Where to Go in the Winter? Best U.S. Cities to Visit in the Winter
Winter in the U.S. is an exciting time of year. Between the holidays, the lights, and the snow, there is always something to see and enjoy.
A lot of U.S. cities roll out special activities and displays to celebrate this time of year. If you are looking for the best U.S. cities to visit in winter, this post will give you 15 great options to consider.
From the icy wonderland of Anchorage to laid-back Key West, from the hustle and bustle of New York City to the natural beauty of Kauai, you’ll find here some of the best places to visit in the U.S. in winter (for the best places to visit in fall and spring, click here).
Some people love winter in all its frosty goodness – cold temperatures, ice-trimmed eaves, and snow-covered trees. Others prefer to escape the cold and spend winter in shorts with warm days and balmy breezes. Whether your favorite winter activity is skiing, shopping, exploring the outdoors, or relaxing in a spa, this list will have the best destinations in winter to visit in the U.S.
You’ll also see suggestions for accommodations in each city, in the budget, mid-range, and luxury price points, plus other travel tips. Read on for some of the most beautiful places in winter in America.
New York City, New York
If you are looking for the best cities to visit in the U.S. in winter, New York City has to be on the list. Great for families, as well as solo travelers or couples, NYC offers so many winter-themed attractions that you won’t want to miss.
If you happen to be in town at the end of November, don’t miss the iconic Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which began in 1924 and runs through Manhattan. Filled with marching bands, musical numbers, and gigantic floats, adults, and children both love it.
For December, you can enjoy Christmas-themed celebrations, such as the lighting of the tree in Rockefeller Center. There’s also ice skating here and beautiful decorations on every street. Enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride through Central Park (just make sure you have negotiated the price before you get in).
New Year’s Eve hosts one of the largest gatherings of revelers in the world in Times Square. So, if you love a party, and don’t mind the cold, head here in the afternoon. Streets are blocked off and the number of people limited as it gets full.
Finally, don’t miss the shopping. From luxury brands on Fifth Avenue to souvenirs in Chinatown, there’s plenty to see and buy in New York City.
How to Get There: You can fly into any of the three nearest airports: JFK International Airport, LaGuardia Airport (which is directly linked to the NYC Subway system), or Newark International Airport (which is actually just across the river in New Jersey, 16 miles from NYC). From there, you can take a taxi to your hotel or the subway (it’s not advised to drive here as parking is expensive and hard to come by, and public transportation is good).
Looking for places in the U.S. to visit at New Year´s Eve? Then head to this post about the best NYE celebrations.
As mentioned, some people love the cold of winter. If you’re one of them, then Minneapolis will be a delight. Starting in the end of January and into early February, this U.S. city holds the illustrious Great Northern – a 10-day winterfest and cold-weather extravaganza.
During the festival, you’ll see ice sculptures, winter carnivals, and the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships on Lake Nokomis. These are great family-friendly activities – just dress warm!
The highlight of the Great Northern is the City of Lakes Loppet Ski Festival. This includes the favorite Luminary Loppet, where cross-country skiers travel over the frozen Lake of Isles at night, their way lit by ice-enclosed candles, torches, and even fire dancers. This event is super fun to watch, so don’t miss it.
If you’re ready to get out of the cold, then head to the city’s Skyway System. This 11-mile-long footbridge is climate-controlled and connects many of the buildings downtown. It will make your exploration of Minneapolis’ exciting arts and food culture that much easier and more comfortable.
How to Get There: You can fly into Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport and take a taxi or rental car to your hotel.
North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii
If you prefer to spend winter in a slightly warmer climate, head to the North Shore of the island of Oahu, in Hawaii. If you love surfing, or even if you’ve never tried it yourself, this renowned surfing location is one of the best places to go in the U.S. in winter. That’s because winter brings some of the biggest waves of the year, and with them, some of the biggest and best surf competitions.
Running from November until March, the North Shore hosts a variety of surf competitions. You can join the onlookers and watch the pros surf some huge waves. Or, with temperatures in the 70s (Fahrenheit), you can also lay out on the beach and relax. Make sure to bring your own food and snacks, as there aren’t that many options available on the beach.
You can also head to Waikiki, a favorite among tourists. There’s plenty to do here and it’s easy to reach since the island of Oahu is not very large. I would suggest renting a car though, for easy transport. In Waikiki, you can enjoy lots of dining options, from chain restaurants to local joints, and also places to shop for souvenirs.
