The 5 Best Places to Travel in January

Quick: Beach or slopes?

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Collage of four destinations to travel to in January
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Exploration and adventuring lie somewhere on everyone’s resolutions or self-improvement lists, right? So let’s kick 2024 off on the right foot because January is a particularly great month to travel. Flights to various destinations tend to be more affordable than in high-season months and hotels sometimes even trim their rates. Booking now is your best bet for a great deal. Whether it’s a beach getaway, a ski weekend, a solo trip or an excursion to more inviting climates and enchanting landscapes, here are five top picks for January trips.

a sky line view of a beach in san diego, california.
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1. San Diego, California

Best All-Around

At a Glance: With 70 miles of sandy beaches, even in winter, you can expect all the things that draw big summer crowds. Although T-shirt weather is not guaranteed, it’s probable, as average January temps typically land in the 60s. Within an easy drive to downtown as well as North Coast beach towns like Del Mar, Encinitas, Carlsbad and Oceanside–each of which has their own amazing beach, chill vibe and unique personality. La Jolla is an ideal hub for surfing, lodging, culture, delicious food and drinks as well as ogling at the fascinating behavior of the resident seals and sea lions (they surf better than most of us ever will).

What to Do: Grab your wetsuit, because some local surfers will tell you that waves are at their most shapely and predictable in January, which makes it a great time to learn the challenging thrill of wave-riding. The twin sister-owned Surf Diva (down the street from the affordable and beachfront La Jolla Shores Hotel) is respected throughout the region for helping newbies stand up and ride waves on the relatively gentle break at this stretch of shoreline. On dry land, and for the first time in more than 20 years, The Lodge at Torrey Pines is open to guests during the Farmer’s Insurance Open with a January 2024 special offer that might be hard for golf fans to turn down. But you can still enjoy the great San Diego outdoors without the wild price tag. Try a guided tour for kayaking, paddleboarding, biking and brews or even whale watching (January is one of the best months to spot gray whales). And don’t sleep on San Diego’s theater scene. The cozy, elegant and unassuming La Jolla Playhouse has quietly premiered more than 30 original productions that have gone on to become Broadway hits.

What to Eat: Home to what you will likely name the greatest tacos (overstuffed with filet mignon, tamarind shrimp, charred veggies, etc.) and margaritas you’ve ever consumed, Puesto’s OG location is a must-visit. If you’re with the kids, catch the seals’ antics from on high at George’s at the Cove, ideally with a mountainous chicken sandwich in hand. Wood-fired paninis and salads are lunch go-tos at Piatti while the winning breakfast (fresh buttermilk scones, anyone?) can be found at The Cottage and inspired cocktails at Raised by Wolves. Worth a trip for the buttery sea scallops alone, A.R. Valentien at The Lodge at Torrey Pines is run by female chefs who change the menu almost daily depending on what’s seasonally fresh.

best january travel 2024 banff
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2. Banff, Alberta, Canada

Best Ski Vacation

At a Glance: Tucked into pine forests with high peaks looming overhead, Banff ranks as one of the most picturesque mountain towns in the world. Spotted with turquoise glacial lakes surrounded by jagged peaks, dark green pines under pillows of glistening snow, Banff is actually one of the few places in the world situated inside of a national park. Now included in the region’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park is still home to the country’s highest geothermal hot springs.

What to Do: Come January, it’s all about the slopes. The three resorts closest to Banff (SkiBig3) collectively encompass a sprawling 8,000 acres of skiable terrain, ranging from short, gentle slopes for beginners to steep, narrow chutes accessed on foot across tundra-like ridgelines for experts. Although the majority of terrain is open and ski season is in full-swing in January, there are some unbelievable ski & stay packages with up to 35 percent off lodging, lift tickets and rentals if booked by October 2, 2023. The packages offer a range of lodging options, including the two most iconic properties—Banff Fairmont Springs, the castle on the hill bearing a delightful resemblance to Harry Potter’s Hogwarts School, and the palace-like Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, situated directly on the shore of the glacier-fed lake, where ice skating, snowshoeing, Nordic skiing and even Bavarian-style curling opportunities abound. Beyond skiing and snowboarding, there is no shortage of outdoor winter activities in the area, try a dog-sled, horse-drawn sleigh ride or exhilarating glide down the slopes at the Norquay or Lake Louise tube parks.  Also, January 19, 2024 marks the launch of the annual SnowDays Festival, when the streets are filled with giant, impressively detailed snow sculptures and skijoring, the Wild West of snowsports. It’s a spectacle you will never forget.

What to Eat: Park Distillery not only produces elevated pub fare and the tastiest spirits around, but does so sustainably. The most memorable fine dining experience you’re likely to have—possibly ever—can be found at the cozy Cliffhouse Bistro atop Mt. Norquay. To sample tapas and local wines, Grapes Wine Cellar in Banff Springs is your spot. Both local breweries, Banff Ave and Three Bears, offer decent Canadian grub (poutine and well-done burgers) to accompany their creative list of suds.

best january travel 2024 pv
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3. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Best Weather

At a Glance: January is the dry season and arguably the very best month to visit this vibrant coastal city, with day-time temperatures hovering in the upper 70s and night-time temps remaining in the 60s. The sandy beaches are hot and inviting and water temperatures still comfortable for swimming and snorkeling this time of year. And even though it’s still high-season, depending on where you’re traveling from, we’re finding direct, roundtrip January fares for less than $200 on Skyscanner (at time of publication). 

