Whatever you want to call the last three months of Dream-21, snowfall, the winter of our global discontent is officially over. While the prospect of a sunny spring break has never been more deserved, deciding where to go remains a challenge. Few of us are ready to dive back into the swarm of tanning enthusiasts. But what about warm, passable weather, with character, natural beauty and minimal crowds? This is the desire of many at this time.


What is your favorite sunny destination, and do you plan to travel there in 2021? Join the discussion below.

To find five of these vacation destinations, we searched the Sun Belt, the vast region that stretches across 18 states from Central California to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. According to Jonathan Erdman, Senior Meteorologist for


weather.com, the region’s most populous cities get more than 500 hours of sunshine a year on average than cities outside the Sun Belt. Surprisingly, the Sun Belt is home to some of the busiest beaches and hotspots for spring festivities in the contiguous United States, but it’s also full of unfinished cities, floating lakes, invigorating hot springs, soft beaches and acres of pristine parks – all places where it’s easy to thaw out and start your summer. However, remember that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommend avoiding travel as the safest way to prevent the spread of Covid-19. But for those who want to tread carefully, here are five destinations for a well-deserved spring break.

Desert-born sheep on Armendariz Ranch, Ted Turner’s reservation near S.M., where the sun shines 290 days a year.

Happy trails

Truth or Consequences, N.M.

Truth or Consequences, also known as T or C, is a cowboy center (population 5,553) built around a bend in the Rio Grande, about 160 miles south of Albuquerque. More than a dozen thermal baths bubble there, which explains why the town was originally called Geyser before getting its more colorful name in 1950, thanks to a publicity stunt for a TV game show of the same name. Visitors can hike the rust-colored hills and meadows on a variety of trails (sierracountynewmexico.info has several options) or stroll through town and check out the many galleries that offer a contemporary alternative to Santa Fe’s folk art. During Second Saturday Art Hour, take time to chat with locals at galleries like Desert Archaic, Rio Bravo Fine Arts and Main Street Gallery.

Stay there: Note the green neon sign above the 17-room Sierra Grande Lodge and Spa, one of four Ted Turner reservations in the state. Guests have access to the 156,000-acre Ladder Ranch, 45 minutes southwest, or the 362,885-acre Armenian Ranch, 20 minutes east. Both offer safari-like wildlife, as well as encounters with bison, burrowing owls, roadrunners and endangered turtles. Then treat yourself to an explosively pink sunset on the balcony or slip into a soapstone bath filled with 40-degree spring water (from $160 per night, tedturnerreserves.com).

Coastal injuries

The barrier islands of Georgia

Of the 15 major barrier islands along Georgia’s 110-mile coastline, Cumberland is one of the most scenic and least populated. Much of the landscape – a panorama of sand dunes, wide sandy beaches and marshes – is protected as a national coastline, while its most famous inhabitants are a herd of wild horses, descendants of the Paso Finos, who were brought here by the 16th-century Spanish conquistadors. They feed on sea sedges and sea wrecks, a diet supported by 221 days of sunshine a year.

Georgia Island Idyll

A series of barrier islands along the state’s coastline. Two of the most attractive could not be more different: Some are synonymous with pristine natural beauty, others are masters of old-fashioned coastal glamour.

There are no paved roads on Cumberland Island, Georgia. You can bring your own bike or rent one at the ferry terminal.

Peter Frank Edwards in the Wall Street Journal.

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There are no paved roads on Cumberland Island, Georgia. You can bring your own bike or rent one at the ferry terminal.

Peter Frank Edwards in the Wall Street Journal.

Stay there: Cumberland Island is just 45 minutes by ferry from the mainland, making it easy to reach for a day trip. But if you decide to stay here, you’ll need a camping permit (nps.gov/cuis) or a reservation at the Greyfield Inn, located on the 1900 grounds (from $675 per night, greyfieldinn.com). If you like to interact more with people than horses, consider staying at Sea Island, home of the venerable monastery, designed in 1928 by Palm Beach architect Addison Mizner. There you can sink into a rocking chair by the fire with bourbon and iced tea. The Carrara Hotel’s marble columns, Moorish Venetian windows and terracotta roofs add a Mediterranean touch to its jazzy atmosphere (from $599 per night, seaisland.com). For a more affordable stay, head to Jekyll Island and book an ocean-view room at the 200-room Westin Hotel, nestled in quiet dunes on an undeveloped stretch of white sand (from $229 per night, marriott.com).

Fire and Ice

Pagosa Springs, Colo.

Only a narrow swath of southern Colorado is in the sun belt, but 300 days a year in the sun is a reason to lower your sun protection factor. Surrounded by the arid San Juan Mountains, Pagosa Springs is an hour west of Durango, close to outdoor attractions. Visitors can ski in the powder at nearby Wolf Creek Ski Area, which is open until early April, or explore the 200 ancient stone structures built around 900 by the ancestral Puebloans at Chimney Rock National Monument, which reopens in mid-May. The city itself is home to the world’s deepest geothermal spring, which feeds over 40 hot springs where you can warm up during cool spring nights.

Colorado Steam Weeks

Only one of the world’s deepest geothermal hot springs is located in the Sun Belt, namely Pagosa Springs,.

Spa in Pagosa Springs, Colo.

Benjamin Rasmussen for The Wall Street Journal.

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Spa in Pagosa Springs, Colo.

Benjamin Rasmussen for The Wall Street Journal.

