The Best Beach Towns to Visit This Winter
For Those Seeking a Slightly Warmer Winter Wonderland
St. Simons Island, Georgia
If you want of taste of old Southern tradition, head to St. Simons Island for ancient oaks and breezy marshes. This historic island is like taking a trip back in time. Book your stay at the King and Prince Resort for access to the quiet beach, and venture into town for quaint shops and no-fuss restaurants. (Try out Southern Soul Barbecue or a local favorite, Gnat’s Landing.) Drive the winding roads to visit beautiful Christ Church, Frederica, and its historic cemetery.
Hilton Head, South Carolina
Hilton Head is a Low Country, low-key island that has something for everyone. The classic cuisine (like hush puppies and shrimp and grits) are enough to bring us in; but Harbour Town, known for its red-and-white striped lighthouse, with its beachy shops, abounding activities, and food with a westward-view (you have to catch the sunset here) is a highlight of the town. Your getaway wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the popular Salty Dog Café for a laidback atmosphere and more Low Country cuisine like Jake’s Famous Shrimp Toast. And if you want to make the most of your experience, consider a day trip to Savannah or Beaufort if you’ve never been.
Bald Head Island, North Carolina
Life on Bald Head moves at a much slower pace, so get ready to trade your SUV for a golf cart—because no cars are allowed on the isle. You’ll take a ferry from the mainland and quickly settle into the lazy, relaxed vibe of this town, getting to experience a truly unplugged lifestyle in a conserved oasis. You can stay at the Marsh Harbour Inn or find a cozy porch-wrapped cottage to settle into. Bring some books you’ve been waiting to read, and relax. We love it here so much, it was home to our 2017 Idea House.
It’s no secret that this is a popular spot pretty much year-round. Visiting during Christmas time is a no-brainer for its adorably festive decor, but don't miss the annual 30A Songwriters Festival, a late-January weekend full of music up and down 30A. The event transforms amphitheaters, town halls, restaurants, theaters, bars, and covered patios into music venues that offer great food and atmosphere to boot. Your best bet is to rent a condo or house in Seaside (handle this well in advance!), but you can stay at the Watercolor Resort in Santa Rosa Beach or The Pearl Hotel for an easier booking that's still close-by.
Bay St. Louis, Mississippi
If you like old architecture and quirky beach town charm, you will love Bay St. Louis and its mix of Southern grace, mystery, and heat. Located just 90 miles east of New Orleans, this town is a merging of marsh, river, and Gulf of Mexico beach. Check out the charming Old Town for shops, art galleries, and good eats like The Buttercup on Second Street restaurant. Venture just minutes away from Main Street to the Depot District for some of the town’s best eateries, shops, and the local Bay St. Louis Little Theatre. You’ll go to The Mockingbird Café—a coffee house by day and restaurant with pub at night—at least once. We can't guarantee that you won’t want to move to this easy-going town after just one visit.
Cape San Blas, Florida
Cape San Blas is the place to go for some rest and relaxation. Located near Port St. Joe along the Florida Panhandle, Cape San Blas gives you access to miles of uncrowded, white sand beaches. You can bring your four-legged friend along as well—the beach and most of the rentals are pet-friendly. And around these parts, there’s some of the best fresh seafood you can get. (Take a visit to the Indian Pass Raw Bar for that.) If you want to move around a little, visit the historic Cape San Blas lighthouse and take plenty of long walks on the beach. Careful, though, it gets windy.
South Padre Island, Texas
South Padre Island is the closest thing you’ll get to a tropical island in the great Southern state of Texas. It's home to 34 miles of beautiful white sand and stunning clear emerald water. Soak it all in during the winter when the crowds are lighter. You can take a dolphin-watch tour with Dolphin Docks, scope for the more than 300 species of birds at the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center, and get your fill of fresh Texas Gulf seafood.
Folly Beach, South Carolina
Less than 15 miles from downtown Charleston, laid-back Folly Beach is the perfect escape. The surf town draws in visitors who fall in love with the wide beaches, eclectic atmosphere, and community of charming locally-owned restaurants and shops. If you love wildlife, Folly Beach is also home to loggerhead turtles, dolphins, bald eagles, sea birds, and several endangered species. The waterfront Tides Folly Beach hotel is a great place to book your stay. Just be sure you don't leave without first spending some time at the Surf Bar.
Perhaps known most for the herds of wild ponies that call the barrier island home, Chincoteague also offers relaxing beaches and plenty of wildlife along the windswept dunes of the Assateague National Seashore. Located on the northern part of the Eastern Shore, the low-key town will give you the winter getaway you need. Stay at Miss Molly’s Inn, a Victorian-era house turned seven-room B&B that offers high tea in the afternoons. You can’t go wrong with any of the many seafood restaurants in Chincoteague, but try out Don’s Seafood Restaurant for a casual, friendly environment and some delicious crab cakes and oysters.
Duck Key, Florida
About midway down the Florida Keys, you’ll hop off US-1 (the Overseas Highway) and find yourself on a small, quiet island halfway between Miami and Key West. Get the most out of your trip to Duck Key with minimal planning by booking a stay at Hawks Cay Resort. You can plan a winter boat charter through its marina, wander around the beautiful resort grounds that highlight the gorgeous Florida Keys views, or just relax (there are great restaurants and a spa to help with that). This is the place to feel like you’ve gone far, far away.
Nags Head, North Carolina
With its classic Outer Banks feel, Nags Head is a great destination for any beach-lover. There’s a mix of on-the-beach relaxation (pet-friendly!) and off-the-beach amusements, such as go-kart tracks, a handful of mini-golf courses, a number of ice cream shops, and good restaurants. While you’re there, visit Jeannette’s Pier, Jockey’s Ridge State Park, or the Bodie Island Lighthouse. Most people prefer to book one of the many rental properties in the area; so take a look at Twiddy & Company to start your search.
Visit Fairhope, Alabama, in the off-season when there are even fewer people in the laidback town. If you love the Gulf Coast, you won’t find a more charming place, with antebellum homes, streets lined with live oaks, and a quaint, walkable downtown. Head to Panini Pete’s for melt-in-your-mouth beignets and a charming courtyard table, located right in downtown Fairhope. For the book-lovers, take a visit to Page & Palette. Here you'll find signed copies of books by local authors like Rick Bragg, Winston Groom, Howell Raines, and Fannie Flagg; and a knowledgeable staff that loves to make recommendations. We recommend staying in nearby Point Clear at the Grand Hotel Marriot Resort, a pre-Civil War resort that's dripping with Southern charm. It gets extra festive around Christmas time.