The Top Hidden Gems for Snowbirds: Find Your New Winter Escape

This study identifies a collection of hidden gem cities—warm places waiting to be discovered by those keen on avoiding the cold and the crowds. Architectural Digest ranked 75 U.S. cities based on various factors to guide you to these notable locales.

Snow and chilly weather aren’t for everyone. Many choose to head to warmer climates during the colder months. If you’re a snowbird seeking a retreat outside popular sun-soaked places this winter, you’ve landed in the right place.

Mobile, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Key findings

  • The number one hidden gem destination for snowbirds is New Orleans
  • The snowbird destination with the greatest selection of activities is Sedona
  • Mobile, Alabama, has the highest-rated light-traffic outdoor trails
  • Ajo, Arizona, has the most affordable homes on Zillow with an average cost of $161,048; Santa Barbara, California has the most expensive at more than $3.7 million
  • Maui has the best weather score with average daily winter temperatures near 80 degrees Fahrenheit
Ajo, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ranking the best winter escapes

Architectural Digest ranked cities based on housing and lodging availability, Yelp ratings for activities and eateries, home sale prices, and winter weather conditions to determine the best cities for snowbirds. To ensure these destinations are hidden gems, each location boasts establishments with high ratings—between four and five stars on Yelp—but only six to 75 reviews indicating that they are still relatively undiscovered.

Considering these factors, they assigned each of the 75 cities in this study a national ranking from 1 to 75.

Their research uncovered common traits among the top-ranked winter escape cities: pleasant weather throughout the winter months, unique experiences, and highly rated yet lesser-known establishments. These locations also had many homes for sale on Zillow or lodging options on Yelp catering to both seasonal tourists and those seeking a more permanent residence. Below, I explore the distinct qualities that set each of the top five cities apart from one another.

New Orleans, Louisiana

  • Overall rank: First
  • Housing and lodging availability: First
  • Activities and dining: Third

New Orleans scored 86.9 out of 100 points securing the top spot overall and for housing and lodging availability. The city’s blend of French, Spanish, and African cultural heritage coupled with its many festivals, dining, and entertainment options make it a top choice for a winter escape.

Corkscrew Sanctuary near Naples, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Naples, Florida

  • Overall rank: Second
  • Housing and lodging availability: Second
  • Activities and dining: Fourteenth

Nestled within the Sunshine State, Naples boasts pristine beaches and an upscale way of life establishing itself as an ideal haven for a sun-soaked seasonal getaway. With a commendable 10th place in the weather category and beautiful Floridian homes widely available, its appeal is undeniable.

Honolulu, Hawaii

  • Overall rank: Third
  • Housing and lodging availability: Eighth
  • Activities and dining: Second

Honolulu is the vibrant heart of Hawaii offering more than just postcard-perfect beaches and swaying palm trees. Located on the southern shore of the island of Oahu, this tropical paradise provides a harmonious blend of natural beauty and urban sophistication. With a high rank in housing and lodging availability, you’ll likely be able to find a luxurious island home here for the winter.

Palm Springs, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs, California

  • Overall Rank: Fourth
  • Housing and lodging availability: Fourth
  • Activities and dining: Fifth

This Sonoran Desert jewel is a hidden gem in the Coachella Valley offering a unique blend of relaxation and midcentury-modern charm. Despite its property costs and weather rankings at 48th and 43rd, respectively, Palm Springs still holds allure as an under-the-radar winter escape with many housing, activity, and dining options.

Riparian Preserve in Gilbert, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gilbert, Arizona

  • Overall Rank: Fifth
  • Housing and lodging availability: 38th
  • Activities and dining: First

Located southeast of Phoenix in the Valley of the Sun, Gilbert is a true hidden gem waiting to be discovered. While its 38th position in housing and lodging might suggest limited availability, it shines brilliantly as the number-one location for activities and dining.

The study as a whole has limited use for RV snowbirds since a key focus of the researchers was housing and lodging availability and cost. As a result, I will focus the remaining portion of this article on factors relevant to RV snowbirds: eateries and walking trails.

Average winter daily temperatures and UV index were of limited use since the top three locations were Maui, Honolulu, and Key West. But how practical is it to get your RV there?

I’ve identified hidden gem cities for snowbirds based on several key factors all determining whether a city is an ideal escape during the winter months. I’ve spotlighted each category below to further explain how cities fared across the rankings. The key factors/categories I’ve selected—eateries, activities, and trails—are relevant for most RV snowbirds.

Number of highly-rated hidden gem eateries and bars:

  • Gilbert, Arizona (150)
  • New Orleans, Louisiana (107)
  • Palm Springs, California (86)

Number of highly-rated hidden gem activies:

  • Sedona, Arizona (109)
  • Honolulu, Hawaii (97)
  • Santa Barbara, California (29)

Percentage of total walking trails with high ratings and low traffic on AllTrails

  • Mobile, Alabama (68 percent)
  • Yuma, Arizona (62 percent)
  • Idyllwild, California (60 percent)

Other categories including the number of homes for sale in Zillow and the number of highly rated hidden gem lodging options were also included in the rating but unrelated to RV snowbirds and thus omitted  in this article,

Where to Go to Escape the Snow

Planning for a future RV snowbird road trip? Need to know where it doesn’t snow? Here are the top six states with the least snow to get you started on your plans.

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The Best RV Driving Routes for Snowbirds

Snowbirds migrate from the northern reaches of the continent to the Sun Belt when the weather starts to get cold and snowy just like millions of actual birds that migrate back and forth every year. And just like the flocks of birds that follow familiar routes, RV snowbirds tend to make this journey on a few well-traveled arterials.

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Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12 of the Best State Parks for Snowbirds

It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a well-developed RV site with all the bells and whistles or a wooded tent spot far from any sort of road or development, there’s a state park campsite for you. To lend a hand—there are over 10,000 state parks, after all—I’ve profiled a list of some of the best campsites in state parks that are known for their popularity and unique beauty.

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Worth Pondering…

My parents didn’t want to move to Florida but they turned sixty and that’s the law.

—Jerry Steinfeld