Stay there: In November 2019, the Nightingale Motel reopened after a complete renovation that reinforced the retro feel of the street with pine walls, Eames chairs and – for longer stays – kitchenettes. The atmospheric Neon Mallard Bar, with its red velvet armchairs and padded naugahyde chairs, is open, but if you prefer to drink al fresco, sit around the fountain and order one of the special evening cocktails, like a cherry blossom martini or Mexican hot chocolate with acejo tequila shots and ancho chili peppers (from $124 per night thenightingalemotel.com).

Scharffenberger Cellars barn in Anderson Valley, a wine region in Northern California where the sun shines an average of 216 days a year.


Stephanie Myers.


Anderson Valley, California.

If you’re dreaming of a trip to wine country without marauding bachelor parties and hordes of girlfriends, set your GPS to Anderson Valley in California, in Mendocino County, two hours northwest of Napa, but which seems a world apart. There’s no fog in the sunny Mendocino Coast Valley, an hour west on Highway 128, nicknamed Dramamine Drive because of its curves through ancient redwood forests. The valley’s warm, sunny days (averaging 216 a year) and cool nights are welcome to many winemakers, especially those who specialize in Alsatian white wines like Gewürztraminer and Riesling, which have put Anderson Valley on the map of oenophiles. Scharffenberger Cellars makes a sparkling brut that’s perfect for toasting at the end of a pandemonium, while Phillips Hill Winery offers six varieties in its tasting room, a former apple drying barn, so you can stock up for your next block party.

Stay there: Foursight Wines runs two guesthouses on the property and offers Zoom tastings with sommeliers and winemakers (from $200 per night, foursightwines.com).

Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida.


Sebastian Roseau / Roaming Roseau’s

Diving ambition

Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida.

Dry Tortugas National Park, a former pirate lair that has become a home for divers, covers 100 square miles, much of it open water, and seven islands surrounded by shipwrecks. It is one of the most remote national parks in the country, 60 miles west of Key West, accessible only by float plane, boat or the park’s official fast ferry, the Yankee Freedom III, which sails only once a day for a full-day trip around the island (drytortugas.com). The park enjoys about 260 days of sunshine a year, making the water and coral reefs highly visible to snorkelers and divers. An almost constant parade across the surface of the city celebrates the life of birds, including native masked boobies, beautiful frigatebirds and Caribbean vagrants. But the main attraction is Fort Jefferson, a 19th-century hexagonal building, a massive brick relic lined with gentle swimming beaches.

Stay there: Visitors can spend up to four nights on their own boat or camp in their own tents on Garden Key, but be warned: Dry Tortugas offers absolutely no amenities. If the oceanfront pool and tiki bar are more your speed, stay at the modest Pines and Palms Resort in Islamorada. Be sure to book one of the 1940s bungalows (starting at $189 a night for a cottage, pinesandpalms.com). Avoid the crowds in Key West by renting a private boat from Robbie’s Marina (robbies.com).


The semi-abandoned beaches of the United States begin to warm up in the spring.

Montaña de Oro State Park


Getty Images

1. Carova Beach, Outer Banks, N.C.

Miles of white sandy beach on this barrier island where all roads are unpaved and only accessible with a four wheel drive vehicle. Wild stallions run through the surf at Carova Beach, near the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge on the border of Virginia and North Carolina.

2. Canaveral National Seashore and Merritt Island, Florida.

This network of parks, dunes, lagoons and secluded beaches on Florida’s Space Coast is home to all kinds of large and small critters. Keep your eyes peeled for Gannets, Floridians, manatees and bottlenose dolphins.

3. Montaña de Oro State Park, San Luis Obispo, CA.

This park on California’s central coast gets its name, Mount Gold, from the bright orange poppies that cover it from March to May, but its sculpted cliffs, secluded sandy beaches and 1,347-foot Valencia Peak are also a highlight.

4. Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville, Texas.

This mosaic of fjords and islets on the sunny Texas-Mexico border, where the Rio Grande meets the Gulf of Mexico, offers eight miles of empty sandy beach. Prickly pears and yuccas grow in the dunes, while the beach itself – close to the services – is popular with nesting sea turtles.


The five sunniest places in America, according to NOAA.

1. Yuma, Ariz.

Yuma is not only the sunniest place in the U.S. Sun Belt, it’s also the sunniest place in the world, with 4,300 hours of sunshine a year and a 90% chance of blue skies. A few more miles and you’ll be in California or Mexico. About an hour’s drive north, you’ll reach the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, home to saguaro cacti and Gila wildlife.

2. Phoenix

Don’t tell the sun god Ra, but the great phoenix managed to relegate Aswan, Egypt, to second place on the list of sunniest cities in the world, with 3,872 hours of sunshine per year. To escape the hustle and bustle of the city, take an hour’s drive through the Sonoran Desert to Tonto National Forest, where cacti bloom, black bears emerge from hibernation, and bald eagles begin nesting in the spring.

3. Las Vegas

Skip the slot machines and head to Red Rock Canyon, about 20 minutes from the Strip, where a scenic 13-mile drive through the Mojave Desert offers you 3,825 hours of sunshine a year and seasonal waterfalls only visible from December to early spring.

4. El Paso, Texas

The westernmost city in Texas, with an average of 3,715 hours of sunshine per year, is located on the banks of the Rio Grande. On the north side, a 15-minute drive away, is Franklin Gorse State Park, where you can see lechuguilla, sotol, ocotillo and spotted hummingbirds, coyotes and mountain lions.

5. Apalachicola, Fla.

Miami and Key West are the sunniest places in Florida. But they are not an insider tip and are usually packed with tourists. Less predictable is the port city of Apalachicola, located on a less visited vantage point where the sun shines an average of 3003 hours a year. This is old Florida, and the oyster country of Apalachicola Bay is popular with canoeists, manatees and alligators.

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