The Best Places to Travel in January
January gets a bad rap among travel industry types, who tend to write the month off as a dead zone, “the dark weeks”—or more delicately, low season. The phenomenon is pretty straightforward: Travelers generally cool their jets after the holiday getaway madness, then airfares and room rates drop—especially in places that are a) cold, b) geared toward school-age kids or c) both. The upshot? January is one of the cheapest times to take off—particularly to one of these 10 spots. As for what to do on arrival, read on.
Palm Springs (sample roundtrip fare from Denver: $137)
Even resolution skeptics tend to want start the year on a wellness-y note, so January sees jillions of us seeking everything from increased mindfulness to decreased bloatedness. And sure, wellness begins at home—but it gets so much more fun in the California desert, where there’s a bubbling mud bath, steaming hot spring or dramatic hiking trail at (almost) every turn. At least if you head to the Greater Palm Springs area.
Though this nine-town enclave has long been home to stellar spas and retreats, newcomers are upping the ante, as you’ll find at Spa La Lé at Hotel Paseo in Palm Desert (try the Organic Farm to Face facial) or the Spa at the Sands Hotel & Spa in Indian Wells (try the Royal Rhassoul body Treatment). Then there’s the recently redone grand dame: Two Bunch Palms, where the upgrades range from renovated guest rooms to a new tea shop and wine bar. For all the changes, though, the retreat is still rooted in hot soaks, mud baths and extensive course offerings (think Gentle Water Yoga and Balance Your Chakras to Your Destiny). And if you want to go for the full mindfulness monty, consider the almost-sold-out Infinite Possibilities Retreat with none other than Deepak Chopra at the end of the month.
Orlando (sample roundtrip fare from Milwaukee: $87)
Three words: Back to school. They tell you everything you need to know about the Theme Park Capital of the World in January. Want the run of the parks? Now’s your time. And you’ll find plenty of adult pursuits while you’re there, from the tropical Backwater Bar in Universal’s Islands of Adventure to Homer Simpson’s dream beer garden at the Universal Studios Florida Duff Brewery. Then there’s the Epcot International Festival of the Arts, which kicks off Jan. 18 with DIY seminars (think animation drawing or flower arranging); countless art-influenced treats (don’t miss the Mondrian-inspired almond frangipane cake with layers of raspberry jam and Callebaut chocolate); and a long lineup of performances, many paired with food.
While we’re on the subject, we should mention the new and already beloved Rock Dinner Show at the Orlando Forum. Though several of the January performances are sold out, there are still tickets to be had for this night of iconic cover songs and culinary decadence (check out the brie and fontina mac & cheese).
Atlanta (sample roundtrip fare from NYC: $115)
Particularly well suited to a Martin Luther King Day trip, Atlanta is the Civil Rights leader’s hometown, where you’ll find a series of commemorative events, as well as the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site—one of the city’s top draws. Among the highlights of the 35-acre enclave are Dr. King’s birth home, Ebenezer Baptist Church (where he was baptized and eventually appointed to the pulpit), the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame and Dr. and Mrs. King’s tombs—the pair side by side in a reflecting pool.
For reflections of an entirely different kind, you still have a few weeks to catch Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors at the High Museum of Art—the last stop on the exhibit’s six-city North American tour. One of the hottest tickets in town, Infinity Mirrors has no more available reserved entries, but 100 walk-up tickets are available daily, and worth trying for.
One more extraordinary experience for good measure: Go for a swim or a dive in arguably the only place that guarantees a whale shark sighting through your mask: a massive tank at the Georgia Aquarium.
Boston (sample roundtrip fare from Houston: $156)
Baseball Hall of Famer and onetime Red Sox manager Billy Herman famously observed that “Boston has two seasons: August and winter.” And though the latter may not be an ideal time for Fenway visits (mind you, diehards will find tours of the hallowed park year-round), the city’s food, wine and arts institutions are a totally different ballgame.
