Feel-good West Coast destinations that will brighten winter days


Holiday festivities have come and gone. Now it’s time to seek out ways to brighten winter months, as we patiently await longer days and a return to light.

That’s why we’ve gathered tempting West Coast ideas, whether you’re craving a colder destination that fully embraces the season or a sun-kissed spot where eternal summer calls.

Cold-weather charm

Whistler, British Columbia

Enjoy a rejuvenating experience for the mind, body and soul at Scandinave Spa — Photo courtesy of Scandinave Spa Whistler

British Columbia’s beloved Whistler is an obvious HQ for ski bums from around the globe. Yet, it’s also a welcoming place for those who’ve never even hit the slopes while there (except perhaps to take in sensational treetop views from the world record-breaking PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola).

Ultimate zen can be found at dreamy silent haven Scandinave Spa Whistler, where guests experience the health benefits of ancient hydrotherapy traditions (think: hot, cold, relax, repeat). For further pampering, check out the double level spa at Nita Lake Lodge, complete with Champagne Nail Bar serving Moet minis.

Guests at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler find slope-side relaxation, too, especially in the heated outdoor pool (with underwater music), by alfresco fire pits, in front of the Mallard Lounge fireplace and while eating delicious local fare in The Grill Room. Their specialties include N’Quatqua rainbow trout wrapped in prosciutto and stuffed with dill, fermented tomato and lemon cous cous.

While the cuisine and piano-backed ambiance are absolutely delightful at Bearfoot Bistro, diners here also get a thrill during Champagne sabering sessions in the wine cellar and tastings in the Ketel One Ice Room. At -25F, it’s allegedly the world’s coldest vodka tasting room and the only permanent sub-zero vodka room in Canada.

For an incredibly uplifting and illuminating Whistler adventure, don’t miss Vallea Lumina, a multimedia, multi-sensory experience that uses lights, projections, music and storytelling elements to create a magical walk in the woods.

Vancouver, British Columbia

The JW Marriott Parq Vancouver is a luxurious oasis in the heart of a vibrant entertainment districtThe JW Marriott Parq Vancouver is a luxurious oasis in the heart of a vibrant entertainment district — Photo courtesy of JW Marriott Parq Vancouver

While Vancouver enjoys a mild climate, it’s close enough to alpine peaks to make it a hub for snow lovers, too. Make a pit stop here for soothing relaxation before taking off on regional adventures.

The JW Marriott Parq Vancouver makes for a delightful home base, located less than a half-mile from two different SkyTrain stations (Stadium-Chinatown and Yaletown Roundhouse). The hotel also operates a complimentary downtown shuttle, every 20 minutes between 9 a.m. and midnight.

On the property, sink into luxurious rooms and suites, find complete zen during treatments at the Spa by JW Vancouver, or enjoy views from the 17th-floor fitness center and Aqua Lounge, which dazzles with its rejuvenating hydrotherapy tub.

Choose from many onsite dining options; for example, start your day with a farm-to-table breakfast at charming Honey Salt, and end the evening with a nightcap in uber-hip D/6 Bar & Lounge.

And be sure not to miss a meal at The Victor, where top-tier service comes alongside seasonal veggie dishes, sushi platters, scallop delights, mac & cheese waffles and perhaps a show-stopping tomahawk steak for the table, always served with some dramatic flair.

And if you’re craving some movement to mix with your downtime, enjoy wintertime excursions that range from snowshoeing atop Grouse Mountain to cycling along the scenic Seawall.

Whidbey Island, Washington

Whidbey Island is an easy place to feel restored, thanks to its scenic beaches (some dog-friendly), charming lodging options and farm-fresh restaurants, for startersWhidbey Island is an easy place to feel restored, thanks to its scenic beaches (some dog-friendly), charming lodging options and farm-fresh restaurants, for starters — Photo courtesy of Suzi Pratt

Yet again, Washington’s pastoral Whidbey Island seems an ideal wintertime island escape, allowing you to disconnect at spots like Double Bluff Beach and Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.

Or – better yet – find tranquility on a crisp, clear day at Earth Sanctuary. Take a self-guided tour of the 72-acre plot or get led around by founder Chuck Pettis, a long-time environmentalist who has a 500-year vision to restore this land to a mature old-growth forest with maximum diversity of birds, wildlife, plants and fungi.

