The sun-drenched beaches along Alabama’s Gulf Coast invite snow-weary Midwesterners to play along the shore (or explore moss-draped forests). The sister cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach (58 miles southeast of airport-hub Mobile) stretch along 32 miles of beach on the Gulf of Mexico. Southerners know Gulf Shores as the destination for unpretentious, outdoors-centric getaways. Pedal a bike along a backcountry trail, try your hand at fishing or just relax along the sandy beach.
Tucson’s sunny skies and 68-degree average high in February offer the perfect winter escape. Northerners homesick for snow find their powder (and the Mount Lemmon Ski Valley) in the Santa Catalina Mountains northeast of town. But most visitors enjoy the mountains as backdrops to afternoon hikes, rounds of golf (Tucson has more than 20 courses) and dinners at the high-end resorts in the foothills on the edge of town.
Warm up with a trip down I-75 to the sugar-soft sand and azure blue waters of Florida's Naples and Marco Island. In Naples, tropical umbrellas line the streets of downtown, where pastel stucco buildings house art galleries and boutiques. A few miles south of the multimillion-dollar homes lining Naples' waterfront, the wealthy on Marco stay at the sprawling Marco Island Marriott. But visitors staying at budget spots can enjoy the hotel's lavish spa, inventive restaurant and shelling cruises.
Warmed by world-class art and nearly constant sunshine, Santa Fe offers a bright midwinter escape. An arts community launched by Wisconsin native Georgia O'Keeffe has grown to more than 200 galleries and a dozen museums. There's rarely a bad day for painting—or anything else, really—in Santa Fe, which sees 300-plus sunny days a year and enjoys the crystalline atmosphere of a 7,000-foot elevation. Take guided walks to learn about the area's history, debate red vs. green chile sauce on your enchiladas, and shop for art finds on the Turquoise Trail.
To some Midwesterners, Texas may come across as big and brash. But out in the Hill Country, 70 miles west of Austin in south-central Texas, the area that was home to Lyndon B. Johnson resonates with travelers eager to explore a side of the Lone Star State that somehow feels familiar. A getaway to Fredericksburg (population: 10,530), known for its carefully preserved Main Street, includes German heritage, fields of wildflowers, family-owned wineries, fine dining, and a Smithsonian-quality museum about World War II.
Lined with twisty, moss-draped oaks, the historic district of Savannah, Georgia, offers romantic inns, chic cafes and stirring glimpses of our nation's past. Tour the First African Baptist Church, a stop on the Underground Railroad; bite into ethereal crabcakes at Chef Joe Randall's Cooking School; breathe in the fresh sea air at Tybee Island beaches; and learn about the founder of Girl Scouts at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace.
Deep in the heart of Texas, winter visitors find sunny days, one seriously big capitol, an unrivaled live music scene and proof that locals continue to “Keep Austin Weird.” An average February temp of 55 degrees pulls people outside to enjoy golfing, wildflower walks, strolls around the lake and alfresco dining. Among the must-see stops: the Bullock Texas State History Museum, Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center and the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum.