5 great places to visit in February
Posted December 6, 2017 7:05 p.m. EST
(CNN) — They say February is for lovers. Perhaps they should say February is for lovers of travel, too.
Romantic destinations are often in the forefront during the month that contains Valentine's Day. But there's more to February than passionate getaways. There are just a few things to keep in mind before you head out.
"The key to planning a successful February vacation is research and understanding the pros and cons of traveling to the destination during this time of year," says Jeanette Casselano, spokesperson for AAA.
Warm-weather beach towns and islands as well as ski resorts typically trend toward the expensive in February, she said. If you're looking for a travel bargain, go to places in their off-season (for example, Chicago, Oregon, Japan or Germany).
Nonpeak travel "can result in fewer crowds at popular destinations, allowing for a more relaxed pace. Many travelers say the off-season offers more opportunities to experience a destination's local culture," Casselano says.
The disadvantages? "Fewer daylight hours for sightseeing (in the Northern Hemisphere) and some attractions may be unavailable or close early," she says.
With that in mind, here are five great places to visit in February:
1. Miami, Florida
While much of the continental United States shivers in February, Miami is usually a bucolic bubble of sunshine and warmth. So get ready to pay for paradise.
"Hotel pricing will be the highest of the year," Casselano says. "The most expensive hotels will be those located on Miami Beach."
You may be able to get a better deal inland.
Along with the great weather, you're also hitting Miami at peak time for art shows and culinary festivals.
One of the most popular festivals is SOBEWFF (that's for South Beach Wine and Food Festival). Top chefs from around the country host everything from barbecues to vegetarian dinners. Wine fans will love this festival, and there's a place for enthusiasts of cigars and spirits, too.
Here's a tiny sampling of other February events in Miami:
-- It's Miami Romance Month and you can enjoy all sorts of deals and events geared toward people in love.
-- Check out all things maritime at the Progressive Miami International Boat Show. Appropriately enough, you can take a water taxi to get there.
-- The annual Coconut Grove Arts Festival is held every Presidents' Day Weekend. It's a chance to enjoy local cuisine, fine art and live performances.
February is the perfect time of year to take a stroll here. How about soak in the 1920s and '30s vibe in the Art Deco Historic District in Miami Beach? You can arrange a formal tour or strike out on your own and see where serendipity leads you.
Another great place to visit: Little Havana. Located between downtown Miami and the airport, this neighborhood offers a deep-dive cultural immersion into Cuban food, arts and more.
2. Venice, Italy
Hidden bridges. Cobblestoned alleyways. Beautiful canals traversed by boat. No wonder Venice rates as one of the world's best cities when it comes to love.
February can be a great time to take in piazzas and palaces, gawk at amazing architecture and wander through boutiques and art galleries. Granted, average highs usually only make it into the 40s F (4 to 9 C) if that, but it's usually the city's driest month, too.
There's just one question to ask if you're considering Venice in February: Do you like a good party?
If the answer is yes:
Then plan your trip for the first half of the month. In 2018, that mother of all parties, Carnival, starts on January 27 and concludes on February 13. It's a chance to go to attend gala dinners and dances, behold mysterious strangers in artful masks and see colorful parades and street shows.
It will also be the more crowded part of the month, and you'll pay accordingly.
If the answer is no:
Arrange your trip after Carnival is over. While a city as splendid as Venice is never tourist-free, this is about as good as it gets for seeing popular sights such as Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge without the maddening masses. And if it gets too cold for you outdoors, you can still enjoy indoor attractions such as Doge's Palace.
Your wallet will thank you. Hotel rates can be as much as $100 to $125 cheaper toward the end of the month, Casselano says.
Need advice on a place to stay? One option is Ca' Sagredo. This salmon-pink 14th-century palazzo is one of the grandest dames of the Grand Canal.
3. British Columbia
Let's face it -- beautiful British Columbia beckons all year long. But it garners special attention in February for winter sports, especially skiing.
