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America's 10 best winter beach retreats

By Beth Collins
updated November 3, 2021
The beach at Sanibel Island, Florida
Courtesy The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel
White sand and warm waters are closer than you think. When winter's chill sets in, escape to one of these laid-back, sun-drenched spots. No passport needed.

1. SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO

With more than 100 hotels welcoming guests, 4,000+ restaurants cooking away, and 107 tourist attractions open to visitors, San Juan’s post-Maria comeback is something to behold. Add to that the stunning beaches and the 16th-century colonial history, and you have the makings for a trip that mixes relaxing tropical vacation with cultural getaway. Hit the beaches in the blissfully uncrowded mornings (Ocean Park Beach and Isla Verde Beach are local favorites) and spend your afternoons strolling the cobblestone streets and admiring the candy-colored buildings of Old Town. History buffs won’t want to miss Fuerte San Felipe del Morro (“El Morro” to locals), a 16th-century fort perched at the edge of a triangle of land.

READ MORE: The Best Day to Buy Airline Tickets

EAT: Alcapurrias, bacalaitos, empanadillas – do yourself a favor and familiarize yourself with the names of popular Puerto Rican street foods pre-trip so you’ll be ready to hit the food trucks the minute you land. Choose from the many vendors in Old San Juan, or if you’re up for exploring, drive about 30 minutes to Piñones, famous for its authentic street food. For an eclectic array of options, head to Lote 23, a collection of food trucks serving everything from poke bowls to croquettes to made-to-order donuts.

STAY: Like San Juan itself, The Gallery Inn is a masterful mix of old-world charm and gorgeous tropical getaway. Originally built in the 17th century, the inn is a labyrinth of lush gardens (19 of them, inf fact), art studios, fountains, a music room (check the front desk for concert times), a pool with waterfalls, and 27 guest rooms. Don’t miss the wine deck, with its panoramic views of Old San Juan (rooms from $117).

EASY ESCAPE FROM: Miami (three-and-a-half-hour flight), Orlando (four-hour flight), New York City (five-hour flight).

2. SANIBEL ISLAND, FLORIDA

The sea is hands-down the main attraction in Sanibel, and while there are some top contenders when it comes to beaches – Lighthouse Beach, Bowman’s Beach, and Blind Pass Beach are all stellar options – whichever spot you choose you can rest assured you’ll be treated to fine white sand and calm turquoise waters. To get out on said waters, sign up for a kayak tour with Tarpon Bay Explorers, where a naturalist will explain every wading bird and mysterious underwater shadow you encounter as you paddle through the mangrove forest (tours from $35; includes use of the kayak for the rest of the day). Cool off with a trip to Pinocchio’s Original Italian Ice Cream, a local institution famous for its island-inspired flavors (Key-Lime Hurricane, Dirty Sand Dollar) and signature animal cracker perched atop each scoop (scoops from $4).

EAT: “Restaurant” doesn’t seem like quite the right word for The Island Cow. It’s more of an event, complete with an outdoor corn-hole set-up, photo opps, live music, and yes, food. The bustling spot serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a four-page menu that has everything from pancakes to conch fritters (breakfast from $8; dinner entrées from $10). For something a little more serene, Gramma Dot’s sits dockside at the Sanibel Marina and serves all manner of local seafood, from grouper and tilapia to soft-shell crab and shrimp (entrées from $26).

STAY: In a state where beachside hotels are plentiful, Seahorse Cottages is a welcome departure. Tucked into a quiet residential neighborhood, the collection of cottages – ranging in size from studio to two-bedroom – feels welcoming and quaint, almost as though a relative has given you the keys to a guesthouse for the weekend. Hospitality prevails, with free cruiser bicycles for guests to explore nearby Old Town Sanibel, as well as beach chairs, umbrellas, and wagons to cart your beach gear back and forth (adults only, from $135).

EASY ESCAPE FROM: Miami (2 hr 45 minute drive), Orlando (1-hour flight), New York City (three-hour flight).

3. KAILUA, OAHU, HAWAII

Winter months mean towering waves at many of Oahu’s most popular beaches – which is great if you want to sit on the sand and admire the world-class surfers, but far too dangerous for mere mortals to go swimming. Kailua Beach, however, is nearly always calm and safe. The small, gentle waves make it an ideal beach for everything from swimming to kayaking to kiteboarding. On days when the water is extra calm, rent a kayak from Kailua Beach Adventures and paddle the mile or so out to the Mokulua Islands (rentals from $59). Conveniently, the town’s best shave ice is just a few storefronts down from the rental shop. Post-kayaking, drop off your boat and treat yourself to an icy, syrupy delight (shave ice from $3.50).

