Carlsbad, New Mexico
Carlsbad is best known as the gateway to one of the most famous rock formations in the world. But there’s more to this city situated in North America’s largest desert than just Carlsbad Caverns National Park. In fact, this city in the Chihuahuan Desert with mild winters has a wealth of other things to enjoy, such as a visit to the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park, many excellent Southwestern restaurants, the free Carlsbad Museum and Art Center and entertaining boat tours on the Pecos River. In addition to the must-see Carlsbad Caverns, visitors may also want to visit the quirky International UFO Museum and Research Center, about 75 miles away in Roswell, home of the famous UFO incident in 1947.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas experiences some of its coldest temperatures in January. But with an average high of 58 degrees and little or no precipitation in this section of the Mohave Desert, winter is a great time to visit the place where “what happens here, stays here.” What’s more, rates for many hotels on the Las Vegas Strip are quite low as long as there isn’t a large convention in town, like the recently completed Computer Electronics Show. If that’s the case, visitors can stay at places such as New York New York, Monte Carlo, Luxor and Excalibur for as little as $30 a night. Although the mega-swimming pools don’t reopen until spring, there are plenty of Vegas shows and popular free or low-cost attractions to enjoy, like Bellagio Fountains, the Mob Museum, Eiffel Tower Experience and Madame Tussauds Las Vegas.
Palm Springs, California
Located in the heart of the Coachella Valley, this desert oasis has been known as the Hollywood Playground for nearly 100 years. In fact, Palm Springs has its very own Walk of Stars in the vibrant downtown section. Many of the biggest names in show business have made the trek from Los Angeles to Palm Springs in part because of the warm weather enjoyed year round, with an average high of 71 degrees in January and a balmy 80 degrees by March. And there are plenty of things to see and do, such as great shopping on Canyon Drive, hundreds of championship golf courses and resorts and interesting cultural landmarks. Just 14 miles south of Palm Springs is another popular desert destination – Palm Desert – filled with luxury resorts, more world-class golf courses and a short drive to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, one of the country’s biggest music festivals.
St. George, Utah
Known as Utah’s Dixie, St. George has a much warmer climate than the better-known destinations in the state. Founded by Mormon settlers to establish an Indian mission and grow cotton in 1861, the city has many historical buildings of interest, including the Brigham Young Winter Home, Jacob Hamblin Home and St. George’s Temple, the oldest operating temple of Latter-Day Saints. But the biggest attraction is less than an hour’s drive from the city in the Mohave Desert. Zion National Park is Utah’s oldest national park, known all over the world for its stunning red sandstone formations, numerous hiking trails and the breathtaking gorge known as the Narrows.
With more than 350 days of annual sunshine, Tucson is a phenomenal desert destination, especially in winter. Home to the University of Arizona, this city in the Sonoran Desert has an abundance of outdoor activities, historical museums and churches and gambling casinos. The top attraction is the 98-acre Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum, one of the country’s leading outdoor living museums, featuring more than 230 native animals and 1,200 types of plants. Other notable attractions include the Pima Air and Space Museum, Old Tucson Studios and the historic Mission San Xavier del Bac. Tucson is also home to a number of award-winning golf courses and luxury resorts, most notably the Canyon Ranch and Casino del Sol, the only casino resort in Arizona to earn a Forbes Four Star award and AAA Four Diamond Award.
Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.