If descending a snowy mountaintop in skis or cozying up by the fire isn’t your jam (but you still want the charm of a resort town) consider heading south this winter.
From Florida to California—and areas between, in states like Arizona, New Mexico, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, and Missouri—are delightful small-town enclaves where you can hop on a beach cruiser, stroll the sand, and not get lost in traffic. Boutiques and cafes are as cute as a Gilmore Girls episode and accommodations are often spacious, especially if it’s a villa or home rental. And when you truly want to be pampered (particularly post-hike) a spa is never far away.
The best part is that the sun is always out and there’s zero chance of a snowstorm during the winter months.
Editor’s note: Some destinations listed may have quarantine rules or other restrictions around travel. Check the state’s website for further information before visiting.
Downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea, known for its white-sand beaches and hugging the Pacific Ocean 75 miles south of San Jose, recently welcomed winery tasting rooms like Talbott Vineyards’. Right in the heart of downtown, Hotel Carmel’s shibori-dyed pillows, wine hour in Adirondack chairs and white-on-black exterior are the definition of beach-chic. Poke into the town’s many art galleries when you’re not wandering the coast via Highway 1 or admiring Carmel’s Fairytale Houses.
Mystics and healers love the red-rock formations in Sedona which are said to house vortexes but even if you’re not into that, they’re still gorgeous spots to hike, particularly at Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock. As a Dark Sky city, be sure to look up at night to view constellations. A group can easily spread out in L’Auberge de Sedona’s cottages and suites and enjoy dining on property as well as spa services and creek-side beauty. Downtown’s restaurants, galleries and shops are a walk up the hill.
Fernandina Beach, Florida
The Sunshine State’s northeast corner is often overlooked for its South Beach and Sanibel Island cousins. Snug on Amelia Island and along the Atlantic coast, Victorian architecture reigns in the town’s historic district—including Amelia Schoolhouse Inn, a former four-room schoolhouse for overnight stays. Thirteen miles of beaches (horseback riding is an option), a lighthouse and a history museum are all relaxed activities.
Palm Springs, California
Choose a recently renovated lodge dating back to the midcentury over a splashy modern resort and you’ll still have perks like a pool, restaurant and high design—and not as many guests. La Serena Villas evokes the Mediterranean with its 1933-era casitas. Book outdoor tables at downtown eateries like Cheeky’s (for brunch) or hike the 15-mile-long Indian Canyons, the ancestral home of Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
If you want to stay in town and ditch the car, check into La Posada de Santa Fe, born out of an 1880s brick mansion and near the plaza. A spa (hosting yoga and pilates classes) and four bars and restaurants, however, mean you may never want to leave. Experience New Mexican cuisine through legendary Santa Fe eateries such as The Shed, tucked into a 1692 hacienda. Canyon Road is where many of the town’s top galleries—to the tune of a hundred or so—are.
If you’ve seen the 1998 Jim Carrey film “The Truman Show” then you’ve already seen this New Urbanism town’s colorful cottages. Book one of those cottages and sip morning coffee or evening cocktails on the porch. An outdoor food-truck court in downtown Seaside consisting of vintage Airstreams means meals are covered. Rent a beach cruiser and pedal all the way to the cute Euro-inspired town of Rosemary Beach, 16 miles round trip.
Hot Springs, Arkansas
The South’s unofficial spa capital is loaded with—per its namesake—plenty of traditional hot springs in which to soak, including those at the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa, Quapaw Baths & Spa and Buckstaff Bathhouse (in operation since 1812). Historic downtown’s antiques shops and cute boutiques are rimmed in by unique eateries like Vault, inside a former bank building dating back to the 1890s.
Asheville, North Carolina
Check into the century-old Omni Grove Park Inn for the full resort experience, boasting Blue Ridge Mountain views, a subterranean spa (with an indoor pool) and a golf course, plus 10 spots to dine or drink on property. Then, in town, quirky shops and art galleries are in abundance, including Jonas Gerard’s two 5,000-square-foot galleries in the River Arts District.
Little St. Simons Island, Georgia
This 11,000-acre island off the coast of Georgia—accessible via Hampton River Marina on the island’s north end—has few choices for what to do but they are all stellar. Seven miles of beaches, garden-to-table dining and accommodations for only up to 32 guests (yes, you read that right!) have made this island an annual pilgrimage for many since it opened to the public in 1979.
The Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri
Midwesterners—especially Missourians—know this destination as a vacation getaway and a tad warmer than Up North. No matter what time of year, outdoor activities (from fishing to ziplining, plus Bridal Cave’s unique underground formations) are so plentiful that you’ll need a week to do it all. All in all, there are 1,100 miles of lake shoreline. Rent a condo or private home so you can grill your catch of the day.
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