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20 Places that are better in the off season
Escaping the crowds in prime vacation destinations
School holidays, winter sports, the alluring summer sun. All guarantee that at certain times of year, great destinations will see enough tourists to make any crowd-conscious traveler stay home. When most people set out for vacation, prices skyrocket, reservations become scarce, and all the good vistas come with a side view of fellow travelers. If you’re searching for serenity (and who isn’t these days?), maybe off-season travel is what you need. Who said you can’t have an adventure in February or that April showers bring sad travelers? Not us. We found some spots that lead the pack for things to do, attractions to see, and restaurants to try when the well of tourists has run dry. Take a look at our list of places that shine better than ever when the crowds disappear.
Sun worshipers and snow birds can pack tiny Key West to the gills. Find a moment of calm in the spring, when school is still in session and those in search of winter sun have headed home. The weather is usually perfection January through May, but if it’s not quite cooperating, spend an afternoon in the Shipwreck Treasure Museum, which combines actors, films, and artifacts to deliver an interactive lesson on the area’s maritime history. When you’ve had your fill of history, score a table at popular El Meson de Pepe for authentic Cuban cuisine.
Summer looks good on Bigfork, and man, does it know it! With its many surrounding parks and glistening Flathead Lake, this Montana town shows off to eager crowds all season long. With summer receiving all the glory, save your attention for the no-less stellar fall. Glacier National Park is a stunning visit year-round, and every area is still accessible into early autumn. After a drive up Going-to-the-Sun Road, fill up on home cooking at Pocketstone Café, and taste fine spirits on a tour of Whistling Andy Distilling.
Photo via Flickr/Derek Markham
Summer love is far spread across the country, but some areas, like the American southwest, have bad reputations for sizzling a little too strong. Silver City, however, sits at 6,000 feet and boasts mountain air and mild temperatures, with mid-summer numbers rarely climbing above the 80s Fahrenheit. While summer is not its true off season, it is the perfect time to beat the heat, and the city is never overstuffed, even in popular months. The great outdoors stretch in every direction, but there is fun to be had in town, too. Catch a glimpse of the thriving music scene at Little Toad Creek Brewery and Distillery. Shop and eat your way through Historic Downtown, and enjoy colorful murals along the way.
Photo via Yelp/Sorrento's Ristorante
Though this town is a haven for summer lake-goers, don’t count it out as an active winter wonderland. Winterfest, spanning two weekends in January, delights with ice sculptures, beverage tastings, bonfires, music, and even fireworks! If you miss the party, don’t worry, you can ski and snow tube at Echo Valley Family Ski Area throughout the season. If you have time to spare, take the wondrous journey to Stehekin on the “Lady of the Lake” for some serious winter serenity. Warm your senses with wine at Tsillan Cellars and dine with a view of rolling, snowy hills at Sorrento’s Ristorante.
Photo via Flickr/Maren
The rowdy, boozy draw of Mardi Gras brings travelers in droves to Louisiana cities, but there is so much more to explore in this rich cultural state. Take Opelousas, for instance, which boasts deep roots in music as the Zydeco Capital of the World. See how locals celebrate in fall (which sees milder climates and lower humidity) at Music & Market. This series of events, which features Louisiana musicians and produce from local farms, begins in late September and carries on through late October. Also in September is the Annual Zydeco Festival, when local musicians show off the signature sound of the city. Get a taste of Cajun cooking at Hebert’s Boudin & Cracklins. You’ll soon see why this city is also known as the Spice Capital of Louisiana.
When you think of charming Colorado mountain towns, snowy slopes and cozy lodges probably come to mind. And rightfully so. However, new scenes may soon replace those icescapes when you visit Salida in summer. The Arkansas River is rife with sunny activity, including rafting, kayaking, and wading. Tours with Independent Rafting are an excellent way to get acquainted with the river. If you prefer land, Royal Gorge Bridge and Park will take your breath away with spectacular views as you walk across one of the world’s highest suspension bridges. When your appetite spikes, head to Boat House Cantina, where only the food outdoes the views.
