Is washington dc a good place to visit in winter
The Best Places to Visit in Winter in the USA (According to Travel Bloggers!)
Last Updated: August 12, 2022
If you’re plotting a winter vacation around the US this year, I have some good news and some bad news…
Okay, it’s mainly good news. You’re spoiled for choice. The bad news is you need to confront every millennial’s worst nightmare and make an actual decision.
From warm winter vacations in the USA to frosty Narnia-esque winter wonderlands, there’s plenty of options to contemplate as you’ll see in this list of American winter vacation ideas.
And because my personal US travel experiences are limited to the cringiest of the cringe (think Cheesecake Factory hopping and stalking the cast of the Lord of the Rings), I’ve enlisted the help of some true USA travel experts who are here today to dish out on the best winter vacations in the US!
So, below, you’ll find recommendations for the best places to visit in winter in the USA, from top travel bloggers who have made it their business to know this sort of thing.
Time to plan the perfect USA winter getaway!
PS: If you love Christmas markets, be sure to research Christmas market opening dates in the US in advance. Many markets are only on for select dates throughout the season, so avoid disappointment by researching early.
Save this post on Pinterest for later:
1. San Francisco, California
by Kristel & Gabriel Glasier | Chef Travel Guide
Located in Northern California, this 7×7-square mile city is famously known for its iconic Golden Gate Bridge, historic cable cars, colorful Victorian houses, diverse cultures and world-class cuisine.
San Francisco receives millions of tourists each year but visiting this vibrant city in the winter means fewer crowds and more affordable hotel rates with plenty of things to do and explore.
The city by the bay offers a lot of bustling activities in the winter. Whether you go whale watching, see the barking sea lions on Pier 39, marvel at world-renowned holiday performances and impressive light displays, or experience a festive Chinese New Year parade, there’s clearly no shortage of things to do.
The holidays are celebrated in the city with giant Christmas trees, two-story gingerbread houses, a lighted boat parade and even a Santa-themed pub crawl.
Another event to check out is the Illuminate SF Festival of Light which brightens the city until New Year’s day where over 30 dramatic light art installations fill the neighborhoods.
Known for its culture of culinary excellence, San Francisco has beckoned food lovers for decades.
The diversity of cuisine available is impressive ranging from authentic Thai street food to world-class dim sum and fresh Peruvian ceviche.
Visiting the city in the winter is also great for wine enthusiasts to experience an incredible amount of varietals from different wine producers in one place. The San Francisco Chronicle wine competition and Uncorked Wine Festival are notable events to consider.
With average temperatures resting in the high 50s, San Francisco has a unique micro-climate where temperatures can vary from one block to the next.
It could be cold and foggy one minute then suddenly turn clear and sunny the next. So make sure to pack layers to stay warm as well as a comfortable pair of walking shoes in order to enjoy this beautiful city in the winter.
Curious about California? Read this California fun facts post for more.
2. Telluride, Colorado
Telluride is one of the best winter destinations in the United States for many reasons. A former silver mining town in Colorado’s Southwest corner, it boasts a unique Old West vibe and a great outdoor scene with incredible trails for mountain biking, hiking in summer and uncrowded ski slopes in winter.
Its central street, Colorado Avenue, boasts buildings from the late 19th to early 20th century that had been constructed during the mining boom of Telluride. Since the 1970s, the town has been revamped as a ski resort thanks to the efforts of Joseph Zoline.
What makes Telluride a great place to visit is its remote location – this town is located in the San Juan Mountains and requires over 5 hours of driving from the nearest major airport in Denver.
However, you can fly into Montrose or Grand Junction on Colorado’s Western slope, if you want a shorter commute. The location of Telluride makes it more exclusive than other popular ski resorts such as Vail, Eagle or Breckenridge that can be easily accessed via Interstate-70 in Colorado.
Located in the box canyon, Telluride has no more than 2,500 residents and has been spared from mass development. Things are kept uniquely local here which made this small town so popular among people who have come to enjoy all things Telluride.
To explore even more of this beautiful state, consider taking a Southwest Colorado road trip.
Insider tip: The gondola to Mountain Village is free! Take it even if you are not going to hit the slopes.
3. Napa Valley, California
Napa Valley is a classy and cozy destination for a winter getaway. Known for being the location of many world class wineries, the comfortable winter weather in Napa Valley is perfect for sipping a cabernet on a heated patio.
Winter in Napa Valley is mild compared to other parts of the USA. While you aren’t likely to see snow on the ground, you probably won’t be wearing shorts or tank tops either. It is possible that it could be chilly and rainy, but it could also be sunny and warm enough that a jacket wouldn’t be required. As long as it’s dry, the weather is very lovely for taking any outdoor winery tours or doing a patio tasting.
Winter is also low-season in Napa Valley, which means you can visit some of the most famous wineries with next to no crowds. This makes for a more individualized and enjoyable tasting experience. Many wineries require reservations, but with less competition, chances are you’ll be able to visit whichever wineries you want with very little notice.
One hidden gem you must add to your Napa Valley itinerary is Robert Biale Vineyards. With views of the grape vines from their patio that also offer the occasional rainbow, a tasting here of their delicious red wine is a must.
Fun fact – many of the wineries will offer wine variations from grapes grown on the “valley floor” versus those grown on Howell Mountain. Be sure to do a tasting that lets you experience both, as you will notice a minerality difference!
4. Bend, Oregon
By Erika | Erika’s Travels
Bend is Oregon’s premier outdoor playground. Home to lakes, rivers, mountains, desert and unusual volcanic landscapes, it is a year-round dream for nature lovers and photographers.
In summer, Bend is a magnet for hikers, rock climbers, mountain bikers and water sports enthusiasts. Between November and April, it is the gateway to some of Oregon’s best skiing at Mount Bachelor.
Unlike western Oregon, Bend sits east of the Cascade Mountains, where sunshine is in abundance. Even in winter, the town’s clear blue skies often reveal an incredible blanket of stars.
For lovers of winter sports, Bend is an absolute dream. The area is a haven for downhill skiers and snowboarders. In addition, it contains ice skating rinks, sledding hills, and miles upon miles trails suitable for Nordic skiing and snowshoeing.
Though snow sports reign supreme during winters in Bend, many of the area’s hiking trails are still snow-free and accessible. To witness the best of the city’s scenery in winter, you can stroll through ancient Juniper forests in the Oregon Badlands Wilderness, follow the Deschutes River Trail through downtown, or meander below the soaring cliffs of nearby Smith Rock State Park.
If you’re looking to warm up after a morning in the snow, you can visit the heated pool at McMenamin’s Old St Francis School, or head out of town for a soak in one of Central Oregon’s many fantastic hot springs.
After a fun-filled day of adventuring outdoors, head to Bend’s quaint downtown for a delicious pint of beer at one of the town’s many microbreweries.
Bend has over 30 independent breweries—among the most per capita of any city in the United States. The city even has its very own Ale Trail, which is a perfect indoor alternative when it is simply too cold to enjoy the outdoors.
Looking for more ideas? There are so many things to do in Central Oregon!
5. Mammoth Lakes, California
By Dayna Brockbank | Happily Ever Travels
Mammoth Lakes is the perfect winter destination for those looking for snow-capped mountains, vast frozen lakes, and some of the best skiing in the USA! Imagine cozying up in a cabin, defrosting in front of a fire with some hot chocolate in hand and you’re picturing this incredible winter destination in California.
Mammoth Lakes is most famous for the Mammoth Mountain ski resort which has California’s highest chairlift-serviced peak. It is known for having one of the longest ski seasons in the US that sometimes lasts all the way into July or August!
However, if skiing and snowboarding aren’t for you, there’s still plenty to do in the area! Bundle up in warm clothes and find a hill for sledding or hop in the car and search for the best frozen lakes at sunset.
One of the best local secrets in Mammoth Lakes is an adorably quaint used bookstore in the town center called Booky Joint. You can spend hours searching through the genres to find the perfect book to curl up on the couch to read while the snow falls outside.
Whether you’re searching for a cozy winter getaway or a ton of adventurous fun in the snow, Mammoth Lakes is the perfect US destination in the winter!
6. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
by Derek & Mike | Robe Trotting
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is one of America’s biggest and most exciting cities to visit. The destination shines all year, but there are a lot of things to do in Philadelphia that make it a perfect winter destination.
Philly is known as the birthplace of America and a city full of history. Independence Hall is a warm place to visit and escape the cold to see where the Declaration of Independence and American Constitution were signed. Best of all, free tours are conducted hourly and there are other must-see sites within a block like the Liberty Bell and American Constitution Center.
You can also find an exhibit at the site of America’s first Presidential Mansion. Many people don’t realize that Philadelphia was the capital of the nation as Washington DC was being prepared as the seat of government. George Washington lived just steps from the Liberty Bell and there’s a fascinating exhibit of that period in American history.
