5 Warm-Weather Escapes Close to Home
Since temperatures have returned to polar vortex levels across much of the country, escape the misery by boarding a short flight to one of these warmer climes.
From the Northeast: Key West, Florida
As the southernmost point in the Florida Keys, Key West is as close as you’ll get to the Caribbean without leaving the U.S. Key West’s laid-back lifestyle is also more in keeping with its Caribbean counterparts; its compact downtown facilitates getting around by bike, and roosters wander the streets. Spend your time people watching along Duval Street or getting your fill of watersports, from kayaking to snorkeling. Beaches within walking distance include the mile-long Fort Zachary Taylor State Park and popular South Beach, where you’ll find the Southernmost Point marker. Wait in line to take the obligatory snap next to the iconic “90 miles to Cuba.” Equally obligatory is the Spanish-style Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum (pictured) just a short distance away. Stop by to learn more about the larger-than-life writer, with the added bonus of cooing at the 50 or so six-toed cats that have free reign on the property. Stay nearby at the romantic The Mermaid & The Alligator, or splurge on the amenity-laden Casa Marina Resort. Venture a bit further for Ibis Bay Resort, and spring for a room opening onto your own private beach deck. Oh, and try night paddling while you’re at it. The onsite Stoned Crab is a must for its eponymous stone crab. Back in town, hit up DJ’s Clam Shack on Duval Street for conch fritters and lobster rolls, La Creperie French Café for savory buckwheat crepes, and Blue Heaven for Caribbean-influenced fare and key lime pie. Although with key lime pie options around every bend (Better Than Sex, Key West Key Lime Company), please don’t leave Key West without eating it somewhere.
From the Southeast: Cuba
It’s possible that travel restrictions to Cuba might tighten again, so book that flight (or cruise) now. In 2016 commercial flights and cruises to the island were introduced for the first time in at least 50 years, with JetBlue, Delta and United joining the ranks. Fathom, part of the Carnival Cruise Corporation, was the first ship to make the inaugural cruising, and Royal Caribbean offers cruises to Cuba as well. While getting to the island is easier than ever, it still requires a tourist visa that meets one of 12 criteria. The most common is educational, which proves that you’ll have a packed itinerary of people-to-people exchanges. (Technically, it’s illegal for U.S. citizens to spend the entire trip on the beach.) If you go with a tour group they’ll take care of the logistics for you; otherwise, you just have to prove that you indulged in educational experiences the entire time. Since culture is king here, base yourself in Havana, where you can visit the National Museum of Fine Arts or attend the famous National Ballet of Cuba. (One positive aspect of taking a tour is that tour operators can arrange meeting artists or watching rehearsals.) Lodging can be tricky due to limited hotel inventory and increased demand, but Airbnb has helped to fill that niche. If you do manage to nab a hotel room, your options range from international chains to family-run establishments. The historic Hotel Nacional de Cuba has hosted a parade of Who’s Who since 1930, from Winston Churchill to Frank Sinatra. Hotel Florida features exemplary Spanish Colonial architecture, while Hotel Raquel stands apart for its kosher kitchen and Art Deco details. If your lodging doesn’t include breakfast (or even if it does), hit the streets for excellent Cuban coffee and guava pastries. Some of the best food is also found in paladares, which are restaurants in private homes. Casa Miglis serves an unexpected combo of Swedish and Cuban; order Grandma’s Swedish Meatballs. La Cocina de Lilliam serves authentic Cuban cuisine on a lush patio, while iconic La Guarida, found in a run-down manse, has remained a celeb stop for good reason. Just bear in mind that few places accept credit cards and ATMs are rare, but prices are reasonable enough that you won’t have to stuff your suitcase with cash.
