Get ready for the return of Carnival. | Sean Drakes/LatinContent Editorial/Getty Images
Get ready for the return of Carnival. | Sean Drakes/LatinContent Editorial/Getty Images

Take a Leap This February with These Big Swing Travel Ideas

It is the Year of the Rabbit, after all.

With a chill in the air and new futuristic-sounding variants popping up around the country, we head into February literally and figuratively cold, with no idea what those rodents we trust as meteorologists will predict. Will it be six more weeks of a holed-up winter? Or will it be an early, forgiving spring? Like pretty much every single day of the last three years, the answer is: Who knows! (Certainly not our friend Punxsutawney Phil, whose accuracy rate is a whopping 39%. You’d be better off flipping a coin.)

We do know, however, that we’re gonna embrace the here and now. This month, we have wacky barstool races in Montana and ice sculpting in Fairbanks. We have desert warmth and a really cool airport in Palm Springs—plus slick architecture, for the city’s celebrated Modernism week.

We also have poetic cowboys in Nevada and Texas, gorgeous trails in Australia, places to celebrate Black History Month, spots to welcome the Lunar New Year with firecrackers aplenty, ideas if you want to plan that big solo trip, and ways to check out the Yosemite Firefall. No matter what happens, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel (and shimmering down a cliff).

Get Your Game on in Phoenix

Set for February 12, the Super Bowl is fast approaching. And even though we don’t know who’s playing yet, we do know Rihanna’s performing the halftime show, and that’s reason enough to head to Arizona. Plus, this is the fourth time the state’s hosted the big game, so they’re pretty much pros.

Even if you’re not seeing the game in person, you can still be a part of of the action. Like with two Super Bowl Experiences—a free one at Margaret T. Hance Park with an immersive fan experience and free concerts by Jimmy Eat World and Lee Brice, and a ticketed one with NFL attractions and athlete autographs at the Phoenix Convention Center. There’s also the three-day Bud Light Super Bowl Music Fest featuring Paramore, Dave Matthews Band, and Imagine Dragons (Feb 9–11), an NFL Honors awards show, and the Taste of the NFL, where proceeds benefit GenYOUth’s End Student Hunger Fund. What do pro football players eat? Probably a lot of steak and spaghetti.

In nearby Scottsdale, they’ll be hosting the five-day ESPN Main Street Tailgate in the Old Town (Feb 8–12), where ESPN will be filming live against the historic backdrop. Over in Tempe, you’ll find the FanDuel Party at Tempe Beach Park with headliners the Killers (Feb 10), while Glendale, home of the barrel cactus-shaped stadium itself, hosts Fox News for a week of broadcasts leading up to the game, should you want to “accidentally” get on TV.

For non-sporty things to do, we’ve got the best winter activities—like hiking, pickleball, and the biggest aquarium in the Southwest—plus free activities, the coolest indie bookstores, criminally underrated museums (a musical instrument museum!), and plenty of food options. Plus loads of relaxation in Scottsdale—home of desert relaxation—and a very fun cowboy college.

Scratch your Modernism itch in Palm Springs, California

From one desert town to another: A trip to Palm Springs is like stepping back in time. This California hotspot holds the largest concentration of preserved mid-century modern architecture in the world, with architects like John Lautner, who studied under Frank Lloyd Wright, and Albert Frey, who studied under Le Corbusier, adapting the attractive modernist style to the landscape (check out Frey’s cool Tramway Gas Station, now the Palm Springs Visitor Center). Indoor and outdoor spaces are blended, gaping windows bring in sunlight, and roofs are careful not to obstruct spectacular mountain views. Even their airport is spectacular.

You can see these architectural wonders—including homes once owned by stars like Frank Sinatra, William Holden, Kirk Douglas, and Magda Gabor—during Modernism Week (February 16–26), an annual celebration of architecture and Palm Springs’s vintage fun-in-the-sun lifestyle. Take bus or walking tours, check out a classic car or fashion show, attend a throwback concert, and hear lectures like Black Leaders of Leisure in Southern California During the Jim Crow Era (February 20), which details the Black designers, builders, and developers that helped shape the area as a vacation destination. Pack your sunscreen.

Toast to another new year

Already need a do-over for 2023? You’re in luck—January 22 marks the start of the Chinese New Year—AKA Lunar New Year—with 15 days of celebrations culminating in a dazzling lantern festival. And while the Year of the Rabbit’s fuzzy bunny may seem mundane—but so cute!—it’s a time to get excited, as it’s thought to be the luckiest of all the signs. So this year, have some hope, and celebrate the Lunar New Year in style.

Thanks to growing COVID cases, it may not be the best idea to visit China at the moment. But no worries—Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Korea, Singapore, and Thailand all throw robust Lunar New Year celebrations complete with fireworks, parades, lion dragon dances, and customs and traditions respective to each country’s heritage. If you can’t make it for the entire two weeks, show up the first two days or the last one for the most spirited festivities.

