Welcome to the dog days of winter. Not only is January the coldest month on Long Island, it’s also one of the darkest — the sun is rarely more than a faint blob in a hazy sky this time of year, casting just enough light to remind everyone there’s still no leaves on the trees.
What to do? A trip South would be rejuvenating, though it may be tough to splurge on a getaway so soon after the holidays. That’s why Newsday crunched the numbers to give you our recommendations for 10 cheap excursions to beat the winter blues.
We ranked more than 100 cities for this list, drawing from measurements of their available sunshine, their average temperatures, and the cost to travel there from New York for a few days. While some cities made our Top 10 because they were strong in all categories, others made it because they were especially good for just one.
Here they are, in reverse order.
10. Charleston, South Carolina
Rainbow row in Charleston, South Carolina. Credit: Alamy Stock Photo/JL Images / Alamy Stock Photo
South Carolina’s picturesque port city makes our list for one key reason: It’s really cheap to travel here. Two round-trip tickets from New York airports, plus three nights at an average (3-star or higher) hotel will cost less than $400 in early February, according to online travel site Orbitz.com. In other words, you can spend a long weekend in a true antebellum gem of a city for about the same price as a single night out in Midtown.
Charleston, perched along the Atlantic inside a glimmering natural harbor, is a paradise for history and architecture buffs. Founded in 1670, the city offers numerous walking tours and pastel streetscapes where horse-drawn carriages ferry travelers through its historic neighborhoods.
It’s home to City Market, established in the 1790s, and its Greek Revival-style Market Hall. Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired, sits in its harbor. Charleston also is a true foodie haven. You’ll reset your culinary standards here with some of the best cornbread, hush puppies and fried green tomatoes you’ll find anywhere.
9. El Paso, Texas
A mural of Mission Ysleta in El Paso, Texas. Credit: Chris Howes/Wild Places Photography / Alamy Stock Photo
Come for the sunshine, stay for the food, the hiking, the architecture. El Paso is where the Lone Star State collides into the Southwest, and you’ll find a mixture of everything here. Among the barbecue and Tex-Mex, you’ll find Mexican-Asian fusion bistros serving fried chicken ramen next to shrimp tacos and pork belly baos.
El Paso is also home to some of the most distinctive architecture in the country, including adobe buildings such as the 342-year-old Ysleta Mission, recognized as the oldest continuously operated parish in the state.
While it’s one of the more expensive cities to visit from Long Island ($1,071 for a four-day stay in early February, including hotel and airfare for two), and it’s not that much warmer this time of year than it is in New York, El Paso was one of the sunniest locations on our list. According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data, about 84% of the daytime in El Paso is soaked in sunshine.
8. Tucson, Arizona
Hikers in Sabino Canyon Recreation Area just north of Tucson, Arizona. Credit: AP/Giovanna Dell'Orto
Tucson, established atop a Hohokam Indian village in 1776, has been a cultural beacon for generations of sun worshippers. It’s home to some of the top resorts in America, and the term Mexicanfood is simply not descriptive enough for the variety of sizzling and colorful creations that are cooked up at Tucson’s inventive restaurants.
The city also is a destination for astronomers, and the metro area is ringed with observatories that take advantage of Tucson’s clear desert skies. Visitors can trek out to Old Tucson Studios, where John Wayne filmed “El Dorado” and TV series like “Little House on the Prairie” were shot. It’s also home to the Desert Sonora Museum, which hosts a broad collection of desert animals as well as an impressive variety of saguaros and other cacti.
Tucson boasts some of the brightest skies in the country: The city is soaked in sunshine 85% of the time during the day. That said, it will cost you more than other Sun Belt cities to get there from New York. Two round-trip airline tickets and a three-night stay will cost you at least $1,200 in early February, according to Orbitz.
7. Lake Charles, Louisiana
Observing an alligator near the Creole Nature Trail in Louisiana. Credit: NB/TRAN / Alamy Stock Photo
New Orleans might be a popular choice on this list if it weren’t for the fact that the Big Easy tends to be as cloudy as Manhattan during the year. Lake Charles, about 200 miles to the east, has a lot more to offer in terms of sunshine.
The city of nearly 80,000 is sunny about 72% of the time during the day. Temperatures hit a balmy 71 degrees earlier in January, and 60-degree temperatures are not uncommon here during the first few months of the year.
Visitors who make it out to Lake Charles will find four major casinos, many of which offer travelers a sunbaked respite of golf courses, outdoor pool lounges, Cajun eateries and live entertainment. Lake Charles also is home to the Creole Nature Trail, a scenic Gulf Coast byway that’s bristling with hundreds of bird species, armadillos, river otters and alligators.
6. Sacramento, California
Historic buildings line the street in Old Town Sacramento. Credit: Getty Images/pabradyphoto
Sacramento might be described as the Goldilocks of the cities on this list.
It’s sunnier than New York, but not the sunniest place of them all. It’s also warmer (average highs rise into the 60s in February) but Sacramento is certainly not the warmest place to go. California’s capital city is one of the cheaper places to stay this time of year: Two round-trip airplane tickets and a three-night stay in a hotel will run you about $724 if you’re traveling from New York area airports.