How to Get There: Fly into Honolulu International Airport and then rent a car or take a taxi to your hotel.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
For nature lovers, winter is a wonderful time to experience beautiful, snow-capped scenery and glimpse winter wildlife, like buffalo and deer. And one of the best places to visit in winter in the U.S. to see this is Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.
Located just outside of Jackson Hole, this park is a must-see for those who love the outdoors.
While Yellowstone is less crowded in the winter than in the summer, this only makes it lovelier. After November, many of the inroads are closed because of the accumulation of snow, so this park really does look untouched by the modern world. The only way to enter is on over-snow vehicles, and there are snowmobile and snow coach guided tours available. If you love skiing, you can also enter on cross-country skis.
Get ready for freezing temperatures; but despite these, you’ll see some amazing sights – frozen lakes, steaming geysers, snow-covered trees. There are ranger-led nature programs that you can enjoy to get a more informed look at the park.
Ready for a change? Head to one of the mountain resorts in Jackson Hole to ski, enjoy the friendly aprés-ski scene, and get cozy in the lodge.
How to Get There: You can fly into Jackson Hole Airport. Then, rent a car to take you to your hotel.
Asheville, North Carolina
Love winter, but tired of all the snow? Then you might want to spend some time in Asheville, North Carolina. This mountain retreat is one of the best towns to visit in winter. Located within the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville has got tons to keep you busy this winter.
Where to start… Outdoors, I think. Because of its beautiful location, there are lots of outdoor activities that you can take part in during the winter, and even year-round. Hiking to waterfalls and through meadows, taking pictures of the gorgeous blue-tinged mountains, embarking on a foraging tour (for all you foodies out there), and driving along Blue Ridge Parkway to take in the sights are all great ways to spend your vacation in Asheville.
One of the most popular places to see in the city is the Biltmore Estate. Built in the 19th century, there are tours offered every day of the year. After you take a tour, head over to one of the many restaurants, coffee shops, and gastropubs that inhabit the city. Then, check out the live music venues, art galleries, and Appalachian craft displays.
How to Get There: The closest airport to arrive into is Asheville Regional Airport, but there is also the Charlotte Douglas International Airport a little farther away. Rent a car to take you into town to your hotel.
Las Vegas, Nevada
While Las Vegas is no Hawaii, you will find a warmer and drier climate than other cities listed here in the winter. This is also one of the best places to visit for New Year’s, and afterward in January or February.
Like New York City, there is a huge gathering on New Year’s Eve, as the Las Vegas Strip closes down to everything but pedestrian traffic. You can ring in the new year here, where the temperatures are usually still in the 40s and 50s (Fahrenheit). If you get here a few days early, check out the winter holiday displays in the hotels, like the Bellagio’s Conservatory.
Other wintertime favorites are ice skating at the outdoor rink in the Cosmopolitan hotel on the strip and shopping either of the two outlet malls. For more luxury brands, check out the Fashion Show Mall, also on the Strip, or the Forum Shoppes at Caesar’s.
For some outdoor fun, head just north of the city to Mount Charleston for some skiing and snowboarding. Or if you prefer hiking, check out one of the many trails that crisscross Red Rock Canyon.
If you’re interested in nightclubs and concerts, the best DJs and musical talent are booked in December, close to New Year’s Eve. But be prepared for long lines and sold-out tickets.
How to Get There: Fly into McCarran International Airport, then take a taxi or rental car to your hotel.
Winter is a great time to travel with family, and Breckenridge, Colorado is one of the best family destinations in winter – especially if your family loves to ski.
Here you’ll find ski resorts that offer a variety of slopes, from beginner to intermediate to expert. The Breckenridge Ski Resort is one of the most popular, with over 150 trails to follow and 2,200 acres for you to ski.
But if you want to get the Multi-resort Ski Pass, you can have access to the resort in Vail (only 37 miles away) and Keystone (17 miles away). There’s something for everyone, no matter what your skiing or snowboarding experience level.
When you’re done hitting the slopes, check out downtown Breckenridge, which has a beautiful allure to it. It was originally a mining town, and even today is holds onto some of that 19th-century charm. Grab a bite to eat at one of the restaurants that are housed in well-preserved Victorian buildings. Or if you want to do some holiday shopping, there are plenty of shops for you to explore.
How to Get There: The nearest airport to fly into is Denver International Airport, about two hours away. You can drive in on I-70.
