Florida's southwest coast
You know Henry Ford and Thomas Edison for the car and the light bulb. But these Michigan buddies also helped invent the winter escape. Follow their early snowbird tracks into wild (and tamed) tropics in southwest Florida to places in and around Fort Myers and Sanibel. A visit to the Edison and Ford winter escapes (pictured) is just the start to a warm-weather getaway that can include beach time, repertory theater, spring training baseball games and much more.
Five Spanish missions—including the legendary Alamo—anchor San Antonio’s past, while modern cultural and culinary experiences swirl around them. Escape winter’s chill in a north-of-the-border city with a south-of-the-border soul.
San Diego boasts 260 sunny days a year, miles of rugged beachside and barking seals. But that’s just the welcome mat to this SoCal haven. You can survey the options from atop the California Tower in Balboa Park. Rising 462 feet above the sea, the carillon tower recently reopened to the public after 80 years in solitude. Visitors on a viewing platform look north to the Cuyamaca Mountains beyond the renowned San Diego Zoo. Snow-dusted Laguna Mountain peaks pierce the eastern skyline. Even Mexico is visible south of downtown on a clear day, with the glittery horizon of sapphire to the west.
- Perdido Beach Resort. Photo courtesy of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism.
Alabama's Gulf Coast
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.
- Naples beach. Photo courtesy of the Naples Marco Island Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Naples and San Marco, Florida
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.
- Photo Courtesy of Ocean/Corbis .
Santa Fe, New Mexico
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.
Texas' Hill Country
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.
- Forsyth Park Fountain. Photo Courtesy of Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce.
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.
- Photo Courtesy of Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau.
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.