HERE COMES THE SUN
America's 10 Best Winter Beach Retreats
White sand and warm waters are closer than you think. When winter's chill sets in, escape to one of these laid-back, sun-drenched spots—no passport needed.
Average highs of 60/59 in December/January
(Average water temperatures of 59/54)
Basics: In this South Texas hotspot, savvy travelers skip crowded East Beach (which gets overrun in March with spring breakers) and head to the more secluded West Beach or Galveston Island State Park. Both have wide expanses of sand that are perfect for trolling for shells or soaking up some sun. Once you're out of the water, the historic Strand district, along Strand Street between 25th and 11th, is worth a stop. Buildings from the 1800s have been restored recently and now house restaurants, antiques stores, and many galleries full of fine art and photography. The town's other big attraction is the Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Indoor Waterpark, which attracts families with its water chutes, speed slides, wave pool, and, for the adults, enormous 30,000-person hot tub with a swim-up bar (schlitterbahn.com/gal, from $33).
REFUEL: A few blocks inland from the waterfront is Postoffice Street, where you can get authentic gumbo and a cold brew at Gumbo Bar (2105 Postoffice St., gumbo from $9), known as the best place to get gumbo on the island, or try the crab bisque at Latin-influenced Rudy & Paco's (2028 Postoffice St., crab bisque $9).
SLEEP: Overlooking the wharf, the 42-room Harbor House has an old-school nautical vibe and is less than a 10-minute walk from downtown (harborhousepier21.com, from $89).
EASY ESCAPE FROM: Houston (53 miles; about one hour by car), Austin (212 miles; about four hours by car), Denver (two-hour flight to Houston), Chicago (three-hour flight to Houston).
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