Best Places to Travel in January

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Editor’s Note: Those who choose to travel are strongly encouraged to check local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19 and take personal comfort levels and health conditions into consideration before departure.

The new year and fresh start we’re all anticipating make January a good time to take a much-needed vacation (or at least plan one). Whether you’re a fan of cold weather and winter sports or prefer warm weather and beaches, we have a few suggestions for you. We also have a couple that fall right in the middle weather-wise, just right for being outdoors at this time of year.

Snow sports are on the top of the list for many T + L readers, and a visit to Jackson Hole can combine a ski trip with a glimpse of the wildlife of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Lake Tahoe, beautiful all year, offers many ways to enjoy the winter season. Or head east to the mountains of New Hampshire for snow and quite a few choices of ski resorts.

If you’re getting chilly just thinking about snow-covered hills, consider a trip to Hawaii. Travel to most islands is possible now with a negative COVID test (at the time of this writing), and tourists are welcome after months of quarantine. Or fly to Cancun and choose a resort on the Riviera Maya. The islands of Antigua and Barbuda in the Caribbean are also lovely in January.

There’s always something new in Los Angeles, and it’s a great time to enjoy both the city and the outdoors there. For outdoor activities and gorgeous scenery, Tucson is ideal in January, and Austin is fun any time of year. 

Here are the best places to travel in January — and remember to put travel near the top of your list of new year’s resolutions.

Related: More winter vacation trip ideas 

Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Yes, it’s cold in these national parks in January, with highs barely reaching 30 degrees, but for visitors who prepare and dress for the weather, Yellowstone is a wonderland of wildlife and scenery. Bison, elk, mule deer, moose, wolves, and coyotes search for food in the valley, and their tracks in the snow make them easier to find in winter. Driving is possible if you plan ahead and check road conditions, but many visitors prefer to explore on skis or snowshoes. Guided tours are available with reservations, and many have been adapted to meet health and safety guidelines during the COVID pandemic. Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins are open from December 15 through March 1, 2021, and they offer ski shuttles and tours. Grand Teton is also gorgeous in winter, and visitors can explore on cross country skis or snowmobiles. In Jackson Hole, an ideal base for exploring the national parks, stay at the Hotel Jackson and enjoy skiing, sleigh rides, snowmobiles, dog sledding, or park tours. The Hotel Terra also offers winter wildlife safaris, sleigh rides, and snowcoach tours for a warmer way to explore Yellowstone. The Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa will arrange naturalist guided snowshoe and cross country ski tours, fat tire biking, and star-gazing sessions to take advantage of Wyoming’s dark skies. Luxury tours with Abercrombie & Kent are another way to go. 

Los Angeles, California

Comfortably mild weather makes Los Angeles perfect for being outdoors, whether for hiking, exploring a new neighborhood, or dining at one of the city’s many exciting restaurants. Hotels are gearing up for visitors and adapting to ensure the health and comfort of guests. Downtown, the Hotel Figueroa offers history, art, great dining, and attractive rates, especially for locals who visit for a DTLA staycation. For a convenient and enjoyable airport hotel where a stay will feel like part of your vacation, the new Hotel June, minutes from LAX, features Baja and California dishes at their Caravan Swim Club. Coming soon to the lively West Hollywood neighborhood, the Pendry West Hollywood will feature both luxury guest rooms, Pendry Residences by Montage Hotels & Resorts, an entertainment venue, curated art collection, and dining by Wolfgang Puck. Also in WeHo, the stylish boutique Kimpton LaPeer is a perfect home base in the walkable neighborhood. The famed mid-century modern Fairmont Century Plaza will make its long-awaited debut in Century City. Many visitors come to Los Angeles just for the restaurants, with good reason. In the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, Jean-Georges Beverly Hills and The Rooftop by JG are popular dining destinations. In the heart of Hollywood, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel recently welcomed Nancy Silverton’s newest restaurant, The Barish, an Italian steakhouse in a garden setting. Before or after dinner, spend some time in The Spare Room for cocktails, small plates, games, and views of the hotel’s iconic David Hockney painted pool. 

