Sure, we adore winter as much as you do, but let’s face it: somewhere deep in even the best ski powder, all thoughts turn to warmth and sunshine. Ready to take a break from the white stuff? Park your skis (just for a while) and head someplace where the latitude and the longitude require sandals and a swimsuit.
By Debra Bokur
WHERE: Miami, Florida
Thanks to those steamy Latin influences, it’s always hot in Miami. What a lot of people don’t know is that this vibrant city in the sun is really a collection of neighborhoods. Decide beforehand if you prefer easy ocean access, trendy South Beach, an animated city address, or a hip, quieter spot like Coconut Grove.
You’ve got to have a car. Taxis are expensive, and the bus system remains largely an unsolved mystery, even to residents.
Water-related activities, from sailing and kayaking to swimming and diving, are plentiful (www.playtimewatersport.com). In addition to the Atlantic Ocean bordering the east side of the city, there’s also Biscayne Bay, inland waterway systems, and the enigmatic Everglades close by. Even if it sounds hokey, the Swim with Dolphins program at the Miami Seaquarium is actually pretty cool (www.miamiseaquarium.com). Before you meet the dolphins or get your feet wet, you’ll take a short course on safety (for the dolphins and you), etiquette, and issues faced by dolphins in the wild. Plan a leisurely stroll through the Art Deco area and Little Havana, with their colorful architecture and kitsch décor. In Little Havana pause at one of the countless Cuban cafés for a bowl of beans and rice, served up with freshly baked rolls. For a different take on the city, sign on for a Moonlight Garden Tour of Vizcaya Museum & Gardens (www.vizcayamuseum.org).
Wander over to Green Street Outdoor Lounge and Restaurant in Coconut Grove for Steve’s banana pancakes or a serving of chocolate French toast (www.greenstreetcafe.net). It’s an area favorite, and you’ll know you’re there when you see the sofas and easy chairs on the sidewalk in front. For something completely different, check out Afterglow for dinner (305 695 1717). Located in South Beach, it’s known for its Greek-Egyptian beauty cuisine and eclectically healthy cocktails. Try the Beautiful Mind Salad with goji berries, coconut meat, and chai seed jelly.
Note: Our lodging price breakouts follow this general rule per room per night:
$ Budget, less than $100
$$ Midrange, $100 to $199
$$$ Luxury, $200 and up
$$$ Luxury: The Mayfair. Surrounded by shops, galleries, cafés, and restaurants in Coconut Grove. www.mayfairhotelandspa.com; 800 433 4555
$$ Midrange: Blue Moon Hotel. Mediterranean style boutique hotel in the Art Deco district, close to South Beach. www.bluemoonhotel.com; 800 553 7739
$ Budget: Indian Creek Hotel. One block from the beaches, close to South Beach and the Art Deco district. www.indiancreekhotel.com; 305 531 2727
More info: www.miamiandbeaches.com
WHERE: Tulum, Mexico
Calling all chicas: Part of Mexico’s Riviera Maya, this friendly coastal town, south of Cancun and across the water from Cozumel (perfect for day trips), is more than a beachy haven. There are also plenty of nightlife and attractions plus some pretty amazing archaeological sites.
Mexico’s service people get a big kick out of being tipped with U.S. $2 bills, which they view as special. Because it seems to encourage better service, bring a stash with you.
The Mayan ruins and temples at Tulum Archaeological Park are area highlights, but it can get crowded. Go early in the day, which will allow you to miss both the crowds and the peak heat, and enjoy El Castillo (the Castle) and Templo del Dios Descendents (Temple of the Descending Gods) to the max. Once you’ve had your fill of history, walk directly down to the beach to swim, snorkel, or just take a long, warm nap. A short ride from Tulum, Sian Ka’an Biosphere is a magical blend of lagoons, tropical forests, mangrove wetlands, and a 70-milelong barrier reef. The area, under federal protection, is great for getting a true sense of the place. Just south of the Biosphere, there are great beaches for diving, swimming, and sunbathing. For clothing-optional sunbathing, head to Tulum Beach north of the Biosphere on the road to Boca Paila, where you can rent cabanas upon arrival and refresh yourself at small food stands that set up here each day.
