Looks like the groundhogs were right. Winter—no matter how temperamental or unpredictable—is going to be hanging around for a few more weeks. Can't wait until spring break to get some sunshine? While the very best beach resorts will remain packed for the duration, there are plenty of warmer, brighter destinations with ample blue sky, lots of things colored green and—believe it or not—relatively affordable prices. Here are three great picks to get you inspired.
Catch some rays (and some culture) on the cheap in Merida
One of the continent's greatest winter treasures for people who aren't terribly obsessed with the beach, this civilized inland Yucatan city (a 45-minute ride from the nearest beach) is one of Mexico's safer, lovelier destinations. While it's possible to fly right here, why not take advantage of the packed schedule of the Cancun airport (make sure to investigate Southwest's new routes, Spirit's sales and more) and cheap first-class bus service to Merida? Once here, book into a pleasant, surprisingly affordable hotel, walk everywhere, eat, look at art, admire architecture, eat Lebanese-Mexican food (have you had tacos arabes yet?), blammo. You'll come back looking happy and with a tan, which will make everyone just as jealous as if you'd spent thousands of dollars on one of those ridiculous resorts in Cancun.
Average daily high in March: 87 degrees
Get there: Who doesn't fly to Cancun, really—make sure to focus on more than just the usual, however. Try Southwest, Spirit and popular carriers Mexican like Interjet, too. It's not uncommon to track down rates as low as $115 each way throughout the winter season, from major gateways like Chicago and New York. From the Cancun airport, you can hop aboard the ADO first-class bus (very plush!) from about $27 each way—at certain times, it'll be smarter to take the bus downtown and transfer at the main terminal for Merida, but they'll let you know; tickets and information are available right after you clear customs. Once in Merida, Uber can get you anywhere, including the beach. (Here, as elsewhere across the country, the car share service app has become an indispensible tool for both locals and visitors.)
Stay: There are a handful of high-end boutique properties in town, but for the most part, this is one of Mexico's great value destinations, with four-star options often ringing in under $99 a night. (The Hyatt Regency often runs, for example, around $75.) Want to save even more? The simple, pleasant Ibis Merida is close to pretty much everything. Rates here commonly begin around $30 a night.
For the lowest available airfares to Cancun (CUN) right now, click here.
Road trip through the Rio Grande Valley
Grab a cheap flight to San Antonio, pick up a reasonably-priced rental car and take advantage of some of the lowest gas prices in the land, motoring on down through the scrublands to one of the most fascinating places in the fifty states, a place far, far away from the rest of America. A fast-growing region that's largely bilingual and more than a little in common with our cousins across the border, the RGV, as it's known, is one of those terrific places that leaves you feeling like you traveled a whole lot further away from home than you actually did. Love the beach? The sands of South Padre Island are quite literally right here—daytime highs sometimes top 80 degrees, even in February. Like the great outdoors? The exotic open spaces along a good bit of the lower Rio Grande are forever preserved, leaving plenty of natural habitat for all manner of birds and butterflies, drawing observers from around the world. Is your least favorite thing about winter the serious lack of daylight? Say hey to some of the latest sunsets in the fifty states. (Right now, last light doesn't come until nearly 7pm.)
Average daily highs in March: 79 degrees
Get there: The region has its own airport (Valley International, or HRL), but service is relatively limited, it stays busy and prices can often skyrocket as a result—it never hurts to check Southwest's fares, however. You'll rarely have trouble getting in and out of San Antonio for less, however, a 3.5 hour drive to the north—it's a fascinating, if relatively remote road trip between there and the border region.
Stay: For many visitors, the attractive rates outside of the busier holiday weekends and infamous spring break periods right on South Padre's sands will be enticement enough—it's really hard to hate on rates around $40 a night at the much-nicer-than-it-sounds Ramada Hotel & Suites South Padre (that's midweek—rates double or triple at many properties on the weekends, when what feels like half of Texas comes to play). Priced out? In nearby Brownsville, close to some of the riverfront nature preserves, the Palo Alto Battlefield national historic site and a pleasant drive out to Port Isabel and the bridge out to Padre, weekend hotel rates go in the opposite direction—here, on an upcoming weekend when the island's booked out, you could grab the highly-rated Homewood Suites by Hilton Brownsville for just $82, a rate that includes breakfast and more.
For the lowest available fares to San Antonio (SAN) right now, click here.
Hit the beach in Mississippi
There are two distinct sides to one of the most underappreciated places in the fifty states—the Mississippi north of I-10 and the rest of it, that sliver of storm-tossed, gulf-front real estate, swimming in French history that makes it feel more like a cousin to nearby New Orleans (as little as an hour's drive to the southwest, depending on where you are) than anything like the Magnolia State you might have been expecting. First explored by the French in the late 1600s, today the region, besides boasting miles of often-delightful beachfront, is home to a mish-mosh of cultures and ideas, leading to a terrific little food scene (great Vietnamese food, top-notch barbecue, classic New Orleans-style cooking at gems like Darwell's Cafe, it's all here) and an overall friendly, inclusive vibe that make this a great place to kick back and chill relatively affordably for a few days. Get bored easily? The now-classic, Steve Wynn-designed Beau Rivage casino resort is one of the swankiest in the South, while historic artist colonies in Ocean Springs and Bay St. Louis are once again thriving after years spent recovering from the horrors of Hurricane Katrina.
Average daily high in March: 69 degrees
Get there: Once Mardi Gras draws to a close at the end of February, fares to nearby New Orleans plummet—think as little as $42 one way from Chicago on United in early March, with other major gateways like Washington, DC and New York offering fares under $250 round-trip on a fairly regular basis as we move into spring.
Stay: Pick a weekend, any weekend—well, most of them—and you'll find plenty of decent, mid-priced chain properties offered for around $100 and sometimes even lower. Weekdays, expect to save big, particularly at the casino resort properties – deals like $61 at the Harrah's Gulf Coast and around $100 (that's before taxes and fees, of course) at the top-rated Beau Rivage are fairly easy to snag.
For the lowest available fares to New Orleans (MSY) right now, click here.