The perfect winter trips, served hot and cold
Whether you crave sunshine or a trip down the slopes, there’s no shortage of options to seize a little rest and relaxation — and escape the dull, dreary Chicago winter. From quick jaunts to exotic expeditions, our winter travel guide proves that there’s no excuse to stay cooped up all winter long.
1. Whistler, British Columbia, Canada
Why: Whistler garnered international attention when it hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics, but among ski fanatics it’s long been known for unbeatable slopes. The Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort has 200 marked runs, plus options that range from mellow sleigh rides to extreme heli-skiing (Whistlerblackcomb.com).
Stay: The Inn at Whistler Village is reminiscent of a European boutique hotel. Positioned at the mountain base, it’s ideal for hop-on/hop-off skiing and quick access to dining, drinking and dancing. In-room fireplaces and contemporary décor make for a comfortable retreat.
Dine: The Bearfoot Bistro offers reasonably priced tasting menus ($36 for five courses) featuring seasonal fare. Locally sourced options include caribou, wild salmon and pulled-pork profiteroles, and the wine list includes area options (Bearfootbistro.com).
Don’t miss: Discover your inner Olympian at Whistler Olympic Park, where you can try out sports such as bobsledding, the skeleton slide and the biathlon (Whistlerolympicpark.com).
2. Mount Hood, Ore.
Why: Mount Hood’s Cooper Spur mountain resort houses more than 50 acres of terrain, 10 ski runs and stunning natural views, plus a covered outdoor deck where you can take in the sun without the cold (Cooperspur.com).
Stay: On-site you’ll find a variety of accommodations to soothe snow-soaked bones, from authentic-looking log cabin homes to hotel rooms equipped with hot tubs.
Dine: Brew fanatics will love Miss Ice Axe Grill, where you’ll find local beers from the Mount Hood Brewing Co. on tap. A Cascadian pale ale paired with the smoked brisket sandwich is ideal post-ski nourishment (Iceaxegrill.com).
Don’t miss: Take a ride on the Mount Hood railroad via the Excursion Train. Dating back to the 1900s, the steam-powered engine tours through snow-covered forests and offers striking views of Mount Hood (Mthoodrr.com).
Close to home
3. Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville, Mich.
Why: It’s just a four-hour drive from Chicago to Traverse City, making access to 45 slopes, sleek cross-country terrain and a charming small town a cinch (Crystalmountain.com).
Stay: The picturesque resort village includes more than 250 cabins, hotel rooms and town homes to snuggle into after a day in the great outdoors. Hunker down in a hotel suite adorned with everyday conveniences or a homey bungalow equipped with a gas-powered fireplace.
Dine: Located in the resort, the menu at the upscale Thistle Pub (located in the resort) offers sophisticated renditions of saffron risotto ratatouille ($14), mac ‘n’ cheese ($9-$13) or potato-crusted walleye ($24).
Don’t miss: Sign the kids up for the snow obstacle course or a snowman scavenger hunt — then book yourself a treatment at the Crystal Spa. Or bring the whole family out for a day of dog-sled rides, courtesy of OCM Mushing (Ocm-mushing.com).
4. Northerly Island, Chicago
Why: With cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails, the 91-acre peninsula (located east of Solider Field) offers easy access to a rustic getaway. Rent skis and snowshoes, then wander the grounds to discover natural wildlife and score the best views of Chicago’s skyline (1400 S. Linn White, Chicagoparkdistrict.org).
Dine: Whether it’s the bite from the assortment of whiskies or the homemade chili with cheese, Lincoln Square pub The Grafton (at left) offers instant warmth — especially while sitting near the fireplace (4530 N. Lincoln, Thegrafton.com).
Don’t miss: Check the Chicago Park District website (Chicagoparkdistrict.com) to guarantee a spot on the trails — and an adequate amount of snow.
1. Playa Tamarindo, Costa Rica
Why: It’s always summer at this tropical getaway, thanks to its close proximity to the equator. Surf or swim in the pristine waters or catch up on reading while lounging on the silky white sand.
Stay: Hotels are available, but the best bet here is a house rental. For $150 a day, visitors can rent a fully-furnished two-story, three-bedroom, four-bath beachfront home (Vrbo.com).
Dine: At Lazy Wave, tucked in the exotic gardens of Tamarindo, sip on specialty cocktails at the rustic wood bar, nibble on super-fresh tuna tenderloin ($6-$16 per plate) at a traditional Costa Rican dining table or kick back on floor chairs while taking in the tropical breeze (Lazywavelounge.com).
Don’t miss: Take your vacation home with a visit to the town’s art galleries and pottery stores, featuring work from local artists; then satisfy your sweet tooth with a treat from a local bakery.
2. Palm Springs, Calif.
Why: The small town in the Sonoran Desert, located two hours from Los Angeles, was the place to be in the 1950s and ’60s. While retro remnants still remain, it’s the dry, 75-degree weather that soothes winter-weary souls.
Stay: Step into the Rat Pack era at the Horizon Hotel. Built in 1952, it offers views of the San Jacinto Mountains, pools, Jacuzzis and stunning mid-century modern design. And it’s just minutes from downtown’s vintage home décor shops and array of art galleries (Thehorizonhotel.com).
Dine: Embrace the heat with spicy dishes at Las Casuelas Terraza Mexican restaurant. Try the albondigas soup ($6.95) with fresh veggies and hand-rolled meatballs or the camarones diablos ($21.95), whish has shrimp wrapped in bacon. Since it’s vacation, be sure to indulge in the endless tequila options (Lascasuelas.com).
Don’t miss: The Palm Springs Ariel Tram slides up Chino Canyon, providing spectacular views and an instant cool down at its final elevation of 8,516 feet. (Pstramway.com)
Close to home
3. St. Louis
Why: St. Louis, a four-hour drive south, is practically balmy compared to Chicago’s frigid winters. Plus, it’s always inspiring to catch a glimpse of the majestic 630-foot Gateway Arch.
Stay: Dwell Nine Twelve (at left) is a contemporary bed and breakfast located downtown, but unlike a traditional B&B, this private home is all yours. The modern space — with sleek furniture, art library and streamlined fireplace — will make you feel like you’re living in a gallery (Dwell912.com).
Dine: As the birthplace of Anheuser-Busch, St. Louis is a legendary beer town, making a trip to the historic Budweiser factory (and brewery taste test) a must (Anheuser-busch.com). Afterward, head over to Pi Pizzeria for award-winning thin-crust pie — the red chile-peppered Grove version provides the right amount of heat (Restaurantpi.com).
Don’t miss: Get a dose of vitamin D on a scenic one-hour riverboat tour of the mighty Mississippi (Stlouisarch.com/events).
4. Garfield Park Conservatory, Chicago
Why: Chicago’s winter sun offerings are minimzal, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take in some tropical-esque temps. At the Garfield Park Conservatory, a walk through the lush foliage and humidity can trick you into thinking you’ve been whisked to an exotic locale (Garfieldconservatory.org).
Dine: Keep the heat on high and hit Xoco for a spicy bowl of short rib caldo, made with braised pork and arbol chiles. Or try the Oaxacan pasilla quesadilla, covered with smoky chipotle sauce for an extra kick (Rickbayless.com/restaurants/xoco.html).
Don’t miss: Visit their website for information on the conservatory’s continually updated events, such as concerts, art shows and food tastings.