Two ski areas are really close to downtown Vancouver, BC's biggest city. If you don't feel like venturing too far out in the wilds, Grouse Mountain and Cypress Mountain may be for you.
If you want to go to the biggest ski resort in North America, head on up the road to Whistler-Blackcomb, where some events of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games were held. It has more than 200 trails and is known for its big snowfalls.
Experienced thrill-seekers may wish to try heli-skiing (yes, a helicopter flies you up and you ski down). Bella Coola Heli Sports, in the Coast Range Mountains, was named as the world's best heli-ski operator in 2017 by the World Ski Awards.
If you're more of a city person, Vancouver still has plenty of urban offerings in February.
If you arrange your trip toward the end of the month, you can visit the Vancouver International Wine Festival, which starts on the 24th in 2018.
You can enjoy free ice skating at Robson Square in the heart of the city. (If you don't have your own skates, they will rent those to you.)
If you'd rather be indoors and watch other people skate, catch a Canucks pro hockey game at Rogers Arena.
While things will be cool in Vancouver, you'll typically be spared the harsh Arctic blast usually found in Toronto or Montreal. Its seaside location tempers the winters, though it can often be rainy.
Casselano advises getting travel insurance before you leave.
"Check with a travel agent and carefully review insurance policies before purchasing, as coverage options vary," she says.
Countries such as Morocco, Kenya and South Africa often get the lion's share of attention, but little Senegal is worth adding to your Africa wish list.
No less a world traveler than Anthony Bourdain says "Senegal is one of the best arguments for travel I can think of."
First things first: Where is it?
It's in West Africa. In fact, it's the westernmost extension of the continent. To its north lies the Sahara and to its south is the tropical, rainy part of Africa. Senegal occupies the transitional sweet spot. Its capital, Dakar, sits on the Atlantic Coast. February is usually its coolest month and it's still the dry season.
The can't-miss attraction here is the Island of Gorée, which for centuries was the largest slave trading center on the African coast. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a visit here can be emotionally tough but ultimately rewarding.
But there's more to this multicultured, mostly Muslim nation than a tragic past. For starters, Senegal is a major destination for African music. After all, musician Youssou N'dour and the Mbalax sound hail from here. Just4U is popular place for live performances in Dakar.
Senegal is also rich in beaches and has a longtime surfing scene that gained fame with the 1960s cult surfing film "Endless Summer." South from Dakar, the Petite Côte has a beach for every taste, from busy to tranquil.
Consider the village of Toubab Dialaw for its pristine sand and local arts scene.
Fans of architecture should head inland to the Great Mosque of Touba, considered by many to be one of the world's most beautiful mosques.
You may wish to brush up on your French before you go. And tourists with any safety concerns should check the U.S. State Department's travel alert page and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's traveler's health page.
5. Hainan, China
With so many wonderful places to see in China, why go to Hainan? It's all about location in February.
This large island is the southernmost part of China -- and therefore, it's one of the warmest in winter. You may want to bring a light jacket for night just in case, but that's about it.
Making it even better: It's the dry season, so you'll have plenty of good weather to enjoy the beaches. Hainan ain't called "the Hawaii of China" for nothin'.
The long white shoreline of Sanya Bay has become a symbol of the natural beauty of the island. Hainan is brimming over with resort options these days.
Two of them include:
-- The Sheraton Sanya Resort, which has a private beach along Yalong Bay and five swimming pools.
-- The Ritz-Carlton Sanya is a golf resort. It has eight restaurants and bars along with a private beach.
If you enjoy lush greenery, natural settings and vigorous hiking, be sure to walk the trails of Yalong Bay Tropical Paradise Forest Park, where you may see animals such as butterflies and wild pigs.
For culture lovers (or anyone who just wants to gaze at something really impressive), the Buddhist Nanshan Temple should go to the top of the list. Its three-sided Guanyin statue is 108 meters tall (354 feet), one of the tallest in the world. The figure was raised and enshrined in 2005 and is one you'll never forget.
This being an island, Hainan cuisine naturally focuses on seafood and is considered to be generally milder than mainland China food.