Visitors will find a routinely overlooked traveler’s paradise — especially for those with kids. Sacramento boasts a variety of museums and zoos, the governor’s mansion and the picturesque Old Sacramento Waterfront.
5. Los Angeles
Los Angeles' Venice Beach draws roller skaters, strollers and people-watchers. Credit: AP/Marcio Jose Sanchez
Of course. A traveler’s guide to good sunshine spots wouldn’t be complete without mentioning La-La Land.
Los Angeles, home to gorgeous beaches, amusement parks, Hollywood, amazing nightlife, and just about every attraction your imagination can conjure up, also happens to be relatively easy on travelers looking to get out of New York over the winter.
It was one of the cheapest places on our list to visit: Two round-trip tickets plus a three-night stay at a moderately nice (3-star) hotel or better will run you about $610, according to Orbitz.
4. Tampa, Florida
Riverwalk in downtown Tampa. Credit: Alamy Stock Photo/Images-USA
Want to forget about winter altogether? Try Tampa. While frigid wind and rain slashes the Northeast, Tampa seems to have already skipped ahead to spring. Residents here usually enjoy daytime temperatures in the 60s or low 70s throughout January and February.
The only shivers you’ll experience at the dozens of golf courses in and around Tampa will be from your lack of practice on the putting green. You can also stroll in shirtsleeves along Tampa’s Riverwalk, and watch the cigar rollers as you peruse the Cuban bistros in historic Ybor City.
Tampa is one of the cheaper places to visit from New York — you can buy round-trip airfare for two from JFK or LaGuardia, plus a three-night stay for less than $500. And if you want to avoid the congestion around New York City, Long Island’s MacArthur Airport in Islip offers flights to Tampa as well, though there are fewer available flights and the prices may be higher.
The Beacon Hotel on Ocean Drive, in the South Beach neighborhood of Miami Beach. Credit: Ty Wright
The only surprise here is that Miami isn’t at the top of this list. So many New Yorkers travel to the Sunshine State every year that South Florida might as well be considered New York City’s sixth borough.
Palm trees, turquoise waves, megayachts and the always glitzy South Beach nightlife — what’s not to like? Miami is where you’ll find a tantalizing variety of seafood, distinctive Cuban eateries and too many kinds of Key lime pie. The city is also an hour away from Everglades National Park, a vast wetland abuzz with wildlife. If you’re looking for a selfie with an American alligator, this is where you want to go.
With temperatures in the mid-70s throughout the winter, Miami is where you can walk around in a swimsuit all year. It’s also incredibly cheap to visit from New York. Two round-trip airline tickets, plus a three-night stay at a hotel in early February costs about $440 — about as much as one night at an average hotel in Manhattan.
2. Las Vegas
A view of the 550-foot High Roller observation wheel in Las Vegas. Credit: Alamy Stock Photo/trekandshoot / Alamy Stock Photo
Sin City may have been built for nightlife, but locals will tell you that the city really shines during the day.
It’s home to the largest observation wheel on the continent, the High Roller, which will lift you 550 feet above the Vegas Strip for thrilling views above the city (you can order cocktails during the ride). There’s also the Fly LINQ Zipline, which will send you soaring 12 stories above the city, and outdoor racing at Vegas Superkarts.
You can do all of this in bright, spirit-lifting sunshine. Las Vegas is located in the Mojave Desert, after all, and about 85% of its days are sunny. A three-day hotel stay, plus two round-trip airline tickets will run you just over $600 from New York’s airports. And you can even get to Las Vegas from MacArthur Airport in Islip for nearly the same price, if you pick the right travel days.
The red rock beauty of Sedona lies north of Phoenix. Credit: VWPics via AP Images/Jose More
They don’t call it the Valley of the Sun for nothing. Sunshine is something you feel in Phoenix as much as you see. It hits you as soon as you leave the airport: The sky over Phoenix is so bright, so bereft of clouds that the locals here actually celebrate the rare days when it rains. Imagine that!
Long Islanders also may feel oddly at home here, traveling from the nation’s “first suburb” to a city that took the suburbs to another level. The Phoenix metro area is essentially a patchwork of suburban communities connected by roadways that are almost unfailingly wide, manicured and clean.
Airfare for two from New York and a three-night stay in an average hotel costs about $460, and for that price you’ll visit a city that’s awash in sunshine about 85% of the daytime. Visitors will find top-flight golf courses, resorts, mountain hikes and restaurants within a short drive.
Head northeast for the red rocks of Sedona or search for the Lost Dutchman’s gold mine in the Superstition Mountains to the east. To really enjoy Phoenix like a local, though, head to the closest pool, pull up a lounger and open yourself up to that big, beautiful sky.
Newsday compiled the latest available weather and travel data for 100 U.S. cities to build this ranking. We gathered National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration statistics related to the percentage of available sunshine in the area and heating “degree days,” which are a measurement of how cold the location is over a 24-hour period.
We also included travel costs from Orbitz.com for two roundtrip airline tickets from New York-area airports, including Newark’s Liberty International Airport, plus a stay at a 3-star or higher hotel in the city from Feb. 2-5. Note: Airline and hotel prices will vary depending on when reservations are purchased.
The sunshine, temperature and price data were converted into scores and then summed together to create this ranking. The full database is below.