15 Best Places to Visit in USA in January: Beaches, Mountains & Cities

US locations - bike on beach Key West, city with snowy mountain Salt Lake City and red desert with road at Death Valley

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One of the best cures is to have something – even just a long weekend – to look forward to whether that be somewhere in the sunshine and sand or bundled up in the snow.

This guide of best places to visit in USA in January spans from Maine to Florida and from Washington to Texas and will surely give you the travel inspo you need to book your trip away ASAP.

Still choosing between a January vacation or February trip? Check out our guide to romantic US destinations too.

Best Warm Places to Visit in January in USA

1. San Antonio in January For History, Sports & Coffee

San Antonio, Texas is a popular destination all year long, but there is SO much happening that it is one of the best locations to kick the year off with.

Escape the cold to a more pleasant climate in the mid 60s and spend your vacation watching future NFL stars, drinking your weight in coffee, eating your way through the city, learning about San Antonio’s history, and more.

Things to Do in San Antonio, Texas

  • All-American Bowl – If you can’t get enough of football, you’ll need to get tickets to the All-American Bowl, the high school football all-star game that often produces future NFL stars. (Early January)
  • San Antonio Coffee Festival – Start your year off fully caffeinated at the San Antonio Coffee Festival, where roasters bring dozens of options to try; food, shops, and live music are also involved. (Early January)
  • Restaurant Week- Too many choices and not enough budget to eat at all the best San Antonio spots? Restaurant Week can fix that! There will be three course menus that suit all budgets, with lunches for $20 & $30 and dinners for $35, $45 & $55. (Mid-Late January)
  • Dream Week – For 16 days, Dream Week hosts events that are inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s teachings to “foster the exchange of ideas on universal issues in an environment curated for successful civil and civic engagements.” (Mid – Late January)
  • UNESCO World Heritage Missions Tour- You’ll learn about the Spanish heritage of San Antonio on this tour by visiting Missions San José, Concepción, San Francisco de Espada, and San Juan, and more; get your tickets here.

Want to spend more time in Texas? We’ve got an awesome Texas road trip planning for you; read this guide for more.

Colorful umbrellas of restaurants along the San Antonio Riverwalk in Texas

2. Key West in January For Sun, Sand & Seafood Festival

It’s not rocket science to explain why Key West, Florida is one of the most popular warm places to visit in January in the USA; white sandy beaches, bright blue skies, and sunshine nearly every single day with temps in the low 70s.

On top of that, there are so many events and festivals this time of year that whether you want to veg out in the sun or participate like a local or a bit of both, Key West is the spot for you.

Things to Do in Key West

  • Florida Keys Seafood Festival – The Florida Keys Seafood Festival is 48 hours of seafood bliss for attendees of all ages; get the freshest catches at affordable prices and check out the vendor booths that offer arts and crafts depicting aspects of the fishing community and marine life. (Mid January)
  • Key West Half Marathon & 5K – If your New Years Resolution includes running, you can start at the Key West Half Marathon & 5K, where you can feel the burn in the beautiful sunshine. (Mid January)
  • Key West Craft Show – Calling all crafters and artsy types: the Key West Craft Show is popular with locals and tourists for its dozens of booths selling jewelry, ceramics, artisanal items, and more. 
  • Key West Food and Wine Festival -With over 20 unique events from brunch, lunch, dinner, and more, be sure to come hungry (and thirsty!) to the Key West Food and Wine Festival (End of January)
  • Reef Snorkeling – Start your morning with a snorkeling session amongst the third longest coral reef in the world and have some mimosas and breakfast, too; get your tickets here

Want to make the most out of your vacation to the Sunshine State, read this Florida bucket list for more.

Aerial photo Sunset Pier Zero Duval Street Key West Florida USA

3. San Diego in January For Warm US Destinations in January

Escape to sunny California, where the weather hovers around the mid 60s and offers attractions and events for all styles of travel.

The fitness fiend, the dino lover, and the golf enthusiast can all have the vacation of the dreams in the same trip, and it’s not very often that happens. 

