We often forget that there’s a sweet spot for traveling in the winter months, and that’s in January. After the madness of the holiday rush and New Year’s festivities, many of the most popular winter destinations in the US experience a tourism lull that means fewer crowds, lower airfare and accommodation costs, and a decidedly unhurried atmosphere.
Whether you want to be a snowbird in Arizona or hit the slopes in New England, we’ve compiled a list of the best places to visit in the US in January. If you’re wondering where to travel in January, look no further! We’ve selected warm weather destinations and winter wonderlands, so you can plan your own perfect January vacation.
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The 15 Best Places to Travel in the US in January
1. Soak Up the Sun at Amelia Island, Florida
Amelia Island is one of the most beautiful places in Florida and one of the best warm places to visit in January. While most people might head to Miami for its packed beaches and wild nightlife, Amelia Island offers a peaceful shore, a historic town, and plenty of things to do.
Visiting during the off-season in January means you get off-season rates and off-season calm, with temperatures lingering around 60°F during the day. While you might not find the water warm enough to swim in, you’ll still be able to take a boat out onto the water to enjoy dolphin and manatee tours or even a family fishing trip just off the coast.
If you’re more of a fan of dry land, the island’s golf and tennis courts will keep you occupied. Plus, you’ll find the island’s many bike trails to be a fun and energizing way to explore idyllic forests and coves.
Amelia Island’s historic downtown is full of interesting architecture, fantastic dining, and interesting shops, making this the perfect off-season island destination whether you’re traveling solo or with a group. If you’re looking for a place to stay, take advantage of The Ritz Carlton’s discounted rates. You might just snag a room for half the price it would be during peak season!
2. Take a Hike in Tucson, Arizona
Arizona has always been one of the best states to visit in January, attracting snowbirds from the northern states and even Canada. Tucson made it on our list of the best vacation spots in the US in January for its spectacular natural attractions, fresh air, and warm weather.
Tucson sits southeast of Phoenix in a cooler part of the Sonoran Desert. You’ll find some of the best hiking in the state in Tucson’s Santa Catalina Mountains, which are almost three times taller than the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.
The impressive elevation means the mountains get snowfall each winter, creating a snow globe effect complete with winter flora and fauna. You’ll even be able to ski on Mt. Lemmon! If it’s not ski season, you can opt for a scenic sky ride to soak in the gorgeous views! You can take a roundtrip ride or hop off at the top for a hike.
There are plenty of other trails to choose from in the area. The Sabino Canyon Trail is super popular, an easy 8-mile hike located close to the city. In Catalina State Park, just north of the city, you’ll find more trails, including the Romero Pools hike, perfect for photos and a quick dip in the deep swimming holes.
Tucson is quieter than its city sister, Phoenix, but it doesn’t lack in personality. You’ll find lighter traffic, plenty of cool boutique hotels, historic bars, and great hole-in-the-wall restaurants.
3. Escape the Cold in Sunny San Diego, California
San Diego has perfect weather year-round, making it one of the best US cities to visit in January. After the holiday rush, there are still plenty of festivals happening, it’s a great time to whale watch, and all the other attractions that San Diego is known for will be less crowded.
Foodies should make sure to check out San Diego Restaurant Week, which only happens twice a year! The massive San Diego Brew Festival is a must-see when visiting San Diego in January, featuring dozens of local breweries and hundreds of craft beer creations.
San Diego is super sunny in January, making it a great time to get outside for a walk in gorgeous Balboa Park, a stroll along Pacific Beach, or a hike through areas like the San Dieguito River Park, a lush oak woodland with beautiful mountain views.
The San Diego Zoo is one of the best in the world and well worth a visit in the quieter winter months. You’ll also find plenty of nightlife to enjoy in the trendy Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego’s jazz-age historical district.
4. Enjoy the Southern Charm in Savannah, Georgia
Savannah is one of the best Southern cities to visit in January. After the holiday season, but before any major festivals, you’ll find it easier to enjoy the southern warmth and sun without the big crowds.
That doesn’t mean Savannah in January is lacking in events, of course. Between the Martin Luther King Day Parade, year-round farmers’ markets, the annual SkateFest, and art walks through the city’s many museums and galleries, you’ll have no shortage of things to do.
Savannah has a picturesque historic district. Take advantage of the smaller crowds as you explore the city via trolley, a walking tour, or even by carriage. Plus, the city’s many historic homes are must-sees for architecture and history buffs.
The warm weather and better traffic in January make it a great time to visit the Georgia coastline, too. Tybee Island is less than 20 miles away, perfect for a quick beach trip! Hilton Head is also close by and it’s much more enjoyable with fewer tourists.
5. Surf, Snorkel, and Sunbathe in Oahu, Hawaii
Hawaii is easily one of the best places to visit in the US in January. The weather is still hot and sunny enough for the perfect beach day, and you’ll save on airfare and hotel costs in the off-season. Oahu is our personal pick for the best surfing, beaches, and other outdoor activities!