EAT: Just across the road from the beach, Buzz’s Original Steakhouse has been serving up tropical drinks and steak and fish dinners for 55 years. The feel is part tiki-bar kitsch, part tropical elegance (no tank tops after 4:30 p.m.) (entrées from $23).

STAY: Kailua and neighboring Lanikai are primarily residential, so hotels are few and far between. In-the-know visitors opt for house rentals instead – and fortunately, there are plenty to choose from. You’ll likely be spending most of your time here at the beach, so look for something that’s walking distance to the water.

EASY ESCAPE FROM: Honolulu (20-minute drive), L.A. (six-hour flight), San Francisco (six-hour flight).

4. HANALEI, KAUA'I, HAWAII

Kaua'i has managed to stay a little more under the radar than other Hawaiian islands, and that's what makes it so appealing. Hanalei, on the North Shore, is as close to magical as a town can get – lush green mountains, fields of taro, and rainbows on a daily basis. The horseshoe-shaped, secluded Hanalei Bay is the best beach for swimming and lounging on the golden sand, but if you want to get out on the water, sign up for one of the four-hour motor-powered raft trips with Na Pali Riders. You'll explore sea caves, go snorkeling, and almost definitely spot dolphins (tours from $149). Afterward, dry off with a hike along the Hanakapi'ai Trail, which follows the stunningly beautiful Na Pali Coast to Hanakapi'ai Beach and back, about four miles altogether.

EAT: You can't go to Hawaii without trying a plate lunch: a local specialty that consists of two scoops of rice, macaroni salad, and your choice of protein (often teriyaki chicken or seared ahi). Locals rave about the version served up at the Hanalei Taro & Juice Co., a restaurant owned by a family that's been farming taro in the valley for generations (plate lunch from $10). For straight-from-the-ocean fish, have dinner at The Hanalei Dolphin Sushi Lounge (hanaleidolphin.com).

STAY: The four studio apartments at casual Hanalei Inn, just a block from Hanalei Bay, have full kitchens and an outdoor lanai with a grill, so you can save money by cooking meals during your stay. Plus, the picnic table looking out at the mountains is the perfect place to have your morning coffee (from $159).

EASY ESCAPE FROM: Honolulu (40-minute flight), L.A. (six-hour flight), San Francisco (six-hour flight).

5. LAGUNA BEACH, CALIFORNIA

Done the right way, this SoCal beach town can be surprisingly down-to-earth. After all, some of its first citizens were not glamorous teenagers or housewives but early 20th-century struggling artists such as William Wendt and Lolita Perine. The arts still play a big role here, thanks to the Laguna Art Museum, galleries along the waterfront, and the Laguna Playhouse. Still, the seven miles of classic California coastline are the big draw. Beaches fill up during the summer, but in the winter months they're blissfully crowd-free – especially 1,000 Steps Beach, just off 9th Street (don't let the name scare you; there are actually only 230-something steps leading down to the beach). The waves are perfect for boogie boarding, and the views – golden cliffs and multimillion-dollar houses, some with elevators – are pure SoCal. Post-beach, drive a mile and a half along Laguna Canyon Road to Laguna Canyon Winery, where you can sample award-winning reds and whites in the cozy, low-lit barrel room (tastings from $2, waived with bottle purchase).

EAT: As you watch the sun dip below the horizon from Sapphire Laguna’s patio, you’ll understand why they call their happy hour “Sunset Hour.” The menu – a pared-down version of their lunch and dinner offerings – includes a curated selection of wines, beers and specialty cocktails, plus a just-right sampling of snacks and entrées. Beware the house-made potato chips, made with rosemary, sage, and sea salt – they’re so deliciously addictive you could easily order them on a loop, staying long past the actual sunset. During the cooler months, stay warm at a table near the fire pit. (snacks from $4; entrées from $11).

STAY: With its Spanish Colonial architecture, lush gardens, and towering palms, Casa Laguna Hotel & Spa is quintessential Southern California. Each of the 23 rooms is unique and lively, designed with Moroccan tiles and bright fabrics. Start the day with the complimentary breakfast, then choose between the heated pool, on-site spa, or the beach, just across the street (from $230).

