It's another vacation question!
August 22, 2019 7:26 AM   Subscribe

I'm a stay-at-home parent to two young kids that I love very much. I want to take a solo vacation, alone, by myself, on my own in early December. Where should I go?

I'd like to go somewhere for a couple nights, stay in a nice hotel (I prefer hotels to BnB's), and wander around by myself. I feel totally comfortable going to restaurants, etc alone as long as it's not a really crowded/trendy place. I just want to relax and sleep in and go to the bathroom without a child barging in.

I could either drive, or fly, but I'd like to stay within about five hours' travel time of home (St Louis). I would want the major travel components of the trip - flight, hotel, rental car if needed, taxis - to be under $1,000.

Things I like:
- museums (art, heritage/history)
- drinking (esp craft beer and cocktails)
- good food
- shopping (books, local arts and crafts stuff, yarn)
- interesting local architecture
- getting a massage or spa treatment

Things I don't like:
- outdoor activities
- crowds
- big events like sports games or concerts
- hot weather (cold is fine, as long as it's not likely to disrupt travel plans, like I don't have snow tires on my car or anything)

Since I'm aiming for early December, a big bonus would be if I can find somewhere that's got a really nice Christmas feel, maybe a Christmas market or something like that (I love Christmas).

Places I have lived or spent significant time in already, so I don't really want to consider: New York, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Orlando, Portland Oregon, Seattle, Atlanta, Kansas City

I will happily take recommendations for cities to consider as well as specific hotels or attractions or whatever. Thank you for any ideas!
posted by cpatterson to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Montreal checks pretty much all the boxes (including Xmas market). You won't need to rent a car. With a downtown hotel, you can walk pretty much everywhere interesting (or use public transportation). Plus, thanks to the exchange rate,your american dollars will go a bit further.
posted by bluefrog at 7:38 AM on August 22, 2019 [6 favorites]

Chicago also seems like a possibility -- I've only lived there for a couple of years back in the early 90s, but it's a big enough city that it's got to have enough of everything you're looking for to occupy you for a few days.
posted by LizardBreath at 7:39 AM on August 22, 2019 [8 favorites]

San Antonio - I'll bet you can get a decent deal on a flight+hotel package if you book at least 6 weeks ahead. You wouldn't need a rental car, but would have more hotel options with one. The Riverwalk has holiday lights.
posted by soelo at 7:44 AM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

When my kids were very young I had a (very rare) work trip to Chicago and still cherish the memory of the half day I got to spend having a nice solo meal and wandering through the Art Institute blissfully alone before heading to the airport.
posted by ElizaMain at 7:54 AM on August 22, 2019

I agree with Montreal, and Quebec City is another possibility as it is feels very different to the rest of North America with amazing history and architecture.

My other thought was Banff (everyone should go to Banff at least once), but it is probably pushing the $1,000 budget (which is about $1,250 CAN).

Ottawa has an amazing collection of museums and never seems busy. Staying in a Quebec side hotel like the Crown Plaza is much cheaper.

Toronto hits the rest of their list and has a nice Christmas market, December is chilly but not full on winter (and like Montreal it has an enourmous underground city so if the weather is dreadful you can still mostly get around to major sites downtown without actually wearing a coat and boots).

Have an amazing time, where ever you choose!
posted by saucysault at 8:06 AM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think Chicago would be a great option if you haven't already spent time there and don't mind the cold. There's a big Christmas market downtown, and in general lots of Christmas decorations in the touristy areas of the loop and a big outdoor skating rink downtown for a festive winter feeling. The Art Institute is great, and there are lots of other museums as well. Lots of good architecture, plenty of food and drink options.
posted by geegollygosh at 8:11 AM on August 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

I did this in Montreal last spring and highly recommend. It's cold, but the spas are superlative.
posted by soren_lorensen at 9:07 AM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Boston would also tick most of your boxes. It's pretty under the snow. However, if you want a very fancy hotel, might not fit your budget.
posted by praemunire at 9:20 AM on August 22, 2019

Since you don't have specific things you want to do, I would either:

1) Pick somewhere you don't have to fly to and spend that saved money on over-the-top additional massages, food, etc. Lawrence Kansas is pretty?

2) Think of something, anything you're actively interested in and find something relevant. A quilt museum, a big cave, whatever.
posted by metasarah at 9:35 AM on August 22, 2019

Dallas has everything on your "want" list, is cool but not cold in December, and is only two hours away by inexpensive non-stop flight. Me-mail me if you want specifics.
posted by ubiquity at 9:38 AM on August 22, 2019

Museums? Washington, DC has unbelievable awesome (and free!) ones in the Smithsonians.

The only thing would be that I don't know if it's too crowded; there are plenty of people around but I rarely feel that it's stifling or anything like that.
posted by mosst at 9:49 AM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Chicago seems like a no-brainer. Take the architecture boat tour on the river, go to the many amazing museums (history and all eras of art), eat all the delicious food, great beer and a thriving cocktail scene, wonderful shopping. Great Christmas feel downtown! I'd stay in a cute neighborhood on the Blue Line like Wicker Park, Logan Square, or Bucktown.
posted by amaire at 10:32 AM on August 22, 2019

I've spent time in Chicago, Boston and Montreal, but somehow I've never felt more Christmassy than when I'm in New York City around that time!
posted by Everydayville at 10:46 AM on August 22, 2019

You can take the train to Chicago for $60 round trip and start your leisure time early. Then once there, you can get most places with public transportation or Uber/Lyft.
posted by teleri025 at 11:04 AM on August 22, 2019

Thank you for all the responses so far! I hadn't thought of Montreal and it might be perfect, I'll look into it. Chicago is I guess an obvious choice, I had kind of been avoiding that one because I was thinking of it being more of a place we might take the kids on vacation, but of course I can go more than once, and since it's cheap to get to from St Louis I could splurge while I'm there.

