No passport? No problem! Just because its winter doesn't mean it's cold everywhere in the U.S.
If a winter getaway to somewhere hot—the Caribbean, Mexico, the Pacific—is on your wish list, but the thought of shelling out big bucks for an overseas flight stops you cold (or your passport has expired—oops!), no worries. Check out these 10 warm-weather destinations you can visit without a passport. Just remember to bring back some sunshine as a souvenir for the rest of us.
With its balmy South Pacific locale, year-round sunshine and five major islands, Hawaii offers something for just about every kind of traveler, including multi-generational families, couples looking for romance, adventure-seekers and groups of friends. Oahu is home to Honolulu, along with legendary Waikiki Beach and award-winning restaurants such as Alan Wong’s. Maui is famous for its resorts at Kaanapali and Wailea, sublime and secluded Hana, and spectacular Haleakala volcano (no worries, it’s dormant). Lush, green Kauai, with its photogenic peaks and scenic Na Pali Coast hiking trails, offers an Old Hawaii vibe. Hawaii, the Big Island, is where adventure-seekers can find it in Volcanoes National Park, atop 13,803-foot Mauna Kea and on night dives with giant manta rays. Low-key Lana’i is all about relaxation and golf.
Where to Stay: On Oahu, it’s hard to top the location and historic ambience of The Royal Hawaiian or the laidback beachfront fun at Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort. On Maui, The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua is an oasis of relaxation, while the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort offers contemporary style and farm-to-table dining. On Kauai, enjoy stunning sunsets at the Sheraton Kauai Resort in Poipu and a condo setting close to Hanalei Bay at The Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas. On the Big Island, affordable Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay won’t break the bank, while the Fairmont Orchid offers upscale pampering amid manicured grounds. And on Lanai, the recently renovated Four Seasons Resort Lanai is ideal for working on your tan and your golf game.
Related: The Best Things to Do in Hawaii
INSIDER TIPFlying between two islands is relatively cheap and quick (25-45 minutes), so double your fun by dividing your time between two of them: Combos we love: Oahu and Maui (for spas and dining); Kauai and the Big Island (for hiking and Hawaiian lore); and Maui and Lanai (for golf and luxury).
U.S. Virgin Islands
While still recovering from a one-two punch by 2017 hurricanes Irma and Maria (only about 50 percent of hotels have re-opened as of late 2018–check usviupdate.com for the latest news), this three-island playground is beginning to get back to what it does best: offer passport-free access to the natural beauty and culture of the Caribbean. The islands greatly need tourism dollars, so here’s the scoop: St. Thomas remains a mixed bag recovery wise, with most of the shopping and dining in the capital, Charlotte Amalie, back up to speed, but only a handful of resorts open for business. St. Croix, known for its Danish heritage and rum culture, is a bit farther along in terms of hotel inventory (75 percent re-opened as of late 2018), while St. John, known for its crescent beaches (still as gorgeous as ever) and national parks (one is even underwater), saw its three main properties shuttered by the storms and yet to re-open.
Where to Stay: Two fully recovered properties on St. Thomas are The Wyndham Margaritaville St. Thomas for a Key West-inspired vibe on the island’s East End and Bolongo Bay Beach Resort for family-run hospitality and fun food and cocktails at Iggies. On St. Croix, consider The Buccaneer for colonial architecture and 300 acres of relaxation and Tamarind Reef Resort, Spa & Marina for a lovely beach and proximity to Christiansted. On St. John, check into a home or villa rental via VRBO.com or HomeAway.com.
Related: Best Hotels in St. Croix
INSIDER TIPIf you crave the quaint authenticity of St. Croix but want to spend a day checking out the goods in Charlotte Amalie’s duty-free shops, book a seaplane transfer between the two islands and enjoy both.
There’s something about Miami. Whether you want to join the nonstop party on South Beach or savor the newly elevated restaurant scene downtown, this city isn’t just warm, it’s hot. You can chill out beachfront or poolside (your choice), appreciate South Beach’s Art Deco pedigree or discover its art treasures at the edgy Rubell Family Collection and eclectic Margulies Collection at the Warehouse. After the sun sets, sample flavors created by top chefs such as Michael Schwartz (choose from among his 10 Miami restaurants) and José Andrés (creative Latin fusion at The Bazaar). Or simply enjoy deep-fried decadence at Yardbird Southern Table & Bar. And then? Heat up the dance floor with sexy samba moves.
