While those in the Northern Hemisphere may dream of a “White Christmas,” come January, many want to sing “Here Comes the Sun” and head for warmer climes. Some destinations are immediately obvious — who doesn’t want to head to Hawaii? But if you’re looking for under-the-radar getaway spots where you can take off your jacket, soak up the sun, and take a break from snow, here are seven of our favorites.
Franklin County, Florida
Tucked in a quiet region of the Panhandle, Franklin County is nicknamed Florida’s “Forgotten Coast." Despite drawing fewer crowds than more famous beaches in the state, the area has plenty to appeal to visitors, all while retaining a laid-back, local charm. Apalachicola is a fishing town reminiscent of Cape Cod, with terrific seafood, gorgeous waterfront parks, interesting galleries, and well-appointed inns. The surrounding area is no less alluring, with protected shallow bays, great fishing, and countless acres of national and state forests. The city’s name is a combination of the Hitchiti Indigenous words apalahchi, which means "on the other side," and okli, which translates to "people.” However, locals are happy to tell you that Apalachicola really means "land of the friendly people.” You also don’t want to miss St. George, an unspoiled barrier island with nine miles of pristine and pet-friendly beaches, a historic lighthouse, and plentiful opportunities for birding and fishing.
Yes, the sand really is pink: Bermuda’s famed beaches are tinted by the skeletal fragments of a tiny invertebrate called red foraminifera, which forms rosy protective coverings and then discards them to build bigger ones. Located about 650 miles east of North Carolina, the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda is actually a collection of 181 islands and islets, eight of which are connected by causeways and bridges to form the “mainland.” Bermuda offers a tidy blend of British, American, and island culture, and winters are pleasant enough for a walk on the beach (where you can stand on the shore and observe whales) but brisk enough in the evenings for a cozy fire and a nice cup of tea — or a spot of the island’s excellent rum.
The easiest (if not the fastest) way to escape winter is to head “down under” to the Southern Hemisphere, where the seasons are completely reversed. Less than 100 miles from Queensland's capital of Brisbane, on the aptly named Sunshine Coast, is the resort town of Noosa Head. The lively, upscale atmosphere is reminiscent of Aspen, Colorado — only with world-class surf instead of snow. Even if you don’t have a longboard, head to Sunshine Beach, which is lined with fun cafes and chic boutiques. Nearby, you’ll find eucalyptus-loving koalas at Noosa National Park, and kayaking and sailing at Lake Cootharaba.
Palm Springs, California
Once a beloved Rat Pack oasis during the late 1950s and early 1960s, this Southern California desert town is a favorite with both sun lovers and architecture aficionados. Towering palms and structural cacti are silhouetted against the three mountain ranges — San Jacinto, Santa Rosa, and San Bernardino — that surround the golf course- and celebrity-studded retreat. Lounge poolside with a cocktail at a mid-century modern or Spanish-styled hotel, tee up on a PGA-approved green, or head to the vast and rugged wilderness of Joshua Tree National Park.
Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles
Off Venezuela’s coast in the southern Caribbean, Bonaire is a desert island paradise surrounded by some of the world’s best coral reefs. While its sister island Aruba is rich in beaches, Bonaire’s rockier shores draw scuba divers from around the world, who wade straight into the water — no boat required — to commune with the abundant marine life and explore coral-encrusted shipwrecks. Above the surface, the island is home to flocks of pink flamingos and friendly burros that won’t say “no” to an apple or carrot. The constant tradewinds and comfortable water temperatures also make Bonaire one of the best spots in the world for windsurfing.
The largest of Spain’s Canary Islands, Tenerife lies on the same latitude as the Sahara, keeping winter temperatures comfortably around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Located off the coast of West Africa, the island is dominated by a dormant volcano — Mount Teide — which, at 12,188 feet tall, is the highest peak in Spain. The mountain and its surroundings form a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which covers almost 50,000 acres and is home to an international observatory. The 15th-century city of San Cristóbal de la Laguna still retains much of its colorful colonial architecture, and the volcanic island is known for its distinctive black-sand beaches.
While much of the north shivers, the Southern Hemisphere has warm temperatures with plenty of sunshine. In Santiago, Chile’s capital, travelers can admire abundant blooms, vineyards, and historical wonders — all with the backdrop of the Andes Mountains. Take a stroll through one of Chile’s best farmers markets, La Vega Central, and don’t miss the Fine Arts Museum. Bellavista is the bohemian artsy center of the city, and a walk to the top of San Cristobal Hill offers stunning panoramic views. As long as you’ve made the trip to Chile, you must experience the rugged and breathtaking wilderness of Patagonia in the south — for hiking, horseback riding, and fly fishing in extraordinary surroundings. And if you can’t quite leave the cold behind and have always dreamt of visiting Antarctica, Santiago is the starting point for many Antarctic tours.