Photo via Flickr/Jasen Miller
If autumn foliage sends your heart aflutter, Davenport is your destination. One of the picturesque Quad Cities, Davenport is a perfect place to bike, hike, and take in the natural landscapes along and around the Mississippi River. Grab some fresh food at the Freight House Farmers Market, which runs through October, before heading to Vander Veer Botanical Park. The Old World Gardens and Fountain are a prime spot for an evening picnic, with lights that lend an array of color to the water. For more colorful displays, make sure to be in town late September for Quad Cities Fall Pride Festival.
Photo via Yelp/The Barrymore
Vegas has never been the shy kid in class and, unsurprisingly, is very rarely quiet. A few brief times of year, however, it could be called almost calm. Mid-December and January through February, there are deals to be had as the city attempts to maximize clanging casinos and booming clubs. Get into the winter spirit at the Magical Forest at Opportunity Village before January 1. Experience a chiller (and chillier) Vegas at the Resort on Mount Charleston with its woodsy lodge vibe, and then venture out on an adventure with Cowboy Trail Rides to see the desert landscape without battling the scorching sun. For a dark and cozy meal and a drink to warm you up, head to The Barrymore on the Strip.
Photo via Yelp/Firehouse Brewing Co.
Known as a family-friendly vacation spot due to the many nearby parks and important monuments, this South Dakota city can get crowded when school’s out. Visit April through June, when the weather is often mild, and the attractions still have full visiting hours. Custer State Park hosts an annual Open House Weekend in May, when you’ll have more room to move. The Black Hills Film Festival in late April and year-round live music at Firehouse Wine Cellars, and at Firehouse Brewing Co. starting in May, are perfect excuses to travel sans minors. Or, bring the whole family on a tour of Downtown Rapid City, and stop at Main Street Square for cultural events and interactive fountains that come alive in May.
Another lake town with a reputation for superior summers, Fairlee is no stranger to snow and ice. The town embraces its cooler side by claiming the longest ice skating trail in the United States, at the Lake Morey Resort. Ice fishing, sledding, and sleigh rides round out activities on flat land, while downhill skiing can be found at nearby Burke Mountain and Dartmouth Skiway. Feast on classic comfort food at Fairlee Diner, then head back out to create a snow sculpture or join a pick-up hockey game.
The “American Riviera” sees its share of year-round visitors, but the summer season swells as the sun shines brighter. Unless it’s good surf you’re after, March through May is a smart time to visit. The crowds haven’t yet descended and you’re likely to find deals at many Santa Barbara hotels. Hit the beach, of course, but also see tourist attractions that are overrun at other times. Find prime seating at a keeper talk at the Santa Barbara Zoo, or take in calm vibes and spring blooms at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. For fresh, seasonal food and crisp local wine, don’t skip Wine Cask Restaurant.
Winter resorts and incredible skiing are hot commodities once the weather cools, especially in places most associated with snowy winters. If Arizona is not on your list of great winter destinations, you’re missing out. The cold season in Flagstaff brings averages of 108 inches of snow, and the city is known as Arizona’s official winter wonderland. Though snowfall is abundant, the sun doesn’t shy away; Flagstaff sees many more sunny days in the winter than gloomy skies. Snowplay opportunities abound, and there are few things more beautiful than the Grand Canyon’s stratified surfaces dotted in icy white. After a day of outdoor sporting, follow the Flagstaff Ale Trail then let Pot a Gold Adventures take you on a magical sleigh ride. Catch dinner and a show at Black Bart’s Steakhouse, Saloon, and Musical Revue and spend the night stargazing at Lowell Observatory.
Known for its abundance of beaches, Corpus Christi is a natural draw to summertime travelers. However, the southeast Texas town has much to offer throughout fall, and curious travelers will enjoy fewer crowds and opportunities to explore beyond the sandy Gulf shores. October brings Surftoberfest, a Texan take on Oktoberfest, at Executive Surf Club. BikeFest moves into town in October also, with live music, vendors, and plenty of grub. Birdwatchers, bring your binoculars, because millions of hawks fly over in fall, and Hazel Bazemore Park provides the perfect vantage point. Other fall activities include the Texas Jazz Festival and Dia de los Muertos Street Festival. For true local flavor, at Lorelei Brewing Company you’ll find quality craft beer, games, and food truck Fridays.
