Top 10 winter weekends

Relax, reconnect with family, and reward yourself with one of these classic weekend escapes, from B.C. to Arizona

Whistler, B.C.

Whistler Blackcomb is easier to get to than you think ― grab your skis, sweaters, and kids, and head up to British Columbia's most celebrated mountains.

Whistler Blackcomb

  • Inn Above Tide

    Sausalito is just a short ferry ride across San Francisco Bay; for a waterfront view from your bed book a room at the Inn Above Tide.

1. DO SOME SOUL-SEARCHING, Sedona, AZ

Why here: Because Sedona ― with its crimson buttes, dramatic sunsets, and vortex vibe ― is the West's spiritual hub. Join New Agers in red rock country for peace and tranquility ― plus heart-pumping hikes, mountain bike rambles, and super-luxe Southwestern spa treatments at Mii Amo at Enchantment Resort (888/749-2137) that'll leave you wholly refreshed and ready for the year ahead.

Why go now: Crystalline skies and soaring red spires can boost anyone's sagging wintertime spirits. Technically, it's off-season here in Sedona ― but now's a divine time. Hotel rates drop. Hiking trails are empty. Temps are cool, but resorts' heated pools are swimmable, and the sun still shines.

Where to stay: For a most soothing Sedona experience, tuck yourself into Enchantment Resort in Boynton Canyon (from $255; 800/826-4180). To be closer to town, try Amara Resort and Spa (from $129; 800/815-6152), which is situated steps from the shops and galleries, yet an oasis on the edge of Oak Creek. - Tim Vanderpool

2. CARVE OUT QUIET TIME, South Rim Grand Canyon, AZ

Why here: Because there's nothing like standing on the edge of a snow-dusted abyss with nary another soul in sight. Sure, there are lots of canyons, but this is the Grand Canyon, that fabled mile-deep, 277-mile-long rift that lives up to its wonder-of-the-world status no matter how many times you've seen it. Peer over the rim, behold monumental buttes ― and take in the sound of utter silence.

Why go now: For starters, you'll have the canyon to yourself ― visitation plunges in the winter. At 7,000 feet, the South Rim can certainly be cool, but that's part of the allure. Colors are heightened. Fog rolls dramatically through the gorge. And the popular Rim Trail may be almost empty.

Where to stay: Revamped in 2005, El Tovar is the granddaddy of the canyon's hotels ― and sits right on the rim. Now's your chance to try to score a room with a view. From $178; 888/297-2757. Grand Canyon National Park info: www.nps.gov/grca or 928/638-7888. - Matthew Jaffe 

3. LEARN TO COOK, Yosemite National Park, CA 

Why here: Because the 27th annual Chefs' Holidays series at The Ahwahnee Hotel make Yosemite's quiet season a haven for foodies by inviting big-time toques from across the country for 2-3 days of muliple cooking demos, meet-the-chef mixers, and gala feasts. Grab a window seat by the kitchen and watch chefs like Brian Malarkey of San Diego's Searsucker work their magic; mingle with the men and women of Bravo TV's "Top Chef"; lunch in the soaring dining room; then shed the lethargic effects of so much tasting by climbing the snowpacked Yosemite Falls trail.

Why go now: Yosemite in January is as deserted as the park gets ― yet more alive than ever. Conifers droop with snow, and coyotes step out boldly. And if you wake up in the Ahwahnee at 4 a.m., the full moon might be hovering over Yosemite Falls right outside your window.

