6 Great Cities to Visit in Winter

These destinations are perfect for this time of year.

A child rests on a ski slope in Park City, Utah.
Skiers take five in Park City's world-class powder.
Scott Markewitz / Aurora Photos

Park City, Utah: World's Best Snow

As Utah’s license plates say, this is the greatest snow on earth.

There’s also a whole lot of it: When Park City Mountain Resort subsumed Canyons Resort in 2015, the merger created one of the biggest winter sports areas in the United States, with 7,300 skiable acres and 330-plus groomed trails. Neighboring Deer Valley Resort is famous for upscale amenities and five-star skiing. It’s not surprising that the U.S. Ski Team is headquartered in Park City.

The are plenty of off-piste pleasures in Park City, too. One of the most popular restaurants in the area is the Saloon at the High West Distillery, which feeds about 1,200 visitors a day during ski season. The signature burger is an addictive blend of dry-aged bison and beef, topped with smoked barley cheddar and American cheese.

Want to avoid the wait at High West? Grab a reservation at Tupelo, which is one of Park City’s destination eateries along with standbys such as Riverhorse on Main Fletcher’s. Chef and owner Matt Harris’s seared ahi tuna or pasta with elk Bolognese are miles above your typical ski-resort grub.

A look at the interior of Ada's bookstore in Seattle, Washington, picture
Grab a cup of joe and a book to browse at Ada's.
Cindy Apple

Seattle's Capitol Hill: Urbane Pleasures in Winter

Been to the top of the Space Needle? Already seen the fish fly at Pike Place Market? For a taste of Seattle’s less touristy side, check out Capitol Hill, a stronghold of music and the arts, the epicenter of the city’s gay community, and home to an amazing concentration of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs—all just a 10-minute light-rail ride from downtown.

Capitol Hill is also home to the Seattle Asian Art Museum, located in Olmsted Brothers–designed Volunteer Park. During Museum Month in February, admission to the AAM—and more than 27 other museums and cultural attractions, including the Museum of Pop Culture and the Seattle Aquarium—is half price if you’re staying at one of 70 downtown hotels.

“It’s a vibrant neighborhood,” says Xiaojin Wu, the SAAM’s curator of Japanese art. She takes visiting artists to eat and drink at the Volunteer Park Cafe and Monsoon. (Wu is a fan of the latter’s bo la lot—beef wrapped in betel leaves and grilled.)

Wu says her two favorite retreats in the neighborhood are the Victorian conservatory in Volunteer Park and any table at Ada’s Technical Books and Café. GQ shares Wu’s enthusiasm, naming Ada’s one of the nine best places in the country to have a cup of coffee. After all, what could be more Seattle than getting your caffeine fix in a geeky-chic bookstore that’s packed to the rafters with techie tomes?

Caesars in Las Vegas, Nevada, picture
Luxury shopping meets Roman decor at Caesars in Las Vegas.
James Bueti

Las Vegas: Over-the-Top Shopping in Winter

The best winter bet in Las Vegas? Easy: It’s the postholiday shopping. For the sheer scope, luxury, and extras of its recreational consumerism, Vegas is unbeatable.

Start with the embarrassment of choices. The moniker of the Miracle Mile Shops undersells it. The stretch is actually 1.2 miles with more than 150 shops and restaurants. The Fashion Show mall has six department stores and 230 smaller vendors in 2 million square feet of retail space. Feeling overwhelmed? Take a break at Breathe, the mall’s oxygen bar.

If you’re looking for luxury, the Strip is like Rodeo Drive multiplied. There’s not just one Louis Vuitton store, but eight. There are three Diors (compared with two in Beverly Hills) and four Guccis, too.

As for extras, consider the dining and entertainment. Wolfgang Puck’s Spago, at the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, launched the celebrity chef craze in Vegas. The Forum Shops also have talking statues and a fountain show depicting the fall of Atlantis. You could take a postprandial gondola ride through the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian. The biggest extra of all: The Linq Promenade’s High Roller is the world’s largest observation wheel. From 550 feet in the air, online shopping looks downright boring.

Dusk at Sun Valley, Idaho, picture
Alpenglow bathes Sun Valley at dusk.
Kevin Syms

Sun Valley, Idaho: Majestic Mountains in Winter

Ernest Hemingway once called Idaho's Sawtooth Range "the loveliest mountains that I know." And the Sawtooths are just one of five ranges surrounding Sun Valley, lending some credence to the area’s boast that it’s the Alps of America.