Where to Stay: To bask in the party vibe, book a renovated Art Deco hotel in South Beach, such as the Kimpton Surfcomber Miami, South Beach or Royal Palm South Beach. To luxuriate at a lower decibel level, stay downtown at the sophisticated Mandarin Oriental Miami or the family-friendly Miami Beach Edition.
Related: The 10 Best South Beach Hotels
INSIDER TIPTraveling with kids? While downtown Miami and South Beach aren’t super geared to younger travelers, laidback Key Biscayne is. With its bike paths and beaches, it’s an ideal playground for kids who love to swim, cycle, and interact with nature—and you can also enjoy the upscale amenities of The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, Miami.
The mix of mid-century-mod hipster ambience and contemporary chic woos travelers with an eye for style. Palm Springs, home to iconic architecture, desert panoramas, and a cool pool culture, is a great (and often surprisingly affordable) getaway spot. It also has natural beauty, best appreciated via the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (to enjoy stellar views over the desert) and Living Desert Palm Springs (for its mix of native flora and fauna). Food-wise, this sunny oasis also satisfies at Workshop Kitchen + Bar for seasonal menus and strong cocktails, Purple Palm for weekend brunch and people watching, and Eight4Nine for fresh Pacific Coast cuisine.
Where to Stay: Options range from sprawling resorts to quirky boutique hotels: Book Ace Hotel and Swim Club for its 1960s vintage vibe and party ambience that includes all-day bar service at the pool, Alcazar Palm Springs for its sleek white interior design and great rates, and Colony Palms Hotel for its historic mid-century Hollywood glamour and vibrant mosaic-tile décor.
INSIDER TIPFor satisfying sweets, head to Over the Rainbow Cupcakes and Deserts to sample made-from-scratch treats baked daily.
On the mend from the devastation of 2017’s Hurricane Maria and in need of tourism dollars, Puerto Rico’s hospitality industry is rolling our re-openings in the coming months. Home to both the Caribbean’s most photogenic colonial neighborhood (Old San Juan) and one of its most accessible rainforests (El Yunque), this U.S. island blends romance, adventure, and nightlife. You can enjoy superb surfing and diving as well as eco adventures such as zip-lining just outside San Juan. But what Puerto Rico does best is come alive post-sunset, with cool eateries — such as Michelin-star chef Juan Jose Cuevas’ 1919, innovative and upscale Pikayo, and family owned and authentic La Fonda del Jibarito — along with sexy salsa clubs and flashy casinos, especially in Condado and Isla Verde.
Where to Stay: For sun worship by day and fun worship by night stay in or near San Juan at the neo-retro chic La Concha, A Renaissance Resort or the Spanish colonial gem Hotel El Convento in the heart of Old San Juan. If your budget allows, the just re-opened Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve is a luxurious haven of relaxation.
INSIDER TIPFrom Condado, it’s easy to experience local cuisine and culture at La Plaza del Mercado de Santurce (aka La Placita), a colorful market by day and local hang out (with al fresco mojito service) at night.
Known for its golden desert landscapes—including landmark Camelback Mountain—as well as the state’s top golf resorts, sunny Scottsdale is an outdoors-lover’s paradise. Winter temps hover in the low 70s (far more pleasant than summer highs in the 100s) and a thriving Old Town rocks an artsy vibe with galleries, local crafts and food markets. Plus, the Phoenix/Scottsdale area’s culinary scene impresses, melding Southwest flavors with French techniques (at Vincent on Camelback) and local produce with Arizona wines (at FnB). Other must-dos: the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Taliesin West and a sunrise hike up Camelback.
Where to Stay: Top resorts include golf-and-spa-centric Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North (from $559/night); downtown’s Hotel Valley Ho with its restored 1950s decor; the mid-century-meets-artsy style of the Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Bungalows; and Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia featuring Andalusian ambience and sweeping Camelback views.
INSIDER TIPThe 4,000 species of plants cultivated and curated at the 140-acre Desert Botanical Garden are especially compelling at sunset (and the gardens stay open until 8 pm).
Caribbean by Cruise Ship
Good news—you can leave the U.S. without a passport! How? Book a roundtrip cruise to the Caribbean (or Mexico) that leaves from and returns to the same U.S. port, such as Fort Lauderdale, Miami, or New Orleans. These closed-loop itineraries require only that passengers present an original birth certificate and a valid photo ID (like a driver’s license). You’ll be able to experience the warmth and culture of multiple Caribbean islands in one week—and you only have to unpack once.
