Fall’s an easy sell. Once it rolls out those showy colors, people think nothing of traveling miles to watch it unfold. Winter, though, is a mixed bag — with many wanting to jet off farther afield. Here are some choice destinations to help satisfy your seasonal wanderlust. By Berit Thorkelson
Grand Marais, Minn.
You really should get extra “true Minnesotan” points for visiting Grand Marais in winter.
Sure, it’s cold, and some businesses shut down or run on limited hours, but dress for the weather and reap your reward. Among the grand potentials: Frozen waterfalls, Northern Lights dancing across the dark winter sky and a Lake Superior so stunningly furious you get the sense that you might benefit from a life jacket even while standing on shore.
Other draws are more reliable, such as classes on kick-sled building or lefse-making at North House Folk School, all of the winter sports, and a high concentration of cozy public fireplaces, such as Voyageur Brewing Company’s slate-stone wood-burning beaut, which holds craft beer and fireside knitting sessions during Hygge Festival in February. Word is you get double true Minnesotan points for that one.
Where to stay: Try East Bay Suites, right on Lake Superior. Bonus: The suites’ kitchens and nearby co-op make a great combo during the quiet winter season. eastbaysuites.com
Worth noting: Among the many Cook County fall and winter festivals: The Lake Superior Storm Festival, with speakers on the legendary Gales of November.
Like a favorite fun aunt, Bayfield is always waiting with good reason for you to visit. Location is a big part of the draw. The town sits on the eastern edge of the Bayfield Peninsula, where both views and climate benefit from Lake Superior and the famed Apostle Islands archipelago. When mainland trees farther south have lost their leaves, Bayfield is still heading toward peak color, typically the second week in October.
It’s all but a requirement to visit Madeline Island, the archipelago’s largest, a 20-minute ferry ride away. It’s the only one of 22 that’s not part of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, allowing outfitters, restaurants and attractions, all with an island vibe, to coexist with the beaches and quintessential ribboned, tree-topped sandstone shoreline. Bring your vehicle or your bike — you can rent one, too — for access to trails and beaches.
Where to stay: Historic bed-and-breakfasts reign here, and the Pinehurst Inn is a high-end standout that’s earned sustainability awards for efforts including native landscaping, solar-heated water and offering eco-friendly robes and linens. There are also plenty of modern options right downtown. pinehurstinn.com
Pro tip: Find out which of the area’s fifty-some apple varieties are ready to pick at Bayfield.org/orchards, updated twice weekly through mid-October.
Titletown District, Green Bay, Wis.
The Green Bay Packers have an incredible story. They’re the only NFL team owned by fans who bought shares to be a part of something, not billionaires running it for a profit. They also have the smallest hometown in the NFL — in all of U.S. pro sports, for that matter — with Lambeau Field the beating heart of it.
The story’s newest chapter is the Titletown District unfolding in nearly 45 acres west of Lambeau. The first phase opened this summer with three anchor tenants. Lodge Kohler is a four-diamond hotel with a top-floor restaurant and panoramic bar (above), ground level cafe and full spa, all open to the public. Hinterland is a local farm-to-table restaurant and craft brewery with upper level fine-dining and a main floor with retractable walls and heated concrete to help fans get their pregame on. Bellin Health Titletown Sports Medicine & Orthopedics is the team orthopedist’s new home and aims to be a destination for athletes around the country.
An 8-acre park and plaza debuts this fall with a bocce court, Ping-Pong tables, playground, athletic field and more. Winter will bring a refrigerated pond-style rink and skating trail, a tubing hill that makes its own snow, a fire pit and a cafe serving hot cocoa and lunches. If all goes as planned, construction on Phase Two will begin in the next year or two and include residential, office space, and lots more restaurants and entertainment.