This month marks the 30th anniversary of the Boston Wine Festival—reportedly the longest-running food and wine-pairing series in the U.S.—and the celebration has grown so famous, vintners and vinophiles show up from as far afield as South Africa. Held at the posh and enviably situated Boston Harbor Hotel, the festival includes such events as the Battle of the Cabs (Jan. 17-18) and Meritage Madness (Jan. 25).
Meanwhile, photography fans shouldn’t miss the Museum of Fine Arts’ exquisite Ansel Adams in Our Time (the exhibit closes in February)—and music lovers should check out the city’s lesser known Celtics at a weekend-long jam (Jan. 17-20) in Harvard Square.
For anyone who does want to brave the outdoors, gliding across the Boston Common’s Frog Pond—the nation’s best outdoor skating rink, according to a recent USA Today #10Best list—is the way to go. And for anyone who only kinda wants to brave the outdoors, proceed directly to Outlook’s rooftop igloo bar.
Miami (sample roundtrip fare from Chicago: $115)
Let’s be honest: Miami could have absolutely nada going on in January, and you’d still be ecstatic to be there—golden sand underfoot, a thousand shades of turquoise stretched out before you—if you just left some snow-covered corner of the Northeast. (Not that wed don’t love snow-covered corners of the Northeast: See above.)
But Miami happens to have the opposite of nada going on this month: There’s the Miami Jewish Film Festival (this year’s newsiest addition: the Spotlight on Women Filmmakers and 25 woman-directed films, including the RBG biopic On the Basis of Sex). Then there’s the Beax Arts Art Festival Jan. 12-13, when 25,000 of your fellow art enthusiasts will descend upon the University of Miami to see the work of almost 250 artists. And there’s also the longest-running free community culture-fest in Miami Beach: the Miami Design Preservation League’s Art Deco Weekend (Jan. 18-20), when you can take Deco-intensive architecture tours, hear jazz and silently judge the Bark Deco Dog Show. And all of this is just the starter course: You'll find several food events here in January as well, but perhaps our favorite is the Jan. 25-27 international chocolate festival inside a tropical botanical garden.
GRAB YOUR PASSPORT
If you’re not put off by the idea of a last-minute trip abroad, check out the amazing deals on flights from the West Coast to Beijing (we’ve seen $435 roundtrip from LA). Though China’s capital will surely be chill, its famed suburban hot spring scene will be heating up, with a crazy array of options—from kitschy mashups of waterparks and wellness retreats to romantic al fresco soaking pools with views of the Great Wall. Go toward the end of the month and stick around until Feb. 5 for Chinese New Year, when the country will go hog wild for the Year of the Pig.
Then again, Paris makes for a festive and cheap January getaway, too (we’ve seen $340 roundtrip from Newark). The Galette des Rois alone is worth the trip: This Epiphany-celebrating rhapsody in puff pastry and frangipani filling adorns the shelves of patisseries nationwide throughout January, then disappears for another year. And there’s no better recipe for winter bliss than a slice of galette, a steaming cup of chocolat chaud and your own cozy corner of a Parisian café.
If you'd rather stay a bit closer to home, consider Toronto (we’ve seen $307 roundtrip from St. Louis), where the Toronto Light Festival flickers to life on Jan. 18, the Winterlicious food-fest serves up the city’s best eats as of Jan. 25—and the Maple Leafs play intermittently throughout the month. Or—if you're looking to escape winter rather than embrace it—head for the bathwater-warm bays of the Caribbean: Fresh off a win for World's Leading Beach Destination at last month's World Travel Awards, Jamaica's a great choice (we've seen roundtrip flights to Montego Bay from DC for $250)—as is fellow leading beach destination nominee Cancun (we've seen roundtrip flights from Chicago for $167). And once you're staring out at the Caribbean from your lounger of choice, remember to raise a Red Stripe, Corona or rum punch to low season.