Toss the snow shovel and grab the sunscreen! While most of the nation faces bitter cold and mounds of fluffy white stuff, these small town destinations offer moderate temperatures, plenty of sunshine, and a whole lot of fun.
Las Cruces, New Mexico: From wide open spaces to space exploration, Las Cruces has something for just about anyone. Sled down a hill of warm sand at White Sands National Monument, sample wines along the Rio Grande River, or get schooled Scovilles at the Chile Pepper Institute. Or, tour nearby Spaceport America, where the nation’s first space tourists will soon blast off. On your way, stop at Hatch --the birthplace of New Mexico’s infamous green chiles.
Fredericksburg, Texas: Known for its German culture, the small community of Fredericksburg makes a great base to explore Texas Hill Country wineries, such as Becker Vineyards, Grape Creek Vineyards, and Pedernales Cellars. In between tastings, visit Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, the National Museum of the Pacific War, or the dance hall and bar in nearby Luckenbach. With more than 150 local shops, it’s the perfect destination for a girlfriends’ getaway -- but it's also a great option for sneaking away to a local bed and breakfast for a romantic escape.
Yuma, Arizona: Located on the Colorado River, near the Mexican border, Yuma holds the Guinness World Record as the sunniest city on earth, boasting sunshine 91 percent of the time. Take advantage of the good weather to explore the Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park, a major military post in the Southwest following the Civil War, and the infamous Yuma Territorial Prison. The city also has an agricultural side; sniff out one of the several local date farms for a date shake and other treats.
Gulf Shores, Alabama: If you fantasize about wiggling your frozen toes in bright white sand, book a trip to Gulf Shores. While the beach is the main attraction, the area is also a mecca for birding. Other popular activities include fishing from Gulf Pier at Gulf State Park ($8 to fish, $2 to walk the largest pier on the Gulf of Mexico) and golfing at one of eight public courses.
Desert Hot Springs, California: One of the fastest growing communities in Southern California, this spa destination takes its name from the natural mineral waters that percolate, odor free, to the surface in the area. With more than a dozen day spas and even more boutique mineral spas, you’ll have no trouble detoxing here. For a change of pace, venture to nearby Palm Springs, with its upscale shopping and dining. Or, hike through the rugged landscape of Joshua Tree National Park.
Boulder City, Nevada: Founded to house laborers working on the Hoover Dam in the early 1930s, Boulder City has evolved into a vibrant community on Lake Mead -- which formed when the dam was completed. In addition to boating and fishing on the lake, you can stroll the historic downtown area, take a tour of Hoover Dam, or get a bird’s eye view of the dam from the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. Feeling lucky? Roll the dice in Las Vegas, just a half hour drive away.