Happiest winter travel destinations in U.S.

Let’s be honest. The winter months can be downright depressing at times with all the cold, gray and dreary weather. That’s why it’s a good idea to pack your bags and get out of dodge – even if it’s just for a long weekend. We have the list of the “Top 10 Happiest Winter Travel Destinations in the U.S.” put together by Hilton HHonors and Sperling’s BestPlaces.

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    Tucson, Arizona There’s a reason why this city ranks at the top of the list. With 286 annual sunny days, visitors can get all the vitamin D they need – and that’s not all. Tucson boasts a wide range of activities from hiking to biking and golf as well as a great nightlife and art scene. One recommendation the Hilton people made is to take a hike in Sabino Canyon. With temperatures in the low 70’s, the winter weather is a perfect time to check out the unique plants that flourish in this desert environment. There are also open-air shuttle buses operated by Sabino Canyon Tours.  
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    St. Petersburg, Fla. Keeping with the warm and sunny-theme, St. Petersburg in the Sunshine State comes in at No. 2 on this list. Behind Tucson, it ranked right up there when it came to the criteria these cities were chosen on which included relaxation, nature, culture, climate, uniqueness, accessibility and the urban factor. Dr. Aymee Coget, a happiness expert, told FoxNews.com that traveling during the winter months can really increase personal happiness. “It’s good to get out of a routine and experience something new,” she said. “This really helps people.” And with the temperatures hovering in the low 70’s, it’s a great time to take a stroll along the St. Petersburg pier or take in the sights at the Sunken Gardens in the center of the city.
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    Charleston, S.C. Southern charm, warm weather and lots of history. Need we say more? Charleston, S.C. is a charming and beautiful place to visit, and one that will have you immersed in the culture in no time. “The cultural experience gives you an opportunity to meet people and to explore something that is different,” Coget said. “For example, I live in San Francisco and Charleston is definitely different for me. So visiting a place that is unusual or really unique is an exciting opportunity for people and something they can look forward to.”
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    Napa Valley and Sonoma, Calif. If you’re looking for great food, great wine and amazing scenery – Napa and Sonoma have it all. Plan a vacation to these destinations and you’ll surely be anticipating the trip for weeks to come. “Research shows that the anticipation and savoring that comes from an upcoming vacation often increases a person’s level of happiness,” Coget said. In fact, spending money on other people and experiences, versus material objects, boosts personal contentment – and travel is a great time to do that.” If the anticipation alone isn’t enough to make you smile ear-to-ear, then just think about the hundreds of wineries – all beckoning you to visit. Now, that should do the trick.
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    Seattle, Wash. Seattle may not be the sunniest city, but that doesn’t mean it can’t lift your spirits. Known as the “Emerald City” because of its green, lush landscape, Seattle offers more than 600 coffee shops, outdoor activities and more than 25 major museums and exhibits. “If I love in Tucson with all this sun, maybe I want to go to Seattle to not have the sun be beating down on me all the time,” Coget said. “Or maybe I want to see a rock band in Seattle that never comes to Tucson. It’s all about having a different experience.”
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    Los Angeles, Calif. The City of Angels landed on this list because it’s warm, urban and has access to beaches and plenty of cultural events. The people at Hilton have a list of recommendations for visitors that includes everything from walking the Hollywood Walk of Fame to shopping on Melrose Avenue and wandering around the Getty Museum. And hey, you never know maybe you’ll even run into some celebrities while you’re out there.
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    Palm Springs, Calif. A few hours outside of L.A. you’ll find the beautiful desert city of Palm Springs – a personal favorite of the “Happiness Expert.” “Well, if I had to choose on the list, I would choose Palm Springs because lying by a pool really makes me happy, and being warm also makes me really happy,” Coget said. When you’re not sunning yourself by the pool, find some time to take in the mid-century architecture or rent a bike and explore Joshua Tree, which is close by. One you’ve worked up an appetite, check out the great restaurant and cocktail scene.
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    Washington, D.C. The nation’s capital isn’t the warmest winter destination – but you’re not planning a trip here because you want to get a tan. You’re visiting D.C. because of the history, the monuments and the museums. The good news is many of these museums and monuments are free. Plus, when you visit Washington in the off-season, there fewer crowds to deal with. The official Washington, D.C. tourism website all the information you need to know including how to secure a tour of the White House and how to see Congress in session. Click here for more information.  
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    Las Vegas, Ne. With more than 120 casinos and hundreds of shows every night – not to mention the endless buffets and neon lights – Las Vegas is a destination that has something for everyone. Some unique activities that stand out include indoor skydiving and swimming with the sharks at Mandalay Bay. “So visiting a place that is unusual or really unique is an exciting opportunity for people and for them to look forward to,” Coget said. “Again, we’re back to the anticipation factor.” And remember what they say, ‘What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas.’ So get a group of friends together and get a little wild. A trip like that might just be the key to getting through the rest of winter.
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    Houston, Tex. It’s time to dust off the cowboy boots and head to Houston where the temperatures are mild and the barbecue is sizzling. Even if you don’t like barbecue, there are plenty of eats to be had. This is a city that has more than 5,000 restaurants and more than 2,000 bars. And that’s not the only reason why Houston made this list. Along with the honky-tonks and 12 custom boot makers, tourists have the option of visiting more than a dozen museums including the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, which is currently hosting the King Tut Exhibit. The bottom line: It doesn’t matter whether it’s a night out with the girls or weeklong trip with your significant other. Just make sure it’s an event you can look forward to because unfortunately we’ve still got a ways to go before the trees start to bud and the tulips begin to bloom.
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