EASY ESCAPE FROM: L.A. (50 miles; about one hour by car), San Diego (73 miles; about 90 minutes by car), Chicago (four-and-a-half-hour flight).

6. GRAND ISLE, LOUISIANA

In the winter, the population of this barrier island off Louisiana's Gulf Coast shrinks back down to its 1600 permanent residents from its summer high of 14,000. But temperatures remain warm enough to sunbathe, and you can do so without the crowds. Anglers adore this island thanks to the more than 280 species of fish in the surrounding waters, and many flock to Grand Isle State Park to fish in its calm waters. Those not obsessed with reeling in The Big One head to the beaches. Although the 2010 oil spill closed all beaches on the seven-mile-long island this summer, most stretches of golden sand reopened in August 2018, after an intensive cleanup effort.

EAT: Most of the restaurants on Grand Isle specialize in – what else? – fresh fish, particularly catfish and trout. So make like a local and indulge in the fish sandwiches and po'boys at Starfish Restaurant (sandwiches from $5.25).

STAY: The old-fashioned, no-frills Cajun Tide Beach Resort sits beachside and caters to anglers with a fish-cleaning room, a screened-in cooking room, and enough barbecue pits for guests to cook up feasts from the day's catch (from $50).

EASY ESCAPE FROM: New Orleans (109 miles; about two hours by car), Baton Rouge (160 miles; about three hours by car), Chicago (three-hour flight to New Orleans), Detroit (four-and-a-half-hour flight to New Orleans).

7. SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA

San Diego is a small town with big ambitions: the revitalized Gaslamp Quarter, with its shops and restaurants, feels urban, but the crashing waves of the Pacific nearby create a vibe that's classic American beach village. However, the best way to experience it all is to hit the boardwalk. At Pacific Beach, known for its wide stretches of sand and perfect surfing waves, rent a beach cruiser from Cheap Rentals and ride the three-and-a-half-mile stretch to South Mission Beach, passing all manner of local characters along the way: scantily clad in-line skaters, vacationing families, throwback '60s hippies, and even the random guy on a unicycle who always seems to make an appearance (rentals from $6 per hour).

EAT: The massive breakfast burrito with eggs, sausage, and fresh avocado at beachside Kono's Surf Club is a San Diego rite of passage – as is the line that snakes out the door and around the corner (breakfast from $3.50).

STAY: Beach shacks in the area sound charming...until you see the shag carpet, wood-paneled walls, and sagging mattresses. Tower23 is a welcome departure from the norm, with its modern, glass-box look, neutral-palette rooms filled with teak furniture, and a hip indoor/outdoor restaurant and bar with a view of the ocean (from $229).

EASY ESCAPE FROM: LA (120 miles; about two hours by car), Phoenix (one-hour flight), Seattle (two-and-a-half-hour flight).

8. ST. SIMONS ISLAND, GEORGIA

One of four islands that make up Georgia's Golden Isles (a collection of barrier islands just off the southeastern coast), St. Simons is known for its centuries-old moss-draped oak trees, historical landmarks, white-sand beaches, and 99 holes of golf. Cars are allowed on the island, but the leisurely pace of life here will make you want to stay away from anything with a motor. Instead, rent a beach-cruiser bike from Ocean Motion Surf Co. and pedal your way past King and Prince Beach, plantations, the lighthouse, and Christ Church, originally built in 1820. The ride covers about 14 miles, and there are plenty of stops to admire the scenery, so allow at least a half day (rentals from $15).

EAT: Owned by the same family for 30 years, Crabdaddy’s Seafood Grill prides itself on its passed-down-from-generations recipes and its welcoming we’re-all-friends-here ambiance. With the exception of a few obligatory chicken and steak dishes, virtually everything on the menu is seafood-based. Whatever you choose, be sure to start with an order of shrimp and grits, the house specialty (entrées from $18).

STAY: The oak trees on St. Simons are so treasured that the Village Inn & Pub was built around them – not one tree had to be cut down during construction. This place is as charming as it gets: the reception area is a restored 1930s cottage, the English pub is outfitted with a huge stone fireplace, and each of the 28 guest rooms is named for a historical figure with some significance to the island, such as Sid Lanier, a poet, novelist, and composer (from $135).

EASY ESCAPE FROM: Savannah (84 miles; about two hours by car), Atlanta (282 miles; about five hours by car), Charleston, S.C. (193 miles; about four hours by car).

