We heart all things Baltimore, but if there’s one time of year when the grass is greener (and the beaches are warmer) elsewhere, it’s definitely during the doldrums of February. With an average of 346 daily, nonstop departures to 73 domestic and international destinations from the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, beating the winter blues is easier than ever. More cities are being added to the flight grid every month (direct flights to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, and seasonal service to Frankfurt, Germany, are two recent additions), and there’s a $125-million plan to improve the airport. (You’re now able to relax over handcrafted cocktails at the new Sky Azure tapas lounge.) So unless “Snowmaggedon” is your idea of a good time, consider one of these 10 great breaks out of Baltimore—and they’re all direct flights.
GOOD THING IN A SMALL PACKAGE
Aruba: If you’re looking for the quintessential Caribbean beach vacation, Aruba is small—only 20-miles long and six miles at its widest point—but spectacular. The island’s powder-soft beaches, cerulean skies, and turquoise waters are the draw here (Eagle Beach has long been touted as one of the world’s best beaches), and when the sun sets, nightlife abounds. The colorful Kukoo Kunuku party bus offers door-to-door delivery service from your hotel, and casinos are open to both high and low rollers. Hungry after sun and slots? Try island specialties such as pan bati (a sweet bread) and keshi yena (a mélange of Gouda and meat or seafood in sauce) at Gasparito Restaurant or fish cakes with pineapple mayonnaise at Pinchos Grill & Bar. Don’t miss: Souvenir shopping at The Mask for folk-art figurines made from the buds of the mopa mopa tree. Airline: AirTran Airways. Average flight time: 4 hours, 30 minutes.
FIT FOR A KING
Atlanta, GA: From the World of Coca-Cola (with its 60-plus flavor tasting room) to the Georgia Aquarium and the CNN Center, where you can channel your inner Anderson Cooper at the mock anchor desk, big-city tourist attractions abound. But beyond the lights, camera, and action, this city also offers a more sobering look at the life and times of Martin Luther King Jr.—from visits to his birthplace on Auburn Avenue and Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he preached, to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site and the King Center for Non-Violent Social Change. Save time to indulge in some of the best vittles in the South from Top Chef contestant Kevin Gillespie’s Woodfire Grill to fresh catches of the day at Goin’ Coastal. Don’t miss: The Jimmy Carter Library & Museum, which includes his Nobel Prize and a replica of the Oval Office. Airlines: AirTran Airways, Delta, Southwest. Average flight time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.
Austin, TX: Despite its location inside the conservative Lone Star State, this state capital typifies “hip,” with its multitude of techies, tattoo artists, and counterculture types. One visit will not be enough to take a tour of the Texas State Capitol, view European and American works at the Blanton Museum of Art, browse for $4,500 cowboy kicks at Allen’s Boots, brush up on presidential history at the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum, and fill up on gut-busting pork ribs at Franklin Barbecue. (It won’t be easy, but push past the point of pain for a Gourdough’s Mother Clucker fried-chicken-strips doughnut.) However you spend your stay, check out the live music—the local religion in these parts. Sixth Street is where the action is—from honky-tonk Texas dance halls to dive and punk bars. (And no visit is complete without a visit to Threadgills, where Janis Joplin once played.) Don’t miss: A stop at Waterloo Records, one of the most popular record stores in the U.S. Airline: Southwest. Average flight time: 3 hours, 25 minutes.
Charleston, SC: Whether you start off your visit with a boat ride to see where the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter, browse for handmade, sweetgrass baskets at the farmers’ market on charming Marion Square, or brush up on antebellum history at the Aiken-Rhett House, you will be delighted by the many riches of the Low-Country landscape. And though it’s steeped in Civil War history, Charleston has kept up with the times, too, as evidenced by the annual internationally acclaimed arts celebration the Spoleto Festival (in May) and new interpretations on classic Low-Country cuisine such as James Beard nominee Husk’s cornmeal-dusted Carolina catfish with creamed-corn grits and fried cabbage. Don’t miss: The Old Slave Mart Museum, thought to be the only building still extant in South Carolina once used for auctioneering. Airline: Southwest. Average flight time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
LET IT SNOW
Denver, CO: Snow worshippers should head directly to the Mile High City, then schuss to the slopes. Some of the best skiing in the country—from Aspen to Vail to Steamboat Springs, Telluride, and Breckenridge—is located a few hours away from the city. But if staying indoors, curled up with a cup of hot chocolate is more your speed, there’s plenty to do without leaving Colorado’s cosmopolitan capital. Check out one of the largest collections of Native American art in the United States at the Denver Art Museum, the Abstract Expressionist works at the new Clyfford Still Museum, or watch coins come to life in the Gothic Renaissance building of the Denver Mint. Don’t miss: A chance to shop at R.E.I.’s flagship store (including a 47-foot indoor red “sandstone” climbing and rapelling structure) to stock up on all outdoor essentials. Airlines: Southwest, United. Average flight time: 3 hours, 45 minutes.