Christmas in Philadelphia is an exciting season in the city. There are holiday trees all over and the best ones to visit are the trees in LOVE Park and City Hall. Both are surrounded by Christmas Markets with vendors, food stands and entertainers on the weekends.
Outdoor ice skating is available at Dilworth Plaza next to City Hall and at Penn’s Landing on the Delaware River waterfront. Both are perfect places to skate with great city views and offer tents for drinks and refreshments after your skate.
If you have time, there are some perfect winter day trips from Philadelphia. You can reach ski slopes in the Pocono Mountains in under two hours. The botanical gardens of Longwood Gardens also present a seasonal holiday display of lights, decorations and floral masterpieces.
There’s so much waiting in Philadelphia for anyone making it their winter getaway destination!
7. Key West, Florida
by Pauline | BeeLoved City
If you wish to escape the cold and enjoy some time in a warm winter destination, Key West will be perfect for you!
Part of the beautiful Florida Keys, Key West is one of the most unique places to visit in the world.
The most popular place to visit is Duval Street. You will find all the bars, restaurants and shops there. It’s a very lively street, perfect for grabbing a drink and listening to live music. In the evening, make sure to head to Mallory Square for the sunset celebration. The views are fantastic and the atmosphere is very festive!
Of course, no trip to Key West would be complete without taking a photo with the Southernmost Point Buoy. As the name hints, it’s the southernmost point in the continental USA!
If you are up for a day trip, book a tour (or hop on the ferry) to Dry Tortugas National Park. This beautiful hidden gem in Florida features amazing snorkelling spots. Fort Jefferson also used to be a prison during the civil war. If you are into history, you will love this day trip.
Key West is also a great place to go on a ghost tour! There are many legends and stories about Key West and some of them are quite spooky.
Finally, you can visit the incredible museums! Key West used to be Ernest Hemingway’s home. If you’d like to see the famous journalist’s home, you can do so in old town Key West.
8. Marquette, Michigan
by Emily Hines | Em’s on the Road
Tucked away on the coast of Lake Superior is the quaint college town of Marquette, Michigan.
Averaging around 150 inches of snow each year, it is a true winter wonderland and known as one of the snowiest cities east of the Rocky Mountains.
With miles of trails for snow biking, snowmobiling, and cross country skiing, outdoor enthusiasts travel to Marquette all winter long for adventure in the Northwoods.
If you’re looking for something even more exhilarating, try ice climbing on some of the beautiful sandstone cliffs at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
You don’t have to be a thrill-seeker to enjoy a winter vacation in Marquette.
Bring a pair of snowshoes for a gorgeous hike around the Presque Isle Park designed by Central Park’s Frederick Law Olmstead. Go for a spin downtown at the city’s ice skating rink before warming with a beer by a fire at one of Marquette’s local breweries.
For a truly unique Upper Peninsula experience plan a long weekend in February to see the start of the UP 200 dog sledding race. Hundreds of people flood downtown Marquette to see the racers and dogs kick off the big race on a snow-covered street downtown.
9. Fairbanks, Alaska
With a population of just over 30,000 in the city proper, Fairbanks, Alaska is the second largest city in the state. It is also one of the best winter destinations in the USA.
If you’re dreaming of a white winter season, soft snow blankets this entire town, and at the start of the Winter Solstice, the entire city transforms into a wonderland with street lamps and storefronts decorated in tinsel, garland, and fairy lights.
Fairbanks is known for its winter activities, but the most popular things to do in Fairbanks in winter revolve around dog sledding, reindeer ranches, hot springs, and chasing the Northern Lights. Fairbanks is also close to the town of North Pole, home to Santa’s Workshop – a giant Christmas gift shop. During December, local volunteers dress up as Santa for visits and to answer Christmas wish lists from kids.
If you really want to make the most out of your trip, be sure to visit Fairbanks during one of it’s many winter festivals or events. If you don’t mind skipping the holiday season, the beginning of March crosses three different big events: the World Ice Sculpting Championships, the Festival of Native Arts, and Alaska’s famed Iditarod (technically not usually in Fairbanks, but it is the buzz of the city all month long).
Visiting during a festival or event will give you the opportunity to see a more cultural and artistic side of Fairbanks, and leave a deeper and more unique understanding of the city.
by Lindsay Puls | Have Clothes, Will Travel
Visiting Wisconsin in winter may not be at the top of many traveler’s lists, but it should be. While this Midwest state does boast some of the country’s coldest winter temperatures, Wisconsinites have embraced the frigid climate and created many fun and unique winter activities to enjoy.
The must-do winter activity in Wisconsin, of course, is attending a Green Bay Packers’ game. This professional American football team plays its games in an outdoor stadium, Lambeau Field. It’s been nicknamed “The Frozen Tundra,” and for good reason!
It’s not uncommon for temperatures to dip well below freezing and to be covered in a fresh blanket of snow while in this stadium. (The coldest game ever played here is known as the “Ice Bowl” and the temperature was -13 degrees Fahrenheit when the Packers took on the Dallas Cowboys.)
Enjoying some of the state’s natural beauty in winter is an incredible experience as well. The Apostle Island’s Ice Caves are in Bayfield, Wisconsin and a must-see.
They are caves along Lake Superior where the waves splash against the rock and begin to freeze to the sandstone cliff.
They are typically accessible in late January to late February, as Lake Superior needs to be frozen solid to walk to these stunning caves. (There are also TONS of cool and unique Airbnb’s in this area – such as treehouses and yurts!)
One of the state’s most popular tourist destinations in summer, Door County, is also a fantastic winter escape with far fewer tourists.
Some of the best things to do in Door County in winter are ice fishing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ice skating, visiting wineries and taking a winter wine tour and sleigh ride, shopping at quaint family-owned shops, visiting the area’s art galleries and then warming up at night with an old fashioned and fish fry at a local supper club.
11. Duluth, Minnesota
by Alexandra Schmidt | The Mindful Mermaid
Also known as the “Zenith City of the Unsalted Sea”, Duluth rests on the shores of Lake Superior in Northern Minnesota. It was originally settled by the indigenous Dakota and Ojibwa peoples, and later became a bustling port town with more millionaires per capita than any other city in the world!
Today Duluth is most known as a popular summer destination on the coast of the largest freshwater lake in the world (by surface area). However, there are plenty of things to do in Duluth in winter as well. The variety of indoor and outdoor activities make it one of the most underrated winter destinations in the USA.
Every winter Duluth hosts the Bentleyville “Tour of Lights”, the largest, free Christmas light festival in the country. The festival illuminates the Bayfront Park, where guests can walk through the light display while drinking hot cocoa or hot wine. You’ll want to dress warm for this, but it’s an awesome activity to do with kids, or even for a romantic date night.
If you’re into skiing or snowboarding, you definitely will want to head to Spirit Mountain in Duluth. As most of Minnesota is flat, Spirit is without a doubt the best place to hit the slopes in the state. You can also go snow-mobiling or snow tubing in this area as well.
If you’d like to stay inside during the winter, you could easily spend a weekend checking out the restaurants in Duluth. One of my favorite indoor activities is the Zeitgeist, an upscale American diner attached to a boutique movie theatre screening indie films. If you’re looking for a unique place to grab a drink, check out the Rathskeller speak-easy cocktail bar, located in the former Duluth City Hall building.
12. Denver, Colorado
by Sarah Fay | Travels of Sarah Fay
This winter why not head to Denver, Colorado for a weekend getaway. Close to the mountains if you feel like going skiing but also offering plenty of other things to do in the winter, Denver is the perfect winter destination.
As you arrive from the airport to Union Station you will be greeted by a historic train station decorated for the holidays to get you in the spirit. Union Station is amazing in itself for restaurants, coffee, and is the perfect spot to relax after your journey to Denver.
Want to get outdoors in the Mile High City? Head to the Skyline Park to go ice skating. The best part is access to the ice-skating rink is free if you have your own skates. Otherwise, rent ice skates for $9 USD for adults and $7 USD for 12 and under.
There are so many things to do in the winter in Denver, from exploring the food markets like Denver Central Food Market to seeing cultural museums like the Denver Art Museum. Also, if you are able, take a tour of the Denver Capital – they do offer those for free!
Finally, you won’t want to miss the huge 110-foot tree made of lights in the center of Denver during the month of December. If you are ever in Denver on a layover there are many things you can do in a short time, and it is easy to get into the city center by train.
Fun fact about Denver: Denver Airport is the third-largest in the world spanning 35,000 acres and there are many conspiracy theories as to why it is so large!
13. Joshua Tree, California
by Ben Holbrook | DriftwoodJournals
Many of the most beautiful places on Earth are simply too hot during summer to enjoy. California’s Joshua Tree National Park, which hovers around 99°F / 37°C for most of the year, is one of those places. But the milder months of winter, from December through to March, are absolutely ideal for exploring this beautifully bizarre desertscape.
