The Very Best Places to Escape to This February

Black History Month and polar bears and, sure, Valentine's Day.

Photo courtesy of South Dakota Department of Tourism
Photo courtesy of South Dakota Department of Tourism
Photo courtesy of South Dakota Department of Tourism

In a welcome bit of partisanship, a groundhog disagreement earlier this month. Staten Island Chuck popped up on February 2nd and-with 20 inches of snow outside his little rodent home-predicted an early spring for all. But Punxsutawney Phil and his Pennsylvania shadow said “not so fast!” and relegated us to six more weeks of winter. Connecticut brought out a hedgehog for some reason, who concurred with Mr. Phil. So who’s right? Who knows? 

We do know there’s still a whole lot of February to get through, and though the cheap flights to warmer weather are nonexistent and the Mardi Gras beads will just be thrown onto unsuspecting pets nearby, there’s still a lot that can still be done. So let’s get out and enjoy the early spring-yeah, that’s right, we’re siding with Staten Island Chuck, whose keepers say he has the highest success rate in the country.

Photo by Gary Hartley for
Photo by Gary Hartley for
Photo by Gary Hartley for

Get wild in America’s newest national park

Last December we welcomed our 63rd National Park with West Virginia’s scenic New River Gorge. (If you’re still wondering how a place scores that designation, we’ve got you covered.) And No. 63 is brimming with beauty: There are cliffs and rocks galore along the really cool, actually-really-old river for all your adventuring needs. But the lazier among us can also enjoy eerie ghost towns and the third-highest bridge in the US for some great photo ops. Perusing Instagram shows us she’s especially gorgeous in winter, making it a great time to visit right now, before the masses catch on.

Lean into Black History Month

Black history is American history, and there’s always more to learn. Connect the past to the present with a visit to one of the monuments in place to help us reflect on our civil rights past. They include a wide array of sites, from the immaculately designed African Burial Ground National Monument in NYC-thought to have once housed the remains of 15,000 slaves and freed African-Americans-the the humble house and assassination site of civil rights activist and NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers.

Perhaps you like your learning with a side of ocean dreaming. In which case dive into the story of American Beach, Florida’s First Black beach resort. Or experience using the Green Book as a guide through a documentarian who traveled to sites, exploring them in her book Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America. (But not through the movie. Never the movie.) 

Or just go ahead and put your money where your mouth is. We’ve rounded up some black-owned businesses in Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta, Washington DC, Miami, Dallas, Philadelphia, and Boston, to get you started. Happy spending.

Road trip through South Dakota

As always, President’s Day lands in February. So maybe it’s time to get extra presidential by firing up the RV for a jaunt to South Dakota. Once you get Mount Rushmore over with, you’ll have free reign of one of the least-visited states at its emptiest time. Dig deep into the western part of the state: Not far from Rushmore, you can pretend you’re on an alien planet in the Badlands, kick up your spurs with some ghosts in Deadwood, hop on a jackalope while stuffed with homemade donuts at Wall Drug, and gaze upon the wonders of the Corn Palace. Visit the stunning lakes and spires of Custer State Park to see where the thrilling buffalo roundup happens in September. Just give your new fuzzy friends lots of room, lest you become this guy.


Watch the Super Bowl… and maybe get to know to Tampa

The Super Bowl is upon us, and chances are your eyes will be glued to the TV as the Kansas City Chiefs take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Maybe you’re in it to see how The Weeknd stacks up against years past (sorry, Abel, unless you rock a sequined bodysuit or purple guitar, there’s no contest). Maybe you just need an excuse to taste test wings and be nostalgic for Mike Myers vehicles. Or maybe-just maybe!-you’re a big football fan. Regardless, since your eyes are already on Tampa, maybe it’s time to get there and discover this wildly misunderstood city, where manatees and paddleboarding are the norm, craft beer is great, and the sleek new Water Street District pairs imbibing with waterfront views.

Get romantic. Or whatever, do you.

Valentine’s Day is a time for the romantically-abled to swoon to Kenny Rogers songs and dip celery in chocolate or whatever. But everyone, partnered up or not, can enjoy a trip to an isolated Getaway cabin. Sure, with no Wi-Fi, TV, or cell service it would be beneficial to have someone to talk to (or at least make sure you don’t get murdered), but it’s also a great solo endeavor. 

If you can sneak to the Adirondacks, take your date outdoors to the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival (February 5-14), one of the oldest such events in America. If you’re closer to New Hampshire, they have their own Ice Castles ticketed frozen attraction promising LED-lit sculptures, slides, and tunnels. Into chess? In honor of the Queen’s Gambit being partially set in Lexington, Kentucky, the 21C hotel is offering a show-inspired “Harmon Room,” which features a “larger-than-life chessboard installation​ suspended from the ceiling.”

And if your heart’s not in use? February 14th is also National Organ Donor Day.

Poke your head in on some polar bears

February 27th is International Polar Bear Day, and it just so happens that we have a couple new furballs to celebrate. The Detroit Zoo celebrated the birth of a pair of twin polar bear cubs in November after over 20 years without a little sentient cotton ball (2021 is looking up!). While you can’t see them in person just yet, you can stop by the zoo and say hi to the cubs’ parents, Suka and Nuka, by reservation. And if you’re far away but still need a polar bear fix, the San Diego Zoo has you covered courtesy of their Polar Bear Cam. 

Celebrate the Year of the Ox

It’s been a turbulent year for everyone, but Chinatowns have taken an extra hit thanks to people with weirdly-shaped mouths and a penchant for spreading hate. Luckily, the power of the purse can do plenty to turn things around. Once Lunar New Year drops on February 12th, drop into a Chinatown and find something new to love. Perhaps some lychee ice-cream in New York, or fermented rice-cured whole fish in Honolulu. Or be the first to take your friends to the bounty that is Las Vegas Chinatown. They, and your taste buds, will thank you.

No Chinatown nearby? No worries. Asia Society Texas has over two weeks of free live streamed festivities, and on February 13th the Smithsonian offers video performances and demonstrations of traditional Chinese crafts and traditions through Eventbrite. Just like sending letters? Grab a sheet or two of the new Chien-Shiung Wu stamps commemorating the legendary Chinese-American nuclear physicist: The USPS, which could also use the support, will live stream its dedication ceremony February 11th on Facebook and Twitter.

Keep an eye on Mars

The Golden Globes aren’t the only place to see stars this month: our skies are also full of sparkle and wonder. Mars and the moon rendezvous on the 18th, a little after Valentine’s Day-but you know, sometimes these encounters take time. The 18th is just a good day in general to be stargazing in the direction of Mars, as Perseverance, NASA’s new Mars rover, touches down on the Red Planet after seven months and 300 million miles of travel. Speaking of perseverance, now is a good time to see Orion, especially if you’re a newbie to the whole constellation-spotting thing. It’s got lots of stars, is really bright, and will be making an appearance all month.Planning a trip for a different time of year? Check out our monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in JanuaryMarch, April, MayJune, July, August, September, October, November, and DecemberWant more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat!

Vanita Salisbury is Thrillist’s Senior Travel Writer. You’ll find her glued to the polar bear cam. 


Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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