Where to stay: Lodge Kohler, of course. This location has 134 rooms, 10 suites, the Kohler Waters Spa and Lambeau Field views, with Packer game stay-and-play packages. lodgekohler.com
Did you know: Though the Packers have the longest season-ticket waitlist in the league and a renewal rate of 99 percent, anyone hoping to sit among the foam cheese hat-wearing throngs still has shot through Ticketmaster, thanks to visiting team and season-ticket holder returns. packers.com
You wouldn’t be the first to assume New Orleans to be a Southern U.S. city, being that technically, it’s located in the southern U.S. Attempts to better capture its unique, evolutionary culture have led to descriptions including “the northernmost Caribbean city,” or “the westernmost European city,” which is to say that New Orleans defies geography — or perhaps transcends it. And it’s a really easy city to fall in love with.
The courtship traditionally involves music and food, both scenes so saturated that they go well beyond legends like Bourbon Street and Café du Monde. You’d be smart to start your exploration on Frenchman Street in the Marigny neighborhood (above). Live music lives here, on corners and in such venues as the Spotted Cat and Snug Harbor, or even out in the street, depending on the night. And Morning Call is Café du Monde’s not-so-internationally-famous rival, serving excellent chicory coffee and beignets out of a 1912 Spanish Mission-style space in City Park, New Orleans’ 1,300-acre version of Central Park.
Where to stay: Hotel Monteleone, a luxurious landmark on Royal Street in the French Quarter, has 570 rooms plus 55 suites. Even if you land elsewhere, stop into the famous Carousel Bar & Lounge to sip a Vieux Carré at the revolving 20-seat bar. (The drink was invented here.) hotelmonteleone.com
Worth noting: The city’s full of amazing chefs celebrating its culinary diversity, Creole and beyond. Among them: Alon Shaya’s modern Israeli restaurant Shaya. shayarestaurant.com
San Diego is known for reliably offering up as much sand, surf and sun as a person can handle. California’s beach city has year-round temperatures in the 70s. (But be warned, winter nights can dip into the 40s.)
On top of the ridiculously perfect weather, it’s a kid’s dream destination, with more man-made and natural attractions and tours than a family could hope to tackle in a week. Updates at some of the biggies make them fresh for return visitors. The San Diego Zoo, for example, started rolling out its six new African habitats and their residents this summer, from Cape Fynbos penguins to West African Forest crocodiles. Among the free local parks and trails, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is a standout for its mix of woods and beach, with trail-top ocean panoramas. And Balboa Park and its iconic Spanish Colonial Revival buildings (pictured) hold no fewer than 17 museums, plus more than 10 performing arts spaces. And the view from the recently reopened California Tower there goes all the way to Mexico.
Where to stay: The Legoland Hotel is made to look as if it was built with life-size Legos. Perks include a Lego welcome gift; Ninjago, Adventure and other Lego-themed rooms and early access to Legoland. legoland.com/california
Did you know: October is San Diego’s slow time, and the San Diego Tourism Authority rolls out Kids Free San Diego with 100 hotels, restaurants and attractions offering freebies and deals. sandiego.org/kidsfree
Sanibel Island, Fla.
Of course you’ll go shelling. Sanibel is 3 miles off the Florida coast near Fort Myers, a smile-shaped east-west island blessed with white-sand beaches and an underwater shelf that readily accepts the gulf currents’ treasures, namely more than 400 varieties of shells.
Serious shellers plan trips around low tide and head out before dawn with headlamps, but even casual hunters can easily accumulate bucketsful of conches and scallops and the most perfect little intact sand dollars, too. The head-down, shell-searching posture is so common on beaches here that it has its own name, the Sanibel Stoop.
Another Sanibel draw is the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Part of the world’s largest undeveloped mangrove system, it’s a haven for 250-some species of migratory birds (as well as alligators and other wildlife). Start with the free Visitor & Education Center and 4-mile scenic drive. Three hiking-trail spurs and tours, through the refuge’s official outfitter Tarpon Bay Explorers, get you as close a view of things as you’re comfortable with, whether from a tour bus window or stand-up paddleboard among the mangroves.
