Top 10 trending winter destinations for U.S. travelers
From Charlotte to Chattanooga, these trending domestic winter destinations may surprise you.
Blink and winter will be here. While we lament the end of fall foliage spotting and perfectly crisp hiking weather, we’re excited for the snowiest season. Whether you’re a skier, a snowboarder, or a sitter with hot chocolate en tote, there’s no shortage of incredible travel destinations to head to in our own backyard. (And don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten about those who’d like to avoid the cold altogether.)
If you’re looking for a U.S. city to plot your next getaway around, this is the list for you. To create a rundown of trending destinations this winter, our travel data gurus looked at the fastest growing domestic destinations that U.S. users are searching on Tripadvisor, versus the same travel dates year over year. The results may surprise you, but will get the wheels turning for your next epic trip to a beach town oasis or mountain metropolis (or both).
10. Myrtle Beach, SC
Myrtle Beach, SC, in the winter? You betcha. While many flock to this bustling beachy hub in the summer, you can beat the booming crowds and still amp up the fun when the temps drop. This winter season—from November 25, 2022, to January 19, 2023—get your Dolly Parton fix with programming inspired by the inimitable blonde bombshell at Kingston Resorts in Myrtle Beach. We’re talking performances from award-winning tribute artist Karen as Dolly, a tree lighting, and two Dolly-themed dinner events at the newly opened Black Drum Brewing restaurant. There will also be “Dolly-fied suites” outfitted to the nines with rhinestones, pink Christmas trees, and wreaths, plus weekly cocktail and mocktail specials inspired by the Queen of Country.
Or, swap music mania for a trip to Ripley’s, where you can visit an ultra-rare (one in 30 million!) orange lobster of TikTok fame at Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach. Other musts include walking along the (less crowded) boardwalk, visiting Duplin Winery for a wine tasting, and stuffing yourself to the brim at Big Mike’s Soul Food.
9. Charlotte, NC
When you go to Charlotte, NC, in the winter, you’re in for a veritable treat. We mean that both literally at spots like Crave Dessert Bar and Amelie’s French Bakery (red and green macaroons to toast Christmas? Make it a double batch), and in terms of the diverse array of activities the Queen City has to offer. On a wintry escape, make your home base The Ivey’s Hotel, a Travelers’ Choice Award winner, as you explore brewery-filled art districts, Catawba River neighborhoods, see a holiday show at the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, and visit the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
8. Jekyll Island, GA
There’s just something about Jekyll Island, GA, in the winter months, when the hordes of summer tourists are gone. In their place? A thrumming holiday spirit with hits like a self-guided driving tour of Jekyll Island Historic District to see the Christmas lights, beautiful Christmas decorations at Jekyll Ocean Club, and a trolley tour of the Holly Jolly Jekyll lights show, featuring more than 1,000,000 light bulbs.
Don’t conclude your time on this captivating island without a jaunt to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center for a behind-the-scenes tour. After learning about these magical creatures, keep the educational fun rolling with a jaunt to Mosaic, Jekyll Island Museum, where you can verse yourself on the island’s facilitating cultural and natural history. And if you happen to be in town December 22 through December 29, 2022, swing by Great Dunes Park for a nightly fireworks display at 7 p.m.
7. Albuquerque, NM
One of the best cold-weather destinations in winter, Albuquerque is home to one of New Mexico’s best-kept skiing secrets: Sandia Peak Ski Area, located in the Cibola National Forest just outside the city. If you’re looking for a less active escape, scope out Expo New Mexico Open Air Flea Market for holiday gifts (weekends only), or head indoors to catch a New Mexico Ice Wolves hockey game. To check into welcoming digs, book at the newly opened Hotel Zazz on Route 66, which works with a slew of local artists from metal flower crafters to soap artisans and has its own speakeasy on-site.
Minneapolis is another emerging destination for winter travel based on our community’s data. Yes, you can ice fish, snow mobile, and ice skate to your heart’s content near Minneapolis and its twin city of St. Paul, but you can also see “The Best Christmas Show in Three Years,” “A Christmas Carol at Guthrie Theater,” and “Georgiana & Kitty: Christmas at Pemberley” to toast Christmas 2022 at local theaters. Other local highlights: Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Minneapolis Institute of Art, and Terrors of Twin Cities St. Paul Haunted Ghost Tour. When your stomach starts to grumble, Ecuadorian fare at Chimborazo or Pizzeria Lola are always excellent bets.