Things to Do in San Diego

  • Farmers Insurance Open – Golf enthusiasts will revel at the chance to attend a PGA tournament; the Farmers Insurance Open has volunteer opportunities as well as unique experiences. (Late January) 
  • Jurassic Quest – Whether you’ve got kids or you’re a kid at heart, Jurassic Quest has over 100 life-size and realistic dinos with different exhibits and events to learn more. (Late January)
  • San Diego Brew Fest – San Diego Brew Fest has over 70 breweries, 200 beers, 10 of San Diego’s best food trucks, as well as cover bands and lawn games; what’s not to love? (Early January)
  • Carlsbad Full & Half Marathon & 5K – With options for all athletic levels (even a one-miler for the kids), the Carlsbad Full & Half Marathon & 5K  is a fun option for the whole family to get a running start to the day with amazing ocean views. (Mid January)
  • Sunset Sail- Watch the sun go down and watch out for grey whales on their migration pattern on this sail; get your tickets here.

Cali is the third largest state so it’s easy to miss the some of the best things to do, but our California bucket list will help keep you on track.

Mission Bay & Beaches in San Diego, California

4. Phoenix in January For Desert, Outdoor Activities & Art

If you’d like to trade the wintery snow for the deserts of sand, Phoenix AZ needs to be on your list for January vacations as this desert is likely to become your winter oasis.

While not warmest, an average temperature of 50F will give you the excuse to get the winter coat out but perhaps not have to layer up as much. 

This is best places to go to in January in the USA if you want a varied trip with lots of different activities to do.

Plus, you can also visit the cool Tempe area of Arizona which features in many of our guides including the best warm winter destinations in the US.

Things to Do in Phoenix

  • Rock’ n’ Roll Marathon – Rock’ n’ Roll Marathon isn’t just a marathon; you can also choose to do a half, 10K, or 5K option as you run past some of the most iconic spots in the city. (Mid January)
  • CitySkate – Skate under the twinkling light at the CitySkate, the only outdoor ice rink in Phoenix; ticket pricing includes skate rental and 90 minutes of skate time. (Early January)
  • Arizona Fine Art Expo – All sorts of fine arts enthusiasts will enjoy a visit to the Arizona Fine Art Expo, where you can see bronze, stone carving, southwest art, mid-century modern, and more. (Mid-Late January)
  • Arizona Musicfest – In nearby Scottsdale, the Arizona Musicfest features a wide array of musical performances to enjoy. (All January)
  • Hot Air Balloon Flight – Spend a few hours drifting over the Arizona desert, seeing it as never before from a hot air balloon; get your tickets here. 
Phoenix Arizon skyline at dusk - trees, buildings and mountains

5. Atlanta in January For Wine, Culture & Hanging on to Festive Activities

Add Atlanta in Georgia to your January vacation list if the cold January winds blow you to slightly warmer climates … at least you wont freeze in the low 50s. 

You’ll get a mix of winter fun like ice skating and a winter wonderful with cultural happenings focusing of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Plus, what vacation isn’t complete with a little wine?

If this sounds good to you, add Atlanta to your list of best places to travel to in the US in January.

Atlanta is a popular city which features in many of our guides including the festive cities and the most romantic US getaways.

 Things to Do in Atlanta in January

Midtown Atlanta skyline from the park in USA

6. Death Valley in January For National Park Exploration

Like its name says, Death Valley is a dangerous place to travel in the summer, with the heat often over 100F.

Still, during the winter, the temperature is usually in the pleasant 70s, making it a great place to travel to in January. 

Camping at Death Valley is the most popular way to visit, but there are three accommodation options in the park if you prefer a slightly more luxurious option.

Death Valley is the largest national park in US, so don’t expect to get to see it all on your first trip, but that just gives you an excuse to return again and again.

You may also like our guide to backpacking national parks where we outline the best parks, hikes and camping tips.

Note: Death Valley became federally protected in 1994, after years of national monument status (1933).

However, Timbisha Shoshone People lived in Death Valley long before it was declared a national monument.

Things to Do in Death Valley, California

  • Telescope Peak – The highest point in Death Valley, Telescope peak is over 11,000 feet tall and with that altitude, expect to encounter snow; strap on some snowshoes and see how high you can get.
  • Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes- Recommended for viewing sunsets and starry night skies, the dunes are harder to hike than they look, so don’t overestimate your energy levels before embarking.
  •  Devil’s Golf Course – While you probably won’t want to tee off here (although some try), you can see the spectacular views of the jagged shards from used to be the bottom of a lake.
  • Badwater Basin – Probably the most well known spot, this is the lowest point in the continent (and often the most popular with visitors) where you can see a pool of water surrounded by salt flats almost as far as your eye can see. 
  • Darwin Falls – Yes, it’s a desert, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t go chasing waterfalls! The Darwin Falls are an unexpected sight, surrounded by greenery in the middle of the desert. It will be a lovely surprise to see.
  • Take a Day Trip From Vegas- If you plan on visiting Las Vegas in January, you can opt for a full day small group tour where you’ll be picked up to see all the best highlights & dropped back off at your hotel; get your tickets here.
Woman standing in Death Valley desert with water bottl