Gallery: Florida to Hawaii: Top trending US destinations for 2021 (USA TODAY)

Lake Tahoe, California

This year-round destination shines in January — or is it the sparkle of sunshine on the fresh powdery snow? Winter sports fans love the beauty of the blue lake, rugged mountains, and cozy apres-ski time. The first month of the year is the snowiest in Lake Tahoe, perfect for outdoor fun or beautiful views from indoors. Daytime temperatures reach the mid-40’s, and nights can dip to the mid-20’s. With fresh mountain air and outdoor space, it’s ideal for healthy exercise and social distancing. On the southern shore of the lake, Edgewood Tahoe is minutes from Heavenly Mountain, with 97 trails, 28 chair lifts, and two terrain parks — something for everyone. Skiers will want to check on COVID-related safety guidelines and look into an EPIC pass for reservations. Edgewood Tahoe is teaming up with Veuve Clicquot for “Clicquot in the Snow” and non-skiers can get into the fun with “Snowshoe to the Champagne Chalet,” with indoor and outdoor seating by the fire or ice skating on a rink complete with a Veuve mobile bar. The quaint downtown of South Lake Tahoe offers shops, restaurants, and breweries. In North Lake Tahoe, nestled mid-mountain at Northstar California, The Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe offers luxury accommodations, gourmet dining, and seasonal spa treatments. The ski valet manages skis and gear, and Northstar offers ski-in/ski-out access. Shopping and dining are conveniently located nearby in the Village at Northstar and in historic downtown Truckee. 

Antigua and Barbuda, West Indies

Located in the heart of the Caribbean about a thousand miles east of Jamaica, these tropical islands begin their dry season in January, with temperatures in the comfortable mid-70’s. Sailing is a popular activity, and January is in the midst of the yachting season and the beginning of cricket, volleyball, horse racing, and netball. There’s a beach for every day of the year, with 365 different places to swim, snorkel, water ski, scuba dive, and more. Barbuda’s nearly deserted beaches are ideal for visitors seeking solitude or a quiet place for water sports, bird watching, fishing, or just relaxing in the pink sand. Accessible from most major U.S. and Canadian cities, the islands are open with specific safety requirements for COVID-19 that include pre-travel testing and health screenings. Visitors who fall in love with the islands and want to stay for a while may qualify for the Digital Nomad Program. For vacationers, there’s a range of accommodations, and the government has provided a list of lodgings certified by the Ministry of Tourism. Curtain Bluff, on Antigua’s south shore, is nestled among palm trees between two secluded coves. Two spectacular beaches offer a choice of tranquil waters or surfing waves. Refurbished in 2017, the hotel features two restaurants and 72 luxurious guest rooms. Choose a beachfront room steps from the sand or one on the bluff overlooking the surf.

Oahu, Hawaii

Most of Hawaii’s diverse population lives on this island, and the state’s capital of Honolulu is located on Oahu’s southeastern coast. A busy, cosmopolitan city, Honolulu offers fine dining, shopping, luxurious resorts, and pristine beaches. Visitors can explore Hawaii’s history in the Bishop Museum where millions of artifacts tell of the Hawaiian and Polynesian cultures. Iolani Palace in downtown Honolulu, the former residence of Hawaii’s monarchs, is now a museum open for tours. Waikiki might be the island’s most famous beach — for good reason — but each shore has spectacular beaches, from the north shore’s surfing waves to famed Makaha on the west. Naturally, the sea provides lots to do, and a variety of water activities are available. On land, a hike on Diamond Head provides a workout as well as a stunning view. A tour of Pearl Harbor and the U.S.S. Arizona is a reminder of the significant event in our country’s history. Visitors in January will find temperatures in the 80’s and a wide range of places to stay. The Prince Waikiki offers ocean views, golf, and a variety of dining options. The historic Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort is a classic, with views of Diamond Head and Waikiki Beach. The Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort & Spa recently reopened. Travel to the Hawaiian Islands was restricted for many months to prevent the spread of COVID, but it is now possible to visit with specific requirements. 

Tucson, Arizona

Clear blue skies, abundant saguaro cacti, and comfortable dry weather in the mid-60’s make January an ideal time to visit Tucson. Get close to the iconic cacti on Tucson’s many hiking trails, and enjoy spectacular views for miles. For more outdoor fun, visit Saguaro National Park where there’s year-round camping, picnicking, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and more than 200 prehistoric Native American petroglyphs. The Arizona Desert Museum includes an aquarium, zoo, museum, restaurants, and botanical garden, and the scenery on the way there is part of the Sonoran Desert experience. Visitors will want to browse among the shops in Tucson’s Mercado District for unique souvenirs, apparel, and handicrafts. Before shopping, don’t miss authentic Mexican food at Seis Kitchen, where you’ll find delicious dishes representing six culinary districts of Mexico. A variety of tacos, ensaladas, burritos, and aguas frescas are offered, and the Mexico City-style quesadillas are local favorites. History fans will want to see the downtown Hotel Congress, built in 1919, where notorious criminal John Dillinger was captured in 1934. Its history, ghost legends, art, and antiques as well as The Cup Cafe make this a must-see destination. The Ball-Paylore House, built in 1952, is a unique example of mid-century modern architecture and a testament to the work of the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation. It’s open for tours, and it can be booked for an overnight stay through Airbnb. Places to stay include the Loews Ventana Canyon resort, with two golf courses winding through the desert landscape, and the new boutique Tuxon Hotel. 