For Mexican fare in a rustic rain forest setting, head for Tun Tun, the beach bar at the Cabanas Copal Hotel, about a mile and a half from the ruins (www.cabanascopal.com). Besides the standards, the bar serves great margaritas—practically a requirement for any authentic Mexican getaway. Casa Banana’s, on the road to the Biosphere, has tasty takeaway but accepts only cash. At Zamas’s Que Fresco, you can enjoy local specialties, seafood, and wood-fired pizzas (www.locogringo.com/tulum/zamas.htm). Next door to the Zamas Bungalows on the road to the Biosphere, the restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Oh—and have we mentioned the margaritas?
$$$ Luxury: Maya Tulum Wellness Retreat & Spa. Lush landscape, sandy beach, yoga, ecotours, and a choice of garden rooms, ocean-view rooms, or beachfront cabanas. www.mayatulum.com; 888 515 4580
$$ Midrange: Om Tulum Hotel Cabanas and Beach Club. Nature’s the theme, along with affordable beachside harmony. www.tulum-playa.com; +52 984 114 0538
$ Budget: Zahra Hotel. Low-key ecoresort with 22 basic rooms and thatched-roof cabanas, set between two sandy beaches. www.zahra.com.mx; 1 888 898 9922
More info: http://www.travelyucatan.com/
WHERE: Palm Springs, California
If you think Palm Springs is just the default address for poodle-toting socialites recovering from their latest plastic surgery, think again. With 350 days of sunshine each year, this desert oasis is a pretty great base for experiencing local natural hot springs, exploring serious desert terrain, and perfecting the art of pool lounging.
Palm Springs is located within the Coachella Valley Preserve, an area covering 13,000 acres. Besides the sand dunes, mesas, and hot springs located here, there are also networks of trails for hiking, cycling, and riding.
If you start missing the snow (really?), take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway up the slopes of Mount San Jacinto for a glimpse or to access the 54 miles of hiking trails of the Mount San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness (www.pstramway.com). Bighorn Bicycles has electric bikes for rent (760 325 3367); you can pick up a map of bike trails at the Visitors Center (800 347 7746). Or take a jeep tour along the San Andreas Fault with Desert Adventures’ Jeep Eco-Tours (www.red-jeep.com). You might just feel the earth move.
Azul, downtown on North Palm Canyon Drive, is the place to go for tapas (www.azultapaslounge.com). Try the spinachartichoke flatbread and chicken pot stickers. There’s also a brunch menu and plenty of sandwiches and wraps. For dinner Zin American Bistro on South Palm Canyon Drive has a good wine list and an interesting menu that includes braised free-range rabbit and tempura- battered squash blossoms stuffed with goat cheese (www.zinamericanbistro.com).
$$$ Luxury: Andalusian Court. A Spanish Revival inn, this historic property is located in the heart of downtown. www.theandalusiancourt.com; 888 947 6667
$$ Midrange: Chase Hotel. Near the posh shops on Palm Canyon Drive, with a heated saline pool and complimentary continental breakfast. www.chasehotelpalmsprings.com; 877 532 4273
WHERE: Las Vegas , Nevada
Not a high roller? Not a problem. There’s actually quite a lot to do in this glitzy oasis without the need for cards, heels, or feathery headgear. And, no, we can’t promise that will involve either George Clooney or Brad Pitt.
Nearly all Las Vegas hotels regularly run last-minute discounts on unbooked rooms, so check websites for super, last-minute deals.
