When I’m looking for a surefire way to beat the post-holiday blues, I plan a winter weekend getaway for the family. With a couple of long weekends on the calendar in the first quarter of the year, plus the ability to create your own whenever works for you, winter is an ideal time to get a fun trip on the schedule.
Whether you want to play in the snow or escape the cold for a balmier location, there’s a winter weekend trip within an easy drive or flight from where you live. Here are 10 of my favorite ideas for a memorable and fun-filled family-friendly long weekend trip.
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1. Nashville, Tennessee
I took my teenage daughter on a winter getaway to Nashville, and it was a perfect destination for a not-too-cold long weekend. Each morning began with our own DIY coffee shop-boutique hotel tour, starting the day with breakfast, a cup of coffee, and a stroll through the lobbies at the Fairlane Hotel, Bobby Hotel, and Noelle Nashville.
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Then we set off on foot (and one day by trolley) to experience Music City at spots like the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Ryman Auditorium, and the highly impressive and interactive National Museum of African American Music.
Food’s a big draw here, and we tried as much as we could by taking a food tour with Walk Eat Nashville and eating at Assembly Food Hall, which offers food and drink from more than 30 mostly local eateries and bars.
Where to Stay in Nashville: The Countrypolitan Nashville is a stylish and well-situated home base for exploring downtown Nashville, and you just might hear the next big thing performing at the hotel’s restaurant in the evening.
2. Crystal River, Florida
Winter is an ideal time to visit this city on the west coast of Florida, about an hour north of Tampa and less than two hours west of Orlando. That’s because winter is known as Manatee Season. Between November and March, hundreds of West Indian manatees head to the warmer spring-fed waters in these parts once the water temperature in the Gulf of Mexico drops.
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The “Manatee Capital of the World” is the only place in the U.S. where you can legally observe manatees while swimming alongside them (accompanied by local guides who make sure everyone behaves properly).
If you don’t want to get in the water, you can spot the gentle creatures on a boat tour or at places like Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, the only refuge in the U.S. specifically created to protect habitats for manatees.
Where to Stay in Crystal River: There’s nothing particularly fancy about the King’s Bay Lodge, but its roomy suites sleep four comfortably, its spring-fed pool is a kid favorite, and its proximity to everything you’d want to do in Crystal River is unbeatable.
3. Long Beach Peninsula, Washington
Want to make a dramatic getaway? Head to Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula during the winter. Not far from Portland or Seattle, the area rates as a great place for storm watching during winter, thanks to the combination of seasonal king tides, stormy weather at this time of year, and the rushing water from the Columbia River.
Bring your camera to capture the moody scenery, and take it with you when you wander the area’s seven state parks and five wildlife/conservation areas, where you might spot loons, chickadees, sparrows, and hawks during the colder months.
The region also sits along the state’s Cranberry Coast, and the Pacific Coast Cranberry Research Foundation Museum offers a self-guided tour of its cranberry bogs year-round. Winter is also a great time for oysters on the Long Beach Peninsula, which you can enjoy at restaurants like Shoalwater Seafood and The Depot.
Where to Stay on Long Beach Peninsula: Book a room at the pet-friendly Oceanview Inn at the Arch and you’ll be within walking distance of the beach and downtown Long Beach and well situated for enjoying all that the area has to offer.
4. Montgomery, Alabama
With winter weather that’s typically on the mild side, Montgomery offers a long weekend escape with lots of options. Outdoor fun can be found at spots like the Alabama Safari Park, Montgomery Zoo, and the Lagoon Park Trail.
This is an amazing place for the family to learn about the city’s important role in Black history and the American Civil Rights Movement at sites like The Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice, Civil Rights Memorial Center, and Freedom Rides Museum. Annual events on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day include a parade down historic Dexter Avenue, where you can find the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church where King led the congregation from 1954 to 1960.
Refuel along the way at Chris’ Famous Hotdogs, where everyone from Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dr. King to Elvis Presley has eaten.
Where to Stay in Montgomery: Occupying a century-old building, the newish SpringHill Suites Montgomery Downtown offers suites well-suited for family getaways and a downtown location that makes it easy to explore the city.
5. Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
This northwest Idaho city not far from Spokane, Washington, boasts 109 miles of lake shoreline and snowy scenic vistas during the winter. Take a Scenic Hot Cocoa Cruise with Lake Coeur d’Alene Cruises, and you might spot bald eagles swooping overhead while sipping your sweet treat (they congregate around Lake Coeur d’Alene every year from November through February).
