Nearly 170,000 Canadians over the age of 55 spend at least three months in warmer locals every year. And if you expand the definition of “snowbird” to include those who escape snow shovelling for only a month or so each year-that number jumps to over a million.
Traditionally these chill-avoiding Canadians have flocked to the white sand beaches of Florida, with 70% of them taking what is often an easy two hour plane ride south. But as the boomer generation begins to spread its wings-destinations are changing. This more adventurous group is venturing off the beaten path in search of rich cultural experiences, and a more active lifestyle in emerging destinations including Spain, Portugal and Central America. They’re also exploring communities a bit closer to home, such as these four hot spots.
This unassuming university town has grown steadily in popularity with Canadians. Part of the draw is the recently revitalized historic downtown. The city offers live music and theatre at venues including the Fox Theatre, great dining with restaurants like Kitchen and Cocktails by James Beard award-winning chef Janos Wilder, and a vibrant arts scene with galleries such as Old Town Artisans.
What Makes it Special: Tucson is friendly. Despite the fact it’s Arizona’s second largest city, Tucson still has a small town feel. ‘Meet Me at Maynards‘ is a great example of the city’s community spirit. The Monday evening walk/run through the historic district has become a must-do for locals and tourists alike.
Don’t Miss: This is the Wild West-and historic Tombstone is just a short drive away. Be sure to take a narrated stage coach ride through the town to get a feel for the region’s history. Other great day trips in the area include Kartchner Caverns-a stunning live cave system, Old Tucson Studios-the western movie set where Little House on the Prairie was filmed and the Sonora Desert Museum-a fantastic zoo and museum that celebrates and explains the desert.
Snowbird Tip: Don’t worry if your second home isn’t big enough to host kids and grandkids because Tucson offers a perfect Wild West solution. Visiting family can stay at an area Dude Ranch. White Stallion Ranch is a popular choice with families-the all-inclusive meal plan means no one has to cook, and the flexible daily schedule means you won’t be expected to entertain everyone, everyday.
Jekyll Island, Georgia
Georgia has long been bypassed by Canadians in their rush south to Florida, however, in recent years many snowbirds have begun to slow down and explore Jekyll Island. This intriguing region reminds many of Florida before the developers arrived, and is the perfect first stop to get a feel for the area. The island, which was originally an exclusive winter retreat for America’s most elite families, has opened up its beaches, marshes and historic sites to everyone who visits its peaceful shores.
What Makes it Special: The Georgia Coast offers over 100 miles of barrier islands with isolated sand dunes, marshes teeming with bird life and welcoming villages. The genteel gilded history of Jekyll Island makes it stand out in the lovely region and makes it a favourite with visitors.
Don’t Miss: Be sure to take in the African American Heritage Sites in the region. There’s the Hog Hammock Community on Sapelo Island, the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum, and First African Baptist Church in Savannah. While you’re out and about be sure to sample some of the great low country food such as soft shell crab and low country boil-a mix of sausage, shrimp, crab, potatoes and corn.
Snowbird Tip: One of the best ways to get to know a new community is to volunteer. On Jekyll Island snowbirds are welcome to train for positions at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center as well as a range of other positions with the Jekyll Island Foundation.
La Quinta, California
For those looking for a resort-type getaway you might find La Quinta has the right blend of beauty, luxury, and golf. Named by the Robb Report as the “Best Place to Live for Golf,” La Quinta is home to over 20 outstanding golf courses, as well as luxury spas, great shopping and Vegas-like casinos. La Quinta also comes with a rich history. Settled in the early 18th century by Spanish conquistadors, it was the fifth resting point for travellers along El Camino Real or “Royal Highway” which ran from Mexico northward.
What Makes it Special: Nestled on the floor of the Coachella Valley and surrounded by the Santa Rosa Mountains, La Quinta is an amenity-rich luxury resort community in a stunning setting. It’s also one of California’s fastest growing communities-and boasts a great selection of affordable homes located on legendary golf courses.
Don’t Miss: Be sure to attend an art show or two. La Quinta has an exciting arts community and one of the best ways to discover what’s hot is to attend Art Under the Umbrellas. These one-day shows are located in Old Town and take place on select Saturdays. If you tire of city life and want to explore the wilderness, La Quinta has some excellent hiking trails, with the 4.5 mile Bear Creek Trail being one of the most popular.
Snowbird Tip: If you start to miss hearing speech peppered with “eh” or “chesterfield” and want some time with the folks from home, you’ll find Canada Clubs in just about any place where Canadians gather. In La Quinta, check with the Canadian Club of the Desert.
San Carlos, Mexico
Mexico has gotten a bad rap in recent years, but other than a few obvious problem areas, the country is as safe and welcoming as ever. It’s also very affordable, and allows Canadians on a budget to live very comfortably. Among the half-dozen places that are most popular with Canadians, San Carlos, Sonora is emerging as a top choice for nature lovers. Located down the road from the port city of Guaymas, San Carlos offers the best of both Canadian and Mexican cultures. In San Carlos itself, English is widely spoken and most of the winter residents are from north of the border, while in Guaymas, life is typically Mexican and the city is filled with culture and history.
What Makes it Special: The beautiful small town, located on the edge of the Sea of Cortez, offers unbeatable fishing, excellent diving and snorkelling, and amazing whale watching encounters. The nearby mountains offer stunning hikes that are steeped in indigenous history.
Don’t Miss: The coastline in the area is some of the prettiest on the Pacific Coast. The white sand beaches north of San Carlos are often empty, and the calm warm water is perfect for swimming in. Beyond the beaches and hidden coves there is plenty to explore-Guaymas celebrates just about every holiday with festivities on the malecon (waterfront plaza). The family-friendly events typically take place in the evening and include music, folkloric ballet and food.
Snowbird Tip: While Guaymas has a Walmart, Sams Club and several other large grocery stores, one of the best places to find local fish and produce is at the civic market in Guaymas or at the Sunday market in Empalme. Called a tianguis, vendors at these open air markets offer new and secondhand merchandise, fresh fruit and veggies, cheese and local honey.