These Are the Best Places to Take the Family on Vacation in January: LA, Rome, NOLA, and More

Beach, snow, and city spots are perfect for school vacations and long weekends.
View of lifeguard tower on Clearwater beach, Florida
(Photo: Shutterstock)

Need to decompress after the stress of the holidays? Start your year off with a January vacation. I’ve chosen five great getaways featuring everything from old-world beauty in Rome to movie magic in Hollywood. I’ve also included two blissful beach spots plus a snowy wonderland to inspire you. All five of my recommended spots sparkle in January, with plenty of fun for both adults and kids.

1. Hollywood, Los Angeles, California

blurred view of stars on the sidewalk of Walk Of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard in LA
Hollywood is a little gritty, a little glam, and offers a central location for family fun (Photo: Envato/MirkoVitali)

Los Angeles is made up of dozens of neighborhoods, so the key to a low-stress LA vacation is to focus on a specific part of town and avoid wasting precious vacation time in this sprawling city’s intense traffic. And, bonus: while cold weather blankets much of the U.S. in January, LA stands out with its mild winter temps (highs in the mid- to high-60s are pretty standard).

Hollywood is equal parts glamour and grit, and its central location makes it a solid base camp. Movie buffs won’t want to miss the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a mile-plus stretch of sidewalk with star-shaped plaques honoring famous entertainers past and present. 

Located just east of Hollywood, Griffith Park is one of the largest urban parks in the United States, home to the Los Angeles Zoo, the Griffith Observatory, and the Travel Town Museum with its vintage locomotives.

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Universal Studios is just over the hill in the San Fernando Valley. A visit immerses guests in the world of movie-making, with a theme park where you can explore the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Minion Land, and Super Nintendo World. 

You’ll eat and have fun at Hollywood hotspot The Breakfast Club, where the French toast is fluffy and the color palette straight out of a box of Froot Loops. A wall decorated with old-school cereal boxes boosts the nostalgia factor.

Where to Stay in Hollywood in January

Hollywood glitz is on full display at the Kimpton Everly Hotel, with views of the iconic Hollywood Sign and playful perks like a pool table, a swimming pool, and in-room plants. The Metro is just down the street, whisking you to Universal Studios in 9 minutes, no car needed. 

2. Clearwater Beach, Florida

two children looking at a passing mata ray at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium
At the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, kids can see rescued sea animals and learn about marine life (Photo: Christine Sarkis)

With sand as soft as baby powder and warm Gulf waters, Clearwater Beach attracts winter visitors from cold climates like a magnet. It’s tempting to spend all of your time building sand castles and jumping waves in the sunshine, but this town merits exploration.  

Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a state-of-the-art, working marine hospital that rehabilitates sick or injured rescued animals and releases them back into their natural habitat when they are ready. Animals who cannot be viably released remain, so those are the animals you will see. 

At dusk, Sunsets at Pier 60 celebrates day’s end with live music and street performers, providing family-friendly entertainment every day of the year. 

For car-free travel, hop on the Clearwater Jolley Trolley and traverse town in a sustainable manner. 

Where to Stay in Clearwater in January

At the JW Marriott Clearwater Beach Resort & Spa families get a beachfront spot with an ultra-scenic swimming pool and guest rooms with private balconies. 

3. Rome, Italy

child and adult looking at ruins in Rome
History comes alive for kids in child-friendly Rome, where every walk tells stories of the past (Photo: Christine Sarkis)

Few cities embrace family travelers the way Rome does. Locals will welcome your bambini as if they were their own, kissing their cheeks and sneaking them extra desserts. January is low season, with thin crowds. 

Time your visit for January 6 and you’ll experience a uniquely Italian way to celebrate the Epiphany, known as La Befana. La Befana is a witchy old woman who gives well-behaved Italian children candy in the shape of coal, while naughty kids get the real thing. Windows of local sweet shops display fabulous edible candy creations to commemorate the holiday. Join Roman families as they visit spectacular nativity scenes at Piazza Navona, St. Peter’s Square, and many others in churches and squares around town. 

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Rome is clustered with breathtaking sights such as the Sistine Chapel, the Spanish Steps, and the Colosseum, but the Eternal City is much more than just the sum of its parts. Allow yourself time to get lost in the maze of back streets and watch Romans zip through traffic on mopeds for a true appreciation of La dolce vita

Head to elegant Villa Borghese and enjoy its gardens, playgrounds, and low-tech zoo. Villa Celimontana is a tree-lined respite near the Colosseum, where historic statues circle the playground. 

