10 Fantastic US Beach Vacations to Take This Winter
As the cold weather settles in, we start daydreaming about long weekends filled with warm sunshine and soft-sand beaches. Then the reality of actually getting there kicks in: The financial outlay, the time commitment, the hassle of frittering away precious hours waiting in an immigration line.
Thankfully, there are plenty of stunning US beaches that are perfect for a last-minute escape from the cold. So perfect, in fact, you might forget you're still in the country.
1. St. Petersburg/Clearwater, Florida
This 35-mile stretch of beach boasts an incredible 361 days of sunshine per year, so you’re pretty much always guaranteed a beach day. In addition to lounging in the sand, check out the approximately 30 craft breweries and restaurants; FarmTable Cucina, by chef Michael Mina (he runs a namesake, Michelin-starred restaurant) is a sure bet. And if you’re looking for some shade, duck into one of the many museums nearby, including the Dalí Museum, which houses the largest collection of the master's work outside of Spain. Stay at the Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach, a family-friendly resort with Gulf views and castle-perfect sand.
2. Laguna Beach, California
Made famous by an MTV reality show, Laguna Beach is an ideal domestic beach getaway. Why? Temperatures hover in the high 60s in January, and the cozy town is filled with high-end restaurants, California-chic clothing shops and art galleries galore. Even if it’s a little too chilly to take a dip in the ocean, you can still walk along the boardwalk or the coastal canyons, taking in endless views of the Pacific along the way. Or, simply stay at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel (the Tier 7 starts at 60,000 Ritz-Carlton Rewards points per night) and get those same views from the comfort of your ultra-plush bed.
3. South Padre Island, Texas
It’s pretty incredible to feel like you’re on a tropical island while you're in Texas. South Padre Island has 34 miles of white sand and perfectly clear blue water. You can certainly lounge on the beach all day, but there's also dolphin-watching, bird-watching at the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center and famous Texas Gulf shrimp to be had. There are plenty of affordable motels on the island, and there's also a Hilton Garden Inn. (Hilton Honors members can get a room for $88 in January, or 22,000 points).
4. Palm Beach, Florida
Mansions, galleries, top-notch restaurants and great beaches: Palm Beach is the ultimate beach destination for a luxury domestic vacation. You can step back in time to the Gilded Age by touring the famous Whitehall home, walk along Worth Avenue, which is dotted with high-end shops such as Bottega Veneta, or lounge on the picturesque Midtown Beach. As far as where to stay, there's the pink-hued Colony Hotel, which has been around since 1947. The Breakers, meanwhile, has one of the world's most Instagrammable lobbies and there are affordable points hotels galore.
5. Grand Isle, Louisiana
If New Orleans is a fantastic city escape, Grand Isle is a shoo-in for a beachy retreat. The barrier island, just off Louisiana’s Gulf Coast, maintains average temps in the low 60s during the winter months, making it ideal for hiking or fishing. Head to Grand Isle State Park, where there are more than 280 species of fish, numerous trail loops and a 400-foot-long pier (the oldest on Louisiana’s coast). There aren’t many notable places to stay, but the waterfront Blue Dolphin Inn & Cottages is a solid choice.
6. Edisto Island, South Carolina
Located an hour south of Charleston, Edisto Island is a nature-lovers paradise. It’s one of the few relatively untouched beaches remaining, meaning there are more marshes, beaches and wetlands than hotels. Even in the middle of winter, you can partake in many outdoor activities like kayaking, boating and fishing. Even if the air is brisk, you can take a walk through the driftwood forest at Botany Bay or learn about the history of the Gullah settlers during an island tour. The best news of all? You can score a beachfront rental for a fraction of the summer cost.
7. St. Simons Island, Georgia
Major development has yet to hit this beautiful stretch of Georgia coastline, making it ideal for travelers escaping the hustle of city life. Here, you’ll find golf courses surrounded by trees draped with Spanish moss and popular beaches like East Beach, where sea turtles and whales are often spotted. Be sure to visit to the historic lighthouse or one of the many plantations. Use Ocean Lodge as your jumping off point each day and unwind with a glass of wine from the rooftop lounge at night.
8. Orange Beach, Alabama
Travelers often look to Florida for those Gulf Coast beaches. But neighboring Alabama has some pretty stunning ones as well. Orange Beach, for example, is 95% quartz, so it truly sparkles in the sunlight. And the nine-miles stretch is filled with restaurants and hotels making it easy to grab a bite or plan an activity in between lounging on the beach. Just in case you get bored with sandy activities, there’s always The Wharf. There you’ll find shopping, dining and an open-air amphitheater. Dolphins love the waters around here so much that Dolphin Cruises aboard the Cold Mil Fleet guarantees sightings (90-minute tours from $20).
9. La Jolla, California
This upscale town, just north of San Diego, is the Palm Beach of the west. You’ll find designer boutiques and plenty of pricey restaurants with ocean views, as well as rocky cliffs and white sand beaches. Pay a visit to the seals and sea lions at La Jolla Cove or go kayaking through one of the many sea caves. There’s certainly no shortage of luxury hotels to spend the night, but The Lodge at Torrey Pines, a member of Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts, is particularly stunning.
10. Oahu, Hawaii
Though it can be a bit of a trek for East Coasters, Oahu is worth it; you can do the magnificent hike to the top of Diamond Head State Monument, hit up Waikiki Beach and sneak away to hidden coves. There are plenty of points hotels on Oahu (the Royal Hawaiian, the Laylow and the Hilton Hawaiian Village, just to name a few) but if you choose to go the cash route, Halekulani, a member of Leading Hotels of the World, and the Four Seasons Ko Olina are both excellent choices.
Feature photo by John Coletti / Getty Images