Six best US cities to visit this winter

Whether you’re wrapping up warm for a classic Christmas break or looking to escape to milder climes, America’s cities have plenty to offer in winter – with the added bonus of being less crowded than during peak visitor periods.

Experts at the Leisure Pass Group, the world’s leading attraction pass company, have identified six favourite cities for a winter getaway, with exciting options for every member of the family.

New York – great winter views from on high

New York offers one of the world’s best-loved festive breaks, with spectacular holiday season store windows, great shopping and the iconic Times Square New Year’s Eve ball drop.

New York also looks beautiful in the winter snow – and there’s no better place to enjoy the view than from its towering skyscrapers. The Empire State Building is an American icon, with amazing vistas from its 86th floor observation deck; and sweeping views of Central Park, Manhattan and the Empire State itself can also be enjoyed from 850 feet at the Top of the Rock Observatory.

Fast-track access to both the Empire State Building and the Top of the Rock Observatory (both normally $39) comes with the New York Pass, which includes more than 100 attractions. A one-day New York Pass is priced at $127 per adult.

Philadelphia – get out on the ice

From Christmas lights throughout the city to the unique Mummers Parade on New Year’s Day, the holiday season is special in Philadelphia. And one of the city’s favourite activities, ice-skating, runs right through until early March. Among the best skating spots is the Blue Cross RiverRink on the Delaware River waterfront. This is the city’s largest outdoor rink, with great views of the Ben Franklin Bridge, all set in a fairytale landscape with chalets, lodges and outdoor fire pits.

Normally priced at $13 per adult, a ticket to skate at Blue Cross RiverRink with skate rental is included with the Philadelphia Pass, which offers access to more than 30 attractions with potential savings of 45 per cent. A one-day Philadelphia Pass is priced at $59 per adult.

Honolulu – see dolphins and humpback whales

No worries about the weather on the Hawaiian island of Oahu! Winter temperatures average around 75° Fahrenheit (24° Celsius) and even better, it’s the prime season to spot dolphins and migratory humpback whales. Take a luxurious two-hour cruise aboard the catamaran Makhani and keep your eyes open for these spectacular creatures, as well as flying fish and sea turtles!

Normally priced at $106.63 per adult, the Makhani Catamaran Sail is included on the Go Oahu Card, which offers more than 33 attractions in and around Honolulu, with savings of up to 55 per cent to be made. A one-day Go Oahu Card is priced at $74 per adult.

San Francisco – noisy neighbours and Chinese New Year

While winter in San Francisco isn’t exactly warm, it’s still a great time to visit. From January, up to 900 of the city’s famous (and noisy) sea lions take up residence en masse at Pier 39, while in February the city’s Chinese New Year Parade and Festival dominate Chinatown. With all those hills, the easy way to experience the best sights is a hop-on/hop-off Big Bus tour, which takes in Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39, the Golden Gate Bridge and Union Square. Board and leave the double-decker at any of the 20-plus stops in the city.

Normally priced at $55 per adult, a one-day hop-on/hop-off bus tour ticket is included with the Go San Francisco Card. Until 1 March 2019, a second day is added free for Go Card holders; and the ticket also includes a free walking tour of Chinatown. The Go San Francisco Card is priced at $74 per adult for one day, and offers access to 28 different attractions.

New Orleans – explore The Big Easy in comfort

New Orleans’ famous humidity simply isn’t a problem in winter, with average temperatures at a pleasant 57° Fahrenheit (14° Celsius) – and that makes exploring The Big Easy an absolute pleasure. In this mild climate, the flat streets of the city are perfect to explore on foot or on two wheels. Take a musical heritage walking tour, stroll around the stunning Garden District or rent a bike and explore more than 100 miles of dedicated bike lanes, paths and off-road trails throughout New Orleans.

A two-hour bike rental with Ridethisbike is normally priced at $20, as are the musical heritage and Garden District walking tours with French Quarter Phantoms. All are included on the New Orleans Pass, which offers more than 25 attractions in the city. A one-day New Orleans Pass is priced at $69.99 per adult.

San Diego – gray whales and colourful sunsets

Some say San Diego is at its best in winter – mild temperatures average around 59° Fahrenheit (15° Celsius), attractions are less crowded and the winter Pacific Ocean sunsets are stunning; choice vista points include Sunset Cliffs National Park.

From December to April, the waters off San Diego see the migration of more than 20,000 gray whales, en route from the Bering Sea to Baja California. Each morning Hornblower Cruises pass barking sea lions and pods of leaping dolphins to head out to the open ocean and observe these amazing creatures on a three-hour trip.

Normally priced at $42 per adult, Hornblower Cruises’ whale-watching trip is one of 39 attractions included with the Go San Diego Card. A one-day Go San Diego Card is priced at $94 per adult.