The week between Christmas and New Year's is an ideal time to steal away. As the year winds down, many businesses and schools close for the holidays, making it easier to plot an escape, and it's a time of festivals and other special events that roll out the welcome mat for visitors. Whether you're in search of sun and sand or traditional holiday-themed winter fun, keep these destinations in mind for a final getaway before 2020. (And remember these 50 Best Small Towns to Visit in Winter when you do make plans.)
An affordable beach paradise is known for its turquoise water and unforgettable cuisine. Top attractions include XTASEA, a zip line over the Bay of Puerto Marques that reaches 75 miles an hour, and the Rollo Aquatic park, with wave pools and waterslides for kids of all ages. Just off Acapulco's coast is La Roqueta Island for snorkeling and diving.
Bucks County, Pennsylvania
Bucks County, about 30 minutes from Philadelphia, gives a more traditional holiday backdrop. The New Hope Railroad allows passengers to relive the golden age of rail travel, and during holidays features Santa's Steam Spectacular and North Pole Express theme rides. At Peddler's Village, visitors can explore a winter wonderland that includes a whimsical gingerbread display through Jan. 4.
Named one of "America's Top Holiday Towns" in 2016 by USA Today, Alexandria charms with its brick-lined streets and twinkling holiday lights — King Street is like a real-life Dickens village — and just minutes from Washington, D.C., by subway, Alexandria is also a foodie's heaven. If you're still there for New Year's Eve, don't miss First Night Alexandria, a festival that includes music, fireworks, and more.
If there's one thing New Orleans does well, it's celebrations. Holiday festivities continue after Dec. 25, including Celebration in the Oaks in City Park, which includes hundreds of thousands of colorful and illuminated outdoor displays, and the Audubon Zoo's Zoo Year's Eve, with its music, games, prizes, and daytime countdown to the new year.
Pure magic during Christmas and New Year's. Visitors here can spend days on snowmobile tours and adventurous glacier trekking expeditions, or dash across picturesque landscapes on husky rides, says Cammie Burke, Europe expert for travel company Scott Dunn. Once the sun sets, cozy up with a bowl of lobster bisque by a hotel fire and watch the Northern Lights dance across the sky.
Miami's December beach weather is hard to beat (hovering between the 70s and low 80s) and nonstop flights with low prices make it one of the best last-minute, end-of-year vacations. Iconic South Beach is home to some of the city's best restaurants, nightlife, and shopping. Don't miss the city's graffiti art zone, the Wynwood Walls.
Just 50 nautical miles from South Florida — a mere 25-minute plane ride or two-hour ferry from Miami — Bimini is known for stunning beaches, friendly locals, and charming resorts. Ernest Hemingway was fond of deep-sea fishing here; Martin Luther King Jr. was a regular visitor. Fortunately, the island paradise escaped the worst of Hurricane Dorian and is ready for visitors. Learn Bimini's unique story at cultural and historical sites such as Heroes Park, or take guided eco-tours through lush mangroves to observe wildlife.
Yes, it is cold in Chicago in late December. Ignore it to ice skate in Maggie Daley Park in the heart of downtown and eat your way through Restaurant Row on Randolph Street. There's also has a rich art scene, with galleries and theaters offering refuge from the cold — and don't miss the iconic Buddy Guy's Legends blues club. This month, visitors can also enjoy an Andy Warhol exhibit at the city’s famed Art Institute.
A small community along the Great Miami River oozing historical charm — most cities in the region were built in the 20th century, but Hamilton dates back to 1791. Revitalized, with its downtown transformed into a hot spot for arts, dining, and recreation, the city includes a nine-block German Village Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.
Beaufort, South Carolina
Queen belle is an underrated cluster of coastal communities, and a quiet idyll for those seeking to wind down at year's end amid 18th-century antebellum homes, a richly restored historic downtown district, and coastal waters and marsh for as far as you can see. Explore through temperatures in the low to mid-60s on foot, by bike, boat, or horse-drawn carriage.
