If you want a good way to greet the new year, plan a great getaway.
The traditional plan is to look around for a party or show. Pretty much any big hotel will have a New Years celebration with party hats, loud music and cocktails.
But you also can hike by candlelight, go for a sleigh ride or watch a torchlight parade on a ski slope.
Late fall when crowds fade and hotel deals appear is one of the best times to make a getaway.
For hikers, it's the sweet spot between the fall-color rush and hunting season. For shoppers, it's the time to get a head start on the holidays, before the craziness starts.
More often than not, the weather still is gorgeous, and stubborn oaks and willows offer color that lasts into the middle of November.
Door County isn't known as a budget destination. But this popular peninsula in Lake Michigan is like everywhere else you can spend a lot if you want, but you don't have to.
We've already told you how to find deals on places to stay in Door County. Why did we go looking? Because sometimes, we like to do the rich man-poor man routine that is, pinch pennies in one place so you can treat yourself in another.
And in Door County, there are so many good ways to treat yourself.
From the beginning, Hayward has been a rough town.
It sprang up in Wisconsin's north woods along with the logging camps, and its saloons and brothels gave it a reputation that was reflected in a rail conductor's call: "All aboard for Hayward, Hurley and Hell!"
After resorts replaced logging camps, muskie wranglers joined lumberjacks as mythic figures.
Brilliant men have been very good to Mason City, Iowa.
Frank Lloyd Wright built a bank, hotel and house there in 1908-09, and the locals loved his Prairie style so much it commissioned houses from four of his associates. Today, it's one of the best collections in the nation.
Wright became persona non grata in Mason City after he abruptly left for Europe with his married lover. But a musical virtuoso was growing up nearby. Meredith Willsons The Music Man, inspired by Mason City and its band, became a Broadway smash in 1957.
In winter, not everyone wants to get out and enjoy the great outdoors.
Many people would rather enjoy down comforters, hot toddies and a massage. Many people don't even want to look at snow and ice.
And that's possible at many inns and resorts. Some include a spa or dinner theater, others shops and restaurants, and a few
offer a whole weekend's worth of entertainment under one roof.
When winter seems to be lasting forever, you just want to get away.
Of course, thats not so easy to do if youre buried in snow. Then you may have to get away a lot closer . . . maybe to the hotel around the corner.
Until then, here are some great winter getaways, each with lots to do and see.
Ever since there's been a Minnesota, people have wanted to see its abundant waters.
The first curious tourists came up the Mississippi in the 1820s with the first steamboats, to see St. Anthony Falls and nearby tepees and to dine on buffalo, elk and sturgeon.
By the 1850s, city folk in the East already were pining for the unspoiled wilderness; one of them, Israel Garrard, was on a hunting trip from his home near Cincinnati when he saw a point on Lake Pepin, a widening in the Mississippi, and settled there.
When anniversaries, birthdays and Valentine's Day roll around, swains everywhere wonder where to take their sweethearts to celebrate.
Of course, it has to be somewhere romantic. But what's romantic? To many, it's the floral Laura Ashley look, with lots of lace, patterned wallpaper and antiques.
To others, it's a rustic cabin in the forest, minus the heart-shaped whirlpool but with loads of privacy and atmosphere.
If you think you're a pretty good cook, just take a class at a cooking school and see how fast you change your mind.
When I showed up at L'ecole de la Maison at the Osthoff Resort, 18 detailed recipes were awaiting our group of eight students.
Everything had to be made from scratch: sheets of pasta and two sauces for the seafood rotolo, rolled cheese crisps for the salad, ladyfingers for the tiramisu. The ciabatta bread, too.
In 1997, a small-town damsel who married a prince well, an heir waved a silver wand over her hometown of Perry, Iowa, and unusual things began to happen.
She took the dowdy Hotel Pattee, built in 1913 and on the brink of demolition, and filled it with terra-cotta tile, Persian rugs and so much Honduran mahogany she cornered the market for it.
Artists moved in and painted murals and whimsical folk-art lamps, bedsteads and armoires.
In summer and fall, festive Canal Park draws the crowds. But when cold winds blow in winter, a brewery suddenly looks much better.
Started in 1882 as Fink's Lake Superior Brewery, Fitger's was a mainstay in Duluth, surviving Prohibition but not industry consolidation. It closed in 1972 and almost was razed, but the sprawling building on the lake reopened in 1984 as a hotel, restaurant and shopping complex.
Now, the complex also boasts a day spa, a nightclub, a brewery, a coffeehouse and shops everything anyone could want for a little getaway, all under one roof.
It all began with an enameled horse trough/hog scalder.
It grew into an empire that includes a five-diamond resort, a collection of upscale shops, an innovative art center, a foundation that rescues Wisconsin folk art and, in fact, an entire town that's so perfect it's almost eerie.
That horse trough evolved, too, into such products as the Body Spa, a futuristic shower stall with a waterfall and 10 jets that pummel tired muscles with 80 gallons of water per minute.
Thanks to the last glacier, Elkhart Lake is amply endowed with curves just the kind of curves a race-car driver appreciates.
In 1949, the old lake-resort town was struggling. Then millionaire sportsman Jim Kimberly, scion of the Kimberly-Clark paper fortune in Neenah, began looking for a local place to race his cars.
He and three buddies, including Fred Wacker of the prominent Chicago family, chartered a plane and circled the forested kettle moraine west of Sheboygan. They found exactly what they were looking for in the undulating curves and swells of the roads around Elkhart Lake.
Before Valentines Day, and as winter drags on, everyone starts thinking about romantic getaways.
Well, we already have a story about romantic places to stay, and beyond that, who can say what romance is?
Especially since romantic often is code for expensive. We think romance has very little relationship to expenditure; weve found it in tents and camper cabins as well as luxurious inns. Its everywhere, if you look for it.
In winter, a spa getaway sounds like just the thing.
Relax, rejuvenate and renew. Cleanse the skin, clear the mind. Get rid of stress and enter a portal to tranquility.
Like a lot of women, I thought a spa vacation would make a good girlfriend getaway, a relaxing break in routine.