9. ORANGE BEACH, ALABAMA

Most people don't automatically associate the phrase "beach retreat" with Alabama – but don't tell a local that. Alabamians are adamant that their Gulf Coast beaches are among the most beautiful in the country. The sand is 95 percent quartz, meaning it's snow-white and sparkles in the sun, and the waters are as blue as any you'll find in Florida. Nine-mile Orange Beach has everything you need – warm water, lots of room to spread out your beach blanket, and restaurants just off the sand. Dolphins love the waters around here so much that Dolphin Cruises Aboard the Cold Mil Fleet guarantees sightings (90-minute tours from $20).

EAT: Gulf Shores Steamer is a rarity in these parts: a beachside seafood joint that doesn't fry everything in sight. In fact, the folks here don't fry anything. Instead, the fresh fish, shrimp, crabs, and oysters are steamed or grilled—and always delicious (gulfshoressteamer.com, entrées from $15).

STAY: The beachfront 346-room Perdido Beach Resort is like a community unto itself, with four restaurants, an indoor/outdoor pool, hot tubs, and tennis courts (from $94).

EASY ESCAPE FROM: Mobile, Ala. (54 miles; about 90 minutes by car), Pensacola, Fla. (29 miles; about one hour by car), St. Louis (four-hour flight to Mobile).

10. GALVESTON, TEXAS

In this South Texas hotspot, savvy travelers skip crowded East Beach (which gets overrun in March with spring breakers) and head to the more secluded West Beach or Galveston Island State Park. Both have wide expanses of sand that are perfect for trolling for shells or soaking up some sun. Once you're out of the water, the historic Strand district, along Strand Street between 25th and 11th, is worth a stop. Buildings from the 1800s have been restored recently and now house restaurants, antiques stores, and many galleries full of fine art and photography. The town's other big attraction is the Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Indoor Waterpark, which attracts families with its water chutes, speed slides, wave pool, and, for the adults, enormous 30,000-person hot tub with a swim-up bar (from $26).

EAT: A few blocks inland from the waterfront is Postoffice Street, where you can get authentic gumbo and a cold brew at Little Daddy’s Gumbo Bar (gumbo from $12), known as the best place to get gumbo on the island, or try the Ceviche Corinto at Latin-influenced Rudy & Paco's (ceviche $17).

STAY: Overlooking the wharf, the 42-room Harbor House has an old-school nautical vibe and is less than a 10-minute walk from downtown (from $102).

EASY ESCAPE FROM: Houston (53 miles; about one hour by car), Austin (212 miles; about four hours by car), Denver (two-hour flight to Houston), Chicago (three-hour flight to Houston).

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The 6 wildest New Year’s Eve celebrations in the US