Wind River Country, Wyoming
Escape the crowds and steep price tags of Jackson, and go beyond popular tourist stops such as Yellowstone. This authentic west destination offers include fat biking, skiing, and dog sledding, as well as wildlife observation.
North Lake Tahoe, California
Home to the continent's largest alpine lake and the nation's largest concentration of ski resorts. Take sleigh and carriage rides through the snow on Sand Harbor beach, go dog sledding at the Resort at Squaw Creek, and don't miss the Squaw Valley Aerial Tram ride, which climbs more than 2,000 feet for 360-degree views of Lake Tahoe and the High Sierra.
Downtown charms with shopping, cozy eateries, and twinkling lights. Among the Main Street highlights is Holston Mountain Artisans, showcasing traditional and contemporary crafts of the Appalachian region and one of the oldest craft cooperatives in the nation. Visitors can take in a show at The Barter, a historic 500-seat theater dating back to 1933.
One of Travel + Leisure's "America's Favorite Cities for Affordable Getaways," and host to a number of holiday events through December, among them Winterlights at Newfields on the Indianapolis Museum of Art campus, which includes 1.5 million dancing lights and s'mores, and Christmas at the Zoo, a season of extended hours for even more light displays.
Navarre Beach, Florida
Often referred to as "Florida's Most Relaxing Place." Spend days looking for souvenir seashells on a quiet corner of white-sand Gulf beach, take a short drive inland to explore sprawling Blackwater River State Forest, or stop by historic Milton, listed on the National Register of Historic places, for antiquing.
Oaxaca City, Mexico
Designated a World Heritage Site, Oaxaca offers a glimpse of various chapters of Mexican history — pre-Hispanic, colonial, independent, modern, and contemporary phases — in its architecture, museums, festivals, and colorful crafts, as well as its pre-Columbian ruins.
A quintessential beach California town with some of the state's most iconic locations, including Bixby Creek Bridge, come to winter Monterey hosts Ice Skating by the Bay but is also a place to witness migrating Monarch butterflies.
Just 35 minutes from Salt Lake International Airport and home to three ski resorts: Snowbasin Resort, Power Mountain, and Nordic Valley. Non-skiers can visit the dark skies of wild and rustic North Fork Park (though getting around there is also by cross country ski and snowshoes, available for rent).
A top budget-friendly winter destination choice of Travelzoo's Gabe Saglie. Visitors flock to beautiful beaches and enjoy diverse food offerings. Flowers bloom throughout February, particularly in northern Thailand. The mountain and hill regions of Khun Chang Khien, Doi Inthanon, and Doi Angkhang in Chiang Mai come alive with the vibrant pink of Wild Himalayan cherry blossoms.
Keep Ireland in mind for a December escape, Saglie says. Prices tumble throughout Europe in November and flights from the U.S. to Ireland continue to increase, which helps keep prices down. Ireland offers a range of accommodation options, from luxe five-star castles to more than 1,000 bed and breakfasts, many well under $100 or even $80 per night.
Whether you’re a nature lover or a foodie or someone just looking for a break from the cold, this U.S. territory will not let you down. With winter temperatures in the 80s, adventuresome travelers can swim at night with bioluminescent plankton in certain coastal bays and see the tiny creatures light up when stimulated by movement. Or they explore the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System: El Yunque in Puerto Rico. Foodies will have plenty to explore as well with the island’s burgeoning craft beer and gastropub scenes.
Abundant powdery, white sand beaches, and more than 400,000 twinkling holiday lights to boot. Each year on the Friday after Thanksgiving, downtown Pensacola is illuminated as part of the First Lights Ceremony, kicking off a season of music, shopping, food, art, and nightlife under a glowing canopy illuminating historic buildings. Take in the scene along Palafox Street by foot, by horse and carriage, or by trolley.
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