Wintertime beaches are the stuff of romance—both the tempestuous, passionate kind of romance and the sitting-snug-by-a-crackling-fire kind. The vast stretches of empty shoreline, the relentless crashing of the waves, the long walks bundled against the wind, the miniature treasures of tide pools and starkly beautiful seascapes—this monumental drama is staged just for you.
Those laughing gulls standing at the water’s edge?Laugh along with them. After all, this is the time of year when shop clerks look up with a smile when the door tinkles open, innkeepers welcome you with special rates and individualized service, and you can sweep into last summer’s big-name restaurant and immediately be seated at a choice table. Best of all, at beaches in the off-season, you may actually have the strand to yourself.
Of course, there’s a trade-off: you won’t be disrobing and lounging on a chaise the way you might under the summer sun. But depending on the location, the temperatures aren’t as low as you might think. Head off to the shores of Sea Ranch, California, and temperatures can climb to the upper fifties. You’ll find the same balmy clime out on North Carolina's Ocracoke Island.
In other words, short of donning a wetsuit, you can still enjoy strolling, flying kites, brooding, and canoodling to your heart’s content. The incendiary romance of sand meeting sea persists—even through fog and chill.
And for deal-seeking travelers, there’s no better time to travel. Beach hotels offer rates so inviting that you really won't miss the sunburn, even in premium ocean-view rooms. That bright and cheerful $75 room at the Hotel Manisses on Block Island in February runs $220 in August. Yes, it’s cold up on Lake Michigan, but a one-bedroom suite with a fireplace and water view at the Weathervane Terrace Inn is just $79 in winter—making it seem a lot cozier than it would for $269 in high season.
So leave the beach towel at home and grab your windbreaker. We’ve gathered a list of 10 terrific beaches in great cold-weather destinations—from blustery Atlantic islands to classic Great Lakes resort towns to balmy Pacific strands—to visit and explore. While everyone else is paying top dollar to pack into more temperate places, you’ll be soaking in the romance of solitude and the satisfaction of a great bargain.
See our essential tips for an off-season beach trip.
- When making hotel reservations, and when arriving, ask about unpublished specials or upgrades. Nothing spurs innkeepers to generosity like empty rooms.
- Restaurants may be blessedly empty this time of year, but call ahead to ensure that they’ll be open when you arrive. That old saw about small towns rolling up the sidewalks at night seems even less funny when you’re peering into a darkened café window at 8 p.m.
- Bring foul-weather entertainment, just in case your visit coincides with a nor’easter. You won’t regret sacrificing a little luggage space to a pack of cards, an extra novel, and a trashy celebrity magazine.
- Consider staying someplace with a kitchen or kitchenette. Local real estate companies can provide listings for fully equipped rental condos at affordable winter rates. A gas grill, a microwave, and an icemaker go a long way toward easing your dependence on year-round diner and coffee shop menus.
- Pack clothes that will keep you warm and dry. Layers, as always, make the most sense, but you’ll want waterproof boots and jackets for exploring tide pools and walking cliffside trails.
- Don’t forget sunblock, even when you’re bundled up.