11 Cities That You HAVE to Visit in the Winter

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If you’re ready to get out there and explore a new city this winter, don’t let cold weather slow you down. Instead, pack a few bags and hit the road (or rails, or air) for a trip to one of these cities that are perfect for a winter vacation. Whether you want to escape the cold or hit the bunny slopes, these easy-to-get-to U.S. destinations have something for everyone. Check out our favorite spots below!

Mt. Bachelor

1. Bend, Oregon

Outdoor adventures rule the roost in this family-friendly town. There are plenty of skiing and snowboarding spots, like Mt. Bachelor, where kids ski free with the purchase of an adult multi-day ticket. Be sure to make time for a visit to the uber-popular High Desert Museum. Set on 135 acres, you’ll get an up-close look at wild animals in natural-like habitats. For built-in entertainment, make sure you’re in town for WinterFest (Feb. 18-20) where you’ll find ice sculptures, a fire pit competition, a family play zone, and more!

2. Charleston, South Carolina

If you’re fiending for a tropical getaway but don’t want to leave the U.S., consider a vacay in South Carolina’s port city where winters are mild with high temperatures averaging about 60 degrees. Combine that with family-friendly activities (South Carolina Aquarium and The Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry) and restaurants like Poe’s Tavern, and you’ve found the formula for a perfect winter getaway. After the daily explorations, lay your head at one of the peninsula’s charming boutique hotels, like Francis Marion Hotel and Zero George, offering seasonal deals.


3. New York City, New York

Besides the crowd factor becoming a non-factor in the winter, there’s plenty to do in the Big Apple even if you opt to stay indoors—museums, shows, play spaces, and more! Plus, the city runs money-saving programs during the week like Restaurant Week, which offers specially priced three-course lunch and dinner, and Broadway Week where you can snag two-for-one theater tickets. And then there are the parks, Central and Prospect, that really shine after fresh snow. 


4. St. Paul & Minneapolis, Minnesota

Sure, most people would cringe at the low temps that rule during winter months, but Minnesotans know that the Twin Cities offer winter magic that is rare, indeed. The St. Paul Winter Carnival has ice palaces, parades, a huge snow park for play, plus fun quirky events like the annual Snowplow Competition. If you haven’t gotten enough ice palaces in St. Paul, nearby Stillwater, Minnesota offers one of the few Ice Castle locations in the country. And this year, Minneapolis is hosting the Superbowl. Plus, if the freezing temps become too much, you can hit up the biggest indoor mall in the countryand ride a roller coaster or two.


5. Vero Beach, Florida

A beach that’s equally cool in the winter as it is in the summer? Yep! The family arts scene is alive and well here and peaks during the winter. And if it’s your troupes’ thing, Vero Beach also has its very own opera ensemble and professional ballet that both have performances happening throughout the winter months. For a pre- or post-show meal, take growling bellies to Citrus Grillhouse for simple—and yummy—Italian and Mediterranean dishes.

6. Chicago, Illinois

The best part about a Chicago winter, which averages 20 degrees, is that the city just keeps going. Chicagoans are hearty people who don’t shy away from outdoor activities just because it’s a bit chilly. If you think you and your kids can hang, pack your parkas and head here where you’ll run into many only-in-winter outdoor activities. There’s an ice-skating ribbon at Maggie Daley Park that’s super fun for all involved. If a brisk stroll down Chi-town’s shopping mecca Michigan Avenue is on your to-do list, bundle up (we can’t emphasize it enough) and make a pit stop at one of the city’s top picks for cocoa.

Mardi Gras Galveston

7. Galveston, Texas

Less than an hour away from Houston, this Lone Star state locale is often referred to as the Winter Wonder Island. It’s no surprise, as there is a slew of things to do during the first part of the year. Galveston’s ginormous Mardi Gras celebration (Feb. 18-Mar. 1) features a Family Gras (Feb. 27) with multiple kid-friendly parades. Typically packed in the summer, you can hop on a free ferry ride around Galveston in seconds and look for ships coming to port, rare birds and … wait for it…DOLPHINS! P.S. Don’t ignore the beach! Temps can get up to ’80s, which is great for dipping tiny toes into sea water.


8. Park City, Utah

Once home to the 2002 Winter Olympics, snow activities abound here for speed-seeking kids and adults alike. The largest spot, Canyon Resort, comes with a Little Adventures Children’s Center that offers childcare for children ages 6 weeks to 6 years. If you’re looking for something a little toastier, Park City also has a nearby natural hot spring that cuts the chill of any day. Geothermically heated, the Homestead Crater at Homestead Resort is 35 feet deep (life jackets are required), and the water is 96 degrees … year-round(!!). Bonus: Park City is also home to a pretty awesome history museum. Check it out!

Market Row via Yelp

9. Los Angeles, California

You get the best of winter in Los Angeles without the hassle of the cold (and all those annoying layers). Hike the hills and take in the views thanks to the clearer air, go to the beaches since it’s less crowded, and take advantage of local kiddos being in school and head to Disneyland or Universal Studios, which is usually slammed during the summer. And this is just the tip of the iceberg in L.A. You’ll find museum exhibits, seasonal festivals, and plenty more events to do on your family vacay!

The Island in Pigeon Ford

10. Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Many think of the Smoky Mountains in the winter and immediately think of skiing and snowboarding. It’s an accurate but limiting thought because this part of the country has many other things going on for families when temps dip. From mini-coach tours of the Great Smoky Mountains (no driving duty for you … yay!) and the imaginative light displays of WinterFest (through Nov. 11-Feb. 15) to ziplining at Anakeesta and riding the iconic Great Smoky Mountain Wheel, there’s something for every traveler in your caravan.

Kate Loweth

11. Sun Valley, Idaho

Sun Valley is well known for its skiing and snow adventures, but hidden gems can be found in other hot spots. Check out a movie at Magic Lantern Cinema, which has been standing for nearly 40 years and has undergone renovations to include digital projection and memory foam rockers. At the nostalgic bowling alley and game room in Sun Valley Lodge you can nosh on Idaho potato skins, and for bigger kids and grownups there’s an indoor archery arena on Main Street. So much quirky fun!

—Kate Loweth & Ayren Jackson-Cannady


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