TAKE A GAMBLE
Las Vegas, NV: Nothing says “escape” like Sin City, whether you’re looking to flirt with Lady Luck (we like the tables—and free mojitos—at Wynn), take in a show (Cirque du Soleil’s Beatles-inspired Love extravaganza is worth the trip alone), or shop ’til you drop at the Fashion Show Mall, one of the largest malls in Nevada. (Hint: If it’s not sold here, it doesn’t exist.) Of course, you can always eat your earnings at the transcendent Nobu or the equally divine Estiatorio Milos. (Don’t miss the chance to “ooh” and “ah” over views of The Cosmopolitan’s 65-foot chandelier.) And if the bright lights and big city aren’t your scene, commune with nature far away from The Strip and consider a helicopter ride over the awe-inspiring Grand Canyon or an outing to Red Rock Canyon. Don’t miss: Down time from the tables at The Venetian’s Canyon Ranch Spa. Airlines: AirTran Airways, Southwest, Spirit Airlines. Average flight time: 4 hours, 55 minutes.
QUEEN MUMS THE WORD
London, England: You can go to London to see the Queen (or at least post Facebook photos of her digs at Buckingham Palace), but this world-class city has something for everyone, including theater patrons (the West End offers mega-musicals and big-name dramas), museum lovers (Tate Modern, The British Museum), architecture aficionados (the Tower Bridge, Big Ben, St. Paul’s Cathedral), and foodies (enjoy one of 7,000 pubs within the city limits or some of the best Indian food outside of India). London is also very much a city of distinct neighborhoods, so be sure to explore some of our favorites: edgy Soho, where art galleries and all-night coffee shops are de rigueur, Shoreditch’s trendy haven for artists and designers, and Covent Garden with its plethora of street performers, cheese shops, and opera houses. Don’t miss: It’s a rite of passage to take tea at the world-famous Harrods department store. Airlines: British Airways, American, Iberia. Average flight time: 8 hours.
New Orleans, LA: While it’s known as The Big Easy, NOLA couldn’t be more serious about celebrations. Of course, the biggest party of the year is Mardi Gras (March 4, this year), but indulgence seeps into the soul of this city year-round whether you’re dining on honey-glazed-doughnut bread pudding at Boucherie, downing blueberry mojitos at St. Joe’s, or honoring all things gay, lesbian, and transgender at the Southern Decadence festival. (A leather block party is a highlight.) Balance out the hedonism with a walking tour of the famed French Quarter. (Include a stop at 632 St. Peter Street, where Tennessee Williams wrote A Streetcar Named Desire.) Add to your itinerary a stop at the National World War II Museum, a walking tour of the stately mansions and Creole townhouses of the Garden District, and Brad Pitt’s “Make It Right” green building project in the lower Ninth Ward. Don’t miss: Explore the true bayou with a swamp tour. Annie Miller’s Son’s Swamp and Marsh Tours gets rave reviews. Airline: Southwest. Average flight time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.
THE OTHER BAY CITY
San Francisco, CA: Thanks to a rebirth of the tech industry, the Golden Gate City (home to Instagram and Twitter) has experienced a renaissance from the new twinkling Bay Bridge to fashion-forward boutiques such as Union Street’s laser-cut clothing at Uko to the astonishing Herzog & de Meuron-designed de Young Museum (don’t miss the vertigo-inducing panoramic views of the city), and Renzo Piano’s striking reconstruction of the California Academy of Sciences. Of course, world-class restaurants have always been legion (the newly renovated State Bird Provisions won the 2012 James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant), and no visit is complete without a visit to Alcatraz Island, featuring a first-rate audio tour narrated by the criminals and guards who spent time on the Rock. Don’t miss: Rent a bike from the ubiquitous Blazing Saddles and ride across the majestic Golden Gate Bridge into Tiburon. Airline: United. Average flight time: 5 hours, 10 minutes.
A BIRD’S-EYE VIEW
Tampa/St. Petersburg, FL: Head to the Gulf Coast to celebrate our favorite local snowbirds at the Orioles year-round spring-training facility at the Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, less than an hour’s drive south from St. Pete. Purchase an all-inclusive fan package (including O’s game tickets, schmoozing with O’s personnel, car rental, and accommodations), then fly the Orioles nest to trek through the Serengeti Safari at Busch Gardens Tampa, shop for hand-rolled smokes at Columbia Restaurant’s Cigar Store in Tampa’s historic Cuban district Ybor City, or indulge in tender Chateaubriand at the highly heralded Bern’s Steak House. (Amusingly, the owner is a recovered vegetarian.) Don’t miss: St. Petersburg’s Salvador Dali Museum, which houses the most significant collection of the surrealist artist’s work outside of Europe. Airlines: AirTran Airways, Southwest. Average flight time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.
Jane Marion is a senior contributing writer for Baltimore.