If you’re not permanently traumatized from holiday travel, January is one of the best months of the year to take a quick weekend getaway. While much of the country can run a little chilly, the relative lack of crowds make everywhere from Florida beaches to northern ski slopes a little more manageable than they are in February or March. Hotel and airfare prices skew a little lower, too. January is a great time in America to work on your tan, perfect your turns or just chill. So get going. Here are the United States’ best places to travel in January.
Yes, if you’re looking for an all-out beaded bacchanal, February is the time to visit the Crescent City. But if you’re of the age where you want to soak up the culture of Mardi Gras without the incriminating hangover, January is the move. Mardi Gras festivities actually start on January 6 with the annual Joan of Arc parade, a toned-down tribute to New Orleans’ French influences. The month also includes the annual Sugar Bowl game, which this year doubles as a college football playoff between Washington and Texas. Later in the month, Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend brings free admission to many area museums, as well as art fairs around the city.
Though it’s not exactly a lay-out-and-tan kind of beach escape in January, this scenic natural preserve off the coast of Georgia is still warm enough to enjoy leisurely strolls through unspoiled nature. The island doubles as a state park, where you can enjoy the mid-60s temperatures as you explore coastal wetlands, spotting rare birds like crested flycatchers and black-and-white warblers. Birds aren’t the only thing visitors can search for in Jekyll Island, as January also brings the traditional two-month treasure hunt. Artisans from across the country design handmade glass orbs, and small replicas are hidden in the island’s nooks and crannies. Find one and you can trade it in at the Guest Information Center for the real thing.
Florida is always a good idea in January, when the magic of the holidays has gone and left much of the U.S. in the dead of winter. Clearwater has a gorgeous white sand beach and a perfect mix of laid-back beach town and upscale destination. Here, you can kick back with a grouper sandwich and fruity drink at Frenchy’s, then meander down the shore a mile or so to the beautiful new JW Marriott. There, take in a panorama of the Gulf of Mexico’s turquoise waters at the hotel’s rooftop bar, The Deep End, before basking in the sunset. Clearwater proper also just opened a new outdoor music venue called The Sound, which will welcome Kansas, Styx and Mr. Big in January. Or you can hit Scenes on the Green at Coachman Park, where the Wyndham-adjacent lawn will screen “The Little Mermaid” on January 26.
There’s never really a bad time to post up in the casinos of downtown Reno, but the city has more to do in January when the nearby mountains are covered in snow and offer a bevy of poker alternatives. Mt. Rose, one of the region’s most underrated day hills, has the highest base terrain in the Reno-Tahoe area and is far less crowded than better-known spots along Lake Tahoe. You can also explore the nearby desert when temperatures are pleasant. Check out public art all along the Truckee River, then hit the city’s only dessert bar at The Arch Society. Reno’s cuisine expands far beyond prime rib buffets, too. Spots like the Liberty Food & Wine Exchange serve chef-driven menus that take full advantage of the city’s proximity to California.
Lake Placid, N.Y.
The Adirondacks can be absolutely otherworldly in January, especially if you catch the small mountains with a dusting of snow on a clear, cold afternoon. The home of the 1980 Winter Olympics is the best place to experience upstate New York scenery, where you can spend the day skiing the iconic Whiteface Mountain or take a few turns around the Olympic Oval. Lake Placid has everything from ice climbing to Nordic skiing as well, and a cool small-town Main Street perfect for an après. The High Peaks Resort sits in the heart of the city along Mirror Lake, and has the easiest access to the bulk of Lake Placid’s winter activities.
Sonoma County, Calif.
The less-hectic, laid-back ethos of Sonoma County is especially inviting during January. That’s when winemakers at vineyards like Rodney Strong and Buena Vista enjoy their slowest months, giving them more time to linger and converse with guests visiting their tasting rooms. Of course, the rolling hills and blue skies of this slice of California paradise have a lot more than wine. Over the coast, you can peep the gray whale migration, and it’s also Dungeness crab season, so restaurants will have all sorts of fresh seafood specials. January brings the height of Sonoma’s other main crop, too — Meyer lemons. While the weather may be cool, the fresh lemonade is still particularly refreshing.
In January you have two choices: escape winter or head full-on into it. If you’re up for the latter, few places top Fairbanks. What the city lacks in daylight it more than makes up for in stunning winter scenery. Yes, the city is dark for 16 hours of the day, but that makes it ideal for spotting the northern lights, the night providing a perfect (and prolonged) backdrop for the celestial show. The city also puts a wintery spin on public art with ice sculptures all over town, and adventures like snowmobiling, ice fishing and snowshoeing don’t require traveling far. If you are game for a cold-weather road trip, head a couple hours outside Fairbanks to the Castner Glacier, a glacial cave with a short trail that even snowy novices can navigate.
Rock climbing enthusiasts will find themselves entertained day and night in Chattanooga this January. By day, they can tackle the world-class sandstone faces at spots like the Tennessee Wall and Sunset Rock. Then at night, they can sit back and watch some of the best new films about the sport at the annual Lookout Wild Film Festival, which showcases movies about outdoor adventures and conservation. Later in the month, the city’s famous Tennessee Songwriters Week kicks off, bringing some of the most prolific songwriters in the world to perform in venues around the city.
After the catastrophic fires earlier this year, Maui is back and open for business, right in time for humpback whale season. January is the height of humpback migration in the Hawaiian Islands, and you can jump on board a trip with companies like PacWhale Eco-Adventures to learn all about the magnificent animals from accompanying naturalists. January also sees a slight ease of visitors after the holidays, so the awe-inspiring Road to Hana will be a little less congested. At the very least, you can just kick back on the black sand beach at Waiʻānapanapa State Park or enjoy the surf with a beer in hand at the beachside taproom of Maui Brewing Co.