There are tons of great places to travel for skiing and picture-perfect winter wonderland scenery when the thermometer dips. Alternatively, heaps of destinations across Florida, the Caribbean and the Southern Hemisphere stay warm through the months that usher in frosty temps up north. With such widespread appeal, the likes of Aspen and the Swiss Alps tend to be overrun with snow bunnies, and snowbirds flock to Miami and St. Barts in huge numbers. Looking for a less obvious escape where you can cash in fewer crowds and more favorable rates? Consider an off-season destination. New England coastal towns that buzz in the summer, cities overrun with spring tourists when the flowers bloom (ahem, Amsterdam and Tokyo) and fall foliage standouts all have a really special, unhurried atmosphere in winter months. These are the best off-season vacation spots for December, January and February.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe’s peak season is July, August and September. However, this creative mecca in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains certainly has plenty going on in the winter. It’s the ideal time to visit the many museums, workshops, art galleries and antique shops. There’s cross-country skiing along the Aspen Vista Trail and snowshoeing at Hyde Memorial State Park, plus groomed slopes a short drive away. To warm up, go for a steamy soak in the hot springs at Ten Thousand Waves and dig into a comforting bowl of green chile stew.
Where to stay: Tucked away in the Sangre de Cristo foothills, just a short drive from historic downtown, the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe looks like a painting come to life with adobe architecture and sweeping vistas. Casitas feature soaking tubs, fireplaces and patios for stargazing. The 57-acre retreat is also home to a blissful spa for facials and body rituals.
Asheville, North Carolina
Colorful foliage explodes in a glory of gold, orange and red during fall in Asheville. When the trees shed their leaves, this vibrant town in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains receives fewer visitors. But locals will tell you it’s prime time to sip ale at the incredible breweries, eat at the spate of delicious restaurants (don’t miss Table and Mother), browse the art galleries and catch a show at the many music venues. Opportunities for outdoor recreation, from hiking to ice climbing, abound. If you’re looking for more indoor activities, head to the fun-for-all-ages Asheville Pinball Museum.
Where to stay: The newest addition to Asheville’s lodging scene, The Radical channels the creative zeal of the River Arts District. The abandoned breakfast cereal factory turned boutique hotel shows off colorful murals by local street artists and an eclectic array of bespoke furniture made by craftsmen from the Tar Heel State.
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Well-to-do New Englanders have long spent summers on Cape Cod. And while the quaint towns, seafood shacks and dune-backed beaches draw heaps of tourists in June, July and August, a sense of peacefulness and solitude washes over the hook-shaped peninsula come wintertime and feels very much like a local secret. Though you certainly won’t need to pack a bikini, the sandy shoreline still beckons for parka-clad walks. Besides, we’d argue that clam chowder tastes even better when the temps dip.
Where to stay: Like the novels you’ll enviably read by the fire and the many fine bottles of red on the wine list, Chatham Bars Inn is a classic that just keeps getting better with age. First opened in 1914, the hotel continues to evolve. The latest additions are spa suites that flaunt saunas, hydrotherapy steam showers and soaking tubs.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
The majority of people think of vacationing in Thailand as turquoise-fringed, white-sand beaches or getting lost in the bustling streets of Bangkok. Chiang Mai is this really magical middle ground between relaxation and excitement with a serene atmosphere but all the action of a city. It has thriving night markets with incredible local dishes, hundreds of glimmering Buddhist temples and boat rides along the river. Day trips to elephant sanctuaries are also a highlight. Thanks to a consistently warm climate, visitors can expect a dose of summer weather in the winter.
Where to stay: Perched on the banks of the Mae Ping River, Anantara Chiang Mai Resort is the perfect place to unwind in-between temple hopping. Although, we wouldn’t blame you for taking the day off from sightseeing to enjoy restorative spa treatments, afternoon tea and a cooking class.
Anyone familiar with Amsterdam knows it’s flooded with tourists when the colorful tulips bloom in the spring. Take flower chasers out of the equation, and you’re left with a charming city that’s prime for off-season exploration. Bundle up for scenic boat rides along the famous canals and cycling the many miles of bike paths that wind through the Dutch capital. The myriad museums provide a cultural-filled refuge from the elements, and snug restaurants welcome patrons with hearty fare and warm ambiance. Also, it should be stated that there’s no wrong time to try herring.
Where to stay: The nippier it gets outside, the cozier the lounge at The Hoxton becomes with locals and out-of-towners vying for a spot on the velvet sofas by the fire. Rooms are equally inviting with parquet floors, heavy drapes and comfy beds. Some even have canal views.
Tokyo is one of the most dynamic and fascinating cities in the world. Timing a trip to see the cherry blossoms in the spring ranks as a bucket-list experience for many travelers. But fans of a festive atmosphere (and anyone looking to save a few bucks) would be better served to visit during the winter. Lights illuminate many of the main shopping streets and adorable confections fill the cases at sweet shops. Bowls of udon and ramen are truly soul-warming dishes. And the snug bars in Golden Gai get downright toasty when even just a few patrons pack in for drinks.
Where to stay: Hoshinoya Tokyo encapsulates what makes Japan’s capital so mesmerizing. Set in the business district, the sleek tower conceals a sanctuary of zen that combines contemporary design, long-standing cultural traditions such as tea ceremonies and an onsen that’s open to the night sky.
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston has established itself as the unofficial capital of Southern charm. Cobbled lanes are lined with palm trees, churches and colorful facades. Downtown brims with world-class restaurants and adorable boutiques. Travelers visiting in the winter will enjoy guided historic walking tours, ambling along The Battery (many historic mansions leave the lights up well after the holidays) and horse-drawn carriage rides. The mild climate means comfortable, scarf-and-jacket weather — and you might even catch a dusting of flakes for a full-fledged Hallmark movie moment.
Where to stay: While Charleston isn’t lacking in boutique hotels, The Spectator out-charms the rest with glamor and sophistication that’s reminiscent of the 1920s. Fancy a tipple? Master mixologists pour seasonally-inspired cocktails, craft beer, fine wine and private-label bourbon at the jewel-box bar.
Madeira, the autonomous Portuguese archipelago off the northwest coast of Africa, is best known for its namesake wine. The mild climate with temperatures that rarely dip below 60 degrees means picture-perfect weather for exploring the famous botanical gardens, alfresco dining (don’t forget to try limpets and black scabbard fish) and walks along the levadas, historic irrigation canals that wind around the island. While you’re probably not going to bust out a bikini for a full-blown sunbathing session, it’s still worth hitting Prainha do Seixal, a cliff-backed black sand beach.
Where to stay: Quinta da Casa Branca, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, is tucked away on a quiet street just a short walk from the thick of downtown Funchal. With lush gardens, a serene spa, a heated outdoor pool and leisurely breakfasts on the terrace, it’s the ultimate relaxing respite.
Accessible via Amtrak from most major East Coast cities, Washington, D.C. is an easy weekend getaway. Bloom chasers wait with bated breath to see the cherry blossoms in the spring, and summer vacation brings hoards of school-age kids. People tend to overlook the winter months, which is actually a big mistake. The nation’s capital boasts some of the absolute best museums in the country, and cold weather is an excuse to spend the whole day meandering through the halls of mammals and fossils at the National Museum of Natural History. It’s also guaranteed to be far less crowded at the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.
Where to stay: Set along the tree-lined Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in Georgetown, the Rosewood Washington, D.C. gives off private mansion vibes. Especially well suited for the winter, it’s warm and intimate with elegant suites featuring free-standing tubs and fireplaces, plus a refined Wolfgang Puck restaurant and bar and a heated indoor/outdoor rooftop pool.
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