Finding the perfect place to celebrate New Year’s Eve is always a little stressful. Whether you’re looking to party hard, bring the kids or just chill out, there’s no doubt expectations run high. To help settle your holiday anxieties, we’ve picked the best places to ring in 2020 around the country. So, make those reservations, mark your calendar, kick back and relax. New Orleans, LA Music! Food! Cocktails! Culture! Party it up in this happening southern city, where the weather is mild enough to celebrate al fresco, but there’s plenty to do inside. Jackson Square is where the big action happens, with the Fleur De Lis drop at midnight, but you can make reservations at music venues like Tipitina’s and the House of Blues if you prefer to boogie down. The Big Easy is also known for its over-the-top cuisine and favorites like Galatoire’s and Café Degas do stunning special menus. Got kids? The Louisiana Children’s Museum does a New Year’s countdown at noon for those with early bedtimes and the Audobon Zoo does a family-centric celebration in the morning. Football fans get an extra-added bonus and you can nab a ticket to the New Year’s Day Allstate Sugar Bowl here. New York, NY If you can make it there, you really can make it anywhere, because New Year’s Eve in New York City is a wild ride. If you’re willing to brave the crowds, and the temperatures, you can join the festivities in Times Square, which starts at 6pm and culminates in the Waterford Crystal Ball dropping at midnight. This year, performers include Sting and Christina Aguilera. Want to stay close but warm? Get your cocktail on, tiki-style, at The Pod Hotels 42’s The Polynesian. Celebratory fireworks are also part of the NYC NYE and you can watch them explode in downtown Manhattan’s South Street Seaport or Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. For a high-end culinary tour de force, make reservations for the tasting menu at Eleven Madison Park or book a room at 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge and nab two tickets to spectacular views of the skyline at Brooklyn Heights Social Club’s Classic NYE Celebration. Las Vegas, NV In a town where every night feels like New Year’s Eve, it may be hard to choose how you want to celebrate. Thankfully, the city makes it special by closing the entire strip down for traffic, so there really is dancing in the streets. And, come midnight, you’ll be treated to a stupendous fireworks display coordinated by the casinos. If you’re looking for something with less than the approximately 300,000 guests on the strip, you can grab tickets for parties Like Nas New Year’s Eve at Tao or the family-friendly party at Hofbrauhaus, which starts at 3pm to celebrate alongside its original beer hall in Munich. If it’s music you’re after, there’s much to choose from, like Calvin Harris at Omnia, Drake at XS Nightclub, Lady Gaga at Park MGM and Maroon 5 at Mandalay Bay. Savannah, GA Dripping with as much southern charm as Spanish moss, pedestrian friendly Savannah is the perfect home base for NYE festivities. Spend the day exploring the 22 different squares, antebellum mansions and cobblestone streets in the Historic district, including Forrest Gump’s infamous bus stop in Chippewa Square. Then head to City Market, where you can grab some grub, walk the market and catch live music all night long. Next, wander down to the hopping River District for a countdown to the Up the Cup ball drop, which is a six-foot to-go cup ringing in 2020. If you’re looking for something more elegant, you can make reservations at the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa for dinner followed by a rocking dance party or keep closer to the festivities with a meal from the four-course tasting menu at Vic’s on the River. Midnight fireworks will explode over River Street as well, but you can also catch them at the city’s Tybee Island beach. Honolulu, HA Most people don’t need a reason to visit paradise, but if you’re heading to Honolulu for the holidays, there’s plenty of things to do if you can scrape yourself off the close to perfect beaches. The Party of the Year is in its 10th iteration and though the location and headliner hasn’t yet been announced, you can buy your tickets now. Tiki’s Waikiki is also hosting a massive blowout Soiree Dinner & Party, with a four-course dinner, flowing cocktails, live bands, a DJ and of course, dancing. For a family-friendly option, check out Moana Surfrider’s around the world-themed celebration, with DJ Baby G, kid’s activities and an oceanfront seat for the massive fireworks show over Waikiki Beach. The Hilton Hawaiian Village will also have its own fireworks over the lagoon. Of course, it wouldn’t be Hawaii without a luau, and you can enjoy all the local food and fun you and the kids can handle at the Halekulani and Rock a Hula. Phoenix, AZ Want to stay dry and warm this New Year’s? Phoenix is a fine bet. And in addition to having a number of all-inclusive hotels, like the spacious and family-friendly Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch, located just east of the city limits, you can also grab a ticket for the Crescent New Year’s Eve 2020 Block party, which gives you access to four of the biggest parties in the downtown area. If you’d rather stay in one place, check out the arts-and music-heavy Flannel Ball NYE Party and Art Show or book the accompanying Cloth & Flame five-course dinner, all happening at the Roosevelt Row Arts District. Or bring the whole family to the Medieval Times celebration and enjoy a two-hour tournament and a four-course feast as well as music, dancing and of course, admission to the Museum of Torture.

