5 Unexpected Destinations for Snowbirds

Johnna Kaplan

When people think of wintering somewhere warm, they picture snowbirds strolling on a Florida beach, relaxing beside an Arizona pool, or possibly even traveling to Mexico. But lately, some potentially surprising locations have been attracting the attention of northerners wanting to escape the winter cold.

If you’d love to spend a part of the year in a milder climate but the usual hot spots don’t entice you, you might be intrigued by one of these five unexpected destinations for snowbirds.

1. Las Vegas, NV

This desert city is not exactly a new destination for winter visitors, but it’s becoming increasingly popular as Boomers reach retirement age. Along with moderate winter temperatures and low humidity (its climate is among the driest in the United States), Las Vegas offers world-class entertainment and dining options.

Housing choices are many and varied. If you’re looking into buying a second home, the market for high-end houses and condos is quickly rebounding. Would-be renters have plenty of options as well, as do RV owners – along with a selection of RV parks (some located at large casinos), there are also more luxurious RV resorts.

Basing yourself in Las Vegas puts you in convenient proximity to other Nevada communities popular with the snowbird set, as well as spectacular natural settings and national parks. And of course, if you love a good casino, you won’t be disappointed.

2. New Zealand

If you’re open to spending your winter on the other side of the world, consider following the small but devoted number of Canadian snowbirds who have discovered New Zealand’s balmy winters (or, to New Zealanders, summers) and magnificent scenery.

New Zealand is made up of two larger landmasses, North Island and South Island, and many small islands. Its geography ranges from snow-capped mountains to otherworldly forests to dramatic beaches, and its culture combines Maori and British traditions.

Snowbirds who fly this far can choose among diverse cities, pretty villages, and more remote areas. Visitors can stay in hotels, motels, hostels, or rental apartments, or rent an RV (that is, hire a campervan.) Remember that unlike the US, the northern regions of the country are hotter than the southern regions.

Some snowbirds choose to split their winter months between New Zealand and Australia, where the temptingly named Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast regions are favorites among North Americans bent on escaping the cold.

3. Jekyll Island, GA

Snowbirds love this barrier island off the coast of Georgia for two main reasons. For one, there’s a lot to do; for another, this former private retreat for the elite families of the Gilded Age is a nice place to do nothing.

Jekyll Island, roughly an hour and a half from Savannah and even closer to Jacksonville, Florida, is a paradise for cyclists, golfers and horseback riders. Its classic coastal Southern scenery – miles of beaches and Spanish moss – also offers a lovely backdrop for walking or relaxing.

Residents work hard to preserve the island’s heritage, and history buffs can explore the local museum, several historic sites, and more. Winter visitors can rent a home or cottage, and there are also hotels and a large campground for tent campers and RV dwellers.

Jekyll isn’t the only Georgia island that snowbirds can call their seasonal home away from home. Nearby St. Simons Island, larger than Jekyll and also a part of the Golden Isles of Georgia, is another favorite spot for short- and long-term stays year-round. And there’s no ferry journey required to reach these islands; both are accessible by road.

4. Hawaii

Though better known as a destination for honeymooners or workers taking a two-week vacation, Hawaii also welcomes its fair share of snowbirds. On the island of Maui, snowbirds inhabit the island’s many condo complexes and resorts. Seasonal residents here take advantage of the laid-back atmosphere and opportunities for stunning hikes, adventurous drives, and lounging on postcard-perfect beaches. There is also culture and history to be found for those who seek it out.

Honolulu, the Hawaiian capital city located on the island of Oahu, is busier and easier to navigate without a car. It also gets fewer inches of winter rain than some other Hawaiian cities. Here, snowbirds – along with everyone else – are drawn to the famous Waikiki Beach. In this neighborhood, there are more hotels than condos, so northerners make reservations for long-term stays.

And if those locales don’t appeal to you, there could very well be another spot somewhere on one of Hawaii’s eight principle islands where you would love to spend your winter season.

5. Panama

No, not Panama City Beach, Florida (although that’s also an option), but Panama, the Central American nation bordering Costa Rica. January through March is Panama’s dry season, when the weather is sunny and hot, but that’s not the only thing attracting increasing numbers of snowbirds to its tropical beaches, bustling cities, and lush mountains.

The country is known for its relative safety and affordability, there is a large expat community, the official currency is the U.S. dollar, and English is widely spoken – though some snowbirds use their months in Panama as a chance to practice their Spanish.

Panama is gaining a reputation as one of the best places to retire, due partly to its generous retirement programs, affordable real estate, and home ownership incentives. Part-time residents can also take advantage of some of these perks.

These five suggestions are by no means a comprehensive list of alternatives to the best-known snowbird destinations. Even if your winter home is not among them, hopefully they will inspire you to expand your idea of a snowbird’s paradise and seek out your own winter nest, whether it’s in Texas, South America, or a small and as-yet undiscovered town in the shadow of a more popular destination.

Once you’ve selected a destination, make sure you pack the essentials.

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