From the Midwest: Scottsdale, Arizona
Since it’s in the desert, winter brings more comfortable temperatures to this Phoenix suburb, making it just warm enough to lounge by the pool. If you want to do more than that, Scottsdale also happens to be a world-class destination for golf and spa resorts. Standout golf courses include TPC Scottsdale (a PGA course), Troon North Golf Club and Grayhawk Golf Club. If rejuvenating at a spa is more your speed, check into the five-star Royal Palms Resort & Spa or the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia for its 31,000-square foot Moroccan-themed spa. In between golfing or spa-ing, meander around the bustling downtown area for art galleries, high-end shopping and the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Architecture aficionadas will find modern architecture in spades here; don’t leave without visiting Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s one-time winter home, which currently houses the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. In terms of where to stay, the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess is a no-brainer for everyone: it’s located next to TPC Scottsdale for golfers, while the spa focuses equal attention on health and wellness. (Plus, how many spas offer aerial hammock yoga?) The trendy Hotel Valley Ho boasts a glamorous past and has been restored to its mid-century magnificence. Just as the hotel scene is a mix of established and trendy, so is the dining scene. Arcadia Farms Café launched as a small operation in 1990, and is now an area staple for farm-to-table meals, baked goods and more. For a buzzier scene, pop into Barrio Queen for Mexican, Craft 64 for pizza and Second Story Restaurant & Liquor Bar for elevated Western and craft cocktails.
From the Southwest: Los Cabos, Mexico
Located at the tip of the Baja Peninsula, Los Cabos, which consists of action-packed Cabo San Lucas and lower-key San José del Cabo, beckons with warm, sunny days. The area has rebounded from the devastation of Hurricane Odile in 2014, and visitors will find new golf courses, hotels and restaurants. Of course, the 20 miles of smooth, sandy beaches and clear, turquoise water are the main attraction here, with a wide range to suit different tastes. Base yourself at Médano Beach if you like to be in the center of the action and love watersports and swimming. Playa Palmilla tends to provide a less-crowded swim experience, while the rough waves at Playa Costa Azul are perfect for surfing. For something different, catch a boat to Playa del Amor for snorkeling; even better, its lack of vendors and crowds make it ideal for couples. Catch another boat for a whale-watching cruise to catch one of the eight species that winter here. At night revelers have dozens of clubs to choose from: El Squid Roe and Cabo Wabo Cantina have been around forever. Besides nightlife, Los Cabos is all about the resorts: The Resort at Pedregal and One & Only Palmilla are some of the best. Trendy newcomers include The Cape: A Thompson Hotel, with Nobu Hotel Los Cabos and more on the way. Or get away from the scene at the boutique Casa Natalia. Don’t worry about doing work at The Office on the Beach; just go to eat all the seafood. The romantic Los Tres Gallos is highly popular for authentic Mexican; Sunset Da Mona Lisa is equally popular for Michelin-starred Italian food and front-row views of El Arco and the dazzling Sea of Cortez.
From the Northwest: Palm Springs
This desert oasis is not only sunny most of the year, but it’s also been experiencing a major resurgence in popularity. If you enjoy golf, pools, hot springs, spas and mid-century modern architecture, then this is your place. Plus, winter is an ideal time to visit in order to avoid the spring break and Coachella hordes. Golfers can spend days playing the courses at Pete Dye and PGA West. Spa lovers will be torn between the Parker Palm Springs and La Quinta Resort & Club. Just outside of Palm Springs, the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa is worth the extra travel time for 48 treatment rooms and five (!) outdoor pools. You’ll find the ultimate spa retreat at Two Bunch Palms, with heated outdoor mineral springs, mud cabanas and fitness classes. Other noteworthy lodging includes Saguaro Palm Springs (which also offers daily yoga classes and desert cruiser bikes to guests), Korakia Pensione (pictured) and Arrive. If you can, time your visit to coincide with the Palm Springs International Film Festival, or book tickets in advance for one of Modernism Week’s many architecture tours. Refuel with cactus tacos at El Jefe, pizza at Birba and seasonal New American at Workshop Kitchen and Bar. For the ultimate farm-to-table experience, reserve ahead at The Barn Kitchen at Sparrows Lodge, where you’ll dine under the stars at a long farm table. Nightcap with a rum cocktail at Bootlegger Tiki (a tiki speakeasy) for an only-in-Palm-Springs experience.