, you can get to a pleasant beach and enjoy the local lifestyle without taking out a loan. From the Caribbean to the Gulf Coast, here’s where you should book your winter getaway so you can soak in the waves and the heat while your friends shovel snow.
Key West, Florida
Already pricey Miami is in peak season around December and January, so do yourself a favor and flee the Ocean Drive hotspots of South Beach for the Florida Keys just south of the city. While the Keys suffered destruction from Hurricane Irma, the popular Key West is eager to lure tourists back and has been rebuilding quickly. Grab the signature seafood sandwich and hang with the locals at the Hogfish Bar & Grill. A travel tip: Fly into Fort Lauderdale instead of Miami for significantly cheaper flight, since you’ll likely want to rent a car anyway to get yourself down to the Keys. You can find round-trip tickets from New York City for as low as $151 around this time, around $200 from Boston and Chicago. Even nice hotels can be reserved for around $200 a night during high season.
Sarasota is a long way up from the Keys in the panhandle state, but the city located on the Gulf Coast has some of the most crystal-blue waters and white-sand beaches you’ll see in the United States. While the town itself may seem sleepy, it’s dotted with secretly great restaurants and hangouts—and even better deals. Round-trip flights can be had for around $200 from New York and Boston, and for around $400 from Chicago. Hotel rooms go for under $200.
Galveston Island, Texas
You might consider Texas best for digging into barbecue and blues bands. But locals pointing you to a beach retreat will recommend Galveston Island, just an hour drive from Houston, on the Gulf Coast. Its 32 miles of shoreline offer both idyllic nature, including migratory birds, as well as live music and parties on the eastern edge— and in the winter, the temperature is moderate compared to the heat Texas experiences most of the year. Flights into Houston in winter go for under $200 from New York, for around $100 from Boston and Denver, and for even less from Chicago. Hotel rooms go for around $100 or even less per night.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Don’t overlook the Deep South for a sandy getaway when it’s getting too frigid to handle up north. Myrtle Beach has all the typical attractions of a beachside town (boardwalk, ferris wheel, golfing, ice cream with temperatures in the high 50s and 60s — a nice reprieve if you’ve been living below freezing for weeks. And you can nosh on some true Southern cooking while you’re at it. The best part? You can practically steal round-trip tickets for around $100 from New York, and get them for around $200 from Boston and Chicago.
Curaçao has become a Caribbean go-to for Americans thanks to regular flights from major airlines and its friendliness to English speakers. The Dutch island, located off the Venezuelan coast, also happens to be outside of the path of most hurricanes and full of beautiful, colorful architecture. The capital Willemstad sits on the bay, and you can go swimming in lush coral reefs off the coastline. A round-trip flight from New York in January can be had for just over $300, while things get pricier from Boston (around $500) and Chicago. You can find hotel options for around $100 or less.
Caribbean Mexico (Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Isla Mujeres)
While Cancún has become basically synonymous with spring break, it’s arguably even nicer in winter, when the mugginess is at its lowpoint. Skip the overpriced attractions in the heart of Cancún and book a stay in one of the surrounding towns. Playa del Carmen has a pristine beach and plenty of nice shopping, while nearby Tulum and Isla Mujeres offer quaintness and history, including Mayan ruins and coral reefs. The strong dollar in Mexico means you’ll enjoy unbeatable tacos and margaritas in white sand for far less than you would pay anywhere in the U.S. And you can pay around $300 on a round-trip flight from New York, Boston, or Chicago. Even all-inclusive hotel rooms in Playa del Carmen can be had for $300-400 a night, and you can find a modest Tulum stay for less than $200.
Baja California, Mexico
If you’re on the West Coast, instead of Cancún, you should head down to Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula, just over the border from San Diego. Round-trip flights from Los Angeles into San José del Cabo can be had for under $200, and for around $300 from Denver and Chicago. The resort city is home to charming 18th-century Spanish colonial architecture and stunning diving, while nearby Cabo San Lucas offers a party atmosphere and the famous Arco de Cabo San Lucas rock formation. You can score rooms for well under $100 in both Cabos.
Hawaii is a far-flung gem of the United States with its lush islands and delicious food, and it generally doesn’t come cheap. But if you happen to live in LA, you can go direct to the state’s most picturesque island, Kauai, for about $400 round-trip, and find incredible deals on hotels, starting at less than $200 a night , assuming you don’t need all the amenities. The boating and snorkeling off the Napali Coast are majestic, and you can eat the freshest ahi tuna you’ve ever had for much less than you would back in Santa Monica.