The first real cold front of the year recently hit Austin, sending most of us scrambling for coats and sweaters packed away since last winter. Layering those on is fun at first, but can get tiresome pretty fast. Fortunately, plenty of warmer destinations are within easy reach. Tired of shivering? Head to one of these escapes.
Direct flights from Austin on Southwest Airlines will have you on the beach in three hours. Though Cancun has a wide range of accommodation options, all-inclusive resorts make things easy. Beachfront Sandos Caracol Eco-Resort has family and adult-only sections along with multiple pools, restaurants and bars. Enjoy the water sports center, Mayan cooking lessons and shows, eco-tours, golf, tennis, and the spa and fitness center. Expect temperatures in the low 80s December through February.
Cruise the Caribbean
Your Caribbean getaway begins with a quick drive from Austin to the Princess Cruises port in Houston. From December through April, pick from four- and seven-day options touring the Western Caribbean with destinations including Cozumel and Costa Maya, Mexico; the island of Roatan, Honduras; Grand Cayman and Belize City, Belize. These ports of call offer activities such as snorkeling and diving, visiting an iguana farm, exploring Garifuna culture, cave tubing, ziplining, wandering Mayan ruins, sailing, fishing or just hanging out on gorgeous beaches. The ship itself includes a variety of dining and entertainment options, pools, spa and activities. Expect temperatures in the 80s at ports of call.
The family- and pet-friendly Hyatt Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch covers 27 acres and features a water complex, golf course and Green Zebra Adventures' guided hikes. Take part in desert bike rides and Jeep tours, hot air balloon rides, rock climbing and more. Direct flights from Austin to Phoenix on Southwest and American Airlines get you there quickly and easily. Enjoy average high temperature December through February of 68 degrees — and lots of sun.
St. George Island, Florida
This island in Franklin County has 22 miles of beach, nine of them in St. George Island State Park, which was rated the No. 3 best beach in America by Dr. Beach. The rest of the island offers a wide variety of beach houses available for rent — from rustic to luxury — as well as the affordable beachfront Buccaneer Inn and the St. George Inn, housed in a southern style mansion. Local outfitters offer hiking, kayaking in Apalachicola Bay and the Apalachicola River, fishing, excursions to uninhabited islands and more. There also are hiking trails in the state park, a bike path the length of the island, and nearby, Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve. Fly Southwest into Panama City airport or American to Tallahassee Regional Airport, both roughly 60 miles away. Winter highs here range in the mid-60s, perfect for outdoor activities.
South Padre Island, Texas
Texas has its own semi-tropical getaway down south. Choose from a variety of hotels and resorts or beach house rentals on South Padre Island. Fish and kayak in the sheltered Laguna Madre, build a sand castle on the wide Gulf beach (lessons available), horseback ride, take a dolphin watch tour, or visit a sea turtle rehabilitation facility. There’s even an indoor, heated Schlitterbahn Waterpark. Fly into Brownsville or just hop in your car and drive south. High temperatures in South Padre average the upper 60s in December and the low 70s in January and February.
The Florida Keys
Beginning in Key Largo and stretching 120 miles out into the Gulf of Mexico to Key West, this chain of islands offers a variety of vibes and activities. Take a glass bottom boat tour of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park on Key Largo, charter a fishing boat on Islamorada, visit the sea turtle hospital on Marathon Key, explore National Key Deer Refuge’s undeveloped pinelands where the diminutive Key Deer live and backcountry kayak off No Name Key. You'll also enjoy the pubs, restaurants, aquarium and other attractions in Key West’s Historic Seaport. Key West is the launch point for day trips to Garden Key in Dry Tortugas National Park, home to pristine beaches and historic Fort Jefferson. Accommodation options on Key West range from resort hotels to cozy bed and breakfasts. On Key Largo, unwind at the casual, beachfront Rock Reef Resort. Fly into Miami or Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airports and catch a shuttle or pick up a rent car. Average high temperatures in the low- to mid-70s December through March.