When the weather gets gloomy and temperatures begin to drop, you have two choices: bundle up and embrace it or get the hell out of dodge! If you’re taking the latter approach, the best direction to head is south where warmer days ignite your soul and outdoor exploration is still on the table. Pick your own adventure with three locales in three different states easy to get to—thanks to Allegiant Air—San Diego, Phoenix, and Las Vegas.
When staying on the coast, you’ll want to get on the water, and despite a dip in temperatures, it’s still plausible to take an ocean dip in the winter months (just be wary of crashing waves). Here’s the formula to make the most of a winter break in sunny San Diego.
What to do:
Spend as much time on, in, or near the ocean as possible. Renting a boat from Action Sport Rentals is one way to do that. Choose between kayaks, sailboats, and powerboats and speed around Mission Bay. There are several ways to get out and explore, including slow rides near the shore to a speed limitless roundabout that feels like the ocean’s Autobahn. 998 W. Mission Bay Dr.
Down the street, Mission Beach is one of the most popular areas in San Diego, boasting a bustling year-round boardwalk, a beach-front amusement park dubbed Belmont Park that includes the infamous Giant Dipper roller coaster, and a giant indoor swimming pool complex. Not to mention a spot to grab boogie board and surfboard rentals if you’re brave enough to dip more than your feet into the water. It’ll feel like summer as you stroll the aisle of fair games, tossing baseballs and throwing darts to take home prizes in between trips on the coasters, rock climbing wall, go karts, and ropes course before walking to the beach for a drink or quick lunch.
Perhaps the best way to enjoy the water when it’s chilly is in a hot tub pontoon, a boat with an actual hot tub right in the middle of it. Grab your friends and cruise around the bay, but instead of dropping into the ocean for a quick swim, get your feet wet in the full-size jacuzzi aboard your vessel. Hot Tub Cruising, 101 Santa Clara Pl.
Or step aboard the Bahia Belle where you’ll get the views of the water without the cold air whipping your face. The top deck is outdoors, but large windows in the lower two decks allow for the views without the chill. Grab a drink to sip from the bar onboard and cruise in style. 998 W. Mission Bay Dr.
Where to stay:
Continue the water-centric fun by grabbing a room at Bahia Resort Hotel. Newly remodeled (and with a new restaurant on the way), the family-friendly resort offers calm water to wade in, kayak and SUP boards rentals, and cabanas to watch the sunset from on the sand. Some rooms include ocean views and glimpses of Belmont Park across the way. 998 W. Mission Bay Dr.
On-site a heated pool and hot tub are adjacent to a free play arcade where kids can spend the whole day while you sip mai tais by the pool. Keep an eye on the hotel calendar; ice cream socials and beachfront movies (using a giant inflatable TV screen right on the beach) occur weekly.
Where to eat:
Soak up the views and warmer weather with waterfront dining. Cannonball feels like summer all year long, serving up plates of market fresh specials, including a famed Lobster Roll, plates of sashimi and nigiri, and even Crispy Salmon Tacos with just the right amount of spice. As the largest oceanfront rooftop in San Diego, it’s an ideal spot to watch the sunset over Mission Beach. 3105 Ocean Front Walk
Other Ways to Soak up the Sun in San Diego
San Diego Zoo
San Diego Safari Park
Arizona has a reputation for being hot, hot, hot, but their winter months feel more like a California spring of fall. With nothing but a light jacket, you can transport yourself to another time of year simply by taking a quick flight south.