With some 794,000 acres to explore, incorporating two deserts (Colorado and Mojave), ‘JT’ is an adventure lover’s paradise – and the stuff of dreams for geologists and nature lovers.
Climb the ‘Chasm of Doom’, created by a jumble of hulking boulders jammed into a tunnel-like canyon, or keep it a bit more chill with a gentle hike along the fascinating Indian Cove Trail, which hints at the many Native American tribes that once called these lands home.
The iconic yucca trees cast the most fascinating shadows throughout the day and all seem to have their own unique sense of self and character. They were named by Mormon settlers, who saw the branches reaching up towards the heavens and thought of the biblical prophet Joshua, who was said to point the way to the Promised Land.
Temperatures can drop a little low at night time to camp out during the winter, but there are plenty of hotels to stay at nearby. Check into one of the many classic Californian hotels in Palm Springs, most of which have some kind of link to rockstar royalty – Joshua Tree is after all something of an oasis for LA-based artists in need of privacy and solitude. Book a room at The Monkey Tree Hotel, where JFK and Marilyn Monroe famously spent a night together.
14. Rocky Mountain National Park
by Jenny | Campsite Vibes
Rocky Mountain National Park is a perfect trip for winter lovers. The entire park transforms into a winter wonderland!
Make sure to dress appropriately for your winter adventures. Leave the tennis shoes at home and opt-in for insulated winter boots that will keep your feet warm and dry. If you’re going hiking, wear microspikes or snowshoes to add some traction to every step. It will help keep you from slipping around on ice or slippery snow. Or if you don’t want to hike or snowshoe, you can go back country or cross country skiing.
Part of the park is closed during the winter months, but there are still many hikes to do. One of the prettiest winter hikes is to Nymph, Dream and Emerald Lake. The trail is 3.8 miles round trip.
It starts from Bear Lake and continues to the first lake, Nymph Lake. From there, keep going to Dream Lake as it opens up views of the peaks above and the frozen lake. If it’s not too windy, you can continue on to Emerald Lake which is also worth the views.
Even in the winter months, you might see wildlife activity in the park. Elk and bighorn sheep are common. Make sure to keep a safe distance from wildlife!
15. Mt Baker, Washington
Mt Baker in the northern Cascade Mountain range of Washington State is the perfect USA winter getaway if you like snowy adventures!
Mt Baker Ski Resort is one of the few remaining family-run ski resorts in the entire country. It has everything from beginner-friendly green runs to some off-piste skiing for more advanced skiers.
One of the best things is that there are rarely any lines for the lifts and the slopes are quiet since most people end up traveling to one of the bigger resorts. Prices are also much lower than those at nearby Whistler or other larger resorts. If that wasn’t enough, Mt Baker typically gets the biggest snowfall of any ski resort in the lower 48!
If skiing isn’t your thing, rent some snowshoes from The Glacier Ski Shop in the small town of Glacier before heading up the mountain. While there are many snowshoe routes to pick, the Artist Point snowshoe trail is the most rewarding.
On a clear day, you’ll get views of Mt Baker and Mt Shuksan and it quickly becomes clear why the area is called Artist Point! The trail is 6.3km (4 miles) long and easy enough to follow as it’s well marked, just make sure to take plenty of layers as the weather changes quickly.
After some outdoor adventure, head back down the mountain to Glacier and grab dinner at Chair 9: their pizza is huge and delicious! And, while there’s no accommodation at the ski area itself, there are plenty of beautiful cabins with hot tubs around Glacier to rent out on Airbnb.
Fun Fact: Mt Baker is actually an active volcano! Don’t worry too much though, it hasn’t erupted lava in over 6,700 years! Learn more in this Washington fun facts post.
16. Leavenworth, Washington
If you can’t make it to Europe for Christmas Markets this winter, you can at least pretend you’re there! The Bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth is just a bit more than a 2-hour drive from Seattle, but it feels a world away from the hustle of the Pacific Northwest’s biggest metropolis. You can read this fun Seattle facts post for more.
As the snow starts to fall and the Christmas lights twinkle, Leavenworth begins to look like the scene out of a snow globe. Yes, really! There is a picture-perfect gazebo in the center of town where musicians dressed in traditional German garb gather to play carols, and beside it is a small sledding hill for the little ones.
During the month of December, visitors flock from near and far to see Leavenworth’s famed Christmas lighting ceremonies that take place on the weekends.
If you can’t visit in December (or just want to avoid the crowds), don’t worry because the downtown businesses keep their Christmas lights lit through the winter months, well after Christmas.
Fun fact: While Leavenworth is known for its Bavarian-inspired facades today, it wasn’t always that way. In an attempt to revive this former logging town in the 1960s, the city decided a German theme would be a good way to draw tourists to the area. And they were right! Today, much of Leavenworth’s economy revolves around the tourism industry.
There are many things to do in Leavenworth, but for a little adventure, rent a pair of snowshoes and explore some nearby trails. Or to kick it up a notch, head to nearby Stevens Pass for a day on the ski slopes. When you need to warm up, head to a brewery for a local beer, a hot pretzel, and a German bratwurst. If you’re lucky, you can enjoy your meal with live music in the background.
While there are plenty of nice guesthouses in and around the Leavenworth area, try choosing one with a hot tub. It is a magical place to have a hot soak as the snowflakes fall all around you!
17. New York, New York
by Kelly Duhigg | Girl with the Passport
If you’re looking for one of the best winter destinations in the USA, then look no further than New York City – a vibrant and cosmopolitan metropolis that comes alive with winter wonder and holiday cheer as soon as the temperature drops and the snow begins to fall.
Throughout the winter, special events pop up that make this a fun and exciting destination for locals and tourists alike. Start your winter visit to NYC with a trip to Rockefeller Center, where you can see the enchanting Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
While you’re there, you can also see the world-famous Rockettes kick up their heels at the annual Radio City Christmas Spectacular, which held inside the one and only Radio City Music Hall.
Whatever you do, don’t go ice skating in Rockefeller Center since it is insanely crowded and ridiculously expensive. Instead, visit one of the many other outdoor ice rinks that pop up throughout the city, like the Standard Rink on the High-line or the Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers.
Next, visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral and marvel at the beautiful holiday-inspired lights and window displays that you’ll find at Saks Fifth Avenue.
If you have the cash to spare, you can also see the Nutcracker Ballet at Lincoln Center or do a bit of shopping (and eating) at some of the Christmas markets at Grand Central Terminal, Bryant Park, and Columbus Circle.
Pining over New York? Check out this New York fun facts post for more.
However, no winter trip to the Big Apple would ever be complete without marveling at the Christmas lights in Dyker Heights or visiting Rolf’s, a German restaurant that is known not for their food but for their out of this world Christmas decor. Just imagine vibrant Christmas baubles hanging from every surface of the restaurant and you’ll get a sense of just how stunning this place really is.
by Michael & Nicole | Affordable Family Travel
Hawaii is known for its beautiful beaches and lush landscapes, with great weather year-round making it a great winter destination – especially for avoiding summer crowds.
Hawaii is full of diversity amongst its islands, which is why it is so hard to find a consensus on which island is the best one to visit.
Maui has wonderful luxury resorts, the Road to Hana for hiking and exceptional views, and the best sunrise on Haleakalā. Oahu has the famous Waikiki Beach, Pearl Harbor, North Shore beaches known for their waves and much more.
Families love to stay at Disney’s Aulani Resort on Oahu, with a fun pool complex including lazy river and several slides, calm cove beach, kids club, family activities and Disney Characters. Kauai is known as the Green Island because of its lush greenery and wonderful waterfall hikes. It also boasts the Grand Canyon of the South Pacific, Waimea Canyon State Park.
Hawaii, also known as The Big Island, is the largest Hawaiian island. The Big Island offers beautiful resorts as well as Volcanoes National Park where you can hike and visit fascinating areas covered in black lava rock. The park includes two active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa, the Earth’s largest volcano.
The village of Kona on the other side of the island is a cute town to stroll through. Stop at the Kona Brewery and taste a sampler or spend the evening on a Manta Ray snorkel excursion.
There are also many smaller islands of Hawaii that offer seclusion and gorgeous beaches. Hawaii has much to offer for every type of traveler! Learn more in this Hawaii fun facts post.
19. Fort Lauderdale, Florida
by Stefan & Sebastien | The Nomadic Boys
One favorite winter destination in the USA is Fort Lauderdale in South Florida. Head to what has become known as the “Venice of America” in the winter months to soak up plenty of sunshine and beach time.
Fort Lauderdale is growing a lot in popularity. For years it was overshadowed by its giant sassy neighbour, Miami (just 24 miles south) but slowly it’s becoming the Queen of Florida – quite literally. The gay scene of Fort Lauderdale has mushroomed so much over the past few decades that it has made the city one of the top LGBTQ destinations in the world!
Going to Fort Lauderdale during the winter months is ideal because of the warm weather. December to March is quite warm in Fort Lauderdale (between the high 50s and mid-80s) and is outside of hurricane season, making it perfect beach weather.
