Perhaps even more eager than before the pandemic, many of the snowbirds who seek to escape the cold are now dusting off their old bucket lists, while planning to resume traveling the world. Apart from traditional exotic destinations like Belize and Costa Rica, our own backyard is full of fascinating places and it’s where you can start if you’re new at snowbirding.
A recent study from StorageCafe has pinpointed the best destinations for snowbirds across the US – locations that feature an ideal mix of sun, attractions and good housing options. Smaller, peaceful communities might be good for those in search of utter relaxation and chill vibes at lower overall costs, but what if you’re more interested in lively streets and more diverse things to do? We’ve zoomed in on the ranking and selected the best places for an active lifestyle, the cities that can give you access to plenty of fun aside from the warm climate.
Consequently, let’s take a look at the 10 best bucket list destinations for active snowbirds (and 5 noteworthy mentions that tend to fly under the radar).
1. San Diego, CA
Southern California is not all about the buzz of LA. San Diego should be on your snowbirding bucket list thanks to its great year-round weather and its aquatic paradise location. Be it whale watching, surfing, kayaking or beachgoing, San Diego is all about the crystal blue water of the Pacific Ocean. Take a day off exploring SeaWorld, see the multiple aquariums and then, when you want to dry off, spend your evenings in the gorgeous Old Town, the site of the first Spanish Settlement on the West Coast.
Besides the numerous historic sites, the mouth-watering Mexican cuisine is also a must-try. Finally, don’t forget about the amazing sunset of La Jolla. San Diego boasts almost 70 miles of coastline and one of the largest numbers of parks and golf courses on our list.
San Diego is a place where most snowbirds want to return and self storage can in fact make that process easier. Leaving seasonal stuff in a storage unit in San Diego until next year will allow snowbirds to travel light, without putting much pressure on their pockets. A standard storage unit in San Diego rents for $180 per month on average.
2. Houston, TX
Known as Bayou City, The Big Heart, H-Town or Space City, the most populous urban hub in the Southern US offers great weather, plenty of history and a lot of fun. The Houston Galleria is a must-visit for shopaholics, nature enthusiasts can enjoy the 300 city parks or the natural parks outside the city, while Houston’s Space Center is a common sight on bucket lists. With more people eating out than in any other US city, it’s no surprise the dining scene has been described as the country’s best culinary hub. Start your gastronomic experience with the original Texas BBQ.
Go see a rodeo, learn how to ride a horse and buy a pair of cowboy boots. See the Astros, Texans or Rockets play and catch some sun at Houston’s Gulf Coast beaches. Apartment rents in Houston are only slightly above the national average ($1,200 compared to $1,120) and the city has the highest number of golf courses on our list. Self storage is also remarkably affordable, as a standard unit in Houston will only cost you $95 per month, on average.
3. Phoenix, AZ
With its gigantic parks and green spaces, affordable rent averages ($1,400), low self storage rates ($120) and low median age (33.8), Arizona’s capital city might not have made it into the top 10 of your bucket list, but let us tell you why it definitely should. Its proximity to the majestic Grand Canyon National Park makes it a desirable place to live, as you’re able to enjoy the comforts of urban living while still being surrounded by nature’s miracles.
A 4-hour drive to the north of Arizona will allow you to see the iconic Horseshoe Bend and the Antelope Canyon, as well as Lake Powell and Havasu Falls. If you’re not willing to make the drive, there are also plenty of other bucket list activities closer to Phoenix. Take a hot air balloon ride over the city and the Sonoran Desert, visit the Meteor Crater Natural Landmark or hike Camelback Mountain. Make some time, in between your hikes, for walking the Roosevelt Row Arts District of Phoenix, enjoying the high-end spas and resorts, and for going golfing in Scottsdale.
4. San Antonio, TX
Welcome to the Alamo City, history buffs! In fact, the Alamo is only one of the city’s five Spanish missions, the oldest one going back to the end of the 17th century. All of them might make the bucket list of an enthusiast of historical architecture. If you’re more into urban landscapes, San Antonio’s majestic and romantic Riverwalk is the closest thing in the US to Venice. You can take a boat along the river and then enjoy all the diverse shopping and dining options along the 15-mile-long walk. Additionally, Austin’s great nightlife, legendary Tex-Mex cuisine and live music venues are only 2 hours away.
