Winter Wonderlands


By the time you read this, we should have a president-elect … and depending on the outcome, some people will threaten a move to Canada.

While it’ll be a winter of discontent for some, it’ll be just plain winter for everyone. Those of us not planning to expatriate might consider more temporary travel — escapes from the fast-approaching cold, especially now that it’s dark by five.

We’ll get to destinations in a minute, but first let’s talk about timing. Several prime travel opportunities are looming for the spontaneous (and flexible), beginning with the Thanksgiving weekend. Yes, you read that correctly. If you’re planning domestic travel, naturally you should have booked your tickets months ago — but the last weekend in November is bargain central for those headed overseas.

Most Americans are committed to eating turkey somewhere in the 50 states, so popular European routes have empty seats to fill. A quick Kayak search this week turned up fares of around $500 to Paris, $550 to Dublin, and $600 to London or Oslo — all fairly short trips that are manageable if you have only four days (and want to impress your relatives with exotic, foreign-bought Chanukah gifts).

The travel doldrums between Thanksgiving and mid-December are also fertile ground for bargain hunters. Most people are committed to school or work during those (roughly) two weeks, so you’ll find decent airfares and a wide availability of lodgings if you opt to roam, both domestically or internationally.

The pre-season downside: It’s the darkest time on the calendar, with limited daylight for sightseeing. But if you fly somewhere tropical, short days won’t be an issue. I turned up round-trip flights to Maui for under $700, a steal for those with the time to spare.

The pre-season upside: Plenty of lights and merriment; early December is primetime for holiday shopping, concerts and festivals. And you won’t have to choose between vacation and Chanukah this year, since the holiday coincides with Christmas.

Now what if your sweet spot is January, when the post-holiday blues set in, and you’ve hit peak season for warm-weather getaways? Consider Puerto Rico: You can fly for just over $200 round-trip to San Juan or Vieques on JetBlue, and you won’t even need your passport. And Puerto Ricans could use our love — they don’t get to vote in our presidential election, and they’re in the middle of a major economic crisis.

But they have gorgeous beaches and nice hot weather, and the tourism scene has really evolved in recent years. Travelers will find more flight and resort choices across the island, not just in San Juan, and more kosher food options as well. (Which brings us to another winter travel truism: Peak season means higher prices overall, but also more kosher food availability, since supply often surges to meet demand.)

Another beach bargain, for those with a little more time and cash: Norwegian Air to Spain’s Canary Islands, which I like to call the Florida of Europe. You may have heard about the fabulous fares on Norwegian, one of the first low-cost European airlines to offer trans-Atlantic flights from U.S. coastal hubs. Among the bargains this winter is a round-trip flight from New York to Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, for a little over $500, an unusually good price for a less-traveled route.

Iberia is riding a wave of popularity due to its sunshine, gentle prices and the perception of safety — and in January, you’ll have plenty of company on the Canaries’ white-sand beaches. But if Europe beckons, I’d rather be enjoying longer, milder midwinter days off the African coast than trudging through Continental chill.

Closer to home, California is a perpetually overlooked solution for the classic winter dilemma: Where can I ski and go the beach … on the same day? The answer: Greater Los Angeles, where you can hit the slopes at Big Bear, watch the sun set over the Pacific in Santa Monica — and have time left over for a play at the West Coast Jewish Theatre, where January brings the premiere of the World War II-themed Jewish historical drama “Fugu.”

Though it’s often warm and dry, winter isn’t really high season here, so you have lots of affordable options. The beach is still the biggest draw on sunny January afternoons; locals play volleyball and get tattoos, brunch al fresco and hit the aquarium by Santa Monica Pier (some may even swim, though the winter Pacific is mighty cold).

Just 100 miles east, Big Bear boasts two popular resorts, Snow Summit and Bear Mountain, where the big attractions are 100 inches of annual snowfall and family-friendly slopes. The best part: You can ski all day … then drive back downhill to where it’s summer in January.