What to do:
Don’t shy away from the outdoor adventure. Nothing spells romance like a horseback ride through the desert at sunset, watching the sun slip behind the mountains, with a collection of cactuses bathing in the waning light. At Ponderosa Stables, guests can hop on one of the trusty steads—there’s a lot to choose from—and toe the line between Phoenix and Tempe as they take a leisurely stroll adjacent to a small western village. 10215 S. Central Ave., Phoenix
Winter is football season and in most parts of the country attending a game means bundling up and drinking Irish coffees to sustain the cold. In Arizona, however, you may still be wearing short sleeves as you cheer on your favorite team. One of the potential upsides to attending a game at State Farm Stadium (in Glendale, part of the Phoenix metro) is the Arizona Cardinals franchise is fairly new and the local following isn’t huge (although their performance thus far this year could bring in more fans) meaning if you attend against your favorite team, it may feel more like a home game than you’d expect. Another bonus? Tickets don’t run as steep. 1 Cardinals Dr., Glendale
Golf is always popular in Phoenix and Scottsdale, but winter months allow for golf all day (not just in the mornings before the sweltering heat sets in). Choose from one of Scottsdale’s premier golf courses; Talking Stick Resort, Troon North, TPC, and Grayhawk are among favorites.
Hiking is also more enjoyable in Arizona’s cooler months, and there are a few accessible trails that make a good morning wake up before the rest of your day. To work up a sweat, find the trailhead for Camelback Mountain in the Phoenix Mountains. The shape is said to resemble a hump and head of a kneeling camel, which is how it got its name, and while it’s only a 1.5-mile hike, it’s a hard one, ascending mostly straight up the mountain for an elevation gain of over 1,200 feet. For something lighter on the legs, Hole in the Rock is a popular place to catch a sunset. Less than ½ mile, it’s actually a geological formation in Papago Park on the border of Phoenix and Tempe. 625 N. Galvin Pkwy., Phoenix
Where to eat:
Phoenix is home to this out-of-the-box concept that will blow your mind—a hot dog restaurant specializing in off-the-wall combinations and donuts, Short Leash Hotdogs + Rollover Donuts. The retro comfort foods are best enjoyed on the large outdoor patio, which boasts swings and small tables. We recommend trying the Bear, a daring mix of peanut butter, smoked gouda, bacon, and barbecue sauce, topped with cracker jacks, or the Sunny, a pairing of grilled pears or peaches, prosciutto, arugula, goat cheese, and honey. Before you leave, grab donuts to go with combos almost as creative as their dog menu. And don’t forget the cocktails. You can sway in the warm winter breeze while sipping craft cocktails, whiskey on the rocks, or a local brew. 4221 N. 7th Ave., Phoenix
The other can’t-miss experience is at Hash Kitchen. This brunch spot with a club atmosphere is all you need to start off your Saturday or recover on Sunday. Its popular bloody mary bar is all the rage, with an insane number of toppings to choose from in order to customize your drink, but mimosa flights are just as good and creative. Order up the avocado toast or beignets, but whatever you do, plan to share everything—the potions here are HUGE. And, if that wasn’t enough to have you rushing to make a reservation, a DJ spins tunes while you nosh. Multiple Locations
Where to drink:
The Whining Pig is a concept often duplicated but hard to find here in SJC. The barcade specializing in beer, cider, and wine, boasts a wall of communal board games plus arcade games so you can challenge each other to a round of battleship while discovering more than 125 beers, some local. Multiple Locations
Looking for killer cocktails with cool presentation? Killer Whale Sex Club is the quirky hangout you didn’t know you needed. 922 N. 6th St., Phoenix
If you ask us, it’s always a good time for Vegas. The party destination stays warm enough to wear shorts most of the year, which means you can still paint the town red in your favorite dress and heels.