New Orleans, Louisiana
One of the best winter vacations in the U.S. is a trip to the Big Easy. New Orleans is a fun and colorful city in Louisiana that’s just perfect when you want to escape the cold and just relax.
All year round, you can enjoy the jazz bands, clubs, and bars that characterize the city. The French Quarter, in particular, is popular among tourists who want to party.
But the biggest party of the year happens in January and February – Mardi Gras. This is something everyone should experience once in their lives. Starting on January 6th, King’s Day, and running until Mardi Gras Day or Fat Tuesday (the day before Lent begins), the Carnival season is full of parades, floats, music, and “throws” – the awesome specially-made items thrown off the floats to parade watchers. The best and biggest parades happen the weekend before Mardi Gras Day until Ash Wednesday.
For some other fun winter activities during Christmastime, you can see the gorgeous lights at the Roosevelt Hotel’s Winter Wonderland, check out some holiday parades (like the Tricentennial Jingle), and go ice skating at the NOLA ChristmasFest. And check out Magazine Street, which offers six miles of shops, restaurants, and entertainment.
How to Get There: Fly into the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, which is only 15 miles from the city center. You can rent a car or take a taxi from there to your hotel.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe is a great U.S. city to visit in winter. From November until February, you can enjoy outdoor pursuits, like skiing and snowshoeing, or stay in and try one of the city’s amazing spas or check out the thriving art scene. Whichever path strikes your fancy, you’ll enjoy every minute in this southwestern town.
Santa Fe is a beautiful city, full of lovingly-decorated adobe buildings and art galleries that feature artists of the past and present. You can visit the galleries on Canyon Road, see the famous artists’ colony in nearby Taos, and make a stop at the Georgia O’Keefe Museum. This area is also the perfect spot to find traditional Native American souvenirs.
If you like to ski, head up to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to enjoy some snowy slopes. This is also great to explore on snowshoes. When you get hungry, head back to town where there is an assortment of restaurants and cafes that offer delicious southwestern cuisine.
How to Get There: Fly into Santa Fe Municipal Airport, which is only 14 miles from the center of town. You can rent a car or take a taxi to your hotel.
I know we already mentioned Hawaii, but Oahu and Kauai are two very different islands. And if you are looking for one of the best family vacations in the U.S. in winter, then Kauai should be on your list.
Compared to some of the other Hawaiian Islands, Kauai is a natural beauty. With only one main road going around the island (which you can traverse easily in one afternoon), this quiet sanctuary is the perfect place to spend January and February, relaxing and exploring at your leisure.
What makes this time of year so magical is that it coincides with the migration of the humpback whales. These gorgeous sea creatures can be seen off the coast of the island. Take the family out to see them up close or explore Kauai’s rainforests. If you prefer the beach, trek over to Na Pali Coast State Park. Waimea Canyon is another favorite with its gorgeous bluffs.
The weather will be warm and rainy this time of year, but it comes as a pleasant counterpart to the colder and drier climates on the mainland. Enjoy the beautiful weather and natural scenery that makes Kauai a great winter destination.
How to Get There: Fly into Lihue Airport directly, or into Honolulu International Airport on Oahu and take an inter-island flight to Lihue on Kauai. From there, you can rent a car since taxis are not very plentiful.
If cold and snow absolutely make your winter, then heading to the main cities in the most northern American state will be pure joy. From ice museums to winter train rides to the famous Iditarod Trail, Fairbanks and Anchorage have so much to offer.
You absolutely must take the Aurora Winter Train. Run between Fairbanks and Anchorage by the Alaska Railroad, this train ride will take you through some of the most beautiful winter escapes you have ever seen. In Anchorage, you can partake in glacier hikes or dogsledding tours, in honor of the world-renowned Iditarod Trail that begins there. You can also try some other winter sports, like cross-country skiing and ice climbing.
In Fairbanks, you can watch the awe-inspiring aurora borealis light show, also known as the Northern Lights, which will be in full swing from December to February. Also check out the Aurora Ice Museum, which is made entirely of snow, and then stop for a drink that is served in a glass made from ice.
How to Get There: If you are starting your trip in Fairbanks, then fly into Fairbanks International Airport before renting a car or taking a taxi (you are 7 miles from the city center). If you are arriving in Anchorage, then fly into Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, which is 6 miles from the city center. Take a taxi or rental car to your hotel.
