Lake Placid, N.Y.
This little lakeside village surrounded by the Adirondacks has hosted two winter Olympics. It’s a great spot for sledding, ice skating, and skiing at the nearby Whiteface Mountain, where you can hit the slopes for $35 on select Sundays and $38 on certain Wednesdays. Play: At the Olympic Center, skate around the Olympic Speed Skating Oval where Eric Heiden won a record five gold medals in the 1980 Winter Games–costs only $5 for adults, plus a $3 skate rental. Eat: At the Lake Placid Pub & Brewery, the onion soup ($6), made with Moose Island Ale, is sure to warm you up. Also, try the steak salad ($11), and fish and chips ($10). Stay: The Best Western Adirondacks has an indoor hot tub and heated pool.
This town enjoys 300 days of sunshine a year. In the winter, the average temperature hovers in the high 60’s, but you can also get 80-degree days. Play: For sweeping views of the desert landscape, hike up the sheer sandstone cliffs of Camelback Mountain. It’s a strenuous climb but worth it on a clear winter day. Eat: The Mission in Old Town is one of the hottest restaurants around, but it can be expensive. If you belly up to the bar and order the guacamole ($12; they make it in front of you) and a margarita ($7), you can still sample the happening scene without emptying your wallet. Still hungry? Try the grilled street corn ($5). Stay: Swimming outside in winter? Yes, you can dive into the outdoor heated swimming pool at the Best Western Sundial Resort right in Old Town.
San Francisco, Calif.
California’s city known for its hills, Bay views and cable cars has some of its best weather in the winter. Yes, rain falls, but it’s not unusual to have a beautiful crystal clear day when you can comfortably walk about in a T-shirt. Play: The Golden Gate Bridge is the city’s most iconic landmark and it’s free to stroll across its 1.7-mile span. Eat: The Ferry Plaza is a foodie haven with dozens of stalls selling everything from homemade sausage to fresh-baked bread. At Taylor’s Automatic Refresher, known for its big burgers and sweet potato fries, you can easily eat for $10 a person. Stay: Only a few blocks from Union Square, the Best Western Carriage Inn sits in the heart of the city, and if you’re a AAA member you can often book a room for a little under $100.
Thousands of twinkling lights, a parade and decorated trees bring plenty of cheer to this snowy town that celebrates the cold weather with an annual Winterfest, running throughout November and December. Play: At nearby Smoky Mountains National Park, you can hike in the snow or cross-country ski on Clingmans Dome Road, which is closed to traffic for recreation. Eat: At Desserts & More, start with a healthy homemade quiche and then choose from the amazing array of pies ($4.99 a slice): from almond joy to peanut butter. Stay: Located on Main Street, the Best Western Zoder’s Inn offers a fireplace in the lobby, mountain views, an indoor swimming pool with a waterfall, and milk and cookies before bedtime.