San Antonio is full of young people having fun (the median age is 33.6), average apartment rents do not exceed the national average and self storage is more than affordable. A 10×10 storage unit in San Antonio will only set you back $107 per month, on average. Moreover, the period between November and April is considered the best time to visit San Antonio, since the weather is great and there is a reduced influx of tourists.
5. Miami, FL
The white-sand beaches, wild nightlife and luxury yachts barely skim the surface when it comes to Miami’s bucket list destinations and activities. Trendy hot spots such as South Beach, Key West or Little Havana are sure to make any bucket list. Swimming with dolphins, experiencing the Latin-American influence in all its forms, walking down Ocean Drive and admiring the unique Art Deco architecture are also must-do activities.
While temperatures are perfect for snowbirds, Miami’s prices may exceed those of your usual winter-time destination. Self storage units in Miami go for $170 on average, house prices hover around $420K and renting an apartment calls for roughly $1,900 per month. However, you will be getting more than your money’s worth with this many bucket list destinations and activities packed into one vibrant urban community. Make sure you set aside a few bucks for a Cuban coffee and a Cuban sandwich.
6. New Orleans, LA
From the world-class jazz music and Mardi Gras celebrations to the distinctive cuisine, art galleries and 18th century buildings, there are many reasons to include NOLA in your bucket list. The French and Spanish roots make the Big Easy a unique cultural hub, while popular tourist attractions such as the French Quarter and the oldest cathedral in the US (the St. Louis Cathedral) complement the city’s one-of-a-kind vibe. Experience the signature cultural, musical and culinary traditions, and “let the good times roll”, as the city’s motto says.
Furthermore, you can dive into the natural beauty around the Mississippi river – take a boat cruise, go kayaking, explore the wetlands and see the 19th century Creole plantations. Visiting New Orleans in the winter is actually recommended for a quieter experience, but snowbirds can extend their stay until February or March, when Mardi Gras celebrations are in full swing.
Home prices are generally affordable ($260K on average), but you could also rent a place ($1,250 on average) and make use of self storage units ($150 on average) for some of your belongings while you’re there.
7. Los Angeles, CA
The Los Angeles metro area is home to some of the most popular and obvious destinations on any bucket list: the Hollywood sign, the Griffith Observatory, the Santa Monica Pier and the Hollywood Walk of Fame being just a few of these. Others include Malibu, Venice Beach, Disneyland, Universal Studios and Beverly Hills. However, mentioning all these tourist attractions doesn’t even begin to cover how much the City of Angels has to offer.
The city’s surroundings also provide numerous opportunities for nature enthusiasts. Drive up the Pacific Road Highway and explore world-famous national parks like Joshua Tree, Death Valley and Sequoia, among others. As should be expected in the case of such a global landmark, housing is somewhat pricey, but snowbirds have the option of looking for places in nearby towns (such as Riverside, Santa Ana, Long Beach or Anaheim) both in order to avoid the hustle and bustle of the City of Angels and in order to reduce costs.
8. Las Vegas, NV
The entertainment capital of the world is a must-see destination for most (if not all) people with a bucket list. Known globally for its casinos, nightlife and celebrity-chef restaurants, Vegas is also a suitable option for snowbirds looking for a quiet and warm place with a few entertainment options at their disposal. You don’t necessarily have to gamble when strolling down the main strip – you can just admire the flashy buildings, go to a show or concert and enjoy the food.
You can take day trips to the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Death Valley or Hoover Dam. Other highly frequented natural landmarks include Red Rock Canyon, Valley of Fire and Lake Mead. Don’t forget to drive or fly upstate for a long weekend on the shores of beautiful Lake Tahoe and also visit Reno while you’re at it.
Snowbirds can find plenty of quieter housing options outside of downtown Las Vegas – average house prices and average rents are affordable ($360K and $1,350 respectively). Moreover, renting self storage in Las Vegas can make your snowbirding experience significantly easier – a standard unit will set you back a mere $120 a month.