Where to stay: The Island Inn is classic Sanibel. On top of a 122-year history, it has 49 cottages, rooms and suites, including 12 upgraded ones debuting in January, all overlooking 550 feet of private beachfront. islandinnsanibel.com
True story: It’s law in Sanibel that nothing can be built taller than the tallest palm tree. There aren’t any stoplights, either.
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
This Caribbean country that shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti has a reputation for delivering an all-inclusive slice of paradise. Powdery white sand, swaying palms, turquoise waves and rum drinks are abundant. Most travelers fly into and stay in Punta Cana, the country’s resort-compound capital. Though beach-lazing is easy, and highly encouraged, there’s a diverse island to explore, with farmland and fishing villages, inland jungle and southwestern desert, including the highest and lowest points in the Caribbean. You can also go kite surfing, actual surfing, hot air ballooning or Zorbing (aka roll around in one of those giant inflatable hamster balls). This is a golfer’s paradise, too. In fact, the PGA is making its first-ever stop here in March for the new Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship, with a Tom Fazio-designed course. Other courses, such as Barceló Bavaro Grand Resort’s, offer more relaxed and less expensive experiences.
There’s a saying among Dominicans — “It’s about more than a game.” Game meaning baseball. Get a sense of the sentiment at a Dominican Professional Baseball League game at the stadium in La Romana, an hour away. Some of the 38 Dominican players who started in MLB games last year have it written into their contract that they can play on their island home team during the off season. The winning team represents the Dominican in the Caribbean Series.
This fall is a reminder that hurricanes can be a serious threat in the Caribbean. Be cautious when planning a vacation between June and November.
Where to stay: The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is the absolute biggest all-inclusive, with 1,790 rooms; 13 pools with swim-up bars; nine restaurants; an 18-hole Nicklaus-designed golf course; the Dominican Republic’s largest casino, concerts and more. hardrockhotelpuntacana.com
A reason to celebrate: The Dominican Republic celebrates Carnival during February, with each town hosting its own unique version. Celebrations culminate on the 27th, the date it gained independence from its neighbor Haiti in 1844.
Canary Islands, Spain
To track down traditional beach weather in Spain in the winter, you’ll need to head south. Ideally way south, to the Canary Islands, nearer western North Africa than Spain. It’s always tapas-on-the beach season here. It is enjoyed by few Americans but plenty of Europeans, who come for the steady subtropical weather and clear waters and trade winds — excellent for kite- and windsurfing. Each of the seven islands has its own personality.
They owe everything to their volcanic status — beaches, basalt cliffs, underwater arches, forested craters and lunar-looking lava fields. And also Teide, which at 3,718 meters is Spain’s highest peak and the world’s third highest volcano, as well as the star of Tenerife — Teide National Park. It is a six-hour hike or eight-minute cable-car ride to the top.
Also in Tenerife: One of the Canaries’ three designated Starlight Reserves, where the natural clarity of the sky is legally protected, controlling such things as flight patterns and light pollution. This is known as some of the best stargazing in the world, and so-called astro-tourists flock here for astrophysicist-led stargazing walks and astrophotography tours. Teide National Park offers a Sunset and Stars Tour, combining the volcano at sunset and a cocktail dinner by two Michelin-star chef Erlantz Gorostiza followed by a Teide-top tour of the night sky.
Where to stay: Paradores are Spanish government-owned hotels throughout the country designed to be a win-win: Visitors get overnights in castles, fortresses, convents and other typically historic buildings, and those buildings net money for upkeep. There are five paradores on the Canary Islands, including an oceanside hotel and mountain lodge in Teide National Park. parador.es
Worth noting: The Canary Islands were not named for the bird, but rather the bird for the islands. Legend has it that ancient explorers were struck by the islands’ wild dogs, and canis, Latin for dog, evolved into Canarias, the islands’ Spanish name.