Budget Travel Lists

7 Great Destinations for An Affordable Weekend Getaway

The idea of planning a major European jaunt or an exotic island excursion can seem like an overwhelming feat. Long vacations can be extremely pleasurable, but they do come with large price tags and hours on end of planning. These points can easily discourage travelers from going anywhere (can you blame them?). The reality is, anyone with a weekend to spare can visit a variety of great homegrown destinations that are ripe for exploring. These trips can usually be planned or spontaneous and don’t have to break the bank. 1. New York, New York The Big Apple is always going to be a popular destination, whether you live near or far. This whirlwind city has something miraculous to see and do every second of the day and night, from Broadway shows and copious museums to a myriad of restaurants and parks to explore. New York City is packed with things to do – so much you could fill several weekends. New York Hilton Hotels launched a "Weekend Like a Local" package. The 3-night package is ideal for short trips to New York City with travelers saving up to 50% off on Sunday nights, along with many other perks and discounts. 2. Newport, Rhode Island When you live in New England, the hardest part about going on a weekend getaway is deciding on where to visit. There are so many destinations that are less than a tank of gas away. Newport, Rhode Island, coined the crown jewel of The Classic Coast is one spectacular option, known for its grand mansions along the famous Cliff Walk. Just ninety minutes south of Boston and three hours north of New York City, Newport is a drivable destination for more than 30% of US residents – yet, it feels a world away. The year-round destination has an overflow of charm, culture, celebrated restaurants, bucolic trails, iconic mansion walks, a vibrant nightlife and lauded beaches. What are you waiting for? 3. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Located within a 90-minute flight of 50% of the US population and a six-hour or less drive from nine states, Pittsburgh is a very accessible city. Have I sold you on this destination yet? The city has reinvented itself from its industrial past and is now the cultural heart of the region. The Warhol Museum, the largest single artist museum in North America, provides seven floors of pop art immersion for less than $20. Just want to hang? Take a tour at Wigle Whiskey distillery and enjoy a cocktail and spirit tasting for $20. Kimpton Hotel Monaco is in walking distance to these activities and has hotel rooms available starting at $149 a night. 4. Temecula, California What if I told you that you could merge the best of Las Vegas and Napa in one affordable trip? Well, you can in Temecula, a burgeoning wine region in Southern California that is home to the largest casino on the west coast called Pechanga Resort Casino. To put it into perspective, the casino floor is even larger than the MGM Grand in Las Vegas! The city is close to the San Diego and Ontario, California, airports, making plane travel a breeze. When you arrive, take your pick at any of the 50 wineries, visit the eclectic Old Town Temecula with restaurants, bars, boutiques or take your pick at outdoor activities such as hiking, hot air ballooning or mountain biking. 5. Sanibel and Captiva Islands, Florida With 250 kinds of shells, 25 miles of bike paths and 15 mile of beaches, Sanibel and Captiva Islands sound like the perfect dreamy escape for a weekend getaway. And if that doesn’t sway you, the fact that it’s cheaper and closer to home than the Caribbean should do it. Instead of crowded beaches and costly theme park tickets, the two unspoiled islands have an "old Florida" ambiance, with no stoplights, chain restaurants, or buildings higher than a palm tree. Nestled on the tip of Captiva, South Seas Island Resort is a haven for families and nature lovers, situated on 300 acres of protected wildlife with 2 miles of secluded beachfront. Now start hunting for those 250 varieties of shells! 6. Rapid City, South Dakota With direct flights to Rapid City from major cities such as Dallas, Phoenix and Salt Lake City, this metropolis is becoming a weekend getaway destination for its exciting outdoor activities, dynamic art scene and unique culinary options. Looking for a good view? Known for its famous rock formations, travelers can visit Black Hills for diverse rock climbing (or just hiking) opportunities. After your outdoor adventure, check out Art Alley, a passageway of free-form graffiti murals that intermingle with pop art, abstract and cultural works. End your day by pleasing the foodie in your group with a taste of authentic bison entrees such as bison meatloaf or short ribs. 7. Kalispell, Montana Located in the heart of the Flathead Valley, Kalispell is a destination that is easy to get to and has a laid back vibe. For travelers who are dipping their toes back into traveling, a few key elements stand out: no traffic, small city size (23,000 people) and easily navigable. Plus, it's within minutes of some of Montana's most incredible attractions, including Flathead Lake and Glacier National Park. The park is open year-round and the west entrance is a 35-minute drive from Kalispell. Visitors can also explore the quaint downtown area, which is filled with local boutiques, coffee shops, breweries, restaurants and more. It’s the perfect small town adventure for a weekend getaway!

