9 Epic Winter Road Trip Destinations to Escape the Cold

The sun rises over boats moored at Anna Maria Island.

The sun rises over boats moored at Anna Maria Island.


Above photo: The sun rises over boats moored at Anna Maria Island. Photo by Charles Williams

Story by Patricia Corrigan

Patricia is a journalist, photographer and book author based in San Francisco.

If the sight of your snow-covered lawn leaves you cold, pack your shorts, T-shirts and sandals and head for somewhere warm that you can cruise with the top down.

We’re recommending nine road-tested trips where you can chill out on a warm beach, whether you’re looking for a weekend getaway or a longer vacation.

Couples, families, longtime pals and solo travelers alike will find the perfect road trip here, so stow that snow shovel, forget about the wind chill factor and escape from the deep freeze.

Anna Maria Island, Florida

Nothing says “summer“ in deepest winter like Florida, and this barrier island off the Sunshine State offers a slow-paced getaway. The official motto on Anna Maria Island is “Welcome to paradise without an attitude.” You’ll find sandy beaches, plenty of swaying palm trees and frost-free sunsets to admire.

Sanibel Island, Florida

Get away from the office to spend time working on your winter tan, picnicking by the water or collecting seashells on this picturesque island. Here, you can hone your “Sanibel Stoop” collecting skills in the morning, visit the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum in the afternoon and settle into a hammock after dinner.

Panhandle Beaches, Florida

To make the most of that convertible, consider driving a 200-mile stretch that showcases the many white-sand beaches on the famous Florida Panhandle. Every coastal town boasts its own personality, and along the way, you’ll find fresh seafood, live music and funky souvenirs. You can even try a stand-up paddle board, if you dare.

Key West, Florida

 

If you like going to extremes, how about a road trip to Key West, the southernmost city in the continental U. S.? From Miami, head south on the 113-mile-long Overseas Highway, stopping at the many points of interest along the way. No ice scraper required. Plus, the Keys are known for wildlife — watch for sea turtles, iguanas and even endangered deer.

 

Space Coast, Florida

 

Looking for a journey that’s truly out of this world? Some 72 miles long, Florida’s Space Coast is home to iconic museums and historic sites that explore our country’s voyages to outer space. At the Kennedy Space Center’s Apollo/Saturn V Center, you can see the largest rocket ever built and even touch a moon rock — what a blast!

Big Bend National Park, Texas

 

If wide-open spaces on the home planet call to you, consider spending your winter vacation in the “splendid isolation” of Big Bend National Park, just a three-hour drive from the airport in Midland, Texas. One of the largest, most remote and least visited of the 61 national parks, this one includes mountains, deserts and rivers. For no extra charge, you get a dazzling, unobstructed view of the stars overhead every night.

 

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

 

You’ll warm right up to the million or so stately saguaro cacti in this two-part park, situated on either side of Tucson, Arizona. The two sections are about an hour’s drive apart, and each features the iconic Saguaro, which are native only to the Sonoran Desert. A stalwart symbol of the Southwest, the long-lived cacti can grow to 50 feet or taller and weigh 6 tons or more, so don’t get prickly with them.

 

San Diego, California

 

If a big city with plenty of family-friendly attractions — and 15 sun-kissed beaches — beckons, San Diego, with its population of 1.4 million, is prepared to welcome you to California. The world-renowned San Diego Zoo, sprawled over 100 acres, is home to 3,500 animals representing more than 650 species and subspecies. Any wanna-be builders in the family? Legoland is in Carlsbad, just a 35-mile drive.

 

Maui, Hawaii

 

Scenic coastal drives on all the Hawaiian islands will ease your concerns about frigid temperatures back home, but one repeatedly reaps rave reviews. The 42-mile long drive from Lahaina to Hana, on Maui, will test your driving skills with hairpin turns and one-lane bridges, but the journey takes you along beautiful beaches, past rushing waterfalls and through mountain forests.

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