One special insider tip is to check out the super cool Bohemian Eucalyptus Gardens. It’s located down an unassuming street with some pretty impressive street art and lots of cafes. A favorite is “Voo La Voo” which makes the tastiest crepes we’ve tried in all of North America.
One fun fact about Fort Lauderdale is that it is nicknamed the “Venice of America” thanks to the many winding ribbons of waterways running through the city. In fact, a total of 300 miles of inland waterways run through the entire Greater Fort Lauderdale.
20. New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans, Louisiana is known around the world as a great place to go for a fun time, especially for Mardi Gras. Equally noteworthy, and the reason many tourists continue returning to the city, New Orleans is famous for its unique, flavorful and world-class cuisine.
While many places in the United States are bundled up during the cold of winter, the people of New Orleans rarely need more than a light jacket. Winter in New Orleans is actually a great time to visit compared to the oppressively hot days in summer.
In the event that it does get a little cold in New Orleans, it’s perfectly acceptable to walk the streets with an adult beverage to help fight off the winter chills. Just don’t try to take your hurricane on the street car – that is forbidden.
New Orleans is full of history and vibrant local culture. For travelers who want to get off the French Quarter tourist trail, venture over to Frenchmen Street. This is a unique area with lots of bars and an eclectic clientele.
Farther from the French Quarter, spend an afternoon uptown, strolling past the shops and restaurants on Magazine Street. After that, head over to St. Charles Avenue to admire the historic mansions from the comfort of a streetcar. Uptown New Orleans is one of the coolest, most beautiful neighborhoods in the USA.
Whether you’re in NOLA for a taste of some of best food in the United States, to listen to some great live music, or just there to have some fun, winter is an excellent time to visit.
21. Death Valley National Park
by Monica | This Rare Earth
Death Valley National Park sits roughly 215 miles and 3.5 hours outside of Los Angeles, CA on the eastern edge of the state. Covering over 5,000 square miles of land, there is a lot to see in Death Valley! It is the largest National Park within the contiguous United States and spans numerous different landscapes.
The park is filled with everything from rugged mountains to white sand dunes, deep canyons and a dry desert. Death Valley sits in the northern Mojave Desert – the same desert covering much of Joshua Tree National Park – and borders the Great Basin Desert.
Because of its location, it shouldn’t be a surprise that it is the hottest and driest of all national parks, as well as one of the hottest spots in the world. During the summer months, temperatures often reach 120 degrees, making any outdoor activity miserable. However, in winter months, the weather is much more agreeable and allows for hiking and sightseeing in comfort. November through February is the perfect time to plan your trip.
With over 30 hiking trails inside of Death Valley National Park to choose from, this is a great place to spend a weekend or more. The famous Badwater Basin sits at 282 feet below sea level, making it the lowest point in all of North America. The Artist’s Palette hills showcase colorful peaks that occur naturally.
The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes transport you to faraway lands as you hike over the tall sand dunes. Zabriskie Point is also mesmerizing, and the most perfect spot to spend a sunset. It’s hard to believe that all of these very different natural formations are inside of one park!
22. Lake Tahoe, California
Lake Tahoe is one of the ultimate ski destinations in the United States, and with numerous resorts to choose from, great towns dotting its shores, and spectacular views, you can’t help but fall in love with it. The most popular winter activity here is skiing, and there are plenty of world class slopes on all sides of the lake.
One of the resorts – the soon-to-be-renamed Squaw Valley – even hosted the 1960 Olympic games and you can ski some of the same slopes the competitors used – or if you’re not quite as athletic as them, you can opt to pay a visit to the Olympic museum atop one of the lifts. There are also opportunities for tubing, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing.
If you fly into the Reno airport (the closest commercial airport to Lake Tahoe), several resorts in the area will give you a free lift ticket for that day when you present your boarding pass. Be sure to take advantage of this!
If hitting the slopes isn’t your thing, you’ll still find plenty to keep you busy. Though there are frequent road closures due to snow and ice, on clear days a scenic drive around the lake will take your breath away. One favorite spot is Sand Harbor State Park on the Nevada side. Here, you’ll be amazed at the clarity of the water and maybe even see snow-covered boulders peeking out of the water.
In the evening, you can find cozy restaurants and bars filled with visitors swapping stories after a long day on the slopes. There are many great dining options and breweries in the small towns dotting the lakeshore.
Fun fact: Because of its immense depth, Lake Tahoe is the 6th largest US lake by volume (after the 5 Great Lakes), though it only ranks as #31 in surface area.
23. Woodstock, Vermont
Woodstock, Vermont is an incredible destination at any time of year, but when traveling in the winter, it is especially magical. First of all, Vermont is a place that is nearly guaranteed to be snowy.
This area of New England has a long and cold winter and snow is a regular part of the program from late November through late March (and sometimes even in April, unfortunately).
Because of this, the mountainous state of Vermont is excellent for skiing, snowboarding, and other outdoor winter activities. But there’s so much more to enjoy during this season.
Vermont has tremendous New England charm and quaintness. And Woodstock, VT often called one of the prettiest towns in America, is a place where this is extra apparent.
A Currier-and-Ives style village, Woodstock has the look of a picture postcard, and when the streets are laden with snow, it’s like such art has come to life.
With covered bridges, antique stores, old homes, traditional Vermont food and drink, and winding rivers tucked among rolling mountains, Woodstock is a winter paradise.
At Christmas, don’t miss the Wassail Weekend, where Woodstock becomes a Victorian Christmas world, complete with horse-drawn sleighs, breakfast with Santa, and more.
Looking for a hidden gem? Consider staying at a working farm like this one.
24. Washington, D.C.
by Nicole Sunderland | Bucket List Lists
One of the best winter destinations in the USA is Washington, D.C. While Washington, D.C. is a top winter bucket list destination for many, it’s truly amazing year round. In the winter the city sees less visitors and school tours so it isn’t as packed.
You can take advantage of the holiday festivities and the regular touristy items like visiting the Smithsonian Museums, Zoo, Monuments, Memorials, the National Mall, Michelin Star dining, and outstanding plays and performances throughout the city.
One of the main draws for tourism during Christmas in the annual National Christmas Tree lighting. Located on The Ellipse, next to the White House, this massive evergreen tree lights up the entire area. This annual tradition gets locals and visitors alike outside to celebrate the holiday.
Some of the other popular things to do in Washington, D.C. during Christmas are: the Christmas Market, exploring the light maze at Enchant, walking through the Zoolights at the National Zoo, GLOW – the art exhibition spanning across the area of Georgetown that you can walk through, and the candlelit tour that takes place at Mount Vernon.
One hidden gem about the city that a lot of outsiders don’t know is that there are several pop up bars that are decked out for the holiday throughout the season. You won’t know until you come, but do a little research to see who is hosting.
Fun fact about Washington, D.C. – George Washington is the only former President to never live in the White House!
25. Sedona, Arizona
by Jenifer | The Evolista
Sedona, Arizona is known for its incredible red rock scenery and interesting topography that will leave you awestruck. Especially if you like hiking, Sedona is one of the best winter destinations in the USA. The weather hovers in the 60s during the day which makes it comfortable to explore until your heart’s content.
The other equally big draw to Sedona is the healing culture. You’ll find energy healers, healing massages, and the famous Sedona Vortex.
The vortex is thought to be energy emanating from the whole city of Sedona but there are specific locations where the vortex energy is thought to be the strongest. Whether you believe in an energy vortex or not, most people feel great during their time in Sedona.
Sedona is filled with hidden gems but you absolutely have to see one of it’s most popular attractions, Devil’s Bridge. It’s a 4.2 mile out and back hike with the most incredible payoff. You can walk across the natural bridge that looks precarious, but is actually a wide path that doesn’t feel scary at all.
Fun fact about Sedona: their McDonald’s is the only one in the world with green arches. Not that you’ll be eating at McDonald’s with all of the delicious restaurants available in the area! Check out my Arizona fun facts post for more.
The biggest mistake you can make in planning your trip to Sedona is not allowing enough time. With its close proximity to the Grand Canyon, many people simply do a day trip, but then wish they stayed for a whole weekend. Be sure you plan accordingly!
Did We Miss Any of Your Favourite US Winter Destinations?
Let me know in the comments which American winter vacation spots you’d add to the list.
Washington DC In Winter: A Guide To Help You Redefine Your Winter Vacation
Winter is a wonderful time to travel the world as it is the most festive season. And, there is no better place to visit than the capital of the United States of America, Washington DC, where the cheer of the winter season is like no other. From the energetic Christmas spirit of the city to the snowy streets, there are many reasons to visit Washington DC in winter. If you are planning to visit this beautiful city in the winter season, read our detailed travel guide to find out all that you need to know before traveling to Washington DC:
Weather In Washington DC In Winter
The weather in Washington DC during winter varies from year to year, but it can get as cold as 5 degrees Celsius. However, the streets are less crowded with tourists, and that can give you more freedom to explore the city with lesser hassles and shorter waiting lines. Plus, there’s nothing that warm clothing and a cup of a hot drink can’t fix.
