New Year’s Eve is a magical time -- the evening when we bid goodbye to the old year and usher in the new. The days between Christmas and December 31 are the perfect time to reflect, reminisce, set intentions, and be with the ones you love the most. It also happens to be a terrific time to hit the road. But if the hustle and bustle of a big city or huge crowds don’t appeal to you, you might do just as well to consider a secluded and serene start to the New Year.
Here are 11 places that make our short list for alternative, lovely, and low-key New Year’s Eve destinations.
1. Captiva Island, Florida
If you’re hoping to hit the beach on New Year’s Eve, kick back and relax at a cottage rental on Captiva Island. This charming, low-key spot on Florida’s Gulf Coast is close enough to Fort Myers that you can stock up on supplies, but it somehow feels a million miles away. Known for its beaches that give up a whole host of shells -- much to the delight of visitors -- Captiva has a summery, shimmery feel all year long. For an outdoor day trip, rent bicycles and get outside to explore Captiva’s 20 miles of trails. Prepare the perfect New Year’s Eve feast at home, or consider an outdoor waterside evening nosh at The Mad Hatter, which offers a special tasting that evening.
2. Cannon Beach, Oregon
For a different kind of beachfront experience, consider the northern Oregon coast for your New Year’s Eve. The area isn’t tropical, but it is temperate, holding steady in the mid-50s during the day. Cannon Beach, best known for the dramatic and huge stone formations just off its coast, is a great spot to spend December 31. In the winter, many people flock there for storm watching; the Pacific Ocean can crank up angrily, causing waves that measure up to 300 feet. When you’re done taking in nature’s show (preferably from a cozy inn or beachfront rental), retreat to Cannon Beach’s adorable downtown, or explore nearby Astoria. And be sure to ring in the new year with an Oregon-produced wine or sparkling option.
3. Sedona, Arizona
The energy is just different in Sedona, and that might be the thing you need to prepare for the new year ahead. Known the world over for its stunning red rock landscape, incredible hiking opportunities, and spa scene, this place would make an excellent backdrop for an unforgettable New Year’s Eve celebration. While Sedona is a destination in its own right, with its gorgeous scenery, vibrant arts scene, and boutiques, galleries, and cafes, it’s also close to Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon and would make a terrific home base for an inspirational New Year’s trip to the South Rim.
4. Incline Village, Nevada
Even if skiing isn’t your thing, you can still enjoy the relaxing apres-ski vibe at Lake Tahoe for New Year’s. The much-loved mountain destination nestled in the majestic Sierra Nevadas and tucked between California and Nevada would make a luxe and cozy spot to ring in the new year. The north side of the lake definitely has a more laid-back, rustic feel, making it perfect for a secluded stay where the focus is on Mother Nature. Incline Village, Nevada, situated at the very northern tip of the lake, is a beautiful alpine town with several terrific accommodation options, including some incredible homeshares.
5. Charleston, South Carolina
Steeped in both beauty and history, Charleston is a gem that should also be considered for a New Year’s getaway. Granted, it’s a larger city than many of the others listed here, but there are plenty of places to hunker down and enjoy the holiday in peace. Take a walking tour along Charleston’s cobblestone streets to get a better feel for this enchanting place, admire the architecture, and stroll the harbor. Consider a romantic horse-drawn carriage ride. Enjoy an incredible New Year’s Eve seafood dinner at any number of the city’s renowned restaurants, and then hunker down at a historic inn -- perhaps The Wentworth Mansion -- for a private toast to usher in January 1.
6. Vieques, Puerto Rico
If you’re really longing for tropical sun and a laid-back vibe, the island of Vieques, just 7 miles from Puerto Rico, might fit your New Year’s bill! This quiet, tranquil haven is home to what many consider the world’s most beautiful beaches, both uncrowded and unspoiled. You’re not going to find any big-box amenities here, or cookie-cutter condos -- but that only adds to the island’s charm. Instead, there are boutique hotels, villas, and even cottages on offer for the perfect stay. For an incredible New Year’s Eve, consider a trip to Mosquito Bay. The water teems at night with bioluminescent organisms that give the bay an incredible, otherworldly glow.
7. New Harmony, Indiana
The village of New Harmony, Indiana, sits halfway between Saint Louis and Louisville, right on the Wabash River, and would make the perfect Midwestern late-December getaway. Many consider the hamlet to be a utopia, and indeed, when you visit, you might feel that way as well! Founded in 1818 by a small band of settlers who had broken from the German Lutheran Church, New Harmony was originally home to an industrious bunch. The group built more than 180 buildings during the time they were in the area, and many of these still stand. When the Germans moved back to Pennsylvania, another group bought the land from them and scientists, thinkers, and educators soon flocked to New Harmony. Today, the town is crammed with historic homes, buildings, and parks and boasts quaint inns, shops, and cafes.
8. Grafton, Illinois
Grafton, Illinois -- only about an hour outside of Saint Louis -- is another great riverfront Midwestern New Year’s locale. Grafton sits at the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers and is near the resulting towering limestone bluffs. Historic homes, cottages, and storefronts dot the riverfront. However, around New Year’s Eve, the town goes to the birds -- literally. In the winter, majestic bald eagles gather at the river near Grafton to fish. They are stunning, and bird-watchers from around the region flock here to track their movements. When you’re ready to retreat back to your own cozy nest for New Year’s, consider a stay at the nearby Pere Marquette Lodge. Located in a state park, the lodge features quaint stone cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps back in the 1930s. There’s also an on-site wine-tasting room, and the restaurant serves up some of the best fried chicken we’ve ever had.
9. Boulder, Colorado
Just northwest of Denver, Boulder offers a mountain escape with fewer people, more outdoor opportunities, and a stunning backdrop for New Year’s Eve. Tucked into the scenic Flatirons, and home to the state’s flagship university, Boulder offers a funky college-town feel with plenty of luxe amenities. Stroll the Pearl Street Mall, hike the trails into the Flatirons, or just cuddle up with a beverage and a blanket and admire the alpine scenery. For a quiet, intimate stay, check out the historic Colorado Chautauqua. It’s a private community with on-site amenities, but cabins are routinely up for rent.
10. Northeastern Vermont
Winter sports enthusiasts who want a more laid-back, less congested New Year’s trip might do well to consider the northeastern portion of Vermont. Close to neighboring New Hampshire’s White Mountains, this area offers skiing, snowshoeing, and other winter sports, as well as plenty of places to get your arts and culture in, should you so choose. The wild and rugged landscape here is simply unforgettable, and when you are ready to kick back and relax, the renowned Rabbit Hill Inn will make sure you can do so in a luxe and welcoming setting.
11. Hawaii’s Big Island
Compared to Oahu, Hawaii’s Big Island is quiet, secluded, and truly feels off the grid. This makes it the perfect place to celebrate a laid-back but still stunning oceanside New Year. There’s truly something here for everyone: outdoor adventure, boatloads of culture, beautiful beaches, and luxe accommodations. You can be as active or as lazy as you’d like; no one’s keeping score. Snorkel to see the incredible underwater life, swim in the warm waters, take an incredible hike near active volcanoes, or simply lounge on the black, white, and even green beaches! Consider this one-day itinerary, which can easily be broken up at your leisure, as well as a traditional luau to ring in the new year. The beautiful Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on the Kohala Coast is a terrific place for a splurge stay to start the new year off right!
Pro Tip: We are talking New Year’s Eve, so accommodations are bound to book quickly. If you’ve decided you definitely need a change of scene, start planning early to ensure the best options for your perfect getaway!