For winter visitors, those gorgeous mountains provide a full spectrum of seasonal recreation. Skiing is, of course, the most obvious choice. The Sun Valley Resort continues to offer access to superb slopes on Bald Mountain (and its heralded 3,400-foot vertical drop) and Dollar Mountain, with reliable sunshine and trails for every ability level.

You’ll find plenty of skiing alternatives, too. There’s ice-skating at the Christina Potters and Sun Valley Resort ice rinks. Fly Sun Valley will send you paragliding off Bald Mountain in a tandem rig with a certified instructor. The Sun Valley Nordic and Snowshoe Center, Sawtooth National Recreation Area, Quigley Nordic, and Wood River Trail all offer beautiful trails for fat biking.

The even more adventurous can take guided trips into the backcountry with Sun Valley Guides, which maintains a system of six yurts and huts, each one featuring a wood-fired sauna or hot tub. “Our mountains are all in deep wilderness,” says guide Joe St. Onge. “We’re on the edge of the largest roadless spot in the lower 48.”

Looking for a more leisurely peak experience? Take the gondola to the Roundhouse—a restaurant midway up Baldy—for wine, fondue, and a chance to savor the same mountainscape that so enraptured Hemingway decades ago.

skijoring races heat up the Whitefish Winter Carnival in Montana, picture
Skijoring races heat up the Whitefish Winter Carnival.
Brian Schott / Explore Whitefish

Whitefish, Montana: Small-town Tranquility in Winter

If you're looking for a snowy getaway without the Mammoth (or Park City) crowds, Whitefish, Montana, could be your spot. This Northern Rockies destination bustles in the summer, as a convenient base for visitors to nearby Glacier National Park. But in winter those visitors mostly vanish, and you can have the place almost to yourself.

That breathing room is particularly noticeable in Whitefish’s burgeoning restaurant scene. “In winter, people can almost always get a table at the times they’re looking for, even with short notice,” says Andy Blanton, the executive chef and owner of Cafe Kandahar and a four-time James Beard Award semifinalist. (When he’s looking for a bite himself, Blanton is likely to head over to the Three Forks Grille for some gnocchi with Manchego cream.)

When it comes to winter recreation, Whitefish has plenty of options. Whitefish Mountain Resort welcomes you with 3,000 skiable acres, a 2,300-foot vertical drop, and virtually no lift lines. You can also ice-skate at the Stumptown Ice Den, grab a sleigh ride at the Bar W Guest Ranch, or check out the “snow ghosts”— trees covered and contorted by thick coats of ice—near the summit of Big Mountain.

But winter’s best attraction is the same as summer’s: Glacier. “There’s something to be said for exploring the area when it’s quiet,” Blanton says. Head to Lake McDonald for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. Or, if you have a four-wheel drive vehicle, take North Fork Road to Polebridge for amazing views of the Rockies. You’ll likely have them all to yourself.

the beach at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess in Arizona, picture
The Scottsdale Princess built a beach in the desert.
Courtesy Fairmont Scottsdale Princess

Scottsdale, Arizona: Winter Desert Oasis

In Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart’s character says he came to the titular city “for the waters.” Reminded that he’s in a desert, he replies, “I was misinformed.”

Bogie should have come to Scottsdale, where successive waves of settlers have built 250 miles of irrigation canals in the Sonoran Desert. Today, water is central to the Scottsdale experience, whether it’s sprinkling on the greens of the area’s 200-plus golf courses, filling the many resort pools, or serving as ice in a cocktail at the Beverly on Main.

Water is also central to some of Scottsdale’s best recreation options, including stand-up paddleboarding on saguaro lake with REI Co-Op Experiences and Sunset Beach at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, where 830 tons of white California sand creates a 9,000-square-foot strand surrounding a pool.

Perhaps the biggest splash in Scottsdale these days comes from the OdySea Aquarium, which opened in 2016 and showcases 30,000 animals from 370 species. “This is not like any aquarium I’ve ever seen,” says David Peranteau, OdySea’s director of animal care and conservation. “It’s very immersive.” He means that literally: In SeaTrek, visitors don wet suits and helmets, then walk in the water amid the creatures. The aquarium houses 8 shark species, as well as local Apache and gila trout. Desert-native fish? No, you weren’t misinformed.

This article was first published in January 2017 and last updated in February 2024.