9. Nashville, TN
Nashville’s cost of living is under the national average, the city has incredibly large parks and home prices are the lowest on this list ($117K on average). Additionally, a standard self storage unit goes for $118 on average. Of course, this is not where Nashville steals the show. Tennessee’s capital city is a mandatory destination for country music fans and music lovers in general. The city is home to the Johnny Cash Museum, the Ryman Auditorium and the Country Music Hall of Fame. Apart from all this, the nightlife and dining scene is one-of-a-kind. Also, don’t forget about Dollywood.
Tennessee’s natural wonders include the Great Smoky Mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage site, which is also the most frequented national park in the US. America’s largest underground lake is also here, attracting about 2,000 visitors every day. Finally, the hike up Lookout Mountain will allow you to take in the breathtaking views of 7 states on a clear day.
10. San Francisco, CA
While the Golden Gate Bridge, Pier 39 and Alcatraz are famous landmarks across the world, California’s Golden City has many other less well-known gems and attractions that should make your bucket list as well. Despite being one of the most expensive cities in the US in terms of home prices, rents and cost of living, few other urban hubs have more iconic destinations and a more vibrant urban life than SF.
Here are a few things that you cannot miss: shopping at Union Square, walking through China town, seeing Ghirardelli Square, taking a cable car ride, taking a photo of the Painted Ladies and driving down Lombard Street. Other landmarks around the city that are not to be missed include Napa Valley, Sonoma, Yosemite National Park and Santa Cruz.
1. Virginia Beach, VA
In spite of its reputation as a resort city, many people choose to permanently relocate to Virginia Beach thanks to the affordable prices, the 38-mile coastline, the friendly residents and the relaxed atmosphere. Moreover, Virginia is not too shabby in terms of bucket list destinations either, so snowbirds can not only enjoy a warm winter in a quiet place but also knock off some bucket list items.
The Arlington National Cemetery, Chincoteague, Richmond and its American Civil War Museum, Charlottesville and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, as well as Colonial Williamsburg and Washington D.C., are all a couple-of-hours’ drive from VA Beach. Rents here hover around $1,450 and self storage costs only $107 on average.
2. Orlando, FL
With plenty of vacant housing units for seasonal use and affordable self storage rates ($115 on average), Orlando is not just the perfect environment for snowbirds in terms of temperatures, it is also bucket list material. While the first thing that comes to mind might be the magic of Disney World, Orlando is a leading global tourist destination for much more than this.
Make sure to book a visit to SeaWorld, Legoland, Universal Orlando, Madame Tussauds and the Kennedy Space Center. Finally, the area’s 100 lakes translate into a lot of boating, swimming, all kinds of water sports and other leisure activities.
3. Raleigh, NC
North Carolina’s capital city might not be the first choice for snowbirds or bucket list hunters. However, its general affordability, the distinctive charm, its beaches and historical (as well as natural) landmarks set it apart from other destinations in the area. Living in North Carolina for the winter can allow you to explore the Great Smoky Mountains to the west, visit the iconic Hatteras Island and nearby beaches to the east and enjoy the culture and sporting events of Charlotte, in between them. Raleigh is regularly listed on Forbes’ list of best places to live in the US, thanks to its green spaces, nature-friendly attitude, amazing free museums and top-rated medical care.
4. Dallas, TX
It’s true that other destinations in Texas tend to steal the spotlight when it comes to snowbirds and bucket list destinations, and Dallas lags behind as an under-rated urban hub. Life in Dallas is affordable, as home prices hover around $275K, average rents do not exceed $1,400 and a 10×10 self storage unit costs only $115 on average.
Dallas is well-known and appreciated for its culture (opera, ballet, musicals and concerts), its top-performing major league teams and its urban arts district, which is the largest in the country. Despite its massive population (over 1.3M people) and its reputation as a transport, finance and telecommunications hub, the cost of living in Dallas is only 2% above the national average.
5. Memphis, TN
Memphis is probably the most affordable destination on this list, in terms of average home prices ($125K), average rents ($960) and self storage rates ($89). This is one reason not to overlook Memphis when deciding on your winter destination. The other reason is the sheer variety of bucket list destinations in the area, especially oriented towards music fans. Memphis is called the home of the blues and the birthplace of rock and roll music, and it has an iconic history for other genres such as gospel, jazz, soul and others. The world-famous Beale Street, Graceland (the home of Elvis Presley), as well as the wide range of music museums draw tourists from all across the country to Memphis.