5. Hilton Head, SC
Like Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head is another South Carolina jewel. Here, the coldest months of the year offer fun-filled events like Harbor Town Lights at The Sea Pines Resort; Historic Holidays on Hilton Head Island with “Authors, Artists & Afternoon Tea” on December 10, 2022; and holiday concerts performed by the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra and other musicians. For a break from reality, book your stay at The Westin Hilton Head Resort & Spa, a Lowcountry resort with private access to 12 miles of beaches, four on-site restaurants, and private fire pits. Our travelers call it a “wonderful experience” and a respite with “no detail overlooked”—we think you’ll agree.
Visit Indianapolis this winter for the gorgeous Winterlights display at the Indianapolis Museum of Art (a.k.a. Newfields), and you’ll be glad you did. As one Tripadvisor traveler put it, “from now on we will want to make this an annual winter time” outing. In total, some 1.5 million lights glimmer in the garden, and there’s popcorn, hot cocoa, and s’mores, as well as eclectic holiday gifts at the Wintermarket. Beyond Winterlights, our top recs in Indy this winter include Christmas at the Zoo at the Indianapolis Zoo, the Festival of Trees at the Indiana Historical Society, and the toy train wonderland that is Jingle Rails at the Eiteljorg Museum.
If you haven’t been to Milwaukee, you might be thinking the Lake Michigan metropolis is best reserved for a summertime vacation. We’re making the case for a visit during the colder months thanks to the Milwaukee Art Museum, where you might stumble into live musicians playing Christmas tunes as you peruse the impressive art collection; the Harley-Davidson Museum, to learn about the history of the motorcycle in America and tour the large collection of wheels (for $5 extra, splurge for the audio tour which Tripadvisor reviewers say “added to the experience”); and the Lakefront Brewery to warm you up with comedy, historical tidbits, and of course, fresh suds. You might just fall in love with Milwaukee so much you plan an encore trip a few months later for Summerfest at Henry Maier Festival Park.
2. Virginia Beach, VA
When you venture to Virginia Beach, VA, during the so-called off season, pack holly jolly and high expectations along with your luggage. We’re talking unhurried visits to the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, a Ghosts of Virginia Beach Dark History Walking Tour, or perhaps a private professional holiday photoshoot on the beach.
Whatever you settle on doing, holidays at the Cavalier Resort are well worth planning your vacation around, with breakfasts with Santa, a Christmas Eve and Christmas dinner, gorgeous decorations, and a Studio 54–themed New Year’s Eve soirée. The number one rated resort in Virginia Beach is worth a visit even if you don’t book a room or suite here—as one of our community members raved, swinging by for after-dinner drinks on Christmas Eve was “so enchanting!”
1. Chattanooga, TN
Drumroll, please: The top, trending spot to visit this winter for U.S. travelers is Chattanooga, TN. After dropping off your bags at The Edwin Hotel, a Travelers’ Choice Award winner, get ready to kick the merriment up a notch. Experience the city via the Holiday Trail of Lights, which showcases eight major points of interest across the city decked out in millions of lights, with holiday events, seasonal treats, Santa Claus sightings, and live music along the way. Our favorite vantage point for taking all these sparkling lights in is the snowflake-strung Walnut Street Bridge, one of the longest pedestrian-only bridges in the world, measuring 2,370 feet and erected above the Tennessee River.
Make time to stop at Lookout Mountain, which is just a few miles away from Chattanooga’s bustling downtown. From the high elevation, seven states are visible to the naked eye (and if you want bonus points at trivia night, they are Georgia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia, and Alabama). Lest we forget, no trip to Chattanooga is complete without a journey aboard an actual caboose with the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum on the North Pole Limited Christmas Train or Holiday Christmas Lights Train with majestic mountain vistas and holiday music. P.S. On Saturdays and Sundays throughout the year, you can hop aboard the “Local” for a non-holiday themed ride from Grand Junction Station in Chattanooga that dives into local history and railroad operations.