For nearby lodging, try the Langley Country Cottage B&B or the guesthouse at Dancing Fish vineyards, a friendly venue with a charming red barn setting.

Hood River, Oregon

Just 90 minutes from Portland, Mt. Hood Meadows operates on a special use permit in the Mt. Hood National ForestJust 90 minutes from Portland, Mt. Hood Meadows operates on a special use permit in the Mt. Hood National Forest — Photo courtesy of Mt. Hood Meadows

Located in northern Oregon at the stunning crossroads of the Columbia River Gorge and the Cascade Range, Hood River – deemed the windsurfing capital of the world – is an ideal hub for passing hours in the splendor of the great outdoors.

Only 90 minutes from Portland, Mt. Hood Meadows offers spectacular Northwest skiing and snowboarding that you’d expect to find farther from civilization. Mt. Hood Meadows operates on a special use permit in the Mt. Hood National Forest, and the resort sprawls across the sunny, wind-protected side of the mountain.

Meadows offers more than 2,150 acres of diverse terrain, ranging from gentle slopes to the front side bowls. Its highest lift takes you to exquisite panoramas found at an elevation of 7,300 feet.

With the Hood River Stay & Ski Package, offered by six properties including the hip Hood River Hotel, you’ll enjoy lodging in Hood River and skiing or snowboarding at Mt. Hood Meadows.

For an après pint or meal, pop into the Double Mountain Brewery & Taproom where bar stools and well-worn leather couches await. All beers here feature Pilsner malt (from Gambrinus Malting in British Columbia) as their base.

Southern sensations

Palm Springs, California

Stargazing in the California desert proves stunning at most any time of yearStargazing in the California desert proves stunning at most any time of year — Photo courtesy of visitgreaterpalmsprings.com/Greater Palm Springs CVB/@visitgreaterps

Originally known for another type of stargazing, California’s Greater Palm Springs is also a brilliant place for glimpsing celestial wonders. Within an hour’s drive of downtown, you’ll find two International Dark Sky Parks (Joshua Tree National Park and Borrego Springs).

Pitch a tent to escape city lights in this unique park, home to several first-come, first-serve campsites and some of the country’s most alluring dark night skies, rich cultural history and surreal geologic formations. Campgrounds usually fill from October through May, so reserve a site ahead of time or have an alternate overnight plan for staying outside of the park.

While lodging options abound back in the heart of Palm Springs, Kimpton Rowan Hotel stands out with its location next to the San Jacinto Mountains and a dreamy rooftop pool and bar with chairs gazing directly toward the soothing peaks.

Bigger groups (and families) enjoy spacious villa offerings at spots like The Westin Desert Willow Villas, Palm Desert, where kids love the water slides and adults sneak away to zone-out bliss at the quiet relaxation pool.

The Rancho Mirage Observatory is unique in that it's a public education center, built specifically for the publicThe Rancho Mirage Observatory is unique in that it’s a public education center, built specifically for the public — Photo courtesy of Rancho Mirage Library and Observatory

For more stargazing wonder, head to The Rancho Mirage Observatory, a public education center and research-grade facility that opens for two 45-minute tours each day (at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.), Tuesday through Saturday. The Observatory also hosts Stargazing Parties about 10 nights each month around the New Moon (during winter, there are two shows per night). Online pre-registration is required for these 90-minute gatherings.

Additional otherworldly events here range from lectures by the observatory’s on-site astronomer or special guests and Swoon @ the Moon meetups, which happen one night a month during the First Quarter Moon (no registration necessary).

San Diego, California

The San Diego coast is a prime spot for whale watching in winter monthsThe San Diego coast is a prime spot for whale watching in winter months — Photo courtesy of Bob Grieser/sandiego.org

Head south to San Diego for whale-watching magic. Each year, some 20,000 gray whales travel along the San Diego coastline. During this phenomenal migration, which typically occurs from mid-December through April, the marine mammals glide from the chilly Alaskan seas down to the warm water lagoons of Baja California, Mexico, where they birth and rear their young.

Local companies offer an array of seasonal whale watching outings, with options ranging from large boat excursions to intimate kayak adventures. Most excursions depart from San Diego Bay, Mission Bay or other neighboring beaches.





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