As the winter months approach, the desire to escape the cold becomes increasingly prevalent — but the most well-known winter getaways can be overcrowded and overwhelming for many people.
To determine the top hidden gem cities for snowbirds, Architectural Digest ranked cities based on housing and lodging availability, Yelp ratings for activities and eateries, home sale prices, and winter weather conditions.
Key Takeaways for Florida:
- Naples, Florida ranks #2
- Sarasota, Florida ranks #15
- Delray Beach, Florida ranks #16
- Key West, Florida ranks #21 (+ #3 for weather)
- Marco Island, Florida ranks #25
- Matlacha, Florida ranks #27
- Jupiter, Florida ranks #28
- Dunedin, Florida ranks #32
- Tarpon Springs, Florida #36
- Gulfport, Florida ranks #44
- Sanibel, Florida ranks #48
- Islamorada, Florida ranks #49
- The number one hidden gem destination for snowbirds is New Orleans.
- The snowbird destination with the greatest selection of activities is Sedona, Arizona.
- Mobile, Alabama, has the highest-rated light-traffic outdoor trails.
- Ajo, Arizona, has the most affordable homes on Zillow, with an average cost of $161,048; Santa Barbara, California, has the most expensive at more than $3.7 million.
- Maui has the best weather score, with average daily winter temperatures near 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Ranking the Best Winter Escapes
We ranked cities based on housing and lodging availability, Yelp ratings for activities and eateries, home sale prices, and winter weather conditions to determine the best cities for snowbirds. To ensure these destinations are hidden gems, each location boasts establishments with high ratings—between four and five stars on Yelp—but only six to 75 reviews, indicating that they are still relatively undiscovered.
Considering these factors, we assigned each of the 75 cities in this study a national ranking from 1 to 75. Explore the map and interactive table below to discover the full list, from first-place New Orleans to last-place Duck, North Carolina.
Our research uncovered common traits among the top-ranked winter escape cities: pleasant weather throughout the winter months, unique experiences, and highly rated yet lesser-known establishments. These locations also had many homes for sale on Zillow or lodging options on Yelp, catering to both seasonal tourists and those seeking a more permanent residence. Below, we explore the distinct qualities that set each of the top five cities apart from one another.
New Orleans, Louisiana
- Overall Rank: First
- Housing and Lodging Availability: First
- Activities and Dining: Third
New Orleans scored 86.9 out of 100 points, securing the top spot overall and for housing and lodging availability. The city’s blend of French, Spanish, and African cultural heritage, coupled with its many festivals, dining, and entertainment options, make it a top choice for a winter escape.
- Overall Rank: Second
- Housing and Lodging Availability: Second
- Activities and Dining: 14th
Nestled within the Sunshine State, Naples boasts pristine beaches and an upscale way of life, establishing itself as an ideal haven for a sun-soaked seasonal getaway. With a commendable 10th place in the weather category and beautiful Floridian homes widely available, its appeal is undeniable.
- Overall Rank: Third
- Housing and Lodging Availability: Eighth
- Activities and Dining: Second
Honolulu is the vibrant heart of Hawaii, offering more than just postcard-perfect beaches and swaying palm trees. Located on the southern shore of the island of Oahu, this tropical paradise provides a harmonious blend of natural beauty and urban sophistication. With a high rank in housing and lodging availability, you’ll likely be able to find a luxurious island home here for the winter.
Palm Springs, California
- Overall Rank: Fourth
- Housing and Lodging Availability: Fourth
- Activities and Dining: Fifth
This Sonoran Desert jewel is a hidden gem in the Coachella Valley, offering a unique blend of relaxation and midcentury-modern charm. Despite its property costs and weather rankings at 48th and 43rd, respectively, Palm Springs still holds allure as an under-the-radar winter escape with many housing, activity, and dining options.
- Overall Rank: Fifth
- Housing and Lodging Availability: 38th
- Activities and Dining: First
Located southeast of Phoenix in the Valley of the Sun, Gilbert is a true hidden gem waiting to be discovered. While its 38th position in housing and lodging might suggest limited availability, it shines brilliantly as the number-one location for activities and dining.
Where to Go to Escape the Snow
We identified hidden gem cities for snowbirds based on several key factors, all determining whether a city is an ideal escape during the winter months. We’ve spotlighted each category below to further explain how cities fared across our rankings.
Vacationing before relocating can help you get a feel for what it would be like to live in a given city. Based on our study, your best bets for finding highly rated temporary lodging are Sedona, Arizona, and Palm Springs, California. Already interested in a permanent winter relocation? You’ll likely find the most homes for sale in Naples, Florida; New Orleans; and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
After reviewing housing options, we looked into the overall experience available at each location, factoring in the number of hidden gem eateries, bars, and activities on Yelp. We also explored outdoor spaces, using AllTrails data to determine what percentage of each city’s walking trails were both highly rated and uncrowded.
Fewer people around makes it easier to go out and have fun whenever and wherever you want, likely with no reservations required. Navigating large crowds and long waits could be a thing of the past after relocating to a hidden gem. When it came to the best undiscovered food and drink scene, Gilbert, Arizona, had the most hidden gem bars and restaurants on Yelp (150), followed, surprisingly, by big city New Orleans (107).
For nature enthusiasts who want to enjoy the peace and quiet of the great outdoors, consider exploring trails in Mobile, Alabama, where 68% were top-rated and had light traffic. The second-best option for exploring on foot was Yuma, Arizona, a sunny desert oasis even in the middle of winter. And for a small-town feel hidden among pine forests and the San Jacinto mountains, the trails of Idyllwild, California, are calling.
When it came to hidden gem activities rated on Yelp—including beaches, parks, walking trails, botanical gardens, health retreats, and lakes—Sedona topped the charts. Arizona was also home to two of the top three most affordable cities for purchasing a home—Ajo and Bisbee. In contrast, California’s real estate market featured the three priciest cities.
Finally, we looked at average daily temperatures and UV index values in the winter months to see which destinations offered the most favorable weather conditions in the winter. For those chasing the sun, Maui, Honolulu, and Key West, Florida, were the best destinations.
Our exploration of prime winter retreats revealed cities that seamlessly combine delightful weather, diverse experiences, and top-rated amenities. Whether you’re drawn to the cultural depth of New Orleans, the radiant beaches of Naples, or the island appeal of Honolulu, all of our top destinations have a unique charm. As you plan your seasonal escape, consider the hidden gem cities that have an immediate allure and an enduring appeal—they’ll likely end up being the ultimate winter haven for you.
Source: News Release