Where to stay: While the Ahwahnee hosts the Chefs' Holidays, you don't have to stay there to participate. Cooking demos are free, and you can buy a ticket to the 5-course gala dinner for $199. Chefs' Holidays sessions run midweek Jan 8-Feb 1; two-night packages start at $896; www.yosemitepark.com or 801/559-4884. - Sara Schneider

4. SPEND Q.T. WITH THE KIDS, Whistler, B.C.

Why here: Because who wants to buckle and unbuckle snowsuited tots in car seats, or carpool tweens around town, when you can all hunker down at this sprawling two-mountain resort village and walk to everything? Whistler's Tree Fort keeps kids happy, as do the beginner terrain areas. Après-ski fun? You got it: ice skating on Green Lake and swimming at Meadow Park Sports Center (try the rope swing). www.whistler.ca/meadowpark  

Why go now: Ladies, this is your season! Whistler is bringing back Roxy All Star Snow Camps where you can spend two jam-packed days on the slopes with top female coaches and your best girl friends (full weekend package for $219). But don’t feel left out, boys – Whistler Creek will be debuting a three-day Kids Adventure Camp for you, too. And with the new cap of 4 per class at the Blackcomb Snow School, everyone is guaranteed some quality one-on-one time with a seasoned expert.

Where to stay: The village is lined with condos and hotels, but our favorite is the boutique-style Summit Lodge & Spa, with in-room kitchens and a heated outdoor pool. From $192 U.S.; www.whistlerblackcomb.com or 800/766-0449. - Abigail Peterson

 

5. HAVE FUN WITH FRIENDS, The Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort, Solvang, CA 

Why here: Because there's something for everyone at this 10,000-acre cattle ranch-cum-upscale retreat in the Santa Ynez Mountains. Round up the girls, or gather your best buddies, and ride horseback in the morn, down wine in the afternoon, and, in between, golf or cast a fly in the 100-acre on-property lake.

Why go now: The weather's just right for riding through live-oak forests, and crisp nights invariably lead to long talks around a blazing fire. Nearby, Nojoqui Falls will be rushing after winter rains. And Alisal's occasional themed getaways, like Cowgirl or Couples Bootcamp, let you brush up on your lasso skills. You can also soak up some SoCal culture when the Santa Barbara Film Festival rolls into town.

Where to stay: Can't go wrong with any of Alisal's low-slung California ranch-style rooms, but executive suites 71 through 74 are top notch and great for groups ― with wood-burning fireplaces and three private bedrooms that open onto a shared living room. From $625, including full breakfast and dinner; www.alisal.com or 800/425-4725. - M.J. 

6. BE SPONTANEOUS, Sausalito, CA 

Why here: Because it's a quick 30-minute ferry ride across the bay from San Francisco. The easiest of weekend escapes, sans hassles like traffic or airport security. Stroll past the famed houseboats, or bundle up for a hike in the Marin Headlands for unmatched views of the Pacific.

Why go now: Two words ― Dungeness crab. Fresh and locally caught at Fish ($$$; 350 Harbor Dr.; 415/331-3474), a waterfront shack run by chefs who double as commercial fishermen. Try their famous ginger roast crab or cioppino. Or see what all the buzz is about at year-old local farm-to-table eatery Plate Shop ($$; 39 Caledonia St.; 415/887-9047).

Where to stay: January's bound to be rainy at times, and you may as well surrender to it ― which is why there's no better place to stay than the recently renovated Inn Above Tide, built on pilings over the bay. Only here can you bed down by a fire and watch the ferry pull in, or grab in-room binoculars to gaze across to Angel Island. From $320; 800/893-8433. Golden Gate Ferry, $9.25. - A.P.

 

7. PAMPER YOURSELF, The Spa at Salishan, on the central Oregon Coast

Why here: Because you can laze in an outdoor soaking tub on the edge of Siletz Bay surrounded by nothing, save for herons, egrets, and bald eagles; be rubbed and scrubbed; then stagger back to your room, at the Salishan Spa & Golf Resort across the street, to do little else but read by the fire till dinner.

Why go now: Storm-watching. If you time it right, a winter sou'wester will hit while you're there ― shaking the Sitka spruce and kicking up whitecaps on Siletz Bay. Between squalls, take a long walk up Gleneden Beach spit, or browse the galleries in nearby Lincoln City.

