Looking to save on your next vacation? We’ve got a hint for you: Book a vacation outside of peak season. Low and shoulder seasons are a great time to vacation because airfare and accommodations are often cheaper. What’s more, oftentimes you’ll face fewer crowds, allowing you to get a more personal, local feel for the area.
To help you find some affordable places to travel in the U.S. this year, we gathered some of our favorite destinations to visit during the low and off-season. While all of these destinations are amazing year-round, we wanted to focus on certain months where you’ll get more bang for your buck. Book a trip to one of the following cities outside of high season, and forget about paying peak rates and battling the masses—you just may have the place all to yourself!
Stowe is on everyone’s radar come fall and winter, and for good reason. Its majestic foliage and expertly groomed slopes attract tourists from near and far. It’s certainly magical during the cooler months, but this mountainous city is equally alluring in the spring and fall. You’ll soon find that Stowe Mountain Resort is a great place to visit when the snow has melted—hop in the Gondola SkyRide or soar through the trees on a ZipTour Adventure. While you’re in town, marvel at the leafy green scenery when you hike nearby Mount Mansfield, or dip your toes in the refreshing swimming hole along Mill Trail. The warmer temperatures just may have you craving something refreshing, so belly up to Idletyme Brewing Co. for a pint of Pink n’ Pale or head to Depot Street Malt Shop for a good old-fashioned milkshake.
While tourists love Pacific Grove all year-round, the monarch butterflies especially love Pacific Grove in October. Each fall, thousands of the orange butterflies flutter to the Monarch Grove Sanctuary in their wintering season, where you can witness them clustering on the pine and eucalyptus trees. Visit during the fall and winter to see this spectacular migration, and then turn your attention to the coastline. Beginning in mid-December, gray whales cross the underwater canyon and the annual Whalefest Monterey celebrates their arrival. Other reasons to visit this coastal city in the winter? A better chance at scoring your favorite nook at BookWorks and shorter wait times at hot spots like Passionfish. The more you explore this inviting town, the more you’ll realize why people and animals alike enjoy passing through during this time of year.
Yes, tourists flock to Healdsburg during the summer months and well into the harvest season. But visit during the late fall and into the winter, and you’ll discover a calmer side to wine country. When it’s not high season, sip on an award-winning zinfandel at Pezzi King Winery without fighting for elbow space. And forget about making dinner reservations weeks in advance for the restaurants in the plaza, because there are far fewer visitors this time of year. The temperatures are a bit chillier, but you’ll warm right up when you book a soothing Japanese Green Tea Foot Soak at The Taste of Tea. As for one of the best low-season treats? The annual Winter WINEland. Each January, this exclusive event invites you to sample limited productions and meet with the local winemakers—an intimate opportunity that wouldn’t be possible in high season!
If you’re in search of affordable winter vacations, Moab may be just up your alley. Come wintertime, the crowds thin, giving you the place practically all to yourself. Bring your camera and get ready to capture some snowtography in nearby parks, such as Arches National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park. Just imagine the shots you’ll get without all those tourists in your frame! Meanwhile, if you’re the rock-climbing type, spots like Wall Street and the Ice Cream Parlor are wonderful this time of year when the sun is shining. Other attractions like Moab Giants, where you can roam around the gigantic dinosaur statues, offer a great place to take the grandkids if they’re tagging along for some winter fun. Do note that the attraction is closed during the month of January though.
Many locals refer to mid-April to late May as Mud Season in Colorado. It’s the period when the snow starts to melt, the temperatures start to rise, and the skiers retreat from the slopes. Many locals and visitors alike find it to be a wonderful time to venture to Vail, when the winter crowds have dispersed, bringing a sense of calm to this adventure town. Ever tried fly fishing in Vail? Now’s the time to try it out when fewer fisherman are on the water. Join a trip with Gore Creek Fly Fisherman and cast your line on a quiet stretch of river and then sip a cold one at the Ale House Kitchen & Tap during Open Mic Night Mondays. Better yet, admire the wildflowers throughout Vail Valley, and spend an afternoon strolling around the expertly manicured Betty Ford Alpine Gardens.
When the summertime heat strikes Alabama, Orange Beach, is the ultimate place to cool off, but not everyone is in on the autumn secret. After high season, the crowds return home, leaving the entire sandy coastline with room to spare and paving the way for an affordable family vacation. The mercury may drop a bit—hovering in the 50s and 60s F—but you’ll hardly notice as you’re scoring low rates on your hotel room. It’s a wonderful option for senior travelers in the fall, as you can spend your days shopping along The Wharf or inshore fishing for speckled trout and redfish. In October, roll up your sleeves for the National Shrimp Festival in neighboring Gulf Shores, or better yet, stick around for the much-anticipated Orange Beach Seafood Festival & Car Show in February.
If you’re already enjoying retirement, try out the Winter Texan lifestyle in South Padre Island for a few months. Off-peak season is generally September through December, and Winter Texan season is January through March, when visitors are seeking relief from harsh winters elsewhere. Fall is the considered the best time to surf, and it’s a great time for hiking Laguna Madre Nature Trail, too. Forget all about snow and ice back home, and instead spend the winter hitting the links at nearby South Padre Island Golf Club and chowing down on crawfish etouffee at Daddy’s Cajun Kitchen & Seafood Market. Come January, mark your calendar for the spectacular SPI Kite Fest and watch as colorful streamers fill the skyline.
Winter season is considered the low-season in Fairbanks, but it’s also a coveted time to visit. The temperatures are extremely low this time of year, but so are the accommodation rates, making it a prime destination if you have budget travel on your mind. You’ll certainly have to bundle up, but one look at the dancing northern lights, and you’ll forget all about the frigid temperatures. You’ll soon realize Fairbanks is a whimsical wonderland come December. Ride the Aurora Winter Train along snow-covered terrain to Anchorage, or book an ice fishing adventure in a heated cabin with Rod’s Alaskan Guide Service. As long as you’re here, why not extend your travels into February and March for a chance to witness the spectacular World Ice Art Championships? You may never look at a block of ice the same way again!
Don’t write off Chicago because of your travel budget. Off-season travel to Chicago in the wintertime is actually a great way to bring down the cost of your vacation. Yes, you’ll face winter conditions, but you’ll also find lower rates this time of year. Embrace the frosty weather with a spin around the ice rink at Millennium Park or cozy up inside the Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop with a sea salt caramel hot cocoa in hand. You may even get to see the whimsical sight of Lake Michigan frozen over. Looking to stay toasty indoors? Visit the city during February and get front-row tickets to Chicago Theatre Week to see live productions in action. As long as you’re dressed for the weather, you can still enjoy all the pleasures of Windy City regardless of the temperature outside.
Not an AARP member? Sign up and join today. AARP offers membership for $16 per year.
Header image via orangecrush/Shutterstock.com