Gelato should only be eaten when it’s warm says who? Romans enjoy it year-round, available in an array of luscious flavors, making a gelato crawl a delectable part of your Roman holiday. 

Where to Stay in Rome in January

A world-class art collection graces the Rome Cavalieri, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Park-like grounds, pools, and sumptuous guest rooms offer a relaxing oasis in the big city.

4. The Catskills, New York State

view of Hunter Mountain ski resort area in the Catskills
Hunter Mountain is one of the Catskills’ go-to spots for skiing and snowboarding in winter (Photo: Hunter Mountain)

Long a playground for New York City residents, the Catskills present a mix of indoor and outdoor winter adventures. It’s a paradise for snow lovers, with skiing and snowboarding at resorts such as Belleayre and Hunter Mountain. Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snow tubing are additional ways to have cold weather fun outdoors. 

The area is home to numerous small towns with cool attraction. In Bethel, the Museum at Bethel Woods is located on the site of where Woodstock took place back in 1969. Today, visitors can enjoy multi-media exhibits and artifacts that shed light on this seminal pop-culture event that many consider to have been a catalyst for significant cultural transformation.

Continuing with the psychedelic theme, the Emerson Resort & Spa in Mount Tremper is home to the world’s largest kaleidoscope. To get the full impact of the bursts of color, lie down on the carpet and soak it in. 

Foodie families won’t want to miss the Phoenicia Diner in Phoenicia, where locally-sourced ingredients and house-made breads are mouth-watering. There’s a large kid’s menu for guests under 12. 

Where to Stay in The Catskills in January

Once known as the Borscht Belt, hipster hotels that welcome kids are sprouting up like spring flowers. Lakeside Kenoza Hall is an intimate retreat with chic bungalows and family yoga classes. 

5. New Orleans, Louisiana

family being served beignets at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans
Cafe du Monde is an easy and delicious spot for beignets that’s super family friendly (Photo: Zack Smith Photography/NewOrleans.com)

With potent nightlife and a robust party scene, New Orleans has a reputation as a destination for adults. Scratch the surface and you’ll find the Big Easy offers a winning combination of family-friendly activities, cultural diversity, and an unstoppable spirit that’s a lesson in resilience. January is the calm before a storm of visitors arrive to celebrate Mardi Gras in February or early March. 

The French Quarter’s old-world architecture and vibrant street life shouldn’t be missed. Allow time to savor the sound of an impromptu sidewalk zydeco trio and taste sugar-dusted beignets from Café du Monde.

The state-of-the-art Audubon Aquarium is located just outside of the French Quarter. Watch free-flying birds zoom overhead, penguins and seahorses frolic, and hundreds of tropical fish swimming at the Great Maya Reef exhibit.

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At the newish Vue Orleans (on top of the Four Seasons along the waterfront), families can learn about the history and culture of the city in a fun and interactive way, then be whisked to the observation floor for city views and a lot more interactive elements including trying your hand at piloting a river barge.

City Park is an urban oasis with playgrounds, a New Orleans-themed mini-golf course, and the New Orleans Museum of Art’s Besthoff Sculpture Garden, a visual wonderland with over 90 large-scale works nestled among magnolias and live oaks.

The Louisiana Children’s Museum is adjacent to the park, with interactive indoor exhibits and outdoor elements including sensory gardens, a floating classroom, and wetlands, connecting young visitors to the natural world.  

New Orleans is synonymous with music, from jazz to blues to ragtime and beyond. Locals initiate their offspring to the joys of live music from a very young age and visitors can too. Preservation Hall, one of the city’s top jazz spots, welcomes children with open arms. Each set lasts for 45 minutes, a manageable length for little attention spans. 

Where to Stay in New Orleans in January

The Intercontinental New Orleans offers fine service and a great location two blocks from the French Quarter. In between the French Quarter and the Garden District, just across the street from the massive and engaging National World War II Museum, the Higgins Hotel has comfortable and modern rooms, restaurants, and a canteen for coffee and gifts.

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Allison Tibaldi
Allison Tibaldi has written for publications including CNN, Business Insider, FamilyVacationist, HGTV, USA TODAY, and Travel Weekly. As a former early childhood educator, she is interested in the way kids experience the world, and thinks that travel is the best education for young minds. Tibaldi is based in New York City.