Ft. Myers Beach, South Padre Island and Tucson.

If your neighborhood is anything like mine, it’s fairly empty right now. The weekenders are staying away, and your permanent neighbors have deserted the Lake. Some of those deserters have said they were going to a place with a great view of water. Hello? Don’t we have a great waterfront at the Lake of the Ozarks? Some told me they wanted to play golf. But doesn’t the Lake of the Ozarks have some of the best golf courses around?
Others told me they were going to places with a laid-back lifestyle. So what’s more laid back than the Lake of the Ozarks in January and February?
Then there’s the kicker – they said they want shirtsleeve weather. Well, just wait a month or two, and the Lake weather will be terrific!
Okay, so the Lake’s population contains a good number of snowbirds — fair-weather Lake residents who skip off south or west as soon as the temperature creeps toward those single digits.  
Where do they go? Anywhere from the Gulf Coast of Florida to Southern California, not counting the few who wind up in odd places like Omaha or Chicago. Some go alone, but others land in places where they can find other Lake-area residents to keep them company.
A totally unscientific survey has revealed that a gaggle of Lake people find their way to Florida, especially the Fort Myers Beach area. Others, in fairly large numbers, temporarily resettle on South Padre Island or the Rio Grande Valley around Harlingen or McAllen. And then there are a few more who go to the dry climate of Arizona.
So to those of us who are bundled in scarves and boots on a daily basis, what are we missing?
Lake Lifestyles magazine took a quick look at three popular snowbird destinations frequented by members of the Lake community: Fort Myers Beach, Fla.; South Padre Island, Texas, and Tucson, Ariz.
All three areas, it goes without saying, are great places for warm weather, good food, shopping, outside activities, a golf game and a hike of one kind or another. Beyond that, each area has its own unique appeal.

Fort Myers Beach

This casual beach town with a laid-back vibe boasts average temperatures this time of year at a balmy high in the mid-70s and a low in the mid-50s. Surfside seafood restaurants, the shallow water of the Gulf of Mexico, no undertow, miles of white sandy beaches and millions of seashells to investigate along the way – what’s not to like?  
Located 1,330 miles southeast of the Lake, on Estero Island on the Gulf side of the Florida peninsula, Fort Myers Beach is among the nation’s top 10 most popular winter destinations, and has been for a very long time. The first tourist to visit southwest Florida was Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon back in 1513. Three hundred years later, the island was a pirate hideaway, and a hundred years after that, Thomas Edison spent most winters there, so it’s a time-tested destination. Today it’s so popular with Lake area and Kansas City people that I hear there’s a local club for Chiefs and Royals fans.
Besides lazing in the sun, a visitor to this area should check out the tarpon fishing, bike riding on the hard packed beach sand, kayaking in the shallow turquoise waters, and birding.

More info: www.visitflorida.com

South Padre Island and the Rio Grande Valley

At 1,050 miles south of Camdenton, South Padre Island is a tad closer to the Lake than Fort Myers Beach, but it’s also a tad cooler, with January temperatures averaging in the high 60s. Like southwest Florida, this is a place where people come to walk on beaches, fish or just sit and look at the water. And since there are no privately owned beaches in Texas, there are many miles of beaches for winter Texans to explore. For fishermen, the shallow waters of Laguna Madre Bay are teeming with speckled trout, redfish, and flounder. Out in the deeper waters of the Gulf, anglers regularly reel in trophy-sized Marlin or Wahoo.  
Fishing is good, but the birding in South Texas is spectacular. The region is a breeding location for dozens of species of aquatic birds and a major migration corridor, so birders flock to the area not only to see tropical varieties, but also to view many of the birds that spend summers up north. Back in the 1960s the federal government appropriated the northern part of Padre Island and dug the Port Mansfield Gulf Channel across the middle, turning the now-northern island into the Padre Island National Seashore, a birding mecca. Volunteer birding guides are at the ready at the Padre Island National Seashores to take visitors to birding locations and habitats.
On South Padre, the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center is part of The World Birding Center, a network of nine important birding sites along the Rio Grande River. With 3,300 feet of boardwalks, five bird blinds and a five-story birding tower, the Nature Center is another great place to learn about birds and wildlife of the area.

More info: www.sopadre.com, www.spibirding.com

Tucson, Arizona

Centered in the Sonoran Desert and surrounded by five mountain mountains, Tucson offers a wonderful combination of the old west and 21st century, and for those who are interested, it is only 60 miles north of Mexico. Thanks to an elevation ranging from the desert floor at 2,000 feet above sea level to the mountain tops at 9,000 feet, the area also offers nine different ecosystems to explore, and is home to 250 varieties of birds.  
With more than 350 days of sunshine every year, hiking and biking are very popular around Tucson, whether it’s hiking through the giant cactus forest in the Saguaro National Park or following any of the hundreds of miles of trails in the mountain parks or even inside the city limits. Tucson is one of Bicycling Magazine’s top destinations.
One of the social events of the year is the Tucson Rodeo, held February 18-26 this year. As part of every rodeo celebration, about 200,000 people line up to watch what is billed as the world’s longest non-motorized parade, with its horse-drawn floats, buggies and coaches, folk dancers, marching bands and hundreds of riders. Just west of town, the Old Tucson Studio has been home to or hosted about 300 movies and television shows since 1939, from Little House on the Prairie and Gunsmoke to Rio Bravo and The Outlaw Josie Wales. It’s worth a look, especially since western movie fans will recognize a lot of the scenery in the area.
For the history and culturally oriented, Tucson’s downtown is built around the Old Pueblo and surrounded by historic districts, an arts district and terrific local music scene.

More info: www.visittucson.org, www.tucsonrodeo.com, www.oldtucson.com