By mid-January, the holiday crowds will have thinned significantly, and depending on the year, you might have the good fortune of celebrating Lunar New Year in late January.
Watch a surfing competition on the North Shore, do some spectacular snorkeling at Hanauma Bay or Eternity Beach, go off-roading, or jump off rocks at Waimea Bay. Just remember, the prime surf season also means massive ocean swells, making this an excellent time of year to watch the pros! But maybe not the best time to practice if you’re a novice.
6. Get Weird in Austin, Texas
If you’re wondering where to go in January, Austin is always a good idea. After the madness of the holidays, Austin gets quiet, the weather cools to a mild breeze, and travel becomes more affordable, so you can enjoy the charms of the city with a layer of calm. Reservations to the city’s best restaurants will be easier to book, and attractions will be less crowded as everyone recovers from December.
The cultural highlight of visiting Austin in January is Free Week. This annual event highlights live music and local independent restaurants. You’ll get to hear amazing live music for free, or close to it, while enjoying Austin’s famous dining scene. Don’t forget the MLK Celebration, either, complete with a parade, festival, and concert.
Museums will all be less crowded in January. We’d recommend checking out the Bullock Taxes State History Museum and the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library. The Blanton Museum of Art has a deceptively large collection and is absolutely worth a look, especially while University of Texas students are occupied with the start of the term.
7. Enjoy Some Solitude in Zion National Park, Utah
Zion National Park is a very popular summer destination, and for good reason. But with its gorgeous canyons and rivers, it’s also one of the best places to travel in the US in January. It’ll be a completely different experience than during peak season, with the added benefit of off-season accommodation rates!
Without thousands of fellow travelers on every trailhead, you’ll be able to experience the scale of Zion’s canyon walls, observe wildlife that would otherwise be in hiding, and listen to the quieter sounds of nature.
With the winter weather, you’ll get a light dusting of snow and see icicles hanging from the falls, all of which add to the charm of a winter visit to Zion. We’d recommend bringing traction devices, especially if you’re planning a high-elevation hike, and plenty of warm clothes, regardless. The weather is usually mild in the daytime, but it gets chilly at night!
In January, you’ll also have the benefit of being able to drive through the canyon in your own car. You’ll have so much more flexibility in where you can go and when rather than needing to work around the shuttle’s schedule. Do keep in mind the added challenge of navigating over snowy or icy roads so be sure to check road conditions before you head into the park.
8. Hit the Slopes in Breckenridge, Colorado
The amazing ski runs in Breckenridge Ski Resort make it one of the best US cities to visit in January. You’ll get plenty of snowfall and winter events, plus most of the trails will be open and ready for exploration!
Between 187 different trails and nearly 3,000 skiable acres of land across five peaks, this is prime skiing country. Breckenridge is also home to the tallest chairlift on the continent, which should help you know what to expect if you visit.
Our best tip to save during ski season is to get your tickets at least seven days before you plan to hit the slopes. You can also pre-book them before the resort opens up in the winter to save even more.
There’s plenty to do outside of skiing and snowboarding. Classic winter activities are in ample supply. Go on a guided dog sledding or snowmobile tour, a fun sleigh ride, or even a snowshoe excursion through the countryside.
Downtown Breckenridge is super walkable and full of mountain town charm. You’ll want to check out all the cute shops and eat and drink at the cozy bars and restaurants. While it does get cold (about 30°F), there are free buses and shuttles that can take you anywhere you want to go.
9. Avoid the Holiday Crowds in New York City
We’ve all seen the ball drop in Times Square, but have you thought about going to NYC right after New Year’s? It’s still chilly, of course, but the city goes through a post-holiday lull in tourism. Expect good deals and more local energy in “The City that Never Sleeps.”
January is also a great time to attend a festival, including the Jazz Festival in early January and the lovely Asian Festival. If you plan carefully, you might even catch Lunar New Year, which would be a blast to celebrate in Flushing.
Famous tourist attractions like Ellis Island and the Statue of Library will be much less crowded, and you can even ice skate throughout the city. The quiet and the snow all make visiting New York in January a completely different experience than in other months.
Flights and hotels will be cheaper, too, which makes a big difference in New York. All the museums, galleries, and Broadway shows will also be less crowded this time of year, which, if you’ve visited before in the peak holiday or summer season, is a major perk!
10. Soak Up the Creole Culture in New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans is famous for its incredible Mardi Gras celebrations in February. But, if you’re interested in immersing yourself in New Orleans’ restaurants, culture, and distinctive attitude during a quieter time or on a budget, then going during January might be just the move.
For one thing, you’ll actually be able to make hotel reservations, which is often not the case during Mardi Gras. Accommodations will also be less expensive in January.
The weather at this time is comfortably cool, which is great if you’d prefer to avoid the summer heat waves. Crowds will be minimal since most locals will be recovering from a busy holiday season and tourism will have slowed.