Where to stay: It doesn't have to be your honeymoon for an excuse to stay in Salishan Resort's most deluxe suites. Rooms 153 and 165 in the Chieftain House North have sunken living rooms and private balconies, but reserve a room upstairs at the Chieftain for prime views of Siletz Bay. Or go all out for the Sunset suite, with its wood-burning fireplace and windows that capture every ray of winter's afternoon sun. From $159; 800/452-2300. - Bonnie Henderson

8. SPEND TIME WITH YOUR SWEETIE, Leavenworth, WA

Why here: Because after the frigid winter air rolls off the peaks of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, it descends on the cozy Bavarian town of Leavenworth, 2 1/2 hours from Seattle, where it nourishes Washington's most remarkable low-elevation snowpack. Snuggle under a warm blanket on a sleigh ride, glide over groomed trails at the Leavenworth Nordic Trail System, or stomp hand-in-hand through the snow-covered backcountry.

Why go now: Christmas crowds are gone, but the serene snowy vistas and the oompah of Tyrolean music remain. Make snow sculptures in the park downtown, or catch the fireworks on Blackbird Island; both are part of the Bavarian Ice Fest.

Where to stay: The Enchanted River Inn has fireplaces, in-suite hot tubs, and hearty breakfasts, but it's the views of the Wenatchee River, Tumwater Mountain, and Icicle Ridge that will take your breath away. Or rent your own new million-dollar manse for the weekend: The Riverdance Lodge starts at $379 for the whole house, which sleeps 10. Enchanted River Inn, from $230; 509/ 548-9797. Riverdance Lodge, 509/668-1145. - Jim McCausland

 

9. PUSH YOURSELF, Never Summer Nordic Yurts, Colorado State Forest

Why here: Because venturing into the Rockies' backcountry takes stamina, preparation, and appreciation for winter's wonders. Each season the snow gods smile on the Medicine Bow Range with up to 6 feet of pure white ― perfect for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. Go for as little or as long as you like, then seek refuge in Never Summer Nordic's weather-worthy yurts.

Why go now: By January, trails are blanketed in enough snow to ensure ding-free skis and rockless 'shoeing. Bid hello to your neighbors (elk and moose), fall asleep to snow falling on the canvas roof, and wake up to the warmth of a wood-burning stove.

Where to stay: Seven yurts are scattered throughout the area in terrain for every ability. Take an easy .25-mile trail to Dancing Moose, a favorite for its jaw-dropping scenery. For more of a workout, trek 2 miles uphill to Ruby Jewel. Book a yurt for yourself or pack in up to nine of your friends. But book early ― these yurts are popular. From $90; www.neversummernordic.com  or 970/723-4070. - Ted Alan Stedman

10. GET CULTURED, Los Angeles

Why here: Because the Los Angeles Art Show has become one of the top forums for artists and art galleries across the West. Now in its 17th year, the show has expanded from its California Impressionist roots to encompass two four-day showcases: one Modern & Contemporary, and the other Historic &Traditional for museum-quality paintings, sculptures, and prints that span five centuries. Revel in artwork by masters ranging from Rembrandt and Picasso to David Hockney, and at design symposiums, learn how to integrate works of art into contemporary homes. Plus, don't miss the 27th annual Print Fair for some exquisite originals. Jan 18-22; $15 in advance, $20 at the door (one day); Los Angeles Convention Center; 1201 S. Figueroa Street, West Hall A; 310/822-9145.

Why go now: The beach crowds have cleared out and the holiday shoppers are gone, leaving you with unfettered access to Santa Monica's palm tree-lined walkways and views of brilliant sunsets from the sand.

Where to stay: California Craftsman meets Asian-accented warmth at the three-year-old Ambrose hotel, located 3 miles from the art show locale. The 77 chic rooms follow feng shui principles and come with Italian bed linens. From $225; 310/315-1555. - Laura Randall

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