Winter temps hover in the low to mid-sixties by day and drop to a chilly 40 degrees F once the sun disappears over the sandy horizon. Desert outfitter Hike This! offers guided treks (private and group) through the nearby red rock country as well as rock-scrambling adventures with environmentalist and Nevada terrain veteran Neil Sobelson (www.hikethislasvegas.com). Take a swing through the desert landscape with Pink Jeep Tours, with excursions to Red Rock Canyon, Hoover Dam, the Valley of Fire, Death Valley, and Zion National Park (www.pinkjeep.com). There’s also some pretty good rock climbing nearby. For guides and rental gear, Desert Rock Sports on West Charleston Boulevard can hook you up (www.climbvegas.com). Later enjoy the full charms of Vegas with the free Fremont Street Experience, where a stroll among 12.5 million lights gives you access to free concerts, street-side shows, and numerous special events year-round. You already know about the casino options, but Vegas is also a regular tour stop for major music and theatre acts. Check out show offerings before you go, as tickets disappear quickly and you’ll want to book in advance.
The Peppermill Restaurant & Fireside Lounge (on the north side of the Strip, close to the Riviera Hotel & Casino) is vintage Vegas at its best. Besides the giant fishbowl cocktails (share only if you want to), the restaurant’s firepits, neon lights, and ’70s vibe are yours to enjoy from breakfast through late, late night. It’s diner food but with a more interesting backdrop. If you like it hot, Lotus of Siam (also near the Strip) is the place to go for authentic, award-winning Thai food. Don’t be put off by the shabby exterior—even Gourmet magazine has given this restaurant accolades.
$$$ Luxury: The Bellagio. Home to those famous dancing fountains. www.bellagio.com; 888 987 6667
$$ Midrange: Red Rock Resort & Adventure Spa. Eight miles from the Strip, this resort sits at the edge of parkland and offers hiking, climbing, mountain biking, horseback riding, rafting, and kayaking. www.redrocklasvegas.com; 866 363 2872
$ Budget: Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino. Centrally located with easy access to the Strip. www.goldennugget.com; 800 634 3454
More info: www.visitlasvegas.com
WHERE: Maui, Hawaii
If you equate the Hawaiian Islands with paradise, we completely support your definition. While Maui may have a rep as the ultimate wedding/honeymoon getaway, it’s also a pretty amazing destination for a low-key winter retreat for solo travel or an escape with friends.
You can take a dedicated whalewatching cruise, or, for a fraction of the cost, buy a ferry ticket for a day excursion to the nearby island of Lanai. You’ll cross the same channel of water where the whale-watching boats cruise, and you’ll see the same whales. Plus, you’ll get to spend the day snorkeling or swimming on the crowd-free beaches of Lanai, where it still feels like “old” Hawaii.
Drag yourself out of the ocean long enough to head inland to hike ‘Iao Valley State Park. The park’s lush landscape surrounds the ‘Iao Needle, a tall rock pinnacle that was used as a sacred altar by early Hawaiians. Seasonal whalewatching cruises are offered by the Pacific Whale Foundation’s Eco Adventures). Wherever there’s a beach, you’ll find a host of concessionaires offering kayaks, canoes, surfboard rentals or lessons, and scuba and snorkeling gear.
For dinner head to the old whaling town of Lahaina. Make reservations in advance for the waterfront restaurant I’O— owned and operated by chef James McDonald, who sources his own organic farm on the island’s slopes for kitchen ingredients (www.iomaui.com). At Jawz Fish Tacos in Kihei on the southwest shore facing Ma’alaea Bay, you can watch an endless loop of surf videos while savoring an ahi taco and the best mango smoothie on the planet (www.jawzfishtacos.com).
$$$ Luxury: Wailea Beach Resort & Spa. Situated on the south side of the island, with two wonderful swimming beaches.