Three ski resorts located within an hour of Coeur d’Alene are an easy day trip from town and offer trails and terrain for all levels of skiers and snowboarders, while Raptor Reef Indoor Water Park provides thrills of a different kind. An annual mac and cheese festival takes place in January, serving up comfort food just right for the season, and the Winter Lights outdoor art experience illuminates downtown Coeur d’Alene every evening from January 26 through February 4.
Where to Stay: Set on the shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene, Coeur d’Alene Resort offers spacious rooms and suites (many with amazing views) plus amenities like a spa, fitness center, and indoor pool.
6. San Luis Obispo, California
Located between San Francisco and Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo (or SLO, pronounced “slow,” as it’s known) offers a weekend getaway with a sustainable side. Many of its wineries are SIP-certified (sustainable in practice), and the city even uses herds of goats to clear out brush along its hillsides. Check out the area’s natural beauty while pedaling the city’s bike trails, hiking at spots like Irish Hills Natural Reserve and Reservoir Canyon, or strolling the area’s beaches.
Head downtown for shops and restaurants, catch a flick at the Palm Theatre (the first solar-powered theater in the U.S.), and taste local produce and foods at the Downtown SLO Farmers’ Market that takes place every Thursday. And the kids will get a kick out of adding their own contribution to the quirky Bubblegum Alley.
Where to Stay in SLO: Tweens and teens will love the retro-modern, collegiate vibes and the on-site burger joint at The Wayfarer San Luis Obispo, located the near the campus of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
7. Scottsdale, Arizona
Plan your escape to Scottsdale, where the sun is shining almost every day of the year and winter temperatures tend to be in the 60s and 70s. That means the weather is ideal for strolling through Old Town Scottsdale, exploring the Sonoran Desert at places like McDowell Sonoran Preserve and Pinnacle Peak Park, and frolicking at the kids’ splash pad and play area at the recently revitalized Scottsdale Civic Center.
There’s always an interesting exhibit or programming to enjoy at Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West, and the kids will appreciate riding the train and carousel at McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park and enjoying something sweet at the 1950s-era Sugar Bowl Ice Cream Parlor & Restaurant.
Where to Stay in Scottsdale: The kids will be fans of the Sonoran Splash pool at Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, which features two waterslides and a zero-entry; the grownups will enjoy making use of the kids’ club to hit the links or squeeze in a spa treatment.
8. Boston, Massachusetts
Bundle up and spend a winter weekend wandering around Boston, which is road trip distance from much of the Northeast. It’s an ideal time of year to visit the city’s many excellent museums, like the Boston Children’s Museum, Museum of Science, and Museum of Fine Arts art museum. Glide around the Frog Pond Ice Skating Rink or sled down Flagstaff Hill at Boston Common (the oldest public park in the United States), then warm up over a plate of pasta in the city’s North End.
After strolling picturesque (and potentially snow-covered) neighborhoods like Beacon Hill and the Back Bay, head indoors to browse and taste your way through spots like Boston Public Market, High Street Place, Hub Hall Boston, and the much-visited Faneuil Hall Marketplace and Quincy Market.
Where to Stay in Boston: Choose the Boston Marriott Long Wharf for your long weekend stay and you’ll enjoy views of Boston Harbor and be within walking distance of sites like the New England Aquarium, Faneuil Hall, and portions of the Freedom Trail.
9. Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Make the most of the winter weather in Lake Geneva, which is within easy driving distance of cities like Chicago and Milwaukee. Head to spots like The Mountain Top at Grand Geneva Resort, Big Foot Beach State Park, and The Ridge Hotel for skiing, sledding, snowshoeing, hiking, and ice skating, or kick things up a notch with a winter ziplining and ropes course adventure or some ice fishing. There’s an annual snow sculpting event during the winter months, and the Winter Realms experience includes ice slides, ice sculptures, and other chilly fun.
Where to Stay in Lake Geneva: Timber Ridge Lodge & Waterpark serves as a great all-in-one location for families, where suites offer lots of room for the whole crew and amenities include an indoor water park, mini bowling, and an arcade.
10. Washington, DC
Plan a low-cost, museum-filled winter getaway to Washington, DC. Admission is free at the city’s Smithsonian Institution museums, where the family can explore the history of flight at the National Air and Space Museum, the African American experience at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the natural world at the National Museum of Natural History.
Head outdoors to admire the city’s many monuments and memorials like the Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial (all free to visit), and take a spin around the ice skating rinks at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden or at The Wharf. Then warm up over dinner at family-friendly restaurants like Old Ebbitt Grill, Boardwalk Bar & Arcade, and Tonic at Quigley’s Pharmacy.
Where to Stay in DC: Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC caters to families with amenities like baby gear and strollers; games, books, and sports equipment for use; an indoor pool; and sightseeing guides geared toward children.
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