Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! From Salzburg, Austria to Moscow, Russia and Paris, France to Helsinki, Finland, here are four European cities that are a winter wonderland during the holiday season. Take off, get a powder room!
The birthplace of Mozart is magical, with baroque architecture, music festivals, Christmas markets and blankets of snow across the city, a getaway to Salzburg delivers a charming slice of Europe in winter.
With Christmas being observed in January with more fairs and markets than many other European cities, there is a lot of holiday spirit, albeit without Santa Claus. Throw in Red Square, the Hermitage, Bolshoi Ballet and Moscow offers a lot to travelers in winter.
While snowy days are not that common in Paris, a crisp chill factor and romance is in the air in winter. From the Eiffel Tower and Champs-Elysees to the incomparable Louvre museum and the banks of the Seine, Paris is a city for love. While spring time in Paris gets a lot of press, winter is perhaps even nicer with less crowds.
Their tourism board bills Helsinki as “The Christmas City” and they are not exaggerating. With Christmas markets, carol recitals, hearty cuisine and loads of snow, there is plenty of holiday warmth and cheer in Helsinki. With a unique mixture of old world and modern, design and tech, Helsinki is a top destination for a winter vacation.
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Situated on Catalina Island, Avalon is the southernmost city in Los Angeles County. With less than 4,000 residents, it’s packed with Mediterranean architecture and charm, yet at the same time a quintessential American beach town. Take the 22 mile boat trip to Catalina and you’re a million miles away from the hustle of LA, making it the ideal spot to slip on flip-flops and decompress. Hop in a golf cart, the main form of transportation in Avalon and get your summer started.
With crystal clear waters Avalon has excellent scuba and snorkeling, with typical visibility of 40 to 100 feet and an average water temperature of 70 degrees in summer. If you don’t want to get your hair wet too wet, check out the Seatrek Adventure in an underwater kelp forest using a helmet with compressed air from the surface. “If you can walk and breathe, you can snuba” is the promise from the company operating this accessible underwater adventure. With a wide variety of hotels, restaurants and activities, Avalon appeals to a diverse range of travelers for romantic weekends, family beach vacations and adventure getaways.
Our pick for all-round value and Mediterranean charm is the Catalina Resort and Spa, with newly renovated rooms, heated outdoor pool and world-class spa. Do a lot or do very little, but do book early as Avalon hotels are highly sought-after in summer.
“Under the boardwalk, down by the sea, on a blanket with my baby is where I will be.” We all know the song. An ode to love and old-fashioned seaside towns with boardwalks, penny arcades, big dippers and more fried foods than you can shake a corn dog on a stick at.
Santa Cruz is all of that, minus the penny arcade, which is not a penny anymore. One of Santa Cruz’s star attractions is The Boardwalk, a designated State Historic property which opened in 1907 and still operates the 1911 carousel and the 1924 original Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster. The Boardwalk and amusement park is set on a beach along the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, so the odds are pretty good for spotting otters, dolphins, sea lions and depending on the time of year, even whales, right off shore. Wednesday nights in summer The Boardwalk screens vintage family movies on the beach with free admission. Friday nights feature free beach bands.
Be sure to set aside time to explore Santa Cruz’s gorgeous surrounding coastline, teeming with sea life and picture postcard scenery. Pack a blanket, say yes to kettle corn and travel back in time with an old-fashioned trip to the seaside.
Our pick for your throw-back getaway is the Coastview Inn, which is right across the street from The Boardwalk! Fancy? Nope. Good value? Yes. Good location? You cannot get closer to The Boardwalk.
This charming, sleepy little beach town, with less than 300 residents and covering only four blocks is about 160 miles north of LA and 200 miles south of San Francisco. Sporting three piers, with incredible seafood from the operational, commercial fishing pier, a mostly undeveloped coastline with a small sheltered beach and local rejuvenating hot springs, Avila Beach is a throw-back to a bygone, simpler era.
In the last decade, this small town has seen some development, but not at the same, frantic pace as other beach towns in California. Inland you are surrounded by award-winning wineries which are a few minutes drive away from the bay. Cheers to that!
Of special note is the commercial fishing pier anchored by Old Port Fish and Seafood, who have been supplying seafood to top-tier restaurants across the US for the last 40 years. Take a stroll along this working pier to the very end and you’ll find a window where you can purchase crabs, a huge range of fish, shellfish and other seafood to transport home in dry iced cooler chests. Peek inside and you’ll see workers busy packing shipments of seafood destined for top restaurants across the country. Outside are large troughs and tanks of live seafood waiting to be packed and shipped. Some years ago we bought a chest of crabs that is perhaps one of the best souvenirs we have ever carted home from a trip!
Kayaking, paddle-boarding, sailing and whale-watching all await you in Avila. If you prefer to stay on not- so-dry land, chug off on a winery tour or visit a local farmer’s market brimming with fresh produce, seafood and wine tastings.