Five destinations for shaking off winter ― or embracing it one more time
1. Beach time in Bahías de Huatulco: An undiscovered stretch of Mexican coast
So much beauty fills the nine aquamarine bays of Huatulco, on Mexico's Oaxacan coast, the first sighting of one of its 36 pristine beaches might send you to your knees. Spend your days under a palapa with a margarita in hand and a sweetheart by your side. Or be as active as you want. Explore coral reefs and hike leafy jungles. See wildlife and nature preserves by boat or tour van. Head inland, into the small city of La Crucecita, and enjoy shopping and dining around its plaza. But expect those white-sand beaches to lure you back before long. ― Lisa Taggart
INFO: Huatulco's small airport receives a handful of flights a day. Most travelers from the U.S. fly to Mexico City (3½ hours from L.A.), then connect to Huatulco (a 1-hour flight). Contact the Office of Tourism (Blvd. Benito Juarez, Bahía de Huatulco; 958/581-0177). It's roughly $35 to $50 for a cab from the airport to a hotel. Taxis are common in La Crucecita and nearby Santa Cruz, and rates between cities are fixed.
Bays tour. Operators walk the beach hawking boat tours to Bahía Cacaluta and Bahía Chachacual out of Santa Cruz, bus tours to Puerto Angel and Playa La Ventanilla, and jet-ski rides; don't miss a water tour, since many beaches are only accessible by boat. Individual boat about $130 per day, group tour about $25 per person. Group tours through Huatulco Fiesta, on Calle Mitla in Santa Cruz; 958/587-0081.
National Mexican Turtle Center. The region is sea turtle central. Tours 10-4:30 Wed-Sat, 10-2:30 Sun; $1.50. In Mazunte; www.tomzap.com/turtle.html or 958/584-3376.
Playa La Ventanilla. See the new crocodile reserve during a boat tour of a mangrove swamp. 8-6 daily; about $3. 2 miles west of Mazunte.
Snorkeling. The best coral reefs are at Bahía Cacaluta and Bahía de San Agustín. Rent gear (about $7 a day) in Santa Cruz or through your hotel.
LODGING & DINING
¡Ay Caray! Restaurant Bar & Grill. Casual beachfront eatery with fantastic fresh seafood; opens for visitors arriving by boat. $; typically serves lunch and dinner daily. 1 Playa Maguey, Bahía de Maguey.
Café Huatulco. Outstanding coffee from local beans, local chocolate, and Oaxacan breakfast tamales at outdoor tables. $; breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. In Santa Cruz's main park; 958/587-1228.
Camino Real Zaashila. At the north end of Tangolunda Bay, on a private small beach, the whitewashed luxury hotel has an enormous pool and 148 rooms with views. From $225. 5 Blvd. Benito Juarez, Bahía de Tangolunda; www.caminoreal.com or 800/722-6466.
Don Porfirio. Watch your meal cook at one of the sidewalk grills; excellent steaks and margaritas. $$; lunch and dinner daily. 24 Blvd. Tangolunda, Bahía de Tangolunda; 958/581-0001.
Quinta Real. The most luxurious lodging in the area, with 28 suites. The hotel's Moorish domed towers are set back from the beach. From $225. 2 Blvd. Benito Juarez, Bahía de Tangolunda; www.quintareal.com or 866/621-9288.
Tostado's Grill. Good seafood and tasty Oaxacan standards. $; breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. 306 Flamboyan, La Crucecita; 958/587-1697.
Travel tip: The resort restaurants are excellent ― but you can save a lot by dining at smaller, independent places in town.
Next: Los Angeles
2. L.A.'s best escape: Shop, dine, and relax in and around Santa Monica
Moments from LAX, breathe in the ocean air. And then get busy. Check out design stores and one-of-a-kind clothing boutiques along Santa Monica's Montana Avenue or Venice's Abbot Kinney Boulevard. For more conventional shopping, stroll the Third Street Promenade.
Take a long lunch at a nearby cafe. If you're feeling adventurous, rent kayaks and jet skis in Marina del Rey. Want more? Explore Santa Monica Pier and Venice Boardwalk. Stop for tea at Jin Patisserie. Absorb art at Bergamot Station. Indulge at a Zen retreat. The perfect end to one of these perfect days? Decompress with a sunset cocktail at the Huntley's 18th-floor restaurant bar before dining, then slowly sink into a comfy bed. ― Kathryn Harris
INFO: Marina del Rey Convention & Visitors Bureau. 310/305-9545.
Santa Monica Convention & Visitors Bureau. 800/544-5319, or 310/393-7593.
Venice Chamber of Commerce. 310/822-5425.
Bergamot Station. Art center with 37 galleries, a cafe, and the Santa Monica Museum of Art. 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica; www.bergamotstation.com
Marina Boat Rentals. Kayak rental from $15 per hour, jet skis $83 per hour. Fisherman's Village, 13719 Fiji Way, Marina del Rey; 310/574-2822.