Which Ship to Sail: The newest vessels sailing the Caribbean on routes not requiring a passport are: Celebrity Edge, which made its inaugural sailing in early December from Fort Lauderdale and offers seven-night Western Caribbean itineraries to Key West, Costa Maya, Cozumel, and Grand Cayman; Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas, which debuted in April 2018 and is sailing seven-night Eastern Caribbean cruises from Miami calling on St. Maarten, Puerto Rico and Perfect Day at Cocoa Cay, the line’s private island in the Bahamas; Norwegian Bliss, which spent its inaugural summer in Alaska and will winter in the Caribbean, offering seven-night Eastern Caribbean itineraries from Miami visiting St. Thomas, Tortola and Nassau; and Carnival Horizon, launched in spring 2018 and sailing eight-night Eastern Caribbean cruises from Miami to Grand Turk, San Juan, St. Kitts and St. Maarten.
INSIDER TIPAvoid making these 10 most common first-time cruiser mistakes, like booking the wrong cabin for your travel needs and passing up specialty restaurants.
If you suffer from the winter blues, this cheerful city at the tip of the Florida Keys, 150 miles from Miami (and home to the southernmost point in the United States), has a cure: brilliant sunshine and vintage architecture painted in pleasing pastels and upbeat brights. Key West, where even mellow folks are known to get rowdy when exploring Duvall St, also has bars—plenty of them—and quirky local traditions. Head to Mallory Square for the daily gathering to celebrate the sunset. Visit the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum to learn about the author’s love of Key West and his many six-toed cats, the descendants of which still live here. And, of course, order some favorite local treats: a salt-rimmed margarita, crispy conch fritters, and zesty Key lime pie.
Where to stay: Margaritaville Key West Resort & Marina for its central location and Jimmy Buffett-inspired vibe; Parrot Key Hotel & Villas for condo-style accommodations done in a charming pastel-hued, picket-fence style; and Casa Marina, A Waldorf-Astoria Resort for historic architecture and a great private beach.
INSIDER TIPKey West gets its fair share of cruise ships, so if you see one anchored offshore know that the shops, restaurants and sights in town are likely overrun. Hang out by your hotel pool under after 4 pm when most cruise ship passengers will be heading back onboard.
: The weather here really does live in that sweet spot—the temperature is 60-to-85 degrees year round—that’s ideal for enjoying everything from a day at the beach to an invigorating coastal hike or a perfect round of golf. San Diego also has something for everyone: Families can check out the world-famous San Diego Zoo (in 1,200-acre Balboa Park), the splashy entertainment at SeaWorld, and colorful, creative fun at Legoland. History buffs can admire the Victorian architecture of Hotel del Coronado and retrace the city’s founding (and enjoy local Mexican cuisine, too) in Old Town. And couples can sip wine at myriad tasting rooms (including one set amid vineyards at Orfila Vineyards & Winery), sample local California IPAs at craft breweries, and enjoy creations by of celebrity chefs (notably Brian Malarkey’s Herb & Wood and Richard Blais’s Juniper and Ivy) in the resurgent Little Italy neighborhood.
Where to Stay: From grand old beach resorts to chic downtown digs, appealing accommodations include historic Hotel del Coronado; sophisticated Gas Lamp Quarter newcomer The Pendry; and the chic, design-centric Hotel Palomar downtown.
INSIDER TIPFor a change of pace, head into the mountains about an hour east of San Diego and spend an afternoon checking out the wineries and bakeries (apple pies are the specialty) in historic Julian.
Temperatures may dip into the 60s from December to March, but this city known for its 22 atmospheric, moss-draped squares and citizens who embrace the eccentric makes a fine and affordable destination for fans of classic architecture, low-country cuisine (upscale at Elizabeth on 37th and family style at Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room) and even craft breweries and distilleries (check out Service Brewing Co. and Ghost Coast Distillery). Historic home tours—three not to miss are the Andrew Low House, the Isaiah Davenport House and the Mercer Williams House—are a highlight of any Savannah visit, along with strolls through Bonaventure Cemetery and Forsythe Park. Oh, and practically everything is said to be haunted here, too.
Where to Stay: For a romantic getaway, it’s hard to beat circa-1868 inn, the Gastonian; the Marshall House offers both a central location and historic charm; and The Kimpton Brice, a warehouse-turned-modern-luxury hotel.
INSIDER TIPSave room for a treat at Leopold’s, which has been dishing up the city’s best ice cream since 1919; the Savannah Socialite is to die for.