Best Places To Visit In Washington DC In Winter
While are many spectacular places to visit in the US, Washington DC, one of the best ones. Which is why we’ve rounded up the top places to see in Washington DC in winter, that need to be on your itinerary when you visit the capital of the USA:
1. National Zoo
Put on your warmest clothes and head out for a full day filled with fun at the National Zoo in Washington DC. Winter is a great time to visit this park because of ZooLights, an eco-friendly light display that takes place annually during the winter season. Apart from the light display, you can also take a tour of the zoo, and see some exotic animals like tigers, lions, and snow leopards.
2. U.S Botanical Garden
Why not escape the snow and the cold for a while and get warm and cozy at the indoor botanical display at the U.S Botanical Garden in Washington DC? Apart from the decorated trees, you can also check out their Season’s Greetings Showcase, a top festive attraction. Another not to be missed thing is their train display – a treat for anyone.
3. National Gallery Of Art
If you’re an art lover, make sure to check out this amazing museum in the country’s capital. Featuring over 140,000 pieces of art, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, and photographs, it is truly a sight to behold. Built in 1937 by an American financier who had a great passion for art, you won’t regret visiting this beautiful museum.
Top Things To Do In Washington DC During Winter
There are many things to do in Washington DC in winter that will make your trip a memorable one for years to come. We’ve compiled a list of the top activities that you must definitely not miss out on during your visit to Washington DC.
1. Holiday Market: Shop till you drop!
This famous market comes alive during the winter season and is the best place to experience the festive spirit of Washington DC. If you are planning to celebrate Christmas in Washington DC, it would be the perfect season to find holiday gifts, listen to live Christmas carols and music, and also eat some delicious holiday foods like doughnuts and drinks like eggnog.
2. Georgetown ice rink: Go skating!
Washington state in the winter is definitely a sight for sore eyes and the best activity during this season would be ice skating. There are many rinks all over the city, but among the best has to be the ice rink located in Georgetown. What makes this ice rink special are the snowflakes that twinkle after it gets dark, adding a magical effect to the place. After your skating session, you can pick up a steaming cup of hot chocolate from the Pavillion Café located nearby.
3. Menorah: Witness the lighting on Hanukkah
While much is spoken about Christmas in Washington DC, not many people are aware of the other big festival that happens during the winter, Chanukkah (Hanukkah). This festival begins with the lighting of the menorah, which is a candelabrum with nine branches. This is a fun event that is followed by a doughnut feast and cheerful music while dancing.
Planning your holiday but confused about where to go? These travel stories help you find your best trip ever!
Real travel stories. Real stays. Handy tips to help you make the right choice.
Ramya Narrates The Story Of 6 Girls On An Extraordinary Trip To Thailand
Bangkok. Phi Phi. Krabi. Why should guys have all the fun?
Sandeep Illustrates On The Best Activities For A Family Trip To Mauritius
Water sports. Cocktail parties. And unlimited fun at Casela.
Nisarg Can’t Stop Praising His Honeymoon Trip To Maldives
There was snorkeling, sightseeing, luxury, comfort, & much more!
Sabyacsachi’s Romantic Trip Proves Europe To Be The Mother Of All Vacations
For Art, Culture, Luxury, & more.
Srishti Talks Of Her Amazing Trip To Singapore With Her Mother & Niece
A fun-filled destination for ages indeed!
67-Year Old Sridhar Tells How He Beat The Odds & Took A Solo Trip To Dubai
Desert safari. Burj Khalifa. Welcoming locals. Tell me more!
Not Adventure Lovers? Saurabh’s Family Trip Proves Hong Kong To Still Be Full Of Fun
Your kids will love Disney Land & Ocean Park!
Ravi’s Tale Of A Sri Lanka Family Tour Is All You Need To Know About Ramayana Tour
For the love of Ramayana & Travel!
See more at TRAVELTRIANGLE.COM
What To Pack While Visiting Washington DC?
The temperature tends to drop pretty low, so packing some warm clothes is a must. If you’re wondering what to wear in Washington DC in winter, pack some thermal wear, warm jackets, some sweaters, and winter shoes or boots. You can also purchase winter clothes in Washington DC after you land.
Here is a checklist:
1. Warm clothes and accessories like scarves and gloves are a must.
2. Pack warm and comfortable shoes.
3. Carry all your important IDs.
4. Make sure to have cash on you at all times.
5. Carry an umbrella in case of sudden rains.
If all this information excited you, and with Christmas season just around the corner, there’s no better place to plan your winter vacation than to the US. To find out more about visiting Washington DC in winter and to check out the best US packages, contact us at TravelTriangle today!
Disclaimer: TravelTriangle claims no credit for images featured on our blog site unless otherwise noted. All visual content is copyrighted to its respectful owners. We try to link back to original sources whenever possible. If you own the rights to any of the images, and do not wish them to appear on TravelTriangle, please contact us and they will be promptly removed. We believe in providing proper attribution to the original author, artist or photographer.
Please Note: Any information published by TravelTriangle in any form of content is not intended to be a substitute for any kind of medical advice, and one must not take any action before consulting a professional medical expert of their own choice.
Frequently Asked Questions About Washington DC
Here are some of the most asked questions by tourists while planning a trip to Washington DC:
What is the best time to visit Washington DC?
While Washington dc is a year-round destination, there is no ‘best time to visit’, per say. However, it is best to visit either during summer or winter as per your preference.
What are the key attractions of Washington DC?
The key attractions of Washington DC are:
1. National Museum of American History
2. The White House
3. Lincoln Memorial
4. National Gallery of Art
5. National Air and Space Museum
6. National Museum of Natural History
7. The Washington Monument
Is it necessary to take a sightseeing tour of Washington DC?
It’s not necessary if you have a definite itinerary, but if you are a person who loves to get to know a city, then you would love taking a city tour of Washington DC.
Which are the most famous festivals celebrated in Washington DC?
The most famous festivals/events celebrated in Washington DC would be the 4th of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
How long a visit should I plan for Washington DC?
The length of any tour depends upon the Plan your visit for around 4-5 days to cover all the important places to visit and things to do in Washington DC.
How cold does it get in Washington DC?
Washington DC in winter weather can see a drop of -18 °C.
Looking To Book A Holiday Package?
Book memorable holidays on TravelTriangle with 650+ verified travel agents for 65+ domestic and international destinations.
10 Magical Things to Do in Washington DC in the Winter (& Why You Should Spend Christmas in Washington DC)
Please double check what’s open before your trip and follow all local vax & mask guidelines to keep yourself and others safe! Also, ads are how we pay our bills and keep our blog free for you to enjoy. We also use affiliate links; if you make a purchase through them, we may receive a small commission at no cost to you.
Twinkling Christmas trees on the White House lawn. Ice skating over a glittering wharf. Sipping a martini in an igloo at the Watergate Hotel. Winter in Washington DC is a snowy playground of politicians, partisans, and spies. It’s as full of history and intrigue as it is culture and inspiration – and holiday cheer, of course.
Along Washington DC’s storied and historic streets you’ll discover remnants of the United States’ colorful and chaotic history. There’s the largest museum complex in the world, which houses everything from dinosaur bones to the moon rocks to the Star Spangled Banner. The long, grassy National Mall is the beating heart of the democractic experiment, showcasing America’s most famous historical monuments including the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and the U.S. Capitol.
But more than that, Washington DC is a place where people from around the world have forged a community, dining and drinking in the shadow of monuments.
Washington DC is a federal district at the center of American democracy, but it’s a bit of a conundrum: it’s technically neither considered a state nor a city. Instead, it’s sort of a weird, confusing in-between that also happens to be the most important not-city, not-state in the country.
The idea for this weirdly defined federal capital comes directly from the Constitution: the founding fathers wanted a place for governing to happen that was isolated from state politics. But it took seven years of impassioned debate before they settled what this nebulous “federal district” should entail – and where it should be located. (Hamilton fans: yep, we’re talking about what happened in “The Room Where it Happens.”)
In the end, President George Washington chose a strategic location along the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers (where Maryland and Virginia meet today) meant to serve as a bridge between northern and southern states, protected from attack along the coast while connected to major waterways. Washington DC was officially founded in 1790.
Christmas in Washington DC is the most magical time of the year, when the city is covered in twinkling lights and Christmas decorations! We tapped a local to give us the inside scoop: Rebecca Fachner is a historian and tour guide based in Washington DC, with over a decade’s experience guiding visitors around the Nation’s Capital. Take it away, Rebecca!