One the Spa. Nautically themed spa by celebrity skin guru Olé Henriksen. Spa treatments from $65. 1 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; www.shuttersonthebeach.com or 310/587-1712.
Third Street Promenade. Downtown Santa Monica's heart; find shopping, dining, a movie theater, and street entertainers. www.thirdstreetpromenade.com or 310/393-8355.
LODGING & DINING
Café Del Rey. Pacific Rim cooking. $$$$; lunch Mon-Fri, dinner daily. 4451 Admiralty Way, Marina del Rey; 310/823-6395.
Fairmont Miramar. Casual and elegant; bluff location. From $299. 101 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; www.fairmont.com/santamonica, 800/257-7544, or 310/576-7777.
The Huntley. Rooftop Toppers Restaurant ($$$) has great views of the ocean. 1111 Second St., Santa Monica; 310/393-8080.
Jin Patisserie. Handmade confections. Lunch ($$) and tea ($17) Tue-Sun. 1202 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice; 310/399-8801.
Viceroy Santa Monica. Hipster haven near the beach. From $319. 1819 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica; www.viceroysantamonica.com or 800/670-6185.
Travel tip: The temperature can be cooler close to the beach ― bring a sweater, pashmina, or jacket.
Next: Canadian Rockies
3. Late-season skiing's capital is a thrill: There's no end to winter fun in the Canadian Rockies
Lying in the midst of Banff National Park, the city of Banff, Alberta, is one of North America's capitals of spring skiing. Lake Louise and Sunshine Village, two of three nearby ski areas, operate well into May. Plunge down stunning slopes ― but only after taking in a panorama of the Canadian Rockies. Soak in hot, mineral-rich waters or enjoy a massage at historic Banff Upper Hot Springs. Explore trails near town on cross-country skis or snowshoes. Enjoy a learning adventure, exploring, partly by foot, a glacier hundreds of years old. Or just wander around town, shopping the end-of-season sales ― it's your vacation. ― Claire Walter
INFO: Banff is 90 miles west of Calgary in Canada's Alberta province.
Banff Lake Louise Tourism. www.banfflakelouise.com or 403/762-8421.
Athabasca Glacier. A fascinating excursion via a special "ice explorer" vehicle. Tours begin Apr 15; $29. 112 miles from Banff; www.columbiaicefield.com or 877/423-7433
Banff National Park. Glaciers, wildlife, plus great views of the Canadian Rockies. $8. On Trans-Canada Hwy. (Hwy. 1) between Banff and Canmore; www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/ab/banff or 403/762-1550.
Banff Upper Hot Springs. Outdoor pool with views, restored '30s bathhouse, day spa. Pool admission $6.44, spa treatments from $43. www.hotsprings.ca or 800/767-1611.
LODGING & DINING
Bumpers ― The Beef House. Family-friendly steakhouse featuring Alberta beef and an all-you-can-eat salad bar. $$; dinner daily. 603 Banff Ave., Banff; 403/762-2622.
Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. Baronial 770-room hotel overlooking town, with excellent on-site dining ($$$$; dinner daily), shopping, and world-class spa (treatments from $120). From $170. 405 Spray Ave., Banff; www.fairmont.com/banffsprings, 866/540-4407, or 403/762-2211.
Le Beaujolais. Romantic restaurant featuring a three-course prix fixe menu ($53) and a six-course "surprise" feast ($77) chosen by the chef. $$$; dinner daily. 212 Buffalo St., Banff; 403/762-2712.
Post Hotel & Spa. Alpine-style hotel and restaurant within sight of Lake Louise's slopes. From $219. 200 Pipestone Rd., Lake Louise; www.posthotel.com, 800/661-1586, or 403/522-3989.
Ticino. Italian-accented Swiss restaurant, favored for beef, cheese, and chocolate fondues. $$$; dinner daily. 415 Banff Ave., Banff; www.ticinorestaurant.com or 403/762-3848.
Travel tip: Instead of a rental car, take a motorcoach or van between Calgary airport and Banff/Lake Louise (a two-hour trip), and free shuttles between town and the ski areas.
Next: Monterey Peninsula
4. Nature adventures: Kids love the Monterey Peninsula
California's Monterey Peninsula easily lures kids away from the hotel room's cable cartoons. Not to diss SpongeBob SquarePants, but even the denizens of Bikini Bottom can't compete with sharks, jellyfish, and penguins at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Take a boat to view gray whales, paddle close to sea otters and egrets in Elkhorn Slough, take a drive down the beautiful Big Sur coast, or walk moody Point Lobos, just south of Carmel, which helped inspire Treasure Island. Enjoy insanely good pancakes at First Awakenings and the peanut butter and other cakes at Rosine's ― cakes so good, so vast, they'll become lodged as a childhood memory right alongside the penguins. ― Peter Fish
INFO: Monterey is 70 miles south of San Jose.
Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau. 888/221-1010.
Big Sur. Follow State 1 south to the world's most beautiful coastline. Don't miss Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and McWay Falls. Big Sur Chamber of Commerce, 831/667-2100.
Cycling. Ride the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail. Rent bicycles ($6 per hour) and 4-wheel surreys (from $18 per hour) at Adventures by the Sea (four locations; 831/372-1807).
Kayaking. Monterey Bay Kayaks leads beginner-friendly guided tours. From $40, from $20 ages 3-6, reservations required; 800/ 649-5357.
Monterey Bay Aquarium. The best in the nation. 10-6 daily; $22, $13 ages 3-12. 886 Cannery Row, Monterey; www.montereybayaquarium.org or 831/648-4888.
Whale watching. Spring trips from $20. For outfitters, visit www.montereyinfo.org or call 888/221-1010.
LODGING & DINING
First Awakenings. Great breakfast joint. $; open daily. 125 Ocean View Blvd., Pacific Grove; 831/372-1125.
Hotel Pacific. Suites near downtown; big continental breakfast. From $189. 300 Pacific St., Monterey; www.hotelpacific.com, 800/554-5542, or 831/373-5700.
Hula's Island Grill and Tiki Room. Fresh seafood and pupus. $$; lunch Tue-Fri, dinner daily. 622 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey; 831/655-4852.
Monterey Bay Lodge. Family suites and pool near Dennis the Menace Park. From $84. 55 Camino Aguajito, Monterey; www.montereybaylodge.com, 800/558-1900, or 831/372-8057.
Rosine's. Good salads, burgers, and wonderful cakes. $$; open daily. 434 Alvarado St., Monterey; 831/375-1400.
Travel tip: Be sure to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium right at its opening (10 a.m.) to beat spring break crowds.
Next: Spring training in Arizona
5. Spring training in Arizona: Watch baseball in the warm desert sun
For baseball fans, the previous season's disappointments miraculously vanish as fastballs begin popping into catchers' mitts at ballparks around Phoenix and Tucson.
With its modern "baseball complexes," the Cactus League is no longer the pure, insider experience that it once was, but you can still enjoy an intimacy with the game that's hard to find during the regular season. Ask your favorite players for autographs. Catch a foul ball. Watch a game in your swimsuit under the warm desert sun.
And if by some chance your team reaches the World Series, take satisfaction in knowing you were there from practically the first pitch. ― Matthew Jaffe
INFO: Cactus League. Stadiums, schedules, ticket prices.
Mesa Convention and Visitors Bureau. Check spring-training packages. 800/283-6372.
Hi Corbett Field (Colorado Rockies), Tucson. Hard to beat a ballpark in a city park. From $2. 520/327-9467.
HoHoKam Park (Chicago Cubs), Mesa. Draws record crowds. From $5. 480/644-4451.
Scottsdale Stadium (San Francisco Giants). Downtown near shops and restaurants. From $8. 480/990-7972.
Tempe Diablo Stadium (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim), Tempe. Recently renovated. From $5. 480/350-5265.
World Baseball Classic. The inaugural event will take place March 7-10 at Scottsdale Stadium and Chase Field in Phoenix. Multigame packages from $30. www.worldbaseballclassic.com
LODGING & DINING
Arizona Inn. A respite from the everyday. From $289. 2200 E. Elm St., Tucson; www.arizonainn.com or 800/933-1093.
Café Poca Cosa. Inventive Mexican cuisine. $$; lunch and dinner Tue-Sat. 110 E. Pennington St., Tucson; 520/622-6400.
Don & Charlie's. Steak and barbecue with memorabilia and major-leaguers. $$$$; dinner daily. 7501 E. Camelback Rd., Scottsdale; 480/990-0900.
Doubletree Hotel Tucson at Reid Park. Convenient to Hi Corbett Field. From $119. 445 S. Alvernon Way, Tucson; www.doubletree.com or 800/222-8733.
El Cubanito. Popular with Latino ballplayers. $; lunch and dinner Mon-Sat. 1150 E. Sixth St., Tucson; 520/623-8020.
Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort and Spa at Gainey Ranch. A paradise for kids, with a water park and cultural activities. From $479; spa treatments from $130. 7500 E. Doubletree Ranch Rd., Scottsdale; www.scottsdale.hyatt.com or 800/554-9288.
The Pink Pony Steakhouse. As old-school as pinstripes and stirrup socks. $$$; lunch Mon-Fri, dinner daily. 3831 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale; 480/945-6697.
Travel tip: Tickets for March spring-training games are on sale now, so seek them out before you fly in; they can be hard to come by, especially for the Cubs and Giants.
More: 20 perfect summer trips