What to Do: January is arguably the best time to see humpback whales leaping out of the water in PV’s Bay of Banderas. You even stand a chance to glimpse a grey whale or a blue whale, largest creature on earth, which have been known to meander along PV’s shoreline or spotted on a whale watching tour. Inspired? Take the plunge for a snorkeling tour with Los Arcos National Marine Sanctuary to explore the coast’s vibrant flora and marine life. In the evening, make sure to hit up the numerous galleries in Centro Historico displaying works from both internationally renowned and local artists during the annual ArtWalk, held every Wednesday (Oct. 25, 2023 through June 24, 2024).

What to Eat: Zona Romantica is the neighborhood to explore for tasty eats, from exquisite seafood (geared to gringos) on a breezy, palapa-roofed patio on the beach at The Blue Shrimp to tacos shaved off of a slab of meat before your eyes (something to keep you entertained while you stand in line) at Panchos Takos or at the less frequented but authentic and mouth-watering Sonorita Olas Altas.

best january travel 2024 tucson
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4. Tucson, Arizona

Best Cultural Trip

At a Glance: If you’ve never been to this corner of the American Southwest, you’ve been missing out, especially if you’re itching to hit the trails. With January temperatures often climbing toward 70 degrees, there is no better time to explore the ethereal rock formations and mountains that surround this small city and most notably, the saguaro cacti. Some of the indigenous tribes of the Sonoran Desert believed the saguaros hold the souls of their ancestors and the majestic, stoic look of these miracles of nature make this concept not too far-fetched. You’ll see hillsides upon hillsides of these prickly plants resembling lineups of statuesque soldiers with multiple contorted arms.

What to Do: The ultimate way to see the saguaros up close is from a trail. North of downtown, Catalina State Park offers hiking trails for every level. Romero Canyon is a longer, steeper favorite, leading from dry washes to jagged rocks and sweeping views of the surrounding Santa Catalina mountains, ending at a series of small pools (the only natural water you’re likely to see in the area in January), which make for a perfect picnic spot. For an indoor dose of fascinating earth science, take a tour of Biosphere 2, an indoor ecosystem owned by The University of Arizona, created to test human survivability. And don’t forget: Music aficionados flock to Tucson for the week-long Tucson Jazz Festival (Jan. 12-24, 2024) and collectors from all over the world for the Tucson Gem, Mineral, and Fossil Showcase (Jan. 27 to Feb. 11, 2024).

What to Eat: Rooted in Native American and Mexican culinary traditions, Tucson is America’s first UNESCO World City of Gastronomy. In fact, if you happen to be there January 20 for the SAVOR Food and Wine Festival, it’s an ideal time to sample the region’s iconic flavors. Either way, the guacamole at Guadalajara’s is a must, ideally served on the sunny patio with a margarita while taking in the otherworldly scenery.

best-january-travel-2024: a forest covered in snow.
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5. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Best Off-Season Secret

At a Glance: While January is the time for widespread travel to the Colorado Rockies, most visitors fly to Denver (somehow, you can still land January flights from across the country for less than $200 roundtrip) and immediately hit Interstate 70 in order to b-line it to the slopes. But Rocky Mountain National Park, about a 1.5-hour drive from the Denver airport, is far less frequented, yet still stunning and enjoyable in winter. Picture sprawling meadows blanketed in white snow, surrounded by pines, alpine lakes and looming, snowy peaks. The resident elk, which you’re likely to find in summer and fall on every street corner in the nearby town of Estes Park, can often be seen at their most serene in January tromping through the deep snow. It's not uncommon to catch sight of a moose forging through a lake or the Colorado River, which runs along the west side of the park.

What to Do: You never know what kind of weather you might land here in January. If it’s snowing, head to RMNP. It you get a 65 degrees and sun day, head to Fort Collins, a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. Ranked one of America’s bike-friendliest towns, do a brewery bike tour or pedal around town (rent a high-end ride at Trek) at your own leisure. On the flipside, if you get snow, take a guided snowshoe tour with Femme Trek, the woman-owned and operated service that offers women of all levels a space to try something new and challenging, and connect with nature and one another. For more extreme adventurers, KMAC Guides are the area’s go-to for backcountry skiing, snowboarding, cross country skiing and ice climbing. Although there is no longer a ski area with chairlifts nearby, Eldora Mountain is only about an hour’s drive away and offers excellent terrain for every level if skier or rider and a more classic/retro vibe (look out for striped onesies) than Colorado’s larger resorts.

Where to Eat: Estes Park is home to a couple of great restaurants (see: Bird & Jim and Dunraven) foodies and craft beer aficionados should head to Fort Collins rife with restaurants and shops. For breweries, the tour at New Belgium’s will yield a generous portion of free samples, while the lesser known Horse & Dragon produces what might become your all-time favorite winter sipper (Sad Panda stout). For a truly inspired dinner, the intimate Little on Mountain is a great choice, as is The Regional. Located slightly off the beaten path, Jessup Farm grows its own herbs and produce onsite in the warmer months and is well worth the short drive for its brunch alone.

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