Best Places to Visit in the USA in January for Snow Season

7. Salt Lake City For Fun Winter Activities

If you’d rather trade sun and surf for snow and sleds and bathing suits for snow gear and 40F degree weather, Salt Lake City in Utah is the perfect January vacation option for you.

You can engage in every sort of winter sports activity that you could imagine, warm up in the hot springs when you get too cold, and top off the trip with one of the biggest film festivals in the world; it’s easy to see why this is one of the best US cities to visit in January.

Salt Lake City skyline with snowy mountains.

Things to Do in Salt Lake City in January

  • Sundance Film Festival – If you want to see what’s on the cutting edge of American and International film, you must attend the Sundance Film Festival. (Late January)
  • Winter Activities – There are so many winter activities to enjoy, like skiing, sledding, snowmobiling, ice skating, snowshoeing, and more!
  • Hot springs – Drive 45 minutes east of SLC & you’ll find The Homestead Crater in Midway, Utah, a geothermal spring naturally heated by the earth’s core.
  • Ice Castles – Live out your Frozen dreams at the ice castles just one hour east of SLC; with slides, mazes, tunnels, caverns & more to explore (all made of ice), you’ll put Elsa to shame.
  • Beer Tasting & Brewery Tour – Visit four breweries based on your group’s beer preferences to try their different beers and learn more about the cities craft beer; get your tickets here.
Salt Lake City Utah at dusk with green trees and mountain

8. Aspen in January For Top Class Skiing and Snowboarding

A classic spot for a January trip; what better way to enjoy the winter than to take your vacation at one of the top skiing destinations in the country, Aspen in Colorado.

And if skiing isn’t exactly you’re favorite winter activity, there are still tons of reasons to visit (as if the après-ski isn’t a good enough reason all by itself!) and enjoy the bright sunshine in the chilly high 20sF temps.

If you love to ski, this is one of the best places to vacation in January in the US

Things to Do in Aspen in January

  • Alpine Coaster – The Alpine Coaster gets up to 28 mph on this elevated track to give riders a thrilling experience through the snow.
  • Snowbike Lessons – If you can’t choose between skiing and biking, snowbiking is the way to go, and you can take snowbike lessons (for all ages) to see the slopes a whole new way.
  • Ullr Nights – On certain nights throughout the month, the Norse God of Snow, Ullr, is honored with Ullr Nights, which are a winter wonderland party consisting of bonfires, s’mores, gondola rides, and more.
  • Snowcat Dinners – Treat yourself to a dinner on a mountain, only accessible by a snowcat, at Snowmass’ Lynn Britt Cabin and Aspen Highlands’ Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro.
  • Après-ski – Even if you aren’t planning on hitting the slopes, you can certainly take part in the après-ski; and pop a bottle for two of champagne at the Aspen Chamber

Would you consider Aspen for a bach getaway? It features in our guide to the best bachelorette party destinations!

9. Minneapolis in January for a Winter Wonderland Getaway

There’s no way around; Minneapolis, Minnesota in January is cold; are there ever enough layers not to feel the chill when the temperature averages around the mid-teens?

Luckily there’s a lot of fun things to do to help take your mind off of it, and if all else fails, you can go to one of the top 10 largest shopping malls in the world and spend your entire vacation there!

You may also want to check out our guide to free things to do in Minneapolis.

Colorful mural on side of building at Downtown Minneapolis

Things to Do in Minneapolis in January

  • Adventure Hubs – Adventure Hubs can be found throughout the city and are completely free to use; they offer equipment and supplies to borrow for outdoor fun and exploration in the parks for the whole family.
  • Ice Fishing – Don’t let the cold weather stop you from enjoying your favorite activity; ice fishing is plentiful here.
  • St. Paul Winter Carnival – Celebrate winter at The Winter Carnival with family-friendly activities, ice carving competitions, ice fishing tournaments, and more. (Late January)
  • Minnehaha Falls – Minnehaha Regional Park features an amazing 53-foot waterfall that freezes over in the winter, delighting visitors who visit one of the city’s oldest and most popular parks. 
  • Mall of America – Warm up inside the Mall of America where there truly is something for everyone! If you’ve got kids with you, try this Crayola Experience.