Key West, Florida
One of the best spots in the U.S. in winter is lively and quirky Key West. Located at the most southern tip of Florida, on an archipelago, Key West is just 90 miles north of Cuba. If you’re looking to spend your winter vacation in a laid-back party town, then this is the place.
When you feel the need to get away from the ice and snow, Key West offers warm, balmy weather, blue skies, and sandy beaches. Head here for some relaxing, post-holiday decompression and enjoy great local foods, historical sights, and beautiful sunsets.
Key West boasts the historic home of author Ernest Hemingway, so if you like a little history with your vacation, head over for a look at this landmark and museum. For the best places to eat, drink, and shop, try Duval Street – but head to Mallory Square to see the best sunsets.
Key West has some amazing coral reefs, so if you like diving and snorkeling, you can spend your days exploring this natural wonder. Fishing is also popular on the island, if you get tired of sunning yourself on the beach.
How to Get There: You can fly into Key West International Airport, then rent a car or take a taxi to your hotel. You can also fly into Miami or Fort Lauderdale and take a shuttle or bus to Key West from the airport.
San Antonio, Texas
From the end of November until the middle of December, San Antonio is one U.S. city you don’t want to miss. Their gorgeous holiday displays are worth seeing, and you can enjoy them with some of the best Tex-Mex food you’ve ever had – from fine-dining meals to charcuterie plates, it’s all delicious.
San Antonio offers some lovely winter-themed displays – the best of which is the millions of lights that illuminate the San Antonio River Walk. These twinkling lights are accompanied by riverboats that carry folk musicians, Latin ensembles, and bell choirs that serenade onlookers nightly with carols. In the daytime, you can enjoy a coffee at one of the little cafes and walk under the shade of the cypress trees.
San Antonio boasts Texas’ first UNESCO World Heritage site, so if you have time, check out the San Antonio Missions, which have been standing since the 18th century. They are a throwback to the colonial times and really interesting to see.
How to Get There: Fly into San Antonio International Airport before grabbing a taxi or renting a car to get to your hotel.
If you are traveling in early January, then you should consider taking your winter vacation to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Although it can be cold in the City of Brotherly Love, there is one attraction that makes the temperature worth braving – The Mummers Parade.
Considered to be the oldest folk festival in the country, the Mummers Parade features four clubs that compete with their elaborate performances, costumes, and scenery. Held on January 1st, this is a great family-friendly event if you prefer to skip the New Year’s Eve parties that other cities offer.
After the Mummers Parade, you can check out some of the historical landmarks of the city, including the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall (where the Declaration of Independence was signed). The Philadelphia Museum of Art is also worth seeing – plus, it’s nice to get indoors and out of the cold.
For shopping and dining, there’s the Reading Terminal Market – known for its eclectic mix of goods and foods, it has been a Philadelphia staple since the late 19th century.
How to Get There: The nearest airport is Philadelphia International Airport, but you can also fly into Trenton-Mercer Airport in New Jersey, which is only 34 miles from Philadelphia. You can either rent a car or take a taxi to your hotel.
Disneyland in Anaheim, California
And for one of the best places to see in the U.S. in winter, what else could it be but… Disneyland. This iconic theme park is fun to visit any time of year, but there’s a special brand of magic in December.
The holiday-themed decorations and lights are absolutely stunning. If you are traveling as a family, or even as a couple or solo, this will be one of the most wonderful vacation destinations you visit.
Disneyland goes all out. Each and every day, there are activities. Holiday parades, tree lightings, holiday hoe-downs, and fireworks are the norm at this time of year. Every building and ride has been decked out for the holidays. There are shops and restaurants that offer holiday fare, so you can really get into the spirit of things.
Disneyland is known for its attention to detail, so you’ll no doubt experience one of the most magical and perfect holiday experiences of any place in the U.S. this winter if you decide to spend your time here.
How to Get There: The closest airport to the resort is John Wayne Orange County Airport. From there, rent a car or take a taxi to your hotel.
I hope this post has helped you decide where you’d like to spend your winter vacation. There are so many great U.S. cities to visits in winter, with so many unique and fun things to do and see. These 15 cities are some of the best and I know that you will enjoy whichever one you choose to explore this winter season.
About the Author:
This post was written by Rebecca, who runs her own blog at The Journey at Home – where she writes about her life as a mother of 5 with everything that comes along with it.
She works as a freelancer for Arzo Travels.