www.waileamarriott.com; 808 879 1922
$$ Midrange: Hotel Hana-Maui. Located toward the end of the long and winding coastal road that leads to Hana, past all those breathtaking waterfalls. Rooms have views of Hana Bay. www.hotelhanamaui.com; 808 248 8211
$ Budget: Maui Seaside Hotel. Oceanfront property in central Maui on Kahului Bay. http://seasidehotelshawaii.com/HotelMaui.aspx; 800 560 5552
More info: www.visitmaui.com
WHERE: St. Lucia, West Indies
Part of the Windward Islands in the West Indies’ Lesser Antilles, St. Lucia may be best known to Americans from the opening shots of the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, which features the island’s famous twin peaks—the volcanic cones known as Petit Piton and Gros Piton. It’s also a friendly, less hectic alternative to Jamaica, with plenty of options for relaxation. English is the official language, and currency is the Eastern Caribbean dollar (EC$).
You don’t necessarily need a car once you arrive, as the island’s minibus service covers the 27-mile-long, 14-mile-wide landscape—not that this makes negotiating the many blind, hairpin curves any easier on your nerves, but at least someone who’s more familiar with them is behind the wheel. If you do rent a vehicle, you’ll need to remember to honk often so that those on the other side of the curves will know you’re there. You’ll have to purchase an on-island driver’s license at the airport (about EC$55) before picking up your rental.
Because St. Lucia is an island, all the usual water-related options are available, including great sea kayaking, scuba diving,
and windsurfing. You can climb the Pitons and hike the 19,000 acres of rain forest, mountains, and valleys. More than 29 miles of established trails wend their way through this terrain, and guided hikes are available via the Forest and Lands Department (www.slumaffe.org). There’s also a drive-in volcano that’s home to natural sulfur springs, plus plantation tours and the Diamond Waterfall and Mineral Baths in the island’s southwest area. Jungle biking provides a different point of view of the terrain, with varying levels of difficulty (www.bikestlucia.com). The capital city, Castries, and the town of Soufrière (near the Pitons) offer plenty in the way of cafés, dining, music, and nightlife, and each May the famed St. Lucia
Jazz Festival hosts top acts from around the world (www.stluciajazz.org).
The island’s French-Creole history has a strong influence on the cuisine, so be sure to explore the many dining options. The
Green Parrot above the harbor in Castries has a menu of West Indian–Creole dishes, plus belly dancing and limbo (758 452 3399). For Caribbean fare and an extensive rum bar, try Tilly’s 2X4 in Rodney Bay (758 458 4440). For fresh seafood JJ’s Paradise in south Castries is relaxed, affordable, and frequented by locals—always a good sign (www.jj-paradise.com/dining.htm).
$$$ Luxury: Anse Chastanet. Two beaches and romantic treehouse-like rooms. www.ansechastanet.com; 800 223 1108
$$ Midrange: La Mirage. Family-run guesthouse in Soufrière, just two blocks from the Soufrière Waterfall. 758 459 7010
$ Budget: Oasis Marigot. Located on the hill above Marigot Bay. Rooms have kitchens, and there’s a PADI dive center on-site.
www.oasismarigot.com; 800 263 4202
More info: www.stlucia.org
WHERE: Austin, Texas
Bring your boots to Austin and kick up some Texas dust. Renowned for its music scene, this lively city is also a great destination for outdoor sports and fabulous food.
Austin has more than 200 music venues, hence its nickname: the Live Music Capital of the World. Vouchers to attend the famous television show Austin City Limits (which is taped in the Texas College of Communications Building B) are free on a first-come, first-served basis. Tapings are held irregularly throughout the year. To find out what’s going on and when, call the Austin City Limits Hotline at 512 475 9077. Note: vouchers get you into line but don’t guarantee entrance, as seating is limited.