And if you can’t make it abroad, Chinatowns around the US have significant celebrations of their own. Check local schedules—for example, New York’s festivities kick off on January 22 at Sara D. Roosevelt Park, and culminate on February 12 with their annual blowout parade and festival. San Francisco’s parade—the largest of its kind, broadcast throughout the US and Asia—is on February 4, while Los Angeles’s Golden Dragon Lunar New Year Parade is on January 28. It’s free to attend, but Grandstand tickets can be purchased for $40.

Or you can always throw your own celebration at home. We’ve got the best snacks to pick up at a Chinese grocery store (White Rabbit Candy! Probably not psychedelic), Asian food brands to stock up on, a do-it-yourself feast kit, where to eat in New York’s, Houston’s, San Francisco’s and Oakland’s Chinatowns, and how to make Vietnamese red sticky rice, a dish said to bring good fortune. May the rabbit be with you.

Reflect on Black history anywhere and everywhere

February is Black History Month (but really, every month should be Black history month). Connect the past to the present with a visit to one of the monuments that reflect the slow march toward achieving civil rights, from the African Burial Ground National Monument in NYC—thought to have once housed the remains of 15,000 enslaved and freed African Americans—to the humble house and assassination site of activist and NAACP Field Secretary Medgar Evers.

Or take a trip to a city that was instrumental in Black history but doesn’t always get the spotlight. Like Kansas City, Missouri, birthplace of jazz legends like Charlie Parker and regular haunt of Count Basie, Andy Kirk, and Hot Lips Page, among others. KC was also an epicenter of the Big Band scene in the 1930s, thanks in no small part to political boss Tom Pendergast and his penchant for, well, ignoring Prohibition. Find this history, memorabilia, and more at the American Jazz Museum in the city’s 18th & Vine District. Then stroll next door to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, which chronicles the storied league from its origin after the Civil War to its demise in the 1960s.

Swing through Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Greenwood District which, despite being formed as a result of Jim Crow segregation, hosted a thriving and prosperous Black community before 35 blocks were destroyed by a group of white residents in a horrific 1921 race massacre. A new museum, Greenwood Rising, is dedicated to the history of what was known as Black Wall Street and how it continues to inform the city’s—and the country’s—present.

Then, stop by New York for a taste of the future. This February 24 and 25, the Afropunk festival takes over Lincoln Center with a multicultural experience including music, art, poetry, dance, and performance art celebrating Black women throughout history and from around the world. Acts include singer-songwriter India Arie, actress and Tony-winning playwright Sarah Jones, poet and activist aja monet, and so much more.

Attend a next-level Carnival

Mardi Gras goes down on February 21, and if you’re one to celebrate, you’re probably already planning your pastry route in New Orleans. But this year, why not take the party overseas? Not just because we can, but because this February 15—23 welcomes the return of the original “Greatest Show on Earth” and the top of the list for Carnival chasers: the 2023 Trinidad & Tobago Carnival, back in action after a pandemic-fueled hiatus.

The two-day fête takes over the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday (February 20–21). A holiday rooted in the Roman Catholic faith, Carnival was informed by French customs and later the traditions of the Africans they enslaved. While the French stayed indoors with masquerade balls and dinners, their African workers, forbidden from attending, took to the streets in a colorful celebration called Canboulay, their music evolving to what we know today as Calypso. After emancipation, it became a symbol of liberation, which continues to this day.

And you can take to the streets in solidarity, as well. (Maybe. If you booked your ticket a while ago. If not, start planning for next year.) To “play mas,” pick a band or group of masqueraders (mas = masquerade) to join. Then register with them and put down a payment on your fantastic feathery and sequined costume, which can cost up to $3,000 (keep in mind, you’re paying for an experience). For more information, Global Carnivalist has a rundown of all the bands participating this year along with everything you need to know to join in the fun.

Sadly, you can’t just wear your own costume and jump in the parade, though we know that’s what some of you were thinking. You can, however, watch from the sidelines with some doubles in hand and check out other events throughout the month like musical performances, lectures, a staged calypso musical, and historic reenactments of the Canboulay Riots. There’s no wrong way to celebrate freedom.

Find your fun in the freeze

From basking in the sun to chilling in all the ways, there’s a lot to love about winter. From February 17 to March 31 is the 2023 World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks, Alaska, when luminous displays made by some ridiculously talented people pop up in a pretty “cool” art gallery. For something a little less refined, head to Martin City, Montana. You know when it’s been cold for so long you can’t help but get a little… nutty? They sure do. And they go all in, for decades honoring that feeling with the annual Cabin Fever Days (February 11–13), a rowdy weekend where the usually subdued region gets silly in the snow for charity.