If you are into interesting festivals, Minnesota Renaissance Festival takes place in August.

Blue skies over Stone Arch Bridge and Flour Mill Ruins Park

10. Moosehead Lake, Maine For a Cozy Vacation

Let’s get ready to bundle! With averaging around 10 degrees, you do not want to come underdressed.

Greenville is home to the biggest lake in Maine, Moosehead Lake, which is what attracts most visitors, and even though lake life is usually associated with warmer months, there’s still a lot of fun to be had in the wintertime too.

Anyone who loves all things winter will definitely need to add Moosehead to their list of places to visit in the USA in January.

Things to do in Moosehead Lake in January

  • Ice Fishing – A little cold water never hurt anyone; ice fishing is just as popular as regular fishing for locals and visitors—top tip: fish behind Mt. Kineo in rough weather.
  • Winter Activities – Cold temps mean one good thing, lots and lots of winter activities like snowshoeing, skiing, or trying your hand at snowmobiling. 
  • Spotted Cat Winery – Everyone knows a drink is good to help you stay warm, so all the more reason to visit the Spotted Cat Winery, which specializes in natural, hand-crafted wines. 
  • Moosehead Historical Society – Take a break from the cold and wander around the Moosehead Historical Society and learn about what life has been like on the lake for the past and present generations. 

11. Grand Rapids in January For Beer & Winter Sports

What do nearly 100 breweries, every winter sport you could imagine, and a beautiful garden/sculpture park all have in common?

Not a lot, but they’re all great things to add to your itinerary when planing your January vacation to Grand Rapids, Michigan.

It’s going to look as cold as it feels; with temps in the mid 20s and regular snow fall, but with so many fun activities planned out we don’t think you’ll mind very much.

 Things to Do in Grand Rapids in January

  • World of Winter Festival – The World of Winter Festival is full of art installations, musical performances, food, drinks, and even a silent disco! (Early-end of January)
  • Winter Sports – This is a city where winter activities are ripe for the choosing; you can go snowboarding, sledding, skiing, tubing, and more.
  • Beer City Ale Trail – Over 80 breweries make up the “trail,” and it is a vacation in and of itself, complete it its own “passport,” hotel beer packages, and behind-the-scenes tours. 
  • Frederik Meijer Gardens – The beautiful Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is still worth a visit in the wintertime! There are many winter exhibits to experience that you wouldn’t get to see any other time of the year. 
  • Grand Rapids Griffins Pro Hockey Game – Grand Rapids Griffins are a part of the American Hockey League and have games nearly every day in January.

12. Big Sky in January For Frozen Waterfalls, Show Trails & Hot Springs

This is the place to go for all snow bunnies who can’t get enough to winter activities and the cold weather – be prepared for temperatures in the low 20s – to live out their very best life.

Get ready to be outdoors and see some of the most beautiful sights that the country has to offer on your January vacation to Big Sky in Montana.

Things to Do in Big Sky in January

  • Hike a Frozen Waterfall – Ouzel Falls is a great chance to take a quick, easy hike suitable for the whole family with an amazing reward of frozen waterfalls.
  • Winter Activities – At Big Sky Resort, you can partake in nordic skiing, adventure zip lines, an enchanted forest, snowshoe tours, snowmobile tours, and more.
  • Yellowstone National Park – Visits to Yellowstone National Park don’t stop in the winter! There are fewer crowds, colder temps, incredible geysers, and lots of opportunities for skiing and snowshoeing.
  • Hot Springs – The best way to warm up on a freezing day, there are multiple hot springs to soak in near Big Sky; Bozeman Hot SpringsNorris Hot SpringsChico Hot Springs, & White Sulphur Hot Springs.
  • Ice Fishing on The Gallatin – Take a guided trip for a full day of ice fishing on The Gallatin, where anglers will be able to learn about the local species and the best way to catch them.

Best Places to Travel in the US in January For Cities – Mixed Weather

13. New York in January for Fewer Crowds & Hotel Deals

January may not seem like the ideal time to visit New York, but the snowy and cold (low 30s) weather scares away most tourists, you can enjoy a less crowded, more affordable city.

Prices swell during popular travel times, but many hotels, restaurants, and entertainment options offer unbeatable deals in the early parts of the year.