For any other responses, by the way, I think I skewed towards big cities by saying I'm into museums and food, but I'm totally open to smaller towns and cities. Since I'll only go for a weekend I won't have time to see that much anyway, so somewhere that has like, an interesting museum or local attraction and a cute downtown would also work for me.
posted by cpatterson at 11:19 AM on August 22, 2019

Galena, IL is really pretty, but I have to admit I've never been there in the winter. Hilly part of Illinois, so snow might affect driving. But it has a great downtown with touristy shops and good restaurants and lots of wine.

Edited to add: And I bet the drive up the river from St. Louis would be amazing.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 11:38 AM on August 22, 2019

I don't know if it checks off all of your boxes as I have different boxes on my own list but I spent a few days in Cincinnati last year and really enjoyed it. The art museum is amazing and I wish I had more time to spend in that specific area because there seemed to be several things clustered there. I also found a fantastic book store that I wished I could have spent a few more hours browsing. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is very touristy and probably crowded much of the time but if it's your jam then it's really fun. You can skip the International Women's Air & Space Museum; it's just a few glass cases in a tiny airport a few blocks from the R&R Hall of Fame. They're very nice cases with interesting historical information and ephemera but that's all there is to see and do there.
posted by ElKevbo at 11:42 AM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Taos and Las Vegas, NM, are all places I'd recommend in December.

STL to ABQ is less than 5 hours, and peeking not too expensive, from what I see on Kayak. From there, you can catch the train up to Santa Fe, or drive there and beyond to Las Vegas, for a smaller, quaint town (despite having a college, it's still cozy) or Taos. Both will be chillier than Albuquerque or Santa Fe, and Taos might be busier with people headed out for snow sports.

New Mexico is adorned with luminarias or farolitos in winter for a regional light show, and the Albuquerque BioPark has an annual River of Lights display set up in their botanic gardens. And are plenty of local shops, with local and regional books, crafts and more).

By early December, should have gotten snow, particularly in the north, though there's rarely ever enough in Albuquerque and Santa Fe to make traveling around the cities hard, for driving or walking. Plenty of museums in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. It doesn't look like there are any Pueblo feast days in early December, but if you're coming on the 11th or 12th, there are public feast days.

And New Mexico has unique architecture, particularly the Pueblo-inspired adobe style, plus some Pueblo Deco (previously). Lots of good food (see Gil's thrilling (and filling) blog for a range of restaurant recommendations), and a ton of craft brewers (PDF from New Mexico Brewer's guild.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:57 AM on August 22, 2019 [5 favorites]

Montreal is my favorite go-to for this sort of vacation. It's beautiful, super-walkable, and has amazing food from cheap to luxe. There are still a lot of bed & breakfasts and independent inns, most of which are +/- $100 per night.

It's a perfectly medium-sized city for a long weekend -- big enough to have a ton of different neat things to do and see, while still feeling like you've gotten a solid feel for what the city is like. Bonus: Being in a different country with a different language and currency reinforces that you are Definitely Away From Home.
posted by desuetude at 12:31 PM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you go to Montreal, you'll want to go here. Stay in the old city (I did not and wish I had because I spent most of my time in that area).
posted by soren_lorensen at 12:56 PM on August 22, 2019

You could probably drive to New Orleans. Not hot in December.
posted by oceanjesse at 4:46 PM on August 22, 2019

Savannah, Georgia is a small city with amazing architecture, history out the wazoo, interesting local shops, museums, creative restaurants and local specialty foods, a strong drinking scene, and a famous art school that produces a lot of arts & crafts & general eccentricity. Find yourself a place to stay in the Historic District, walk or ride the trolleys to everything, enjoy the warmer winter weather, and have exactly the kind of vacation you're looking for.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 9:11 PM on August 22, 2019

We went to Memphis, Tennessee over Christmas a few years ago and stayed at the Peabody Hotel. It's one of those great old fashioned places, but they had a Christmas package that made the rooms really cheap (like, $150 or less I think). Their lobby is dressed beautifully for Christmas, and we spent one morning drinking champagne and waiting for the ducks to come. It was lovely.

If you like music, Sun/Stax/Graceland are there. And the National Civil Rights Museum is built into the Lorraine Motel a short walk away.

There's great barbecue and some up-and-coming neighborhoods with interesting restaurants (we really liked the Beauty Shop in Cooper-Young).
posted by AgentRocket at 7:13 AM on August 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

If anyone finds this update, I delayed my vacation due to some admin and pre-holidays hullaballoo. But I finally got around to booking it, and I've decided to go to Montreal in a couple weeks! It's a layover flight from STL so I waffled about that, but to be honest spending a couple hours in an airport with no kids sounds pretty blissful. I'm really excited! Thanks for all the good advice.
posted by cpatterson at 11:47 AM on December 31, 2019 [2 favorites]

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