Budget Travel Lists

The 10 Best Diners in The US

With a casual atmosphere, familiar greasy spoon fare and a distinctive lingo all their own, roadside diners hold a nostalgic place within the greater scope of American restaurant culture. Whether you’re stopping in for a burger, fries and a milkshake or breakfast all day with a bottomless cup of coffee poured by sassy waitresses who can still get away with calling customers “hon” and “sweetie,” these iconic eateries can always be counted on to deliver a satisfying dining experience. Here are ten of the most quintessential diners to visit across the country. 1. The Roadside Diner – Wall, New Jersey New Jersey bills itself as the diner capital of the world, and the Roadside is about as exemplary as it gets. Housed in a shiny chrome unit that still contains the original 1940s stools and booths, the eatery’s been cooking up omelets, pancakes, burgers and tuna melts since the 1940s. A fun bit of local trivia: the Roadside served as the backdrop for Bon Jovi’s 1994 Crossroad album cover, and also made an appearance in Bruce Springsteen’s “Girls in their Summer Clothes” music video. 2. Tom’s Restaurant – New York City Seinfeld fans will immediately recognize this Morningside Heights corner spot where Jerry, George and Elaine frequently hung out (it also inspired “Tom’s Diner,” Suzanne Vega’s biggest hit), but the family-owned joint has actually been in operation since the 1940s. Hearty lumberjack breakfasts, traditional Greek salads and gravy-drenched hot turkey sandwiches keep loyal customers coming back again and again. 3. Blue Benn Diner – Bennington, Vermont For such a little establishment, the charming Blue Benn Diner boasts a surprisingly big menu that spans breakfast burritos, salmon burgers, open-faced sandwiches, falafel, fried scallops, gyros, vegetarian options and Indian pudding. If you can’t find something to eat here, you’re just too darn picky. The classic 1940s boxcar setting and unpretentious servers only add to the appeal. 4. The Palace Diner – Biddeford, Maine With just 15 seats to work with, it’s safe to expect a wait at this breakfast-and-lunch-only diner. The railcar that houses the restaurant was originally built in 1927, and holds the distinction of being one of just two surviving Pollard cars left in the country. The tuna salad sandwiches and tuna melts here are two of the most in-demand dishes, and good enough to make diners forget all about traditional New England lobster rolls. 5. Brent’s Drugs – Jackson, Mississippi Movie buffs may remember Brent’s Drugs from its star turn in “The Help,” but the historic Fondren district diner/soda fountain inside the pharmacy has actually been in business since 1946. Snag a vintage turquoise vinyl booth or a seat at the counter and order up some classic Southern pimento cheese, biscuit sandwiches with a side of cheese grits, or a signature Brent’s Burger washed down with a classic Coke float. 6. The Oasis Diner – Plainfield Indiana Just a few miles west of Indianapolis, the Oasis moved around a few times before finally settling into its current location on the Old National Road/U.S. 40 in 2014. Originally manufactured in New Jersey and shipped to Indiana by rail in the 1950s, the now-restored diner shines like a new penny. On the menu? Western omelets, biscuits and gravy, patty melts, hand-crafted sodas, slices of pie, and of course, breaded Hoosier pork tenderloins pounded out thin enough to overhang the bun. 7. Rick’s White Light Diner – Frankfort, Kentucky Sitting pretty right next to the “Singing Bridge,” which got its name thanks to the sonorous metal gate flooring, Rick’s ranks as Frankfort’s oldest restaurant, in business since 1943 with memorabilia on the walls that details the history of the beloved local eatery. The diner’s small stature belies a big reputation for Cajun/Creole-inspired breakfast and lunch fare — crawfish pie, chicken and sausage jambalaya, New Orleans-style muffaletta and a handful of tasty Louisiana po boy sandwich variations. 8. Mickey’s Diner – St. Paul, Minnesota Art Deco style is alive and well at this period railcar diner, shipped to the Twin Cities from New Jersey in the 1930s and entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. The joint never closes, staying open (and busy) 24/7, 365 days a year slinging hash browns, pancakes, eggs, chili, burgers and creamy, hand-dipped milkshakes so thick you’ll probably want to just ditch the straw altogether and use a spoon. 9. Lou Mitchell’s – Chicago, Illinois Nearly a century old and still going strong, Lou Mitchell’s stands directly where the original Route 66 begins in Chicago’s West Loop, making it a long-time landmark for hungry “Mother Road” travelers. As a sweet tradition, Lou’s greets guests with doughnut holes (the kids get Milk Duds!) when they come through the door. The breakfast and lunch menus cover all the expected diner bases, but the ethereally fluffy omelets are the most consistently popular orders. 10. Pann’s Restaurant – Los Angeles, California Los Angeles is full of great hipster retro diners to explore, but Pann’s is required eating on the way to or from LAX. The Googie-style building with slanted roof looks like something out of the Jetsons, and the “Just Wonderful Food” motto doesn’t lie — Pann’s plates up dependably satisfying steak and eggs, buttermilk pancakes, fajita omelets, Dreemburgers and six-slice BLTs. There’s even a champagne brunch option on Saturdays and Sundays.

