By Catherine McNulty

November 4, 2011 5 min read

California's been done; Florida has, too. Arizona already has the crowds trying to escape the crowds in California and Florida. So with the temperature dropping and the days getting short, what's a snowbird to do? Don't flock to the usual places; it's time to expand where you venture this winter!

There is a reason most snowbirds end up in the big three. The mildest and most temperate winter climates are always in the southern parts of the U.S. And with lots of established snowbird roosts, it's easy to get trapped in the routine of going to the same place year after year. But straying from the well-beaten path will give you a chance to have new experiences and explore different parts of the country.

If you typically go to Florida, you might want to try the Gulf Coast -- perhaps Alabama, Louisiana or Texas. The Spanish were the first Europeans to stake a claim in the warm Gulf of Mexico waters, followed closely by the French. The influence of both of those cultures still is widely felt along the hundreds of miles of coast. The winter temperatures there generally range from the mid- to upper 60s during the day to the low- to mid-40s at night. Though snow isn't entirely unheard of, it is extremely rare.

In addition to all manner of water activities along the coast for the more active snowbirds, there's plenty of golf. You also can find state and national parks, bird-watching, festivals (Mardi Gras!) and historical landmarks. All of this is served up with a heaping helping of Southern hospitality, of course. Because this is such a big summer destination for families, there are plenty of wintertime deals to be had on lodging and activities.

Another overlooked area to explore is New Mexico. There's a reason the state is called "The Land of Enchantment"; the sprawling vistas, wide-open landscapes and ever-present blue sky are something to behold. Of her adopted state, artist Georgia O'Keeffe once said, "If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life."

New Mexico is the fifth-largest state in terms of area, but it is only the 36th-most populous state. The southern part of the state boasts a more temperate climate (winter temperatures run from the low 60s during the day to the high 30s at night) than the northern part, and because many of the state's 2 million residents live in the greater Albuquerque area, it is also much less crowded.

Silver City, in the southwestern part of the state, backs into the Gila National Forest, which boasts hot springs and the cliff dwellings of the Mogollon people. The dwellings are more than 700 years old. Gila National Forest has hundreds of miles of trails in its 3.3 million acres, ranging from mild to strenuous. In addition to the great outdoors, Silver City is a burgeoning artist colony with a thriving scene. If cafes and galleries are more your speed, Silver City has plenty to choose from.

For the more adventuresome snowbirds, there's always Mexico. Why confine your winter destination to just the States when there are so many more sunny, warm places just a little farther south?

Recent reports of violence have made many travelers wary of going south of the border, but the violence is typically contained to a few border cities and is usually between differing drug cartels. Though you always should be cautious and aware of your surroundings in a foreign country, Mexico is surprisingly safe.

In July 2010, AARP named Puerto Vallarta as one of the top destinations for retirees. Is it any wonder why? With easy access from the States (plenty of major airlines offer direct flights from the U.S.), world-class beaches and a large expatriate community, Puerto Vallarta is a snowbird's dream. There are plenty of all-inclusive resorts that cater to those fleeing the northern cold. Other Mexican destinations to consider: Los Cabos, Mazatlan and San Miguel de Allende. All three have retiree communities and plenty for you to do.

With so many options, modern snowbirds are spoiled for choice. So where will you spend the winter?

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