The excitement of the holidays intoxicates anyone who yearns for beloved traditions and spending time with family and friends. But they can be exhausting, from shopping to holiday parties. Don’t let the holidays jingle your bells too loudly! Escape to one of these chill destinations this season to relax far away from the frenzy.
Long known for its laid-back lifestyle, the Florida Keys beckon you to unwind, swapping views of falling snow and fir trees for ocean breezes and swaying palms. Discover natural beauty throughout the island chain. In Key Largo, take a glass-bottom boat tour at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park for an up-close look at colorful coral reefs and marine life. In the Lower Keys, soak in panoramic views from the old bridge perched above the 534-acre Bahia Honda State Park. In Key West, stroll among hundreds of free-flying butterflies and exotic birds in the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory.
Don’t miss the annual Key West Holiday Fest featuring the Hometown Holiday Parade, Harbor Walk of Lights, Holiday Historic Inn Tours and a lighted boat parade. Replace your traditional hot chocolate and sugar cookies with Cuban coffee and Key lime pie. Countdown to midnight at the only-in-Key-West New Year's Eve Conch Shell Drop at Sloppy Joe’s.
In Key Largo, you might consider dropping anchor at the 17-acre Reef House Resort & Marina, where you can book a snorkeling excursion, enjoy dinner and drinks at the on-site eateries, and relax by the firepit. In the middle Keys, think about a room at Hawk’s Cay Resort in Duck Key. This sprawling, private island makes a great stay if you love watersports (think kayaking, fishing and stand-up paddleboarding). You could cap the trip off with a stay at Margaritaville Beach House Key West, which is right across the street from iconic Smathers Beach.
Thanks to its “low desert” atmosphere, this temperate Southwest city (dubbed “the soul of the Sonoran Desert”) brims with desert beauty, outdoor activities and a thriving cultural and gastronomy scene. Explore the 49-acre Tohono Chul bursting with themed gardens and nature trails, plus art galleries, eclectic shops and a quaint Garden Bistro. Wander through the 93-acre Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, home to animals, an aquarium, a botanical garden and an art gallery. Hike through Saguaro National Park to glimpse towering saguaro cactus. Hike — or take the tram — into Sabino Canyon, at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains, and see waterways in the desert amid steep rocks and spectacular vegetation.
For holiday light displays with a Southwestern flair, don’t miss this season’s LightsUp! A Festival of Illumination (Nov. 25–Jan. 15), which transforms the Tucson Botanical Gardens into a winter wonderland. Bring home gifts from Tucson’s annual Fourth Avenue Winter Street Fair. Typically taking place in mid-December, this event features more than 400 arts and craft booths, plus dozens of food vendors, entertainment and kid-friendly activities.
One of the area's dude ranches — such as the Tanque Verde — is a perfect blend of convenience (think Wi-Fi and comfy beds) and traditional Southwest experiences like horseback rides and campfires. Or perhaps opt for more traditional lodging at one of the region's resorts, like the mountain-rimmed Westin La Paloma or the more-intimate Hacienda Del Sol. All offer varying rates depending on the season.
Hilton Head, South Carolina
This seaside retreat invites you to relax and recharge, coastal style! Go bike riding along gorgeous trails, stroll along miles of pristine beach, or kayak through serene tidal waters. Take a zip-line canopy tour, go bird-watching, or discover the beautiful wildlife and foliage at the Audubon Newhall Preserve and the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge.
Explore historical sites at Daufuskie Island, a barrier island accessible only by passenger ferry, with the 1873 Lighthouse on Haig Point and the Bloody Point Lighthouse Museum on the opposite end of the island. Stop in for a rum tasting at Daufuskie Island Distillery, then shop for coastal holiday gifts at Iron Fish Gallery. Catch a spectacular sunset sail, courtesy of Vagabond Cruise, as you wind your way through the intracoastal waterways. Sunset cruise options range from sailing on a 12-meter to a dolphin cruise or Lowcountry-inspired dinner cruise. You’ll find annual coastal Christmas events such as a festive parade, tree-lighting ceremony, the Harbour Town lights display, and the Choral Society's holiday concert.
Since the best gift of all is sharing laughter and creating memories with family and friends, consider bunking together at one of the island’s many multibedroom rentals available through Vrbo. If you’d prefer staying at an oceanfront resort, check out the luxurious Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa or the Beach House Hilton Head Island.
Nestled between Costa Rica and Colombia, Panama offers a truly diverse travel experience. A must-see? Of course, the majestic Panama Canal. Built more than a century ago, this 48-mile engineering marvel connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Get a bird’s-eye view at the Miraflores Visitor Center to witness mammoth ships passing through the locks. Afterward, check out interactive exhibits and artifacts to learn about the canal’s construction.
Dig into history at Casco Viejo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, dating back to the 17th century. Stroll along the cobblestoned town center lined with centuries-old churches, bustling city squares, storied museums, and charming shops and restaurants. Consider a stop at Capital Bistró restaurant’s rooftop patio for breathtaking views of Panama City’s skyline.
For authentic local dining, stop at one of the dozens of casual eateries for street tacos, Ropa Vieja and fried plantains. Walk it off at the spectacular Metropolitan Natural Park, a 573-acre rainforest that is home to hundreds of bird species, mammals, amphibians and plants. Wind down your visit with a pampering beachfront stay in the Pacific Riviera region. Here, you can enjoy world-class beaches (like Playa Blanca and El Faro) and witness how Panama’s famous chocolates are made. Enjoy a taste!
To explore Panama’s cosmopolitan core, consider The Santa Maria Hotel & Golf Resort in Panama City. Here, you can hit the greens at the resort’s fabulous golf course, relax by the pool and enjoy multiple on-site restaurants. Another option is the amenity-packed Buenaventura Golf & Beach Resort Panama. You won’t want to leave this expansive shoreline property, which features five separate pools, tennis courts and multiple bars and restaurants. You can also check out a range of Airbnb offerings, from rustic to luxe.
Anyone want to take a fun road trip? Here are 10 tips that can help you plan the perfect vacation.
Also, anyone going out of town for the holidays? Let us know where you are going in the comments below.