1. Frankenmuth, Michigan. As decked out as Chicago can be in the winter, many insiders flock to Frankenmuth for the season. Known as “Little Bavaria,” the city is modeled after German architecture, giving it a fairy-tale vibe. It’s also home to Bronners, the world’s largest Christmas store. On January 27, you can also stumble into the legendary Zehnder’s Snowfest, which hosts one of the best snow- and ice-sculpting events on the continent. If you can hold your own on the ice, there are plenty of opportunities to play hockey or go ice fishing nearby.
2. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. This city takes its namesake quite seriously, throwing some of the best holiday events around. Bethlehem was founded in 1741 by Moravians—a religious dissenting group which was really into brass instruments for its gatherings. The city still honors the legacy and puts on brass concerts at the Central Moravian Church; these events can make even brass-band haters feel the magic. It’s hard to beat the charming shops downtown, the cobblestone streets, the horse-drawn carriages, and the 18th- and 19th-century colonial buildings here. Don’t forget to catch a glimpse of the iconic star on the hill!
3. Park City, Utah. Park City is an Olympics-worthy destination in the winter. The typical dumps of powdery snow mean even the worst of skiers and snowboarders can afford to fall down a few times and still make it down the mountains in one piece. Everywhere you go, you’re reminded of the Olympics held in 2002—the facilities here are brilliant. You have your pick of dozens of ski resorts in the area and there’s a sweet selection of cozy places to stay, to say nothing of the outlet malls. (For more, check out the famous holiday lights and cultural events at Temple Square in Salt Lake City before you fly out of SLC airport.)
4. Stowe, Vermont. Some New Englanders lock themselves in their poorly heated houses, guard their coveted parking spaces to the death, and live like zombies until winter is over. Put down the snow shovel and fly to Burlington, where Stowe is waiting nearby, to rekindle that forgotten love of snow. Often referred to as the “Ski Capital of the East,” Stowe typically gets over 300 inches of snow annually.
5. Portland, Oregon. Portland is on most people’s travel lists, but few realize it’s a winter-worthy destination. They hold incredible winter events and concerts at Pioneer Square nightly. Portland also hosts an annual Holiday Ale Festival with beers created or blended specifically for the festival, meaning you won’t find them elsewhere. The BeerQuest’s X-mas Pub Crawl gives US$2–$3 drink specials all night. Dressing up is required, making it a memory for the books. And did we mention the Rose City Rollers roller derby, ChocolateFest™, or the Chinese New Year at Lan Su Chinese Garden in January and February?
6. New York City, New York. The dazzling Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and New York’s iconic window decorations help us forget our rants about commercialism for a hot second to embrace the holiday spirit. There’s something dreamlike about the smell of pine needles and watching the ice-skaters in the park as you sip on a cup of mint hot chocolate. We also hear something about a fancy ball dropping on New Year’s Eve.
7. Aspen, Colorado. Aspen is unrivaled in its winter activities and its snowcapped mountain views. In addition to world-class skiing and snowboarding, there are options for year-round hot air balloon rides or fly-fishing. You can also catch some great productions at the Wheeler Opera House, like Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox and The Slambovian Circus of Dreams. And there’s no shortage of memorable food between the 100 different restaurants serving up everything from burgers to melt-in-your-mouth sushi.
Viewfinder Tip: New Orleans is one of the more affordable places to find accommodations, meaning you can stay longer and party harder.
8. New Orleans, Louisiana. Because sometimes you want to escape the snow, New Orleans is a popular destination for people during the winter. They throw great holiday parties and are always hosting one festival or another. The French Quarter pulses with life leading up to the legendary Mardi Gras on February 9, and the Allstate Sugar Bowl in January is not to be missed for die-hard football fans.
9. Honolulu, Hawaii. And because sometimes you really need to escape the snow, Honolulu is where it’s at. From Waikiki, there’s no stopping you from snorkeling, scuba diving, eating your weight in luau food, hiking to any of the nearby waterfalls, or relaxing guilt-free to your heart’s content. The waves are also at their best in the winter on the North Shore of Oahu, which brings in world-famous surfing competitions at places like Banzai Pipeline and Sunset Beach. The temperature is also perfect at this time of year. We can’t promise you won’t cry the entire flight home.
Which cities did we miss? Let us know in the comments.
Author Rachel Rueckert is a writer, photographer, and educator. She recently returned from a year-long backpacking trip doing research on marriage around the world. In her travels she has danced at a Ghanaian funeral, surfed with sharks, fished for piranha in the Amazon River, and trekked 500 miles across Spain in sandals. By day she works at Harvard building MOOCs and by night she writes. Read more of her work here.