What to do:
If you haven’t hopped on a railbike yet, this is your chance. A bit off the beaten path, Rail Explorers Las Vegas Division is in Boulder City. The experience gets riders onto a four-wheeled contraption set onto train tracks. There are a few options to explore but we recommend the Southwest Ramble, a four-mile downhill pedal powered ride that takes you from the Nevada State Railroad Museum, hooks around the mountains, and ends at a rail-side picnic spot complete with tables and chairs. On the way back, you’ll hitch a ride on the train. 601 Yucca St., Boulder City
Get transported even farther away without leaving Las Vegas proper, a trip inside Area 15 will take you out of this world. The glowing, glittering, where-the-hell-am-I?! experience is something, you can only do in Las Vegas. With choices for dining and activities, it’s easy to spend a whole day staring at sculptures relocated from the Black Rock Desert (site of Burning Man) and sipping drinks in a neon garden. The Omega Mart experience is like an indoor playground complete with slides and secret passageways. Many of the rooms cater to igniting different senses, or you can choose to play detective and solve the oddball grocery store’s crime. If you want to know how weird it gets, consider you’ll be climbing through a freezer to get inside. Expert tip: don’t leave without stepping into The Beast for lunch where the menu is just about endless, the vibe is as kooky as its surroundings, and the peanut butter and jelly wings are the best thing on the menu. 3215 S. Rancho Dr., Las Vegas
Another outdoor extravaganza, The Neon Museum is a must see. The graveyard for retired signs including a larger-than-life guitar that once graced the Hard Rock Hotel to extinct business signs, you can buy a lightbulb from the famous Welcome to Las Vegas sign or pick up casino chips and matchbooks from Vegas’ first big hotels. There is also audio available and onsite tour guides to answer questions about each sign, many of which are still buzzing after all these years. 770 Las Vegas Blvd. N
Where to eat and drink:
In Vegas, these two activities go hand in hand. Keep the fiesta going by popping into Uno Más Street Tacos + Spirits inside of SAHARA Las Vegas. The casual eatery turns out some truly delicious tacos and the “best margaritas” to accompany them, as voted by the Las Vegas Review Journal. Start with the guacamole, pork chicharrones, or grilled corn before diving in street tacos in a variety of flavors, including fish and beer (made with chipotle and beer battered cod), lengua (slow-cooked beef tongue), and quesa a la plancha (a vegetarian taco featuring griddled cotija and avocado). 2535 S. Las Vegas Blvd.
While still in the SAHARA, take a quick walk to Tangier. The cocktail spot is unsuspecting, not looking like much more than your average drink stopover inside of a casino. In reality, it’s anything but. The craft cocktail list is inspired, turning up specials you can’t find just anywhere, including those created in a smoke box for that signature smokey taste and a seriously cool tableside production. 2535 S. Las Vegas Blvd.
Bang Bar by Momofuku at Block 16, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas’ Urban Food Hall, is better for a grab-and-go meal. The meats are spinning on a rotisserie right in front of you. Pick your poison and get it as a wrap, a fold-up, or in a rice bowl. Instead of tortillas, the eatery uses Bang flatbread. 3708 Las Vegas Blvd. S
For a fancier meal, Bugsy & Meyer’s Steakhouse at the Flamingo Las Vegas offers up high-end steak cuts with an old-school mobster flair. The tropical scene inside is continued around the corner in the adjacent speakeasy, where there is another opportunity for creative craft cocktails to enjoy. We personally recommend taking advantage of the chilled seafood tower as an appetizer followed by a dry-aged bone-in ribeye with lobster mac and cheese and baked sourdough bread—yum! Expert Tip: Stay for a show—Piff the Magic Dragon (of America’s Got Talent fame) is a fun mix of humor and magic. 3555 Las Vegas Blvd. S
Where to stay:
There’s no experience like staying on the Las Vegas strip, and the Sahara is a historic place to do so. Once known as the SLS (and previously known as the Sahara when it first opened in 1952), the 2019 rebranding of the resort as the Sahara once again came with much fanfare and a large renovation. Modest rooms are appointed with modern amenities and spectacular views if you choose the right part of the hotel. At night the strip glitters below and views of the Stratosphere across the way are breathtaking day or night—a true LV experience. Expert Tip: there’s a Starbucks downstairs, which is a must for many Las Vegas travelers after a long night. 2535 S. Las Vegas Blvd.