Hawaii lures with warm sun, endless ocean, and lush landscapes. It’s a waterfalls and rainbows kind of place, perfect for summer honeymoons or winter surf trips. What you might not know is that spring is one of the nicest times to visit, especially in Kahului, where the average rainfall is some of the lowest in the region. Off-season vacation deals make Maui more obtainable April to May, and temperatures remain in the 80s Fahrenheit. See it all from above with an Air Maui helicopter tour, and enrich your journey at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Treat yourself at Bistro Casanova to steak, pasta, and seafood. Or, get local at Geste Shrimp Truck.
Photo via Flickr/Sam Howzit
Southern California has a reputation for perpetual summer, but while its weather is mostly mild, Long Beach can bundle up with the best of them. Winter brings events like CHILL at the Queen Mary, which welcomes the holiday season with an ice rink, Glacier Glide tubing, rides, twinkly lights, and Santa’s Village. December through April is the time to spot gray whales with Harbor Breeze Cruises, and Pacific Island Ethnic Art Museum is a great place to spend an afternoon, should the weather turn. Cozy up to a remarkable meal at Queensview Steakhouse at Parkers’ Lighthouse, and drink in unequaled views.
Photo via Flickr/jeffhutchison
Sitting to the south of Olympic National Park, this community is a must-see for outdoor enthusiasts. For one of the best off-season vacations of your life, head to the lush forest before summer trekkers take over the trails. Celebrate the spring equinox in Quinault Rainforest, and go on an elk watching tour during the Roosevelt Elk Festival in March. Grays Harbor Shorebird Festival in May hosts field trips to the lake to learn about plant life and forest birds. After a day of adventure, refuel at the Roosevelt Dining Room before turning in at Lake Quinault Lodge.
Photo via Yelp/Jessica L.
Ocean City is a beach town that experiences an influx of summer sun seekers. Winter by the sea can be just as pleasing, and beaches during off-peak travel season relax the rules that come with major crowds. If you love to travel with your pets, they’re welcome on the beach all winter (no dogs allowed in summer). Bike the boardwalk any time of day, a restricted activity when the population swells. Winterfest runs through January, as holiday light displays make the city sparkle, and fireworks explode in the midnight sky on New Year’s Eve. Stay at the Carousel Resort Hotel & Condominiums and take advantage of their indoor ice skating rink, or have a ball at Old Pro indoor mini golf.
Dubbed “the place to be all year,” K’port offers indoor and outdoor activities in spades. Summer is the high season, however, so wait for fall when you can enjoy the beach during warm days and stay toasty by firelight on brisk evenings. Seek out Southern Maine Kayak for guided tours or equipment rentals, and see how the season changes the trees every autumnal shade. Meet the locals and dine like family at Alisson’s Restaurant & Pub. For rare wines and craft cocktails in an inviting atmosphere, Old Vines Wine Bar has you covered.
Hiking, camping, and water sports send adventure seekers here in summer and fall, but winter weather lays out some thrilling opportunities as well. Canyonlands National Park sets the scene of snowscapes across red rock buttes. Gear up at Roam Utah for some backcountry skiing, or take a tour with Rivers and Ruins. The Canyon Country Discovery Center hosts day and weekend adventures, while Peace Tree Juice Cafe will get you prepped for the day with a quinoa scramble or smothered burrito.
While fall foliage is beautiful in Shenandoah National Park, equally attractive spring is often overlooked. Outsmart fellow travelers and go in the shoulder season, when the weather is mild and there is so much to see and do. Downtown Harrisonburg is Virginia’s first culinary district, and it shows its chops in March during Harrisonburg Restaurant Week. Feast on bang bang chicken or Galway mussels at Corgans’ Publick House, where a white peach sangria is as crisp and vibrant as the spring scenes. Or, sample an array of restaurants during a food tour with Rocktown Bites and make multiple stops along the Shenandoah Beerwerks and the Shenandoah Spirits Trails. Walk off all the delicious meals at the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, and be sure to stop at the April Walk garden to see the waves of blooming daffodils.
When it comes to off-season vacations, what are your favorite places?
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