Austin is a haven for strolling and is replete with cafés, music venues, great restaurants, and quirky shops. In the Warehouse District (Fourth and Fifth streets), buildings have been converted into chic nightspots. Head to nearby Sixth Street for dining, dance clubs, and live-music venues. Take a walk through the Catherine Lamkin Arboretum Trail of Trees along Boggy Creek, showcasing 35 different species. For cycling or hiking, head to McKinney Falls State Park or Pedernales Falls State Park. Within the city 15 miles of hiking and cycling trails border Ladybird Lake. The Barton Creek Greenbelt area is an 8-mile stretch that includes cliffs, rocky terrain, and plenty of swimming holes. There’s also the Veloway, a 3.1-mile loop for inline skating, cycling, and jogging (www.texasoutside.com).
We bet you’re thinking barbecue, so head to the County Line Bar-B-Q, where the “everything’s bigger in Texas” concept presides over the servings (www.countyline.com). You’ll swear the ribs came from a tyrannosaurus. For even more atmosphere, Ranch 616 has Texas-style barbecue, plus vegetarian options and live music with no cover charge. Try the crispy oyster sandwich on focaccia with field greens, or the Gulf fish tacos with chili lime and aioli.
$$$ Luxury: Driskill Hotel. This historic downtown property is swish Texas at its best. www.driskillhotel.com; 800 252 9367
$$ Midrange: Hyatt Regency Austin. Resort ambience, close to the entertainment district.
www.austin.hyatt.com; 512 477 1234
$ Budget: Austin Motel. This family-owned motel is nicely located for city jaunts or access to the hiking and cycling trails.
www.austinmotel.com; 512 441 1157
More info: www.austintexas.org
WHERE: Santa Monica, California
Nothing says sunshine quite like southern California. The relaxed, beach-town atmosphere of Santa Monica offers sand, surf, and plenty of active options.
Feel like flying? The Santa Monica Pier boasts aerial acrobatic views of the sea à la the resident Trapeze School New York
The long paved path running along the beach between the sea and Ocean Avenue is populated with joggers, strollers, and skaters. The pier is popular with residents as well as visitors and houses an arcade, a carousel, shops, and an aquarium located just beneath the carousel at beach level. Just south of the beachside volleyball courts, you can check out the original Muscle Beach, where acrobats and gymnasts still work out in the spot made famous by Jack LaLanne and other bodybuilders. Schlepping your surfboard cross-country via the airlines can be pricey, so rent one instead at Perry’s Cafe & Sports Rentals on the Promenade (310 485 3975). You can also rent inline skates instead of packing them. Try Rip City Skates(www.ripcity.net) or Sea Mist Rentals (310 395 7076), both close to the beach. For a more cerebral workout, head to Chess Park, just south of Muscle Beach along Ocean Front Walk. Besides a human-sized chessboard, there are plenty of permanent chess tablesfree for public use. Santa Monica also has great, year-round farmers’ markets located on Main Street (Sundays), in Virginia Park (Saturdays), and on the Third Street Promenade (Wednesdays and Saturdays).
Before heading to the beach, check in at Cora’s Café on Ocean Avenue, just before you reach Pico Boulevard. The coffee shop interior is cramped, but there’s great outdoor patio seating. Order your orange pancakes and freshly squeezed OJ from there. For lunch or dinner, head over to the Library Alehouse on Main Street for burgers, friendly service, and one of the 29 brews on draft (www.libraryalehouse.com), or try Buddha’s Belly on Broadway for sweet chili shrimp or Singapore seafood noodles (www.bbfood.com).
$$$ Luxury: Casa del Mar. Star-worthy, steps from the beach, and with a spa and gourmet restaurants on-site. Go ahead and pretend you’re there to option your latest script. www.hotelcasadelmar.com; 310 581 5533
$$ Midrange: Hotel California. The surfboard headboards on the beds may make you smile, but the beach access will have you grinning from ear to ear. www.hotelca.com/losangeles; 866 571 0000
$ Budget: Sea Shore Motel. Located on Main Street, within easy walking distance of the Pier, beach, and Promenade.
www.seashoremotel.com; 310 392 2787
More info: www.santamonica.com