5 Hot Spots for People Who Need a Break from Winter
By PJ Delhomme
If going to and coming home from work in the dark makes you cranky, get out of town. Seriously, it’s time to find some sun, and these are some great choices.
The average temperature for January in the contiguous U.S. is 31 degrees Fahrenheit. By February, it’s warmed up to a balmy 36. Come Valentine’s Day, the short, cold days might be wearing on you. There’s a reason you might be more tired, irritable, and packing on a few more pounds. It’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and I used to think it wasn’t real. But once my wife began pointing out my short fuse and temper tantrums in January, I diagnosed myself with SAD. And then I self-medicated with sunshine, longer days, and time outside. The best part? My remedies are almost always cheaper than therapy. Here are just a few.
Fish the Florida Keys
The average high for February in the Florida Keys is 75 degrees, and the inshore fishing is a fun, reasonably economical way to spend some time in the sun. The Keys are a chain of islands known for their laid-back atmosphere, island vibe, fresh seafood, and rum drinks. Jimmy Buffet and Ernest Hemingway were both residents and fans of the islands. You can stay at a hotel, but there aren’t many compared to other island destinations. There are plenty of VRBO and Airbnb options but book early; you’re not the only depressed angler. I’ve stayed on Marathon Key in a VRBO that was on a canal, which eventually connected to the Gulf of Mexico. Manatees swam right up to us as we kayaked around.
In February, offshore fishing is hit or miss because the Gulf Stream is less predictable at that time of year. If you want a guaranteed good time, especially with the family, book a half-day inshore fishing trip. After a lot of research, I booked Angling Adventures. We caught a mess of Spanish mackerel and spinner sharks, the latter providing plenty of wows as they launched themselves out of the water, trying to shake the hook. To catch more of a variety of fish, look into reef fishing for yellowtail and mutton snappers, yellow jacks, and kingfish. In mid-to-late February, tarpon begin to prowl the bays and harbors.
Beach and Eat in Puerto Rico
Officially a U.S. territory, Puerto Rico has a number of advantages over other Caribbean destinations. For one, flights aren’t terribly expensive if you shop around, and they’re reasonably convenient. Flying out of Bozeman, Montana, we only had one connection in Dallas. We left early in the morning, and our toes were in the sand by dinner time. The dollar is king there, you don’t need a passport, and locals in the more touristy destinations speak English—though it’s always fun to learn a little Spanish before you go. Your itinerary is up to you.
Old San Juan is great for history buffs, but we drove straight to the southeast for some authentic Caribbean life. We did stock up on groceries on the way. Little beach towns like Patillas offer uncrowded beaches, snorkeling, VRBO/Airbnb options, and empanadas like you’ve never had. El Yunque National Park is the only tropical rainforest in the national forest system and offers a taste of unique hiking for those used to drier climates.
Our trip made a big circle of the eastern half of the island, and we beat the crap out of our rental car, stopping at every tiny beach on the map. We splurged and stayed at the El Conquistador Resort for a few nights, which included a golf course, waterpark, and its own island for snorkeling. Despite the luxury, the resort was relatively affordable, and nearly deserted as they are still rebuilding after Hurricane Maria devasted the island.
See the Other Las Vegas
Sin City is a bipolar place. You can stay on the Strip, spend a fortune, and misbehave, or you can get outside of town and experience the desert in all its glory. I’ve done both and prefer to leave the debauchery in the rearview mirror. Flights are typically cheap and numerous to Las Vegas, and the town has everything you need to leave it.
When COVID was taking off in the spring of 2020, we flew there and rented a 25-foot RV from Cruise America to get as far from humanity as we could. For one night, we stayed at Valley of Fire State Park, which sits less than 50 miles from the airport and features a campground with plenty of trails to explore. You could easily spend a week here.
Our crew headed north to Utah through the Virgin River Canyon, finally stopping at an RV resort just outside of Zion National Park. In non-pandemic times, visitors can take a shuttle into the park because it can get insanely crowded. A few days into the pandemic, things started shutting down. We left Zion and found a true gem of a state park at Snow Canyon, just north of St. George, Utah. It wasn’t exactly t-shirt weather in southern Utah, but the kids didn’t seem to care. Canyon country, be it in Utah or just north of Las Vegas, is the best kind of playground any kid or parent could want.
Hike, Bike, and Golf Mesa, Arizona
People retire to southern Arizona for very good reasons. There’s no snow to shovel, plenty of golf courses, and abundant sunshine. The area around Mesa (east of Phoenix) is well-known for Major League Baseball’s spring training, and rental houses can be pricey during this time. Check out the suburb of Fountain Hills where there is great mountain biking on the outskirts of town at the Fort McDowell Regional Park. Usery Mountain Regional Park is another good option for hiking and biking. You can rent bikes and gear at numerous places around town, and we have had great service with REI.
If your idea of a vacation involves more downtime, you won’t be disappointed. The Arizona Commemorative Air Force Museum features 55,000 square feet of aviation history. In downtown Mesa, grab a burrito and head over to the Arizona Museum of Natural History. If you want to do absolutely nothing but watch a little baseball, drink beer, and eat hot dogs, then you’re in luck. Mesa is home to the Chicago Cubs and Oakland A’s spring training camp. And there is always the traditional sunrise hot air balloon over the desert—if you don’t mind heights.
Food Trucks and Lava Hopping in Maui
If you’re looking for a spot with consistently warm winter weather with plenty of outdoor activities, check out the island of Maui. The northern coast features rainforests and rugged coastlines, while the western end is much drier, with family-friendly sandy beaches and plenty of places to eat.
The beaches right off of Kihei and Wailea feature shallow reefs that will keep kids busy snorkeling, where they will see hordes of tropical fish, massive sea turtles, and the occasional octopus. Book a half-day boat ride to snorkel at Molokoni Crater, where sharks lurk below. This is a food truck paradise, and the fresh pineapple is out of this world. The food here is incredible, but it’s also very expensive compared to the rest of the U.S.
If water isn’t your thing, then you’re in luck. Get the blood pumping and drive up the insanely windy road up 10,000 feet to Haleakalā National Park. There, start hiking at the top of an old volcano and head down into the crater. The only bummer is you have to hike back out. Drive the harrowing Hana Highway to see tropical waterfalls and artsy little hippie towns where folks like Woody Harrelson and Willie Nelson have not-so-humble abodes. And everywhere you go, be sure to get the pineapple. Seriously, eat the pineapple.
That’s five warm, sunny destinations to give you warm thoughts and something to look forward to this winter. It’s not too late to book flights, VRBOs, and rental cars. After all, it’s still going to be cheaper than therapy.
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