Table of Contents
Psst: Looking for more wintery travel inspiration? Take a look at some of our other blog posts:
Psst: Planning a New England road trip? We’ve created a free, printable version of this itinerary! Plus, we’ll also send you our favorite tips to help you plan your road trip. Just sign up below.
Washington D.C. Winter Travel Tips
Only in DC can you take in the holiday lights on the National Mall or ice skate with a view of the Washington Monument.
Washington DC is worth a visit at any time of year, but in winter, off-season visitors of DC will find milder weather, shorter lines, and less expensive attractions. Here are a few frequently asked questions and tips to make the most of your visit to Washington DC in winter:
- How cold is Washington DC’s winter?
Washington DC winters are fairly mild: daily highs are usually in the upper 30s to low 40s and the daytime is usually quite pleasant. Nighttime is going to average about 10 degrees cooler, but while we do have the occasional cold snaps, Washington DC is a great wintertime destination.
We do get about 2 to 3 decent snowfalls a year, but it doesn’t linger – and we are too far south for some of the most inhospitable weather!
Washington DC has excellent public transportation, so driving is not recommended. DC is a great walking city, our metro is both safe and clean, and car services are plentiful – so driving in the city is somewhere between unnecessary and a hindrance.
The website for the metro is a good place to plan your trips and scout out which metro stops are nearest to the destination you want to visit. Metro costs about $2 per trip (more during the peak weekday commuter hours 5-9:30am, 3-7pm) and you will have to purchase a metro card. That said, if you do decide to drive, you won’t need snow tires or chains, but you will need to watch street signs for parking hours and limitations.
- What’s up with DC’s street layout?
Washington DC has a unique grid layout which is often extremely frustrating for visitors. The city is laid out in quadrants centered on the US Capitol, and this shows up in the addresses you’ll see around the city.
Addresses in the district look like this: 101 Any Street, NW. The NW means that you are heading to the northwest quadrant, as opposed to SW for southwest, NE for northeast and SE for southeast. You’ll want to make sure when planning your route that you have all your NW’s and your SW’s straight or you might end up in a very different spot than you intended!
Fun Fact: DC’s unique grid system was designed by Pierre Charles L’Enfant, a French-born engineer and designer, as well as Benjamin Banneker, a self-educated African-American surveyor who was also a published author, skilled astronomer, farmer, and racial equality advocate. The Capitol is positioned at the grid’s center with grand boulevards crisscrossing the “city,” each named after states. The result is a tidy little representation of the entire US.
- What is security like in Washington DC?
Washington DC is very security conscious, and you will be subject to metal detectors and security at almost every major indoor attraction. Special spots like the Capitol have more intense security (…January 2021 notwithstanding, *ahem*) but for the most part the security is fairly routine. The one thing it does take up is time, so it’s best to add 10-15 minutes onto your visits to account for security when planning your trip or visiting attractions.
What to pack for Washington DC in winter?
Layers, layers, layers! A winter coat, winter boots, and gloves are a must – and a scarf and hat will be useful too. But make sure to have a layer or two that you can remove in the daytime sun, and then add back on for your evening frolics around town.
That said, if you’ve got all that covered, long underwear is probably not necessary (unless you’re visiting from somewhere that considers 50 degrees to be freezing cold – lookin’ at you, California and Florida!)
Here are a few specific suggestions for our favorite tried and tested winter travel gear:
- Winter Boots: I recommend boots that can withstand ice or snow, are weatherproof and waterproof, and are comfortable enough to walk in. My favorite winter boots are made from waterproof leather and with a thermal insole to keep your toes toasty warm, and they’re extremely lightweight and foldable so you can stuff them in your bag when you travel. You can read more about them in this round-up of the best travel shoes for women. Note: If you’re bringing along a pair of boots you already own, you can buy the thermal insoles separately. After taking these to the Arctic and snowshoeing in Canada, I swear by them! : Make sure you don’t just have run-of-the-mill acrylic socks for Washington DC – they won’t keep your feet warm while you’re out in the cold! Instead, bring socks that are primarily made of soft, heat-regulating wool, like these or these, and don’t be afraid to double up. My favorite travel jeans have six enormous pockets, are super stretchy and buttery soft, dry quickly even after walking through the snow. They’re even cozy enough to wear on a plane – and they’re super cute! You can get a pair on the Aviator USA website.
- Lined Leggings: There is nothing cozier than a pair of leggings lined with merino wool. Pair them under a cozy sweater or a warm dress!
- Warm Hat: You want a hat that will stay on your head when it’s windy wind and keep your ears nice and warm – bonus points if it’s lined.
- Warm Coat and Packable Down Jacket: Your outerwear is arguably the most important thing you’ll bring to Washington DC in the winter other than your shoes. It has a big job – namely, keeping you warm but not sweaty, allowing you to actually move your arms, and letting you explore for hours without feeling heavy or restrictive. Plus, it’s gonna be in almost all of your photos! I bring this cozy fleece-lined coat with me, as well as a lightweight, travel-friendly packable down jacket.
- Gloves: Don’t go outside in Washington DC in the winter without gloves on! I have these wool gloves that work with touchscreens because I have a hard enough time using my phone without wearing gloves. On especially cold days I layer on a thicker pair that’s waterproof (you know, for snowball making and such).
- Sunscreen: Bring sunscreen for sunny days, especially if you plan to spend a lot of time outside exploring! Winter sun reflecting off snow is no joke. Don’t forget to pack sunscreen for your lips too.
That should keep you warm and toasty. For more winter travel packing tips, head over to our Cold Weather Packing Guide.
Where to Stay in Washington D.C.
If you want to stay in the District, there are a couple of great neighborhoods to consider, all near metro lines that will take you where you want to go. I recommend staying in one of these historic, walkable Washington DC neighborhoods:
The most iconic neighborhood in Washington DC is the Metro Center area, which is close to the National Mall, the White House and a lot of the biggest attractions.
Staying in this area of the city offers visitors the chance to walk to the White House, admire the Christmas tree and stop by the Willard Hotel for a drink at the famous Round Robin bar where the Mint Julep was introduced by Kentucky Senator Henry Clay.
- Where to Stay in Metro Center: This area has a lot of hotel chains; instead, we recommend staying in a VRBO. This Penthouse VRBO with rooftop access provides an entire apartment to call home base as you explore downtown Washington DC. It’s bright and clean, retro-chic, and did we mention it’s under a half-mile walk to the White House?! You’ll be able to explore the National Mall and DC’s most iconic monuments by foot from this comfortable VRBO.
We recommend booking directly through VRBO because it has fewer fees and more flexible cancellation policies than Airbnb – also, we’re not fans of Airbnb’s unethical track record and lax security.
Dupont Circle is a historic neighborhood full of historic homes, like this one at 1609 16th Street NW! Photo Credit
Another favorite is Dupont Circle, which has smaller hotel options like the super quirky Tabard Inn, America’s first museum of modern art (The Phillips Collection), plenty of famed gay-owned businesses, and the neoclassical Dupont Circle Fountain.
This is the original gayborhood in Washington DC, and has been the epicenter of the gay liberation movement in Washington since the 1960s (thanks in part to local Dupont heroes like Frank Kameney, the first openly gay candidate for the US Congress, and the establishment of the first LGBTQ bookstore in the district).
Dupont Circle became known for its gay nightlife scene as early as the 1960s, with places like JR’s, Cobalt, and Larry’s Lounge, and is still the site of the annual 17th Street High Heel Race and the Capital Pride Parade. This area is also the beginning of Embassy Row, so it’s a great way to see how the different embassies decorate for the holidays!
- Where to Stay in Dupont Circle: This super charming VRBO is located in the heart of DuPont Circle. Not only is it roomy, bright, and colorfully decorated, but you’ll be close to the metro station, the DuPont Circle Fountain, and everything this fabulous neighborhood has to offer.
The stunning Georgetown area is the perfect blend of history and modernity, with cobblestone sidewalks winding by fine art galleries and the C&O canal (how European!) lined with historic 18th and 19th century mansions (and the one-time homes of JFK and Julia Child).
Fun fact: Georgetown actually predates the capital city by 40 years and has always maintained its own distinct character, separate and apart from the capital! Take in gorgeous views of the Potomac River at the Georgetown Waterfront Park in the city’s oldest neighborhood!
Although the nearest metro station is about a half an hour walk away, the Circulator bus will take you straight from Georgetown to many of the best things to do in Washington DC!
- Where to Stay in Georgetown: This ultra-modern Georgetown apartment has floor-to-ceiling windows, midcentury modern furniture, and two bedrooms with their own private bathrooms, perfect for traveling with friends or family. Besides the gorgeous interior that looks like it belongs in a 60s sci-f film, this apartment is just steps away from the Potomac River, the canal, and all the best restaurants and hot spots Georgetown has to offer.
Things to Do in Washington DC in the Winter
Christmas in Washington DC is magical, from the twinkling lights of the White House to the giant Christmas tree in front of Congress!
