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Escape Washington's snow and ice by heading for these warm-weather destinations

By Andrea Sachs and Nancy Trejos
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, February 21, 2010; F01

After nearly 55 inches of snow, Washingtonians are experiencing some serious freezer burn. We're tired of sloshing through slushy puddles, tiptoeing around icy patches and feeling the cold of winter bore through our down coats and fleece hats. We now despise the color white. We are sick of snow days. If the snow, snow, won't go away -- then we will.

With this kind of urgency, you need a special kind of destination: one that's easy to plan and to reach; domestic, so you don't need to dig out your passport; and, most important, too warm for sub-zero clothing. In the spirit of adventure, we skipped the obvious choices -- Miami and San Diego, for instance -- seeking out escapes not typically found on the snowbird route. We also checked historical data from the National Weather Service and local bureaus, and the Weather Channel's forecasts to be sure that these spots would deliver some much-needed warmth. (Dryness, however, is another story.) Not to nag, but you should go as soon as possible, in case another monster storm dumps on our city and foils your getaway.

Anaheim, Calif.

Summer extends through winter in this SoCal city and its environs, the TV settings of such guilty pleasures as "The Real Housewives of Orange County" and "The O.C." You can scream your head off at Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm, or howl in the Pacific Ocean waves that splash onto such Ocean County towns as Huntington Beach and Newport Beach, surfing havens both. In addition, the county isn't called the Golf Coast for its putt-putt; hit some tees at more than 40 championship courses, including the one (Dad Miller Golf Course) where a high schooler named Tiger sharpened his swing. When it's time to shop and eat, keep your sun visor on for the Shops at Anaheim GardenWalk, an outdoor retail complex. And to meet others who understand the importance of escaping the cold, take a whale-watching tour from Dana Point, where you may spot gray whales that wisely winter in the warmer climes.

Average high last February: 66

Today's temperature: 62

Sample airfare: $235 round trip from Reagan National to John Wayne Orange County Airport, on American Airlines.

Information: Anaheim/Orange County Visitor and Convention Bureau, 714-765-8888, http://www.anaheimoc.org

Ocean Springs, Miss.

Just across the bay from Biloxi is a thriving arts community in the small Mississippi Gulf Coast city of Ocean Springs. Known as the City of Discovery because the French established a settlement there in 1699, it has a historic, tree-filled downtown area that's home to scads of art galleries, arts and crafts shops, ethnic restaurants and historic churches dating back to the 1800s. There's also a load of natural beauty to enjoy, and you can go fishing, camping, swimming, hiking, biking and birding in the Gulf Islands National Seashore, which stretches to Florida. Finally, should you have a hankering to hit the casinos, just follow the flashy lights to Biloxi.

Average high last February: 58

Today's temperature: 62

Sample airfare: $226 round trip from Baltimore Washington International to Biloxi, on Delta.

Info: Ocean Springs Mississippi Chamber of Commerce Mainstreet Tourism Bureau, 228-875-4424, http://www.oceanspringschamber.com;

City of Ocean Springs, http://ci.ocean-springs.ms.us

St. Petersburg, Fla.

It always feels summery in St. Pete, where it's sunny nearly 99 percent of the year, which explains its nickname, the Sunshine City. The Florida destination sits on a peninsula steeped in the waters of Tampa Bay to the east and the Gulf of Mexico to the west. With its abundant outdoor recreation (and sunshine), there's never any need to go indoors. Bikers, for instance, can cycle the 47-mile Pinellas Trail from southern St. Pete to Tarpon Springs, where the Greek tradition of sponge diving is still vital. Out at sea, sport fishermen ply the waters for such winter bounty as grouper, snapper and amberjack. The Pier also offers fishing, but without the wave motion, as well as dockside dining, an aquarium and boat cruises that consider February in-season. Of course, when in St. Pete, you must hit the beach. The area boasts 35 miles of white sandy beaches, including Fort De Soto Park, a perennial winner of best beach awards. And with Gulf temperatures in the high 50s, you don't have to be a polar bear to brave the water.

Average high last February: 70

Today's temperature: 63

Sample airfare: $169 round trip from Washington Dulles to Tampa, on United.

Info: St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, 877-352-3224, http://www.visitstpeteclearwater.com; City of St. Petersburg, 727-893-7111, http://www.stpete.org

San Antonio

Laze by the river under the warm Texas sun at River Walk, a hub of attractions and activities along the San Antonio River. For an overview of its offerings, a water taxi ferries passengers to more than 39 stops, including the art museum, the state's only lock-and-dam system and the Pearl Brewery complex, a new culinary and cultural development. Here, eat like a locavore at the Texas Farm to Table Cafe or forage for yourself at the year-round Saturday farmers market, which sells seasonal produce, herbs, bison meat and more. Away from the river, Zen-out at the Japanese Tea Garden or yee-haw at Six Flags Fiesta Texas, which reopens next weekend. At the Government Canyon State Natural Area, rangers lead hikes around the park, including the Protected Habitat trails, which close March 1 for the season. The rangers tell hikers to bring sunscreen and water, a nice reminder that you are going to get hot.

Average high last February: 76

Today's temperature: 74

Sample airfare: $236 round trip from Baltimore Washington International, on US Airways.

Info: San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau, 800-447-3372, http://www.visitsanantonio.com

Shreveport, La.

Shreveport-Bossier residents like to say that they live on Louisiana's "other side." Its location in the northwest part of the state has resulted in a unique blend of Louisiana Cajun and East Texas cowboy culture. Winters are mild enough for year-round golfing at such popular locales as the Olde Oaks Golf Club and Hal Sutton's course. Visitors can also take a cruise on the Red River, cook out at Cypress Lake, canoe down a bayou or bass fish on Caddo Lake. Numerous parks such as the Arthur Ray Teague Parkway have hiking and jogging trails. But you can't leave Shreveport without checking out one of the five riverboat casinos or the horse races at Harrah's Louisiana Downs. For a more serene experience, stroll the Gardens of the American Rose Center, which features 60 rose gardens on almost 120 acres.

Average high last February: 66

Today's temperature: 62

Sample airfare: $590 round trip from BWI to Shreveport, on Delta. American flies from Reagan National to Dallas/Fort Worth, about 190 miles away, for $233 round trip.

Info: Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourism Bureau, 888-45-VISIT, http://www.shreveport-bossier.org; City of Shreveport, http://www.shreveportla.gov.

Tucson

Arizona's second-largest city boasts an average of 350 sunny days a year, making it ideal for outdoor activities such as hiking, biking and horseback riding. The city is surrounded by five mountain ranges and lots of parks, including Saguaro National Park, home of the rare saguaro cactus. Thrill-seekers take note: Tucson is also a top rock-climbing destination, with 1,200 climbing routes on nearby Mount Lemmon. Because southern Arizona often has clear skies, you can also get your fix of stargazing at several observatories, including Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter. Bird-watching is another popular activity: The Tucson area is home to more than 500 species of birds, including hummingbirds. Visitors can also tour nearby caves and caverns, such as Kartchner Caverns State Park, a "living" cave with still-growing calcite formations.

Average high last February: 73

Today's temperature: 65

Sample airfare: $330 from BWI to Tucson, on Continental.

Info: Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau, 888-2-TUCSON, http://www.visittucson.org; City of Tucson, http://cms3.tucsonaz.gov.

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