Budget Travel Lists

6 Getaways for Winter Sun in the Southern Hemisphere

As the northern half of the planet settles down for some winter hibernation, the Southern Hemisphere is gearing up for fun in the summer sun, all just a (direct) flight away from many US cities. So forget short days, polar vortexes and post-New Year slumps, and get booking a trip to the other side of the equator to shake off those winter blues. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil If one destination positively shouts sun-filled celebration it’s Rio de Janeiro. If you time it right (Feb 21-26 in 2020), there’s no bigger party on earth than the city’s carnival, but at any time of year it’s easy to see why cariocas (the locals) love the cidade maravilhosa (marvelous city). Iconic beaches like Ipanema and Copacabana are where you can top up your vitamin D levels before scaling the heights of Rio’s many hills – don’t miss Sugarloaf Mountain and the statue of Christ the Redeemer, both offering sublime views across the city. Finally, it would be rude not to indulge in some samba while you’re here, and the Lapa neighborhood is the country’s capital for some all-night, hip-swaying dancing. Getting there: non-stop Houston to Rio from $1100 (also direct flights from New York, Miami and Atlanta). Cape Town, South Africa Previously only accessible with at least one stop en route, Cape Town can now be reached direct from New York (on United Airlines). It’s a vibrant seaside city, dominated by the natural beauty of its setting – not least impressive is Table Mountain, climbing which is a top experience on any visit. Next stroll multi-colored Bo-Kaap, the city’s oldest neighborhood, followed by a boat trip to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years, or head to Boulders Beach where you can observe some 3000 African penguins. Further afield are the big draws of the Winelands and one of the world’s classic drives, the Garden Route. Getting there: non-stop New York to Cape Town $800. Buenos Aires, Argentina An elegant European-like city dropped in the middle of Latin America, Buenos Aires is a unique destination with an infectious buzz to it. A cemetery might not seem an obvious place to begin your visit, but the beautiful and fascinating Cementerio de la Recoleta is a top sight here, its avenues lined with impressive tombs and statues including that of Eva Perón, better known as Evita. Next fill up on some Argentinian steak, washed down with some local wine, and then find a milonga (dance salon) to indulge in the city’s sensual contribution to the world of dance, the tango. Getting there: non-stop Miami to Buenos Aires from $900 (also direct flights from New York, Houston, Dallas and Atlanta). Sydney, Australia Say g’day to Australia’s largest city where famous architecture brushes up against glamorous beaches next to innovative restaurants. Climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge before wandering through the Rocks (the original 18th-century settlement) to the Opera House, its roof billowing like sails along the waterfront, and the beautiful Royal Botanic Garden. Bondi Beach gets all the attention but for quieter spots follow the 4-mile coast path south of it, dotted with smaller stretches of sand. Or take a ferry over to Manly and spread your towel on sheltered Shelly Beach. It’s hard to eat badly anywhere in Sydney, but one of the city’s best areas for dining is Surry Hills, home to top restaurants and bars. Getting there: non-stop Los Angeles to Sydney from $900 (also direct flights from San Francisco and Dallas). Lima, Peru A jumping off point for trips to places like spectacular Machu Picchu, the Peruvian capital is a worthy destination in its own right, an enticing melting pot of indigenous and external cultures. Start with the Plaza de Armas and the 16th-century cathedral in the oldest part of Spanish Lima, then explore further back in time at the Museo Larco and Museo de la Nación with their extensive collections of pre-Columbian art (the former has an erotica section that is a guaranteed eyebrow raiser). If all that history has made you hungry, you’re in the right place – Lima has a food scene that, true to its character, is a tasty mix of traditional and modern, local and foreign, with ceviche (raw fish marinated in citrus juice) the most famous. Getting there: non-stop Miami to Lima $500 (also direct flights from New York, Los Angeles, Dallas and Fort Lauderdale). Auckland, New Zealand New Zealand’s main entry point and largest city has a stunning setting, great museums and restaurants and an abundance of excellent day (or longer) trips on its doorstep. To understand more about local geology (clue: volcanoes feature a lot) and Māori culture, head to the Auckland Museum, then hike up Mount Eden, the city’s highest (and luckily extinct) volcano for views that take in the built-up area and the two harbors beyond. For a day at the beach, venture west to undeveloped, black-sand Karakare or east across the water to Waiheke Island, almost as famous for its wineries as for its beaches. Back in the city, Ponsonby has a tempting array of food and drink options, along with independent shops and art galleries. Getting there: non-stop Los Angeles to Auckland from $1100 (also direct flights from San Francisco, Chicago and Houston).