Soak Up Christmas in Washington DC
Washington DC is a great place to visit in the winter time: imagine walking around the Washington Monument and seeing the Capitol Christmas tree and the White House Christmas tree twinkling in the distance. Talk about feeling like you’re in a Christmas special!
Since the winters are fairly mild, it is still possible to be outdoors and be comfortable, especially during the daylight hours, but there are plenty of places to grab a festive drink, check out a Christmas window display, and warm up among the holiday shoppers.
The city goes all out for the holidays, from the White House Christmas tree lighting ceremony to the annual Holiday Market! Here are the highlights of Christmas in Washington DC:
- : The White House Christmas tree is not just one tree, it’s an experience! There is the main tree, which has a ceremonial lighting led by the president (you can get tickets to this, but the lottery for tix closes in October!) and then there are 54 smaller trees, one for each U.S. state and territory. These smaller trees surround the main tree and are decorated by children from that state. As you wander through the trees, the scent of pine and the sounds of the miniature train running around you will put you properly in the holiday spirit. Warm your hands over the burning Yule Log, pause in front of the World’s Largest Menorah and don’t forget to visit the stage where musicians perform throughout the month of December. Best of all, this event is free and open to all. : The Georgetown GLOW features 11 light installations created by local artists to highlight the oldest part of the Nation’s Capital. They are not considered specifically Christmas lights, but rather individual artistic installations, each with a separate history. For example, last year there was an interactive installation involving competing bicycles designed to promote green energy and transportation. You can take a guided tour which encompasses the history of the GLOW and the individual installations, or just grab a cup of hot cocoa and take a walk along the waterfront to marvel at the lights. This is also budget friendly: it’s completely free! : Enchant DC is a holiday light show/Christmas market extravaganza that takes place at the baseball stadium, Nationals Park. Guests can wander through the twinkling blue, white, purple, and yellow lights of the Christmas town, enjoying Christmas treats like Gluhwein (German mulled wine) and roasted chestnuts while you shop the local artisan vendors for candles, jewelry or just the right scotch glass! There’s also an ice skating rink and plenty of places to snap the perfect holiday photo. Just be sure to pick up a ticket before you go. The main holiday market (there are a few others, including an authentic German market) in Washington is right in front of the National Portrait Gallery in the heart of the Historic Penn Quarter (which is home to celebrity chefs, the Shakespeare theater, and the home to Washington DC’s hockey and basketball teams). At the market you will find dozens of local vendors peddling art, crafts, clothes, jewelry, and antiques, meaning it’s not just a place to shop for your friends but for yourself (hey, you deserve it!). While you shop, you can listen to local musician’s takes on holiday classics, as well as drink hot cocoa and eat some donuts or fried empanadas (hey, you deserve this too!). This market is free and open to everyone. : Every December the 163-acre National Zoo becomes a winter wonderland filled with Christmas lights, train rides, and most importantly light-up lanterns that look like real zoo animals! While a visit to one of the world’s oldest zoos during daylight hours will let you see animals like pandas, cheetahs, oranguatangs, and elephants, a visit once the sun goes down affords you a chance to see your favorite animals depicted in sparkling lights! Zoolights is free throughout the month of December.
Take a Washington DC at night tour to see DC’s most famous buildings and monuments adorned with twinkling Christmas lights! And best of all: no crowds.
Learn Washington DC’s History & Stories
The best way to get to know a city is to take a tour, and no one knows a place better than a local.
Washington DC especially is not a place you want to skip out on insider information: for example, which DC mansion housed the Hope Diamond, and who is the only former president buried in the Nation’s Capital? (Answers: The McLean Mansion off of Dupont Circle and Woodrow Wilson who is buried at National Cathedral!).
Wintertime is a perfect time to take a tour, fewer guests on tour means more personal attention, more stories and more answers to your questions.
- : The best part of taking a night tour of DC is that you not only get to see all the monuments lit up, but all the twinkling Christmas lights as well! This 3-hour guided tour shuttles you on a warm bus between the most iconic sights of DC: the White House, US Capitol Building, Lincoln Memorial, Iwo Jima, etc. As you hop off the bus to explore each stop, you’ll take in dramatic views and capture memorable photos of the capital city. This small group tour offers a more personal experience, so you can not only get bucket loads of history but your questions answered as well! : If you’re going to be touring the city at night, why not look for a ghost or two? This 1-hour walking tour takes you to eight haunted locations, such as the Hay-Adams Hotel, where you can still hear the cries of Henry Adam’s wife and learn about her tragic death, and the White House, where Lincoln’s ghost alleged greets each incoming President as they take office. You’ll also have the chance to ask the guide more about the ghosts, and take photos to see if anything comes up in your photos… is that chill up your spine just the chilly winter wind, or could it be something more sinister? : Speaking of Abraham Lincoln, did you know that you can take a tour dedicated solely to Lincoln’s last day alive? This 2-hour walking tour allows the guest to relive one of the most important nights in American history as you make stops at St. John’s Church, Lafayette Square Park, and finally Ford’s Theatre, all while learning about the mystery and betrayal that lead to Lincoln’s death. : This 4-hour tour highlights the rich and untold history of African American’s in the nation’s capital. Taking a bus to different parts of the city where African American leaders resided and created history, you’ll visit places like the home of the famous freed slave and abolitionist Fredrick Douglass. You’ll also travel to U Street, which was home to the largest urban African-American community in the United States in the early 1900s (which even created its own “Black Broadway“). The White House and the Martin Luther King, Jr, Memorial are also on the agenda, and by the end you’ll be aware of the countless African Americans who have helped shape the face of America and civil rights.
Explore Local Neighborhoods
Washington DC is so much more than its monuments, and taking a stroll through the neighborhoods will give you a taste of the many cultures that make up the city.
The neighborhoods especially sparkle in the wintertime, when the streets are lined with lights and decorations. Spend an afternoon bundled up with a pastry and a good cup of coffee, hunting for local treasures along Washington DC’s storied streets.
Georgetown (M Street)
Georgetown was founded in 1751, and though it’s considered a neighborhood of Washington DC today, it actually predates the capital city by 40 years.
Since the neighborhood is very old by U.S. standards, it may be one of the cutest neighborhoods in all of America. This is the perfect place to stroll down cobblestone streets lined with 18th and 19th century mansions, stroll along a charming historic canal, and marvel at the beauty of Martha Washington’s historic home. It truly has an identity completely its own!
Spend a day exploring these historic landmarks:
- : Instantly transport yourself back to 1831 along this scenic canal, tucked behind trees, arched bridges and historic row houses. The original 184-mile canal was dug over 100 years ago as a means to transport tobacco, but what remains today is a picturesque reminder of the past and a most relaxing spot to take a stroll and capture an incredible photo. : This Historic Landmark was owned by Martha Custis Peter and Thomas Peter (Martha was the granddaughter of Martha Washington and step-granddaughter of George Washington), and was home to six generations of Martha Washington’s descendants from 1805 to 1983. You can tour this historic home, which includes learning about the enslaved people who kept this estate running, a difficult but important part of the house’s history. This “Federal, American style” home sits on 5.5 acres of lush gardens, and during the holiday season they have their “Merry & Bright illumination,” a way to see the gardens all aglow! : If Georgetown has anything, it’s history, so why not follow in the footsteps of one of the most beloved Presidents? Since both Jacqueline and John lived in this neighborhood throughout their lives, you can see the place where JFK lived before they met, where he proposed to Jackie (at Martin’s Tavern), where they lived after they married and after JFK’s election, among many other homes their lives touched.
Capitol Hill and Barracks Row
Capitol Hill, and the adjoining micro-neighborhood Barracks Row, is where you can find democracy in action. Here you can see the U.S. Capitol Building (where Congress meets), the Supreme Court Building, as well as many Hill staffers and MoC’s (that’s Member of Congress to you).
In addition to some of the most important buildings in the country, you’ll wander down streets lined with 19th and early 20th-century row houses – think turrets, ornate stained glass, and ironwork – all decorated for the holidays in colorful twinkling lights. Spend the afternoon perusing antique books, reading Shakespeare’s First Folio, and surrounding yourself with tropical flowers in the middle of winter! Don’t miss these cozy stops:
- : While this Washington DC staple has plenty of newly published books to choose from, the real star here is the impressive collection of used books, including rare books and first editions. You can spend hours in the tightly-packed rooms, working your way through a maze of reading material feeling a bit like Alice in Wonderland. This place will provide you reading material for months, maybe years! : If you happen to pick up an antique edition of Hamlet at Capitol Hill Books, take a walk over to the Folger Shakespeare Library! Home to the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare’s works, you can look at one of the many editions of the First Folio they have on display, peruse the stately Beaux Arts library room with green carpets, stained glass and ornate woodwork, see a play and maybe finally answer the age-old question: to be or not to be? : Described as a “living plant museum”, the United States Botanical garden was established by the U.S. Congress in 1820, making it the continually operating botanic garden in the United States. Under the white iron and clear glass of the 93-foot tall indoor conservatory, you can visit the tropics all year round, including a corpse flower named for its putrid smell (I mean, gross, but cool), the desert, and even a room devoted only to colorful orchids! Best of all, the botanical garden is free!