Picture it: A steep slope, snow as far as the eye can see. You’re gazing up, and over the hump comes… a barstool on skis, speedy and unwieldy, and the rider looks like they’re either holding on for dear life or having one hell of a time. Yup, while Cabin Fever Days has more “traditional” events like egg and spoon races and snowshoe softball, the main attraction is the wild and wacky Barstool Ski Races. Participants—which could be you!—compete in four categories: steerable, non-steerable (AKA traditional), open class, and show class, which is where you’ll find your more creative setups like a live band on skis. Come for the antics, stay for the elk sausage.

Appreciate cowboys’ creative side

Maybe you’d like to explore the softer side of the Wild West. Though they may look tough on the outside, the lives of cowboys and cowgirls are really pure poetry—becoming one with wild beings, roaming open land, learning the rhythm of their surroundings under expansive open sky. And this month, there's not one but two festivals providing a stage for their inner workings.

The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering has been calling sensitive souls to Elko, Nevada since 1985. First starting out as a small gathering of poets and folklorists, it’s grown to an international phenomenon, drawing poets, musicians, and artists to the Western Folklife Center on the corner of Railroad and Idaho streets. The week-long event encompasses art exhibitions, open mics, readings, lectures, and skills workshops. Learn some leatherwork in the morning, hit a talk about African Americans in the Old West in the afternoon, then round out your evening by jumping on stage with some work of your own. In cowboy country, anything goes.

Later, head down to West Texas for the Lone Star Poetry Gathering in Alpine, which picks up where the Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering left off after 33 years in 2019. Now in its third year in-person, it kicks off with a rodeo on February 15, followed by chuckwagon breakfasts, suppers, readings, performances, and, new for this year, a special Western opera paying homage to Charlie Goodnight, once called "the most romantic man living, not only in West Texas, but in the entire West," and on whose friendship with fellow cattle herder Oliver Loving the book Lonesome Dove was loosely based. Yee-haw.

Keep an eye out for flowing lava at Yosemite

You can catch one of the coolest natural spectacles in America in Yosemite National Park this month when the 2,000-foot-tall Horsetail Fall, located on the eastern face of the El Capitan monolith, turns into lava. Well, okay, not quite. From February 10 to 28 during the 10 minutes before and after sunset on a clear day, the sun hits the upper reaches of the flowing waterfall in such a way that it looks like a cascade of fiery orange-red lava. It’s called Firefall, and it’s very surprising that that’s not also the name of a James Bond film.

Reservations are now required for the weekends of February 10, 17, and 24, but on any non-weekend day, you’re good to go. You’ll be parking at Yosemite Falls, one and a half miles away from the viewing area, and if that’s full, there’s a shuttle from other parking lots. Bring a flashlight and dress warmly, with shoes for traction. For more details and up-to-date restrictions, visit the official park website.

Explore Australia’s rugged landscape

Temps here may still be hovering around freezing, but you know where it’s getting up to 100 degrees this month? Australia. If you’ve not dared to dream of a trip to Oz over the past few years, we’re here to give you permission. 100 degrees might sound quite nice if you’re currently surrounded by snow.

To that end, how about a visit to a remote island? The protected waters around Lord Howe Island is home to 500 species of fish and over 90 species of coral, all ready for you to get up close and personal with by snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, and paddleboarding. Or maybe you’d like a new and thrilling land-based adventure. Western Australia’s 75- mile Cape Walk makes for a stunning seven-day hike past lighthouses and craggy cliffs, or you can hop in and out and explore expansive state and national parks.

Wanna be outside without actually going outside? Try this forest-themed Airbnb in Melbourne (there’s even turf on the side of the bathtub). Or enjoy some under-the-radar city life in Brisbane, set to host the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup and the 2032 Olympics. Catch it before the crowds come in.

Fall in love with solo travel

If you’ve ever wanted to take a big travel leap, February is the time to do it. The holiday rush is over, which means airports are less congested, flights are cheaper, and five-star accommodations are suddenly within reach. Popular destinations are less crowded and you can finally get a table at that restaurant you’ve been coveting (though you only have until the end of next year to finally try Noma). And if you want to spend your days in Brussels taste-testing beer gardens or finding the best schnitzel in Vienna, that works, too. Who’s gonna stop you?

The point is, when you’re solo, anything goes. Whether it’s relaxing on the beach, checking out a cool small US city, staying in a Namibian desert hotel shaped like a shipwreck, or exploring actual shipwrecks in Wisconsin (sounds cold, though). Take a big swing—and if you don’t know where to start, we’ve got a handy list to get you sorted.

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Vanita Salisbury is Thrillist's Senior Travel Writer. She definitely needs a new year do-over.