If you’re looking for the big city experience on a budget, NYC is one of the best places to travel to in January in the USA.

Manhattan NYC buildings lit up at night

Things to Do in New York City in January

  • NYC Broadway Week – A trip to New York isn’t complete without seeing at least one Broadway show, but they’re not cheap, and it’s hard to choose which two see, but if you come during NYC Broadway Week, you can get 2-1 tickets to about a dozen different shows. (Mid-Late January)
  • NYC Winter Jazzfest – For over 15 years, the NYC Winter Jazzfest has been the top destination for all things jazz, from classic to contemporary. (Mid to Late January)
  • New York Restaurant Week – Every foodie’s dream, New York Restaurant Week offers amazing prix-fixe deals to NYC’s best restaurants for lunch or dinner or both. (Mid-late January)
  • Rooftop Bar Dining – So many NYC bars offer cozy rooftop atmospheres, like Mr. Purple in the Lower East Side, which turns into a ski lodge complete with a gigantic “igloo” where you’ll sip your cocktails.
  • The Museum of Modern Art – If the cold weather gets to be too much, spend a day in the MOMA, one of New York’s most famous museums; get your ticket here.

The image below was taken in NYC in January!

Yellow taxi Central Park New York

14. Seattle in January For Food, Museums & Lights

There’s a lot more to know about Seattle in Washington other than Starbucks and the near constant rain; with mild temps in the low 40s and minimal snow, it’s definitely worth adding it to your list.

There’s actually so much more to the city than coffee and umbrellas like cool museums, light trails, ice skating, and more that you’ll get to see them all on your January trip.

Pike Place Market sign at night

Things to Do in Seattle in January

  • Museum of Pop Culture – Pop culture nerds will be in heaven at the Museum of Pop Culture with exhibits that range in anything from Disney to bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam to Sci Fi & Fantasy. 
  • Chihuly Garden and Glass – Created by a local Washington artist, Chihuly Garden and Glass has eight galleries, a centerpiece Glasshouse, and amazing gardens filled with colorful and eccentric pieces.
  • Space Needle – A classic Seattle must-do, visiting the Space Needle in January means fewer crowds and better views!
  • Tacoma Light Trail – Walk through the trail of light art and sound at the Tacoma Light Trail and experience the live music performances. (Early-mid January)
  • Ice Skating – In the nearby town of Bellevue, you can skate in the region’s largest seasonal ice skating rink with over 9,000 square feet of ice. (Early January)
  • If this is your first time in Seattle a visit to Pike Place Market is a must for food and drink.
  • Just around the corner from the market is the gross but legendary chewing gum wall.

You may also like our guide one day in Seattle itinerary and Washington bucket list.

Beechers Homemade Cheese on a board at Pike Place Market Seattle

15. Portland in January For Music, Brew, Beer & Books

Hoping your January has a meet-cute in a gigantic bookstore in the cards?

Head to Portland this winter, and that just might happen!

If not, you can drown your sorrows at a sad film with a bottle of Portland craft beer or take your mind off it at an old-time music experience.

With temps in the low 40s, you can still enjoy outdoor activities like walking tours to see the best of the city.

Portland Sign lit up at dusk

Things to do in Portland in January

  • Portland Old-Time Music Gathering – The Portland Old-Time Music Gathering is a grassroots festival celebrating traditional old-time Appalachian-style stringband musicians.(Mid January)
  • Fertile Ground Festival – Start off the new year with the Fertile Ground Festival, which celebrates new works in Portland. (Late January)
  • Brew- N-View – Brew N View movie theatres are wildly popular; you can watch your film with a beer/wine in one hand and pizza/theater snacks in the other.
  • Powell’s Books – The world’s largest independent bookstore, Powell’s Books, is a magnificent haven of used, rare, and new books that you could get lost in. 
  • Craft Brewery Walking Tour – Explore the city with this craft brewery 2 mile walking tour; get your tickets here.
  • If you have time, drive out to Multnomah Falls to see snowy rocks and chilly waterfalls! Portland is just as much about nature as it is about keeping it weird.

You may also like our Portland itinerary and things to do at Christmas in Portland.

Multnomah Falls frozen with snow on stones

Final Thoughts

January is a tough month for most of us, but take a week (or two) away and visit one of these places and you’re sure to start your new year off on the right foot.

Don’t have time to go away? There’s always next month! Read this guide for the best places to go in February.

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