U Street/14 th Street
The U Street/14 th Street area (aka Cardozo/Shaw neighborhood) has been the center of African American culture in Washington ever since freed slaves moved en masse to this area after the Civil War, and has helped give Washington DC the nickname the “Chocolate City.”
U Street was the epicenter of DC during the Jazz Age, known as Black Broadway and home to both Duke Ellington and poet Langston Hughes. U Street was devastated after the 1968 riots following the assassination. of Martin Luther King JR., but has rebuilt and retained its identity. Today, its vibrant streets are adorned with murals depicting Black icons such as President Obama and Prince.
Here are a few of the must-see stops in this neighborhood:
- : The African American Civil War Memorial was dedicated in 1998 to the 209,145 “United States Colored Troops” who served in the Civil war and whose contributions to ending slavery were largely ignored. The bronze statue depicts several African American soldiers who fought in the war, and all 209,145 are listed on the surrounding wall. The Museum uses a rich collection of artifacts, documents, primary sources and technology to tell the story of these troops, as well as bring to life the devastating effects of the 1968 riots on U Street. : Technically named Meridian Hill Park, most locals call it Malcolm X Park since many the civil rights protests were held at the park in the 1960s. The park is famous for its Italian-inspired cascading fountain, the longest in North America, which flows down 13 basins in sheer, ornate beauty. The park also features some statues, including a couple from the 1920s such as Dante and Joan of Arc. : This self-guided walking tour will take you through the most art-filled corridors of DC. Some of the most influential African Americans are depicted in these larger-than-life and ultra-colorful murals, such as Barack Obama and Harriet Tubman, as well as local legends like saxophonist Roger Wendell “Buck” Hill and Mr. and Mrs. William and Winifred Lee, who opened one of the oldest African-American owned establishments in Washington DC (a flower shop) in 1945. Strolling through this neighborhood brings the “chocolate city” alive in vibrant color!
Psst: Don’t forget to stop for a half smoke and a milkshake at the historic and iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl, located on the U Street Corridor. And keep your eyes open for one of its many celebrity fans!
Go Ice Skating
What Washington DC lacks in terms of traditional winter sports (there are no mountains for skiing in the Nation’s Capital!), it makes up for in terms of ice skating! There are so many great places to lace up and go for a twirl in DC, many of them surrounded by fantastic views of our amazing monuments.
Here are some of Washington DC’s most iconic (and brand new) skating locations:
Take in the View
Washington DC has a deliberately low skyline; there are no skyscrapers per city ordinance! When the city was created, skyscrapers did not exist yet, but as they came to dominate the skylines of other cities, DC wanted to keep the lower profile similar to European capitals.
While the monuments do give the city an iconic skyline, the lack of tall buildings means that some of the best places to see the city are actually outside of the city. Below are several fantastic spots to catch gorgeous views both in and out of city limits, including the best places to grab a drink with a stunning view of Washington DC.
- : This world famous obelisk dedicated to our first president, George Washington, is THE signature site in Washington. Made of marble and extending 55 stories into the air, there is no more iconic spot in DC than the Washington Monument. If you look closely at the Monument, you will notice the marble is 2 different colors; it’s not an optical illusion, funding issues during construction forced them to use marble from 2 different quarries! The view from the top is so spectacular, on a clear day you can see for up to 2 miles, including the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Capitol in the foreground. Farther away you can spot the Potomac River, Arlington National Cemetery and the Pentagon. Tickets are free, but required. : There are few more famous addresses than the Watergate, home of the eponymous Nixon era scandal, where members of Nixon’s reelection committee (appropriately named CREeP, the Committee to ReElect the President) broke into the Democratic Party HQ in the Watergate complex to steal top-secret campaign documents and install secret listening devices. Few people know it’s also a hotel and a luxury apartment complex; Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lived here until her death (RIP). The outdoor rooftop bar at the hotel is amazing: in the winter they have fire pits and igloos, allowing guests to sip their handcrafted gimlet in warmth and comfort while they gaze at the sunset over the Potomac River. : Just one block away from the White House, POV overlooks both the White House and the National Mall beyond it. Sip a signature ‘Bi-Partisan’ cocktail (it comes in red and blue!) while staring out the floor to ceiling windows at the Secret Service agents walking around on the roof of the White House. POV is truly a unique Washington DC experience. Plan to arrive early though, the bar can get crowded. : The Hay Adams is full of politicians, journalists and hangers-on. It is one of the oldest hotels in the city and is very old-school DC; think inlaid wood, brandy snifters, very dry martinis; all while relaxing in ruby red booths and banquettes. This is your best spot for a White House view and a possible DC celeb sighting (please note: all DC’s celebrities are politicians). : Going to the Kennedy Center, the performing arts center in Wasington DC, is a must do for any number of reasons; it’s a presidential memorial as well as the home of the National Symphony, the National Opera and the Kennedy Center Ballet. However, one of the best reasons to visit is the amazing wrap around roof deck that offers a killer 360 degree view of the downtown monuments, the Georgetown Riverscape, Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Island and even Georgetown University in the distance. While you are there for your sunset views, check out their free indoor concert every day at 6PM at Millennium Stage, (tickets not required). : Outside of Washington DC you can take advantage of the sky scrapers to overlook the entire city. Right across the river in Rosslyn, VA (and conveniently right above the Rosslyn Metro stop!) is a spectacular 360 degree viewing platform. From here you can see the Marine Corps Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, Georgetown University and track the planes landing at Reagan Airport while looking at pictures of what the area used to look like so that you can compare and contrast.
Visit Washington DC’s Amazing Museums
For the museum goer, Washington DC is unparalleled. With one of the largest and best museum institutions in the world, the Smithsonian Institution, there are so many museums in Washington that even the residents have trouble keeping up! There are 19 Smithsonian museums in Washington DC, and they are all amazing.
DC’s bounty of museums are especially great in the winter: they offer a tempting diversion in case of inclement weather, and should be much less crowded than in the summertime.
Below are some of the most popular Smithsonian museums; however, they are the most visited for a reason: you can see monumental moments in American history in a tangible form. They are also all free, although some of them have timed entry tickets. Here’s where to warm up and learn stuff on a Washington DC winter day:
Stuff Your Face at Washington DC’s Best Restaurants
While Washington DC does have great restaurants and renowned chefs, DC is unique in that it does not really have its own food specialties. As both the Nation’s capital and an international city, DC prefers to borrow other cuisines and put their own spin on food from all over the world!
As Washington DC is a microcosm of our melting pot of a country, you’ll find a selection of eateries from all over the world in DC. In fact, one of DC’s chief claims to culinary fame is that we have the largest number of Ethiopian restaurants outside of Addis Ababa!
Below is a great collection of local favorites, hidden gems and both of Washington DC’s iconic food markets:
- : If Washington DC were to have a signature dish, it would be the Half Smoke and no one does it better than Ben’s. For the uninitiated, a Half Smoke is a supersized spicy version of a hot dog (half pork, half beef) served on a warm steamed bun with mustard, onions and Ben’s spicy homemade chili sauce. The original location on U Street is a DC institution, the family-owned and operated joint has been serving chili and dogs for over 60 years (since 1958!), using their original secret recipe. They have now branched out to several locations, but the U Street original is still the place to be and has been a neighborhood anchor for decades. : If you like good food with a side serving of history, Martin’s is an absolute must. A favorite spot of both JFK and Jackie, you can sit in the iconic booth where he reportedly proposed! The Trumans, Johnsons and Nixons all loved to dine here. Richard Nixon loved their meatloaf, their house specialty, which they douse with mushroom gravy and serve with green beans and garlic mashed potatoes. Their food is classic American, and in the winter they are particularly known for their savory stews and filling Shepherd’s Pie. : Ethiopian cuisine is one of Washington DC’s sneaky specialties, thanks to a significant Ethiopian immigrant population in the area – the city is home to the largest concentration of Ethiopia-born people outside of Africa, partly due to the proximity to universities and the region’s large African-American population. Zenebech may look like a hole in the wall, but inside it packs a major spicy punch of flavor. Try one of their veggie combo platters with veggies like red lentils, shiro (chickpeas stew) and collard greens, served on Injera, a flat spongy bread that is served with almost all Ethiopian dishes. While there are plenty of Ethiopian restaurants in the area, this family-owned business is sure to warm you up from the cold with its abundance of spice and friendly atmosphere!
Visit Washington DC’s Food Markets
Washington DC has two historic food markets, where you can walk through the stalls and create your own feast. Many of our most iconic food purveyors; District Doughnuts, RavenHook Bakehouse, Rappahannock Oyster Co. have outposts at one of the markets, so they are definitely worth checking out.