White Mountains, New Hampshire

Winter in this New England state is cold, and resorts for skiers and snowboarders are located throughout the White Mountains. Bretton Woods, the largest ski resort, includes ski runs for all levels from beginner to expert as well as 62 miles of cross-country trails. The Mount Washington resort also offers horse-drawn sleigh rides, tubing, snowshoeing, fat tire biking, weekend night skiing, and guided adventures like ice climbing. Cannon Mountain, located within Franconia Notch State Park, was the site of the first World Cup ski race in North America. Wildcat Mountain Ski Resort, best suited for upper intermediate and advanced skiers, offers a variety of lodging. At family and intermediate skier-friendly Waterville Valley Resort, kids ski for free (with an adult season plus pass), and there’s tubing, an ice arena, and indoor climbing walls. Mt. Washington Valley Ski Touring and Snowshoe Foundation offers cross country skiing and snowshoe trails for all abilities with trails winding through a variety of terrains. Skiers who want to explore some new mountains and trails this year might find a new favorite in the Granite State of New Hampshire.

Austin, Texas

There’s a lot to do in Austin in January, even though there’s a chill in the air with temperatures ranging from the mid-40’s to the mid-60’s most days. It’s ideal for a bike ride or hike around Lady Bird Lake on the Ann and Roy Butler Trail, named for a former mayor and his wife. Cover all ten miles or part of the way on this dog-friendly path with views of downtown Austin. You can get away from a chilly day and absorb some culture at the same time at the University of Texas, Austin where you’ll find the Blanton Museum of Art and the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, as well as other museums to explore. Watch a movie like they did in the old days at the Blue Starlite Drive-in, or climb a wall at the Austin Bouldering Project. Check out the restaurants, nightlife, and shopping on South Congress Avenue, or visit one of Austin’s many breweries or distilleries for a taste of local beer and spirits. Stay in the heart of downtown at the new Hotel ZaZa Austin, with guest rooms, suites, and Perfect Strangers, a ground-level lounge. Lone Star Court in The Domain district is set on four acres of landscaped courtyards with lawn games, fire pits, and complimentary bicycles. The new Commodore Perry Estate, Auberge Resorts Collection, is an architectural landmark on ten secluded acres just outside of downtown Austin. Their Thursday night fireside cocktails and s’mores on the estate grounds are a great way to enjoy a winter evening.

Riviera Maya, Mexico

Riviera Maya is located south of Cancun along the east coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. From the fishing village of Puerto Morelos in the north to Tulum in the south, the Caribbean Sea is the focus of this popular vacation destination. January is the dry season there, with temperatures reaching the low 80s. Mayan culture is foremost on the Yucatan Peninsula, and archeological ruins in Tulum and the ancient pyramid in Coba are worth a visit. About a hundred miles east of Tulum, the pyramid at Chichen Itza is a World Heritage Site and archaeological wonder, perfect for a day trip if your vacation time permits. Riviera Maya’s cenotes, water-filled sinkholes that form natural underwater pools, were viewed by the ancient Mayans as passages to the underworld. Swimming or snorkeling is possible in their clear waters, with many accessible by ladders. Resorts, hotels, guest houses, and rentals provide lodging at just about every budget level. The Hotel Xcaret includes access to their private parks and activities. Vidanta offers a range of luxurious hotel properties. In Tulum, Casa Malca offers Caribbean and garden views. Or at the Viceroy Riviera Maya, choose a beachfront villa or one surrounded by lush jungle, all with private plunge pools and outdoor showers. Mayakoba, a 620-acre luxury development in a private gated area features four hotels, residences, and the El Camaleon golf course, home of the PGA Tour Mayakoba Golf Classic. The Andaz Mayakoba, Banyan Tree Mayakoba, Fairmont Mayakoba, and Rosewood Mayakoba offer guestrooms, villas, and residences.  

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