Meanwhile, Creole cuisine will remain just as delicious as any other time of year. MLK Day is just around the corner, with art fairs, free museum admission, and all-ages activities going on throughout the city. With all these perks, winter is a real sweet spot for a New Orleans trip!
11. Attend a Fun Festival in Chicago, Illinois
We won’t lie, the weather in Chicago in January can be intense, but the city makes up for that with a ton of local festivals and lower prices for hotels. If you’ve wanted to tick Chicago off your bucket list for a while, this is one of the best US cities to visit in January.
The annual Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival in January will give you a portrait of the city’s famed comedy scene, along with plenty of international comedians. They play 20 shows every evening, so there are plenty of laughs to be had.
Other events, including the Tomorrow Never Knows Music Festival and the Chicago Winter Whiskey Tasting Festival, provide ample reason to brave the Chicago cold. We consider it a badge of honor, and if you’re layered up, it’s really not so bad.
The city’s famous bar crawls continue throughout the winter, including the Boozing’ In Your Onesie Bar Crawl, which is exactly what it sounds like.
You can also go ice skating in iconic Millennium Park or hang out with polar bears at Lincoln Park Zoo. Plus, you’ll find plenty of fire pits, heaters, and hot chocolate to keep you cozy, even on a rooftop bar.
12. Experience a Winter Wonderland in Gatlinburg, Tennessee
If you’re wondering where to go in January for an epic ski trip, Gatlinburg is another great winter skiing destination. What sets it apart from many others is the Gatlinburg Winter Magic festival and its relative quiet after the holiday crowds depart, complete with discounted cabin rentals.
Winterfest in Gatlinburg involves millions of lights strung up all throughout the city in inventive displays. The event has a 30-year history of keeping the town bright and festive throughout winter. Grab some hot cocoa for a walking tour, or just drive around to soak it all in.
Ober Ski Mountain is prime ski and snowboarding territory. It also features a freestyle terrain park, so you can learn (or show off) a few tricks and skills. Tubing and ice skating are also great activities to get into on the mountain.
You can get lovely snowy views of the Smoky Mountains from the Space Needle, and if you’re feeling adventurous, from Morton’s Overlook or from within the national park itself. There are plenty of low-elevation trails to check out and stunning winter landscapes to discover.
13. Try All the Winter Sports in Mammoth Lakes, California
Mammoth Lakes is another one of the best places to visit in the US in January. It’s a hub for all sorts of winter sports. Cross-country skiing is big here, and January is a prime time to go. You can ice skate in the mountains or even try ice climbing, all accompanied by a pristine blanket of snow.
Hiking is an all-season activity in Mammoth Lakes. The most scenic trailheads are still open and easily accessible, and even the snow-covered trails can be snowshoed.
This is an especially nice destination if you’re looking for a winter getaway for the family. Woolly’s Tube Park & Snow Play is dedicated to just that, with a lift, well-maintained runs, and a play area perfect for a snowball fight. Outside the park, you can check out the Shady Rest Park and scenic loop, too.
If you’re hoping to avoid the crowds, we would suggest avoiding long weekends since winter is a busy season for this particular area.
14. Experience Small-Town Charm in Aspen, Colorado
January is a magical time to visit Aspen. The holiday crowds tend to thin out quickly, but the festive decorations blanketing the town remain. That, plus world-class skiing and snowboarding conditions and great rental prices, make January a secret sweet spot for your trip.
By January, the snow will be nicely compacted. Ski terrain will have opened up, and you’ll have some solitude on the slopes.
Events are plentiful. Aspen hosts regular film screenings, the ESPN X Games, and the Nordic Winterskol winter festival, to name just a few highlights. You might catch ice sculpture exhibitions, illuminated art displays, or even a fireworks show during your trip.
Gay Ski Week will bring plenty of activities, like concerts and parties, to the slopes. For something really memorable, go to a Full Moon Dinner at Cliffhouse. The hike up Buttermilk Mountain is gorgeous, and the food is a stellar accompaniment to the view.
15. Embark on a Magical Train Ride in North Conway, New Hampshire
North Conway is a veritable winter wonderland and one of the best vacation spots in the US in January since the holiday rush will be over, but you’ll still see the town in all its snow-covered majesty.
The Conway Scenic Railroad New Year’s Special on January 2 is an annual tradition that always sells out. The Conway Scenic Railroad, a great attraction at any time of year, runs a special excursion all the way out to Sawyer River – a 4-hour ride through some of the most beautiful vistas in New England. There are plenty of opportunities for a truly unique photo-op.
Of course, White Mountains is less than an hour away, and the area speaks for itself with hundreds of trails, amazing slopes, and fantastic snow conditions in January. You can also hike around frozen waterfalls or snowmobile through the backcountry.
North Conway has everything you need for a memorable January excursion. You can head to Nestlenook Farm for an idyllic sleigh ride, some ice skating, a snowshoeing expedition, or a moose tour!
There you have it! The 15 best places to travel in the US in January. What’s your favorite USA destination to visit in January?
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